Pay It Forward [NOOK Book]

Overview

The internationally acclaimed sensation that started a movement of giving.

When his teacher sets a challenge to his class to come up with a plan to change the world for the better, twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney’s idea is simple: Do a good deed for three people and ask each of them to “pay it forward” to three others who need help. At first, the plan goes awry, and Trevor’s project seems valuable only as a lesson on the dark side of human ...
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Pay It Forward

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Overview

The internationally acclaimed sensation that started a movement of giving.

When his teacher sets a challenge to his class to come up with a plan to change the world for the better, twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney’s idea is simple: Do a good deed for three people and ask each of them to “pay it forward” to three others who need help. At first, the plan goes awry, and Trevor’s project seems valuable only as a lesson on the dark side of human nature. But then something amazing starts to happen: a vast movement of kindness and goodwill spreading beyond Trevor’s small California town and across the world.

Soon a journalist with a story of his own tracks down the source of the epidemic, and makes Trevor a celebrity. Yet Trevor has problems closer to home: he wants his pretty, hardworking mother to see the softer side of his beloved teacher, Reuben St. Clair, a scarred Vietnam veteran who seems to come alive only when he’s in front of his class.

In the end, Pay It Forward is the story of seemingly ordinary people made extraordinary by the faith of a child—a story so powerful it has inspired people around the world to follow its example in their own lives. Anyone who has ever despaired of one person’s ability to effect change will rejoice in this novel’s triumphant message of hope.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An ordinary boy engineers a secular miracle in Hyde's (Funerals for Horses) winning second novel, set in small-town 1990s California. Twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney, the son of Arlene, a single mom working two jobs, and Ricky, a deadbeat absentee dad, does not seem well-positioned to revolutionize the world. But when Trevor's social studies teacher, Reuben St. Clair, gives the class an extra-credit assignment, challenging his students to design a plan to change society, Trevor decides to start a goodwill chain. To begin, he helps out three people, telling each of them that instead of paying him back, they must "pay it forward" by helping three others. At first, nothing seems to work out as planned, not even Trevor's attempt to bring Arlene and Reuben together. Granted, Trevor's mother and his teacher are an unlikely couple: she is a small, white, attractive, determined but insecure recovering alcoholic; he is an educated black man who lost half his face in Vietnam. But eventually romance does blossom, and unbeknownst to Trevor, his other attempts to help do "pay forward," yielding a chain reaction of newsworthy proportions. Reporter Chris Chandler is the first to chase down the story, and Hyde's narrative is punctuated with excerpts from histories Chandler publishes in later years ("Those Who Knew Trevor Speak" and "The Other Faces Behind the Movement"), as well as entries from Trevor's journal. Trevor's ultimate martyrdom, and the extraordinary worldwide success of his project, catapult the drama into the realm of myth, but Hyde's simple prose rarely turns preachy. Her Capraesque theme -- that one person can make a difference -- may be sentimental, but for once, that's a virtue...
KLIATT
Teacher Reuben St. Clair offers an extra credit assignment to his twelve-year-old social studies students: he asks them to think of an idea that would change the world and then put it into action. One student, Trevor McKinney, who has an absent father and an alcoholic mother trying to keep herself straight, decides to help a homeless man; to assist an elderly woman with her garden; and to try to pair up his lonely mother with his teacher. He then asks everyone he helps to "pay it forward" by helping three other people and asking them to help three others. Soon the idea spreads all over the country and an investigative reporter tries to find out where it started. There are three interesting protagonists here: Arlene, the mother overwhelmed by it all; Reuben, the teacher whose scarred face makes him reluctant to accept love; and Trevor, who thinks his idea isn't working! A surprise ending caps off this page turner, the basis for the recent movie of the same title. If only the world could adopt this idea and "pay it forward." KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Pocket Books, 312p, 18cm, $7.99. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Barbara Jo McKee; Libn/Media Dir., Streetsboro H.S., Stow, OH January 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 1)
Library Journal
It started with a school assignment that a 12-year-old boy embraced, and it changed everything. When Reuben St. Clair wrote on the blackboard "Think of an Idea for World Change, and Put It Into Action," Trevor McKinney (who understood the concept of compounding) came up with the idea of Paying Forward. That is, he'll do something really good for three people, who, instead of paying him back, will be asked to pay it forward -- by aiding someone else. (And so on, and so on.) But hard as he tries, Trevor's projects seem to fail: a down-and-out stranger, financed by Trevor's paper route money, buys drink and drugs; widowed Mrs. Greenberg, whose beloved garden Trevor tends, dies; and Trevor's attempts at matchmaking his lonely teacher with his feisty single mother sparks then fizzles. But then, things take a turn for the better: provisions in Mrs. Greenberg's will keep the movement going and saving lives, and then a tenacious reporter tells the story. Even if the seed for this concept came from Lloyd Douglas's Magnificent Obsession, Hyde's (Earthquake Weather) book is still an uplifting, tear-jerking, and inspiring modern fable, with an extremely appealing young protagonist. For all reading audiences.
School Library Journal
YA -- Eighth-grader Trevor is challenged by his social-studies teacher to do something that will change the world. And he does. His rule is to do one very good deed for three different people, telling them that rather than paying him back, they are to "pay it forward" to three others. When the numbers grow exponentially, The Movement starts and the world is changed. Hyde uses a variety of writing styles and techniques to present the story: a first-person account by Chris, the journalist who writes about The Movement; excerpts from his books; transcripts of his interviews; entries from Trevor's diary; and a third-person narration. The central character changes in these chapters as the story moves forward but these shifts are clear enough that most readers should not be confused. A short, unsavory sexual episode results in a violent, sacrificial ending that is softened somewhat through foreshadowing. Since the film version of the book has already been cast, YAs are likely to be asking for it soon.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743203890
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 3/25/2000
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 72,349
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of twenty-five books, which include Where We Belong, When You Were Older, Walk Me Home, When I Found You, Don’t Let Me Go, The Language of Hoofbeats, and Take Me With You, among others. More than fifty of her short stories have been published in various literary magazines. Following the success of Pay It Forward, Catherine founded the Pay It Forward Foundation and served as president until 2009. She lives in California with her dog, Ella, and their cat, Jordan. To learn more about the foundation and other forthcoming books, visit CatherineRyanHyde.com.
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Read an Excerpt


Prologue

October 2002

Maybe someday I'll have kids of my own. I hope so. If I do, they'll probably ask what part I played in the movement that changed the world. And because I'm not the person I once was, I'll tell them the truth. My part was nothing. I did nothing. I was just the guy in the corner taking notes.

My name is Chris Chandler and I'm an investigative reporter. Or at least I was. Until I found out that actions have consequences, and not everything is under my control. Until I found out that I couldn't change the world at all, but a seemingly ordi-nary twelve-year-old boy could change the world completely -- for the better, and forever -- working with nothing but his own altruism, one good idea, and a couple of years. And a big sacrifice.

And a splash of publicity. That's where I came in.

I can tell you how it all started.

It started with a teacher who moved to Atascadero, California, to teach social studies to junior high school students. A teacher nobody knew very well, because they couldn't get past his face. Because it was hard to look at his face.

It started with a boy who didn't seem all that remarkable on the outside, but who could see past his teacher's face.

It started with an assignment that this teacher had given out a hundred times before, with no startling results. But that assignment in the hands of that boy caused a seed to be planted, and after that nothing in the world would ever be the same. Nor would anybody want it to be.

And I can tell you what it became. In fact, I'll tell you a story that will help you understand how big it grew.

About a week ago my car stalled in a busy intersection, and it wouldn't start again no matter how many times I tried. It was rush hour, and I thought I was in a hurry. I thought I had something important to do, and it couldn't wait. So I was standing in the middle of the intersection looking under the hood, which was a misguided effort because I can't fix cars. What did I think I would see?

I'd been expecting this. It was an old car. It was as good as gone.

A man came up behind me, a stranger.

"Let's get it off to the side of the road," he said. "Here. I'll help you push." When we got it -- and ourselves -- to safety he handed me the keys to his car. A nice silver Acura, barely two years old. "You can have mine," he said. "We'll trade."

He didn't give me the car as a loan. He gave it to me as a gift. He took my address, so he could send me the title. And he did send the title; it just arrived today.

"A great deal of generosity has come into my life lately," the note said, "so I felt I could take your old car and use it as a trade-in. I can well afford something new, so why not give as good as I've received?"

That's what kind of world it's become. No, actually it's more. It's become even more. It's not just the kind of world in which a total stranger will give me his car as a gift. It's the kind of world in which the day I received that gift was not dramatically different from all other days. Such generosity has become the way of things. It's become commonplace.

So this much I understand well enough to relate: it started as an extra credit assignment for a social studies class and turned into a world where no one goes hungry, no one is cold, no one is without a job or a ride or a loan.

And yet at first people needed to know more. Somehow it was not enough that a boy barely in his teens was able to change the world. Somehow it had to be known why the world could change at just that moment, why it could not have changed a moment sooner, what Trevor brought to that moment, and why it was the very thing that moment required.

And that, unfortunately, is the part I can't explain.

I was there. Every step of the way I was there. But I was a different person then. I was looking in all the wrong places. I thought it was just a story, and the story was all that mattered. I cared about Trevor, but by the time I cared about him enough it was too late. I thought I cared about my work, but I didn't know what my work could really mean until it was over. I wanted to make lots of money. I did make lots of money. I gave it all away.

I don't know who I was then, but I know who I am now.

Trevor changed me, too.

I thought Reuben would have the answers. Reuben St. Clair, the teacher who started it all. He was closer to Trevor than anybody except maybe Trevor's mother, Arlene. And Reuben was looking in all the right places, I think. And I believe he was paying attention.

So, after the fact, when it was my job to write books about the movement, I asked Reuben two important questions.

"What was it about Trevor that made him different?" I asked.

Reuben thought carefully and then said, "The thing about Trevor was that he was just like everybody else, except for the part of him that wasn't."

I didn't even ask what part that was. I'm learning.

Then I asked, "When you first handed out that now-famous assignment, did you think that one of your students would actually change the world?"

And Reuben replied, "No, I thought they all would. But perhaps in smaller ways."

I'm becoming someone who asks fewer questions. Not everything can be dissected and understood. Not everything has a simple answer. That's why I'm not a reporter anymore. When you lose interest in questions, you're out of a job. That's okay. I wasn't as good at it as I should have been. I didn't bring anything special to the game.

People gradually stopped needing to know why. We adjust quickly to change, even as we rant and rail and swear we never will. And everybody likes a change if it's a change for the better. And no one likes to dwell on the past if the past is ugly and everything is finally going well.

