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Elliot's Prize-Winning Robot
Elliot was clever. Not just a bit clever, but really, really clever. He whizzed through his maths homework in the time it took his little sister Izzy to open up her pencil case and choose a pen to write with. He was so good at science that his bedroom was littered with certificates and trophies. When he decided he wanted a remote-control car for Christmas, Elliot chose not to wait and simply built one himself.
When Elliot was ten, he won the Young Scientist of The Year contest and his face was in all the local papers.
When Elliot was eleven, he built a working train set and was interviewed on the news.
When Elliot started secondary school, his teachers called him a "genius."
He was really, very clever.
But Elliot wasn't content with just being clever. He wanted to be the cleverest. He wanted to wanted to be famous and successful and spent all his time building new inventions.
At school, he kept his head down and worked hard. In fact, he worked so hard, that he usually missed breaktime, because he was too busy to play.
At home, Elliot spent most of his time in his room, inventing and learning. He hated having to come down for dinner, because he'd much rather be tinkering with machines, or learning equations.
As a result, Elliot's parents were quite worried.
"It's wonderful that he works so hard," his dad would say. "But he never plays! He never goes out with his friends. It's such a shame."
"He doesn't spend any time with us, or his little sister," his mum would agree. "I don't want to stop him learning, but I do wish he'd remember that there are other important things in life as well."
But Elliot just wanted to be left in his room, with his books and his equipment. To him, nothing else could possibly be as important.
One Monday afternoon, Elliot came home from school with a letter in his hands. He waved it excitedly as he burst through the door. "Mum!" He cried. "There's a nationwide competition to find the best young inventor and the winner gets a family pass to the Science Museum in London!" He clutched the letter to his chest. "I'm going to build a robot that walks and maybe even talks! I'm bound to win!"
And off Elliot went to his room to start work.
Meanwhile, Elliot's little sister Izzy had come home with a letter, too. She'd been picked to sing a solo at the school choir's concert on Friday. "Oh!" Her mum exclaimed. "I'm so proud of you, sweetheart. We'll all be there to cheer you on."
Izzy rushed upstairs to tell her brother the good news. She knocked on his door. But Elliot simply shouted: "I'm busy!" And the door stayed closed.
On Tuesday, Elliot and Izzy's dad came home with his own exciting news. He'd been given a promotion at work! "We'll go out to celebrate this weekend," he told the family over dinner. But Elliot didn't say anything - he was too lost in his own world, imagining winning first prize in the Young Inventors Competition. He didn't even hear what his dad was saying.
Wednesday and Thursday passed in a daze until Friday, the closing date for the Young Inventors Competition, finally arrived.
Elliot knew his robot had to be finished and handed in to the science lab at his school at 7pm. The teachers were staying late especially, so the pupils entering the competition could have a few last hours working on their inventions after school.
When Elliot got home, he rushed straight into his room, without saying hello to his mum or Izzy. When he heard his dad get in from work, he didn't bother going downstairs to see him. He even stayed in his room during dinner, refusing to finish working until his precious robot was complete.
Finally, at twenty to seven, Elliot picked up the finished robot. It was brilliant. It walked, it talked and it even had flashing eyes. Elliot beamed; he was sure to win! He bounded down the stairs to show his family. But when Elliot reached the bottom, the hallway was in darkness.
Elliot frowned and rushed into the kitchen. There was nobody there. On the fridge was a hand-scribbled note, saying: "Table booked at The Grape Vine for Saturday night, so we can celebrate the good news!" Elliot blinked. The Grape Vine was his dad's favourite restaurant, but what were they going out to celebrate? And where was everyone?!
The robot began to feel hot in Elliot's hands as he rushed from room to room, looking for his family. It was getting close to seven o'clock! If he didn't leave for school soon, he would miss the cut off for the competition!
"Mum?" Elliot called, as he checked everywhere he could think of. "Dad? Izzy?!"
But it was no use. Finally, Elliot decided he was going to have to leave. He grabbed his jacket and his house key and rushed out into the chilly evening air.
