Suddenly, I felt strong hands clamp around my arms and pull me toward the surface. Air. Light still splashed on the tile walls. And lots of faces stared at me.
Coach pulled me toward the side and some other hands dragged me out of the water.
"Is he breathing?" Robbie Dean whispered. I sputtered and coughed, answering his question.
"Move out of the way," Coach barked. "Hey, Baker?
What were you doing? You were under for over a minute and didn't even touch the brick."
"I .... I ..." Tears were lurking just behind my eyes. "I feel kinda sick," I muttered.
"Right. You do look a little pale. Hit the locker room, kid. You'll get it next time."
It had been there, that shiny ring.
I grabbed a towel and stumbled my way to the locker room, only to hear a group of upperclassmen whooping and snapping towels at each other. I'm no genius, but even as cloudyheaded as I felt just then, I knew my skinny white legs would be all too easy a target in there.
So I opened the first door I came to and followed the stairs down a flight, to the open doorway of a dimly lit workroom. My head still spun as I leaned back into the coolness of the metal door marked Custodian. I closed my eyes, waiting for the feeling to pass, remembering.
Our Boy Scout survival outing was in the woods of northeastern Kansas. The scout leader set each of us out on a course that we'd have to navigate using only landmarks, the stars, and our wits. We'd been preparing for weeks. We'd gone over the North Star, the Big Dipper and Little Dipperall the constellations. I could identify them all.
But that day the sky was overcast. It was only supposed to be a mile out and a mile back. We'd have to rely on landmarks unless the clouds cleared. I knew I'd be done before it got dark and wouldn't need to use the stars anyway. But as I walked on that humid July evening, each tree looked like every other. One bush blended in with the next. Rocky paths meandered this way and that, leaving me so turned around, I could barely tell which way was up. It was almost ten o'clock at night before I heard the scoutmaster and the other scouts calling for me. The whole way home I had to listen to the boys' teasing how I couldn't find my way out of a bushel basket and how they were glad my dad had a better sense of direction than I did, or his ship would have never found the shores of Normandy on D-day.
But sitting there on the way home, miserable and stewing in the back of the jostling pickup truck, I had no idea how lost I was soon to be. If I had known about my momwhat would happen to herwhat could I have done differently? I don't know that anything would have changed what happened.
Suddenly, I realized the water dripping from my swimsuit was making a small puddle around me. I opened my eyes and ventured past the doorway. The room was warm and hummed with a soft, crackling, airy sound. It seemed like a typical custodian's room, cluttered with all kinds of tools; hammers, pliers, wrenches. Anything you would expect to find in the custodian's quarters, only it was much neater. My dad would have felt right at home. A place for everything and everything in its place.
But as I let my eyes roam around, I noticed things you wouldn't expect. Like a cot, bookshelves, chalkboards filled with numbers, equations, and drawings. Not just any drawings, but kind of connect-the-dot pictures. A hunter, a scorpion, a crab. And a great bear. I recognized them. They were constellations. The bear was Ursa Major.
There was also a bulletin board with several newspaper clippings tacked up. The headlines read:
BLACK BEAR STALKS THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
Excerpted from Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. Copyright © 2013 by Clare Vanderpool. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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The Angel of Losses
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