“Fuel tanks full … Booster rockets set … Crew standing by … Systems are all cleared and ready to go. Prepare to launch,” I tell Will Fishman, my best friend and first mate.
One of the coolest things about third grade, besides having Ginger Curtis as our teacher for the second year in a row, and studying space, is having a humongous table full of Legos in our classroom.
“Five, four, three, two, one, zero … Lift off!” me and Will shout together as our spacecraft leaves the launchpad and quickly soars upward.
To explore the mysteries of the cosmos.
To discover new life-forms on other planets.
To dare to go where no one’s ever gone before.
“Ginger! Stuey and Will have been at the Lego table for eighteen and a half minutes now, and there are only ninety seconds of morning recess left. Plus, they’ve used up all the rocket pieces from the new Lego set, so no one else can make a spaceship.”
And one of the worst things about third grade, besides tons of homework and having to learn cursive, which I stink at, is that I still have to put up with having the Queen of Obnoxious in my class. I cross my eyes and look at Lilly Stanley. She has two heads and four eyes. Blab-blab-blabs are coming out of her two mouths, and she has morphed into the most annoying alien ever known to humankind in any galaxy.
I pick up my Lego laser and wave it at her.
“You know you’re not allowed to make guns at school, Stuey Lewis,” she blabs on.
“It’s not a gun,” Will explains. “It’s a frezlien, a highly specialized tool designed to freeze aliens for five minutes, without causing bodily harm, while we collect scientific data from them.”
“I guess you and I are safe then, Lilly,” says Ms. Curtis, chuckling. “Nice-looking rocket, guys. I’m glad you’re psyched about our space unit. We’ll talk more about what we’ll be studying later, during science. Lilly, I bet if it’s still raining, the boys will be happy to have you join them at the Lego table after lunch. Isn’t that right, Stuey?” she asks me.
“The forecast said there’s a seventy percent chance of the rain ending before noon,” Will reports, giving me a look that says, Keep your fingers crossed and start wishing for sunshine, pronto.
“Friends, it’s time to clean up and get ready for math,” Ms. Curtis says. “Want to help pass out the multiplication-mad minute, Lilly?”
“Oh, I’d love to, Ginger.”
And whoosh … Just like that, Lilly’s out of my space.
Math rocks this year ’cause I happen to be killer at it. So far, I’m the only one with perfect multiplication-mad-minute scores in the whole class. But I don’t hold it over anybody’s head like a certain somebody else might. ’Cause it wasn’t so long ago that reading wasn’t a piece of cake, and I can tell you that was not a whole lot of fun.
But … 4 × 7 = 28, 3 × 9 = 27, and 5 × 12 = 60 takes my mind off rain and maybe having to share the Lego table with that certain somebody else, which, trust me, is a very good thing … even if it does only last for sixty seconds.
* * *
Sometimes wishes do come true. Just as we’re finishing our lunches, the sun appears. “How about a game of Martian freeze tag?” I call, heading outside to the playground.
“You’re IT!” Omar yells to me over his shoulder. I take off across the playing field after him. Before long our entire class is either frozen stiff or racing around. Then Lilly’s IT.
“I wish I had your frezlien, Stuey!” she yells, just missing me.
“Lucky for me, you don’t,” I holler back.
After recess, Ms. Curtis meets us at the classroom door.
“Welcome to Lunar Station, space explorers. Please join me in the control room.”
Whoa … While we were outside, Ms. Curtis transformed the entire meeting area into a scene from Star Trek. All the shelves are filled with space books, and a ginormous rocket and moon are hanging from the ceiling.
“Awesome!” says Sashi, scoping out the rocket. “I’ve always wanted to go to the moon.”
“Who can tell me the name of the first American woman astronaut who traveled in space?” Ms. Curtis asks.
“I know! I know!” Lilly’s hand shoots up faster than the speed of light. “Sally Ride,” she shouts out. “I know all about her, she was on the space shuttle Apollo.”
“Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, but she flew her two missions on the space shuttle Challenger, not Apollo,” I say. “On the second mission, Kathryn Sullivan was part of her crew, and she was the first American woman to ever walk in space.”
“I didn’t know that about Kathryn Sullivan,” says Ms. Curtis. “I love it when I learn things from you guys. What else can someone tell me about space?”
“It has moons and gazillions of stars,” says Nathan.
“And planets, too,” says Omar.
“There are eight planets in our solar system,” Will adds.
“There used to be nine,” I say. “But the IAU officially downgraded Pluto to a dwarf planet, so now there’s just Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.”
“The IA who?” Will asks.
“I-A-U … as in International Astronomical Union,” I tell him.
Everyone stares at me like I’m Bill Nye the Science Guy, from TV.
“How come you know so much about space, Stuey?” Rosa asks.
“His dad runs a space-science center,” Will says without thinking.
“Cool! Can we go there on a field trip and have him show us stuff ?” Sashi asks me.
I check out Will’s face, which is now the same color as Jupiter’s great red spot.
“Sam, we haven’t heard from you,” Ms. Curtis says, saving me from having to answer Sashi. “What can you tell us about space?”
“Well, there’re definitely UFOs flying around up there.”
“You’ve been watching way too much sci-fi, Sam Baker, because UFOs just don’t exist,” Lilly says.
“Try telling that to my grandpa. He saw one a long time ago.”
“No way. Honest, Sam?” Nathan asks. “What did it look like?”
Suddenly, UFO stories start whizzing around the classroom. It gets so noisy no one notices that the “space expert’s” mouth is muzzled. Except for Will, who gives me a look that says, Sorry I blew it.
Okay, so lots of kids have parents who are divorced. No biggie if they live close by, but when they don’t, it can be a major drag. Dad knows tons about space. It would be wicked cool for him to talk to my class, like Omar’s dad did when it was fire-prevention week and we visited his fire station. Or like Sashi’s grandpa, who cooked treats with us at his restaurant on Chinese New Year’s last year. Problem is, Dad’s space center is 1,000 miles away in Georgia.
But hey, if they can figure out a way to get people 238,855 miles to the moon, I should be able to figure something out, right? ’Cause who else happens to be the number-one problem solver on the planet?
* * *
When I get home, my big brother, Anthony, is in the kitchen.
“We’re studying space,” I tell him. “I wish Dad could speak to the class.”
“Wish for something else, Stu. Dad already visited this summer.”
“Duh, I know he can’t come here, but I think I’ve hatched a plan that will get us all there.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. Take a field trip to Georgia? Earth to Stuart Lewis, come in Stu-pid … No one, not even you can pull that off. So do yourself a favor, don’t mention it to anyone else, ’cause they’ll think you’re even more of a space cadet than you are.”
And just because he calls me stupid, I let him believe I am … At least for the moment, anyway. And then I decide to run my plan by Ms. Curtis. She lives around the block from us, so I walk over to her house, where she’s outside raking leaves. I fill her in on my scheme, and do you know what? She doesn’t think I’m stupid at all.
* * *
“Anthony says I’m nuts to believe we could pull off a class trip to Georgia,” I tell Will on the phone after dinner. “Do you?”
“Sam’s grandpa thinks he saw a UFO. Is he nuts?”
“Lilly thinks so,” I answer.
“I rest my case,” Will says.
And that’s why I immediately swear him to secrecy and share my Teleporta Plan … the plan that will transport me and him and Ms. Curtis and our entire third-grade class to Georgia, a thousand miles away. In the blink of an eye … No lie.
“Wow, that’s incredible,” Will says. “I’m in.”
Then I tell Mom and call Dad, and swear them to secrecy, too.
“Dad, Ms. Curtis needs to ask Ms. Katz, our principal, if Friday night is okay. She’s just waiting to get the go-ahead from you. Can you give her a call now?”
“Will do. I’ll go over everything with her so she can get set up on your end,” Dad says. “We’ll synchronize the rendezvous for eight thirty sharp on Friday night, after everyone clears out of the center, okay, captain?”
“Over and out,” I answer.
* * *
The next morning, Ms. Curtis has us gather in the meeting area.
“Friends, I have a big surprise. This Friday night, we’re all going to have an adventure together that’s—”
“You said Friday night when you meant to say Friday morning, Ginger,” Lilly interrupts. “But don’t worry, I get confused sometimes when I’m excited, too.”
Ms. Curtis’s cheeks turn as red as planet Mars. “Thank you, Lilly, but Friday night is exactly what I meant,” she says in her most patient voice.
“Ooh,” Lilly says, “a nighttime adventure. That sounds fascinating. Hurry up and tell us the details.”
I give Ms. Curtis a look that says, I know exactly how you’re feeling.
“Well, I can only talk about the first part of the surprise,” she continues, “because that’s almost all I know. The details will be revealed that night.”
“What can you tell us?” Rosa asks.
“That I called Ms. Katz and each of your parents last night and got permission for everybody to stay here at school for a campout.”
“How come my mom didn’t tell me you called?” Lilly asks.
Before I can stop myself, I hear my not-so-patient voice say, “Because Ginger asked her not to.”
“How do you know, Stuey Lewis?” Lilly asks.
“He just guessed,” says Will.
“And he guessed right,” Ms. Curtis says quickly. “I wanted to tell you all about it myself. We’ll have dinner together, sleep outside, and something special will happen that has to do with space.”
“I hope we get to see a UFO,” says Sam.
“Or extraterrestrials,” Omar adds.
Lilly rolls her eyes at them. “Yeah, or maybe we’ll all take a midnight rocket ride and eat green cheese with the man in the moon.”
“Well, it’s a safe bet we won’t be eating any green cheese, but for sure somebody will probably cut the cheese,” I say.
Everyone laughs and Omar and Sam give me the thumbs-up.
“Stranger things have been known to happen on campouts, Lilly,” I add. “Especially when there’s a new moon, so be prepared for anything.”
“What’s a new moon?” Lilly asks.
“When the moon lines up directly in front of the sun, so it looks like there’s hardly any moon at all, and the night sky is real dark. That’s when you better have a flashlight to light your way back inside, if you wanna make it to the bathroom in time,” I answer.
Everyone cracks up again, except for you-know-who.
“You’re gross, Stuey Lewis,” she says.
“But he’s right, it will be a dark night on Friday,” says Ms. Curtis, “so we’ll all need to bring flashlights. Let’s make a list of other things we’ll need.”
But if my Teleporta Plan is gonna go smoothly, I’ve got my own list of things to organize, with way more important stuff to think about than sleeping bags, hot dogs, or Lilly Stanley. And I also have to get Anthony psyched up and on board, because Will and me will definitely need his help to pull this off.
“Well, Stu, you’re still the man,” Anthony says when I tell him about the plan after we get home from school. “Sorry I doubted you. Pretty impressive scheme. Do you think I can come along for the ride?”
“I was hoping you would,” I say.
He grins at me. “It’s going to be a blast.”
* * *
Friday morning I wake up raring to go. Mom’s already made muffins for tomorrow’s breakfast. She hands me a warm one before pushing me out the door.
“This is it, Stu. Now, don’t worry, we’re all set to play our parts. I’ll be there before dinner with your stuff. I’m so excited to be spending the whole night with you and your class. Better get a move on or you’ll miss the bus.”
Will meets me at the classroom door. “The final countdown to Teleporta is officially on,” he whispers. “Let’s synchronize our watches. Everything set for 2030 hours?”
“Yeah, Mom’s sneaking Anthony and the tech gear into the library at 1730 hours then she’ll show up outside to help with the cookout. She’ll be the gofer between us and Anthony, just like we planned,” I whisper back.
“Ginger! Guess what?” we hear Lilly screech from inside the classroom. “You’re not the only one with a secret. When my mom comes to help watch us after school, she’s bringing something for tonight that everyone’s definitely going to love.” Then she eyes me. “Just you wait, Stuey, it’s the best surprise ever.”
I open up my mouth and almost put my foot in it, but Will steps on my toe first. “Keep a lid on it, Stu,” he whispers. “We’ve only got a few hours left.”
* * *
The day goes by at warp speed. The three o’clock bell rings and everyone’s buzzing about tonight. A couple of parents show up and take us outside, where we play space games and asteroid dodgeball. Soon parents start arriving with camping stuff and food that they load on the picnic table. Lilly’s mom arrives with a tray piled high with moon pies.
“Moon pies. Get it, Ginger? We used Martha Stewart’s recipe but stuffed them with twice as much marshmallow fluff and we double-dipped them in chocolate. And we made two for each person in the class because they’re super yummy and one just wouldn’t be enough,” she blabs on. “And there are extra ones for our parent-helpers, too, so they won’t feel left out, because you’re never too old to enjoy a good moon pie. So, as you can see, now there are two special things about space scheduled for tonight, Ginger … your surprise and my moon pies.”
If moon pies weren’t way up there on my dessert list, I’d be throwing up right about now.
“Wow,” says Rosa, “those look amazing.”
“Bet they taste amazing, too,” Nathan adds.
“I’d be happy to pass them out for an after-school snack,” Lilly offers.
“I think that’s a great idea.” Ms. Curtis smiles. “Why don’t you start with Stuey.”
* * *
“Psst!” Mom signals us over to the place where she’s setting up the grill for our hot dogs. She points. “Anthony’s just inside that door. He wants to speak to you.”
Me and Will rap on the door when no one’s looking.
Anthony opens it a crack. “Phase One and Two of the plan are complete,” he reports. “Mom put the seats the way you wanted, and I’ve got us all hooked up. You just have to keep the kids away from the library until takeoff.”
“Done,” Will says. “My dad’s organizing our campsite on the field closest to the school. He was an Eagle Scout. Trust me, having people inside is not on his agenda. Right now he’s got everyone setting out their sleeping bags. Then he’s taking the kids for a walk on the nature path in the woods before we eat.”
“Speaking of dinner, you must be starving,” I say to Anthony. “I’ll have Mom slip out and bring you a dog as soon as they’re ready.”
“I’m cool,” he says, “but maybe you can score another one of those moon pies for me. Ms. Curtis brought me one earlier and…”
“One just wasn’t enough?” I guess.
“Oh, you’ve tried them … Pretty awesome, huh?”
“Yeah.” I roll my eyes at Will. “Pretty awesome.”
When we’re all done eating, we sit in a circle on the grass. Ms. Curtis gets her guitar out and launches into “It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eater.” I give her a big grin. Just think, I could have ended up with a third-grade teacher who sings “Twinkle, Twinkle.”
“It’s getting pretty dark out,” Omar says, looking up at the sky.
“When is the space surprise happening, Ginger?” Sashi asks.
“Soon,” Ms. Curtis says, checking her watch. And then I hear our cue. “We’ll have just enough time to read another chapter of Lost in Space. Stuey, would you and Will mind getting it for me? It’s on my desk.”
“I’ll get it, Ginger,” Lilly says.
“I was hoping you would help me sing. “Hip-hopping it out to a rocking tune,” Ms. Curtis sings, strumming. Lilly’s voice joins in, “Is that crazy old, crazy old man on the moon…”
And we’re off, making our getaway into school, up the hallway to the library. Mom passes us in the opposite direction, heading outside with an armload of blindfolds.
“Phase Three in progress,” she reports. “I’ll see you soon.”
We cut the lights in the library. Me and Anthony and Will wait by the door. Ms. Curtis, Mom, and the other parents snake a line of blindfolded kids slowly up the hall. They’re all silent as we lead them to their seats. Then Anthony hits the switch on the disk player, starting the final phase.
“Remove your blindfolds and prepare for Teleporta takeoff,” I instruct in my official voice. “Hang on tight,” Will adds, while rocket-blastoff sounds overpower the room and a red strobe light begins to flash. Anthony hits another switch and kills the strobe, and a large flat screen instantly lights up in front of the kids.
“Welcome to the Columbia Space-Science Center in Georgia…” a voice says. And suddenly Dad’s on the screen. “Am I coming in okay, Stuey?”
“Loud and clear, Dad. How about us?”
“Have Anthony switch the light on, that’s better…” He waves and says, “Hi, kids!”
“Is that man your real father, Stuey Lewis? He can’t actually see us, can he? Did you and Will plan all this? Is he the space surprise?”
Dad laughs. “I bet you’re Lilly, and yes, I am Stuey’s real dad and the space surprise. Thanks to the Internet, computers, Skype, and the webcams Anthony set up, I can see and hear each one of you perfectly.”
“No way,” says Sam.
“Awesome,” Nathan says.
“So, how about we get this field trip started … Ready to explore the space center?” Dad asks.
“Yes!” everyone yells. And me and Anthony and Will look at each other and smile.
First stop is the Challenger exhibit, where Dad takes us all inside a rocket and simulates a launch. Then we’re off to the observatory, where there’s a giant telescope and we get to see close-up shots of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. Finally, we take a movie trip through the solar system in the Omni Theater.
“Thanks for coming to visit with me,” Dad says after we’ve been glued to the screen for almost two hours.
“That was the best field trip ever,” says Sashi.
“It sure was,” Ms. Curtis agrees. “How about a big thank-you cheer for Stuey, Will, and Stuey’s family for making this all happen.”
“Hurray!” everyone yells, and I give Dad a double thumbs-up.
“Before I sign off, I have one more surprise for you,” Dad says. Anthony and Will look at me, but I’m as clueless as everybody else. “It won’t happen just yet, it will be around midnight,” he promises.
“Are you referring to the second moon pie treats I’m planning to serve later, Mr. Lewis?” Lilly asks.
“No, but I wish you could teleport one,” he says with a grin.
“Well, I can’t imagine anything more exciting than this happening tonight,” says Ms. Curtis.
“Just you wait,” Dad says, “and keep your eye on the sky tonight, guys. Anthony, Stu, I’ll call you on Sunday.” He waves. “Bye, Ms. Curtis. Bye, kids, and don’t forget to look up!”
“Bye!” we all say, waving back. Then Anthony hits a switch and the screen turns off.
* * *
“I can’t believe it’s midnight and we’re all still awake,” says Rosa from her sleeping bag.
“Well, almost all of us,” says Will, poking his dad, who’s starting to snore.
“I never stay up this late.” Ms. Curtis yawns.
“I don’t, either,” says Mom.
“What do you think the bonus space surprise is?” Anthony asks.
“No idea,” I answer.
“Maybe we’ll see a UFO after all,” says Sam, staring up at the inky-black night.
“You can’t possibly think you’re going to see an alien ship in the sky, Sam Baker,” Lilly says. “Whoa! Did anyone see that? Look, over there!” She points. “There’s another one! What is that?”
I look up and catch the tail of a falling light before it fades out. And then I see two more, and I can’t believe this night could be any better.
“It’s an IFO,” I say, “as in … Identified Falling Object.”
“What are you talking about, Stuey Lewis?” Lilly asks, as more bright lights fire across the sky.
“The bonus surprise is a meteor shower!” I tell everyone.
“Maybe you should call your dad to make sure,” Lilly suggests.
“Why don’t you just lie back and enjoy the light show,” I say.
Then I hunker down in my sleeping bag, gaze up at all the shooting stars, and think, For the rest of tonight, please give … me … space.
Text copyright © 2012 by Jane Schoenberg