Point A to Point Z (Part 1) Chapter One

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Speeding down an open road in a hot car was a thrill Zak dreamed of. But racing down a runway in a plane that was bigger than his whole school was not what he had in mind. He gripped the arms of his seat and avoided looking out the window. When the wheels left the ground he tried not to think about being airborne. He tried not to think about the ground. He tried not to think about anything.

His eyes popped open at the sound of clunking noises he could feel all the way to his stomach.

"That's the landing gear going back into place, Zak. It's normal," his grandmother said quietly. She took out her earbuds and dug around in her jacket until she found a pack of Hubba Bubba gum. "You like this kind? My ears always get plugged up as we climb. It helps to chew gum. Besides, sugar's always good."

She put the wrapper in her pocket as she calmly chewed and closed her eyes. Zak followed her lead, except he turned his eyes to the window. Seeing the cloud layers pile up and obscure the land below made him relax a little. How stupid, he thought, for a guy who was practically a teenager to be afraid of flying. He just needed to get used to it, and he could get used to anything.

It was his first time, after all. It was his first flight, his first time away from home, his first time going anywhere with Grammy. She was fun to be with and everything, but still. It should be Andy, not him. Andy would kill for a trip like this. Zak thought about his big brother and wondered what he was doing back at home right then. Probably playing a video game, or watching a movie. What else was there to do on summer break in their dinky town? Mom was probably at work, and Dad was probably in the shop working on somebody's car. Zak knew they were thinking about him, just as he was thinking about them.

If only Andy wasn't so sick, then everything would be okay.

"Hey, kiddo, you want this," she said, taking the earbuds out again. "You might find something you like on my playlist. The Roots? Green Day? Have you ever heard Nirvana? They're old, but classic."

"Nah, I'm okay. How long did you say till we get to Washington D.C., Grammy?"

"With the layover it's almost seven hours. It will be midnight by the time we find our driver and collect our baggage."

"How will we find him?"

"He, or she, will be holding a card with our names on it. You'll see. Then we get taken to our hotel room where, I've been assured, we'll be treated to a good night's rest before the festivities tomorrow."

"This award we're getting for Granddad ― it's a really big deal, isn't it?"

Her eyes took on a faraway look. "I would say so. It's an unusual honor, given only to a very few, and you and I should feel proud to receive it for him. He did some important work for the government." She let out a laugh. "I only wish I knew exactly what it was."

Zak knew his grandfather had worked for the U.S. State Department and that he had traveled a lot. Beyond that he was kind of a mystery. Because they lived so far away, he and Andy hadn't really gotten to know their grandparents. When he thought about it, Zak realized his mom must trust Grammy a lot to send him with her for a whole five days. He made up his mind not to let them down by giving them anything to worry about.

"Will we get to see where Granddad worked?"

"Oh, yeah. You'll see the whole department. It's a huge building, one of many in the heart of the district, and you're going to be blown away." She reached across and gave him a quick hug. "Oh, I'm so glad you came with me, Zak. Your grandfather loved you boys, and was sorry he didn't get to spend more time with you. We'll do our best to make up for it on this trip, okay?"

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