These three stories by Louis Rosenberg, Zaina Abdin, and Maddie Hudson are fantastic and deserve a major shout out.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. The left wheel underneath Arlo’s blanketed legs creaked with every rotation. The sound echoed off the sterile white panelled walls. Arlo coughed violently, then leaned back in his wheelchair, exhausted. He felt weaker than he had yesterday, and knew there wasn’t much chance of healing. His head rolled to look at the blank wall, and he longed for a window. Obviously, there was no incentive to install windows, since a transparent material to protect against radiation would be expensive. The view was also not exactly ideal, but Arlo reasoned that even the barren, ash-covered wastes would provide more entertainment than nothing.
Behind him, a lady with black hair cut bluntly at her chin pushed him down the hallway. Her name tag read “Lara.” She walked silently behind him. Arlo longed for a conversation, but worried she did not feel the same.
They turned a corner into a white room with hundreds of Chambers that fit into the wall like puzzle pieces. Lara pushed Arlo close to Chamber number 452, the closest thing he had experienced to a home for the last few months. Beneath the plaque that designated the number of the Chamber was a panel of symmetrical, glassy buttons. Lara to pushed one, and a bed-like structure protruded from the wall, accompanied by the sound of an airtight container being released. Lara wheeled Arlo closer, then she helped him into the bed. Arlo rested his head, his hair spreading across the white pillow in dark spirals. He wiggled slightly to get comfortable. Lara pulled two wires from the surface above his head and connected the suction-cupped ends to his each of temples. Arlo could hear the electronic beeping more buttons being pressed, then one final, longer tone as the capsule was inserted back into the wall. Warm, mellow lights above Arlo illuminated the interior, which smelled faintly of laundry detergent. After a few seconds, the dim lights inside faded to black.
The distinct sound of fire crackled gently. Arlo opened his eyes to gentle afternoon sun coming from his window. It seeped through the thin, rippling curtain beside the hammock where he lied. Arlo yawned and stretched, running his hand through his curly, dark hair. His feet thudded softly against the wood floor as he rolled out of the hammock. Across the circular room was a light, wooden desk and a matching chair, facing a window. Hand drawn maps and sketches of foreign plants and animals lay strewn across the surface. Plants in variously sized pots were scattered around the room, and red and yellow flowers grew in a box outside each window. A large tapestry hung on the wall opposite the door like a kaleidoscope of warm colors. Arlo adored the space he had made for himself, and took a moment to appreciate it. He then stepped towards the door of his room to look outside.
Afternoon sunlight sprinkled through the crimson canopy above. A web of bridges connected hundreds of tiny, single-person homes, clustered like fruits around the massive trees about fifty feet off the ground. The bridges were made of a pale wood, made from branches of the white trees around them. Vines clung to the bridges, snaking around the handrails and blooming bright colors in the shade. Burning torches had been placed periodically along the bridges to light the way when it became dark. Scarlet leaves rustled in the wind overhead. People bustled about the bridges, walking in and out of their homes, some carrying woven baskets of meat or various plants, others carrying elaborately carved bows or spears. Some people were accompanied by strange creatures that trotted at their feet, perched on their shoulders or flitted around their head. Some were furry, scaled or feathered, or some combination, and most had either wings or claws.
Arlo leaned against the doorway to his home, taking in the pleasant sight. It gave him comfort to know that his mind was able to conjure up something so beautiful, regardless of how miserable his real life was.
“Arlo!” A girl with chestnut brown hair pulled back into a ponytail jogged towards him. “You’re awake,” she said, beaming. A bow and quiver was slung across her back, bouncing up and down with every step.
“Hey, Fawn.” Arlo smiled down at her. “You look excited.”
Fawn grinned. “I was out hunting and I found some ruins that we’ve never seen. They looked wonderful, but I didn’t want to explore them without you. Do you want to go see them?”
“Sure,” Arlo agreed. He retreated back into his home to grab his bow, quiver and some shoes, then followed Fawn across the network of bridges.
They eventually came to a platform in a small clearing. The clear blue sky peeked through the scarlet canopy. They each whistled, and within a few seconds they were met with two cawing creatures that came swooping down onto the platform. Both landed heavily, shaking the platform slightly as their massive talons gripped the edges. The creatures eyed Arlo and Fawn, their black eyes blinking expectantly. One had shiny feathers of blue and green, and the other possessed vibrant gold and red. Arlo reached a hand out to stroke the red creature’s face, and it clicked it’s dark beak in appreciation. Fawn hopped onto her mount and it emitted a excited caw and took off. Arlo shook his head and got on the back of his creature, and they took off, soaring after Fawn.
At full speed, it didn’t take them long to reach the ruins. Crumbling stone structures stood at the edge of the forest, towering over a cliff and the valleys below. The building, despite its dilapidated state, stretched up towards the sky in pillars and peaks. Moss grew in the shadows over the grey stone. Vines of ivy snaked up the ruins and poured out of what might have once been windows.
Fawn smiled at Arlo as she watched his face turn to amazement.