The most important thing I can add from my own observations is this: knowing it started from unremarkable circumstances should be a comfort to us all. Because it proves that you don't need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you've got.

Copyright © 1999 by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Chapter One

Reuben

January 1992

The woman smiled so politely that he felt offended.

"Let me tell Principal Morgan that you're here, Mr. St. Clair. She'll want to talk with you." She walked two steps, turned back. "She likes to talk to everyone, I mean. Any new teacher."

"Of course."

He should have been used to this by now.

More than three minutes later she emerged from the principal's office, smiling too widely. Too openly. People always display far too much acceptance, he'd noticed, when they are having trouble mustering any for real.

"Go right on in, Mr. St. Clair. She'll see you."

"Thank you."

The principal appeared to be about ten years older than he, with a great deal of dark hair, worn up, a Caucasian and attractive. And attractive women always made him hurt, literally, a long pain that started high up in his solar plexus and radiated downward through his gut. As if he had just asked this attractive woman to the theater, only to be told, You must be joking.

"We are so pleased to meet you face-to-face, Mr. St. Clair." Then she flushed, as if the mention of the word "face" had been an unforgivable faux pas.

"Please call me Reuben."

"Reuben, yes. And I'm Anne."

She met him with a steady, head-on gaze, and at no time appeared startled. So she had been verbally prepared by her assistant. And somehow the only thing worse than an unprepared reaction was the obviously rehearsed absence of one.

He hated these moments so.

He was, by his own admission, a man who should stay in one place. But the same factors that made it hard to start over made it hard to stay.

She motioned toward a chair and he sat. Crossed his legs. The crease of his slacks was neatly, carefully pressed. He'd chosen his tie the previous night, to go well with the suit. He was a demon about grooming, although he knew no one would ever really see. He appreciated these habits in himself, even if, or because, no one else did.

"I'm not quite what you were expecting, am I, Anne?"

The use of her first name brought it back, but more acutely. It was very hard to talk to an attractive woman.

"In what respect?"

"Please don't do this. You must appreciate how many times I've replayed this same scene. I can't bear to talk around an obvious issue."

She tried to establish eye contact, as one normally would when addressing a coworker in conversation, but she could not make it stick. "I understand," she said.

I doubt it, he said, but not out loud.

"It is human nature," he said out loud, "to form a picture of someone in your mind. You read a résumé and an application, and you see I'm forty-four, a black male, a war veteran with a good educational background. And you think you see me. And because you are not prejudiced, you hire this black man to move to your town, teach at your school. But now I arrive to test the limits of your open mind. It's easy not to be prejudiced against a black man, because we have all seen hundreds of those."

"If you think your position is in any jeopardy, Reuben, you're worrying for nothing."

"Do you really have this little talk with everyone?"

"Of course I do."

"Before they even address their first class?"

Pause. "Not necessarily. I just thought we might discuss the subject of...initial adjustment."

"You worry that my appearance will alarm the students."

"What has your experience been with that in the past?"

"The students are always easy, Anne. This is the difficult moment. Always."

"I understand."

"With all respect, I'm not sure you do," he said. Out loud.

At his former school, in Cincinnati, Reuben had a friend named Louis Tartaglia. Lou had a special way of addressing an unfamiliar class. He would enter, on that first morning, with a yardstick in his hand. Walk right into the flap and fray. They like to test a teacher, you see, at first. This yardstick was Lou's own, bought and carried in with him. A rather thin, cheap one. He always bought the same brand at the same store. Then he would ask for silence, which he never received on the first request. After counting to three, he would bring this yardstick up over his head and smack it down on the desktop in such a way that it would break in two. The free half would fly up into the air behind him, hit the blackboard, and clatter to the floor. Then, in the audible silence to follow, he would say, simply, "Thank you." And would have no trouble with the class after that.

Reuben warned him that someday a piece would fly in the wrong direction and hit a student, causing a world of problems, but it had always worked as planned, so far as he knew.

"It boils down to unpredictability," Lou explained. "Once they see you as unpredictable, you hold the cards."

Then he asked what Reuben did to quiet an unfamiliar and unruly class, and Reuben replied that he had never experienced the problem; he had never been greeted by anything but stony silence and was never assumed to be predictable.

"Oh. Right," Lou said, as if he should have known better. And he should have.

Reuben stood before them, for the first time, both grateful for and resentful of their silence. Outside the windows on his right was California, a place he'd never been before. The trees were different; the sky did not say winter as it had when he'd started the long drive from Cincinnati. He wouldn't say from home, because it was not his home, not really. And neither was this. And he'd grown tired of feeling like a stranger.

He performed a quick head count, seats per row, number of rows. "Since I can see you're all here," he said, "we will dispense with the roll call."

It seemed to break a spell, that he spoke, and the students shifted a bit, made eye contact with one another. Whispered across aisles. Neither better nor worse than usual. To encourage this normality, he turned away to write his name on the board. Mr. St. Clair. Also wrote it out underneath, Saint Clair, as an aid to pronunciation. Then paused before turning back, so they would have time to finish reading his name.

In his mind, his plan, he thought he'd start right off with the assignment. But it caved from under him, like skidding down the side of a sand dune. He was not Lou, and sometimes people needed to know him first. Sometimes he was startling enough on his own, before his ideas even showed themselves.

"Maybe we should spend this first day," he said, "just talking. Since you don't know me at all. We can start by talking about appearances. How we feel about people because of how they look. There are no rules. You can say anything you want."

Apparently they did not believe him yet, because they said the same things they might have with their parents looking on. To his disappointment.

Then, in what he supposed was an attempt at humor, a boy in the back row asked if he was a pirate.

"No," he said. "I'm not. I'm a teacher."

"I thought only pirates wore eye patches."

"People who have lost eyes wear eye patches. Whether they are pirates or not is beside the point."

The class filed out, to his relief, and he looked up to see a boy standing in front of his desk. A thin white boy, but very dark-haired, possibly part Hispanic, who said, "Hi."

"Hello."

"What happened to your face?"

Reuben smiled, which was rare for him, being self-conscious about the lopsided effect. He pulled a chair around so the boy could sit facing him and motioned for him to sit, which he did without hesitation. "What's your name?"

"Trevor."

"Trevor what?"

"McKinney. Did I hurt your feelings?"

"No, Trevor. You didn't."

"My mom says I shouldn't ask people things like that, because it might hurt their feelings. She says you should act like you didn't notice."

"Well, what your mom doesn't know, Trevor, because she's never been in my shoes, is that if you act like you didn't notice, I still know that you did. And then it feels strange that we can't talk about it when we're both thinking about it. Know what I mean?"

"I think so. So, what happened?"

"I was injured in a war."

"In Vietnam?"

"That's right."

"My daddy was in Vietnam. He says it's a hellhole."

"I would tend to agree. Even though I was only there for seven weeks."

"My daddy was there two years."

"Was he injured?"

"Maybe a little. I think he has a sore knee."

"I was supposed to stay two years, but I got hurt so badly that I had to come home. So, in a way I was lucky that I didn't have to stay, and in a way your daddy was lucky because he didn't get hurt that badly. If you know what I mean." The boy didn't look too sure that he did. "Maybe someday I'll meet your dad. Maybe on parents' night."

"I don't think so. We don't know where he is. What's under the eye patch?"

"Nothing."

"How can it be nothing?"

"It's like nothing was ever there. Do you want to see?"

"You bet."

Reuben took off the patch.

No one seemed to know quite what he meant by "nothing," until they saw it. No one seemed prepared for the shock of "nothing" where there would be an eye on everyone else they had ever met. The boy's head rocked back a little, then he nodded. Kids were easier. Reuben replaced the patch.

"Sorry about your face. But you know, it's only just that one side. The other side looks real good."

"Thank you, Trevor. I think you are the first person to offer me that compliment."

"Well, see ya."

"Good-bye, Trevor."

Reuben moved to the window and looked out over the front lawn. Watched students clump and talk and run on the grass, until Trevor appeared, trotting down the front steps.

It was ingrained in Reuben to defend this moment, and he could not have returned to his desk if he'd tried. This he could not release. He needed to know if Trevor would run up to the other boys to flaunt his new knowledge. To collect on any bets or tell any tales, which Reuben would not hear, only imagine from his second-floor perch, his face flushing under the imagined words. But Trevor trotted past the boys without so much as a glance, stopping to speak to no one.

It was almost time for Reuben's second class to arrive. So he had to get started, preparing himself to do it all over again.

From The Other Faces Behind the Movement

by Chris Chandler

There is nothing monstrous or grotesque about my face. I get to state this with a certain objectivity, being perhaps the only one capable of such. I am the only one used to seeing it, because I am the only one who dares, with the help of a shaving mirror, to openly stare.

I have undergone eleven operations, all in all, to repair what was, at one time, unsightly damage. The area that was my left eye, and the lost bone and muscle under cheek and brow, have been neatly covered with skin removed from my thigh. I have endured numerous skin grafts and plastic surgery. Only a few of these were necessary for health or function. Most were intended to make me an easier individual to meet. The final result is a smooth, complete absence of an eye, as if one had never existed; a great loss of muscle and mass in cheek and neck; and obvious nerve damage to the left corner of my mouth. It is dead, so to speak, and droops. But after many years of remedial diction therapy, my speech is fairly easily understood.

So, in a sense it is not what people see in my face that disturbs them, but rather what they expect to see and do not.

I also have minimal use of my left arm, which is foreshortened and thin from resulting atrophy. My guess is that people rarely notice this until I've been around awhile, because my face tends to steal the show.

I have worked in schools, lounged in staff rooms, where a Band-Aid draws comment and requires explanation. Richie, what did you do to your hand? A cast on an extremity becomes a story told for six weeks, multiplied by the number of employees. Well, I was on a ladder, see, preparing to clean my storm drains....

So, it seems odd to me that no one will ask. If they suddenly did and I were forced to repeat the story, I might decide I had liked things better before. But it's not so much that they don't ask, but why they don't ask, as if I am an unspeakable tragedy, as new and shocking to myself as to them.

Occasionally my left arm will draw comment, always the same one. "How lucky that it was your left." But even this supposed consolation is misguided, because I am left-handed, by nature if not by practice.

Until I was shipped home from overseas, I had a fiancée. I still have pictures of us together. We were a handsome couple -- ask anyone. To someone who wasn't there, it might seem as if my fiancée must have been a coldhearted woman. Surely she could have married me just the same. I wish Eleanor had been a coldhearted woman, or even that I could pretend such to be the case, but unfortunately I was there. The real truth is hard to re-create. The real truth is that we both agreed so staunchly not to see it or care about it that it was all we could see, nor had we time left over to care about anything else.

