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On the last warm day of autumn, Dana and her best friend eat ice cream, gossip, and complain about school. It’s just like any other afternoon until Dana walks home and sees a toddler break away from his mother and sprint into the street. Without thinking, she chases after him, pushing him onto the sidewalk just before a giant blue car would have run them both down. She didn’t mean to do it, but Dana has become a heroine—and her life will never be the same.
Saving the boy makes her the darling of the entire town. She gets a story written about her in the paper, praise from strangers—even a beautiful Persian kitten as a gift from the boy’s mother. At first she loves the attention, but she soon learns that being a celebrity brings hardship, too—and a challenge that will require her to show courage in a whole new way.
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About the Author
Susan Beth Pfeffer wrote her first novel, Just Morgan, during her last semester at New York University. Since then, she has written over seventy novels for children and young adults, including Kid Power, Fantasy Summer, Starring Peter and Leigh, and The Friendship Pact, as well as the series Sebastian Sisters and Make Me a Star. Pfeffer’s books have won ten statewide young reader awards and the Buxtehude Bulle Award.
Read an Excerpt
By Susan Beth Pfeffer
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Susan Beth Pfeffer
All rights reserved.
It had been a pretty average day until I became a heroine.
We got back our spelling tests, and I'd gotten an 85, which was a relief, since I hadn't studied for it. I was called on to do a problem in math, and I got it without too much trouble.
Sharon and I had lunch together, along with a couple of the other girls. We talked about some of the shows on TV the night before, and the book reports that were due on Friday. Only Sharon had read her book all the way through. I still had half to go.
We played soccer in gym, and I helped my team get a goal. The day was bright-blue sunny, and it was a drag to have to go back indoors. Social studies was the last thing that day, and mostly I looked out the window and thought about what a good time I'd had during the summer, swimming and hiking, and just messing around.
After school I walked through the playground and saw Charlie Everest teasing Brian O'Shea again. Charlie was the class bully, and he had been since he came to our school in second grade. Brian was new, and I didn't have much of an impression of him yet. He seemed quiet, maybe a little shy. Bright enough, but not so smart you'd notice. He wasn't enough of anything to notice. Unlike Charlie, who had always been at least four inches taller and twenty pounds heavier than any of us. A hundred times meaner, too. Right then he was pushing his index finger into Brian's chest and calling him a sissy and a wimp. Sissy first, then wimp. Brian just stood there, not moving, but not crying either. Charlie usually made kids cry. He'd made me cry more than once in the past five years.
It was mean of me, but I was glad he was picking on somebody else. A boy too. Boys should be able to take care of themselves against other boys, I figured.
"Sissywimp," Charlie said, the two words becoming one as he jabbed away. "Sissywimp."
I think I would have kicked Charlie by then, but Brian didn't do a thing.
"Hey, cut it out," one of the older kids said. Now that we were in junior high, Charlie was no longer the biggest kid in the whole school.
Charlie glared at the boy, but he stopped poking at Brian. Brian picked up his schoolbooks and started walking away.
"He is a sissywimp," Charlie announced, but he didn't have much of an audience. I heard him mutter "Sissywimp" one last time, and then I crossed the yard and started walking toward home.
"Where are you going?" Sharon asked me. I hadn't noticed her running toward me.
"Home," I said. "Where else?"
"Oh, I don't know," she said, but I could tell from the look in her eyes she was thinking ice cream. Sharon and I have been best friends since kindergarten, and we knew each other's looks pretty well.
"Why not?" I said before she even had a chance to ask. It might be the last warm day until May, and a final farewell-to-summer ice cream cone sounded like a good idea. So we walked the few extra blocks to the Cream King and ordered soft vanilla cones with sprinkles.
"Seventh grade's okay so far," Sharon said between licks. We'd been seventh graders for two weeks already.
"I like being in junior high," I said. "I felt like a baby in elementary school. Especially with Jean in junior high, telling me all the good stuff I was missing."
"Like dances," Sharon said, wiping a spot of ice cream from her jeans. I love Sharon, but she's the world's messiest eater. "I can't wait until the Halloween dance."
"Do you think you'll have a real date?" I asked.
"I'm sure going to try," Sharon said. "Maybe Jean can help us."
"Jean?" I repeated with a laugh. Jean already had a boyfriend, Big Wally, but that didn't mean she passed her rejects along.
"She might," Sharon said.
"Don't count on it," I replied, nibbling at my cone. When it was finished, that meant summer was finished too. Of course summer had officially ended the first day of school, but the end of the ice cream cone meant the end of it all permanently. I felt a little sad thinking of it that way, and considered getting a second cone just to postpone the moment.
"Jean's okay," Sharon said. "She lends you her clothes."
"Jean's fine." I said. "She says just as long as I keep quiet at school, so she doesn't have to tell people she's my sister, we'll get along just fine."
"That's not too much to ask," Sharon said. "Just be invisible for a year."
"Did you see Charlie teasing Brian?" I asked, taking one sorrowful last lick of ice cream.
