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Copyright © 2002 by Catherine M. Christopher
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
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First eBook Edition: December 2009
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Theo Gordimer slowly clomped up the steps to the front door of his house. His heavy backpack made his shoulders ache. His face was hot and sweaty. He shoved his blond hair out of his eyes and went inside. All he wanted to do was go to his room, dump the pack, and settle down with a video game.
Not that that would cheer him up much, but it might make him feel a little less depressed.
He heard his mother calling from the kitchen. "Theo? Is that you?"
"Yeah, Mom," he muttered as he started up the stairs to his room. By the time he reached the top step, he was puffing a little. Great, he thought. One flight of stairs and I'm wiped out. What a total wimp I am.
Theo shrugged himself out of the backpack. It thumped onto the floor by his bed. He left it lying there and looked through his rack of video games. But nothing he saw drew his interest. Would anything brighten his mood?
Video games didn't seem to do the job. The school year was almost over and summer vacation was only three days away. Not even that fact raised his spirits. Theo sighed and sat on the edge of his bed. The springs gave out a loud squeak, as if they were complaining about his weight. Staring out the window, Theo thought about his day and when it had turned bad.
It had happened in gym class, when Mr. Breen told the boys that they were going to run a lap around the school's quarter-mile track. Now, even if Theo wasn't on the heavy side — which, to face facts, he was — he would never have picked running as a fun thing to do. It made you out of breath and tired. TV, movies, and video games — they were what he thought of as fun. But today, like it or not, Theo had to run.
He was sure he'd run more than a quarter mile in his thirteen years — just not all at once. He didn't know if he could.
"What if I can't do it?" he whispered to his best friend, Paul Baskin, as they waited for their turn.
Paul stared at Theo. "Come on! A quarter mile? You can run that far, can't you?"
Theo shook his head. "I don't know. I never have."
"Well… just take it easy. I bet you make it. It's no big deal."
Maybe it wasn't a big deal for Paul, who was into sports. But for Theo, a quarter of a mile seemed like a huge deal. Still, maybe Paul was right. He might do it.
He didn't. Halfway around the big oval track, he was gasping and feeling awful. He slowed down from what hadn't been a fast pace to begin with and started walking. Other kids passed him and a couple of them made nasty remarks as they went by.
"Yo, blubber-boy! Want a lift?"
"Move it, lardo!"
Theo wished he could disappear. After walking for a little, he managed to speed up to a sort of trot and finally staggered to the end of the lap. Mr. Breen shook his head.
"Gordimer, better lay off the doughnuts and ice cream. You need to shape up."
Theo sighed and closed his eyes. Mr. Breen was right, he guessed. He did need to shape up. But it seemed like such a huge job, and he didn't know how. His mom and dad wished that he'd spend less time in front of a TV and more time throwing a ball or swimming or something. They didn't get on his case about it much, but he knew how they felt. When he let himself think about it, he felt sad, even ashamed.
But, bad as this was, it wasn't the worst thing in Theo's life. The worst thing was what was happening to his aunt Marj.
Theo loved Aunt Marj, his mom's younger sister. She was great to spend time with and could always make him laugh. Aunt Marj was a cheerful, funny, lively woman who never ran out of energy. Or she had been, until she'd gotten sick.
Some months earlier, Marj had been told she had cancer. Since then, she'd been in and out of the hospital, getting radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which were supposed to make her better. They didn't seem to be working, not as far as Theo could see. She'd become thin and pale and spent almost all of her time in bed. Theo had gone to see her but was only allowed to stay for a few minutes. Marj was barely able to talk.
Theo had never faced such a terrible and sudden change, and it scared him. He couldn't help wondering if she was going to die. He didn't want to talk about Marj with his parents; his mother was upset enough.
Theo felt helpless, wishing there was something he could do for Marj. But there wasn't. Sure, he could visit her once in a while or phone her. But that was about it.
There was a tap on the bedroom door. Mrs. Gordimer peeked in at him. "Sweetie, are you all right? You look kind of down."
