In Step

Smiling smugly to himself, Caleb tied his laces in a double knot, then sat and stared at his shoes. They were red, shiny as a new penny, with white laces, and a strange symbol on the side, mystic and powerful, like the hieroglyphics in his social studies textbook.

“The Jump-a-Thon will begin in five minutes. If you’re part of a team, please assemble here. Individuals please gather around Mr. Schultz.”

Caleb sprang to his feet. His toes tingled with power. He walked, bounce in his step, to the far side of the gym, where Mr. Schultz positioned the sixth graders in squares of tape placed on the floor. Caleb’s gaze drifted to a raven-haired girl taking her spot. Her name was Cecilia, and everyone said she was the daughter of a gypsy or descended from an Arabian princess or something. No one knew, exactly. She rarely spoke, and when she looked at you, your heart wanted to beat out of your chest. Caleb knew; she had looked at him.

That was why he was smiling. If he won the Jump-a-Thon, she’d notice him for sure. And last night, he had been handed the opportunity of a lifetime.

At the whistle, the competition began. The person who jumped the most in an hour won the individual contest. With ease, Caleb whirled the rope over his head, under his feet, over his head. He felt as light as a feather; his feet barely touched the ground.

“Forty-five minutes left.”

Caleb, lost in thought, nearly missed a step at the announcement. Fifteen minutes! And he was still breathing easily.

His friend Matt, keeping track of his jumps with a counter, shook his head in disbelief. “Dude, my thumb’s going to fall off. Are you on ’roids or something?”

“These are magic shoes!” Caleb whispered excitedly.

“No way!”

“I bought them from some guy I met while walking home after Math Club last night.”

“And you’re not even tired? I mean, you practically walked the mile last week.”

“I know! It’s great, isn’t it?”

Caleb didn’t tell Matt that he wanted to impress Cecilia. Matt had a crush on her too.

By the halfway point, most of those near him had taken a break for water. Caleb kept spinning his rope, hopping in easy rhythm. After another fifteen minutes, he kept asking Matt the time, because he was bored.

“Time’s up! Everyone stop!”

Caleb wound to a stop and stood, strangely unsettled. His feet wanted to keep jumping.

“Wow!” Matt said, staring at the final number. “You’ve got to win.”

Mr. Schultz came to collect the counters. Caleb and Matt took some of the cookies and juice provided, talking quietly about how awesome Caleb’s shoes were. Finally, they were herded onto the bleachers, and Principal Fritz began to announce the results. Mason Harris, the basketball star, got third place, and Nikki Dermot, the tallest girl in class and a runner, received second.

“They’re going to call your name,” Matt whispered. “Get ready to go up there. I can’t wait to see Mason’s face!”

Caleb, staring at the back of Cecilia’s head, barely heard.

“And in first place, we have a tie! The winners are Caleb Roper and Cecilia Allura!”

Caleb walked down the bleachers in a cloud of ecstasy. Cecilia reached Principal Fritz first. She turned to smile at Caleb after receiving her medal. “I like your shoes,” she said.

He couldn’t bring himself to look her in the face, which is why he noticed. “You have the same shoes!” he said as the sixth graders clapped for the winners.

“Of course I do. My father sells them. That’s his job.” Then she added: “He must like you.”

“Well…” Caleb said, unable to say more. He had never been happier in his life.

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