Thirteen-year-old Charlie’s life will never be the same. A terrible car accent has claimed the lives of his mother and father and Charlie’s voice.
Charlie relocates to a farm in the Colorado foothills to live with his aunt, uncle, and younger cousin. Farm life was a lot of work for Charlie, but when fall comes will he be ready for school?
Fearing rejection because of his disability, Charlie challenges himself to learn sign language. With the help of special friends he learns even more than he bargained for.
|Publisher:||Amelia Publishing Inc|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.35(d)|
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By Suzanne K. Biggs
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Suzanne K. Biggs
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Chapter OneA New Beginning
"Come on, Charlie, Daddy Jake is waiting for us," Marty whispered as he quickly pulled on his jeans and T-shirt. Charlie's ten-year-old cousin could be a real pest first thing in the morning. Actually, he could be a pest anytime!
Charlie lay on his bed and pretended to be asleep. In the past, he had looked forward to summer vacation, when he could sleep until nine or ten in the morning. But this new summer schedule was a bummer. He had moved to Colorado only a week earlier, and already he hated it. Up at six, feed and water the animals, clean out the milking room, and collect eggs. Work! Work! Work!
Uncle Jake told him that hard work and fresh air would kill that empty, hollow feeling inside him. Instead, all he could think about was his life back in New York and how wonderful it used to be. All summer long, he could sleep until noon, play video games on his own computer, hang out at the mall, play baseball with friends—or just do nothing at all. Why wouldn't they at least let him bring his computer? Then he remembered that Uncle Jake said that it was a period of adjustment and he needed to focus on something different. This was different all right.
Charlie rolled over and looked out the window, thinking about his old neighborhood with houses lining both sides of the paved street. The yards were green; the flowerbeds were like blooming rainbows. His mom had the best rose garden. Kids filled almost every house. He and his friends rode bikes or skateboards everywhere. There was a mall close enough to walk to and buses to take them everywhere else in the city.
Here in the Colorado mountains, everything was totally different. Many of the roads were dirt, and neighbors' houses were too far away to see. Uncle Jake didn't have cable TV, and he didn't own a satellite dish or a computer. Sure, the mountains were awesome, but Charlie missed Rick and Moose and the sights and sounds of a big city. It was too quiet here; he would go crazy. What was a teenage city kid supposed to do in a place like this?
Sitting up, Charlie untangled his legs from the sheet and blanket. Swinging his feet to the floor, he ran his fingers through his sleep-tousled hair. His mind was flooded with memories.
What he missed most were his parents. His dad had been an electronics engineer and his mother a nurse at the biggest hospital in the city. They took the neatest vacations each year: scuba diving, skiing, and even mountain climbing. Then that accident had happened.
Tears welled up in Charlie's eyes as the memories rushed through his mind. He closed his eyes tightly, trying to shut everything out. The only thing he couldn't remember was the accident. Even though he had been with them in the car, that day was a total blank. The doctor said that someday he might remember what had happened; then again, he might not. The doctor had also told him that he should get his voice back as his throat injury healed. But that had been more than four months ago, and so far no luck with either his memory or his voice.
"Hey, Charlie, move it!" Marty loudly whispered, throwing his pillow at Charlie.
Charlie tried to yell back, but nothing came out. Why couldn't he have lost his hearing instead of his voice? He threw the pillow back at Marty, hauled himself out of bed, and started to slowly dress. Marty was worse than the worst alarm clock.
"Make your bed, and be quiet today when you go down the stairs. You woke Mom up yesterday," Marty scolded.
Charlie grabbed a pencil and paper from the nightstand.
"Why doesn't she get up early like the rest of us?" Charlie scribbled.
"She sometimes stays up late writing," Marty snapped defensively. "Her doctor says that writing helps her to work out her frustrations. Same thing with her painting, but she does that during the day. You should try it."
"Can I sleep in if I do?" Charlie wrote. Marty ignored him. Charlie wanted to ask Marty more about his mother, but his cousin was already halfway down the stairs.
Marty's dog, Worm, waited patiently for them outside the back door. As soon as Marty opened the door, Worm's tail started wagging and wiggling until his whole body was in motion. The medium-sized, blond cocker–rat terrier mix looked like he was trying to turn inside out.
