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JOHNNY

by SPINKLE22
RATED FRC

A fragment of John's childhood.

Thank you to Cathrl for being a wonderful beta, and for managing to sit through 9000 words of childlike grammar :)


When I grow up I will write a book. One about space. It will have lots of pictures, because although words are nice, too many can be boring. Mom liked pictures, too. She drew them, like Virgil does.

I will write a space book for people who are interested in space but not too interested in words. This way they can learn about space without getting bored. I will get Virgil to draw the pictures and pay him in whatever he likes, because Scott doesn't like giving us money for our birthdays, because he says it's the thought that counts.

My book will be called Space.


I like riding my bike, but not when people make me do scary things, like going over ramps. First Scott went, then Virgil. Then they told me to, but I didn't want to. Scott and Virgil are good at riding bikes. They can do anything. Once, Scott cycled three miles in ten seconds, he told me.

I shook my head and took off my helmet. "I don't want to."

Virgil wasn't having it. "Aw, why not?"

"I'll fall off."

"No you won't. Not if you go fast enough. Come on, I'll push you."

Virgil didn't push me fast enough, and I fell off. Scott said I needed to have more confidence.

"John, I know you can do it. You're just too scared."

"I'm not scared."

"Yes you are."

"I'm not scared, I'm just not very good at it. It takes me an hour to get to school, but it only takes you ten seconds.

Scott was smiling when he ruffled my hair, but it was dinner time, so we went home.


My room has lots of books in it. I have a shelf that covers nearly half of a whole wall. I've only got four walls because my room is like a square if you look at it from high above. Scott's is shaped like an irregular hexagon because he has an extra bit by the door.

My room is painted light blue and it has dark blue carpet. It looks like the sky. Grandma bought me some glow-in-the-dark stars when I was a baby and Dad stuck them on the ceiling. Just before I go to sleep I shine a light on them so they light up when I turn the light off. Mom showed me how to do that when I was a teeny little boy like Alan. Then it feels like I'm sleeping outside.

The bookshelf is next to my bed so sometimes I read at night time. Dad says it's bad for my eyes but I quickly turn off the Moon Lamp if I hear footsteps and hide the book under my pillow. I told this to Scott once and he smiled at me.

My favorite book is 'The Solar System.' I know it off by heart. There are eight planets in the Solar System, including Earth. Some people spell Earth without a capital 'E' but that's only used when you really mean mud. Planets go round the sun, like swing ball. The order is Mercury, Venus, Earth, then there's the one I always forget, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. My teacher told me a way to remember it: My very educated mother just served us Nachos. I don't say this at home because Dad doesn't like it when we talk about Mom, even though she hasn't been around for four years. I don't know what Nachos are, but it's a nice word.

They used to think there were nine planets, but then they discovered that Pluto isn't really a planet. Anyway, it wouldn't fit, because I don't know what would come after Nachos.

Virgil got me a poster with all the stars on it. I used to be able to see some of them in the sky, but then Gordon and Alan came in and scribbled all over it while I was at chess club.


School started again today. Most of the time school is okay, because most of it is in lesson time. We were learning about fractions in Math. I'm in the advanced classes, like Scott and Virgil were, but my teacher says I'm extra clever.

Miss Harris put a chocolate bar on the table and everyone went 'Yum!' Dennis licked his lips really loudly and Miss Harris rolled her eyes.

"How many chocolate bars have I got here?"

"That's easy," Tom said, "One." Even Gordon could answer that.

"Well done," said Miss Harris, "What about if I do this?" She broke the chocolate into two pieces.

"That's two halves," Ginny said, and Miss Harris smiled. We don't have to put our hand up in advanced classes because there are only six of us and we sit around one table.

"Well done. Now, John, what if I do this?" I watched carefully as she split each half into three pieces. Two times three is six. Then she took away two of them.

There were four left. I was about to say four fourths, but then I remembered that they were called quarters. But they weren't quarters, because there were six. They must be sixths.

"Four sixths," I said. Miss Harris said I was right.

"I don't get it. Why?" It was Tom again, but that's okay, because Tom's quite stupid really. He still thinks comma is spelt C O M M E R.

Then Miss Harris had to explain it all over again.


"Miss Jones said we have a room change for Science."

"Where to?"

"The main block."

There were lots of people in the main block. I tried to push my way through but lots of them were bigger than me. Someone pushed past on my side and knocked my bag off my shoulder. The zip broke and it fell on the floor and all my books fell out. Everyone kept trampling on it.

I tried to put my books back in my bag but they kept getting kicked around by everyone walking past. When I had got about half of them in, someone accidentally kicked my bag out of my hands and they all fell out again.

I was thinking I might just wait until everyone had passed, but I was scared my books would get all torn apart. I didn't know what to do.

