The First Chapter
y feet are big. I never liked how the guys teased me. "Hey, Big Feet. Hey, Skateboard Shoes. Hey, Turtle Toes," they’d shout and crack up.
I always ask a lot of questions. I don’t always want to know the answers,
but I’ll ask anyway. Curiosity and big feet can lead to trouble.
But, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Size has nothing to do with how
good you feel. How good you feel about life or yourself. I learned this
last year when I was still thirteen. Now I can finally talk about it. But first,
let me backtrack.
Last fall, on the way home from school, I had to cut through a parking lot
where I often saw this new kid hanging out. He was large and had a yellowish mole on his neck. Some of the kids called him "Lemon Neck." Of course they wouldn’t call him that to his face because he’d beat them up. Already he’d picked a fight with one of the older kids and given him a bloody nose. Most of the boys swore this new kid was a bully.
I don’t like to fight. I’m scared of breaking a tooth or twisting my thumb. My dad taught me never to start a fight, but not to back away if somebody hits me first. But, I don’t get angry enough to want to sock anyone.
It was Thursday, after school. I was feeling pretty good. I had gotten an "A" on a book report about baseball’s greatest slugger-Babe Ruth. I was reading while I walked across the parking lot. Suddenly I crashed into the new kid. He glared at me as if a bee had stung him on the lip.
"How you doing, Lemon Neck?" I said without thinking.
"What did you call me?"
"Oh, um, I just asked how are you doing."
"No, you didn’t."
"What do you think I said?" I asked with an innocent smile.
"I think you were making fun of me, "he responded.
"No, I wouldn’t do that. Besides we’ve never really met. I’m Bobby."
I took my hand and moved it towards his stomach to shake hands. But he grabbed my arm and yanked me real hard. As I started to fall forward, he caught me in time. Boy, was he strong!
"Be careful who you shake hands with," he scowled.
"I’ll remember that," I told him.
Suddenly he glanced down and started to laugh.
"Wow, you’ve got the biggest feet I ever saw! Your shoe would make a good canoe for a midget," he said while still laughing. "
"And you have the weirdest lemon neck!"
"If you call me Lemon Neck again, I’m going to break your nose."
"Okay, okay-lighten up! Why do you want to be a bully so much? What’s your real name?"
"My name is Jeremy."
And with that, we shook hands. Before we could speak another word, a little old man wearing pants like pajama bottoms came running toward us! The pants were bright yellow and his shirt was ocean blue. He stopped right in front of us and looked at me for a long time. Then he stared at Jeremy. The little man had tufts of hair growing from his ears. My grandfather had hairy ears and I smiled at the memory. This man also wore a necklace with a charm on it shaped like a violin. His mouth was wide, his nose long, and his eyes burned from under bushy brows. His left eye was green and his right eye was bluish gray. Both of them glowed, as if the sun was reflecting off colored glass. A brown bag was draped over one shoulder. It was made from smooth, old leather and looked very soft. He reminded me of an old-time pirate who could have been the ship’s cook. He suddenly squatted on the ground and gestured for us to come closer.
"Boys, I’m glad I found you here," he whispered.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I need your help." he answered.
"What kind of help?" Jeremy asked.
"I can’t tell you yet," he said, with sadness in his voice.
"When can you tell us?" Jeremy continued to question him.
"Tomorrow night," he responded, as he rubbed the charm on his necklace.
"Where?" Jeremy probed. I could tell he wasn’t scared, just eager.
The old man stared off into space for at least a minute. Then he put his finger to his mouth and made a popping sound like a cork being pulled from a bottle of wine.
"You know where the nursery is that sells plants and flowers?" We both nodded. The place wasn’t far from the parking lot where we were talking.
"At night it’s quiet there. I want you both to meet me by the gate at seven sharp. We’ll be alone. This is important: I want you each to bring two large sea sponges, the kind you wash cars with, and bring some cord or thick string. Remember, two sponges apiece and string that’s strong. One more thing boys don’t tell anyone!"
With that, he stood up, an old man in funny clothes. He winked and walked away. Perhaps it was fading light. He seemed to vanish.
Neither of us knew what to make of our visitor. He seemed strange, maybe even a little nutso. But there was something mysterious and magnetic about him, too. I wasn’t frightened, because whoever he was, I had a good feeling about him.
Jeremy was excited, too. He had the expression on his face of someone eager to begin a baseball game.
"Jeremy, what do you think of this old guy?"
"He reminds me of the man in the circus who trains lions to do tricks. I had the strangest feeling he knew who we were, and was looking for us."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. Will you go to the nursery tomorrow night?"
"I’ll be there. How about you, Bobby?"
"If I tell my dad I’m visiting a friend, he’ll let me stay out for a few hours. I’ll go if you do!"
"Great! See you tomorrow at seven. Don’t forget the sea sponges."
"Okay. See you tomorrow!" I waved goodbye to my new friend and headed for home.