"Just a big wiggle worm," Marty said, hugging him.
Charlie pulled a pad and pencil from his pocket and wrote, "Do you think Uncle Jake would let me have a dog?" Shoving it under Marty's nose, Charlie thought about his own father's allergies to animals.
"Maybe. I'll ask him at breakfast, after the chores are done. We'd better do a good job. Daddy Jake only hands out rewards for good jobs."
"Why do you call him Daddy Jake?" Charlie wrote as they walked toward the barn.
"He's not my real dad, only my stepdad," Marty explained. "But he's the greatest stepdad, and he doesn't drink! Let's get to work; I don't want to talk anymore."
With Worm's help, the boys went quickly through their chores. While Worm distracted the rooster, barking and bouncing in front of him, the boys fed and watered the chickens. They would collect the eggs later. Next, they filled the water troughs in the horse and cow pastures. When Uncle Jake finished the milking, it was Worm's job to herd the cows into the right pasture while the boys hosed out the milking barn.
Uncle Jake had the table set and the bacon and pancakes cooking by the time the boys returned.
"How do you want your eggs, Charlie?" Uncle Jake asked as he started frying some for himself and Marty. Charlie just shook his head as usual. Uncle Jake knew that Charlie avoided eggs, but he still asked him every morning.
"Mom said I'm allergic to them. They make me sick," Charlie wrote.
"Why didn't you say so? How about cereal? I can make oatmeal."
Charlie wrinkled his nose: no again. He started eating the bacon and pancakes. When Uncle Jake finally finished cooking and sat down to eat, Charlie nudged Marty and pointed to the back door.
"Daddy Jake, Charlie wants to know if he can have a dog."
"Isn't Worm enough for the two of you?" he mumbled and continued eating. Marty looked at Charlie and put his finger to his lips, letting him know not to say anything.
When Uncle Jake finished eating, he looked at the boys for a moment. Then he said, "Well, I heard Sam Norton still has some of Becky's pups. If, and I mean if, I have no trouble with you doing your chores this week and there is no fighting, then Saturday I'll take you over to see about getting a pup. Okay? Agreed?"
Charlie was so happy that he jumped up and started clearing the table. Marty started washing the dishes.
Chapter TwoA Puppy
As the week went on, Charlie learned more about the farm. Even though he hated his jobs, the time did pass more quickly when he was busy. He helped weed the garden, planted with rows and rows of vegetables. Yuck, he thought. He usually turned his nose up at vegetables. Corn and tomatoes were okay, but zucchini, squash, green beans, and peppers? No way! He wondered why they planted so many pumpkin hills. They only needed a couple pumpkins for Halloween. Aunt Molly must make a lot of pumpkin pies and pumpkin bread.
Charlie helped Marty give the woodshop a good cleaning. He was surprised at the many shelves filled with wooden toys and the dozens of outdoor chairs stacked by the door.
"What's all this stuff?" Charlie wrote when they took a break that morning.
"Daddy Jake supplies different stores with toys and chairs to sell," Marty explained. "He works on them during the winter and on rainy days during the rest of the year. I sometimes help him with sanding, painting, and putting the wheels on the trucks and cars.
"Doesn't he have a regular job in town?"
"Daddy Jake has enough work here on the farm. He sells milk and eggs at the co-op, and the toys, chairs, and extra vegetables are sold at stores in town. And there's a farmers' market near town, where we go on some Saturdays. Kids come from all around to buy the pumpkins, and he has the Christmas trees ..."
Charlie perked up and looked around the farmyard. "What Christmas trees? Where?" he quickly wrote.
"I'll show you next week when we start weeding the seedlings. Let's get back to work, or you might not get that puppy."
During breakfast on Saturday, the boys waited with anticipation to see if Uncle Jake would remember about the puppy.
"I can see you two are waiting for an answer," Uncle Jake observed, shoving his plate to the side. "Eat up, clean up, and then we'll go see those pups. I already told Sam we'd be over this morning." Uncle Jake laughed as he rescued his coffee cup from Charlie's exuberant table clearing.
"What kind of dog is Becky?" Charlie wrote as they changed their clothes.