"Hey, Johnny."

"Don't call me that." I felt bad straight away when I looked up, as it was Virgil. I hate it when people call me Johnny, as that's what my mom called me. I didn't mean to say it crossly to Virgil.

Anyway, he still got down and helped me get all my books back. Someone trod on my hand.

"Hey! Look out, will you?"

"Sorry, man."

"Get out of the way."

"Don't talk to my brother like that."

Then he passed my bag over to me with all my books in it. "You'll have to hold it tight, John, or the books will all fall out again. Get Grandma to fix that tonight."

"Thanks, Virgil."

"No problem, kid." He squeezed my shoulder and carried on walking past me.


Normally when Dad gets home from work he's really tired, so he goes straight to his room with coffee. He went back to work a day earlier than we went back to school.

I wanted to tell him about fractions when he got home, and Grandma said he'd be home early today, so I waited by the door and looked through the letter box. The dinner table was by the front door, so I sat there for a bit, too. We had Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner with meatballs. Virgil can't spell Bolognese, even if he tries really hard. He remembers the g, which is how most people get it wrong, but he can't spell the nese bit. He thinks its nays.

Dad finally got back and I gave him a hug. He patted me on the back.

"Hi, son," he said. He sounded tired, "I'm a bit tired today. You don't mind if I just go to my room, do you?"

He says that about four times a week.

"Can I show you something?" Dad nodded and I got my paper off the table. I'd already drawn a chocolate bar on it, and again underneath, but this time it was split into six pieces. I'd crossed two of them out.

"If you get a chocolate bar, like this, and chop it into six, like this, and take away two of them like that then you have four sixths."

"That's right, son."

"Guess how I know?"

"How?"

"We learnt it at school today."

"That's nice."

"Tom doesn't get it."

"Ah."

"Yes."

"What's four sixths equal to?"

I thought. "Twenty pieces of chocolate."

Dad laughed. "I see."

"There's thirty in one bar."

"I know."

"Are you pleased?"

"I'm very pleased, son. I'm also very tired."

"Alan's not tired. He's only "

"Four. I know."

"But Alan doesn't work."

"That's right. He plays with Grandma."

"Does Grandma like playing?"

"I don't know. Why don't you ask her?"

"What's work like?"

"It's tiring, John. Which is why "

"Do you like space?"

"Why, yes. I've been there."

"I know, I tell everyone at school. Do you like it?"

"Really? That makes me proud. And yes, I do like it. It's very interesting."

"Do you remember when they used to think there were nine planets in the Solar System?"

"Yes, they only decided that one wasn't a planet three years ago. Pluto."

"Yes. And sometimes Earth is spelt with a lower-case e."

"That's bad."

"Not really. Not if you're talking about mud."

"Oh, yes. I forgot."

"I've got to do my homework now. I'll get Grandma to make you some coffee."

"Thanks, son. Goodnight." Dad patted me on the shoulder and went to his room. Grandma was trying to stop Alan from crying because Gordon had trodden on his foot. I told her that Dad wanted some coffee and she sighed. When she walked out, she said, 'That boy' under her breath. Alan must have been making too much of a fuss.

"John, will you watch them while I get the coffee? Alan, I'll be back in a wink. I'll get some ice for that, too."

Once Scott fell off his bike and had to go to hospital to have stitches. He didn't even cry. Alan was crying and there wasn't even any blood. Gordon was watching him from a corner, and he looked a bit ashamed. I decided that because Grandma was gone, I should take over for her.

"Say sorry to Alan, Gordon."

"I already did."

"No you didn't."

"Yes I did."

I shook my head and sighed like Grandma does. When she came back, she went upstairs so I could start my homework. I only had Math and Science to do. Science is boring at the moment because all we do is watch films about magnets. I had to write down things that push and pull. That was easy. In Math I had to shade in part of the different shapes. For example there was a hexagon and it said four sixths, so I shaded in four of the triangles in the middle. I used blue.


My book will have a blue cover, and the writing will be in big white letters that say 'SPACE.' Then there will be a picture of Neptune underneath, as Neptune is named after the god of the sea, which is blue. Also, Gordy likes water.

It will have a hundred pages full of interesting facts, like how hot the sun is and how there are more stars than people. I think people will find it exciting to know these things.

On the front cover, it will say 'by John G Tracy.'


Last month it was Virgil's birthday, and he was 10 years old. This makes him a big boy now, as he has two numbers in his age, like Scott. I don't think he will be a really big boy until he has three numbers in his age, like Dad.

It was Saturday so we had bacon and eggs for breakfast. Virgil just got a new bike from Dad because he's a big boy now. When I am a big boy in three years I hope I will get a new bike too, a blue one. Grandma also made Virgil a jumper which is red and made him put it on. Grandma said it was for the winter.

