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Bubble Gum on the Sidewalk
It was so hot, I was melting into the sidewalk, like the purple bubble gum I stepped in on my way home from summer camp.
"ICK!" I was stuck.
My shoes were special. They gave me Zapato Power, the power to run faster than a train. A little grape bubble gum shouldn't have stopped me.
I bent down and pulled on my right foot. That unstuck my sneaker but unbalanced me. SPLAT!
My bottom hit the ground, and I felt something underneath me. I hoped it wasn't dog poop.
Sometimes superheroes have to be brave even when they don't want to be. I looked to see what I was sitting on.
Luckily, it wasn't dog poop. It was a pink wallet.
Who dropped a wallet? I opened it. Superheroes don't steal, but they do snoop. There were two twenty-dollar bills inside. Wow!
Before I could find out more, a girl with short, dark hair rode up on a green bike. Maybe the wallet was hers.
"Is this yours?" I asked, holding it out.
"NO!" she said, swiping the wallet from my hand. "But it's not yours either."
The girl rode off on her green bike. I couldn't let her get away with that! I had Zapato Power, and I could outrun a bike.
I stood up and put on my silver goggles, the ones that almost make me look like a superhero. Then I pressed the button on my purple wristband, the one that controls my Zapato Power. I was ready to catch that girl crook in the blink of an eye.
I fell backward on my bottom again.
Huh? My Zapato Power wasn't working!
"Freddie?" a deep voice called. "What happened?"
It was Mr. Vaslov. He's the man who takes care of Starwood Park, where I live. He's also the only other person who knows about my Zapato Power, because he's the guy who made my special shoes.
"I don't know," I said, looking at the purple wad of bubble gum underneath my right sneaker.
Mr. Vaslov took a flat blade out of his pocket. He's an inventor and a fixer, so he always has tools handy.
"Looks like you need a cleanup," he said.
While Mr. Vaslov scraped the gum, I told him about the girl on the green bike.
"I think I've seen her before," I said.
"Maybe she goes to your school."
"Maybe," I agreed, trying to remember. She was bigger than I was, so I guessed she was older.
"There!" Mr. Vaslov said. "The gum is gone. See if you can run now."
I stood up on my purple zapatos. I could feel them humming, itching to race. And there was a girl on a green bike with a stolen wallet. I had a hero job to do.CHAPTER 2
The Girl on the Green Bike
When I run, smoke whooshes out of my shoes. No one can see me, but I can see just fine. The smoke from my super sneakers gives me Zapato Power eyes. That means I can see things way down the block.
At the very end of the street, I saw something shiny and green.
I was there in half a blink, ready to face the girl on the green bike. But it wasn't her. It was my friend Geraldo on a green scooter. He opened his mouth like a fish.
"Hey, Freddie! Did you just step out of that puff of smoke?"
Zapato Power is the best thing in the world. But keeping it a secret sometimes confuses my friends.
I raced off, leaving Geraldo on his green scooter with his mouth hanging open.
The next green thing I saw was over by the entrance sign to Starwood Park. I zoomed over, hoping it was the girl on the green bike. Instead, it was my next-door neighbor, Gio, pulling a green wagon.
"Look, Freddie! Puppy likes to ride!"
Gio's little black dog, Puppy, stood in the wagon.
Sometimes it takes more than superspeed to catch a crook.
Sometimes, you have to ask questions, too.
"Did you see a girl on a green bike?"
"Did she have black hair?" Gio asked.
"Yes," I said. "When did you see her?"
"Right now!" Gio pointed over my shoulder. "Behind you."
I turned around. The girl on the green bike was speeding past us.
She rode down the sidewalk fast, but that was no trouble for a guy with Zapato Power. In one blink, I was behind her, pushing a button on my wristband.
My super zapatos do more than run. They can jump—right over the girl on the green bike. As I sailed in the air, I looked down to see something very lucky.
The bike had a basket, and the pink wallet was sitting inside, ready for a Zapato Power rescue.
