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The last newspaper.

"What's that car doing in Mr. Peterson's driveway?" Jeffrey asked himself. In the year since he had started the newspaper route, Jeffrey couldn't recall Mr. Peterson ever having a visitor--at least not when Jeffrey was there.

He carefully rested his bicycle against the gate and pulled out the last newspaper. Then he jumped up the worn porch steps and rang the doorbell. But he didn't expect to see the unfamiliar face of the stranger who opened the door.

"Where's Mr. Peterson?" Jeffrey asked. "I've brought him his newspaper."

"Then you have to be Jeffrey." The man smiled. "My uncle told me about you. I'm Roger McAllister, Mr. Peterson's nephew. Please come in."

Then Jeffrey remembered. Roger. Mr. Peterson's nephew who lived upstate. Mr. Peterson had told Jeffrey how he wished his nephew didn't live so far away, even though he'd come and visit as often as he could. Roger and his wife were the only family he had since Mrs. Peterson died.

"Have a seat." Roger pleasantly motioned to one of the all-too-familiar, high-backed kitchen chairs.

"My uncle is in the hospital--he's had a mild heart attack. But don't worry, he's going to be fine. I just came over to get him some things." Roger's face turned serious.

"I know how he loved this house, but he's not going to be able to live here alone anymore. Even though my uncle is quite an independent man, I think this experience has left him a bit frightened. And since my wife and I have plenty of room, he's agreed to come and live with us." Roger paused. Then he slid a sealed white envelope across the table. "My uncle insisted that I bring you the money for this week's newspaper."

Jeffrey swallowed hard, and suddenly found that his voice seemed to be stuck in his throat. As they both stood up, Roger reached out and shook Jeffrey's hand.

Jeffrey slowly closed the gate and, blinking back tears, looked up at the big, gray house.

It hadn't taken Jeffrey long to learn the newspaper route when he'd gotten it a little more than a year ago. First he rode down Main Street, then Highland, until he reached Cotter's Lane. And because the house at the end of Cotter's Lane, which was Mr. Peterson's house, was his last stop, that's what made it fun.

Mr. Peterson would invite him in and they would both have milk and cookies at the table in front of the kitchen window. There, without looking, Mr. Peterson would tell him what kind of bird was singing in the big maple tree outside the window--just by listening to the sound of its own special song.

Once Jeffrey rode up to the gate and found Mr. Peterson crouched behind a tree. He was staring at something dark in the grass as it walked slowly across the lawn. He quickly motioned for Jeffrey not to move. They both remained still while a skunk busily sniffed its way through the ivy until it disappeared into the woods.

But best of all, Mr. Peterson would invite Jeffrey to sit on the old rambling porch. There he'd tell stories like how, when he was a boy making his way home in a snowstorm, he had come upon a pure white deer, standing as regal as a prince on the edge of the frozen pond.

When Jeffrey came running home into the kitchen, all out of breath and late for dinner, his sister would tease, "I'll bet Mr. Peterson told an extra specially good story this evening!"

The sound of Roger's car crunching over the gravel in the driveway jolted Jeffrey out of his thoughts, and he quickly wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his jacket.

"Wait!" Jeffrey called as he ran up to the car. He passed a rolled up paper through the window. "Mr. Peterson always gets my last newspaper. Would you please give it to him?"

Roger turned off the car engine. "I'd like the two of us to share a secret, Jeffrey. My uncle must never know I told you this." He paused, then continued, "His vision has been failing him for some time now. Even with special glasses, my uncle hasn't been able to read a book or a newspaper for the last few years."

Jeffrey was stunned. "But the newspaper! He said the best time of day for him was when I brought him his newspaper."

Roger looked up at Jeffrey with the same soft, blue eyes that his uncle had. "I'm afraid I'm somewhat to blame. I should have come to see him more often. But whenever I'd call him, he told me not to worry about him ever being lonely. He told me about this friend named Jeffrey who'd come to see him every day--even if it rained or snowed. I believed him. I thought, My uncle is a lucky man to have a friend like that. But I'm sorry I didn't know you came just to deliver his newspaper."

At first what Roger McAllister had said took Jeffrey by surprise. But then he began to smile, and he told Roger what he never realized but had felt all along.

"Your uncle was right, Mr. McAllister. Mr. Peterson and I are very special friends." Jeffrey reached into his pocket, pulled out a pad and pencil, and handed it to Roger McAllister. "I almost forgot to ask you to write down the address of the hospital," Jeffrey said. "I plan on going to see Mr. Peterson, you know. It just so happens that he never got around to telling me the ending of his last, extra specially good story!"

Illustrations by Ann Neilsen
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:short story for children
Author:Rabin, Staton
Publication:Children's Digest
Article Type:Short Story
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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