Eleanor was a strong woman, which no doubt contributed to our defeat.

She is married now and lives with her husband in Detroit. She is a plastic surgeon. I haven't entirely decided how much significance to attribute to these facts.

Any of them.

From The Diary of Trevor

I saw this weird thing on the news a couple of days ago. This little kid over in England who has this, like...condition. Nothing hurts him. Every time they showed a shot of him, he was wearing a crash helmet and elbow pads and knee pads. 'Cause I guess he would hurt himself. I mean, why wouldn't he? How would he know?

First I thought, Whoa. Lucky. But then I wasn't that sure.

When I was little I asked my mom why we have pain. Like, what's it for? She said it's so we don't stand around with our hands on a hot stove. She said it's to teach us. But she said by the time the pain kicks in, it's pretty much too late, and that's what parents are here for. And that's what she's here for. To teach me. So I don't touch the hot stove in the first place.

Sometimes I think my mom has that condition, too. Only on the inside where nobody sees it but me and maybe Loretta and definitely Bonnie. Except, I know she hurts. But she still has her hand on that hot stove. On the inside, I mean. And I don't think they make helmets or pads for stuff like that.

I wish I could teach her.

Copyright © 1999 by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Chapter Two

Arlene

Ricky never exactly came home, not like she thought he would, but the truck did. Only not like she thought it would. It had been rolled a few times; all in all it looked worse than she felt. Only, it ran. Well, it idled. It's one thing to start up and run, quite another to actually get somewhere.

Much as she hated that damned Ford extra cab for imitating her own current condition, she could have forgiven it that. Potentially she could. It was the way it kept her awake at night. Especially now, when she'd taken a second job, at the Laser Lounge, to keep up the payments. And since it was the truck's fault that she didn't get to bed until three, it at least could have let her sleep. Surely that would not have been asking too much.

Yet there she was again at the window, double-checking the way moonlight slid off the vehicle's spooky shape. The way its silvery reflection broke where the paint broke. Only Ricky could screw up a truck that bad and walk away. At least, it would stand to reason that he had walked away, seeing that the truck was found and Ricky was not.

Dragged off by coyotes? Stop, Arlene, just get ahold of yourself. He's sitting in a bar somewhere, talking that same sweet line to some poor girl ain't learned yet what it all adds up to. Or what it all don't add up to.

Unless, of course, he limped away, not sauntered off, maybe dragged himself to a hospital, maybe got out okay, maybe died, far from anything to tie him to a Ford extra cab, far from any ties to hometown news.

So there could be a grave somewhere, but how would Arlene know? And even if she did, she could not know which one or where. Even if she bought flowers for Ricky out of her tip money, she would never know where to put them.

Flowers can be a bad thing, a bad thought, if you don't even know where to lay them down. Just stop, Arlene. Just go back to bed.

And she did, but fell victim to a dream in which Ricky had been living just outside the town for months and months and never bothered to contact her with his whereabouts.

Which made her cross to the window again to blame the damn truck for keeping her awake.

"So then, what if I get it home and it's bent? I just spent two hunnerd dollars on nothin'?"

"You just said yourself it's reinforced over that door, so you can roll the damn truck and the door don't get bent."

"I'm just sayin' what if, though. That's all I'm sayin'."

"Tell you what. I'll hold your check for a couple, three days. You can't get it to go on your truck, you bring it back."

"Yeah. I guess. One seventy-five."

"Get outta my driveway you're gonna jack me around."

"Okay, two hunnerd." With a little smile.

Guys like it when you talk to them like that. For some damned reason.

He leaned on the mangled Ford's hood and lit a smoke. Marlboro Red, same as Ricky used to smoke, like she wouldn't have known that without looking. Seemed this world, this town, was just full of men cut from Ricky's same pattern. Seemed so to her, anyway. Which is why she felt drawn to this guy, this Doug or Duane or whatever the hell he said, her first customer.

And she knew that was why, and that there would be more if she were to bother to dig for it. She knew if she asked him he would say his daddy whupped him harder than most and that he has been on his own from some ungodly young age. She knew if she were to take off his T-shirt he would have a tattoo on his shoulder, with a name too faded to read. Someone he knew for a month or two when he was too young to know that forever only goes for the scars. And the blue ink you have allowed under the skin.

And it made her feel tired to be attracted to Doug. Duane.

Later she would say to her best friend, Loretta, "I no longer think I lack judgment about men. I will never again say my instincts are poor, no sir, because how do I keep finding this same guy over and over? I am beginning to think I have a very keen sense of judgment, only it would seem that it is on somebody else's side."

For the time she seemed content to watch his big arm muscles breaking loose the bolts on the door hinge and to feel tired knowing that part of her was scoping out the next big life mess before she had even cleared the rubble of the last one from her normally tidy driveway.

Before she could finish this dampening thought, Cheryl Wilcox, Ricky's ex-wife, pulled up into Arlene's driveway to thank her for being a two-faced slut.

And it wasn't even 9 A.M.

From Those Who Knew Trevor Speak

by Chris Chandler (1999)

I don't want to disappoint everybody. It wasn't exactly the Immaculate Conception. Just one of those risks you let happen sometimes. Probably seems kind of stupid and careless now, after the fact. Still, thank God it worked out the way it did, right?

I'm not saying I didn't toy with the mention of precautions, somewhere along in that evening, but the thought didn't go no farther than that. Seemed like any poorly thought-out words might've broken up that moment. Brought everybody home to their own good sense. And if you want to see a man come to his senses, try saying something like, Do you happen to carry a rubber in your wallet? Did I mention I'm not on the pill?

Besides, him and his wife, Cheryl, they'd been trying to get pregnant forever. Never thought it was all her fault. Why would I? Never really thought it was something more likely to happen to those who don't try, no matter how many people it might've happened to just that way, and maybe in my head I knew it.

He was married. At first. It's kind of complicated.

So, anyway, what I did say was to complain that we would never be able to go dancing. Maybe if we'd lived in New York City, maybe then, but not in Atascadero; you could not. Not where everybody knew everybody, at least to the point of knowing who rightfully matches up with who.

"You wanta go dancin'?" he said. "I'll take you dancin'." And he did. Drove us up somewhere along the Cuesta Grade, looking down over the lights of the town, which I must say looked kind of nice from so much distance. We got out of that old sedan, and he reached back in and turned the key to accessory, which I guess he should not have done, because it ran his battery down, not that we cared at the time. Or later, come to think of it.

He tried three stations for a slow number, and then the next thing I knew, well, it's kind of hard to explain. It's like the whole world was all his hand in the small of my back, nothing bigger than that, nor ever would be. And when he dipped me, the warm feel of his breath on my neck, which had always been there and would never entirely move along. It was something that was keyed to fit on the manufacture, and I'm not sure it's our fault we discovered it too late, after the exchanging of rings elsewhere and vows one might live to regret. It was like a map, I decided. You know, with red lines to divide up the states, and blue lines for the rivers, and brown folds for a mountain range. Which is more important: this deal we all make that Idaho stops being Idaho right here, or the mountains and rivers that were there before anybody took to tracing?

It's like there was always a me and Ricky, and I was sure there always would be. Even if I didn't know exactly where he took that love. I mean, when he was gone. I thought it was there, and I would wager he could feel the weight of it, whether he was traveling or holding still for a change. I'm gettin' off the subject. Everybody wants to know about that night.

When we made love for that first time I felt like I'd lost something, even before it was over. I thought, There is nothing here for me to keep. Nothing that is really my very own when all this is over.

But I was wrong. I got something to keep.

Cheryl stood in her living room. Said, "Don't you got anything to drink around here?"

And she did, although her sponsor had warned her to throw it away. Sooner or later I got to be around it, though, she'd said to her sponsor, who is named Bonnie. Later is one thing, though, Bonnie said. You only got five days under your belt. Only not anymore she didn't, because she took down two glasses.

Bonnie also said, time to make your amends, clean up the wreckage of your past, which is why Arlene invited Ricky's ex-wife into her house in the first place. To apologize for sleeping with Ricky while he was still married to her. For that nine or ten years of overlap.

Otherwise, when Cheryl pulled into her driveway to thank her for being a two-faced slut, she might have just said you're welcome and let Cheryl scream on out of there leaving some bad-smelling rubber dust for a souvenir. In her old days she just might have. Then smiled at Duane like nothing had ever happened. Seen what his plans were for the evening.

But here Doug had gone off with his trial-offer truck door, Cheryl was standing in her living room, and it was all her sponsor, Bonnie's, fault. Later, when she was good and drunk, she'd have to call Bonnie up to tell her just that.

Cheryl said, "I believe you know where he is and you just ain't telling me."

Arlene said, "If I knew where he was, I wouldn't be parting out that truck to get maybe one-third of my lost monies back. I'd find him and tell the loan collector where and shove that sorry piece of junk you know where and let them take the depreciation out of his sorry ass."

Cheryl said, "It's what you get for cosigning. You got just what you deserved."

Arlene started to say something back but couldn't think what it should be and worried maybe it would be a bad, weak-sounding something no matter how carefully she thought it up. So instead she poured two fingers of good old José Cuervo. The one man in her life who never told lies, so you always knew what you would get. And you could never say you didn't know. Then she said, "I brought you in here to say I was sorry."

And Cheryl said, "Yeah. That's what I always say about you. You'd have to be pretty damn sorry, coming in my house like you did, like a guest, eating my dinner like you was my friend. Being all nice to me."

Arlene stopped to consider this, how she'd lost points for niceness. "Why you just telling me all this now?"

Cheryl took a big breath, the kind people do when you've hit a crack, a seam where they're prone to bend from some of the collisions they've absorbed. Lately everybody reminded Arlene of that piece of expensive trash in her driveway: rolled a few times, and nobody's doors fit quite right anymore.

Cheryl said, "When I heard the truck was here, I thought -- "

"You thought what? That he was here with it?"

"Maybe."

What is it about Ricky, she could not help but wonder, that makes women wish he'd come back and mess things up some more? "Well, he ain't."

"Yeah. I see that now."

The door opened. Arlene's boy came spilling in. His hair was a mess, which was Arlene's own fault, because in her hurry to start parting out that disaster in her driveway she'd left the boy more or less to his own devices. Part of the seat was ripped out of his blue jeans, but Arlene didn't even want to know about that. Yet. And at least he had on clean underwear, thank God.

"Trevor, where you been?"

"Over at Joe's."

"Did I say you could go to Joe's?"