So do you, Theo thought. But all he said was, "Yeah, I'm okay. Just a little tired."
"Paul is here. Can he come up?"
"Sure." Theo sat up and swung his legs off the bed as Mrs. Gordimer left the room. He didn't feel like having company, but he didn't want to worry his mother by saying so.
Paul came in a minute later carrying his baseball glove. "Hey, Gee, let's go to the park. A bunch of guys are going to play some ball."
Theo shook his head. "I don't feel like it today. Another time, okay?"
"You sure?" Paul asked, giving Theo a curious look. "It's a good day for it."
"Yeah, well…" Theo stopped there. Paul looked at Theo, who looked away.
Finally, Paul said, "What's going on? Did that stuff in gym class today get to you?"
"No… well, yeah. But it's not just that."
"Well, what? Anything I can do?" Paul sat in Theo's desk chair.
Theo lay back on the bed. "There's nothing anyone can do."
"Hey, at least give me a clue. I mean, I'm your friend, right?"
"It's my aunt Marj. She's real sick."
"Yeah, I heard," said Paul. "I met her, she's a cool lady. How bad is it?"
"Real bad. She's been getting this treatment, but she looks terrible. And there's nothing I can do to help. I feel really bad."
"Sure. I'd feel the same way," agreed Paul. "But maybe she'll get better."
"She sure doesn't look like she's getting better." Theo felt tears blurring his eyes. "Last time I saw her, she looked awful."
Paul stood up suddenly. "You know what, Gee? I just remembered. There is something you could do for her. Well, sort of. If you want to give it a shot, that is."
Theo stared hopefully at his friend. "Yeah? What?"
Paul said, "You know my dad is really into running, and he hears about all these races. He found out about a five-K race that's open to all ages, and it's supposed to raise money for cancer research and help people learn about new medicines and stuff."
Theo blinked. "That sounds neat, but what does it have to do with me?"
"You could run the race. It's in three months. That would be a way to —"
Theo's loud laugh interrupted Paul. "Me?"
"Sure," Paul replied. "Why not?"
Theo shook his head. "After my 'run' today? Get real! By the way, what's 'five K'?"
"It means five kilometers. That's a little over three miles, which —"
"Three miles? I almost passed out trying to run a quarter of a mile! You're kidding, right?"
"No, I think you could do it," said Paul. "I'm working out to be ready for football in the fall, and I run a lot. I really like it. I bet you would, too, if you gave it a try."
Theo rolled his eyes. "Sure, you like it. You're an athlete. But me?"
Paul sighed. "You may be more athletic than you think, but unless you try, you'll never know. Anyway, it's a no on softball, huh?"
"Not today," Theo said. "I've embarrassed myself enough for one afternoon. I'll walk you down, and that'll be enough of a workout for me."
When the boys reached the front door, Paul turned to Theo. "You should talk to my dad. He could tell you how to get started in running. It doesn't have to be torture."
"Yeah, right," Theo said.
Paul looked a little irritated. "Can you just keep an open mind about it?"
"About what?" asked Mrs. Gordimer, who had heard the last part of the conversation.
Paul said, "I was telling Theo about this road race for cancer research and saying he should run in it."
Mrs. Gordimer smiled. "That sounds like a wonderful idea! Theo, you know how Marj has been trying to persuade you to get more involved in sports. She'd love it if you tried something like this."
"Mom," Theo said, wishing Paul had kept his mouth shut, "it's more than three miles. I couldn't do that. I'm not a runner."
"You could be a runner," Paul insisted.
Mrs. Gordimer said, "I think Paul's right, sweetie. You can at least think about it, can't you?"
Feeling trapped, Theo said, "Okay, sure, I'll think about it."
"Great!" Paul said, ignoring Theo's glare. "See you tomorrow." He ran down the front steps.
Theo's mother ruffled his hair. "Will you think about it? I wish you would."
Theo nodded. "Sure, Mom. I really will. Okay?"
Then he headed back to his room to find a video game, hoping that the subject of running would disappear and never be brought up again.
- On Sale
- May 1, 2002
- Page Count
- 128 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers