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A small dust devil was beginning to form at the end of the track field as competitors made their way to the starting line for the finals of the hundred-yard dash. For these young high school athletes, the annual state track meet was their last chance of the year to compete for college scholarships. The chance to leave their mark, however small and insignificant, on the roster of yearly winners.
Parents from all over the state lined the bleachers, oblivious to the burning heat and hot wind, staring fixedly down the track, waiting for their son or daughter to get a chance to shine. Students ran up and down the aisles, cheering on fellow classmates and exclaiming loud and long when a rival school won an event. College scouts interspersed themselves throughout the crowd, always on the lookout for the gifted, the strongest, the best.
More than one scout had his eye on the tall, lithe Indian boy who was fining up with the other runners down on the track. They didn't care that Morgan Tallchief'sthick black hair was hanging far below his shoulders or that he rarely smiled. They saw speed in his long, powerful legs, strength in the breadth of his chest, and spirit in his eyes.
In their eyes, he was an athletic prodigy, a once-in-a-lifetime find. But he knew he ran for the love of it, for the joy of feeling the wind in his hair and the ground beneath his feet. He knew there were few things better in life than the feel of perfect synchronization between himself and Mother Earth. He believed that he could run forever.
"On your mark!"
Six athletes suddenly dipped into startingpositions as the noise of the crowd began to subside.
The announcer's voice echoed across the stadium, dissipating with the hot wind that blew about the track.
The sound of gunfire reverberated from one side of the bleachers to the other, and then they were off. Like a pack of young wolves, the runners bolted forward with muscles bunched and legs churning, focusing intently toward the finish line only a hundred yards -ahead.
All, that is, except Tallchief, who came out of his set like a slim brown arrow, black hair flying out behind him as he leaped into his lane and kicked into stride.
For Morgan Tallchief, there was no awareness of the athletes on either side of him or of the goal that he must cross. There was nothing in his mind except the light, almost nonexistent impact of his feet against the earth and the rhythm of his heartbeat as it pounded in his ears. He didn't hear the sudden roar of the crowd or see everyone jumping to their feet. He was lost in the run.
There wasn't a single person watching who didn't under stand what they were seeing. Morgan Tallchief was muscle in perfect motion, and he was running with a joy on his face that no one could miss.
When Tallchief flew across the finish line, the announcer's voice was a shriek lost in the crowd's resounding ovation. Still caught up in the race, Morgan was only vaguely aware of his coach's voice yelling for him to stop as he ran out from the sidelines and onto the track.
Morgan's mind shifted gears as he automatically shortened his stride, mentally pulling himself back into reality.
"You won, boy! You won!" Coach Teters shouted.
Morgan let himself be manhandled as his teammates surrounded him. He wouldn't tell them that the coveted medals awarded to the winners were secondary to him. They wouldn't understand that long before the race began, in his heart, he'd already won just by being a participant.
In the midst of rowdy laughter, someone on the sideline screamed with excitement. A resounding cheer went up from the crowd in the bleachers and then they began to chant.
"Tallchief! Tallchief! Tallchief!"
The sound of his name echoing out across the field stopped him in his tracks. The skin crawled at the back of his neck, and he shivered as the sound of his own name engulfed him. Confused as to the reason, he turned and looked up, staring out across the heads of his teammates to the bleachers beyond, searching for an answer to the sudden and unexpected accolade.
The coach's face was ecstatic as he pushed his way through the crowd around Morgan and nearly lifted him off his feet in a wild, boisterous bug.
"What happened?" Morgan asked.
"You set a record, boy! A national, by God, record!"
Morgan grinned. Even for a boy who loved the run better than the prize, that was quite a concept. Before he could comment, his teammates suddenly lifted him into the air and started around the track with him on their shoulders, as if they were bearing the trophy of the day.
In spite of his normal reticence, Morgan couldn't help but respond. He lifted an arm to the crowd. Smiling a slow, easy grin, he began to wave.
As they circled the track, Morgan searched the crowd for one certain girl with long brown hair, clear blue eyes, and the face of an angel. He loved to run-but he loved Kathleen Ryder, his algebra teacher's daughter, as well. Yet no matter how hard he looked, the faces all seemed to be one big blur. And then for no reason other than instinct, he suddenly looked up and she was there, standing on the highest bleacher, her arms above her head, waving in wild delight.
His pulse skipped, and that slow, easy smile stilled. He lifted his arm to wave back, and in that instant it was as if the hundreds of people had suddenly disappeared and they were -alone.
He felt her gaze only, believed that he heard her laughter above the noise of the crowd, and his heart soared.
Kathleen...Tallchief. Copyright © by Dinah McCall. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.