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Original Essays | July 22, 2014

Nick Harkaway: IMG The Florist-Assassins

The three men lit up in my mind's eye, with footnotes. They were converging on me — and on the object I was carrying — in a way that had... Continue »
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2 Burnside Children's Young Adult- General

The Last Great Getaway of the Water Balloon Boys


The Last Great Getaway of the Water Balloon Boys Cover




andlt;bandgt;andlt;bandgt;chapter twoandlt;/bandgt;andlt;/bandgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;When you have to go to the bathroom, there comes a point when your willpower has been stretched to the limit. Thereand#8217;re literally tears in your eyes, you want to go so bad. Itand#8217;s like a near-death experience. You might see yourself in a dark tunnel, a light at the end. Maybe you hear angels singing. Youand#8217;re balancing on the edge of a cliff, and the slightest little thing could push you off. Anything. A little breeze. The brush of a feather. Maybe even a loud thought. Thatand#8217;s where I was: right at the edge.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Jakeand#8217;s voice startled me, and I dropped my backpack onto the floor. But I didnand#8217;t go over the edge. My resolve held. I found out that day I had titanium intestines. A bladder of steel. It wasnand#8217;t the sort of thing youand#8217;d put on a college application, but it was a good thing to know.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I snatched up the backpack and emerged from the stall, trying not to look as uncomfortable as I felt.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;He stood by the far window, arms crossed, a smirk on his face. He was a real smirking kind of guy. His blond hair was long and greasy, coming down nearly to his shoulders. Some guys looked good with long hair, but Jake didnand#8217;t. He just looked like a guy who needed a haircut. He wore faded and ripped jeans and a jean jacket, over a plain white T-shirt with holes that looked like theyand#8217;d been caused by cigarette burns. In all the times I had seen him at high school, Iand#8217;d never seen him wear anything else. He wore the jean jacket even when it was a hundred degrees outside.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;My guess was it was because he wanted to look bigger. He was so thin that if he turned sideways, you might mistake him for a graham cracker. I was pretty thin myself, but I was Fat Albert standing next to him.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;The rainy-day light from the window made his skin look kind of gray. It was pockmarked, too, like heand#8217;d used his face as an ashtray. I remembered him having really bad acne our freshman year, but now it was just craters and divots. It didnand#8217;t make him look ugly, though. It made him look kinda badass, like heand#8217;d done and seen a lot; and from the way girls talked about him, it seemed they liked that sort of thing. He was only a year older than me, but he could have passed for twenty-one while I still sometimes got carded at a PG-13 movie.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Hey,and#8221; I said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Hey.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Howand#8217;d you know I was in there?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;He snorted. and#8220;Not everybody is as stupid as those two. Your muddy footprintsand#8212;they still look fresh. And I also saw you walk into the school a few minutes ago. Figured itand#8217;s where youand#8217;d go.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Oh,and#8221; I said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;There was a pause. I didnand#8217;t know what else to say, and besides, I couldnand#8217;t really concentrate. It took all of my concentration to keep from filling my pants. The only thing that came to mind was how he broke my Game Boy. I wondered if he was thinking about the Game Boy, too. Youand#8217;d think after so many years, youand#8217;d forget about something like that, but it still made me mad, thinking about it. I really loved that Game Boy.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Soand#8217;d you do it?and#8221; he asked.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Do what?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Do what theyand#8217;re saying you did.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Whatand#8217;re they saying?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;That you put a love note in Tessa Booneand#8217;s locker.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I swallowed. I was trying to think of what to say when the first bell rang, making me jump, and I nearly had an accident right there.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;You shouldnand#8217;t believe everything people say,and#8221; I said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I pushed through the swinging door. Other kids were already entering.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Hey,and#8221; he said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;What?and#8221; I said, holding the door open. I expected more of the Spanish Inquisition from him.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;He pointed at my pants. and#8220;You may want to button up before you go out there. Just saying.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;As soon as I left the bathroom, the first place I went was to the bathroom on the second floor. It wasnand#8217;t like I could just go back into the stall after I had made such a big deal of leaving the way I did.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Somehow I managed to avoid Leo the rest of the day, though it wasnand#8217;t easy. Parrot Pete saw me at lunch when I was hunkering down in the art room, his eyes getting all big and wide, but I practically glued myself to Mrs. Morchester. It was pretty easy to glue myself to her, because by early afternoon I still hadnand#8217;t fully dried yet. I also passed Tessa Booneand#8217;s locker once. She was tall and blond, taller than most boys, actually, and she was wearing her blue-and-white cheerleaderand#8217;s getup. She had her back to me, so I thought I might slip past so she didnand#8217;t see me (pretty stupid thought, really, when youand#8217;re a squeaky human squid), but one of her girlfriends heard my squishing sneakers and giggled. There were three other girls gathered around Tessa, and soon they were all staring at me and giggling. Tessa looked over her shoulder, saw me, and looked away quickly. Her neck reddened. Soon everybody in the hall was staring and giggling, one big happy staring and giggling fest.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Somehow I made it to sixth period, Advanced Economics, with my face still attached. The problem was I was pretty certain that when the bell went off, Leo, Parrot Pete, and maybe some of their other goons would make a point of being outside waiting for me. I could pretty much guarantee it. What I did was wait until five after two, about ten minutes before last bell, then asked Mr. Edwards if I could go to the bathroom.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I took my backpack, which made him raise his eyebrows, but he didnand#8217;t stop me. Teachers really will trust you to the limit until you give them reason not to, so I was glad, for once, that I had always been a good student. I headed for the nearest exitand#8212;the one that led out to the track fieldand#8212;and was nearly to the door when the worst possible thing happened. Mr. Harkinand#8212;our huge, bald ex-Marine principaland#8212;backed out of one of the rooms into my path.