Over the next ten days we will be publishing the ten finalists from the 2019 Voorheesville Short Story Contest. Our first five stories are finalist stories that made it to the final round of judging, the last five stories are stories that earned top five prizes in the contest. Today, enjoy Maggie Thayer’s story, “A Walk to Reverie.”
“Arghhh!” Reese exclaimed angrily kicking at the ground spreading pebbles into the sidewalk. He was at a crossroads. He had a choice. Well, a few actually, but it came down to two. Should he graduate, then leave and go to college or become fully responsible for his younger brother and sister, Sam and Max? If he did become their guardian, it would mean leaving and finding a job somewhere, living paycheck to paycheck. Reese continued to kick at the ground. He had been walking for hours, mindlessly wandering through his small town.
Now at the playground, he sat on a swing, remembering how he loved it when his parents took him here. He thought about his parents. His dad died in a car accident when he was 11 and his mother followed soon after, broken and distraught with grief. Reese supposed it didn’t matter enough to her that she was leaving behind a young boy and two infant twins. A tear slipped down his face. He was angry, sad and confused. His emotions were all over the place these days. But as his grandmother said, “feelings were to be felt.”
Standing up, he looked around, then continued absentmindedly. He’d been offered a scholarship to some college called Stultus University, about 2 hours from his house. Reese was pretty sure that the only reason it was offered to him by was because his dad used to work for the company offering it. His father was on his way to a business meeting during a blizzard and the company car skidded, causing an accident. His father’s boss felt bad. One of the higher-ups, Reese didn’t know which one, used to be friends with his father. He probably pulled some strings for Reese. He appreciated it, but giving someone a scholarship doesn’t make up for a dead father.
Reese was also kinda ticked about the scholarship for another reason. So, the company felt guilty enough to get him a scholarship, but never even bothered to be in touch with him other than that. Let alone acknowledge the fact that he, and his younger siblings were moving around from home to home in the foster care system. “Jerks. Thanks for the help.” Reese thought sarcastically. The whole situation wasn’t fair, most of his classmates were worried about getting a date to prom or where they were going after graduation. He just wanted to be a normal kid. He thought bitterly. Normal kids don’t have to worry about their siblings and if they were going to stay together or if a social worker would need to separate them. No, normal kids are worried about grades and passing their driver’s test or something else relatively unimportant.
He thought back his interview for the scholarship. He got an email from the company, more specifically his father’s friend. The email was short; he was eligible for a “new” scholarship, and he should fill out an application. He showed it to his social worker and she made a big deal about it. He didn’t think it was a big deal, it seemed like it was more of a way to appease their guilt. His application form only required basic information, asking nothing about his grades, or what he wanted to do at college. He submitted the paperwork and about a week later he got an email from a random secretary asking him to come in for an interview. His social worker dragged him out to rent a suit. This was over the top, he thought, and only made him more annoyed at the adults in his life forcing him to do things.
At the interview he felt extremely overdressed. The secretary led him to a big executive looking office, handed him a plain manila folder and a bottle of water before leaving the room without a word. This made him confused because the office was empty and after looking at his watch noticed that he was, in fact, on time. He sat down in a fancy chair in front of the desk waiting for at least ten minutes. As time passed on he was getting more annoyed. He was missing his sibling’s little league game to be there. He went to all of their games, until now. After about twenty minutes the door to the office finally opened and a middle-aged man walked in. He was wearing a button-down shirt which was untucked with a small coffee stain on the bottom. Reese stood abruptly when the man opened the door, catching his attention.
“Oh, hello young man. Can I help you?” said the man, clearly confused as to who Reese was. Reese stuck his hand out to shake hands with him.
“I’m Reese Cameron sir. I’m here for the scholarship interview.” He kept his voice neutral but realized that the man didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Scholarship? Oh yes! Right. Have a seat.” The man replied sheepishly, opening his laptop. The man sat down and typed some things into his computer.
That was how the entire interview went. Reese thought that maybe it was actually a joke. The man spent the majority of the time typing on his computer and only asked Reese the same questions on the application. It lasted about 10 minutes before the secretary knocked on the door and told the man he had another meeting. Reese left, annoyed that his time was just wasted by a company that couldn’t even remember his first name.
Despite the interview, he rushed over to where his sibling’s baseball game was, sadly realizing that he’d missed the entire thing. But, when his siblings noticed him there they ran up to him.
“Sammy! Max!” He exclaimed, and they flew toward him laughing. Sam got to him first and he scooped her up spinning her around in a circle. She giggled and squirmed in his grip until he put her down. Max was standing there pouting and he laughed.
“C’mere you,” he said playfully to Max. Then ruffling Max’s hair before picking him up and spinning him around too, making Max laugh. He took both of their hands and started walking them over to their foster mom, who they referred to as Madre.
“Can we go get ice cream?” Max asked pleadingly while Sam jumped up and down enthusiastically.
“Can we? Can we? Can we? Please!” She asked excitedly. Reese smiled and laughed.
