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       Pluto, p.2

           R. J. Palacio
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  “As if that family hasn’t been through enough already,” Mom added.

  I didn’t say anything. I just blinked and looked up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. Some of them were coming unstuck, hanging on by just one or two points. A few had fallen down on me, like little pointy raindrops.

  “You never fixed the stars, by the way,” I said without thinking.

  She had no idea what I was talking about. “What?”

  “You said you were going to glue them back on,” I said, pointing to the ceiling. “They keep falling down on me.”

  She looked up. “Oh, right,” she said, nodding. I think she hadn’t expected the conversation about Daisy to be over so quickly. But I didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

  She got up on top of my bed, took one of the lightsabers leaning on my bookcase, and tried to jam one of the larger stars back into place with the end of the lightsaber.

  “They need to be glued, Lisa,” I said just as the plastic star fell down on her head.

  “Right,” she answered, picking the star out of her hair. She jumped down off my bed. “Can you not call me Lisa, please?”

  “Okay, Lisa,” I answered.

  She rolled her eyes and pointed the lightsaber at me, like she was going to jab me.

  “Thanks for waking me up with really bad news, by the way,” I said sarcastically.

  “Hey, you’re the one who asked me about it,” she answered, putting the lightsaber back. “I was going to wait until this afternoon to tell you.”

  “Why? I’m not a baby, Lisa,” I answered. “I mean, sure, I love Daisy, but it’s not like she was my dog. It’s not like I see her anymore.”

  “I thought you’d be really upset,” she answered.

  “I am!” I said. “I’m just not, like, going to start crying or anything.”

  “Okay,” she answered, nodding and looking at me.

  “What?” I said impatiently.

  “Nothing,” she answered. “You’re right, you’re not a baby.” She looked at the plastic star that was still stuck on her thumb and then, without saying anything else, leaned down and stuck it on my forehead. “You should call Auggie this afternoon, by the way.”

  “Why?” I asked.

  “Why?” She raised her eyebrows. “To tell him how sorry you are about Daisy. To pay your condolences. Because he’s your best friend.”

  “Oh, right,” I mumbled, nodding.

  “Oh, right,” she repeated.

  “Okay, Lisa. I get it!” I said.

  “Grumpity grump grump,” she said on her way out. “You have three minutes, Chris. Then you’ve got to get up. I’ll turn on the shower for you.”

  “Close the door behind you!” I called out after her.

  “Please!” she yelled from the hallway.

  “Close the door behind you, PLEASE!” I groaned.

  She slammed the door shut.

  She could be so annoying sometimes!

  I picked the star off my forehead and looked at it. Mom had put those stars on the ceiling when we first moved in. That was back when she was trying to do everything she could to get me to like our new house in Bridgeport. She had even promised that we would get a dog after we got settled in. But we never got a dog. We got a hamster. But that’s hardly a dog. That’s not even one quarter of a dog. A hamster is basically just a warm potato with fur. I mean, it moves and it’s cute and all, but don’t let anyone try to fool you that it’s the same as a dog. I called my hamster Luke. But she’s no Daisy.

  Poor Daisy! It was hard to believe she was gone.

  But I didn’t want to think about her now.

  I started thinking of all the things I had to do this afternoon. Band practice right after school. Study for the math test tomorrow. Start my book report for Friday. Play some Halo. Maybe catch up on The Amazing Race tonight.

  I flicked the plastic star in the air and watched it spin across the room. It landed on the edge of my rug by the door.

  Lots of stuff to do. It was going to be a long day.

  But even as I was ticking off all the things I had to do today, I knew calling Auggie wasn’t going to be one of them.


  I don’t remember exactly when Zack and Alex stopped hanging out with me and Auggie. I think it was about the time we started kindergarten.