"No." Downcast eyes, which Arlene thought he might practice in the mirror. He knew who this was in the living room with Momma, but not why. But he knew it was not for fun. Kids know. "Sorry." His eyes on her drinking glass. No judgment, just a silent taking in, too grown-up for a boy his age, knowing certain things, like why grown-ups try. And how damned unlikely they are to succeed.

"That's okay. Go on back there now."

"I just got home."

"Will you mind me for once?"

And he did, without back talk. Arlene made a mental note to take him out for an ice cream later, the usual fallback for any out-of-sorts behavior on her part; as a result they ate a lot of ice cream. The door slamming behind him made Arlene ache with a separateness from him, like she still hadn't gotten over the cutting of that cord in the first place.

Arlene filled both glasses again. "Thanks for not saying nothing in front of the boy."

"He looks so much like Ricky."

"He ain't. Ricky's."

"Spitting image."

"He's twelve. I only took up with Ricky ten years back."

She felt as though Bonnie were looking over her shoulder, reminding. This was not the honesty that would help her set a course to a whole new life. But it was such an old lie, and so hard to shake after all those years of telling. That lie fit so well after all this time.

"I see him in that boy."

"Well, you're seeing what ain't there." Or what you wanted for yourself and never got. What we don't get, we see everywhere we look. What we won't let ourselves do, be, we refuse to tolerate in any other living soul. Arlene was beginning to notice this.

Nine o'clock that same evening Bonnie came unannounced to her door.

"I know how this looks," Arlene said. "But I was just thinking to call you."

"I thought you might want to talk."

"You got some kind of ESP?"

"Not as I know of. Got a message on my machine from your boy."

This sudden news made Arlene cry, for reasons she could not entirely sort out. Lately the tears seemed to hover just below the surface, and any little jolt would bring them up, like when a sudden burst of laughter or fright made it hard to hold her bladder, especially if she'd been holding it too long as it was.

Bonnie brought herself through the door, all 315 pounds of herself, and folded herself around Arlene like a big pillow, smothering her in a not entirely unlikable way.

After a while they went through the cabinets and poured all the liquor down the sink.

"I'll just start all over again tomorrow. Maybe get it right this time."

"What's wrong with right now? You can start over any old time of the day, you know."

"I guess."

Bonnie followed behind her to the bedroom window and looked out with Arlene into her driveway, across the moonlit wreckage of everything that had once seemed worth anything. Almost as though Arlene, who could never find the words just right, would show Bonnie the problem. The ghost. Like to say, If you were haunted by the likes of that, who's to say you'd do much better?

Bonnie nodded slowly.

"Hear them trees?" Arlene said.

"What about 'em?"

"They been singing to me at night. So clear and plain I can't get no sleep anymore. Ricky songs. Can't you hear that? I swear, before that damn truck come home they never sang those songs. They sang something, I guess. But not that."

"That's just the wind, girl."

"To you, maybe."

Bonnie tucked her into bed. "I'll come back to check on you in the morning."

"Oh, I'll be right here."

And Bonnie left her alone with all that singing.

She got up after a time. Let herself into Trevor's room. Sat on the edge of his bed and brushed all that curly black hair off of his forehead.

"You okay, Momma?" He had not been awake, but came up into those words like he'd been filling a place in his sleep all concerned with her welfare.

"You're the one good thing I ever did." She said this to him a lot.

"Aw, Mom." He always said this same thing back.

When she left him, his eyes were still open. Like maybe he heard it, too.

From The Diary of Trevor

Sometimes I think my father never went to Vietnam. I don't even know why I think that. I just do.

Joe's father went to Vietnam, and he tells stories. And you can tell, just by the stories, that he really did go.

I think my father maybe just says things sometimes that he thinks will make people proud of him or feel sorry for him.

My mom feels sorry for him because he went to Vietnam. She says no wonder he has problems. So I don't tell her that I think maybe he never did.

Mr. St. Clair is so cool. I don't care what Arnie says. I think he's great, and I'm gonna do such a great job on that assignment Mr. St. Clair won't even be able to believe it.

Copyright © 1999 by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Chapter Three

Jerry

He spent the night in a Dumpster behind the auto parts store, not two blocks from the place he planned to be at 9 A.M. Even in his sleep there was hopefulness. Something he'd been missing for a while.

But when he woke, the whole thing seemed too much like a job interview for his taste. The prospect of it made his stomach feel weird. Like he knew in some part of himself how it would be. Just like so many other things. Just around the corner, just beyond his fingertips. A line that cuts off one or two people ahead of him.

And when he'd first read it, it had made him feel so good. So he read it again.

It was in his shirt pocket, folded. The newsprint smeared by the sweat of his hands. Rumpled. But he could read it just the same.

FREE MONEY AND OTHER HELP FOR SOMEONE DOWN ON LUCK. COME TO CORNER TRAFFIC WAY AND EL CAMINO REAL. SATURDAY MORNING 9:00.

He couldn't get the feeling back, though.

He used to have it all the time, the feeling that whatever-is-up-there -- "whatever" because words like "God" made him edgy -- was looking right at him when something was said. Or as in this case, read. And maybe because he didn't feel it anymore, maybe that's why he'd come to this, why he'd sunk so low.

When the sky and what's in it don't know you exist, then what's left to you? Just this damn world, the part of it right under your nose, with no more promise or meaning than what you see. What you do with your day.

And he did almost nothing anymore, except the repetition of the same necessary steps. Get his hands on some money, spend it all in one place.

He couldn't get that meaning back. Now he read that little ad and knew that lots of others probably had read it, too. That he would be standing in a long line.

But he set off just the same.

He looked in the window of the parts store, saw it was only seven-thirty. But he went to wait at that corner anyway, as if a real line would form and he could secure an early place.

But before he even got to the corner, he saw he was late. Later than he thought. There were seventeen people already there. So, with an irksome feeling of competition chewing at his gut like little mouse teeth, he stood with them. Nobody met anybody else's eye.

It gets so damned cold in Atascadero. That's what he kept thinking. This is supposed to be California, right? Sunny California. During the day maybe, but here at night it could be thirty degrees. Some of these people had gloves. But he did not. So he rubbed his hands together to keep warm. And busy.

They were almost all men, he noticed, waiting; the one exception was a woman with no front teeth. Some looked better than he did, some worse. He had that thought, then doubted it. Doubted his own perception of how he looked. It had been a while since he'd looked in a mirror.

And then it hit him.

I'm looking in a mirror right now.

So he saw himself clearly for maybe the first time since everything went south, and sour. Saw his own image in the company he kept. These were his peers. It made him want to leave, and he almost did. But three more guys showed up and he decided he had just as much right to free money as they did.

He didn't know if it was nine o'clock yet, but it seemed like it must be. Forty-eight people were gathered on the corner, not counting himself.

A boy twelve, thirteen years old rode up on a bike, an old beach cruiser. Jerry was surprised that there weren't more kids waiting, because kids like free money. Along with everybody else. But the kid didn't act like he'd come to wait.

The kid looked at the crowd. The crowd looked at him. Maybe because he was the only one so far who didn't keep his eyes down on the pavement. The kid's eyes scanned around like he was counting. His forehead all furrowed down into a frown. Then he said, "Holy cow. Are you all here for the ad?"

He said it in a kind of official way, and some heads came up. Listening to him, sort of. Thinking he might know something. And some others got defensive, and you could almost smell it. Like who was this little punk, anyway, to address them?

A few people nodded.

"Holy cow." He said it again. Shook his head. "I only wanted one guy."

Then this big bald guy walked up. Said, "You did that ad?"

Jerry knew this big guy. Not knew him, but knew enough to keep away. A high-profile bum around town. Made a lot of waves.

But the kid didn't know to lie low around the big bum, so he said, "Yeah, I did."

Big bum said, "Well, that's it, then." And almost everybody left, following him like he was the messiah or something. Whether he meant he thought there was no money, or wouldn't take it from a kid, Jerry didn't know. Didn't know if the guys leaving did, either. Just went where they were told to go. Elsewhere.

Jerry could hear them grumbling as they pushed by. But he was not leaving, not jumping to any conclusions. Most of the grumblings added up to something like, "Shoulda knowed it was all a gag." That or, "Real funny, kid."

The kid just stood there awhile. Kind of relieved, Jerry thought, because now there were only ten or eleven left. A little more manageable crowd.

Jerry walked up to the kid. Nice. Humble, not like to scare him. "So, is it a joke?"

"No, it's for real. I got a paper route, and I make thirty-five dollars a week, and I want to give it to somebody. Who'll, like, get a job and not need it after a while. Just to get 'em started, you know? Like food and something better to wear, and some bus fare. Or whatever."

And somebody behind Jerry, some voice over his shoulder, said, "Yeah, but which somebody?"

Yeah. That was the problem.

The kid thought this over for a bit. Then he said he had some paper in his book bag, and he asked everybody to write out why they thought it should be them.

And when he said that, six people left.

Kid said, "I wonder what happened to them."

And the lady with no front teeth, she said, "What makes you think everybody can write?"

It was clear from the look on the kid's face that he never would have thought of that.

Why I think I deserve the money, by Jerry Busconi

Well, for starters, I will not say I deserve it better than anybody. Because, who is to say?

I am not a perfect person, and maybe somebody else will say they are. And you are a smart kid. I bet you are. And you will know they are handing you a line. I am being honest.

I know you said you wanted somebody down on his luck. But you know what? It is all bull. Luck has nothing to do with this. Look at all these people who showed up today. We are a bunch of bums. They will say it is bad luck. But I won't sell you a line, kid. We did this to ourselves.

Me, I have a problem sometimes. With drugs. This is my own fault. Nobody else's. Not my mother. Not God or the government. They did not stick a needle in my arm. I did this to myself. But I have not had any drugs for a few weeks now. I been clean.

I lost some stuff because of my problems. A car, even though it was not a very good one. And my apartment. And then I went to jail, and they did not hold my job for when I got out.

But I got lots of things I can do. I got skills. I have worked in wrecking yards, and in body shops, and I have even worked as a mechanic. I am a good mechanic. It's not that I'm not. But, used to, you could go in kind of scruffy and dirty. For a mechanics job no one would mind.

But now times is hard, and guys show up for the same job. Dressed good, and some even got a state license. So they say, fill out this form. Which I can do. Cause as you see, I can read and write pretty good. But then they say, put down your number. We'll call you if you get the job.

But the dumpster where I been staying ain't got a phone. So I say, I'm just getting settled in. And they say, put your address, then. We'll send you a postcard.

And they know, then. That you are on the street. And I guess they figure you got problems, stuff they don't know nothing about.

And, well, I guess I do. Like I said.

But if I had a chance at a job now, I would not screw it up like I have done before. It would be different this time.

These other people, look at them. They have got used to their situation. They expect to sleep on the street. And I guess that is okay with them.

