"Going to practice?"

Joe spun around, and the deluge of books that had threatened to spill from his locker toppled to his feet.

"Geeze, Frank, since when did you start sneaking up behind me?"

His older brother grinned and bent to help him gather his locker's contents. "Keep your locker clean and this wouldn't happen. Anyway, I need the van. Callie wants to catch an early movie."

"Can't you take her car?"

"It's in the shop."

Joe quickly shoved the books on top of his jacket and sweatshirt collection and slammed the door before it could spill all over the hallway again.

"Sure. I mean, take it. Can you swing by and pick me up on the way back?"

"Yeah. Thanks. Watch out today; I heard coach was going to give you a work out to remember."

The younger Hardy groaned and started toward the gym. "Doesn't he always? I'll see you later."

"Sure," Frank called, disappearing into the crowded Bayport High Hallways.

"Hey you!" Vanessa Bender called, materializing at his side. "I just came from gym. Coach Finely said he was going to work you all to death."

"That's what Frank said," Joe moaned.

She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "Be brave my big, strong man."

Joe made a face, and she laughed at him. "How about we go for pizza tonight? I'll treat."

"I can't. Frank has the van. How about tomorrow?"

"Sounds good. See you then."

"Bye," Vanessa flashed him her best grin and moved away. Joe smiled after her; she'd always made him feel good. Her big strong man.

Thank you God, for letting me be that. Not much, but it's so good to hear from her…

Joe turned, and headed in the direction of the gym. 

***

"I can't move," Biff Hooper moaned, sprawled on a bench in the boys' lockeroom. "I've never been so soar in my life."

"This is wrestling," Chet Morton sighed, sliding onto the edge of Biff's bench. "Isn't it supposed to be easier than football?"

"No pain, no gain gents!" Phil Cohen cried, grinning. But he looked as tired as the rest of them.

Joe just smiled at his friends and continued dressing. Bayport High had been known for its excellent wrestling team ever since Tom Finley had taken over the head coaching position. And although his team mates were great on the mat, the work it took to get them there was often intense, arduous, and exhausting.  

"I'm hungry," Chet groaned. "Anyone up for Mr. Pizza?"

"Count me in!" Biff cried, leaping nimbly from the bench, forgetting his complains of a moment ago. Phil shook his head.

"I've got studying to do."

"Okay. Joe?"

The younger Hardy shook his head. "Frank's picking me up."

"Bring him along."

"He won't come. He's got a physics test. Which means he's got a date with his room, computer, and books for the night."

Chet laughed. "That's Frank for you. All right. We'll see you tomorrow then."

"Sure," Joe said, waving his friends off as the lockerroom door opened and Mr. Finley approached him. 

"Hardy. Have a minute?"

Joe nodded and pulled his t-shirt down over his head. "Sure Coach. What's up?"

"Would you come hop on the scale for me?"

Joe shrugged and followed the man to his office, now proudly decorated with banners, ribbons, and trophies won by his team over the past few years.

"Right over here," he said, setting the weight to zero and gesturing for Joe to step up. He did, watching as the Coach set the lower weight to a hundred and moved the dial to the right.

"190," he announced a moment later, frowning.

"Is something wrong?" Joe asked, suddenly nervous. His weight sounded fine to him, but in wrestling the number had to be perfect.

"Yeah. You've gained. I mean, I don't doubt that it's muscle, but you're over the qualifications of your category. You're gonna have to diet if you want to stay on the team."

Joe made a face, and the coach patted him on the back.

"I'm sorry. I wish I had something good to tell you, but I have to go by the rules. And they say you're overweight."

"Overweight?" the word seemed completely foreign to him. He'd never thought about his own body before; he really thought of anyone's. Weight didn't seem important.

"It's not big deal. Step up your exercise; run a little more, and cut down on the sweets and junk. It'll come right off, don't worry." 

Joe nodded and stepped off the scale, but seemed unable to pull his eyes from the number that stared at him innocently.

"Joe? You all right?"

"Fine," Joe managed a grin. "You're right, it's no big deal. I'll watch what I eat."

The Coach smiled back. "That's all. I'll weigh you again in a week or two."

Joe nodded, said goodbye, and headed out of the office.

It's no big deal, he told himself, brushing it off as he walked out to the parking lot and spotted Frank waiting in the black van the boys shared.

He'd remember thinking that later.