The waves lapped rhythmlessly against the side of the boat as I hoisted the sail and started slowly out into the bay. Dark clouds were forming on the horizon and drops of rain were beginning to fall. I squinted, trying to see through the increasing downpour, and I realized that I could not tell sky from sea. As thunder started to boom, the waves grew bigger and more dangerous. I sighed with relief as I spotted two tiny pinpricks of light wavering in the darkness. They were the two candles my mother always left out for me during a storm. I guided my boat toward the light and finally bumped it up on the shore. I raced over the dunes and splashed through the river in front of my house. The door slammed shut behind me as I blew in with the wind. My eyes darted around the clean kitchen and settled on a crumpled newspaper lying on the hearth. As I flipped through the pages, my eyes settled on an ad at the bottom of the page. It was a contest. A sailing contest. My eyes widened as I read more. “First prize of $100 to the winner of the race.” My family has always been poor so $100 would help us a lot, but we didn’t have anyone who was sick or dying. Still, I wanted to do it. I knew I could do it. But most importantly I knew I could sail.
* * *
Monday morning I was up at first light. I raced to the barn to do my chores, and by breakfast time the Nantucket Island sun was as high as the eye could see. I was just rigging up my racing sunfish, when I saw a boy walking down the beach. Not many people lived on Nantucket Island and I knew all the people that did. As far as I knew, there were no boys here. No young boys at all!!! The figure came closer. When he came close enough for me to make him out, I stared. He was the skinniest boy I had ever seen. His clothes were much too big for him and he was all elbows and knees. He had a mop of untidy brown hair and pale skin. His eyes were hazel and looked kind. I trusted him at once.
“Hi,” I said, “my name’s Joshua Burne.”
“My name’s Mike, Mike Brown.”
We talked for a while and soon became fast friends.
One day, when we met on the beach, something was wrong. His eyes were red from crying and he spoke softly. Too softly.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him.
“It’s my father,” he answered. “He has a really severe disease and we don’t have enough money to pay for his care, Josh, he’s dying.” I could do nothing but stare in disbelief at Mike’s back as he disappeared over the dunes.
* * *
It was Sunday. The day of the race. I woke up early with a smile on my face and determination in my heart. I ate a hurried breakfast and started down to the beach where the race was to start. I rigged up my sunfish and, as the whistle blew, pushed off and jumped into it. I felt great as I began passing more and more people. The race was from one beach to an island about a mile out to sea and back.
As I hit the island, I pushed off with my hands and turned around. Then I saw a boat ahead of me and realized I was in second place. I slapped the sides of my boat in frustration. I raced over the whitecaps toward the boat ahead of me. Its sails were limp. I stopped as I saw the person in the boat. It was Mike. Tears were pouring down his face and soaking his anorak. “I wanted to do it for my dad,” he barely whispered. Though my mind screamed to go, I gave Mike a push and turned around. My heart had said something different. I numbly steered my boat back to the starting line and pulled it up on the beach.
* * *
It was a rainy day a week later. I was down in the dumps until I saw a lone figure on the beach. It was Mike. But then another figure joined him. A taller, older-looking person. I ran out to meet them. The other figure was Mike’s father. He said to me, “I just want to thank you for letting Mike win that race for me. It was the right thing to do.”
“No,” I said, “it wasn’t just that, it was the most important thing to do.” And I meant it with all my heart.