But it is not okay with me. I don't think I quite sunk that low. Anyway, not yet.

So if you go with me, you won't be sorry.

I guess that's all I got to say.

Also, thank you. I never knowed no kid who gave money away. I had a job at your age, and I spent the money on me. You must be a good kid.

I guess that's all now. Thanks for your time.

When Jerry looked up, everybody else except the kid had gone.

Copyright © 1999 by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Chapter Four

Arlene

It was not even seven o'clock, and therefore a scandalous hour of the morning, especially when a damned Ford extra cab had kept you awake half the night. Someone was shaking her shoulder, and without being exactly conscious, she knew by instinct that it was her boy.

"Momma? Are you awake?"

"Yeah."

"Can Jerry come in and take a shower?"

She blinked and squinted at the clock. She had another half an hour to sleep. Nothing should have been happening now. A dream maybe, but that's it. "Who's Jerry?"

"My friend."

She hadn't known Trevor to have any friends named Jerry, and now she had forgotten the original request.

"Use your own judgment. I'll be up in a half hour."

She folded a pillow around her head, and that was the last thing she remembered until the alarm clock went off and she threw the pillow at it. She was not mad at the alarm, she was mad at the damn truck and at Ricky, but one had suffered enough abuse as it stood, and the other was not around.

A few minutes later, as she set a bowl of hot cereal in front of the boy, a total stranger popped out of the hall and into the kitchen. She was all set to scream but felt too embarrassed to follow through, maybe because, out of the three of them, she was the only one who seemed the least bit surprised.

She figured the man to be in his forties, at least, short, clean shaven, with a receding hairline, and he was wearing brand-new blue jeans and a stiff-looking denim shirt.

"Who the hell are you?"

He didn't answer fast enough, so Trevor said, "It's Jerry, Mom. Remember you said he could come in and take a shower?"

"I said that?"

"Yeah."

"When did I say that?"

"Right before you woke up."

Meanwhile Jerry had said nothing in his own defense or otherwise, but apparently was a smart enough man to know when and where he was not wanted, because he began to creep sideways toward the door. "Thank you kindly, ma'am," he said with his hand on the knob, and Trevor asked him, of all the damned things for a kid to say, if he needed money for the bus. The man held out a handful of change. Held it out like war medals or rubies, something a damn sight more important than quarters and dimes, that's for sure. "I saved it, see? From my clothes money."

And Trevor said, "I hope you get the job." And then after the door had closed behind him, Trevor looked up at Arlene like nothing at all had just transpired and said, "You know your mouth's hanging open?"

But when he saw the look on her face he hunkered down over his hot cereal and concentrated on stirring in the sugar.

"Trevor, who the hell was that?"

"I told you. Jerry."

"Who the hell is Jerry?"

"My friend."

"I did not say he could come in here and take no shower."

"Yeah, you did. You said I should use my own judgment."

She had no memory of saying this, but it rang true, in that it was what she would have said if she was really just trying to stay asleep. Unless the boy was smart enough to know that's what she would have said, and proceeded with his story from there. But it was too early in the morning to sort between things that happened and those that allegedly did, so she said only this: "If your judgment is to let a strange man into our bathroom to shower, then I do believe your judgment needs a tune-up."

He tried to argue again that the man was not a stranger, but rather his friend Jerry, but Arlene was not having any of it. She told him only to eat up and get on to school, and that she did not want to see Jerry in the house anymore, ever, not under any circumstances, not even if hell froze over, no way, José.

The minute Trevor was out the door she regretted having forgotten to ask why he offered Jerry money for the bus.

She went straight to the bathroom, which the man had left surprisingly neat, and commenced to sterilize every exposed surface.

Maybe three days later, maybe four, Arlene arrived home after working at the Laser Lounge until 3 A.M. to discover someone in the driveway tinkering with a light on the wrecked truck. And the fact that she pulled up in front of her own house did not seem to dissuade him from his work.

She had been afraid of this, being gone as much as she was. Every time someone came to see the truck and then drove away without buying something, she was half afraid they would come back in the night and take what they wanted. And now look.

She slipped into the house and into her bedroom closet, where Ricky's twelve-gauge shotgun sat on the shelf, right where he'd left it. In a locked case, because boys are curious. It had always given her a good feeling, it being there, not so much because she expected to use it but because she firmly believed Ricky would have taken it were he not planning a return trip. She pulled it out from its case, wrapped in a big old towel as Ricky always kept it, and when the towel fell away, the moonlight from the window turned the black gunmetal a beautiful deep blue. It smelled of gun oil and reminded her of Ricky, of watching him cleaning it in front of the TV at night.

She loaded the breech with three rounds of less-than-lethal bird shot, and with a big, deep breath kicked the back door open directly onto the driveway, where the man crouched, working by the light of a metal lamp clipped onto the bumper. And plugged in somewhere in her own garage. Which made her madder, somehow -- that some low-life sneak thief would use her electricity to see better while robbing her blind.

He jumped up and turned to face her in the dark, and she finally got to do it, and it felt as good as she thought it would, cocking the weapon with that big, powerful shuck-shuck sound, and the reaction of fear that sound was bound to produce.

Talking about that sound, Ricky told her once, "You seen them cartoons where a guy runs right through a wall and leaves a hole just his shape in the wall behind him? Well, that could happen."

Only this man held his ground. "Please don't shoot, ma'am. It's only me."

"Only you who?"

"Jerry."

Oh, damn it all to hell. "What the hell you takin' off my truck?" she said without lowering the shotgun.

"Everything, ma'am. I been stacking parts in the garage. Trevor told me you were parting out. You can get a lot more money that way. Did you know that? You got to give a price break if the people has to pull them parts on their own."

"So you're just trying to help out," she said, in tone that made it clear she didn't think so.

"Yes, ma'am."

"At three o'clock in the morning."

"Yes, ma'am. I got me a job now during the day, at the Quicky Lube & Tune a few miles down on the Camino. So if I'm going to help out, it's got to be at night."

She couldn't see his face as well as she'd have liked, dark as it was, but his voice sounded pretty matter-of-fact, and the whole incident was beginning to get under her skin. Lowering the shotgun, picking up his little work light, she walked to the garage to see for herself. He had parts stacked all neat in there, with a door and a bumper and seats. And he had things labeled with something like a grease pencil: Driver's Side. Front. Rear.

She stepped out again and shone the light straight at him. He threw a hand up to shield his eyes.

"Did I ask you to help?"

"No, ma'am. But it's something I'm good at. I used to work at a wrecking yard. And the boy's helped me out a lot."

"Trevor been giving you money?"

"Yes, ma'am. Just to help me get on my feet. You know, to get cleaned up enough to get a job again. Like that."

"And now you got a job, you gonna pay him that money back?"

"No, ma'am. I'm not allowed to. I have to pay it forward."

"'Pay it forward'? What the hell does that mean?"

He seemed surprised that she was not familiar with the term. And meanwhile it had become something like a normal conversation, with Arlene not entirely having the upper hand, and the fact that she couldn't get mad at him pissed her off but good.

"You don't know about that? You oughta talk to him. I'm surprised he didn't tell you about it. Something he's working on for social studies class. He could explain it better, though. You know, if you got ten bucks to rent a hoist, I'll pull that engine and put it up on blocks and tarp it. Save you a bundle."

"No offense to you personally, but I told Trevor I did not want you around the house."

"I thought you told him you didn't want me in the house."

"What the hell's the difference?"

"Well. The difference is, one way I'm in the house. And the other way I'm out of it."

"Excuse me. I think I better go have a talk with my boy."

But Trevor was so sleepy all he could say was, "Hi, Momma," and, "Is everything okay?" and when she told him Jerry was out in the driveway taking the truck apart he said, "That's good."

And she couldn't be upset with him. He was just like his father in that respect.

Because it is always so much easier to blow off steam to a stranger, she went down to Trevor's school to have a talk with this Mr. St. Clair. She went to the office first thing, before class started in the morning, hoping she would not even run into Trevor and that he would never have to know she'd been there. The office lady told her to go right up.

She got halfway through the door into his classroom, stopped, and misplaced all that good steam she had built up.

First of all -- though it wasn't the most important part -- he was black. She did not feel so very different about black people -- it wasn't that. It was more that she tried so hard to bend over backward to show she wasn't like that. After a while it became hard to act natural. So she would try harder. And there you have a losing battle if ever there was one. Trying hard to act natural. That can have you chasing your tail until long after the sun goes down.

So, right off the bat it made him hard to yell at. He might think she fancied herself better than him, where really it was more that it was her boy, and also her tax dollars paying his salary. Any teacher's salary, that is.

So he looked up, and she still had nothing to say. Nothing. One hundred percent card-carrying speechless. And not mostly over any racial issues, either, but more because she had never seen a man with only half a face. It's one of those things. Takes a minute to adjust to. And she knew if she took even one minute more he would notice that she had noticed his unfortunate scarring, which would be just plain rude. This whole scene had all gone very smoothly in her mind on the way to school, where she had been angry, articulate, and really quite good.

She moved through the room toward his desk, feeling small, feeling like twenty-five years ago, when these desks were too big to fit her. And he was still waiting for something to be said.

"What's 'Paying Forward?'"

"Excuse me?"

"That expression. 'Paying Forward.' What does it mean?"

"I give up. What does it mean?" He seemed mildly curious toward her, slightly amused, and as a result, miles above her, making her feel small and ignorant. He was a big man, and not only in physical stature, although that too.

"That's what you are supposed to tell me."

"I would love to, madam, if I knew. If you don't mind my asking, who are you?"

"Oh, did I forget to say that? Excuse me. Arlene McKinney." She reached her hand out and he shook it. Trying not to look at his face, she noticed that his left arm was deformed somehow, the wrong size, which gave her the shivers for just a second. "My boy is in your social studies class. Trevor."

Something came onto his face then, a positive recognition, which, being connected in some way to her boy, made her like this man better. "Trevor, yes. I like Trevor. I particularly like him. Very honest and direct."

Arlene tried for a little sarcastic laugh, but it came out a snort, a pig sound, and she could feel her face turn red because of it. "Yeah, he's all of that, all right. Only, you say it like it's a good thing."

"It is, I think. Now, what's this about Paying Forward? I'm supposed to know something about that?"

Actually, she'd been hoping for a laugh, a smile, something besides his businesslike manner; a bad sense was forming of Mr. St. Clair looking down his nose at her in some way she could never entirely prove. "It has something to do with an assignment you gave out. That's what Trevor said. He said it was a project for your social studies class."