Scott got him a watch and I gave him a chocolate bar and showed him how to split it into fractions. Virgil told me that four sixths was actually two thirds and showed me how to work it out. I can't wait to show Miss Harris and Tom.

Gordy and Alan just gave him pictures. Virgil pretended that they were good but they weren't really. Gordy said his was a picture of Virgil and him but it looks more like two circles with lots of lines underneath, and nobody knows what Alan's is. Alan said he couldn't remember.

Anyway, secretly I hope that maybe I will get pictures from Gordon and Alan when it's my birthday, which is soon. I am hoping for a new bike from Dad. Scott likes to take us on bike rides, just him and Virgil and me. We ride across our fields and into the land that doesn't belong to anywhere, across two more fields and into the forest. There's a little group of trees that is our secret hiding place. Only Scott, Virgil and me know about it. Sometimes we take food.

Gordy and still uses extra wheels called stabilizers on his bike, and Alan hasn't learnt yet. When they are older, Scott says we might show them our secret hiding place. I don't want to, as I like having a secret with just Scott and Virgil.

This is also where I learnt to ride my bike.


"Dad."

"Yes, John?"

"Why did Mom die?"

"Oh, dear. Well, things like this happen, son. There's nothing we can do."

"Why not?"

"It's just the way it is."

"When will we see her again?"

"Not yet, son."

"What about when I'm a big boy? When I turn ten?"

"Hmm. I don't know."

"Dad?"

"Yes?"

"I miss her."

Dad stopped writing and looked at me. "So do I."

"Sam Yardley says that when people die, that's it."

"Well, I don't know about that."

"Dad?"

"I've got a deadline tomorrow, John. Can we speak about this later?"

"Can't we speak about it now?" Dad didn't reply. He was writing something. "Will I get to see her again?"

Dad's phone rang and he picked it up. I went outside because Scott was playing mini baseball with the kids. I don't like playing outside when it's hot but I didn't like being in Dad's office then either.


It was Scott and Virgil against the kids, and I was referee. I wanted to play, but Virgil said that the referee's just as important.

"Maybe even more," said Scott.

I counted the score but soon I got bored, so I went to look for dead leaves for Science instead. Dead like Mom. I don't think Grandma would have been pleased that I thought that, so I quickly pretended I hadn't thought it.

We have a big garden. This is because Dad said we need space as we are growing boys. It is also good as it means there are lots of places to hide when the kids are being annoying or I want to have some peace and quiet.

I walked to my favorite spot, which is inside the old cattle shed. There are lots of beams in the ceiling and there is one which has a ledge so you can climb onto it. Scott found a board and helped me make a platform I can sit on. I have hidden a torch in a corner, so I can read even when it's dark. Scott is the only other person in the whole wide world that knows about his place, so I hope he has forgotten by now, so I can be the only one that knows about it.

I read my book until it started getting dark, then I hid my book and my torch again in the straw and walked back to the house. Grandma doesn't like it when we're late for dinner.

Scott spoke to me as soon as I opened the door. He was holding a bigger torch.

"There you are! Where have you been?" This is good; it means he can't remember my hiding place in the shed.

"I was reading."

"John... you can't just wander off like that. We were worried."

"Why?"

"Because! One minute you were standing there, taking score, and the next minute you were gone!"

"I told you, I was reading."

"Well, tell us next time."

"OK."

Dinner was roast beef, which is Virgil's favorite. I like it too, but I think Grandma chose it because it was only just gone Virgil's birthday, and now he has two numbers in his age. I like to concentrate on my food during dinner, but Alan and Gordon kept talking loudly and Scott and Virgil were talking too, and so were Dad and Grandma. Actually, this was good, because it meant nobody bothered me.

I listened to Dad and Grandma.

"Mother, I know perfectly well where my limits are."

"Well, you obviously don't... you come home at ten most nights and then crash. It's not healthy."

"It's not healthy? I've been coming home late for four years and I'm fine..."

"Oh, Jeff. You know what I mean."

Apparently Dad did know what she meant because they stopped talking and everybody listened to Scott's basketball story.

I counted my peas. There were exactly ninety-four, plus the eighteen-and-a-half that I had already eaten. That makes one-hundred-and-twelve-and-a-half peas. I wonder who had the other half.


When I was younger my mom used to play Snakes and Ladders with me. She was yellow and I was blue. Even though she liked blue too, she was nice and let me have blue. I think I should have let her be blue sometimes to make it fair.

I always won at Snakes and Ladders. Sometimes my mom accidentally thought a ladder was a snake when she was at the top so she fell down the ladder all the way to the bottom. Then I'd tell her and she'd say Silly Me! but she didn't move back.

