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       Pluto, p.6

           R. J. Palacio
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  What I couldn’t figure out was what John would do when he found out. Any sane person would just forget about playing in the spring concert on Wednesday at all. But knowing John, I could pretty much bet that he would go ahead and play “The Final Countdown.” He didn’t care about making a fool of himself that way. I could picture him singing his heart out, strumming the guitar, with Mr. Bowles rocking out behind him on the keyboards. Ladies and gentlemen, the after-school rock band! Just the thought of it made me cringe for him. He would never live that down.

  It was hard to concentrate on my homework, so it took me a lot longer than I thought it would. I didn’t even start studying for the math test until almost ten p.m. That’s when I remembered that I was totally screwed in math. I waited to the last minute to study, and I didn’t understand any of it.

  Dad was in bed working on his laptop when I opened the door of the guest bedroom. I was holding my ridiculously heavy fifth-grade math textbook in my hands.

  “Hey, Dad.”

  “You’re not in bed yet?” he asked, looking at me over his reading glasses.

  “I need some help studying for my math test tomorrow.”

  He glanced over at the clock on the bedside table. “Kind of late to be discovering this, no?”

  “I had so much homework,” I answered. “And I had to learn the new song for the spring concert, which is the day after tomorrow. There’s so much going on, Dad.”

  He nodded. Then he put his laptop down and patted the bed for me to sit next to him, which I did. I turned to page 151.

  “So,” I said, “I’m having trouble with word problems.”

  “Oh, well, I’m great at word problems!” he answered, smiling. “Lay it on me.”

  I started reading from the textbook. “Jill wants to buy honey at an outdoor market. One vendor is selling a twenty-six-ounce jar for $3.12. Another vendor is selling a sixteen-ounce jar for $2.40. Which is the better deal, and how much money per ounce will Jill save by choosing it?”

  I put the textbook down and looked at Dad, who looked at me blankly.

  “Okay, um…,” he said, scratching his ear. “So, that was twenty-six ounces for…what again? I’m going to need a piece of paper. Pass me my notebook over there?”

  I reached over to the other end of the bed and passed him his notebook. He started scribbling in it, asked me to repeat the question again, and then kept scribbling.

  “Okay, okay, so…,” he said, turning his notebook around for me to look at his scribbled numbers. “So, first you want to divide the numbers to figure out what the cost per ounce is, then you want…”

  “Wait, wait,” I said, shaking my head. “That’s the part I don’t get. When do you know you have to divide? What do you need to do? How do you know?”

  He looked down at the scribbles on his notebook again, as if the answer were there.

  “Let me see the question?” he said, pushing his reading glasses back up on his nose and looking at where I pointed in the textbook. “Okay, well, you know you have to divide, because, um, well, you want to figure out the price per ounce…because it says so right here.” He pointed to the problem.

  I looked quickly at where he pointed but shook my head. “I don’t get it.”

  “Well, look, Chris. Right there. It asks how much the cost per ounce is.”

  I shook my head again. “I don’t get it!” I said loudly. “I hate this. I suck at this.”

  “No, you don’t, Chris,” he answered calmly. “You just have to take a deep breath and—”

  “No! You don’t understand,” I said. “I don’t get this at all!”

  “Which is why I’m trying to explain it to you.”

  “Can I ask Mom?”

  He took his eyeglasses off and rubbed his eyes with his wrist. “Chris, she’s asleep. We should just let her rest tonight,” he answered slowly. “I’m sure we can figure this out ourselves.”

  I started poking my knuckles into my eyes, so he pulled my hands down off my face gently. “Why don’t you call one of your friends at school? How about John?”

  “He’s in the fourth grade!” I said impatiently.

  “Okay, well, someone else,” he said.

  “No!” I shook my head. “There’s no one I can call. I’m not friends with anyone like that this year. I mean, my friend friends aren’t in the same math class I’m in. And I don’t know the kids in this math class that well.”