"Ah, yes. The Assignment." He moved to the blackboard and she swung out of his way, as though there were a big wind around him that kept her from getting too close. "I'll write it out for you, exactly as I did for the class. It's very simple." And he did.

think of an idea for world change, and put it into action.

He set his chalk down and turned back. "That's all it is. This 'Paying Forward' must be Trevor's own idea."

"That's all it is? That's all?" Arlene could feel a pressure building around her ears, that clean, satisfying anger she'd come here to vent. "You just want them to change the world. That's all. Well, I'm glad you didn't give them anything hard."

"Mrs. McKinney -- "

"Miss McKinney. I am on my own. Now, you listen here. Trevor is twelve years old. And you want him to change the world. I never heard such bull."

"First of all, it's a voluntary assignment. For extra credit. If a student finds the idea overwhelming, he or she need not participate. Second of all, what I want is for the students to reexamine their role in the world and think of ways one person can make a difference. It's a very healthy exercise."

"So is climbing Mount Everest, but that might be too much for the poor little guy, too. Did you know Trevor has taken a bum under his wing and brought him into my house? This man could be a rapist or a child molester or an alcoholic." She wanted to say more but was busy thinking that since she herself was an alcoholic, that might have been a bad example. "What do you suggest I do about the problems you've caused?"

"I suggest that you talk to him. Lay down the house rules. Tell him when his efforts on this project conflict with your safety and comfort. You do talk to him, don't you?"

"What the hell kind of question is that? Of course I talk to him."

"It just seems odd that you would come all the way down here to find out what 'Paying Forward' is. When Trevor could tell you."

Leaving the room was becoming a more and more appealing option. "I guess this was a mistake." Obviously nothing was being accomplished here, except for the ongoing process that was making Arlene feel stupid and small.

"Miss McKinney?" His voice hit her back a few steps into a long stride to safety and freedom.

She almost kept walking, but like ignoring a ringing phone, it was too contrary to human nature. She spun around to face this man, whom she openly, immediately disliked, and not because of his face or his color, either.

"What?"

"I hope you'll forgive my asking this. But is Trevor's father dead?"

Arlene blinked as though she had been slapped. "No. Of course not." I hope not. "Did Trevor tell you that?"

"No. He said something strange. He said, 'We don't know where he is.' I thought maybe he was being euphemistic."

"Well, we don't know where he is."

"Oh. Well, I'm sorry. I just wondered."

Bewildered now, she struck for the door, and nothing could have stopped her. What a way to feel like a complete idiot.

Not only did she just admit that the father of her child hadn't so much as sent a Christmas card home, but now she'd have to go find a dictionary and look up the word "euphemistic." See what he'd just accused her son of being.

It better not have been an insult -- that's all she could think.

From The Diary of Trevor

Sometimes I think this idea is gonna be so great. And maybe it is. But then other times I remember other things I thought would be great. Like when I was real young. Like ten or something. And now that I'm big I can see what a crock it is. So then I think, What if this all bombs out? Then Mr. St. Clair won't be all impressed with me. And then in a few years I'll look back and think, Boy, was I stupid.

It's really hard to know what's a good idea when you're growing and these ideas don't hold still and neither do you.

Mom hates Jerry. Which is funny, because he's a lot like Dad. Except Dad is cleaner. But if Mom would let Jerry in the house, he'd be cleaner too. Maybe if she didn't keep letting Dad in he'd look just like Jerry. Maybe, wherever he is, he already does.

Copyright © 1999 by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Chapter Five

Jerry

He was just getting set to bunk down for the night, and there she was. Like the damn police. Or the landlord of a building whose cellar he might try to use for shelter. Like she'd made up her mind. He was a bug and she didn't want her damn place infested.

He'd just gotten done on the truck. Taking the engine loose. Not from its mounts, but unhooking all the smog and the wiring. All of which there was way too much of. Not like the old days. The way they made them anymore, like a piece of crap.

And he'd gone into the garage. Rolled out an old Oriental rug in a corner. Against a wall. Barely got his eyes closed.

She came in, flipped on the lights. Made him blink.

"It's only me, ma'am. Jerry. Just takin' a quick break. Just a nap. Then I'll get some more work done on your truck."

"I know you been living here, in my garage."

"No, ma'am. Just a quick nap."

"Then where are you staying?"

"Down at the shop where I work. They let me sleep on the couch in the waiting room."

"Get up. I'll drive you down there."

Damn. There were two bad things about the way she treated him. One was, she was so damn pretty. Didn't look old enough to have a kid Trevor's age. Late twenties from the look. And real small and cute, built like a little doll. Until she opened her mouth. Personality like an amazon, someone ten times her size. But she was so damn pretty. If they were in a bar together and he had enough money on him to buy them both a drink...if things weren't like this, like they really were right now...it wasn't so out of the question. The other bad thing about her treating him like vermin was that he couldn't really hold it against her. Couldn't argue against it, because how? With what?

Getting into her car, her in the driver's seat, the dome light on as he got in beside her, he saw her face clear. Looking at her, he thought, You and me, we're not so very different, and maybe you know it. But he knew better than to say it out loud.

They drove in silence down the Camino, the main street of town. A ghost town at this hour. The street was long and deserted, with traffic lights changing color for no reason he could see.

"Damn good car you got here." Old green Dodge Dart. Serve you forever if you took care of it. Hell, even if you didn't.

"That supposed to be some kind of sarcastic?"

"No, ma'am. I mean it for a fact. That slant six engine, best they ever made. Couldn't kill it if you tried."

"You might want to, though. Sometimes."

What you got out of her was always harder, colder than what you were set to expect. Pretty lady, though. Cute.

"I know you don't like me."

"It's not that."

"What, then?"

"Look. Jerry." Standing at a red light, idling. Even though there was no one around. No one to go on the green while they waited. "I'm trying to raise that boy on my own. No help from nobody. I can't watch him all the time."

"I don't mean no harm to your son."

"You don't mean none." Light turned, squeal of her tires. Just hit the gas too sudden.

She pulled up in front of the Quicky Lube & Tune.

It was cold out there. He didn't want to get out. Kind of thought he wouldn't have to. Anymore. No more sleeping out in the cold. He didn't really have the key to the shop. Would never in a million years have told his bosses he needed that couch to sleep on.

"Thanks for the ride, ma'am."

"I don't have anything against you personally. I don't."

"Right. Whatever."

He stepped out of the warm car. Into the wind. A minute later she was behind him.

"Look, Jerry. In a different world, who knows? We could have been friends even. It's just that -- "

He spun around. She had to look at his face. Only for a second, then at his shoes. If only she wouldn't have looked at his shoes. He hadn't had enough money to replace the old sneakers. Saw a great pair of lace-up work boots but couldn't afford them. But tomorrow. Tomorrow would be payday. No, today. It was after 3 A.M. Later today, work boots.

"Pleased to hear you say that, ma'am. The way you been acting, I'da thought only one of us is people."

"I never meant that."

"Never meant it."

She turned to go back to the car. He turned to watch her go. So they both saw it. Like a long streak, starting at the top of the sky. Drifting down, but fast. Lighting up the night like lightning. A ball of fire with a tail.

"Holy cow," she said. "Did you see that? What was that, a comet?"

"Meteor maybe, I don't know. When I was a kid, we used to call that a falling star. I used to think if you saw one, you'd get your wish. You know, like all your dreams'd come true?"

She turned back to look at him. All softness in her face. Maybe it had never occurred to her that bums used to be kids. Or wanted their dreams to come true, like everybody.

She said, "Don't you hate moments like this?"

"What moments is those, ma'am?"

"When you get that feeling like we're all just the same?"

"No, ma'am. I like 'em."

"Well, good luck."

"Ma'am?"

"What?"

"I get my first paycheck today. And I'll go get a cheap room. Be out of your hair. Your boy won't be sorry he made the effort. I don't think you will either. I'll do just what I'm supposed to do. Pass it along, you know."

She stood there a long time, like she was trying to decide whether to say something or not. And she said it. "Will you explain to me about that? How that Paying Forward thing goes?"

He kind of blinked. "Didn't he tell you?"

"I didn't exactly ask."

From Those Who Knew Trevor Speak

So, I explained Paying Forward to her. I got me a stick. Sketched it out in the dirt. In the dark. We both had to squint to see. It was cold, but she had a choice. Could have been home in a warm house. That made a difference. How do I know why?

I drew them three circles. And explained them. Like the kid explained them to me. "See, this one, that's me," I said. "These other two, I don't know. Two other somebodies, I guess. That he's gonna help. See, the trick is, it's something big. A big help. Like you wouldn't do for just anybody. Maybe your mother or your sister. But not nobody else. He does that for me. I got to do it for three others. Other two, they got to do for three others. Those nine others, they got to do it for three others. Each. That makes twenty-seven."

Now, I ain't so good with math. But that kid, he worked it out. It gets real big real fast. Like you can't believe how fast. Up in the thousands in no time.

So I'm on my knees there. Drawing all these circles in the dirt. Counting by threes. Running out of dirt. You can't believe how fast. And you know, it happened again. And we both saw it. A big comet, or whatever. Did I mention about that first comet we saw? I guess I did. So we see another comet. Falling star. Falling, shooting, I don't know. But I ain't never seen two all in one night. It was kind of spooky.

We're looking at these circles, thinking this whole thing could be great. Except it won't be. Because, well, we all know it won't. Because people, they are no good. They won't really pay it forward. They will take your help, but that's all.

I know we were both thinking that. And then the sky lit up again. That big comet. The second one, I mean. I ain't sayin' there was a third. Maybe I made it sound that way. But two, anyway. That's a lot. Spooky.

You know, it's a big world out there. Bigger than we think.

Then she starts to tell me it's hard for her to talk to that kid. I couldn't believe it. Telling me. Me. She says he's just like his father that way. She hates to question him. Can't get mad at him. Don't want to seem like she don't trust him. So things just go by. She just lets 'em go by. She told me all this. It's like we were...I don't know...communicating. For the first time. About all kinds of stuff. It was so amazing. I told her I was gonna do big things. Maybe not big to somebody else. But from where I was. Get me an apartment. Drive a Dodge Dart. She said I could have hers. Dirt cheap. I told her again how it was payday. Payday. The day everything changes.

After a while it was all the same stuff we was saying. Over and over. But I liked it anyway. After a while she went home. But after that, the night was, like...different. Like...not so...you know...cold. Or something.

At nine-thirty he got his paycheck. Didn't have to stay and work that day or the next. So he took it to the bank.

Way over $100, cash in his hand.

Time to buy work boots.

He stood at the bus stop a while. Too long. But it was a nice day. He could walk down to the Kmart. Walking with all that money, that big lump in his pocket. And he'd earned it, too. A whole new day. Comets in the night, who knows?