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;There was half a second when I thought I might be able to skate past him before he saw me, and I veered to the far wall, but he turned too fast.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Charles,and#8221; he said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;He had one of those Darth Vader voices, so deep that he sometimes made the freshman girls cry by just asking for their hall passes. There was no way to just keep walking once he spoke to you. I couldnand#8217;t even muster any irritation at him using my full name.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Yes sir,and#8221; I said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Howand#8217;re you doing, son?and#8221; he said. and#8220;You having a good day?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I had expected him to ask for my hall pass, but apparently even Mr. Harkin trusted me completely. I never wanted to be in a position where he caught me lying. There were rumors that he had killed people in Vietnam with his bare hands. Lots of them. And that he had enjoyed it.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Yes sir,and#8221; I said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;You picked out a college yet, son?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;No sir.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Well, you should start thinking about it. Next year youand#8217;ll be a senior, and it wonand#8217;t be long before you move on to greener pastures. You should be able to get plenty of scholarships. Your test scores and your grades put you right at the top of the class. Did you know that?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Um, no sir. I mean, well, yes sir, I know Iand#8217;ve done kinda well.and#8221; I glanced at the exit down the hall. The bell would ring any moment, and that door was so far away. It was like in another time zone.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;I spoke to your mom when she was here on Parent Day,and#8221; Mr. Harkin said. and#8220;She said you want to be a doctor.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Yes sir.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Thatand#8217;s great. Being a doctor is a good calling. I know your father is a doctor. Or a dentist.and#8221; He laughed. and#8220;Same thing, I guess.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I wasnand#8217;t expecting him to bring up Dad, and I glanced up at him, trying to read his expression. He had that concerned look adults get when theyand#8217;re trying to be adults who know better than kids.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Yes sir,and#8221; I said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;He looked at me for a long time, and I thought, here it comes, heand#8217;s going to try to tell me how the divorce wasnand#8217;t my fault, that these things happen, that both my parents love me and thatand#8217;s all that really matters, stuff Iand#8217;d heard a million times in the last four years. It was the kind of thing some people have to say to make themselves feel like everythingand#8217;s okay, that kids who go through divorces arenand#8217;t royally screwed, when they know, deep down, that they probably are.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Well, you know, son, divorce happens,and#8221; he said. and#8220;It wasnand#8217;t your fault at all. You know that. You just keep on doing well and great things will happen for you.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I felt like a deflating balloon. Even though I andlt;iandgt;knewandlt;/iandgt; he was going to say something like that, it didnand#8217;t stop me from hoping he wouldnand#8217;t.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Yes sir.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;The bell rang, and Iand#8217;m sure my heart must have stopped. I had maybe five seconds before kids starting spilling into the hall. The room doors were opening. I turned to go, but Mr. Harkin wasnand#8217;t quite done with me.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Oh, and that was a good choice,and#8221; he said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Huh? I mean, sorry sir?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;He chuckled. and#8220;I heard you asked Tessa Boone to the prom.and#8221; He winked at me and strode away.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;The level of mortification I had reached in that moment, the pure and utter humiliation that filled every cell in my body knowing that the rumor about me and Tessa had reached even Mr. Harkin, who truly was the last person in the school to find out about anything, was so great, so overpowering, that I literally could not move for a good ten seconds. Looking back, those ten seconds may have made all the difference.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Kids filled the hall, streaming around me. Laughter and voices echoed off the tiles. Finally, I snapped out of it and bolted for the door. With so many human obstacles in the way, it took forever before I finally pushed through the doors and made it outside.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;The sky was a strange shimmering color of blue, like the color of our dish detergent, and the air felt cool and moist. The way home was across the parking lot and down the steps to the track field, and then to the other side and Warren Street. I thought I had a pretty good head start, but I was just across the parking lot when I heard a shout.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Hey!and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;It was Leo. I looked over my shoulder and saw him standing on the steps outside the schooland#8212;him, Parrot Pete, and two football-type guys who could each probably squash me with their pinkie fingers.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;There were maybe three or four seconds when we just stared at each other across the glistening asphalt, the predator and the prey, the bully and the abused, the football star and the grade A geek, and then finally Leo grinned and the spell was broken.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I ran.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;With lots of whooping and hollering, they ran after me.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I knew there was absolutely no chance I could outrun them. I knew it in the same way a rabbit knows he canand#8217;t outrun the hawk heand#8217;s just spotted swooping down on him. I knew it, and yet I ran, anyway, just like the rabbit runs. We may be a lot smarter than rabbits (of course, if you put up Leo as the comparison study, itand#8217;s a close call), but when it comes to the fight or flight response, weand#8217;re no different.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Me, I was all about flight.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;When you weighed 120 pounds, and you couldnand#8217;t even bench-press volume andlt;iandgt;Zandlt;/iandgt; of the andlt;iandgt;Encyclopedia Britannicaandlt;/iandgt;, you didnand#8217;t have a choice.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Down the stairs. Tripped at the bottom. Scraped my hands on the concrete. Back up, running like a madman across the rust-colored Astroturf track, my sneakers like wet sponges. Now onto the grass in the center. andlt;iandgt;Squish, squish,andlt;/iandgt; the grass was wet. But couldnand#8217;t slow down. Halfway across, I glanced over my shoulder and saw them at the bottom of the stairs.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Gonna get you, loser!and#8221; Leo cried.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Yeah, gonna get you!and#8221; Parrot Pete said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Faster, faster, lungs burning. Had to keep pushing myself. Run, rabbit, run. Then tragedy struck.