  “Then call your other friends, Chris,” he said, reaching over for his cell phone. “What about Elijah and those guys in the band? I’m sure they’ve all taken that class.”

  “No! Dad! Ugh!” I covered my face with my hands. “I’m totally going to fail this test. I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.”

  “Okay, calm down,” he said. “What about Auggie? He’s kind of a math whiz, isn’t he?”

  “Never mind!” I said, shaking my head. I took the textbook from him. “I’ll figure it out myself!”

  “Christopher,” he said.

  “It’s fine, Dad,” I said, getting up. “I’ll just figure it out. Or I’ll text someone. It’s fine.”

  “Just like that?”

  “It’s fine. Thanks, Dad.” I closed the textbook and got up.

  “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you,” he answered, and for a second, I felt sorry for him. He sounded a little defeated. “I mean, I think we can figure it out together if you give me another chance.”

  “No, it’s okay!” I answered, walking toward the door.

  “Good night, Chris.”

  “Night, Dad.”

  I went to my room, sat at my desk, and opened the textbook to page 151 again. I tried rereading the word problem, but all I could hear in my head were the words to “Seven Nation Army.” And those made no sense to me, either.

  No matter how hard I stared at the problem, I just couldn’t think of what to do.


  A few weeks before we moved to Bridgeport, Auggie’s parents were over at our house helping my parents pack for the big move. Our entire apartment was filled with boxes.

  Auggie and I were having a Nerf war in the living room, turning the boxes into hostile aliens on Pluto. Occasionally, one of our Nerf darts would hit Via, who was trying to read her book on the sofa. Okay, maybe we were doing it a little bit on purpose, tee-hee.

  “Stop it!” she finally screamed when one of my darts zinged her book. “Mom!” she yelled.

  But Isabel and Nate were all the way on the other side of the apartment with my parents, taking a coffee break in the kitchen.

  “Can you guys please stop?” Via said to us seriously.

  I nodded, but Auggie shot another Nerf dart at her book.

  “That’s a fart dart,” said Auggie. This made us both crack up.

  Via was furious. “You guys are such geeks,” she said, shaking her head. “Star Wars.”

  “Not Star Wars. Pluto!” answered Auggie, pointing his Nerf blaster at her.

  “That’s not even a real planet,” she said, opening her book to read.

  Auggie shot another Nerf dart at her book. “What are you talking about? Yes, it is.”

  “Stop it, Auggie, or I swear I’ll…”

  Auggie lowered his Nerf blaster. “Yes, it is,” he repeated.

  “No, it’s not,” answered Via. “It used to be a planet. I can’t believe you two geniuses don’t know that after all the space videos you’ve watched!”

  Auggie didn’t answer right away, like he was processing what she just said. “But my very educated mother just showed us nine planets! That’s how Mommy said people remember the planets in our solar system.”

  “My very educated mother just served us nachos!” answered Via. “Look it up. I’m right.” She started looking it up on her phone.

  It may be that in all our reading science books and watching videos, this information had made its way to us before. But I guess we never really understood what it meant. We were still little kids when we were in our space phase. We
barely knew how to read.

  Via started reading aloud from her phone: “From Wikipedia: ‘The understanding that Pluto is only one of several large icy bodies in the outer solar system prompted the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to formally define “planet” in 2006. This definition excluded Pluto and reclassified it as a member of the new “dwarf planet” category (and specifically as a plutoid).’ Do I need to go on? Basically what that means is that Pluto was considered too puny to be a real planet, so there. I’m right.”

  Auggie looked really upset.

  “Mommy!” he yelled out.

  “It’s not a big deal, Auggie,” said Via, seeing how upset he was getting.

  “Yes, it is!” he said, running down the hallway.

  Via and I followed him to the kitchen, where our parents were sitting around the table over a bagel and cream cheese spread.

  “You said it was ‘my very educated mother just showed us nine planets’!” said Auggie, charging over to Isabel.

  Isabel almost spilled her coffee. “What—” she said.

  “Why are you making such a big deal about this, Auggie?” Via interrupted.

