My Brother's Heroby Adrian Fogelin
Ben Floyd is almost fourteen. He's ready for a change of scenery and a taste of adventure. When an unexpected turn of events finds the Floyd family in the Florida Keys over the Christmas vacation, Ben has a welcome opportunity to escape the neighborhood routine. Here he and his younger brother Cody meet Mica, a know-it-all eleven year old who lives a nomadic life aboard a boat with her marine biologist father. At first Ben resents Mica, but hanging out with her, he experiences the excitement and the danger of the Keys and, in the process, tests the limits of his own courage.
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My Brother's Hero
By Adrian Fogelin
PeachtreeCopyright © 2002 Adrian Fogelin
All rights reserved.
Pecans for Cash
Now listen up. I found us a few new places." Nana Grace flattened the little map she'd torn out of the phone book against the hood of the truck. "There's a mess of pecan trees on St. Augustine." She gripped the pencil and drew an X. "That's where we'll start. Okay, Ben?"
I stifled a yawn. "Sounds good," I said. I had done my job by getting out of bed at six-thirty on a Saturday morning. Like all the kids standing around the truck, I was just waiting.
Leroy slow-bounced a basketball.
My little brother Cody stood on one foot, trying to set a new world's record. "How long was that, Ben?" he asked when he put his foot down.
"Oh, 'bout twenty-two seconds," I told him.
Cass was hugging herself, trying to stay warm inside her thin windbreaker.
Jemmie leaned over to scratch an ankle. Of the eight kids waiting to pile into the truck, Jemmie Lewis was Nana Grace's only real grandkid. The rest of us were honorary.
"My, my," Nana Grace likes to say when we're all hanging out on her big front porch, "don't I have me a fine lookin' mess of grandbabies?"
We're a mess all right. Black, white, short, tall, fat, thin, different ages. We all have real grandmothers we see on holidays. Nana Grace is for the rest of the time. Until a cop makes her turn in her license for driving bad or for being too short to see over the wheel—or until one of us gets wheels of our own—we'll ride around in the back of her pickup.
"An' then we'll swing by those big old trees near Railroad Square." Nana gouged another X into the paper. "All that'll take about an hour."
Nana Grace looked at him sharp. Slumped against the truck, his shirt hung out. He was staring at his untied sneakers. "You got a problem, Justin?"
"He stayed up 'til three playing video games," Clay reported.
"Three-thirty," Justin croaked. "Go easy on me."
"Easy my foot. We got pecans to get." Nana Grace liked us—but she didn't treat us soft. She drew another X. "After that, we'll check out Meyer's Park." She looked up and caught me in the middle of a really big yawn. "How 'bout you, Ben? You get your beauty rest last night?"
"Yes, ma'am. But what would it hurt to start a little later?"
"Wouldn't be a nut left on the ground if we slept in. Those old men with paper sacks'd pick up every last one. No, Ben. You gotta be the early bird." She dropped the pencil in a sagging sweater pocket and snatched the straw hat off the top of the cab. "Everybody in back. Hustle, now!" And she jammed the hat down to her eyebrows.
Cass and Jemmie stepped onto the tailgate and Clay scrambled up behind them. He turned to Justin, who was puffing, one knee on the gate. "Hey, lard-butt, need a hand?"
I climbed up, then grabbed my brother by the seat of the pants and lifted. Last year Cody was too little to go after pecans. He was still too little to be any real help, but he begged. Dad made me promise to keep an eye on him. "You sit over here," I said, putting him on the girls' side with Cass and Jemmie.
"You two waiting for a personal invitation?" Jemmie called to Leroy and Jahmal. The brothers stood in the driveway, bounce-passing the ball. Leroy was the holdout. Jahmal was only following the lead of his big bad brother.
Leroy spun the ball on one finger. "Mr. Cool?" Nana barked from the driver's seat. "'Less you wanna get left behind, you'd best move your feet." With a belch of smoke we began to roll.
The ball sailed into the truck, followed by the brothers. I jerked the tailgate up. Leroy plopped down next to Jemmie and slid his foot over until his sneaker touched hers.
She glared and pulled her foot away, then whispered something in Cass's ear. The girls giggled.
"Hey!" Leroy held up his hands. "It was an accident, okay?"
Cass whispered something to Jemmie. They giggled again. The two girls were like yin and yang. Cass was white, Jemmie black. Cass quiet, Jemmie in-your-face. But together they made some kind of weird whole.
"Bet you're talking about us," Clay called over to them.
Jemmie rolled her eyes. "In your dreams."
