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Authors: Matt Christopher

The Comeback Challenge

BOOK: The Comeback Challenge
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Copyright © 1996 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part
of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by
any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.

Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at

Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

First eBook Edition: December 2009

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real
persons, living or dead, is coincidental and
not intended by the author.

Matt Christopher® is a registered trademark of

Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.

ISBN: 978-0-316-09439-9


John, Beverly, Stephen,

Daniel, and Rachel



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Matt Christopher




Mark Conway jiggled the window shade. It almost reached the bottom of his bedroom windowsill. Nothing happened. It wouldn’t
roll back up. He jiggled harder. The shade fell down on top of him.

“Stupid shade!” he muttered to himself.

“Are you all right?” came his grandmother’s voice from the kitchen.

“It’s this shade,” he called back to her. “It won’t roll up.”

He heard her distant, soft laugh. “Your father used to have the same problem. You just have to roll it up by hand and put
it back in the brackets. Then, when you want to lower or raise it, do it gently.”

It worked. Following her instructions, Mark had the shade back and working in no time at all.

I would have figured it out, he said to himself.

He wandered into the kitchen. A strong scent of apples and cinnamon filled the room.

“Did you get it fixed?” his grandmother asked.

“Uh-huh,” he replied.

He watched as she poured a bowl of sliced apples and sugar and spices into a round pan lined with pie dough. He reached forward,
but she slapped his hand back with a laugh.

“There are some peanut butter cookies in the jar,” she said, glancing over her shoulder. “This pie is for dessert tonight.
Your father loves apple pie, and he might be coming over for dinner.”

Mark just shrugged, but his stomach did a flip-flop. As he watched his grandmother carefully place the top of the piecrust
over the apple mixture, he wondered if she knew what it was like to be stuck in the middle of a divorce. He doubted it. After
parents had stayed married.
hadn’t been dragged all over the world when her folks’ jobs had changed. And
hadn’t had to listen to them fight over who he was going to live with — only to have a court decide that he should live with
his grandparents until the divorce was settled!

To be honest, he sometimes missed the traveling. He was so young when they’d left Knightstown that the only thing he really
remembered was playing soccer with the playground league. But there was a league in the seaside town on the East Coast they
had moved to, and playing on the beach had been fun. He had been looking forward to starting school, too, when they packed
up their bags to move to a big city a few states over. They lived there for five months before his father announced that they
were off for the West Coast. Mark was happy to be out of the city, but sure enough, just when he started to pal around with
a bunch of guys, his folks took him to live in England!

With all those kings and queens and people driving on the wrong side of the road. They had different names for things, too.
When they first moved to England, they lived in a “flat” — an apartment — before they moved to their house. Even familiar
food was called something else. He was always forgetting that french fries were “chips” and potato chips were “crisps.”

He’d had trouble understanding the English accent at first, too. But soon he made friends and was
part of a regular group of guys who went to school together and hung out together. Best yet, they all played soccer and were
eager to add Mark to their team.

In fact, Mark started to like England. Too bad he had been the only one in the family who had had fun there. His folks weren’t
around all that much, what with their work and everything. But he had known for a long time that something was wrong between
them. When winter came, the air was as frosty inside the house as it was outside.

When his parents stopped talking to each other, Mark started spending more time with his new friends. His parents didn’t seem
to notice that he wasn’t around the house as much. But he had the bad luck to be home when the big blowup came.

Even though he was up in his room with his head buried in the pillow, he could hear the shouting below. He could tell that
they weren’t listening to each other. They were too busy saying all the hurtful things they had kept bottled up inside over
the past weeks. Then, finally, a door slammed.

The next morning, his father wasn’t at breakfast.
Mrs. Conway said that Mr. Conway was going to be living in a flat for a while. Mark would be spending weekends with him, she
told him, “until they figured out what was going to happen next.”

What happened next was the worst two weeks of Mark’s life. He seesawed between his parents. That first weekend, Mark’s father
took him to a carnival that had set up in the next town. There were lots of rides and games to play, but they didn’t really
seem that much fun to him.

When he got home, his mother told him they were going out to his favorite restaurant. But he could only pick at his meal.

In the middle of the following week, a new video game came in the mail from his father. But his mother said he was spending
too much time in front of the TV and wouldn’t let him use it. Instead, she took him out to dinner again.

That’s when she told Mark that his father wanted him to come and live in his flat with him. “But of course that’s out of the
question,” she said before Mark even had a chance to react. “You’ll stay in the cottage with me.”

Soon after that night, lawyers began visiting both locations. They tried to get Mark to say he preferred living with one parent
over the other.

The whole situation made Mark’s insides turn over. How could he choose one parent without feeling disloyal to the other? So
instead of sorting out his feelings, Mark just clammed up.

Then Mrs. Conway announced that she had arranged for a job transfer. She was moving back to America — and taking Mark with
her. But his father wasted no time in moving back, too. The fight over who he’d live with just shifted across the ocean.

