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Karen bent forward stretching in her pre-run routine. The other marathon contestants ignored her. The prize for her division, Junior Girls, was fifty dollars, and she meant to have that money in her pocket when she went to New Mexico to visit her dad.
"I'll be at the finish line, Kare," said Melanie. She bounced beside her best friend, trying to contain her excitement. "I know you're going to win. Do you want me to take your towel and water bottle now? I'd better hurry up and get a place. Take another drink, and then I'll go."
Karen turned her freckled face to her friend and grinned. Melanie always got twice as nervous as Karen even though she never entered the athletic events.
"Have you got the band for my glasses in your pocket?" Karen asked. Her own running shorts and T-shirt didn't have pockets.
"Oh yeah, I forgot," said Melanie. She patted her pockets, finally locating the one with the small lump. She pulled out the elasticized string and handed it to her friend. Karen took off her glasses and carefully slipped the small loops onto the earpieces and then adjusted it to fit snuggly. If her glasses fell off she wouldn't be able to see the finish line. She took a final swig from the water bottle and handed it to Melanie.
"I'll be rooting for you," said Melanie.
"You might pray a little, too," said Karen with a grin.
The smile dropped off her face, and she looked around at the other competitors. She tried to determine which were in her league. Most of them looked pretty competent.
Usually she'd just be happy to finish the race without stumbling or embarrassing herself some way. But the trip to New Mexico to see her Dad and his newgirl friend was important. He'd send the money for the bus ticket, but she'd have to have money in her pocket.
She didn't get to see him very often, but she remembered how he'd make sarcastic remarks about her mom if she asked for anything. "Doesn't your mother ever buy you anything?" he'd say. He made it sound like Mom was stingy.
"Kare, I'm leaving."
Karen looked back at her friend, gave her a confident smile, and spoke with the air of a winner. "See you at the finish line."
Melanie bobbed off through the crowd, lugging Karen's athletic bag, water bottle, and towel.
When Karen rounded the last corner twenty minutes later, she knew she was in the lead.
"Don't look back," she reminded herself. Looking back was one of the taboos her track coach had drilled into her. She felt a surge of elation when she saw the red ribbon across the street and heard the people cheering along the last block of Corbett Street. She pushed her chin forward and pumped her legs for all she was worth. As she felt the ribbon break and cling to her chest, the roar of the crowd lifted her off her feet.
She had to give that final victory jump that always made Melanie laugh. She began bouncing in sheer joy of the beautiful run and turned as she did. It was then that she realized that the next contestant was still a half block behind her. Pulling great gasps of air into her lungs, she grinned.
People surged around her. Her mother struggled to get to her side. Melanie, in her efforts to give Karen the water bottle she needed so badly, ended up getting jostled, and the water squirted out in Karen's face. She grinned. How could she be mad? She'd won! She turned dripping wet to the man who edged through the jubilant crowd to stand beside her.
"Young lady," the gray-haired man said, "you ran that mile in record time. Too bad we weren't officially clocking it." He patted her on the back he handed her a fifty dollar check. "I wish this check was for twice as much."
Karen laughed and struggled to speak. "That'd be okay by me. You can write out another one. I'll wait."
The people around her laughed, and the man shook her hand as he handed her the check while cameras clicked. Then officials started clearing the road for the next race.
"I can't believe I get to go to Camp L.O.S. this year," said Melanie. Karen and Melanie sat on the floor of the little house in Mel's backyard. Pictures of their clubhouse had been in national magazines. Melanie's father was an architect and designed this little house with a front porch, three tiny rooms, and small furnishings including an area rug and curtains. The girls had outgrown playing in it but they still chose this house for their private talks.
"Everybody at church has been talking about it for weeks. You'll have fun," Karen said. Every summer the kids at church wanted to go to The Lord Is Our Savior Camp.
"It would be more fun if you could come," said Melanie.
"It's too expensive for me, and it's right when I'm going to New Mexico to visit my dad and his new girl friend. The check for the bus ticket came in the mail this morning."
"You're really going to get to go." Melanie was excited for her friend. Karen's parents were divorced. Her dad was always saying they would get to do things together, but somehow that never worked out. Karen had been disappointed many times. Each time Melanie hurt for her, but she didn't really know what to say or do. Her own father kept his promises.
"He said we could go horseback riding," Karen said.
"Hey, there's horseback riding at the camp, too."
"And, swimming in their apartment pool."
"At camp, we'll swim in the lake."
"There's a National Park where we'll go hiking."
"Just like camp," exclaimed Melanie.
"We'll both have fun, and when we get back we can compare vacations."
Melanie's mother interrupted their talk, calling from the back door, "Karen, are you in the play house? Your mother's on the phone."
"Coming!" yelled Karen as she jumped up. She was back in only a few minutes.
Melanie knew by looking at her friend's face that something was wrong.
"Same old thing," grumbled Karen.
"Yeah," said Karen, sinking down onto the floor. "He gets to go to Hawaii on business because somebody else couldn't go to the meeting. He'll be gone the week I'm supposed to go to New Mexico."
"Oh, Kare, I'm sorry," said Melanie.
During the silence that followed, Karen's sad face showed how disappointed she was. Melanie struggled to think of something that would cheer up her friend. Suddenly she grinned.
"Kare," she exclaimed, "why don't you come to camp with me?"
"Melanie, it's too expensive."
Karen's mother worked as a secretary. It was a good job with the president of Oak Valley Community College, but Karen often didn't have money to do the things that Melanie could do.
"You've got fifty dollars from the race," insisted Melanie.
"And the camp is one hundred fifty, Mel," said Karen. She knew she had to be practical.
"What about the money for your bus ticket? Isn't that yours?"
Karen frowned in concentration.
"I'd have to call my dad and ask him if I could use the bus money for camp. I couldn't just do it without asking." She began to get excited. "The check for the bus ticket was seventy-eight dollars and forty-nine cents. How much is that if you add fifty?"
"Let's go up to my room and get a piece of paper and pencil," said Melanie.
They rushed out of the little house, across the lawn, up the wooden back steps of Mel's house, and through the back door.
"What's all the excitement, girls?" asked Mel's mom.
"We're going to try to get Karen to camp!" yelled Melanie as she and her friend ran up the stairs.
In just a few minutes, Melanie had written down the numbers and added them up.
"You've got one hundred twenty-eight dollars and forty-nine cents if your dad says you can use the bus money."
"That's not enough," said Karen.
"But it's very close," insisted Melanie. Melanie dropped the paper and pencil on her bed and picked up her piggy bank. She pulled the plug from the bottom and started shaking the coins out on the bedspread.
"Start counting," she ordered.
Karen soon had the money sorted into piles.
"Three dollars and eighty-two cents," she announced as soon as she had it counted.
"Now how much do we need?" asked Melanie.
The girls figured again.
"I need seventeen dollars and sixty-nine cents."
"You have to have your registration papers and money in by Friday. That's three days, Kare. Do you think you can get the rest?"
"We can try, and we can pray," said Karen. She grinned. They really might be able to work something out.