All the guys were dying to know what those two whispered about us—and scared they didn't talk about us at all.
Nana Grace popped a wheelie turning onto Roberts Avenue. We all slid. Just as quick, she whipped the wheel the other way and stomped the gas.
"I steered better'n that when I was ten," I shouted in Clay's ear.
"Ten?" As the wind picked up, Clay's red hair began to whip around like his brain was on fire. "Come on. You're lyin'."
"I swear. Dad took me parking-lot driving on my tenth birthday."
In just eighteen months I'd have my learner's permit. Then maybe Nana Grace would slide over and let me take the wheel. I was tired of being a rider.
I hung my elbows over the side of the truck. In a second, Clay slid closer to me and did the same. "Hey," I shouted. "You mind getting out of my lap?" And he backed off a little.
Justin sat off by himself, facing the tailgate. Lately, he'd been saying things like, "Ben, did you ever wonder what it's like to be dead?" Sometimes he scared me.
"You're just gettin' your weight first an' your height second," Nana Grace had told him. But that didn't help when short, fat, and zitty was what he was right now.
Leroy stretched his long legs out, then glanced over to see if Jemmie was impressed. I kept my own legs bent. Until last summer I was the tallest guy in the neighborhood. But these days, when it came to tall, Leroy was the man. "Three and a half inches since summer," he brags to anyone who'll listen.
Seeing him over there relaxing, eyes half-closed like a lizard, it was easy to tell he felt good about himself—good enough to deny Jemmie Lewis's existence.
I checked Jemmie to see if he was getting to her but ended up looking at Cass. Her short, brown ponytail was blowing to one side. Her freckles looked like somebody'd spilled cinnamon all over her. I wondered if they went up under her hair, the way some dogs' skin is spotted under the fur.
She and Jemmie hugged their knees to stay warm. I bet Leroy was thinking about putting his arm around Jemmie. Thinking, not doing. I looked over at Cass, but we weren't like that. We were buddies. In fact, if you asked me who my friends were, I would've named the guys in the truck: Justin, Clay, and Leroy. We hung out together, we messed around, we killed time. But my real best friend out of every one in the truck was Cass—even though you would've had to cut my tongue out before I'd say it.
Me and Cass have known each other since we were both babies. Her mother has pictures of us taking naps in the same playpen—another thing I'd never talk about.
Cass wiggled the fingers of one hand, sending me a secret wave. She smiled and the corners of her eyes crinkled up. I smiled back. Then we both looked away. Too bad Cass is a girl. People get the wrong idea.
When I glanced at Cass again, Jemmie caught me looking. She scooted closer to Cass, squeezing out the last air molecule between them. After that, I did the lizard thing with my eyelids. When did everything get all boy-girl weird?
I felt tired, and it wasn't just getting up early. I was tired of doing the same old things. Like the pecans. We went after pecans every year. If Cody hadn't threatened to stink me out with a giant fart, I would've stayed in bed this time.
I wanted to do something. But being thirteen and a half isn't about doing, it's about waiting. Waiting to get a license. Waiting to get a car. Waiting around.
I looked at Cass between half-closed lids. When I finally got that license and car, when I finally went someplace, maybe she could ride along.
Thwomp. Nana Grace rolled two tires up on the curb and set the hand brake. "I know what you're gonna say, Ben," she yelled back at me. "But I don't trust the crazy drivers in this town."
"Nobody's up but us, Nana Grace," I shouted back. "No one in the whole city of Tallahassee. We beat the old guys by hours."
Her door opened with a loud creak. "It don't pay to waste daylight." She climbed out and stood in the street. Her stockings were rolled down below her knees, her hat crooked. "Let's move, folks!" And we all bailed out of the truck.
She passed out paper bags. We carried them up and down the street, collecting pecans from the sidewalks and gutters and the edges of lawns. Just last year this had seemed like fun. Now I kept wondering about the people inside the houses. What did they think about having a swarm of kids running around snatching nuts off their driveways?
Nana Grace walked like she had screws in her knees, cranked half a turn too tight. Cody nearly bumped into her as he hopped by on one foot. "Whatever are you doing, child?" she asked, dropping the pecan she had just picked up.
"Not stepping on cracks!"
"Not pickin' up nuts either." But I noticed she was smiling. "People," she called to the rest of us. "Y'all go for the big ones this time. Ashmore's don't hardly pay squat for the little ones."
