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Martin woke up under the covers of his blue-checkered comforter. He climbed out of bed and opened the space-themed curtains his mother made for him when he was five. It was another eighty degree summer day. A good day for ice cream, he thought. He looked at the clock on his dresser. Five to ten, five minutes until the Bill the ice-cream man would arrive in the city park.
“Ma!” Martin yelled as he ran down the staircase, “Can I have twenty-five cents? I’m going to the park.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Martin’s mother said, “Be back for dinner.”
“Yeah, don’t worry, I will.”
Martin ran out the door and jumped onto his bike. It used to be his little cousin’s bike, and the wheels were kind of rusty, but Martin didn’t care because it worked fine enough.
Martin was able to reach the park in three-minutes flat, but a long line had already formed to buy Bill’s various pops, cones, and confections. He saw his friend Jimmy at the end of the line, and they stood and talked about baseball. About twenty minutes had passed when a group of white boys cut right in front of them.
“Hey!” Martin said. “We were here first!”
“Are you talking to me, boy?” the tallest and plumpest kid in the gang said. He already had a frozen chocolate bar in his hand, and the brown goo ran down his chapped lips.
“Yeah, I am.” Martin said defiantly.
“Shut-up Martin,” Jimmy whispered to Martin, nudging him on the arm. “You got no place saying things like that to them.”
“Why don’t you listen to your friend,” the fat boy snickered. “He's right. You got no place talking like that to a white boy.”
“Now listen here,” Martin yelled, his face starting to turn red with fury. “I’ve been waiting in this line, like everybody else, for a long time. You can’t just come up here and take my place.”
“Whoa, this boy really wants his ice-cream, doesn’t he boys? Well guess what, I’ll give him what he wants.”
The bully smashed his chocolate bar into Martin’s face, the sticky dark liquid dripping allover his face and clothes. The mob erupted into laughter. Yet, Martin noticed one of the members of the group, a skinny boy with blonde hair, not laughing or smiling. Just looking at him.
“I told you not to talk back,” Jimmy said.
“Shut-up,” Martin said. He walked out of the line and across the park to a bench behind the tree. No one will be able to see me here, he thought. He sat down, took his handkerchief out of his pocket, and started to wipe the chocolate liquid off his face. He wanted to cry, but he stopped himself. That’s what they want me to do, he thought.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that same blonde boy walking toward him. Martin looked down at his feet.
“Those guys are jerks,” the skinny boy said.
“Yeah, you think?” Martin shot back, a sharpness in his voice.
“Yeah, I do.”
“You’re still friends with them though.”
“Yeah, I guess, just always have been.”
Martin fell silent.
“My name is Paul.”
Martin still did not say a word.
“What’s your name?” Paul asked.
“Why should I tell you?”
“I don’t know, I was wondering if you maybe wanted to play with me tomorrow,” Paul said. “I have this new rocket set.”
“Why would you want to play with me?”
“I’ve seen you playing astronauts with your friends in the playground,” Paul said. “I don’t know anyone else who is interested in that kind of stuff.”
“I have to go,” Martin said abruptly.
“Well, I’ll be here tomorrow if you change your mind,” Paul said sadly. He seemed disappointed.
That night, Martin prayed with his family. He kept thinking about Paul and his rocket set.
The next morning, Martin got up at nine in the morning. He met up with Jimmy, and they rode to the park together. They were trading baseball cards in the sandbox, when Martin noticed Paul sitting alone, building a rocket.
“That looks kind of fun, doesn’t it Jimmy,” Martin said pointing at Paul on the other side of the park.
“I don’t know,” Jimmy responded, not looking up from his cards. “Not really.”
“Well, I’m going to go over there,” Martin decided aloud.
“Martin, come one!” Jimmy warned. “Remember yesterday? Do you want to get in trouble again?"
Martin didn’t here Jimmy. He had already walked out of the sandbox, across the lawn, and stopped where Paul was sitting.
“How can I help?” Martin asked.
Paul smiled. “I’m almost ready for lift-off, but can you help me attach this wing?”
All day, Paul and Martin worked on the rocket ship, laughed, and talked. People would pass, jeer, and point, but Paul and Martin didn’t care. They just kept working.
When the rocket ship was done, it was about five p.m. Martin placed the firecracker inside the ship, lit it, and together, Paul and Martin chanted, “Three, two, one, lift-off!”
As they watched the ship catapult into the dimming sunlight, Paul asked, “ Hey, you never told me your name.”
“Martin Luther King Jr.,” Martin said, still gazing at the sky-high ship.
“Martin, do you ever think a day will come when no one makes fun of us for being friends?”
“Yeah, Paul, I think I do.”