“Its beautiful,” Arlo said.
“Want to go inside?” Fawn asked.
“Is that even a question? Of course!”
Fawn strode toward the remains of the door and delicately stepped inside. Rubble on the ground forced them to step gingerly for fear of falling, but the two were very experienced in exploring such ruins.
Tiny plants sprouted through the cracks in the ground, and the walls were covered in overgrowth. Some wooden doors had stayed intact over the years, and the two decided to venture through them. Brown and orange mushrooms grew in the dark, damp corners. Some rooms were filled with broken pottery from a time before, their insides still coated in dirt. They also came across several wooden chests that they were unable to open, whether due to a missing key or time sealing it shut.
Arlo jumped back in surprise as the chest lid fell back down. “Wait, this one actually opened.” Fawn approached him as he crouched down and opened the chest gently, then rummaged through its contents. Ruined pieces of paper rested on top, tattered, yellowed and crinkled from water, making the ink illegible. Arlo moved them aside, exposing several tattered garments and some jewelry. He picked up a small gold chain with a tiny metal tree at the end. He looked at it a moment, then stood and turned to Fawn. “Here, this suits you.”
The girl laughed gently, turned around and moved her hair so Arlo could fasten the chain around her neck. She turned back to smile at him, holding the little tree between her fingers. “Thanks.”
After fully exploring the ground level, they climbed up the crumbling stairs with caution. Plants had claimed the ruins as their home. They grew through cracks in the walls and from dirt pockets in the floor. Tiny purple and white flowers bloomed where the sunlight was able to reach them. It saddened Arlo to he remember how these hardy little organisms no longer existed.
Fawn emerged from the dark stone stairs to the top of the ruins, closely followed by Arlo. Afternoon sun warmed the stone beneath their feet. A gentle breeze tousled the hairs that had come loose from Fawn’s ponytail. The two moved closer to the edge of the ruins to look down over the valley. Fawn sat down on the edge, letting her legs dangle towards the sea of vegetation below. Arlo sat down beside her. A small cluster of blossoms caught Fawn’s attention. She plucked a tiny white flower, examined it in her palm, then turned to Arlo and fitted the stem behind his ear.
Arlo laughed. “Do I look pretty now?”
“Beautiful,” Fawn replied sarcastically. She looked at him fondly for a moment, then took his hand in hers and returned her gaze to the valley.
Arlo glanced from the girl to their intertwined fingers in surprise. He squeezed her hand gently, and she turned to look at him. The sunlight turned her brown eyes to the color of honey. She reached out with her other hand to pull his face closer to hers. They both closed their eyes, their faces close enough that their foreheads were touching.
Arlo reached his hand up to touch her neck, but his hand met nothing. He opened his eyes but there was nothing but darkness. Warm, synthetic lights brightened gently, and Chamber 452 slid out of the wall. Standing beside the button panel was the quiet Lara, waiting with Arlo’s wheelchair.
“Your five hour session is up,” Lara said flatly.
“Put me back in, please,” Arlo begged. “I don’t need long, I just want a few more minutes.” His voice was raspy; he couldn’t remember the last time he heard himself speak outside of the Simulation.
“I’m sorry, but your time is up. I’m not allowed to let you stay for longer.”
“Why does it matter?” Arlo said, his tone edged with aggression. He struggled to sit up on his own. “I’m going to die anyways, and then you can put me in there forever, so how can it hurt?”
“It’s not in my power to make that decision, sir,” Lara said calmly.
“Then can you take me to whoever’s decision it is?” Arlo said, trying to quench his anger.
Lara pursed her lips and pressed a button on the small communication device. A blue light turned on, accompanied by a quiet beep. “Hello, sir. I have a patient that would like to speak with you. Yes. Yes. Okay, he’ll be there shortly.” She pressed the device again and the blue light faded away. “The Director will see you,” she said.
“Okay… Thank you,” Arlo said. Lara helped him out of Chamber 452 and into the wheelchair, then pushed him out of the room and down the hallway.
They passed through the shiny, white hallways that gave no indication of whether or not Arlo had ever been there. Only by the time it took to get there could Arlo tell they were travelling farther than he had before. Finally, they reached two large white doors at the end of the corridor. When they approached, the doors slid open automatically.
A sleek, white desk stood in the middle of the room, facing the doors. Atop the desk, a silver name plate simply read The Director, along with several high-tech computers and holographic screens. A small terrarium sat on the edge of the desk, holding a tiny green plant. Arlo stared at the little organism with confusion as Lara pushed him forwards. A man with salt and pepper hair and a well-kept beard sat behind the desk. The man nodded at Lara, and she departed.
“So,” said the man, shutting off his computers to give Arlo his full attention. “Why did you wish to see me, Arlo?”
Arlo’s attention snapped from the terrarium to the Director. “You know my name?”
“Of course,” the Director said. “I make an effort to be familiar with all of my patients, even if I can’t do so in person.” He turned on one of the holographic monitors, and a picture of Arlo’s worn face appeared, along with some short text. “You were a doctor before your accident, correct?”
