Before Max knew what was happening, Bastian grabbed his hand and pulled him onto the path and into the crowd. They wove in and out of runners, gaining speed. With all the jostling and excitement, no one noticed the boys join the race and wrench through. Bastian ran faster, yanking Max behind him. They knitted themselves into the fabric of the determined and exhausted boys until, somehow, they broke free of the pack, pulling ahead. The finish line was in sight.
“Hey! Stop,” Max huffed in a whisper, attempting to jerk his arm free. “We can’t do this. It’s cheating.”
Bastian yelled back, his grip strong on Max’s arm.
“We can and we will. Come on, Max. When was the last time you won a race?”
Max had never won a race.
He raised his head and saw the finish line ten yards ahead; hunger swelled in his eyes. Bastian saw it too and a smile spread over his face. Max thought it made him look wicked. With a surge of energy, Max propelled himself forward to meet Bastian’s stride. Sweat dripped down their faces and their feet pounded the dirt path. Clouds of dust billowed from every footfall. The boys looked at each other. Together they ran, shoulders forward, the rest of the runners now on their heels. Never had Max been so close to winning something. Never had Bastian shown another camper his shortcut. With one final swell of energy, they launched themselves across the finish line; Bastian’s hand once again found Max’s, giving it a tight, hard squeeze, and— just as fast—let it fall.
Within seconds, the rest of the boys had joined them, drenched and huffing. A few of the runners, upset about losing, plodded forward, whispering and not looking back. Those who knew Bastian slapped him on the back and cheered for him. He grabbed Max’s hand again and thrust it into the air. Max’s heart flapped in his chest, a terrified bird confused by its newfound freedom.
Max looked around. His triumph, however undermined by the cheating, glimmered in front of him. Older boys, bigger boys, cheered for him, reached out to touch him, just to get a piece of the glory. He closed his eyes and thrust his arms higher into the air, yelping in delight.
Bastian had helped Max do something he’d never thought he’d do. Win.