Sometimes Daddy would play too and he'd be green and he was a bad loser. When my mom lost she would just smile and say that I was too clever for her, but when Dad didn't win, he would get cross and grumpy and my mom would poke him until he smiled and then they'd make up and kiss in front of me. When I told Dad about it he smiled and said it was all a joke.

Then when I went to bed my mom would come and straighten out the covers and pretend to scare away the curtain monsters, even though now I know they're not real. And then I told her my favorite part of my day and my worst part of the day and she would make it better.

Grandma tries to do that stuff but she's not as good as it as my mom was. She asks me if I want to play Snakes and Ladders but I'm too old for that stuff now.


"John, what's three add four?"

"It's seven."

"Why?"

Gordon is quite stupid sometimes. "Because three add four makes seven."

"But why?"

I had to draw him a picture, but even then he didn't understand so I just told him that it was because Mr Winter said so. When he wrote seven, he did the little line at the top the wrong way round but I was bored with drawing pictures so I didn't say anything.

"OK... what's five add two?"

"That's seven as well."

"No, silly. Seven is three add four." Gordon laughed at me as if I was joking.

"They both makes seven. It's because three two less than five and four is two more than two, that's why they are both seven."

Gordon just looked at me and wrote seven again, this time with the line on the right side.

Secretly I like it when Gordon comes to me for his math homework, even though it is super easy.


I don't like it when people laugh at me. It was only a Monday and we had Outside Games. We were playing baseball and I dropped the ball four times, even though I practiced with Scott when we were at home. I'm real good at catching when I'm with Scott, but I get nervous at school.

Then we had to do our famous people presentations in Literacy and I did mine on Buzz Aldrin, but everyone found it boring because nobody knew who he was.

Then at lunch my friend Mouse wasn't here so I had to sit on my own, then a bunch of girls came and sat and my table and started talking about which color was better, strawberry or scarlet. I said they are both the same but they all looked at me weird and I left to do my science homework in the library.

Then Dad couldn't pick us up after school so we had to walk all the way home. Gordon and Alan raced each other ahead and Scott and Virgil were talking about science, so I thought I would talk with them but it was too complicated and I didn't understand.

I was walking in the middle and we got about a quarter of the way home when Scott called my name.

"Johnny." I got to stop and wait for them to catch up, which was nice, as it was a hot day and I was hot.

"Don't call me that."

"Why not? That's what Mom called you."

"What do you want?"

"Nothing. You were just walking on your own. How was school?"

"It was OK. I did really bad in Outside Games, I kept dropping the ball, Scott. It's annoying because I know I can catch it really."

"I know you can, squirt. Why did you drop it?"

"Everyone was watching."

"You gotta forget who's watching, John. That's what makes you nervous and drop it. How did your presentation go, anyway?"

"Good."

"Yeah? Your teacher liked it?"

"I think so."

"That's good. I saw you at lunch. I was going to call you over, but you left."

Usually I like the way Scott talks to me. He says things straight and how they are, but that time I didn't know what to say. I was sitting on my own at lunch and I was embarrassed.

"I bet you were entertaining all those ladies? I saw them all laughing." I looked at Scott and he winked at me. I smiled back. I'm good at pretending, and sometimes it's fun.

"They were laughing at my jokes."

"I'm sure they were. You're quite the funny man, Johnny."

I didn't say anything because I like it when Scott ruffles my hair.


Dad got a phone call while I was writing 'SPACE' in the bubble writing Virgil taught me. He said it was Miss Jones, and she asked if I would do my Buzz Aldrin presentation at the Show and Tell evening on Friday. Dad said Yes and said I'd be dropped off at school at seven.

"Won't you be able to watch me?"

"I'm sorry son, I have an important meeting this Friday.

"Oh."

"I'm very proud of you, though. Scott was asked to do his presentation at the Show and Tell evening when he was your age, too."

I was very happy that I had been asked. I once read a poem at a Show and Tell evening, and even though it was scary, lots of people came and said Well Done at the end. I like it when people pat me on the back and say Good Job Son.


We were playing soccer outside. It was me and Virgil against Scott and the kids, because they're not very good. Virgil laughed at me when I called them the kids, and when I asked why he said it was because I am one too. This is not true, as I am nearly eight years old. Gordy is five and Alan is four. They are still in little school.

Virgil was in goal, because he is bigger but I am faster. Scott had the ball and he was running towards Virgil. I ran to Scott and I pulled the ball out from under his feet with my feet and I kicked it at the other goal. Gordon and Alan were too busy pointing at a bird so they didn't see and the ball went in.

"Hey, you! Cheeky man!" Scott picked me up and swung me over his shoulder and I laughed.

"Put me down, Scotty!"