"Charlie's awful," Sharon said, finishing her cone at the same time. "I wish somebody would finally put him in his place."
"You mean in jail?" I asked, and we both giggled.
"With striped pants," Sharon said. "Like in those old comedies. And handcuffs."
"And people bringing him saws in chocolate cakes," I said, and we started whooping with laughter. It took a moment before Sharon had calmed down enough to wipe the few remaining sprinkles off her shirt.
"Who'd want Charlie to escape?" she asked. "More likely they'll swallow the key and keep him in jail forever."
"You're not fooling me," I said. "I know you have a crush on him. You'd visit him every single weekend and write him love letters and cry all the time he was behind bars."
"If I loved Charlie, you'd better believe I'd be crying," Sharon said. "Poor Brian. Do you think Charlie is going to pick on him all year, like he did to Michael Stevens two years ago?"
I hadn't thought about Michael in a long time, and hearing his name forced all the good feeling out of me. Eventually Michael's parents had taken him out of school and put him into a parochial school, just to keep Charlie away from him.
"They won't let him get away with that sort of stuff here," I said. "Someone'll stop Charlie before it gets that bad."
"It won't be me," Sharon said. "I don't want to get Charlie mad at me."
"Me either," I said. "But I'd really like to hit him sometimes."
"Sure," Sharon said. "But I want to live to see eighth grade. Preferably with a face all in one piece."
"I don't know," I said. "A nose job or two might not hurt."
"Two?" Sharon shrieked. "How many noses do you think I have, Dana? Two? Three? Four?"
"Eighteen," I said, and we were giggling again. "I know where you keep them hidden, Sharon."
"I may have eighteen noses, but at least I have a brain," she said. "Eighteen noses. Honestly, Dana."
"Honestly, Sharon," I said, and it was hard to stand, we were laughing so hard. It wasn't that we were so funny. It was just that it felt so good to be outside on such a beautiful day. Even if there was school the next day and the day after that and after that for the next nine months.
"I gotta go," Sharon finally choked out. "Homework."
"Me too," I said, sobering up fast. "Math and social studies."
"And reading your book for the book report," Sharon said.
"That too," I said, and we turned away from each other, since our homes were in different directions. "Hey, Sharon ..."
"Don't forget to count your noses when you get home. Your mother might have borrowed one."
Sharon snorted and I giggled. I felt really good just then. Maybe things weren't perfect, but as long as the sun was shining and there were still flowers blooming, it was all right.
Like I said, it was a pretty average day.
I got to the corner of Main and North streets, just in time to miss the traffic light. I swear they run that thing just for pedestrians to have to stand there. It's a busy corner, and unless you're really feeling daring, you don't cross against the light. That's the sort of dumb thing Charlie might do, but not me. I wasn't in that big a hurry to get home and work on my book report.
I half noticed the people who were waiting for the light with me, the way you half notice things when you really aren't thinking about anything special, just waiting to cross the street. There was a woman carrying a bag from Woolworth's, and a man in a business suit who looked a little like my father, and a mother with a half dozen packages in one hand, trying to control her little kid with the other. The kid was two or maybe three. I don't have that much experience with little kids, so it's hard for me to tell how old they are, or if they're boys or girls. This one was just a wriggling kid in overalls and a blue shirt.
But then the kid managed to wriggle away from its mother. And before she even had a chance to notice, the kid had run smack into the middle of Main and North streets, with a big blue car coming right at it.
The funny thing is I didn't even think. If I'd taken one second to think, I never would have moved. I would have stood there frozen and watched the car hit the kid. It couldn't possibly have stopped in time. I couldn't even be sure if the driver would see the kid, it was so little.
Not that any of that really registered. Instead, I ran into the street, right into the path of that big blue car, and pushed the kid out of the way. The momentum of pushing kept me going, and I stumbled along, half holding the hysterical kid and half holding my schoolbooks.
I knew the car could hit us. It was roaring at us like a blue giant. But the funny thing was I felt like a giant too, an all-powerful one, like even if the car hit us, it wouldn't hurt us because I was made of steel, too. Like Superman. And as long as I was there, the kid was safe. I moved my giant steel legs and lifted the kid with my giant steel arms, and in what couldn't have been more than ten seconds, but felt more like ten years, I pushed both of us out of the path of the car.
By the time I'd gotten to the other side of the street with the kid, the blue car's brakes were screeching it to a halt. But over that noise, and the noise of the kid crying, I could hear its mother screaming from way across the street. It was amazing how far off she looked.
I really wanted to lean against the lamppost, but I wasn't going to let go of that kid. I'd already lost most of my books, since I wasn't about to go to the middle of the street and pick them up where I'd dropped them. So I stood there, holding on to the kid with my grip getting weaker and weaker as I started to realize just what I'd done, and just what the car could have done to the kid and me.
The man in the business suit stood in the middle of the street, holding his hand up to stop the cars, and picked up my books for me. The kid's mother, still screaming, crossed the street, walked over to where we were, and started weeping. She was shaking pretty hard, too, but nowhere near as hard as I was. The kid ran to its mother, and the two of them hugged and sobbed. That left me free to grab onto the lamppost, which I did, with both arms.
