It was a Thursday afternoon, and Carrie Roberts was on her way home from her piano lesson. She pedaled her bicycle down Mimosa Street past the park.
“Carrie! Carrie Roberts!” someone called.
Carrie turned toward the park. She saw her friend Peggy waving at her.
Carrie rode her bike over to Peggy.
“Hi, Peggy. What are you doing here?”
“I’m helping Mark. He’s practicing his running.”
Mark was Peggy’s retarded younger brother. Although Carrie felt sorry for Mark and knew that he wasn’t responsible for his condition, she felt uncomfortable around him.
Carrie watched Mark run awkwardly around the big track. “Why is he running?” she asked.
“He’s going to be in the Special Olympics next Saturday,” said Peggy proudly.
“What are the Special Olympics?” Carrie asked.
“They’re like the real Olympics, but they’re for handicapped kids,” Peggy explained. “They run races and everything.”
Just then Mark finished his run. He was panting, and his face was red.
Peggy hugged him. “That was good, Mark! Do you remember Carrie?”
Mark grinned a friendly, crooked grin. “Hi, Carrie,” he said. The words were slurred, as though his mouth was full of marbles.
“Hi, Mark,” Carrie replied. She tried to think of something else to say to him, but her mind was blank.
“I have a great idea, Carrie,” said Peggy. “Why don’t you come to the race Saturday? You can be a hugger.”
“What’s a hugger?”
“Huggers hug the kids after they finish their races. Everyone gets lots of hugs at the Special Olympics. Will you do it?”
“Well …” Carrie hesitated, trying desperately to think of an excuse. But she couldn’t. “I guess I can,” she said.
“Great!” Peggy said enthusiastically. “Be at Lincoln Junior High Saturday morning at ten o’clock.”
On her way home, Carrie felt awful. “I don’t want to be a hugger!” she muttered. “I’ll have to think of some way out of it.” She looked up at the sky. “Maybe it will rain.” The thought cheered her up a little.
The first thing Carrie did Friday morning was look out the window. The sky was clear and blue. During school that day, Carrie looked out the window periodically, hoping to see some clouds. But by the time school was out, she had given up hoping for rain. She would have to think of something else.
When Carrie got home, her mother was painting. “Are we having company tomorrow, Mom?” Carrie asked.
“Not that I know of.”
“Do we have to go anywhere tomorrow?”
“I don’t believe so,” Mom said. She put down her paintbrush and looked at Carrie. “I thought you were going to the Special Olympics tomorrow.”
“You don’t sound very happy about it.”
“I guess I’m not too crazy about hugging a bunch of retarded kids,” admitted Carrie.
“Oh, Carrie! They may look and sound a little different, but they’re Heavenly Father’s children, too, and they need hugs just as much as the rest of us do.”
“I suppose so,” said Carrie. But she was not convinced.
The next morning Carrie was almost cheerful as she rode her bike to the junior high school. Late last night she had finally thought of a plan to get out of being a hugger. Reaching the school grounds, she found Peggy standing with Mark. He was wearing a bright red T-shirt.
“Hi,” said Carrie, in a low, raspy voice.
“What’s wrong with you?” asked Peggy.
“I have a cold,” Carrie said. She coughed. “I won’t be able to be a hugger because these kids might catch my cold.”
Peggy gave Carrie a funny look. “That’s too bad.” She turned to her brother. “Come on, Mark. It’s almost time for your race.”
“Good luck, Mark,” said Carrie in her raspy whisper.
Peggy and Mark walked away. Carrie sat down on one of the wooden bleachers near the finish line. She could see Peggy and Mark at the starting line on the other side of the oval track.
Carrie looked around. Lots of the kids looked and sounded like Mark. Boy, am I glad I found a way to get out of being a hugger, she thought.
Peggy left Mark at the starting line with the others and ran across the oval to the finish line. Carrie motioned for Peggy to sit by her, but Peggy didn’t seem to see Carrie. Instead she stayed on the inside of the track. Carrie’s heart sank. She realized that Peggy knew she was faking the cold.
Mark lined up with four other children. The starter’s gun sounded, and the runners took off. At first all five were bunched up together. Then slowly a boy in a blue shirt began to pull away from the others. Soon Mark, pumping his legs up and down, began to catch up to him.
As the runners rounded the curve, Carrie could see the look of concentration on Mark’s face. He was really trying hard!
“Come on, Mark!” Peggy was shouting over and over.
As they got closer to the finish line, the boy in the blue shirt stumbled and fell. The crowd in the stands groaned sympathetically.
“Come on, Mark!” someone yelled.
But Mark stopped. He helped the other boy up and then helped him brush the dirt from his knees. The other runners passed them and crossed the finish line.
Mark held the fallen runner’s hand. Together they crossed the finish line. Mark grinned and raised his arms high.
Carrie felt tears in her eyes. She pushed her way through the crowd and hurried over to Mark. He grinned at her. She held out her arms and enfolded him in a big bear hug.
“That was a great race, Mark!” she exclaimed.
“Peggy is lucky to have you for a brother.”
Carrie looked at Peggy.
“Do you still need a hugger?” she asked.