"Becky is sort of shaggy, black, and not too big, a little smaller than Worm." Hearing a horn blow, Marty looked out the window. "Hey, let's move it."
"We'd better take Worm with us," Uncle Jake told them. "He has to approve of the pup, too."
Marty, Charlie, and Worm hopped into the back of the pickup. They bounced down the rutted dirt driveway, turned right at the highway, and drove toward the higher peaks.
Looking at the patches of snow on the mountainside, Charlie grabbed his notebook. "Doesn't the snow ever melt?"
"In some places, but most of that snow is glaciers. Maybe we can go camping and fishing soon."
Charlie slapped his head and nodded. Glaciers. Of course. He grinned at the thought of camping.
"We usually go up to Lost Lake the end of June or beginning of July, as soon as it's not too cold to sleep in tents."
About fifteen minutes later, they turned off the main highway and drove up a long, winding dirt road, the Norton driveway.
Charlie pointed to the road and made the motion of shoveling it.
"Sam has a plow for his truck, and so does Daddy Jake."
They drove up to the barn, and a small, shaggy black dog came around the corner barking, her bushy tail waving like a flag. Worm started barking and wiggling. Not waiting for the pickup to stop, he jumped to the ground and ran to his friend.
"That's Becky," Marty confirmed. They watched the two dogs chase each other around in circles.
A tall, lanky man in bibbed overalls and a ball cap came striding out of the barn. Four fat, yapping pups bounded after him. Spotting Worm, they scrambled in and around the man's legs, trying to get to Worm.
"Well, Jake, I see the boys couldn't talk you out of coming. Take all of these pups, please!"
"Talk me out of it? They hardly let me finish my coffee! And one pup will be enough. Sam, this is my nephew, Charlie Christianson, my late sister's boy. Charlie, this is our closest neighbor, Sam Norton."
"Just call me Sam, Charlie," the man said loudly, holding out his hand. "Sorry to hear about your folks."
Charlie nodded as they shook hands. He still wasn't sure how to handle not being able to talk to people.
"Tanner and the Imp aren't here today, Marty, so take those noisy pups away. Can't hear a person talk with all that racket. Come into the barn, Jake."
Since Worm and Becky had disappeared into the barn also, Marty whistled and called the puppies to get their attention. Charlie began to have some doubts about getting a puppy as he watched them eagerly follow Marty to the side yard. How would he call his puppy when he couldn't even talk? But when he tried to whistle he found, to his surprise, that whistling still worked!
The boys flopped down on the grass and let the puppies jump all over them. They all had short hair except for one, a fluffy black one. There was a medium-brown one, a white one with black spots, the black one, and one that was blond like Worm.
"Is Worm the daddy?" Charlie wrote when he was finally able to untangle himself from the pups. Just then, Worm and Becky came bounding over to join them.
"Maybe," answered Marty breathlessly. "He sure likes Becky."
Charlie played with the puppies a while longer. He sat back to watch them carefully, to see if there was a special one. They were all playful and frisky. Marty pulled a piece of rope from his pocket and let it trail in the grass like a snake. The pups followed it like ferocious hunters. Growling, the blond one pounced on the rope. Then he grabbed one end and shook it. The brown one grabbed the other end, and the spotted one grabbed the middle. A three-way tug-of-war!
Where was the black pup? Charlie spotted him sitting near Worm and Becky. He was smaller, and Charlie noticed that he stayed out of the way when the others were wrestling with the rope. The pup decided to play his own game of tug-of-war with Worm's long ear. Charlie was surprised that Worm didn't even growl at the puppy. Since Worm seemed to like the little guy, Charlie decided to further test the pup.
He clapped his hands twice and softly whistled. The other three puppies were busy playing and paid no attention to Charlie, but the little black one's ears perked up. He came bounding over and jumped into Charlie's lap. Charlie ruffled the pup's soft, fluffy fur and held him close. The pup snuggled under Charlie's chin and licked him on the ear. Getting Marty's attention, he motioned that he wanted Worm to come over.
"Hey, Worm, go get Charlie."
When Charlie held the puppy out to Worm, the older dog started to wiggle, and he licked the pup on the nose. The pup squirmed and wiggled in Charlie's hands and returned the lick on Worm's nose. They were all in agreement; this was Charlie's new puppy!