I looked up into the trees. The last rain had brought most of the pecans down. We were about out of Saturdays to gather pecans for cash. Just five more school days, and we'd be on Christmas break. Not that it would be much—two weeks of pick-up basketball on the middle school playground. The hoops there were so low I could slam-dunk without even jumping. We'd ride bikes, hang out, try to talk some adult into driving us to the dollar movies or the mall.
Christmas morning, everyone would show off their loot—everything but the socks and underwear. Then we'd go back to shooting hoops or riding bikes—the same old stuff.
I was picking up a little pile of nuts that had washed together by the curb when Nana Grace swung her stick over her head. "Back in the truck, people! We've about picked this place clean." Everyone scrambled. And we headed for the next X on the map.
The old men showed up around ten. Old women too, plus a few kids, everyone gathering pecans. Nana gave me a look. "See what I'm talkin' about, Ben? You got to be the early bird if you're pickin' up pecans for cash."
It was almost noon when Nana Grace yelled, "Payday!" The old pickup's tires squealed against the curb in front of Ashmore's.
She kept one bag of nuts for pies. "My share of the haul," she said. She had Mr. Ashmore put them through the machine. While the machine ka-chunked, the kids fanned out, poking through piles of junk and antiques. Ashmore's has been in the same spot fifty-three years. Some of the stuff looks like it has too.
Nana Grace held a flowered teacup in one hand, an old postcard in the other. "Got a little bit of everything here, don't ya?" she yelled as the pecans rattled down the chute.
"Yup," Mr. Ashmore shouted back. "Better'n any ol' WalMart."
Clay carried the sack of cracked pecans to the truck. The machine didn't take the shells off, just cracked them. We'd be up on the Lewis's porch all afternoon picking shells.
We sold the rest of the nuts. The shrimps we should've left on the ground in the first place went for twenty-five cents a pound. "For that kinda money it ain't hardly worth bendin' over to pick 'em up," Nana Grace mumbled. Jumbos sold for seventy-five.
While Nana Grace divvied the money up on the truck hood, a couple of old men shuffled past, hugging sacks of pecans. Mr. Ashmore held the door. "Gentlemen," he said.
Nana Grace slid two dollars and seventy-two cents at each of us. "Y'all done good," she said.
Justin stared. "I fell out of bed for this?"
"You got a pecan pie coming too, if you bring yourself back by the house after lunch and help pick the shells off." When he still didn't take the money she said, "More for the rest of us," and reached for his share.
Justin scooped it up and stuffed it in his pocket. "But don't count on me for after lunch," he said.
"Suit yourself," Nana Grace told him.
But he'd be there. We'd all be there. It wasn't like we had anything better to do.CHAPTER 2
Asteroids and Aliens
Cody jangled the money in his pocket as we walked toward home. "Hey, Ben, I got an idea. Let's eat quick, then go to Mr. G's. Bet I have enough for a jumbo bag of chips."
I scruffed his short hair. "You know chips aren't on the Mom-approved list."
He skipped ahead of me, backwards. "But I earned the money myself."
"You got your Christmas shopping done?"
"Well, no." He kicked a ball lying in our front yard, sending it rolling toward me across the grass. "Whaddya think we'll have for lunch?"
"Peanut butter sandwiches with sprouts, same as always." I stopped the ball with the side of my foot and soccer-kicked it back to him. I wished an asteroid would drop out of the sky. I wished we'd be abducted by aliens—anything for a change.
"You forgot carrot juice." He chased the ball. "We always have carrot juice." He took a wild kick. The ball bounced off the storm door, making the glass shiver. "Oops."
"Man, you are so lucky you didn't bust it!" I jumped up and slapped the edge of the roof.
Cody raised an arm. He was too short to slap the roof by himself. "Lift me up, Ben!" I squeezed the back of his neck and shoved him through the door.
I slammed right into him when he stopped in his tracks just inside the door.
"What's going on?" he whispered. Dad, who is kind of chunky and no great dancer, was waltzing Mom around the living room, bumping into furniture.
"I guess they finally lost it," I whispered back.
Mom held her long skirt up with one hand. "We're going," she called as they whirled into the kitchen.
"It looks like you two are already gone," I called back.
"Was that sarcasm?" Dad asked as they reappeared in the kitchen door.
"It was," said Mom. "Let's leave him home." They spun into the living room, Dad's ponytail flying—and ran right into the couch.
"Hey, time out," I said, making a T with my hands. "Is this for real? Are we really going somewhere?" She smiled and nodded, but didn't say a thing. "C'mon, Mom. Dad, where are we going?"