  “What’s going on, guys?” asked Isabel, looking from Auggie to Via.

  “It is a big deal!” Auggie screamed at the top of his lungs. It was so loud and unexpected, that scream, that everyone in the room just looked at one another.

  “Whoa, Auggie,” said Nate, putting his hand on Auggie’s shoulder. But Auggie shrugged it off.

  “You told me Pluto was one of the nine planets!” Auggie yelled at Isabel. “You said it was the littlest planet in the solar system!”

  “It is, sweetness,” Isabel answered, trying to get him to calm down.

  “No, it’s not, Mom,” Via said. “They changed Pluto’s planetary status in 2006. It’s no longer considered one of the nine planets in our solar system.”

  Isabel blinked at Via, and then she looked at Nate. “Really?”

  “I knew that,” Nate answered seriously. “They did the same thing to Goofy a few years ago.”

  This made all the adults laugh.

  “Daddy, this isn’t funny!” Auggie shrieked. And then, out of the blue, he started to cry. Big tears. Sobbing crying.

  No one understood what was happening. Isabel wrapped her arms around Auggie, and he sobbed into her neck.

  “Auggie Doggie,” Nate said, gently rubbing Auggie on the back. “What’s going on here, buddy?”

  “Via, what happened?” Isabel asked sharply.

  “I have no idea!” said Via, opening her eyes wide. “I didn’t do anything!”

  “Something must have happened!” said Isabel.

  “Chris, do you know why Auggie’s so upset?” asked Mom.

  “Because of Pluto,” I answered.

  “But what does that mean?” asked Mom.

  I shrugged. I understood why he was so upset, but I couldn’t explain it to them exactly.

  “You said…it was…a planet…,” Auggie finally said in between gulps. Even under ordinary circumstances, Auggie could be hard to understand sometimes. In the middle of a crying fit, it was even harder.

  “What, sweetness?” whispered Isabel.

  “You said…it was…a planet,” Auggie repeated, looking up at her.

  “I thought it was, Auggie,” she answered, wiping his tears with her fingertips. “I don’t know, sweetness. I’m not a real science teacher. When I was growing up, there were nine planets. It never even occurred to me that that could change.”

  Nate knelt down beside him. “But even if it’s not considered a planet anymore, Auggie, I don’t understand why that should upset you so much.”

  Auggie looked down. But I knew he couldn’t explain his Plutonian tears.

  10:28 p.m.

  By about ten-thirty, I was getting desperate about the math test tomorrow. I had texted Jake, who’s in my math class, and messaged a few other kids on Facebook. When my phone buzzed, I assumed it was one of these kids, but it wasn’t. It was Auggie.

  Hey, Chris. Just heard about your mom being in hospital. Sorry, hope she’s ok.

  I couldn’t believe he was texting me, just when I’d been thinking about him. Kind of psychic.

  Hey, Aug, I texted back. Thx. She’s ok. She broke her femur. She has this huge cast.

  He texted me a sad-face emoticon.

  I texted: My dad had to carry her up the stairs! They kept bumping into the wall.

  Ha ha. He texted me a laughing-face icon.

  I texted: I was going to call u today. To tell u sorry about Daisy. :(((((

  Oh yeah. Thx. He texted a string of crying-face emoticons.

  Hey, remember the Galactic Adventures of Darth Daisy? I texted.

  This was a comic strip we used to draw together about two astronauts named Gleebo and Tom who lived on Pluto and had a dog named Darth Daisy.

  Ha ha. Yeah, Major Gleebo.

  Major Tom.

  Good times good times, he texted back.

  Daisy was the GR8EST DOG IN UNIVERSE! I thumbed loudly. I was smiling.

  He texted me a picture of Daisy. It had been such a long time since I had seen her. In the picture, her face had gotten completely white, and her eyes were kind of foggy. But her nose was still pink and her tongue was still super long as it hung out of her mouth.

  So cute! Daisy!!!!!!! I texted.