The Conway family finally found themselves in front of a judge. From behind his desk, he listened to everything they and their
lawyers had to say. When they were done talking, he picked up a letter from his desk.

“This is from Mark’s grandparents,” he said. “They are concerned with how Mark is being affected by his parents’ situation
and so have offered to take Mark until this matter is settled. In my opinion, Mark has been shuttled from place to place long
enough. Therefore, unless either side can come up
with a better solution in the next two minutes, I am going to grant temporary custody to the Conway Seniors.”

So, here he was, back in Knightstown, living with Grandma and Grandpa Conway.

They were really nice, but they were … well, they were
And they lived in a part of town where it seemed as though there weren’t any other young people.

So what was he supposed to do with himself? School was going to begin in a few days. That would be tough, Mark knew. Although
he had once lived in Knightstown, he didn’t really remember anybody. In all likelihood, his classmates would have known each
other for years. Would they have room for a newcomer?

This would be his first year in a middle school, and already he wasn’t too thrilled with it. He’d been over for registration
with Grandpa Conway a few days ago, and the place was
Even if he did make friends, how would he ever find them in such a place?

He and Grandpa had stood in lines for most of the
morning, filling out forms. Mark had become so confused, he almost ended up enrolling in a girls’ gymnastics class.

“They have your name, and they know where you’ll be living,” Grandpa Conway had said. “And you’re all set with your regular
classes — history, math, English, and all that. They’ll send you the information about the extracurricular things. You can
take your time and look those over at home, then sign up once school starts.”

Since then, there really hadn’t been much to do around the house. Grandpa Conway was retired, but he did volunteer work at
the courthouse every day. Grandma worked mornings at the bank just down the street. When she was home, she was busy with housework
and didn’t have all that much time for him.

So Mark went for long walks by himself. But it had rained the last few days, and he hadn’t been able to go out much. Instead,
he just moped around the house. Fixing that broken shade had been the most exciting thing he’d done since Tuesday!

“Stir crazy,” he announced, helping himself to a peanut butter cookie. “This must be what it’s like.”

“Still raining?” his grandmother asked, pinching all around the edge of the piecrust.

“Yup,” he replied.

“Why don’t you watch some TV?”

“Nothing on.”

“What about those videos I picked up at the library?”

“Seen ’em,” he said.

“Read all those books your grandfather got you?”

“All of ’em.” He sighed. He didn’t tell her that some he had read before because they were used in classes at his last school.

“Well, maybe when I get everything ready for dinner and out of the way, I’ll play a game with you. Must be a whole mess of
them in your daddy’s closet — oh, wait a minute. I just remembered that we cleaned them out for a church rummage sale last

“That’s all right,” Mark said. “Maybe I’ll just do that jigsaw puzzle I started yesterday.” And finished this morning, he
said to himself. But I’ll take it apart, so she’ll think I’m just beginning.

They were interrupted by the sound of the front door opening.

“Anybody home?” Grandpa Conway called. He said the same thing every day, whenever he came in, even when the lights were on
and you could hear people talking.

That’s what it’s like living here, Mark thought ruefully. Same thing every day! That’s what I’ll be like after a while.

“Mail,” announced Grandpa Conway, coming into the kitchen. “Here’s a big fat envelope for you, Mark.”

“For me?” Mark asked. His eyes lit up for the first time in days. Who had written to him? Was it one of his friends from overseas?
Maybe his mother had gotten around to sending them his forwarding address, like she said she would!

He looked at the envelope. K
, it said on the flap.

“Oh, it’s that extracurricular stuff,” he said, disappointed.

“Aren’t you going to look at it?” asked his grandfather.

“I’ll look at it later,” he said. “I’m going to work on that jigsaw puzzle now.”

As Mark left the kitchen, he tried to ignore the looks on his grandparents’ faces.

When the phone rang a few minutes later, Mark was in the midst of searching for edge pieces of the puzzle. But he looked up
when his grandfather came into the room.

“That was your dad,” he said. “He can’t make it for dinner on account of some work he’s doing. He was on the car phone, and
it started to fade just as he asked to speak to you. Said he’ll call you tomorrow.”

“That’s okay,” said Mark. His voice was expressionless.

“Say, let’s take a look at that school envelope,” Grandpa Conway suggested. “Maybe there’s something we have to fill out.
Might as well get it out of the way.”

“Okay,” said Mark. He tore open the envelope and spilled the contents out onto the table next to the puzzle. He picked up
one sheet while his grandfather took another. For a moment, the two of them read quietly to themselves.

“Mine’s boring,” said Mark, tossing the paper aside and picking up a puzzle piece. “Just a whole lot
of stuff about how we’re supposed to behave ourselves when we’re in school. You know, no smoking, no swearing, and all that.”

BOOK: The Comeback Challenge
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