“I don’t know guys. It’s not up to me. Maybe if you ask Madre very nicely then she’ll let us get ice cream,” he said matter of factly. The two looked at each other, let go of his hands and ran to her. She was smiling as she watched them with Reese, before being begged to go buy ice cream. She agreed, and cheering, the two kids high-fived each other.
Luckily, they didn’t have to walk far because the ice cream shop was close. The three ordered their ice cream and began eating. Max was more playing with his ice cream though and turned his into more of an ice cream soup. Frowning, Max set his dish down, not wanting to eat it.
“Eww. That’s gross.” Sam said turning away from it. Reese noticed what she was talking about and chuckled.
“Here buddy. Do you want some of mine?” He asked Max. Max’s eyes lit up and he nodded. Reese handed him the cone and he began eating it. Reese smiled, his father did the same thing for him when he was little and turned his ice cream into goo.
Madre smiled warmly at the interaction.
“So, Reese how did your interview go?” She asked curiously. He faltered for a second, having forgotten all about that. He didn’t want to lie and say it was good, but he didn’t want his siblings to hear him complain about it. He wanted them to try getting scholarships to college when they got older, so they could undoubtedly have a better life than he could. He was always bitter that he missed out on so many opportunities without his parents, but he didn’t want his siblings to suffer the same way he had growing up. He wanted better for them than what they were given.
“It was okay, I guess. It was shorter than I expected.” He replied cautiously. His siblings listened to him intently.
“Oh yeah? Do you think you got the scholarship?” She continued.
“I hope so. Maybe? I don’t really know.” he replied simply. Sam spoke up,
“They better give it to you. They would be real butt-head’s not to!” she said authoritatively, Max nodding in agreement. Sam and Madre smiled at each other.
Thinking back on that day he was deep in thought walking down the sidewalk when he walked face first into an electrical pole. Catching himself he looked around, embarrassed. Seeing that no one noticed a fool of himself he continued walking. He had a bad habit of getting into his own head and thinking a lot. It happened once at a party and he ran into a girl spilling both of their drinks. That was how he met Elizabeth. He apologized and tried to help her get whatever drink it was out of her jeans and tank top but stopped before he touched her, hesitating.
“What?” She laughed loudly over the pounding music.
“Never spilled a drink on someone before?” She continued laughing to herself like it was funny.
“You’ve never been to a party like this either have you?” She questioned amusedly. He shook his head,
“No. actually, I got invited by some people but I’m starting to think it was a joke.” She shouted over the noise around them.
“Come on! Let’s get out of here so I can get cleaned up.” She shouted back and walked toward an exit. He scrambled to follow after her. They got onto the street and he was able to see her better. She had chalky pink hair and wore a leather jacket with a tank top underneath along with ripped skinny jeans that looked like she cut them herself.
They walked down the street together for a bit until they could find a somewhere to wash off her clothes. Her name was Elizabeth, Liz for short. After that night they became good friends. Over time he learned she was very rebellious, with a cynical view of the world to go along with her punk attitude. Reese eventually figured out that it was really more a facade she put on to hide how much she was hurting. Her father died in a car crash when she was 13, drunk driver she said.
He thought back to that night. More recently when he told Liz about his situation she scoffed.
“That sucks dude. You ever thought about just running away? We could totally do that! Flip em’ one last goodbye and never think of this place again,” she exclaimed. It was his turn to scoff.
“No. But no matter what I am leaving this sad little town.” He stated.
“What? Is our precious little ‘home’ just too much fun for you?” She replied sarcastically, also wanting nothing more than to leave. They laughed together. He couldn’t just run away, though. Could he? No, he knew that. He needed to choose one of his options. He did wish he could have some of that ‘not caring’ attitude though. Liz didn’t really care about things and avoided any possibility of responsibility. And in a way, he envied that. But not always. He figured it was a pretty sad life to not care about anything.
When her father died it was really hard on her and her mother. She became depressed and even more so when her mother decided to remarry. Because of this, she became more like the girl that Reese now saw. She let it slip one night that she used to be really good at school. “Back when I still cared.” She said. He didn’t know what to say to that.
He walked past the elementary school. Noticing where he was, he cringed and turned his head. It was here that he found out about his mother’s death. His grandparents picked him up from school and took him home after telling him. Most of what happened after that was a blur. His grandparents were fairly old now and they couldn’t take all three of their grandchildren in, so that meant that Reese and his siblings were put into foster care. He still talked to his grandparents, but he wished they could have taken care of him.
His grandmother thought that he should go to college and get a degree, but his grandfather thought that he should get a job and find an apartment so that he could eventually get custody of his siblings. Reese didn’t know what to do. Without that scholarship, he couldn’t afford college, but even if he did go he didn’t really know what he would want to do there. He wasn’t particularly good at anything, at least he thought so. He did okay at school, his grades were average. He wasn’t really good at sports and he held no interest in music or art. His ethics teacher thought that he should try to study philosophy because he was always lost in thought during class. Reese thanked him, but he didn’t really think that qualified him to try to be the next Aristotle or something he explained to his teacher sheepishly.