  DARTH Daisy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  Ha ha. Take that, Via! I wrote.

  Remember those fart darts?

  Hahahahahaha. I was smiling a lot at this point. It was the happiest part of my day, to be truthful. That was when we were still into Pluto.

  Were we into Star Wars yet?

  Getting into it. Do you still have all your miniatures?

  Yeah but I put some away too. So anyway, Gleebo, my mom’s telling me I gots to go to bed now. Glad your mom is okay.

  I nodded. There was no way I could ask him for help in math at this point. It would just be too lame. I sat down on the edge of my bed and started responding to his text.

  Before I could finish, he texted: my mom actually wants to talk to you. she wants to FaceChat. R U free?

  I stood up. Sure.

  Two seconds later, I got a request to FaceChat. I saw Isabel on the phone.

  “Oh, hey, Isabel,” I said.

  “Hi, Chris!” she answered. I could tell she was in her kitchen. “How are you? I talked to your mom earlier. I wanted to make sure you guys got home okay.”

  “Yeah, we did.”

  “And she’s doing okay? I didn’t want to wake her if she’s sleeping.”

  “Yeah, she’s sleeping,” I answered.

  “Oh good. She needs her rest. That was a big cast!”

  “Dad’s staying here tonight.”

  “Oh, that’s so great!” she answered happily. “I’m so glad. And how are you doing, Chris?”

  “I’m good.”

  “How’s school?”


  Isabel smiled. “Lisa told me you got her beautiful flowers today.”

  “Yeah,” I answered, smiling and nodding.

  “Okay. Well, I just wanted to check in on you and say hello, Chris. I want you to know we’re thinking about you guys, and if there’s anything we can do—”

  “I’m sorry about Daisy,” I blurted out.

  Isabel nodded. “Oh. Thank you, Chris.”

  “You guys must be so sad.”

  “Yeah, it’s sad. She was such a presence in our house. Well, you know. You were there when we first got her, remember?”

  “She was so skinny!” I said. I was smiling, but suddenly, out of the blue, my voice got a little shaky.

  “With that long tongue of hers!” She laughed.

  I nodded. I felt a lump in my throat, like I was going to cry.

  She looked at me carefully. “Oh, sweetie, it’s okay,” she said quietly.

  Auggie’s mom had always been like a second mom to me. I mean, aside from my parents, and maybe my grandmother, Isabe
l Pullman knew me better than anyone.

  “I know,” I whispered. I was still smiling, but my chin was trembling.

  “Sweetie, where’s your dad?” she asked. “Can you put him on the phone?”

  I shrugged. “I think…he might be asleep by now.”

  “I’m sure he won’t care if you wake him up,” she answered softly. “Go get him. I’ll wait on the phone.”

  Auggie nudged his way into view on the screen.

  “What’s the matter, Chris?” he asked.

  I shook my head, fighting back tears. I couldn’t talk. I knew if I did, I’d start to cry.

  “Christopher,” Isabel said, coming close to the screen. “Your mom is going to be fine, sweetie.”

  “I know,” I said, my voice cracking, but then it just came out of me. “But she was in the car because of me! Because I forgot my trombone! If I hadn’t forgotten my stuff, she wouldn’t have gotten into an accident! It’s my fault, Isabel! She could have died!”

  This all came pouring out of me in a string of messy crying bursts.

  10:52 p.m.

  Isabel put Auggie on the phone while she called Dad’s cell phone to let him know I was crying hysterically in my room. A minute later, Dad came into my room and I hung up on Auggie. Dad put his arms around me and hugged me tightly.

  “Chris,” said Dad.

  “It was my fault, Daddy! It was my fault she was driving.”

  He untangled himself from my hug and put his face in front of my face.

  “Look at me, Chris,” he said. “It’s not your fault.”

  “She was on her way back to school with my stuff.” I sniffled. “I told her to hurry. She was probably speeding.”

  “No, she wasn’t, Chris,” he answered. “I promise you. What happened today was just an accident. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was a fluke. Okay?”

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