I landed and ran back toward the girl on the green bike. She only saw me for half a second. I grabbed the wallet and zipped off in a puff of smoke.CHAPTER 3
A Not-So-Easy Hero Job
At the entrance to Starwood Park, I stopped to look inside the wallet.
Whew! The two twenty-dollar bills were still safely inside. Returning a wallet with missing money wouldn't have made me look much like a superhero.
But who did the wallet belong to? A library card gave me the answer: ADRIANA SOTO.
I knew Adriana. She was a counselor at my summer camp. She also lived at Starwood Park. This was going to be an easy hero job. I pressed the button on my wristband.
I raced down the sidewalk, looking for a tall girl with a long ponytail. She wasn't hard to find. Adriana was on her way home to Starwood Park, walking sideways, staring at the ground. She didn't see the fire hydrant she was about to run into. My hero job just got a little harder.
I reached Adriana just in time to bump into her. OOPS!
We both fell over. The pink wallet flew out of my hand.
"Freddie!" Adriana shouted. "What are you doing?"
"Saving you from the fire hydrant."
Adriana rubbed her elbow.
"Thanks. I guess."
"Are you all right?" a deep voice said.
I looked up at Mr. Vaslov. This was the second time in one afternoon he'd found me on the ground. Superheroes should fly, not fall on their bottoms. They should also do a better job of catching people.
"We're fine," Adriana said. "But I lost my wallet. Did you see it?"
Mr. Vaslov pointed at something behind us. "Is it pink?"
"Yes!" Adriana leaned over and grabbed it. "Thanks! My wallet must have fallen out of my pocket. I'm glad to have it back."
I was glad Adriana had her wallet back, too. I just wanted to be the one to give it to her. Sometimes hero jobs turn out to be duds.
"How's summer camp going?" Mr. Vaslov asked.
"Freddie is one of my Tadpoles," Adriana said, "in swimming lessons."
The Tadpoles were the beginners. After that came the Frogs, the Dolphins, and the Sharks. One day, I wanted to be a Shark. But so far, all I'd learned how to do was cling to the side of the pool and kick my legs.
"Not enough kids at Starwood Park know how to swim," Mr. Vaslov said. "I'm glad you're teaching Freddie how to be safe in the water."
"Mrs. Barlow, the swim coach, wants to do more than that," Adriana said. "She wants to teach Freddie and lots of other kids to be lifeguards one day."
Lifeguards save people! That was for me. If I could learn to put my face in the water, I could be a lifeguard!
Adriana put her hand on my shoulder. "Tomorrow, Mrs. Barlow plans to spend extra time with Freddie while I help the other campers."
Extra time? Mrs. Barlow liked the way I kicked the water. She said if I'd just let go of the side of the pool, I'd do great.
"Good!" Mr. Vaslov said, just as his cell phone rang. "Leaking bathtub in 15C? I'll be right there."
Since Mr. Vaslov hurried off to fix the bathtub, Adriana and I walked home together. We said good-bye at her apartment, and I went on alone to 29G, where I live.
That's when two things happened at once. I stepped in another wad of grape bubble gum, and the girl on the green bike rode up.CHAPTER 4
The girl on the green bike parked in front of me, blocking my way.
"How'd you get that wallet out of my basket?"
Her voice sounded like a growl. I wanted to back away—nice and slow—the way I've seen people do on TV when they meet bears in the woods. But my shoe was sticky with bubble gum. I needed to clean it off first. Who was throwing gum on the sidewalk?
"Tell me how you got the wallet!" The girl leaned forward into my face. I smelled grapes. That answered one question. She was the one spitting bubble gum at Starwood Park.
I watched the girl's jaws move up and down, trying to remember where I'd seen her before. The gum made a popping sound under her teeth. Something inside me felt like it was being chewed up, too.
A purple bubble poked out of her lips, growing bigger and bigger, heading right for my nose.
