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       Pluto, p.7

           R. J. Palacio
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  I looked away.

  “Okay?” he repeated.

  I nodded.

  “And the most important thing is that no one got seriously hurt. Mom is fine. Okay, Chris?”

  He was wiping my tears away as I nodded.

  “I kept calling her Lisa,” I said. “She hates when I do that. The last thing she said to me was ‘Love you!’ and all I answered was ‘Bye, Lisa.’ And I didn’t even turn around!”

  Dad cleared his throat. “Chris, please don’t beat yourself up,” he said slowly. “Mom knows you love her so much. Listen, this was a scary thing that happened today. It’s natural for you to be upset. When something scary like this happens, it acts like a wake-up call, you know? It makes us reassess what’s important in life. Our family. Our friends. The people we love.” He was looking at me while he was talking, but I almost felt like he was talking to himself. His eyes were very moist. “Let’s just be grateful she’s fine, okay, Chris? And we’ll take really good care of her together, okay?”

  I nodded. I didn’t try to say anything, though. I knew it would just come out as more tears.

  Dad pulled me close to him, but he didn’t say anything, either. Maybe for the same reason.

  10:59 p.m.

  After Dad had gotten me to calm down a bit, he called Isabel back to let her know everything was fine. They chatted, and then Dad handed the phone to me.

  It was Auggie on the line.

  “Hey, your dad told my mom you need some help with math,” he said.

  “Oh yeah,” I answered shyly, blowing my nose. “But it’s so late. Don’t you need to go to bed?”

  “Mom’s totally fine with my helping you. Let’s FaceChat.”

  Two seconds later, he was on-screen.

  “So, I’m having trouble with word problems,” I said, opening my textbook. “I just…I’m not getting how you know what operation to use. When do you multiply and when do you divide. It’s so confusing.”

  “Oh, that.” He nodded. “Yeah, I definitely had trouble with that, too. Have you memorized the clue words, though? That helped me a lot.”

  I had no idea what he was talking about.

  “Let me send you a PDF,” he said.

  Two seconds later, I printed out the PDF he sent me, which listed a whole bunch of different math words.

  “If you know what clue words to look for in the word problem,” Auggie explained, “you know what operation to use. Like ‘per’ or ‘each’ or ‘equally’ means you have to divide. And ‘at this rate’ or ‘doubled’ means multiplication. See?”

  He went over the whole list of words with me, one by one, until it finally began to make some sense. Then we went over all the math problems in the textbook. We started with the sample problems first, and it turned out he was right: once I found the clue word in each problem, I knew what to do. I was able to do most of the worksheet problems on my own, though we went over each and every one of them after I was done, just to be sure I had really gotten it.

  11:46 p.m.

  My favorite types of books have always been mysteries. Like, you don’t know something at the beginning of the book. And then at the end of the book, you know it. And the clues were there all along, you just didn’t know how to read them. That’s what I felt like after talking to Auggie. Like this colossal mystery I couldn’t understand before was now completely, suddenly solved.

  “I can’t believe I’m finally getting this now,” I said to him after we had gone over the last problem. “Thank you so much, Aug. Seriously, thank you.”

  He smiled and got in close to the screen. “It’s cool beans,” he said.

  “I totally owe you one.”

  Auggie shrugged. “No problem. That’s what friends are for, right?”

  I nodded. “Right.”

  “G’night, Chris. Talk soon!”

  “Night, Aug! Thanks again! Bye!”

  He hung up. I closed my textbook.

  I went to the guest room to tell Dad that Auggie had helped me figure out all the math stuff, but he wasn’t in the room. I knocked on the bathroom door, but he wasn’t in there, either. Then I noticed Mom’s bedroom door was open. I could see Dad’s legs stretched out on the chair next to the dresser. I couldn’t see his face from the hallway, so I walked in quietly to let him know that I was finished talking with Auggie.

  That’s when I saw that he had fallen asleep in the chair. His head was drooping to one side. His glasses were on the edge of his nose, and his computer was on his lap.

  I tiptoed to the closet, got a blanket, and placed it over his legs. I did it really softly so he wouldn’t wake up. I took the computer from his lap and put it on the dresser.

  Then I walked over to the side of the bed where Mom was sleeping. When I was little, Mom used to fall asleep reading to me at bedtime. I would nudge her awake if she fell asleep before finishing the book, but sometimes, she just couldn’t help it. She’d fall asleep next to me, and I would listen to her soft breathing until I fell asleep, too.

  It had been a long time since I’d seen her sleeping, though. As I looked at her now, she seemed kind of little to me. I didn’t remember the freckle on her cheek. I’d never noticed the tiny lines on her forehead.

  I watched her breathing for a few seconds.

  “I love you, Mommy.”

  I didn’t say this out loud, though, because I didn’t want to wake her up.

  11:59 p.m.

  It was almost midnight by the time I went back to my room. Everything was exactly the way I had left it this morning. My bed was still unmade. My pajamas were jumbled up on the floor. My closet door was wide open. Usually, Mom would make my room look nice after she dropped me off at school in the morning, but today, of course, she never got the chance to do that.

  It felt like days had passed since Mom woke me up this morning.

  I closed the closet door, and that’s when I noticed the trombone resting against the wall. So the accident didn’t happen as she was bringing me my stuff this morning! I don’t know why exactly, but this made me feel so much better.

  I put the trombone right next to the bedroom door so I wouldn’t forget it again on my way to school tomorrow, and I packed my science paper and gym shorts inside my backpack.

  Then I sat down at my desk.

  Without thinking anything more about it, I replied to Elijah’s text.

  Hey, Elijah. Thanks for the offer to join your band. But I’m going to stick with John at the spring concert. Good luck with Seven Nation Army.

  Even if I looked like a total dweeb at the spring concert, I couldn’t let John down like that. That’s what friends are for, right? It’s the final countdown!

  Sometimes friendships are hard.

  I put my pajamas on, brushed my teeth, and got into bed. Then I turned off the lamp on my nightstand. The stars on my ceiling were glowing bright neon green now, as they always did right after I turned the lights off.

  I turned over on my side, and my eyes fell on a small star-shaped green light on my floor. It was the star Mom had placed on my forehead this morning, which I had flicked across the room.

  I got out of bed, picked it up, and stuck it on my forehead. Then I got back in my bed and closed my eyes.

  We’re leaving together

  But still it’s farewell

  And maybe we’ll come back

  To Earth, who can tell

  I guess there is no one to blame

  We’re leaving ground

  Will things ever be the same again?

  It’s the final countdown….

  The End



  R. J. Palacio, Pluto

  (Series: # )




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