Then he walked by Stanley's, that little bar he used to like. Thought a beer would go nice. Good day, pocket full of money. If you can't take a minute to celebrate over a beer, then why? Then what was it all for?

And he was right. It went down real nice.

Saw two of the guys, too. That he knew when he was mostly on his feet. And now he was on them again. And they never had to know otherwise. They wanted to know where he'd been. San Francisco, he said, because he'd always wanted to go there.

Bought them each a beer so they would know he could. So they would see that roll come out of his pocket, unfold real nice. Bought himself another so they would see he was in no hurry. No place he really had to be.

Yes sir. New day for sure.

They played a game of pool or two, for money. Then one of them phoned up Tito, a guy they used to know. Told him Jerry was loaded. Come on down.

He did, with some product.

Said to Jerry, "I know you looking to buy. Don't tell me you don't got a taste for the stuff."

"Not no more," Jerry said.

"Oh, come on."

So they played a few more games of pool. The other three went into the bathroom to fix. That didn't seem fair. They could and he couldn't, how is that fair?

I mean, what is the point, really? Why have a whole new world all caught up in rules? Where you can't even feel good. Have what you like. So he had another beer, and Tito came back out. And Jerry said maybe just a dime bag. Not enough to get in trouble on. Not so much that he couldn't afford the boots.

It was his day off. After all. Had to borrow a rig off Tito, didn't even have his own. Didn't know how much he missed that little sting, that needle sting, till he felt it again.

Then it was closing time. How could that be? It was just yesterday morning a minute ago. What day was it now?

Then it was a whole day later in a Denny's, drinking coffee. Hungry now, with stubble on his face. Sick. Feeling bad.

Breakfast, that would have gone good. But he couldn't have any. Because that cup of coffee had tapped him out.

Dug deep in his pockets twice, but it was no use. That money was all used up.

Copyright © 1999 by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Chapter Five<<B>Jerry

He was just getting set to bunk down for the night, and there she was. Like the damn police. Or the landlord of a building whose cellar he might try to use for shelter. Like she'd made up her mind. He was a bug and she didn't want her damn place infested.

He'd just gotten done on the truck. Taking the engine loose. Not from its mounts, but unhooking all the smog and the wiring. All of which there was way too much of. Not like the old days. The way they made them anymore, like a piece of crap.

And he'd gone into the garage. Rolled out an old Oriental rug in a corner. Against a wall. Barely got his eyes closed.

She came in, flipped on the lights. Made him blink.

"It's only me, ma'am. Jerry. Just takin' a quick break. Just a nap. Then I'll get some more work done on your truck."

"I know you been living here, in my garage."

"No, ma'am. Just a quick nap."

"Then where are you staying?"

"Down at the shop where I work. They let me sleep on the couch in the waiting room."

"Get up. I'll drive you down there."

Damn. There were two bad things about the way she treated him. One was, she was so damn pretty. Didn't look old enough to have a kid Trevor's age. Late twenties from the look. And real small and cute, built like a little doll. Until she opened her mouth. Personality like an amazon, someone ten times her size. But she was so damn pretty. If they were in a bar together and he had enough money on him to buy them both a drink...if things weren't like this, like they really were right now...it wasn't so out of the question. The other bad thing about her treating him like vermin was that he couldn't really hold it against her. Couldn't argue against it, because how? With what?

Getting into her car, her in the driver's seat, the dome light on as he got in beside her, he saw her face clear. Looking at her, he thought, You and me, we're not so very different, and maybe you know it. But he knew better than to say it out loud.

They drove in silence down the Camino, the main street of town. A ghost town at this hour. The street was long and deserted, with traffic lights changing color for no reason he could see.

"Damn good car you got here." Old green Dodge Dart. Serve you forever if you took care of it. Hell, even if you didn't.

"That supposed to be some kind of sarcastic?"

"No, ma'am. I mean it for a fact. That slant six engine, best they ever made. Couldn't kill it if you tried."

"You might want to, though. Sometimes."

What you got out of her was always harder, colder than what you were set to expect. Pretty lady, though. Cute.

"I know you don't like me."

"It's not that."

"What, then?"

"Look. Jerry." Standing at a red light, idling. Even though there was no one around. No one to go on the green while they waited. "I'm trying to raise that boy on my own. No help from nobody. I can't watch him all the time."

"I don't mean no harm to your son."

"You don't mean none." Light turned, squeal of her tires. Just hit the gas too sudden.

She pulled up in front of the Quicky Lube & Tune.

It was cold out there. He didn't want to get out. Kind of thought he wouldn't have to. Anymore. No more sleeping out in the cold. He didn't really have the key to the shop. Would never in a million years have told his bosses he needed that couch to sleep on.

"Thanks for the ride, ma'am."

"I don't have anything against you personally. I don't."

"Right. Whatever."

He stepped out of the warm car. Into the wind. A minute later she was behind him.

"Look, Jerry. In a different world, who knows? We could have been friends even. It's just that -- "

He spun around. She had to look at his face. Only for a second, then at his shoes. If only she wouldn't have looked at his shoes. He hadn't had enough money to replace the old sneakers. Saw a great pair of lace-up work boots but couldn't afford them. But tomorrow. Tomorrow would be payday. No, today. It was after 3 A.M. Later today, work boots.

"Pleased to hear you say that, ma'am. The way you been acting, I'da thought only one of us is people."

"I never meant that."

"Never meant it."

She turned to go back to the car. He turned to watch her go. So they both saw it. Like a long streak, starting at the top of the sky. Drifting down, but fast. Lighting up the night like lightning. A ball of fire with a tail.

"Holy cow," she said. "Did you see that? What was that, a comet?"

"Meteor maybe, I don't know. When I was a kid, we used to call that a falling star. I used to think if you saw one, you'd get your wish. You know, like all your dreams'd come true?"

She turned back to look at him. All softness in her face. Maybe it had never occurred to her that bums used to be kids. Or wanted their dreams to come true, like everybody.

She said, "Don't you hate moments like this?"

"What moments is those, ma'am?"

"When you get that feeling like we're all just the same?"

"No, ma'am. I like 'em."

"Well, good luck."

"Ma'am?"

"What?"

"I get my first paycheck today. And I'll go get a cheap room. Be out of your hair. Your boy won't be sorry he made the effort. I don't think you will either. I'll do just what I'm supposed to do. Pass it along, you know."

She stood there a long time, like she was trying to decide whether to say something or not. And she said it. "Will you explain to me about that? How that Paying Forward thing goes?"

He kind of blinked. "Didn't he tell you?"

"I didn't exactly ask."


From Those Who Knew Trevor Speak

So, I explained Paying Forward to her. I got me a stick. Sketched it out in the dirt. In the dark. We both had to squint to see. It was cold, but she had a choice. Could have been home in a warm house. That made a difference. How do I know why?

I drew them three circles. And explained them. Like the kid explained them to me. "See, this one, that's me," I said. "These other two, I don't know. Two other somebodies, I guess. That he's gonna help. See, the trick is, it's something big. A big help. Like you wouldn't do for just anybody. Maybe your mother or your sister. But not nobody else. He does that for me. I got to do it for three others. Other two, they got to do for three others. Those nine others, they got to do it for three others. Each. That makes twenty-seven."

Now, I ain't so good with math. But that kid, he worked it out. It gets real big real fast. Like you can't believe how fast. Up in the thousands in no time.

So I'm on my knees there. Drawing all these circles in the dirt. Counting by threes. Running out of dirt. You can't believe how fast. And you know, it happened again. And we both saw it. A big comet, or whatever. Did I mention about that first comet we saw? I guess I did. So we see another comet. Falling star. Falling, shooting, I don't know. But I ain't never seen two all in one night. It was kind of spooky.

We're looking at these circles, thinking this whole thing could be great. Except it won't be. Because, well, we all know it won't. Because people, they are no good. They won't really pay it forward. They will take your help, but that's all.

I know we were both thinking that. And then the sky lit up again. That big comet. The second one, I mean. I ain't sayin' there was a third. Maybe I made it sound that way. But two, anyway. That's a lot. Spooky.

You know, it's a big world out there. Bigger than we think.

Then she starts to tell me it's hard for her to talk to that kid. I couldn't believe it. Telling me. Me. She says he's just like his father that way. She hates to question him. Can't get mad at him. Don't want to seem like she don't trust him. So things just go by. She just lets 'em go by. She told me all this. It's like we were...I don't know...communicating. For the first time. About all kinds of stuff. It was so amazing. I told her I was gonna do big things. Maybe not big to somebody else. But from where I was. Get me an apartment. Drive a Dodge Dart. She said I could have hers. Dirt cheap. I told her again how it was payday. Payday. The day everything changes.

After a while it was all the same stuff we was saying. Over and over. But I liked it anyway. After a while she went home. But after that, the night was, like...different. Like...not so...you know...cold. Or something.


At nine-thirty he got his paycheck. Didn't have to stay and work that day or the next. So he took it to the bank.

Way over $100, cash in his hand.

Time to buy work boots.

He stood at the bus stop a while. Too long. But it was a nice day. He could walk down to the Kmart. Walking with all that money, that big lump in his pocket. And he'd earned it, too. A whole new day. Comets in the night, who knows?

Then he walked by Stanley's, that little bar he used to like. Thought a beer would go nice. Good day, pocket full of money. If you can't take a minute to celebrate over a beer, then why? Then what was it all for?

And he was right. It went down real nice.

Saw two of the guys, too. That he knew when he was mostly on his feet. And now he was on them again. And they never had to know otherwise. They wanted to know where he'd been. San Francisco, he said, because he'd always wanted to go there.

Bought them each a beer so they would know he could. So they would see that roll come out of his pocket, unfold real nice. Bought himself another so they would see he was in no hurry. No place he really had to be.

Yes sir. New day for sure.

They played a game of pool or two, for money. Then one of them phoned up Tito, a guy they used to know. Told him Jerry was loaded. Come on down.

He did, with some product.

Said to Jerry, "I know you looking to buy. Don't tell me you don't got a taste for the stuff."

"Not no more," Jerry said.

"Oh, come on."

So they played a few more games of pool. The other three went into the bathroom to fix. That didn't seem fair. They could and he couldn't, how is that fair?

I mean, what is the point, really? Why have a whole new world all caught up in rules? Where you can't even feel good. Have what you like. So he had another beer, and Tito came back out. And Jerry said maybe just a dime bag. Not enough to get in trouble on. Not so much that he couldn't afford the boots.

It was his day off. After all. Had to borrow a rig off Tito, didn't even have his own. Didn't know how much he missed that little sting, that needle sting, till he felt it again.

