Chapter 25: The Night Balloon

I didn't sleep much that night. Every time I began to drift off, I felt like I was falling. I would wake with a jolt, my sheets stuck to my skin.

What was I going to do?

I liked Minerva. A lot. Was this what people meant when they talked about "love?"

If only I could make her see how I felt about her. I imagined us in downtown Mystic. She starts to cross the street. Wait! A car is racing toward her, the driver frantically stamping on his brakes. I leap into the street and push her to safety. I feel the dull thud of the bumper.

Broken, bloodied, I lay in the street. A crowd gathers: all my classmates. I hear David Smallweed say, "He saved her life." Eddy lifts one of my broken hands and says, "Hey, Wump, I'm sorry I was such a jerk." Minerva cradles me in her arms, tears in her gray eyes, knowing at last - too late! - how much I love her.

I hugged my pillow and stretched. No, it wouldn't be like that. It would be ...

High noon at the aquarium. Minerva and I, with submachine guns, are herding the seals aboard a giant truck. People are screaming and fainting. Every now and then we unleash a spray of bullets into the air.

The parking lot is filled with cruisers. I turn just in time to see a cop take aim at Minerva. I throw my body in front of hers. The slug hits and spins me around. I fall, mortally wounded. Minerva huddles over me, weeping and tearing her hair.

But ...

But she is really going to do this. No matter what.

And I have to help her.

If I don't, she'll think I'm a spineless wimp. If I do, we'll probably be thrown in prison for the rest of our lives. Oh, man, why does it have to be like this? I've never done anything like this before.

Yeah, I thought miserably, because you were always afraid. What would it be like NOT to be afraid? Maybe, if we came up with a foolproof plan, I wouldn't be.

I traced over every detail of the plan. It seemed like she'd covered every angle. There was only one thing left: the diversion, something to keep the cops busy.

I turned on the light and looked at my books.

Wait a minute.

I pulled out an old book with a cracked leather cover that had belonged to my great-grandfather: "The American Boy's Handy Book." It was filled with all sorts of instructions: how to make a war kite, how to make a water-telescope, how to make - Yes! - Fourth of July balloons "with New and Novel Attachments."

I turned to the instructions for making a four-foot-high balloon out of paper. A "wick ball" would hang from the bottom, and when the ball was set on fire, the hot air would make the balloon climb into the sky. There was a picture that made my heart race: a balloon trailing a tail of lanterns. It was labeled "Night Balloon."

That was it! If we made one of these and sent it up before we went to the aquarium, people would think it was a UFO. I could imagine the panicked calls to the police. THAT would keep them busy.

It was perfect, a stroke of genius. I couldn't wait to tell Minerva.

I lay back on my bed and closed my eyes, smiling to myself. I had erased the last obstacle. Nothing could stop us now.

My eyes flew open. What are you thinking? This will seal your fate!

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