If I didn't do something, I was going to have a sticky purple face! Could I jump? I pressed the button on my wristband. There was no tingling or humming in my feet. Zapato Power wasn't going to save me this time. I had to use brain power. "Watch out!" I shouted, ducking down low.
The grape bubble exploded all over her face, not mine. Whew!
"YOU'RE GONNA PAY!" she snarled, pulling purple stuff off her cheeks. "No one takes stuff from me!"
That's when my face got licked.
Gio's dog, Puppy, came rushing up to say hello. Gio was behind him, pulling the green wagon. He looked at the girl on the green bike.
"Who are you?" he asked. "And why do you have a purple face?"
Gio is five, so he's still full of questions older kids are afraid to ask.
"None of your business," the girl on the green bike said.
She stared at Gio as if she was daring him to ask another question.
"Ruff! Ruff!" Puppy jumped in and out of the wagon, barking.
"You should keep your dog quiet," the girl said.
"How come?" Gio asked.
"Because I said so." She shoved Gio's shoulder and rode off.
Gio started crying. "I don't like her!"
"Ruff! Ruff!" Puppy barked.
Noise always opens doors at Starwood Park. Gio's big sister, Maria, came out.
"What happened?" she asked.
Maria was in my class during the school year. She was also in the Tadpoles with me at summer camp.
Gio told her about the girl on the green bike.
"I saw her through the window," Maria said. "Her name is Erika. The girls at summer camp say she's mean."
Summer camp? Suddenly, I remembered where I'd seen Erika before. She was a Frog! Her group went into the pool right after the Tadpoles!CHAPTER 5
I felt as stiff as a telephone pole. Erika said she was going to make me pay. And I was going to see her the next day at summer camp!
"Freddie!" Maria called. "What's wrong with you? You're not moving."
"You look frozen, Freddie," Gio agreed.
Superheroes can't be scared, especially not in front of their friends. What should I say? I looked down at my feet and found an answer.
"My shoe has bubble gum on it." I pulled it up to show the sticky purple strings.
"I'll get a stick," Maria said.
A few minutes later, Maria had helped me clean the gum off my shoe but not the gunky feeling in my chest. What was Erika going to do to me tomorrow at summer camp? Was she going to throw me in the pool? I couldn't swim yet!
"See you tomorrow at camp, Freddie!" Maria said. She and Gio went into 28G.
I went home to 29G. The phone was ringing when I opened the door. It was my mom, calling to check up on me from her office.
"How was camp?" she asked. "Did you put your face in the water?"
"Not exactly," I said. "But I kicked good."
"I'll be home in one hour," Mom said. "Te amo. I love you."
An hour is a long time if you're worried about a bully. I tried drinking milk. I tried watching TV. I tried petting my guinea pig, Claude the Second. I even asked him what I should do about Erika at summer camp.
"Are superheroes allowed to hide?"
Claude the Second didn't have any answers. He just twitched his whiskers and looked cute.
Maybe Mr. Vaslov could help me. He had lots of good ideas. After all, he invented my super zapatos. I gave Claude the Second a carrot and left 29G.
Mr. Vaslov was not at his toolshed, where he invented things. He was probably still fixing the leaky bathtub in 15C. I turned to go there when I heard a rumbling noise. The metro train was passing Starwood Park on its overhead track.
My feet tingled in my super zapatos, itching to race the train. Even before I got my Zapato Power, I would run beside the track every afternoon with my arms out, pretending to be an airplane. That's why Mr. Vaslov gave me the super zapatos he invented. He figured that any kid who ran just for fun would know how to take care of special shoes.
The second I started running, I felt better. My whole body filled with power as my feet moved faster and faster, racing the train.
Rápido! I zoomed ahead in a swirling cloud of smoke until the train was far behind. Zapato Power! I had super speed! A train couldn't beat me! Maybe a bully couldn't either.
I was ready for the next day at summer camp.CHAPTER 6
I Need My Goggles
In the morning, I dashed out of 29G with my white backpack on my shoulders and my purple sneakers on my feet. Maria met me on the sidewalk.