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;My foot came down in a bald spot in the grass, and because the ground was wet, the mud acted like a suction cup on my shoe, pulling it clean off. I took a couple of tumbling steps before finally crashing. Wet grass went into my mouth and up my nose. I heard laughter. Then I was up and running, leaving the other shoe behind. I managed only a couple of steps before going down again. This time the laughter was closer.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I struggled to my feet, but someone gave me a hard kick on the butt and I went down face first in the grass. More laughter. Shadows fell across me.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Get up, faggot,and#8221; Leo said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Yeah, yeah, get up,and#8221; Parrot Pete said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;The two other guys offered up something equally memorable. Everybody was pulling for me to get up, my own private booster squad. I opted for playing dead, lying there facedown. I heard it sometimes worked on bears. Unfortunately, it didnand#8217;t work on Leo. He gave me a swift kick in the gut. I saw sunbursts on the backs of my eyelids. I rolled onto my side, in the fetal position, hugging myself.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Up,and#8221; Leo said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;All I could manage was a groan. Leoand#8217;s buddies grabbed me and hoisted me up. My vision was blurred with both water and tears, and I blinked, trying to see. Leo was nothing but a streak of black hair and a Cheshire cat grin. My side throbbed.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Whyand#8217;d you write Tessa that note?and#8221; Leo asked.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Iand#8212;I didnand#8217;tand#8212;and#8221; I began.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;He punched me in the gut. This one knocked the wind out of me, and I doubled over, coughing.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Whyand#8217;d you write the note?and#8221; Leo asked again.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Iand#8217;m sorry,and#8221; I managed. and#8220;I didnand#8217;t mean anything.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;I donand#8217;t give a ratand#8217;s ass if youand#8217;re sorry,and#8221; Leo said. and#8220;I wanna know why you wrote it. Did you think I wouldnand#8217;t find out?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Iand#8212;Iand#8212;and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;You think Iand#8217;m stupid, that it?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;N-noand#8212;and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;And whyand#8217;d you even think sheand#8217;d be interested in a total loser like you?and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Iand#8217;m sorry.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Shut up!and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Okay, okay,and#8221; I said, still hoping I might be able to talk myself out of this one, and#8220;listen, Iand#8217;m justand#8212;and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;He hit me in the face. At least I think he hit me in the face. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground. I felt a trickle in my nose, and I tasted blood in my mouth. My ears rang like church bells. The goons lifted me up again, and this time I hung limp, defeated, knowing that he was just going to pummel me until there was nothing left of me but a pulp. Charlie Hill, the human pulp. It was going to be brutal.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;Look at me,and#8221; he said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Slowly, I lifted my head. He was smiling with glee.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;I gotta make a and#8217;zample out of you,and#8221; he said. and#8220;I canand#8217;t have people going after my girl. I canand#8217;t have them thinking I wonand#8217;t do nothing.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I didnand#8217;t answer. What was I going to say? I could try to fight, but I figured that would just make it so much worse for me in the end. He pulled his fist back, and it looked as big as anything Iand#8217;d seen before in my life. This was Mount Rushmore, or the Great Wall of China. Iand#8217;d like to say I saw my life flash before my eyes, but it wasnand#8217;t anything like that. It was just me standing in one shoe and one soggy sock, a lot of pain in my gut, and his giant fist cocking like a big gun.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Then a bomb went off.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Thatand#8217;s what it sounded like, and we all jerked and dropped into a crouch. I turned and looked in the direction of the sound, and it took my mind a moment to make sense of what it was seeing. It was as if the spaceship from andlt;iandgt;E.T.andlt;/iandgt; dropped down right in the middle of andlt;iandgt;Dances with Wolvesandlt;/iandgt;. You just donand#8217;t expect it, and it takes you a while to even see what it is. A large red beast had just flattened a huge section of chain-link fence and was charging toward us.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;No.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Not a beast.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;A car. Not just any car. Mr. Harkinand#8217;s cherry red and#8216;67 Mustang, the very same car our principal parked right outside his office so that he could look on it lovingly all day long. The very same car that no senior class had dared to involve in any pranks, when just about everything else was fair game. Rumor had it that about five years earlier a biology teacher had scratched the Mustangand#8217;s door while carrying a box of bunsen burners, and that teacher was now teaching in Barrow, Alaska, where the sun didnand#8217;t even rise a month out of the year. Nobody touched Mr. Harkinand#8217;s Mustang.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;And yet, there in the driverand#8217;s seat was Jake Tucker, my old neighbor, once a pal and then a Game Boy breaker, barreling toward us. The top of the Mustang was down, and his blond hair billowed in the wind. His mirrored sunglasses flashed in the sunlight.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;For a moment, it didnand#8217;t look like he was going to slow down, and my captors edged away from me. Then the Mustang spun to the right, spitting grass and dirt right at my feet. At the same time, while the Mustang spun, the passenger door flew open. Then the car was stopped, engine idling, and Jake stared out at me with his mirrored sunglasses and his sly smirk.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#8220;You getting in?and#8221; he said.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;None of us moved. It was all too surreal. But then I realized I had a choice, and I had only a few seconds, while Leo and his friends were still too stunned to grab me, to make it. There are moments when your life spins on a wheel, when the choices you make forever change the person you are and the person you will become. I could stay and get pulverized by Leo and his friends, or I could escape in the Mustang only to meet my certain doom later at the hands of Mr. Harkin. Leoand#8217;s fist now, or Harkinand#8217;s wrath laterand#8212;which was worse? Looking back, it seems like there might have been other options available to me, but those were the only two roads I could see.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;I got into the car.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;and#169; 2010 Candace Camp