"I'd tickle you and tickle you if you weren't so good all the time. Otherwise my fingers would start to hurt with all the tickling!"

This cheered me up and then I played even better. I scored three more goals, and I didn't let Scott score any. Virgil said afterwards that they didn't even need him.

I said, "Never mind, Virgil. You saved one near the beginning."

"Yeah, I know."

"You're a very good goal keeper."

"Ha! Well, I would be if I got half a chance to show it! You're good, Johnny."

"Don't call me that."

"Oh yeah. Why don't you like being called that?"

"Because that's what Mom used to call me."

"So? Surely that would mean you'd want to be called that? Doesn't it remind you of her?"

"No, it makes me sad. Mom's dead, Virgil."

We were walking back to the house, but suddenly Virgil stopped walking and I turned around. He had a funny look on his face.

"There's no need to put it so bluntly." He looked upset.

"Well, it's true. I know Dad tells the kids Gordy and Alan that she's just gone away, but I know she's not coming back."

Virgil stayed silent for ages that I thought he had frozen, like in ice. "Mom wouldn't want you to think like that."

I didn't know what to say, so I shrugged.

"Do you miss Mom?"

That was a silly question so I didn't answer.

"John?"

My eyes started getting wet so I ran into the house. I don't like crying. Scott never cries.


When I was in my room I practiced my Buzz Aldrin presentation in front of the mirror. I want to learn it off by heart for Friday, then it would be even better. I looked at my piece of paper and learnt each line by heart, then said it in front of the mirror like Miss Jones said to. But I kept having to look back at my paper, so in the end I decided that I would write it out on a neater piece of paper so it wouldn't matter if I had to read it on Friday.

It makes me sad that Dad can't come. Maybe Scott and Virgil will.

That night Virgil came while I was in bed to ask if I was OK. He made me feel better by giving me a picture he drew of me and my mom. In the picture I am quite a big boy even though I was just a little boy last time I saw my mom. It is a very nice picture.

Then I asked him if he would draw a picture for my space book, and he said he would get around to it as soon as possible.

I also said, "Will you come to my presentation on Friday?"

And he said, "I will try. I would like to come."

"Dad can't come."

"I know, I heard. I'll try to come."

"OK. Goodnight."

"Night, John." He turned off the light but left the door open.


"Miss Harris, guess what I found out."

"What is it, John?"

"Four sixths is the same as two threeths."

"Thirds. But well done, I'm impressed! How did you work it out?" Then I remembered Virgil calling them thirds.

"First Virgil showed me, and then I worked out that also two quarters is the same as a half, and two sixths is the same as one threeth. Third."

"Well, I'm very impressed. That's what we're moving onto today! So you can help Katie and Tom and Mouse and the others all catch up, can't you?"

"Yes."

"Good boy." Then she gave me a gold star and helped Tom, who was trying to write the date but kept getting his numbers the wrong way around. I don't know why Tom is in advanced Math classes.

"I don't understand," said Katie.

I got out a box of multilink and made a block of eight. Then I told her to split it in half and count the pieces. So she did and said there were four pieces. Then I put it back together and told her to split it into quarters and she did. Then she chose two quarters and counted the pieces and it came to four again.

Katie was happy and said I was very clever. Miss Harris said I was a good teacher, and then I had to show Tom all over again.

In Outside Games I caught the ball every time.


On Thursdays after school it's always just me and Alan, because Scott has soccer, Virgil has football and Gordy has swimming. Normally on Thursdays I do my homework, but this week Miss Jones was nice and didn't set us any. So I got Alan to sit on my bed while I practiced my presentation in front of him.

Alan likes space too, so he found it interesting when I said the moon. Although Alan isn't as good at space as me, as I realized that he thinks the moon is the same size as the sun.

"They're different. The sun is loads of times bigger than the moon."

"Noo, because in the sky they're the same size, John. I seen it."

"No, they only look the same size. It's just that the sun is further away, so it looks smaller than it actually is."

"Nuh-uh."

"It's true, ask Dad. You can fit six-hundred-and-fifty-thousand moons inside of the sun."

"Yeah, but you can't because there aren't six-fifty-hundred moons, there's just one."

Sometimes Alan is nearly stupid as Gordon, as he makes up numbers. "No, but if there were six-hundred-and-fifty-thousand moons, you could fit them all inside the sun."

"But there aren't."

"If there were."

"John, what are stars?"

"They are big balls of fire, like the sun. The sun is a star."

"No, the sun is a sun. Stars are stars."

"The sun is a type of star. Like squares are types of rectangles."

"Nuh-uh, squares are squares and rectangles are rectangles."

"Alan, shh. I'm older than you."

"Stars are nice."

"I know."

