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The Paper Route Race
by Steve Schlich

Flip of the wrist. Jackie Baxter watched her tri-folded newspaper bounce just above the top step on the porch and roll over to the doormat. A perfect throw!

"Not bad for a girl."

That voice belonged to Gary Thompson, the cute boy who had taken her to the beach a lot in July. When his family vacationed away in August, she worked the paper route for him. She thought it was some kind of romance, but everything ended when school began. He wouldnít have anything to do with the route, or her. What did he want now, two weeks before Christmas?

Jackie ignored him and folded the next paper. Bend into thirds and tuck one edge inside... Gary took one from her bag and did his one-handed fold very slowly so she could watch him. She set down her bag and tried not to look impressed.

Holding her newspaper like a boomerang, Jackie threw a flat-spin spiral that hooked to the left around a huge pine tree and landed neat as you please on the doorstep.

"Nice toss, Jackie."

"Thanks. I get lots of practice." She reslung the bag.

Gary hefted his paper to guage the weight and flight characteristics. "Are the Porters still taking?" Jackie nodded yes and he let it fly. The paper did a difficult alternating spin that tapped the Porterís porch railing and rattled the door as it settled down.

"You havenít lost your touch, Gary. Have you thrown any papers since August?"

Gary chuckled. "Back yard practice. I, uh...need a favor, Jackie. I want the paper route back. Can I have it?"

She stopped and stared at him. "Youíve got a lot of nerve showing up now to ask me that. Where were you for the last four months? You havenít said as much as 'boo' to me! I didnít want a full-time paper route. You stuck me with it."

"Well, now youíre unstuck. I took a long vacation, thatís all. Unpaid. So you can give the route back and forget it now. Okay?"

Jackie wanted to punch him. "You know, I hated this at firstthrowing papers on everyoneís doorstep. But it grows on you. I like it now. Why should I give it back? Iím just getting good!"

"You are good, Jackie. Listen. I know Iíve been a real creep, but Iím in a jam. I need the job. Come on, help me out."

She sighed and folded a paper slowly. "All right. I donít know why Iím doing this. You can have your stupid route back after Christmas. This next week is tip week for me. Could be fifty dollars: After that, I donít care. Itís yours."

"But thatís why I need it now: I need the tip money."

"Huh! Youíre crazy. You didnít work every afternoon since August to earn those tips. I did." Her next throw, an easy one, fell short by ten feet. She dumped the bag again with a groan and stomped over to the paper to right it.

"A paper route is a manís job." Gary took another from her bag, folded it quickly and threw an overhand spiral that whuffed softly into the shrubs next to the door and fell down on the mat.

Walking back, Jackie rolled her eyes. "So?"

"So give me the route now. I can do it better anyway. Faster."

That made her mad. "You think I do this just for fun, donít you? Well, listen to this: I can throw a newspaper just as far as you can. I can run this route just as fast!"

"Bet you canít."

"Bet I can!"

Gary looked down the row of houses. "Okay, letís have a race. Iíll take one side of the street and you take the other. Theyíre even from here on out. First one to reach Main Street keeps the Christmas tips. I can win that with my eyes closed!"

"Youíre full of it, Gary Thompson! Iíll race you." Jackie spilled the rest of her papers to the sidewalk and divided them in half. "Ten houses on each side of the street. No second throws. First one to hit Main Street keeps the whole route. Ready?"

Gary clutched his papers and ran across the street. "Ready:"

"Go!"

They hustled down their sidewalks, newspapers rustling madly as they moved. Garyís one-handed fold was easy for him in motion, but Jackie could do it too if she laid the stack against one arm. Their newspaper rockets found their targets and plopped perfectly onto the first doorsteps. The score so far: one each. A dead tie.

They began to move faster.

Jackieís second throw was a difficult one that had to be threaded between two huge shrubs. She stopped, took aim, and threw the paper extra hard so it hit the house above the door and fell down flat in front of it.

But somehow Gary was a house ahead, throwing his next paper. Run! Youíre losing! Jackie ran. Gary got clumsy and had to stop to finish a fold that wouldnít work with one hand.

She gained some on him then, but lost it back and more when her next throw went wild. She knew it was bad as soon as she let go, and the paper had barely hit the.ground when she scooped it up and did a back-handed lateral to the doormat.

When she got back to the sidewalk, Garyís lead had grown to two houses. He kept it as they crossed the street and began on the second block. With Main Street only 400 feet away and closing fast, she was too far back. No time to catch up!

The impossible happened. Garyís toe caught the edge of a sidewalk slab and he went down flapping like a bird, his newspapers flying in all directions. He wasnít hurt, but Jackie passed him and took a one-house lead of her own before he got everything back together.

Four houses to go! Three! Jackie folded and ran at top speed, and threw off her newspapers like guided missles or homing pigeons. Everything clicked. To miss a doorstep now would be unthinkable: She kept hitting.

Two! Gary couldnít catch her.

Suddenly she stood in front of her last house, Old Mr. Callahanís. with Gary gaining behind her. Callahan lived in an apartment on the second floor and she had to go inside to deliver! Garyís last delivery was an easy toss to an outside door. Heíd be waiting for her on Main Street when she got out of the building. She was going to lose!

Jackie searched the second floor until she-found Callahanís window, thinking of something sheíd watched his friends do. Could it work for her? Would he be there? She had to try.

"CALLAHAN!" she yelled at the top of her lungs. In a moment he opened the window and looked out. Luck was with her so far. Across the street, Gary had caught up with her. She waved frantically at Callahan. He waved and stood back.

She threw the paper and ran. It floated end-over-end through the air and into Callahanís window without touching the frame at all. The old man waved thanks, but Jackie was already gone.

She and Gary reached the Main Street finish line at the same instant. They panted for breath and looked at each other with a new admiration. It had been a close race.

She and Gary reached the Main Street finish line at the same instant. They panted for breath and looked at each other with a new admiration. It had been a close race.

Gary shuffled his feet and looked at the sidewalk. "You made a great move with Callahan, Jackie. I would never think of something like that."

She folded an extra paper and flipped it to him. "Changed your mind about paper routes and menís work?"

He nodded sheepishly and said something she never thought sheíd hear from his mouth: "You beat me fair and square. I was wrong. I thought I was better than you somehow. But Iím not. So I guess the route stays where it belongs, with you."

Jackie smiled. "Remember, we tied. Maybe we could share a little. I sure need help with the heavv Wednesday editions. We could split the money whenever you help. Thatís not a whole route for you, but itís something."

"You drive a hard bargain, Jackie! Okay. Letís try it for awhile and see. Maybe you could teach me that last throw of yours."

He ran across the street again with the extra paper in his hand, and they tossed it between them on the way back to get Jackieís delivery bag.


copyright 2000 by Steve Schlich

ABOUT THE STORY

Should I admit this? I never had a paper route. I can't throw a folder newspaper with any accuracy at all. Write what you want to know, I say.

Oh yeah, this story appeared in a Coeur d'Alene, Idaho want ads newspaper in February 1981.

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