Baldwin trembled as he awaited his fate. He lowered his eyes and silently said, What a stupid thing to do. I should have stayed in the school. I was greedy, and I got caught. Now I’m in big trouble. He had been going about on his own. All he meant to do was grab a bite to eat, and then everything went crazy. Now he was scared half to death in unfamiliar surroundings. A giant stood over him in complete control of his destiny.
“Don’t worry, little fella,” a kind voice said.
Huge hands twisted the hook from Baldwin’s lip and let him go. A quick flip of his tail propelled the young perch back to deeper water and closer to the safety of his school. Along the way he spotted a glass jar a careless human dropped into the lake. He swam inside it to rest and calm down for a while.
Although he was glad the human had let him go, he felt glum when he thought about why he was freed. Same old story. Too small, too ordinary. Never even done anything interesting or daring enough to earn a nickname. When they see the hook-hole in my lip they’ll know I got yanked, but I was too small for the fisherman to bother keeping me.
Baldwin couldn’t bear the thought of the teasing that would come. He made up a story about a daring escape to tell his friends. That would keep them from teasing him and would earn him a nickname that he could be proud of. He left the jar and swam back to his school.
“Where have you been?” asked his best friend Pat. Pat was a nervous sort, but he tried to seem casual with his greeting.
“You wouldn’t believe it,”
“What do you mean? Is that? No way. You got yanked?” Pat’s eyes bulged out more than usual as he inspected his friend’s lower lip.
“Yep. But I outsmarted the fisher and got away.”
“When I realized I was hooked, I headed for the nearest weedbed. I braced myself, did a backflip, and the hook came out. It got stuck in the weeds. That poor jerk is probably still trying to reel me in.” At this, Baldwin laughed so hard he lost sight of Pat in the resulting bubble fog.
When the bubble fog lifted, they realized they were no longer alone.
“You’d have to have sand for brains to eat a phony bug,” said Shark, the school tough guy. His real name was Jim, but his toughness had earned him the nickname.
“Oh yeah?” said Baldwin, hoping Shark hadn’t witnessed what had really happened. “You should have seen that fake bug. It was this big,” Baldwin said, spreading his fins as wide as they would go. “And it looked exactly like that bug that wiggles up to the surface and crawls onto a weed or a rock in the air part of the lake, right down to how many legs it had and what colour it was and how it wiggled and where it—”
“All right all ready. But you’re still a sand brain, and I’ve got better things to do than to listen to you.” Shark, who was secretly impressed— even jealous—swam away from the adventurer and his friend.
“Let’s go into the middle of the school where the gang can hear your story,” Pat said. “Oh, and Baldwin?”
“Don’t ever go that far away again, OK?”
“OK,” Baldwin promised. He didn’t need any persuading to stay with his group from now on.