Then we smiled and I taught Allie how to play Snakes and Ladders. He was like my mom and kept going up snakes and down ladders by accident, and sometimes I let him win. It was fun, but then Gordy came home and Allie ran off with Gordy to play cars and I said my presentation again.


Virgil gave me a picture for my Space book in the morning. It was very good, with lots of blue. There was a silver rocket in the middle and Neptune in the background. I started to write SPACE in capital bubble writing at the top. Virg helped me to get it just right. Now the cover is nearly finished, all I need to do is the inside.

"Dad, can you definitely not come to Show and Tell tonight?"

"Doesn't look like I can pull out of this meeting tonight, son. But why don't you give me your presentation afterwards?"

"I'll be tired."

"Maybe tomorrow morning then."

"Dad, why are you always busy?"

Dad took ages to reply. "I have to work, John. To put food on your table and a roof over your head."

"Dad, we've already got a roof over our head. And you always say that."

He put me on his lap, which made me happy. I don't get to go on his lap much because Alan and Gordon usually get the lap spot.

"Oh, John. I wish I could come to your presentation tonight."

"Did you know I want to be an astronaut like you? I think it's cool. I love space and rockets. I want to fly to the sun and maybe further. I want to be a cool, clever astronaut like you are, Daddy."

Dad looked happy and sad at the same time, which is hard to do. "It is very fun. What's your presentation about tonight?"

"Buzz Aldrin."

"I see. Why him?"

"Because he went to the moon. And lots of people like Neil Armstrong better because he actually touched it first, but I think Buzz Aldrin is pretty cool too."

"Cool, huh? As cool as your old man?"

"Well, maybe a little bit cooler," I joked, and Daddy tickled me and I laughed until Dad said I was Red In The Face.

"Did you know I met Buzz Aldrin?"

"Did you? Really, Dad?"

"Only briefly. We worked together for a while a couple years ago. He's a very nice man. I shook his hand."

"Dad! You shook hands with the second person on the moon! Was it before or after you went to space?"

"After. He said he was very pleased to meet me!"

"That's so cool! I'm going to put it in my presentation."

"You do that."

"I wish you could come tonight, Dad."

Dad didn't say anything, but he gave me a hug.


At dinner, Grandma said she would drive Scott and Virgil and Gordy and Alan to Show and Tell. This made me happy, but I was still sad that Dad couldn't come. I was very glad that Scott was coming, because Scott is very clever and I like it when he sees me do things.

This time we had ham, eggs, chips and peas. I had one-hundred-and-seven peas.

"Grandma, I've got five-and-a-half less peas than last time."

"Oh dear." Grandma put five of her peas on my plate, and said I could live without the half. I smiled at her.

Grandma said we would leave early so they could get good seats. Grandma likes to sit at the front because even with her glasses on she can't see very well. I think it must be because she has four numbers in her age.

Before we left, I was nervous so Scott took me outside and we quickly played some basketball in the hoop to calm me down. Scott's very good at basketball. He never ever misses. Sometimes he picks me up so it's easier for me, but I still don't get it in very often. Scott says I'm very athletic when I put my mind to it.

It was hot even though the sun was low in the sky. The sun doesn't actually move in our sky, it's just because the Earth is moving and this is why it looks like the sun is moving.

I nearly scored but the ball hit the board and bounced off again. Scotty picked it up and dunked it.

"What's up, Johnny? Why are you so quiet?"

"I'm just nervous. I'm getting jitteries."

"It's not just that though, is it?" I tried again, and this time the ball travelled round the rim of the hoop and then fell out the wrong way.

"I wish Dad wasn't so busy all the time."

"I know, squirt."

"I don't like it when he misses things."

"I know. Did I ever tell you about my Sports Day last year?"

"No. What happened?"

Scott lifted me up and I managed to get the ball in this time. Then he grabbed the ball and sat down and started throwing the ball between his hands. I watched because I always wanted to be able to do that.

"I was really excited. I was picked to do the two-hundred-meter sprint and also high jump. I told Dad, and then I practiced every day at school until I was great. In Outside Games I beat most of the other boys because I was working so hard."

"Did you win?"

"Wait a minute, I'm coming to that." Scott smiled at me and ruffled my hair. "Well, the day came, and we were all waiting outside. Grandma was in Colorado visiting her friend, but Dad said he'd be there. All the moms and dads and grandmas and granddads were turning up and sitting on the plastic chairs, but I couldn't see Dad. All the good seats got taken, but I thought, never mind, my race wasn't until nearer the end and the high jump was after all the running."

"Dad didn't come?"

"I waited and waited, while all the other races went. But no, he didn't come. My race came, and I placed first. I thought maybe he was running late, and he would be here for the high jump, but he didn't. I came second. I got two medals. Then all the other kids started going home, but Dad wasn't there and I had to wait for so long. Guess who I had to wait with?"