"I couldn't see, I didn't see," the driver of the blue car cried at us. I guess she pulled her car over to the side of the street, because I watched her join us. She seemed like a nice lady, too, not the sort that drove blue giant monster cars and aimed them at kids. "I have two of my own. I never would have ..."
"He just got away from me," the kid's mother said. "I was holding his hand, and then he just broke away from me...."
"Here are your books," the businessman said, handing them to me. That meant I had to give up the lamppost, which I did reluctantly. That car could have killed me. I risked my life for some little kid—I didn't even know if it was a boy or a girl. I could have been killed trying to save some strange kid's life.
"I have to go home now," I said, trying to sound conversational. Nobody was paying any attention to me anyway. I grabbed my books, and took about a half dozen steps away from the corner of Main and North streets before my legs gave way, and I practically sank onto the sidewalk.
"I'll drive you home," the woman with the Woolworth's bag said. "My car is right here."
I ignored all the warnings about taking lifts from strangers, and gratefully followed the woman into her car. She didn't say anything to me, except to ask where I lived. A couple of times, though, she patted me on the hand, as if to say things were going to be all right.
"Here," I said when we got to our house. What a beautiful house, too. I'd never noticed just how beautiful it was before. The grass was mowed, and there were marigolds blooming in the front garden. Marigolds. If that car had hit me, I might never have seen marigolds again.
"There's no car in the driveway," the woman said. "Are you sure your parents are home?"
"Oh, no, they aren't," I said. "They both work."
"I won't leave you here alone," she said.
"That's okay," I said. "My older sister should be in." I fumbled around, got the key from my pocket, and unlocked the front door. The woman followed me in, to make sure Jean really was there.
She was in the living room, sprawled on the sofa, watching TV and eating an apple. I wanted to hug her.
"You see?" I said instead. "She's here."
"If you want, I'll stay until your parents come," the woman said.
"No, really," I said. "I'm okay."
"Dana?" Jean asked, turning around to face us. "What's the matter? What's going on?"
"You should be very proud of your younger sister," the woman said. "She saved a little boy's life. She's quite a heroine."
And that was the first I realized that I really was one.CHAPTER 2
The next morning at the breakfast table, I was trying to finish my math homework. I hadn't felt like working the night before, and I'd had to tell the story of what happened with the kid to Jean and Mom and Dad so often that I almost believed it had happened. But I didn't think the math teacher would accept it as an excuse for my homework not being done. Jean was nibbling on her toast, and Mom was drinking her orange juice and reading the paper. Dad was upstairs shaving.
"Good grief!" Mom exclaimed, and nearly choked on her juice.
"What?" Jean asked. I didn't even look up.
"There's an article here about Dana," she said.
That was enough to arouse my attention. So I put aside the math, and got up to see what Mom was talking about.
Sure enough, the Herald had an article on page 28, all about what had happened. "Mystery Girl Saves Tot's Life" the headline read.
I tried skimming the article, but it wasn't easy with Mom calling to Dad to come downstairs, and Jean reading it out loud.
"Listen to this," Jean said. "'I'd know her anywhere. She was about fourteen years old, and she was wearing a red shirt.' Fourteen."
"Do I really look fourteen?" I asked.
"No," Mom said. "The woman was in a state of shock. Bill! Come down here!"
"If Dana looks fourteen, I must look sixteen," Jean said. "That's only fair."
"I wasn't wearing a red shirt," I said. "But it's got to be me."
"Of course it's you," Mom said.
"What's all the excitement?" Dad asked. He still had lather over half his face.
"Look at this," Mom said, and she took the paper away from me before I had a chance to finish it. I didn't think that was fair, since it was about me, but Dad started reading the article before I had a chance to protest. "Would you look at that," he said. "You're famous, Dana."
"She isn't famous yet," Jean said. "Nobody knows Dana's the one who saved that kid."
"Can I tell the lady?" I asked.
"I don't see why not," Mom said. "I'm sure she wants to thank you in person."
"That's what the article says," Jean said. "'I owe my child's life to this girl. I won't be happy until I can thank her personally.'"
"We wouldn't want her to be unhappy forever," Dad said. "I think Dana should go to the paper after school and let them know. They can contact this woman."
"Why can't I go before school?" I asked. What a great excuse not to finish my math.
"Because school is more important," Mom said. "This can wait. Now, finish your homework, and then you'd better get going."
"Do you think they'll put my picture in the paper?" I asked.
"They might," Dad said. "I guess we'd better prepare ourselves for life with a celebrity."
"All I did was ..." I started to say. But then I realized what I did was save that kid's life. Who knows? The kid might grow up to be president. Or cure cancer. And it would all be thanks to me. I smiled.
"I think the next few days are going to be absolutely unbearable," Jean said, looking at me. "Anybody mind if I change my name?"
"No teasing," Dad said. "Face it, Jean, you're as proud of Dana as the rest of us."
Excerpted from Courage, Dana by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Copyright © 1983 Susan Beth Pfeffer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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