Then it was closing time. How could that be? It was just yesterday morning a minute ago. What day was it now?

Then it was a whole day later in a Denny's, drinking coffee. Hungry now, with stubble on his face. Sick. Feeling bad.

Breakfast, that would have gone good. But he couldn't have any. Because that cup of coffee had tapped him out.

Dug deep in his pockets twice, but it was no use. That money was all used up.

Copyright © 1999 by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Read More Show Less

Introduction

Prologue<<I>October 2002
Maybe someday I'll have kids of my own. I hope so. If I do, they'll probably ask what part I played in the movement that changed the world. And because I'm not the person I once was, I'll tell them the truth. My part was nothing. I did nothing. I was just the guy in the corner taking notes.

My name is Chris Chandler and I'm an investigative reporter. Or at least I was. Until I found out that actions have consequences, and not everything is under my control. Until I found out that I couldn't change the world at all, but a seemingly ordi-nary twelve-year-old boy could change the world completely -- for the better, and forever -- working with nothing but his own altruism, one good idea, and a couple of years. And a big sacrifice.

And a splash of publicity. That's where I came in.

I can tell you how it all started.

It started with a teacher who moved to Atascadero, California, to teach social studies to junior high school students. A teacher nobody knew very well, because they couldn't get past his face. Because it was hard to look at his face.

It started with a boy who didn't seem all that remarkable on the outside, but who could see past his teacher's face.

It started with an assignment that this teacher had given out a hundred times before, with no startling results. But that assignment in the hands of that boy caused a seed to be planted, and after that nothing in the world would ever be the same. Nor would anybody want it to be.

And I can tell you what it became. In fact, I'll tell you a story that will help you understand how big it grew.

About a week ago my car stalled in a busy intersection, and it wouldn't start again no matter how many times I tried. It was rush hour, and I thought I was in a hurry. I thought I had something important to do, and it couldn't wait. So I was standing in the middle of the intersection looking under the hood, which was a misguided effort because I can't fix cars. What did I think I would see?

I'd been expecting this. It was an old car. It was as good as gone.

A man came up behind me, a stranger.

"Let's get it off to the side of the road," he said. "Here. I'll help you push." When we got it -- and ourselves -- to safety he handed me the keys to his car. A nice silver Acura, barely two years old. "You can have mine," he said. "We'll trade."

He didn't give me the car as a loan. He gave it to me as a gift. He took my address, so he could send me the title. And he did send the title; it just arrived today.

"A great deal of generosity has come into my life lately," the note said, "so I felt I could take your old car and use it as a trade-in. I can well afford something new, so why not give as good as I've received?"

That's what kind of world it's become. No, actually it's more. It's become even more. It's not just the kind of world in which a total stranger will give me his car as a gift. It's the kind of world in which the day I received that gift was not dramatically different from all other days. Such generosity has become the way of things. It's become commonplace.

So this much I understand well enough to relate: it started as an extra credit assignment for a social studies class and turned into a world where no one goes hungry, no one is cold, no one is without a job or a ride or a loan.

And yet at first people needed to know more. Somehow it was not enough that a boy barely in his teens was able to change the world. Somehow it had to be known why the world could change at just that moment, why it could not have changed a moment sooner, what Trevor brought to that moment, and why it was the very thing that moment required.

And that, unfortunately, is the part I can't explain.

I was there. Every step of the way I was there. But I was a different person then. I was looking in all the wrong places. I thought it was just a story, and the story was all that mattered. I cared about Trevor, but by the time I cared about him enough it was too late. I thought I cared about my work, but I didn't know what my work could really mean until it was over. I wanted to make lots of money. I did make lots of money. I gave it all away.

I don't know who I was then, but I know who I am now.

Trevor changed me, too.

I thought Reuben would have the answers. Reuben St. Clair, the teacher who started it all. He was closer to Trevor than anybody except maybe Trevor's mother, Arlene. And Reuben was looking in all the right places, I think. And I believe he was paying attention.

So, after the fact, when it was my job to write books about the movement, I asked Reuben two important questions.

"What was it about Trevor that made him different?" I asked.

Reuben thought carefully and then said, "The thing about Trevor was that he was just like everybody else, except for the part of him that wasn't."

I didn't even ask what part that was. I'm learning.

Then I asked, "When you first handed out that now-famous assignment, did you think that one of your students would actually change the world?"

And Reuben replied, "No, I thought they all would. But perhaps in smaller ways."

I'm becoming someone who asks fewer questions. Not everything can be dissected and understood. Not everything has a simple answer. That's why I'm not a reporter anymore. When you lose interest in questions, you're out of a job. That's okay. I wasn't as good at it as I should have been. I didn't bring anything special to the game.

People gradually stopped needing to know why. We adjust quickly to change, even as we rant and rail and swear we never will. And everybody likes a change if it's a change for the better. And no one likes to dwell on the past if the past is ugly and everything is finally going well.

The most important thing I can add from my own observations is this: knowing it started from unremarkable circumstances should be a comfort to us all. Because it proves that you don't need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you've got.

Copyright © 1999 by Catherine Ryan Hyde

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 163 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 163 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 26, 2011

    So Good

    Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde, was one of the best books that I have ever read! The funniest thing about it was that I probably would have never read if I didn't have to for my literature class. I would read this book again and again. When Trevor McKinney comes up with an idea to change the world, no one believes in him. That all changes when his idea starts to work. I was on the edge of my seat after every chapter. I even got teary-eyed at the end. I have cried during only a few books (this, where the red fern grows, charlotte's web, etc.). I know that when a book makes me laugh out loud or cry, the author has done a great job at touching your heart. This book is good for anyone of any age. It was absolutely fantastic!

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Book!

    This is one of the best books I have ever read. The story was so touching that by the end of the book I in tears. I just wish the movie did it justice.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2013

    This book was amazing.

    I read everything about the foundation Pay it Forward and started an anti-bully program at my school. I got this as a gift and I couldn't put it down. It was awesome to hear the story behind the amazing idea of paying it forward. Its worth the read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2012

    The review below me is 100% true.

    .

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2006

    Pay It Forward Review

    This is a great book that I read and I really enjoyed it. I have seen the movie before and it was superb, so I decided to read the book. Even though my teachers have always told me that a book is different than a movie, I thought it might still have an extraordinary point like the movie does. The book has a similar plot to the movie but I like how the author, Catherine Ryan Hyde, wrote with more detail, making it easier to have a clear picture in the back of your mind. I also like how this is something that we could actually put into action. This world, that we are living in, has become so conceited and careless that it would be helpful and overwhelming if we started to ¿Pay It Forward¿. It is a great idea and it made me think of how I could do something to change the world or at least lend a hand to others. Actually it made me want to start Trevor¿s idea because it was such an excellent idea. That goes to show people that youth can be caring and have effective ideas if grown-ups will just listen. At the very beginning of the book it took some time before it captured my attention because it took awhile to get to the point, but when it did I could not stop reading. It is almost written like a movie in the sense of how the chapters tell about a certain person and what was going on in that person¿s life, just like scenes in a movie. Overall this is a great book and I would say if you`re a person who is sensitive, and cares about others, than you will like this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2002

    Far From Pre-fabricated

    After reading the book Pay it Forward, I can honestly say that it¿s one of the best books I¿ve read in a long time. The structure is very original and unique which is hard to find in books these days. You get to see the prospective from each individual character and the narrator, which gives you every side of the story and not just one from a single character or just the narorater. There are so many things going on at once so you are always interested to find out what¿s next and are longing to read. Plus there is so much action and excitement, and the wordage is very down to earth, so it¿s not like you¿re reading something pre fabricated or old school. I think it¿s so interesting that you get to know every character individually. The book lets you know there personality, the way they act, the kind of people they are, and why they are like they are. It¿s more than just characters in a book, you feel like you know them and can see relate them to people in you¿re life. Also, the problems in the book are very real. The stuff in the book is stuff that goes on everyday in everyone¿s life so you can really relate to the book. Plus, the book doesn¿t go off too far and seem impossible. If you think about the stuff that goes on in the book, it seems like a long shot, changing the world and all, but if you think about the idea of paying it forward, it dose seem possible. So in conclusion, if you are someone that likes things you can relate to your like and is a little structured out of the ordinary, you should defiantly read this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2014

    ARE YOU FOR REAL?TO BELOW

    I seen that this was posted in 2013.I wonder if it was because of you IDIOT that no reviews which means no one probably purchased this book.What's wrong with you,you F-ing A-hole.Granny B.

    1 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2014

    Would not recommend this to any but the adult reader

    And to the adult reader with reservations confusing mishmash of genres poorly plotted and cliched literary devices act as fillers if this was a fast food would be a italian meatball 75% breadcrumbs on a hot dog bun with catsup instead of sauce

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 28, 2010

    Not as good as the movie

    Honestly I like the movie better. They both have the same concept of Paying it Forward but the book was slow and some of the characters didn't need to be in the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2015

    OMG *SPOILER ALERT*

    Just finished the movie in my adv. 7th grade reading class...I CAN'T BELIEVE TREVOR DIED :`,(

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2014

    Nope

    Nothing like the movie. Jump around way to much. I gave up after 110 pages. Hope you give up before you waste your money. I'm mainly a non fiction reader so to be fair to my fiction reading friends I started to read fiction and was very happy I did till I came upon this bomb.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2014

    Can you plz just leave me alone?

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2014

    Excellent book!

    Even though I've seen the movie many times I decided to read the book. It was just as good as the movie and although I knew the ending I still enjoyed the story again.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2013

    READ THIS POST

    Good book but at the end a guy KILLS Trever with a knife and it's very sad. The movie is worse though. On the one i wachted "Breif Violence" is when Trevor dies. Concluision:good idea bad storyline

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2013

    Cryied

    I cried when i watched the movie havent read the book yet:'(

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 18, 2012

    Has to be one the best books I've ever read. It was so beautiful

    Has to be one the best books I've ever read. It was so beautifully written and kept you interested until the end. I recommend this book to all ages.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 1, 2011

    awesome

    loved the movie. bet the book is great 2.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2011

    ...

    i saw the movie and it was rele good the book probably is too

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2010

    Inspring and thought provoking

    This book is an absolute must read! It gives you hope that there actually is good in the world and people, no matter what their character, do have an innate need to do good for others. What an amazing world this would be if everyone did "Pay it Forward" even once.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Relative to everyday life

    I liked this book the most because of the realistic descriptions of emotions within the characters. Even though I did not share most of the experiences that the characters had, I related to the human side of things. Besides the inspiration this book provides, it shows you that there is always something to keep looking ahead for.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 163 Customer Reviews

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