  Before that, we all used to see each other almost every day. Our moms would usually bring us over to Auggie’s house, since there were a lot of times when he couldn’t go out because he was sick. Not a contagious kind of sick or anything, but the kind where he couldn’t go outside. But we liked going to his house. His parents had turned their basement into a giant playroom. So, basically, it was like a toy store down there. Board games, train sets, air hockey and foosball tables, even a mini trampoline in the back. Zack and Alex and Auggie and I would literally spend hours running around down there, having all-day lightsaber duels and hop ball races. We would have balloon wars. We would pile cardboard bricks into giant mountains and play avalanche. Our moms called us the Four Musketeers, since we did everything together. And even after all the moms—except Isabel—went back to work, our babysitters got us together every day. They would take us on day trips to the Bronx Zoo, or to see the pirate ships at the South Street Seaport. We’d have picnics in the park. We even went all the way down to Coney Island a few times.

  But once we started kindergarten, Zack and Alex started having playdates with other kids. They went to a different school than I did, since they lived on the other side of the park, so we didn’t see them as much anymore. Auggie and I would bump into them in the park sometimes—Zack and Alex, hanging out with their new buddies—and we tried hanging out with them a couple of times. But their new friends didn’t seem to like us. Okay, that’s not exactly true. Their new friends didn’t like Auggie. I know that for a fact, because Zack told me this. I remember telling this to my mom, and she explained that some kids might feel “uncomfortable” around Auggie because of the way he looks. That’s how she put it. Uncomfortable. That’s not how Zack and Alex had put it, though. They used the word “scared.”

  But I knew that Zack and Alex weren’t uncomfortable or scared of Auggie, so I didn’t understand why they stopped hanging out with us. I mean, I had new friends from my school, too, but I didn’t stop hanging out with Auggie. Then again, I never hung out with Auggie and my new friends together, because, well, mixing friends can be a weird thing even under the best circumstances. I guess the truth is, I didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable or scared, either.

  Auggie had his own group of friends, too, by the way. These were kids who belonged to an organization for kids with “craniofacial differences,” which is what Auggie has. Every year, all the kids and their families hang out together at Disneyland or some other fun place like that. Auggie loved going on these trips. He’d made friends all over the country. But these friends didn’t live near us, so he hardly ever got to hang out with them.

  I did meet one of his friends once, though. A kid named Hudson. He had a different syndrome than Auggie has. His eyes were spaced very far apart, and they kind of bulged out a bit. He and his parents were staying with Auggie’s family for a couple of days while they were in the city meeting with doctors at Auggie’s hospital. Hudson was the same age as me and Auggie. He was really into Pokémon, I remember.

  Anyway, I had an okay time playing with him and Auggie that day, though Pokémon has never really been my thing. But then we all went out to dinner together—and that’s when things got bad for me. I can’t believe how much we got stared at! Like, usually when it was just me and Auggie, people would look at him and not even notice me. I was used to that. But with Hudson there, for some reason, it was just so much worse. People would look at Auggie first, and then they’d look at Hudson, and then they’d automatically look at me like they were wondering what was wrong with me, too. I saw one teenager staring at me like he was trying to figure out what was out of place on my face. It was so annoyi
ng! It made me want to scream. I couldn’t wait to go home.

  The next day, since I knew Hudson was still going to be there, I asked Lourdes if I could have a playdate over at Zack’s house after school instead of going to Auggie’s house. It’s not that I didn’t like Hudson, because I did. But I wasn’t into Pokémon, and I definitely didn’t want to get stared at again if we all went out somewhere.

  I ended up having lots of fun at Zack’s house. Alex came over, and the three of us played Four Square in front of his stoop. It really felt like old times again—except for the fact that Auggie wasn’t there with us. But it was nice. No one stared at us. No one felt uncomfortable. No one got scared. Hanging out with Zack and Alex was just easy. That’s when I realized why they didn’t hang out with us anymore. Being friends with Auggie could be hard sometimes.

  Luckily, Auggie never asked me why I didn’t come over to his house that day. I was glad about that. I didn’t know how to tell him that being friends with him could be hard for me sometimes, too.

  8:26 a.m.