"I don't know."

"Mrs Richards!"

I laughed because Mrs Richards is this old English lady who lives near us. She has smelly breath and is scary when she's angry.

"You went in Mrs Richards' car?"

"Yeah." Scott's eyes twinkled. "Not just me, though. David as well, because Mrs Richards is his Grandma. That's why she was there."

"What was it like? Her car?"

"It was old, English and scary. It smelled funny, too."

This was funny, so I laughed. "Just like her!"

"I know!"

"Why didn't Dad come?"

"He got called to an urgent meeting in Dubai. He didn't get back until two days later."

"Oh."

"But you know what, John?"

"What?"

"He called me that very night and asked how it went. He hadn't forgotten after all. And this meeting in Dubai meant that he met some new businessmen that offered him a contract. That's how he paid for us all to go to Egypt last year. Do you remember?"

"Yeah. That was fun."

"We got to spend loads of time with Dad. I know it's hard when Dad can't make little things like Sports Days and Show and Tell"

"It's not little!"

"I know. I'm sorry. It's very important. I know it's upsetting, but you've got to remember that Dad wants to come, it's just that he can't. I'm not saying that that's right, but it's not just you, OK, John? It's happened to me, to Virg; it will probably happen to the kids too."

"It already has. He didn't go to Gordon's special assembly last week."

"There you go. I'll be there tonight, Johnny. So will the rest of us. It will be good, OK?"

"Yeah. OK, Scott."


Buzz Aldrin was the second man on the moon. Sometimes I feel bad, because I think Neil Armstrong gets all the attention just because he touched it first. But when you think about how old the moon and the Earth and the stars are, it doesn't make much difference that Neil Armstrong got there a few seconds first.

I think maybe they spoke about it before, and Neil Armstrong said, "Let's go out together," but then Buzz Aldrin said, "No, it's OK, Neil, you can go first. I'll be right behind you." Then Neil said, "Are you sure, Buzz? I'd hate to take all the credit for being the first." Then Buzz said, "No, it's OK. We both can't fit through the door together." (Spaceship doors I think would have to be quite small, as then it would reduce pressure from outside.) So then Neil went first and Buzz followed. My dad would have been nice like this.

Otherwise, I think Neil might have pushed Buzz out of the way and jumped down to touch the moon without asking Buzz first.


When we got to the parking lot at school there were loads of cars around. Grandma tutted and said she didn't want to park in this sort of congestion. So she dropped me off at school and went to park down the road. Scott said Good Luck when I got out of the car.

When I got to the gym, I asked Miss Jones if I could read her my presentation because I was nervous. She was busy and said I didn't need an audience, and that I could practice it to myself. But I felt silly so I got Ben Fenton from fifth grade to listen instead.

He said it was good and then asked me to listen to his Science project presentation. I thought it was OK, although oxygen actually has two elements, not one. I didn't say so though, because he was nice about mine.

Then Miss Jones came over and made me tuck in my shirt. Grandma said I should look smart, so I wore a blue checked shirt and some pants.

"You're on second, John. After the music group. Are you all ready?"

"Yes, Miss Jones."

"Good. And Ben, didn't you bring some better shoes? They are scruffy."

Ben said No, he didn't, and Miss Jones just sighed and told him he was sixth.

Soon Miss Jones came in and told everyone to be quiet because we had started. There were seventeen of us. There was Ben, me, five people in the seventh grade music group, six people in the English group and four other people on their own.

We were in the gym, which we use for shows because it is behind the stage hall. We have a big gym with lots of things in it, and we all sat on the pile of crash mats in the corner.

The music group started standing up and playing their instruments, but they didn't make any sound apart from a blowing noise. Soon Miss Jones beckoned them over to the stage door and they went on.

We heard clapping and then they started playing. Tom whispered to me that he was nervous already, and I said, "You're not until sixth," and he said, "I'm still nervous. My whole family is coming, my mom and my dad and my sister and my Grandma and my Granddad. Who's watching you?"

I said, "Grandma, Scott, Virgil, Gordon and Alan," instead of "Grandma and my brothers," to make it sound like more people.

When Miss Jones called me to the stage door, I could hear the music group better. They were playing some jazz, and I imagined Virgil tapping his foot in the crowd. I was starting to get jitteries. Then they finished and everyone clapped again.

Then Miss Jones told me to go through the door and I did. Someone said my name and I walked onto the stage in front of lots of people.


Once, for my sixth birthday, Gordy and Al wrote me a poem. It wasn't very good, but I liked it anyway. I think Grandma helped them. It went:

John is very clever
And he's not seven
But he's six instead
And he has a nice blond head.