“You’re a real thinker Reese. The world needs more people like that. And from what you’ve written for some of your assignments in here seems like pretty good work to me. You need to believe in yourself more. You’re a good kid with a big heart. Ask any of the teachers here, we all think so.” His teacher told him in response to this. He didn’t think his papers were that good, but he was really touched by what he said. He hadn’t heard anyone speak to him like that since before his parents died. It was almost like motivation and encouragement died with them. Hearing that however, made Reese realized that despite everything that happened to him he needed to believe in himself, even if it was only a little bit.
Thinking back on that moment he smiled to himself and looked around to see where he was. There was a bench up ahead and he decided to sit. He pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket. He wrote a pros and cons list for his choices months ago and carried it around with him since then. He stared at it. On the plus side if he went to college it would probably be easier for him, later on, to get a job since he would have it on his resume. On the other hand, he would definitely go into debt, despite the scholarship. And once he finished, he would still have to worry about his siblings. If he didn’t do that, he would have to worry about his siblings and finding a job along with an apartment now. But at the same time, he would be able to take custody of his siblings and the three of them could finally stop moving around. Thankfully, his social worker was able to keep them close to their grandparents but that might not always be the case. No matter what he did though he would be leaving this town. His so-called home hadn’t felt homey in years.
Deep in thought, he didn’t even notice when a car pulled up alongside him and the window rolled down. Liz stuck her head out the passenger side window catching his attention. He looked up from his paper to her curiously.
“Sup Reese! Whatcha doing out here?” she asked him.
“I could ask you the same thing.” He replied challengingly as a joke continuing,
“I’m still trying to decide what to do. That college wants my response soon.” he replied.
“Still? I thought you decided you were going already! Isn’t that what the kiddos want you to do?” she responded curiously.
“No, I haven’t decided yet. They do want me to go, but I don’t know.” he said sighing.
“Well, yeah of course it’s a hard decision. But dude you gotta just go for it. Stop overthinking and take the risk. Since I’ve known you, you’ve never taken like, any chances. Whatever you do it’s going to have risk! Seriously though, you’re going to be fine. Stop worrying so much. We’ve all got your back, me, the kiddos, your grandparents even my mom if you need her. It’s going to be okay. Think about it. You can go see the world! Live your life, be free to make your own choices. You deserve that kind of freedom.” She finished reassuringly.
“When did you grow up Liz?” He asked giving her a curious but much calmer look than he did at first.
“Ha, never! Well, I’ve imparted my wisdom upon you and with that, I shall go!” She joked and smiled at him before rolling up the window, speeding away. Reese shook his head. He was wrong about her.
He stood up and kept walking. It felt different now. He knew where he needed to go. His phone started ringing in his pocket.
“Hello?” he said confused as to who was calling him because he forgot to look at the caller ID.
“Hey, Reese where are you? You’ve been out for a long time.” His foster mom’s voice came through the phone sounding worried.
“Oh, sorry. I kinda didn’t realize. I’m by the cemetery” he said sadly even though he had chosen to go there.
“Oh. Okay. Could you try to come back soon? Sam and Max wanted to know when you’d be back so that you could play Legos with them.” She responded picking up on his sadness.
“Sure. I’ll just be here for a little bit longer and then I’ll head back.” He said.
“Okay, sounds good. Be careful. See you soon.” She replied hanging up on him.
Putting his phone back in his pocket he walked into the cemetery, looking at a few of the headstones before going up to the more familiar ones. He knelt down in front of them for a few minutes clearing away all the weeds and picking up the dead flowers and throwing them aside. Wiping himself off he stood in front of his parent’s grave.
“Hi, mom. Hi dad. I miss you.” He spoke aloud sadly. Continuing he said,
“I really don’t know what to do here. I have this choice to make and how am I supposed to make it? I know what the social worker wants me to do. I know what grandma and grandpa want me to do. I even know what Sam and Max want me to do. I know what everyone else wants me to do but I don’t know what I want to do.” He spoke in agony. He stood there for a moment collecting his thoughts. Finally, he spoke again.
“Would you please just give me a sign and for once help me? Please! I’m so confused and scared and I don’t want to have to do this alone.” he said weakly, salty tears running out of his eyes. He wiped them away, sniffling. Standing there for a few minutes he continued to wipe his tears. Noticing the sky starting to change color, he sighed, knowing that he needed to head back. Suddenly his phone started ringing. Pulling it out of his pocket he looked at the caller ID and picked it up.
“I’m on my way back right now Madre, don’t worry.” He said trying to sound like he hadn’t been crying. Instead of his foster mom’s voice Sam and Max’s came through the phone.
“Hurry up slowpoke! We wanna play Legos!” They said excitedly.
“Okay! Okay! I’m hurrying up. I’ll be home soon.” Reese said smiling his mood improving.
“You better! The castle can’t rebuild itself this time!” Sam’s voice came through laughing.
“Yeah, and the bandits might come back soon!” Max said enthusiastically.
“I’m running back right now. Defend the castle until I get back!” he laughed, hanging up. He smiled at the grave in front of him.
“Thank You.” He spoke before turning to leave.
He knew his choice.