"Are you going to put your face in the water today?" she asked.
That was a good question. I wished I had a better answer. "Maybe."
"Use your silver goggles," Maria suggested. "They'll protect your eyes."
"Good idea." My Uncle Jorge in New York had sent me the goggles for swimming lessons. But I'd been so busy using them with Zapato Power, I didn't always remember to use them for summer camp.
Maria and I walked down the street toward the high school, where summer camp was, until we came to Adriana's building. We saw her opening the door just as Mr. Vaslov came around the corner. He had a pooper-scooper.
"Are you cleaning dog poop today?" Adriana asked him.
"No," he grumbled. "I'm cleaning bubble gum. Somebody at Starwood Park has been making a mess."
Erika! Suddenly, I realized something bad. Erika wasn't just a problem at summer camp, she was a problem at Starwood Park. She must live here, too. People were always moving in and out. But most of them were nice. They didn't mess up everything with sticky wads of purple bubble gum that stopped my Zapato Power.
"Can I help?" I asked Mr. Vaslov. After all, I needed the same thing—clean sidewalks.
He handed me his pooper-scooper. "Thanks, Freddie! You're super!"
I told Maria and Adriana to go on without me, and I got right to work.
In two blinks, I ran around all the buildings with Mr. Vaslov's pooper-scooper. Then I gave it back to him with three more blobs of purple junk inside.
"Who chews so much bubble gum?" he asked.
"Maria says her name is Erika," I answered. "She's the girl on the green bike."
"I'll watch out for her." Mr. Vaslov looked at his watch. "You better go, or you'll be late for camp.
"Don't worry." I waved. "With my shoes, I'm never late."
Summer camp had two parts—before lunch and after lunch. In the morning, Adriana took us outside to play in a huge sandbox set up with a volleyball net. We pretended we were playing on the beach until we got sweaty. Then we went inside to make American flags for the Fourth of July. I painted popsicle sticks red, white, and blue with everybody else, but I kept my eye on the art room door. Was Erika waiting for me in the hallway, popping bubble gum? I reached down to touch my purple zapatos. It was a good thing I could run fast.
After lunch, we walked over to the pool. The girls went in through one door and the boys went through another. To go swimming, you have to change clothes in a locker room filled with wet towels.
I had a new bathing suit my mom got me for summer camp. She bought it on sale along with a white backpack and flip-flops. Sale means I have to like the colors, even if the bathing suit is bright orange with big, green palm trees all over it.
"Hurry up, Freddie!" my friend Geraldo called. "You're going to be the last one in the pool."
Geraldo didn't mind putting his face in the water for Mrs. Barlow. But I was happier putting my orange bathing suit on slowly, one leg at a time. After that, I carefully put my super zapatos away in my white backpack beside my clothes, my wristband, and my silver goggles. Just as I was finished and had no other excuses to stay in the locker room, a man with a rolling laundry hamper came in.
"Why are you in here alone?" he asked. "Aren't all the other kids swimming?"
"Sure," I said. "But I'd be happy to stay and help you pick up the towels."
The man shook his head. "That's my job. Your job is to learn how to swim."
He pointed to the door. I gulped and flip-flopped out to the pool.
"Come in the water, Freddie!" Mrs. Barlow called. "It's your turn."
The water looked too blue under the lights of the indoor pool. It also looked cold and wet.
"Freddie!" Maria said, jumping in. "Come on!"
I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten my silver goggles. They were still in my backpack.
"Just a minute." I waved at Mrs. Barlow. "I'll be right back."
My flip-flops sure didn't go as fast as my super zapatos. And the floor was squishy wet. Worst of all was what I saw when I opened the locker room door. My white backpack wasn't on the bench anymore! It was missing!
Excerpted from Freddie Ramos Makes a Splash by Jacqueline Jules. Copyright © 2012 Jacqueline Jules. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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