Product Details

Carter, Scott
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Carter, Scott William
Conduct of life
Boys / Men
Social Issues - Friendship
Mysteries, Espionage, & Detective Stories
Children s-General
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 7
f-c jacket
8.25 x 5.5 in 10.64 oz
Age Level:

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The Last Great Getaway of the Water Balloon Boys Used Hardcover
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$8.50 In Stock
Product details 208 pages Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing - English 9781416971566 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In his touching and impressive debut novel, Carter tells the story of two teenagers coping with the fallout of broken families. Charlie, a good student and artist who is shy around girls, has just found out that his mother is getting remarried. His former best friend Jake, now in foster care, has become a tough kid who regularly gets suspended from school. When a school bully threatens Charlie, Jake literally rides to the rescue, driving up in a stolen Mustang and dragging Charlie on a road trip to Denver to find the latter's father and give him a drawing. On the way they meet a group of stoners, run from the police, and console a depressed woman at a motel. There are a few missteps — believable as a virgin 16-year-old boy might be, one who has never masturbated is pushing it — but for the most part, Carter's storytelling is on target. Some early foreshadowing tempers what might otherwise have been a jarring ending to this road trip story, and both Jake and Charlie come across as believable characters with interesting stories to tell. Ages 12 — up." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by , When Charlie is getting beaten up by bullies, his ex-best-friend Jake pulls up in a bright red '67 Mustang--the principal's car--and tells him to get in. It's a choice between a broken nose and the risk of a lifetime, and for the first time in his life, Charlie decides to take a chance. Now, Charlie and Jake are on a mission to find Charlie's absent father, and to avoid getting arrested for car theft. On the way, Charlie will learn a lot more about life than he ever expected to, discover the bond of friendship he never thought he'd have, and end up in the middle of a court case, a thousand miles from home. And in that courtroom, Charlie, a self-described straight-A student and grade-A geek, will have to make the ultimate choice of his life.
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