It's not true anymore, as I am seven, but the bit about clever and blond is true.


Virgil always says that he gets nervous when he is about to perform. I can see that this is true. He also says that the lights are very bright when you go on, because they are all shining on you so everyone can see you. This is also true. There were white and blue lights.

I don't know what Virgil is talking about when he says you can never spot your family when you're on stage. I could see them as soon as the clapping stopped. I could see them because there was something going on in the middle of the audience. There were about twenty rows full up of people, and there was someone walking down the fifth row to a seat in the middle, like when you need to go to the toilet when you're at the movies.

I was feeling a bit cross that someone was late, as I was starting to feel silly waiting for them. Then they sat down and turned to smile at me, and suddenly I didn't care that he was late.

The lights seemed to dim when I realized who it was. It made me happy, because I didn't care anymore that he's late, I was just glad that he was there at all. Seeing him made it feel like my insides were swelling and getting warm, and it was a nice feeling. It got rid of all the jitteries.

I must have not moved for a while, because Dad gave me a Thumbs-Up and Gordy waved at me, and Miss Jones whispered at me from the side.

She said, "John, are you OK?"

And I whispered back, "I'm fine, Miss Jones."

And then I gave my presentation.


Miss Jones waved at me when I left the stage. I didn't get a single bit wrong. I knew it was good, because I saw Dad and Scott and everyone else clapping really hard at the end. Gordy and Alan even stood up.

Then I went and listened to Ben Fenton's presentation a couple more times while he practiced. It seemed better now that I wasn't nervous about mine anymore.


I love Dad hugs. He gave me a big one after Show and Tell and spun me around, which I like. Scott and Virgil patted me on the bag and Gordon and Alan patted my leg. Grandma smiled at me and said she'd give me a hug later, as she could see I was enjoying my Dad hug too much.

"John! John! You're so good at writing. Will you help me with my homework? I'm rubbish at spelling." This is true. Gordon doesn't even know how to spell the days of the week, and he still spells 'cat' as 'K A T.'

"John, I wanna play spaceships. I wanna go to the moon!"

"So do I, Alan. We can go together." Alan looked very happy at this but I wanted to talk to Dad. "Daddy, how come you could make it? Why was your meeting cancelled?"

"Cancelled? Oh, it wasn't cancelled, son."

"Oh. Did you get the date wrong? Are you going tomorrow instead?"

"No, I didn't get the date wrong. The meeting was tonight."

Now I was confused, because if Dad's meeting was on, why was he at Show and Tell instead? I frowned, like Gordy and Alan do when they're confused. Daddy smiled at me and went down on his knees so he was a tiny bit shorter than me, and held my arms.

"Oh, John," he said, "Johnny. What better excuse is there to miss a meeting than to see my son's Buzz Aldrin presentation?"

"Didn't you want to go?"

"Of course I did. But when I was leaving the house, I suddenly realized that I was making a Big Mistake. I know I haven't seen a lot of your school work, John." Grandma started pushing all my brothers towards the car. "And I'm sorry. I was very impressed with you tonight. Who knew my third son could dazzle us with such a presentation, hm?" Dad smiled at me and his eyes sparkled. He gave me another hug and picked me up to carry me to the car.

"Daddy, I'm glad you came tonight."

"Me too, son. Thank you for such a wonderful evening."

"But what about your meeting? Scott said it was important."

"It was only a potential partnership. A man wanted to help me with my business, in return for some money. I don't need his help, anyway. I think I can manage fine with my boys, don't you?"

"I like helping you with your work. Sorting out paper and things."

"I like it too. When we get to talk at the same time."

"Yeah."

"I know there were a few things you wanted to talk to me about, John. I'm sorry I've been so busy. I should have made more time for you. What would you say to a game of crazy golf tomorrow afternoon?"

"Just you and me?"

"Just you and me, son."

"And then afterwards, we can go to the park. With Scott and Virgil and Gordy and Allie and Grandma too, so they won't be left out."

"Sounds like a plan to me."

I was too excited, and I was scared that if I said anything that my voice would come out as a little squeak, so instead I just nodded. Dad smiled back at me.

"And then maybe could we have hot chocolate at bedtime, and can we talk about Mom?"

Daddy waited a long time before replying, but then he said, "If you would like to," and he touched my cheek, so I knew we definitely will.

Then he said,

"I think you did Buzz Aldrin proud. I'm very glad to have met him, especially after hearing so many wonderful things about him tonight!"

"He was probably glad to have met you too, with all the cool space stuff you've done, Dad."

Dad just laughed and swung me over his shoulder.


When I grow up, I will write a book. The front cover will be blue, with a silver rocket and Neptune on the front. It will say SPACE in big letters.

And it will say, 'by Johnny.'

 
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