Tracks

Allison crouched behind a bush and waited. Her bike lay behind her, just out of sight over the rest of the hill. Although she had been there for more than an hour, she waited patiently. She was sure they would come today, and she would be ready for them.

She had been looking for friends all summer, ever since her family moved to the small town of Bethel shortly after school ended.

“Go out and ride your bike around the neighborhood,” her mother had urged her. “You’re sure to meet someone that way. There must be kids your age around here.”

So Allison had ridden her bike up and down the streets of Bethel. She saw older kids and younger kids but no one her own age. No one except a girl two streets over, and she was in a wheelchair.

“Well, get to know her,” Mother had encouraged her. “I’m sure she’s very nice, and there are a lot of things you could do together. Maybe she needs a friend, too.”

“She can’t ride a bike,” Allison had pouted. Her bike had been just about the most important thing in life to her ever since she had decided to train for the Tour de France international bike race.

“Well, then, you’ll just have to wait until school starts in the fall,” Mother told her. “There will be kids your age in your class at school.”

So Allison continued to ride her bike around the neighborhood, feeling lonesome and sorry for herself.

Then she found the dirt track. She came upon it one day when she was riding along the country road on the edge of town. High weeds lined the sides of the road, and she almost rode right by the opening to the path.

Feeling the excitement of an explorer, she followed the path off the road. Insects flew from both sides of the weeds as she pedaled slowly along it. Several small mice and a rabbit scurried for cover as she passed.

She was about to turn around and go back when she came upon a clearing surrounded by low, bush-covered hills. In the center of the clearing was an oval dirt track. Although it appeared to be abandoned, the track was still flat and smooth and ready for racing.

My very own race track! Allison thought as she started to ride around it. Then she noticed wheel tracks ahead of her in the soft dirt—two tracks, each about the same width as the impressions left by her own tires.

As she followed the tracks, she noticed that they were always the same distance apart. When one track curved slightly to the left, the other followed in a perfect arc!

They must be best friends who ride bikes together, Allison thought, feeling pangs of loneliness. They know each other well enough to ride together perfectly. I wish I had a friend like that.

Well, why not? she wondered. Even if the mysterious bike riders weren’t her age, or even if they were boys, they still liked to ride bikes, and that was all that mattered.

So she had waited. Two days in a row she had sat just out of sight behind the bushes on the hill, anxious for the riders to come. She had it all planned. Once the two riders appeared, she would walk her bike down the hill and meet them as if by accident. Then, if all went well, she’d have two new friends, and they’d ride off together side by side.

This was her third day of waiting, and suddenly she heard a rustling in the weeds. They were coming at last! Allison caught her breath as she saw the girl in the wheelchair from two streets over wheel herself onto the track.

What’s she doing here? Allison thought impatiently. What if the two bike riders who are supposed to become my best friends don’t come because she’s here?

Allison watched as the girl in the wheelchair picked up speed. By the time she was halfway around the track, her wheelchair was nearly flying as her muscled arms pumped furiously. Allison was impressed. Walking her bike, she hurried down to talk to the girl.

“Hi! My name’s Sandy,” the girl in the wheelchair offered as Allison approached. “That’s a nice bike you have.”

“Hi! I’m Allison.” Seeing a stopwatch fastened to Sandy’s chair, she blurted out, “How fast were you going?”

“Two seconds faster than last week,” Sandy answered proudly. “Don’t laugh, but I’m training for the Olympics. I’m sure wheelchair racing will be an official sport by the time I’m older.”

“Really? Good for you! Don’t you laugh, but I’m training for the Tour de France.”

“Well, let’s train together, OK?” Sandy motioned for Allison to come on as she took off down the track.

Allison grinned and hurried to catch up. When they had almost completed a lap, she hit a rough spot and reached out to steady herself on Sandy’s wheelchair. Looking back, she noticed three perfectly parallel tracks in the dirt.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney Kawasaki