  I don’t know why, but it’s almost impossible for me to get to school on time. Honestly, I don’t know why. Every day, it’s the same thing. I sleep through my alarm. Mom or Dad wakes me up. Whether I take a shower or not, whether I have a big breakfast or a Pop-Tart, we end up scrambling before we leave, Mom or Dad yelling at me to hurry up and get my coat, hurry up and tie my shoelaces. And even in those rare moments when we do get out the door on time, I’ll forget something, so we end up having to turn back anyway. Sometimes it’s my homework folder I forget. Sometimes it’s my trombone. I don’t know why, I really don’t. It’s just the way it is. Whether I’m sleeping at my mom’s house or my dad’s house, I’m always running late.

  Today, I took a quick shower, got dressed super fast, popped my Pop-Tart, and managed to get out the door on time. It wasn’t until we had driven the fifteen minutes it takes to get to school and had pulled into the school parking lot that I realized I had forgotten my science paper, my gym shorts, and my trombone. A new record for forgetting things.

  “You’re kidding, right?” said Mom when I told her. She was looking at me in the rearview mirror.

  “No!” I said, biting my nails nervously. “Can we go back?”

  “Chris, you’re already running late! In this rain, it’ll take forty minutes by the time we got home and back. No. You go to class, and I’ll write you a note or something.”

  “I can’t show up without my science paper!” I argued. “I have science first period!”

  “You should have thought of that before you left the house this morning!” she answered. “Now come on, get out or you’ll be late on top of everything. Look, even the school buses are leaving!” She pointed to where the school buses had started driving out of the parking lot.

  “Lisa!” I said, panicked.

  “What, Chris?” she shot back. “What do you want me to do? I can’t teleport.”

  “Can’t you go home and get them for me?”

  She passed her fingers through her hair, which had gotten wet from the rain. “How many times have I told you to pack up your stuff the night before so you don’t forget anything, huh?”


  “Fine,” she said. “Just go to class, and I’ll bring you your stuff. Now go, Chris.”

  “But you have to hurry!”

  “Go!” She turned around and gave me that look she gives me sometimes, when her eyeballs get super big and she kind of looks like an angry bird. “Get out of the car and go to school already!”

  “Fine!” I said. I stomped out of the car. It had started raining harder, and of course I didn’t have an umbrella.

  She lowered the driver’s side window. “Be careful walking to the sidewalk!”

  “Trombone, science paper, gym shorts,” I said to her, counting on my fingers.

  “Careful where you’re walking,” she said, nodding. “This is a parking lot, Chris!”

  “Mrs. Kastor will deduct five points off my grade if I don’t hand my paper in by the end of first period!” I answered. “You have to be back before first period ends!”

  “I know, Chris,” she answered quickly. “Now walk to the sidewalk, sweetie.”

  “Trombone, science paper, gym shorts!” I said, walking backward toward the sidewalk.

  “Watch where you’re walking, Chris!” she shrieked just as a bike swerved around to avoid hitting me.

  “Sorry!” I said to the bicyclist, who had a baby bundled up in the front bike carrier. The guy shook his head and pedaled away.

  “Chris! You have to watch where you’re going!” Mom screamed.

  “Will you stop yelling?” I yelled.

  She took a deep breath and rubbed her forehead. “Walk. To. The. Sidewalk. PLEASE.” This she said through gritted teeth.

  I turned around, looked both ways in an exaggerated way, and crossed the parking lot to the path leading to the school entrance. By now, the last of the school buses was pulling out of the parking lot.

  “Happy now?” I said when I reached the sidewalk.

  I could hear her sighing from twenty feet away. “I’ll leave your stuff at the front desk in the main office,” she answered, turning on the ignition and looking behind her as she started slowly backing out of the parking space. “Bye, honey. Have a nice—”

  “Wait!” I ran over to the car while it was still moving.

  The car screeched to a stop. “Chris!”

  “I forgot my backpack,” I said, opening the car door to get the backpack that I had left in the backseat. I could see her shaking her head out of the corner of my eye.