Elliot didn't stop running until he was getting close to Izzy's primary school. His school was another five minutes away, but Elliot was getting out of breath and he was tired from all the rushing around. He stopped to glance at his watch. He still had time...
But just as Elliot was about to carry on running, he heard something that stopped him in his tracks. Singing.
Elliot turned towards the primary school. From inside, he could hear a beautiful voice, singing a lovely song. Elliot's chest felt funny and his breath seemed to run out again, even though he'd stopped running. He had a strange feeling that he knew that beautiful singing voice...
Elliot found himself walking through the school's main doors, past the reception desk and into the hall, with the robot still in his hands. There, up on the stage, singing all by herself, was his little sister, Izzy. Elliot felt so proud, it almost made him dizzy. When did Izzy learn to sing like that?! And why hadn't she told him she was performing tonight?!
Elliot stood at the back of the hall until his sister finished her song. Then, Izzy smiled and waved at the crowd. Elliot blinked. Was she waving at him?
"I'd like to dedicate my song to someone really special and very clever," Izzy said.
Elliot's cheeks flushed.
"I'd like to dedicate it to my dad," Izzy went on. "Congratulations on your promotion at work!"
Elliot's mouth hung open. His dad had been given a promotion? Why didn't he know about that?! Suddenly, Elliot felt incredibly lonely. It was like his family had a whole life that didn't involve him. He swallowed hard and turned to creep back out of the hall. He had a couple of minutes to get to his school on time... But Elliot didn't really feel like it, anymore. He looked down at the robot in his hands, then back up at his parents, sitting close to the front of the hall, cheering for their little girl. Izzy took a bow. The show was over. And Elliot's feet felt like they were glued to the floor. A sea of proud parents walked past him with their children, but Elliot stayed rooted to the spot.
"Elliot?" His dad's voice seemed to come from nowhere. "When did you get here?"
Elliot's eyes were watery when he looked up at his dad. "I didn't know Izzy could sing," he whispered. "And I didn't know about your promotion at work... I've been too wrapped up in my own little world."
His dad put an arm around his shoulder. "You're here now," he said. "That's all that matters." He nodded at the robot. "But why haven't you handed that in?" He asked. "You spent so much time on it!"
Elliot shook his head. "I didn't spend enough time with you," he replied. "I don't care about the competition, anymore."
"Don't be silly, his mum said, as she and Izzy caught up with them. "You just need to learn to get the balance right between work and play, that's all."
Elliot blinked back at her. "So... You're not mad?"
"Of course not!" His mum laughed as she gave him a big hug. "We're so proud of you for being such a clever boy. We just want to spend a bit more time with you, that's all!"
Elliot looked down at the robot. "The first prize in the competition was a family pass to the Science Museum," he sighed. "We could have all gone together." He glanced at his watch. "It's too late, now. It's five past seven."
"Don't give up that easily," his dad replied. He scooped Elliot up into a piggyback and began racing out of the school and down the road, leaving mum and Izzy watching, wide-eyed.
"We're too late!" Elliot yelled as they arrived at his school.
"Nonsense," his dad shouted back. They rushed into the building together and headed straight for the science lab.
Elliot's teacher was just turning out the lights. "Oh," she gasped when Elliot and his dad came hurrying into view. "I was wondering where you were, Elliot!" She looked at her watch. "You're almost ten minutes late, but... I'll let you off. We've just started taking the inventions down to the staff room to be packed up and sent off to be judged by the people at the Science Museum." She nodded at the robot in Elliot's hands. "That looks wonderful."
Elliot handed the robot over and watched as his teacher disappeared down the corridor. He looked up at his dad. "Shall we go home, now?"
His dad nodded his head. "I think that's a great idea."
Elliot slipped his hand into his dad's and they walked back out of the school, into the starry night. "If I win this competition, I can't wait to go to the Science Museum as a family," he told him.
And from that day on, Elliot was still a very, very clever boy. He still loved learning and inventing.
But he'd discovered that he loved spending time with his family and having fun just as much. And that really was a prize worth winning.