"Have you named your dog yet?" Marty asked on the way home.
Exasperated, Charlie pulled his pad from his back pocket. Marty and his questions were giving him writer's cramp.
"Muffin, short for Ragamuffin," he wrote.
"That's a silly name."
"So is Worm. Mom used to call me a ragamuffin when I needed a haircut," he explained as he ruffled the pup's shaggy mop of hair.
Marty burst out laughing but stopped when he noticed tears in Charlie's eyes.
"I know someone who can help you train Muffin without being able to speak," Marty said, trying to change the subject.
Turning his attention back to Marty, Charlie mouthed, "Who?"
"Imbra. You'll meet her and her brother, Tanner, on Monday."
"Imbra. I-M-B-R-A. Just call her Imp; everyone else does, even her folks. They're Sam Norton's kids."
Charlie wasn't too keen on meeting new kids just yet. Since the accident, he felt like an alien—even with his own friends.
When the pickup stopped in the driveway, Charlie picked up Muffin and headed toward the barn to fix a bed for him. Uncle Jake had warned him that dogs were not allowed in the house, and Worm would care for Muffin in the barn at night.
After supper, Charlie tried to take Muffin for a walk by himself, but the pup kept running back to Worm's side. Charlie tried to get Worm to come along, but Worm kept looking at Marty, who was sitting next to him. Charlie finally motioned for Marty and Worm to join him.
Marty skipped down the path, talking nonstop the whole way. Charlie suddenly stopped, took out his pad, and wrote, "Give your mouth a break!"
"Sorry, Charlie. I've missed having someone to talk to, and you make a great big brother."
Charlie's eyes widened. "I'm not your big brother! I'm your cousin," he wrote. "Brothers and sisters are pests!" Most of Charlie's friends had brothers and sisters, and he remembered how they envied him being an only child.
Marty's head drooped as he read the note. Charlie could see that he had hurt Marty's feelings, but he didn't care. He just wanted to be alone with Muffin. He scooped Muffin up and ran back to the barn.
Later, Charlie felt sorry about what he had said. Marty wasn't a bad kid; he just talked too much. He put Muffin to bed and went up to their bedroom to try to explain to Marty why he had snapped at him.
"Sorry, Marty," he wrote on his ever-present note pad. "Sometimes I just need a bit of quiet time."
"That's okay, Charlie," Marty replied. "Kevin always used to tell me to pipe down, too. At least Tanner and Imbra don't. Wait until you meet them on Monday."
Excerpted from CHARLIE CHRISTMAS by Suzanne K. Biggs Copyright © 2012 by Suzanne K. Biggs. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. A New Beginning....................1
Chapter 2. A Puppy....................5
Chapter 3. Christmas Trees....................10
Chapter 4. Time to Think....................13
Chapter 5. Trucks....................16
Chapter 6. Kits....................20
Chapter 7. Lost Dogs....................22
Chapter 8. Searching....................25
Chapter 9. Muffin....................28
Chapter 10. Lost Fish....................31
Chapter 11. The Imp....................33
Chapter 12. The Joke....................36
Chapter 13. The Book....................39
Chapter 14. Invitation to Pitch....................42
Chapter 15. Training Day....................44
Chapter 16. The Stompers....................48
Chapter 17. Baseball....................51
Chapter 18. Farmers' Market....................55
Chapter 19. School....................59
Chapter 20. The Challenge....................63
Chapter 21. Getting Ready....................66
Chapter 22. Home Run Derby....................68
Chapter 23. Silence....................72
Chapter 24. Jason's Secret....................75
Chapter 25. Angela....................78
Chapter 26. More Talk....................81
Chapter 27. Jason's Surprise....................83
Chapter 28. October....................86
Chapter 29. Halloween....................89
Chapter 30. Tree Cutting....................91
Chapter 31. Thanksgiving....................95
Chapter 32. Trying to Remember....................100
Chapter 33. Christmas Plans....................102
Chapter 34. Memories....................105
Chapter 35. Christmas Surprises....................107
Chapter 36. The Tour....................111
Chapter 37. The Decision....................113