  I closed the door, looked both ways in a super-obvious way again, and sprinted back toward the sidewalk. By now, the rain was coming down really hard. I pulled my hood over my head.

  “Trombone! Science paper! Gym shorts!” I shouted, not looking back at her. I started jogging up the sidewalk to the school entrance.

  “Love you!” I heard her call out.

  “Bye, Lisa!”

  I made it inside just before first bell rang.

  9:14 a.m.

  I kept looking at the clock all through science class. Then, about ten minutes before the bell, I asked for the bathroom pass. I ran over to the main office as fast as I could and asked Ms. Denis, the nice old lady behind the main desk, for the stuff my mother had dropped off.

  “Sorry, Christopher,” she said. “Your mother hasn’t dropped anything off.”

  “What?” I said.

  “Was she supposed to come at a certain time?” she asked, looking at her watch. “I’ve been here all morning. I’m sure I haven’t missed her.”

  She must have seen the expression on my face, because she waved me to come to the other side of her desk. She pointed to the phone. “Why don’t you give her a call, honey?”

  I called Mom’s cell phone and got her voice mail.

  “Hi, Mom. It’s me and…um, you’re not here and it’s…” I looked at the big clock on the wall. “It’s nine-fourteen. I’m totally screwed if you don’t show up in the next ten minutes, so, yeah. Thanks a lot, Lisa.”

  I hung up.

  “I’m sure she’ll be here any minute now,” said Ms. Denis. “There’s a lot of traffic on the highway because of all the construction. And it’s really pouring outside now….”

  “Yeah.” I nodded and headed back to class.

  At first, I thought maybe I’d gotten lucky. Mrs. Kastor didn’t mention anything about the paper for the rest of the class. Then, just as the bell rang, she reminded us to drop off our science papers at her desk on the way out.

  I waited until everyone else had left and walked over to her at the whiteboard.

  “Um, Mrs. Kastor?” I said.

  “Yes, Christopher?”

  “Yeah, um, sorry, but I left my science paper at home this morning?”

  She continued erasing the whiteboard.

  “My mom’s bringing it to school, but she got caught in the rain?” I said.
r />   I don’t know why, but when I talk to teachers and get a little nervous, my voice goes up at the end of every sentence.

  “That’s the fourth time this semester you’ve forgotten an assignment, Christopher,” she said.

  “I know,” I answered. Then I raised my shoulders and smiled. “But I didn’t know you knew! Ha.”

  She didn’t even crack a smile at my attempt at humor.

  “I just meant I didn’t know you were keeping track…,” I started to say.

  “It’s five points off, Chris,” she said.

  “Even if I get it to you next period?” I know I sounded whiny at this point.

  “Rules are rules.”

  “So unfair,” I muttered under my breath, shaking my head.

  The second bell rang, and I ran to my next class before she could respond.

  10:05 a.m.

  Mr. Wren, my music teacher, was just as annoyed at me for forgetting my trombone as Mrs. Kastor had been about my science paper. For one thing, I had told Mr. Wren that Katie McAnn, the first trombonist, could take my trombone home today to practice her solo for the spring concert on Wednesday night. Katie’s trombone was getting repaired, and the only other spare trombone was so banged up, you couldn’t even push the slide past fourth position. So not only was Mr. Wren angry, but Katie was, too. And Katie is the kind of girl you don’t want getting mad at you. She’s a head taller than everyone else, and she gives really scary dirty looks to people she’s mad at.

  Anyway, I told Katie that my mom was on her way back to school with my trombone, so she didn’t give me the dirty look right away. Mr. Wren gave her the dented trombone to use during class, so she didn’t even have to sit out of music. When people forget their instruments, Mr. Wren usually makes them sit quietly off to the side and watch the orchestra rehearse. You’re not allowed to read anything, or do homework. You just have to sit and listen to the orchestra rehearse. Not exactly the most thrilling experience in the world. I, of course, did have to sit music out today, since there was no trombone left for me to play.

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