"I need a drum roll!" Dad said, dipping Mom so low her long hair brushed the floor. Cody drummed his hands on the coffee table. "We're going to Bert's Marina!" Dad pulled Mom back up and put his cheek against hers. "Your aunt and uncle won a cruise! We're going to watch the marina for them."
"Christmas in the Keys!" Mom added. "What do you boys think about that?"
"You mean it?" I asked. "Christmas in the Keys?" I pumped a fist. "All right!" This was unprecedented! Colossal! Me and my brother wouldn't be hanging out on Magnolia Way this Christmas. We'd be at the other end of the state on an island that dangled off the tip of Florida like a lure on a fishing line.
Cody tugged my arm. "What's it like there, Ben?"
"Well, it's real bright." I tried to remember more. "And there's a lot of water."
He hung on my arm. "And what else?"
"Give me a break. I was only four when I went. There were kids all over the place. Everybody lived on boats." The other thing I remembered was looking up at Uncle Bert's big belly. That was basically it—sun, water, kids, and Uncle Bert's belly.
"Ben!" Cody squeezed my arm hard. His blue eyes bugged out. "Does Santa know about the Keys?"
"Sure, bro. He comes in on water skis."
"But ... but ... don't the presents get wet?"
* * *
All the kids from the pecan run were on the Lewis's front porch—plus Anna. Anna is like a distant moon that sometimes circles the planet Cass/Jemmie. Today her arm was around the neck of a dog that looked like it had been blown apart and put back together again—only missing a couple of parts. "You don't understand," she was telling Clay when me and Cody walked up. "They were going to put her to sleep. We had to adopt her."
"Couldn't you at least find a dog with two whole ears?" Clay asked.
The arm around the one-eared dog tightened. "No!" Anna had had a hard time finding a home herself. She was about to lose her foster home placement when Miss Johnette came to the rescue. Miss J is a biology teacher who lives in the neighborhood. They make a great pair. From bugs to ugly dogs, they both love nature.
"Hey there, girl." I said to the dog as I scratched her neck. "You got a name yet?"
"Her name is Beauty!" Anna nuzzled the patch of white on the dog's neck, then looked up and smiled. "Want to smell her? She smells really good." Cody took a whiff. "Just think," Anna crooned, hanging on her new pet, "when I woke up this morning I didn't have a dog and now I do! You never know when something good'll sneak up on you."
"Yeah!" Cody blurted out. "This morning I wasn't going on a trip, but now I am!" Everyone stopped picking pecan shells. "Christmas in the Keys!" For a minute they all sat, opening and closing their mouths like Justin's pet goldfish, Xena.
Things got so quiet, I heard a ping when Nana Grace dropped a shelled pecan into the metal bowl between her knees. "Well, now," she said. "Isn't that nice."
"You're leaving?" Cass asked in a small voice, her eyes on me.
"Yeah." I took a kick at the bottom step. "We have to help my aunt and uncle." Suddenly I didn't feel as good about going. Except for the one week a year her family visited her mom's folks in Georgia, Cass never went anywhere.
Maybe I could invite her along. My parents think the world of Cass. But I knew it wasn't going to happen. On the other side of the fence that divides the Bodine's yard from the Lewis's, her dad was on the roof, propping up reindeer. Christmas is a big deal at her house—the only big deal of the year. Besides, invite a girl on a trip? The guys would never let me live it down.
Cass was still looking at me. "Will you be gone the whole two weeks?" she asked.
"Yeah, pretty much."
"And guess what?" Cody whooped. "Santa's gonna come in on water skis!"
"Will you stay in Key West?" Anna asked.
Excerpted from My Brother's Hero by Adrian Fogelin. Copyright © 2002 Adrian Fogelin. Excerpted by permission of Peachtree.
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 Crossing Jordan series is one of the best series for young teen readers...this book is just as great as the first two. I highly recommend this book I hope that each and every middle school student who loves to read, and even those who are not too sure, read this book. One of our best writers today!--Ron
Wow- this was a phenominal book. I definitely reccomend it to anyone!
This book is the 3rd in a series ('Crossing Jordan', 'Anna Casey's Place in the World', and 'My Brother's Hero') about some kids from a North Florida neighborhood. They get a chance to spend time in the Florida Keys. The characters are terrific and very realistic! The story has things any 4th grade through early high school has experienced: The excitement and risks of adventure, the first dawnings of girl-boy relationships as well as the fun and anxiety of growing up, but don't tell the kids that! To them, it will be a great adventure story set in the colorful Florida Keys full of exotic ocean life! It has a great climax that will keep them riveted! I would recommend all the books in the series. AKA