“I was, sir,” Arlo replied. “I worked with civilians and with soldiers in the field. I specialized in radiation and the plagues it caused.”
“That’s right.” The Director nodded in remembrance. “You did good work.”
“Thank you. I like to hope so,” Arlo replied.
The man noticed Arlo’s gaze flickered back to the plant. “It’s not from outside. We’ve been working on engineering self-reliant organisms that function similar to how plants did. This is a prototype that they no longer needed down there. So, why are you here?”
Arlo sighed. “Listen, I’m dying. I know I am, and I know there isn’t anything anyone can do to stop it. I’ve been through a thousand experimental treatments. I’m a doctor. I know what stage I’m at and I know it’s only going to get worse. The only thing I enjoy anymore is the Simulation, and at this point I’m just counting down the days until I die so that you can put me in there permanently.”
The Director nodded. “I see where this is going. You’re either going to ask if you can have more time in the Sim or if your death can be… expedited, so that your consciousness can be uploaded there permanently. Correct?”
“Yeah,” Arlo said. His voice sounded rather defeated.
The Director clasped his hands together, thinking. “Well, I can’t make an exception to the first rule. If it became known that one patient was allowed more time in the Sim, than all the patients would want that. The reason we limit the time is to keep our patients healthy, both physically and mentally.”
“So there’s nothing you’re willing to do?” Arlo asked exasperatedly.
The Director paused for a moment. “You know, you aren’t the first person in your scenario. You’re right, you are going to die. And according to my records, you likely won’t have more than a month.” The Director opened a drawer and shuffled through some papers, then took one out and placed it in front of Arlo. “This is the form that you would have to sign. This part,” he pointed to a space on the top of the paper, “confirms your consent to end your life, and this part says that you choose to have your consciousness uploaded to the Simulation.”
Arlo stared at the paper. It was filled with words in small print, but from scanning it he could tell it stated exactly what the Director promised. “It’s this easy?” Arlo asked in disbelief.
“As I said, you aren’t the first person to request this. We needed a way to prepare a legal route for people like you. I believe it would be immoral for me to make this decision for you. I have no right to do that. In addition,” the Director pulled out another paper and set it in front of Arlo, “this details the extra permissions that you recieve when you die. You will be able to create up to three worlds in the Simulation, and switch between them at will. You can also choose to opt out at any time, in case you decide you would rather not continue consciousness in the Simulation.”
Arlo stared at the papers. “Do you have a pen?”
The Director chuckled. “I do,” he said, and handed him a black pen.
Arlo swiftly signed the papers, which the Director took and filed in his desk drawer. He rose from his chair walked around his desk to grab Arlo’s wheelchair. “I’ll take you, so we don’t have to bother Lara again.”
The Director pushed Arlo back through the ivory corridors to the Simulation room. Arlo looked around as he realized that this would be the last time he would see these walls, or hear the squeaking left wheel of his wheelchair. It was all very familiar, but not quite nostalgic. Arlo was more than content to be rid of it. Within no time, they rounded the corner to the Simulation room.
“Which Chamber is yours?” asked the Director.
“452,” Arlo replied. His heart beat louder.
They arrived at the familiar Chamber 452. The Director helped Arlo into the bed, then pressed several buttons. He reached in and attached the wires to Arlo’s temples, then pulled out another wire with a tiny needle at the end. “I’m going to have to put this here,” he said, pointing to a spot near the corner of his jaw, underneath his ear. “It’ll feel like a tiny pinch, but everything else will be painless.”
“Okay,” Arlo said, and the Director inserted the needle. Arlo barely felt anything.
The Director pressed a few more buttons, then turned to Arlo. “Are you ready?”
With one final press of a button, Chamber 452 slid into place into the wall. The lights dimmed, and the darkness took over.
Arlo opened his eyes. The sun shone brightly on his coffee-colored skin. His dark, curly hair blew slightly in the cool breeze. His feet dangled towards the valley below, green and alive. The girl sitting beside him looked at him with concern. The light hairs around her face danced in the gentle wind as she put her hand on his leg to catch his attention.
“Are you okay?” Fawn asked, frowning slightly. “You zoned out for a second there.”
“I’m more than okay,” Arlo said. He put his hand around her neck and pulled her face closer to his and kissed her.
The house next door to Caleb’s felt so out of place in the suburban neighborhood. Caleb was scared of it. The neighbors thought it was an eyesore compared to everyone else’s homes with their perfectly groomed square patches of grass. In the old house’s front yard, there were little flower beds with dirty white pots to hold lilies, roses, and tulips. There were clumps of soil surrounding the pots when old Ms. Della tried and failed to pour it in successfully, only to lose her grip. It looked like she lost her grip all over the yard, since clumps of dirt littered the grass within five feet of the flowers. In some spots, the clumps were hidden by the overgrown greenery, but in others, the dark soil was on full display as it rested on the shorn dry patches.
The backyard was much the same, with a tiny shed added to the chaos. It was missing a panel or two of the wooden ceiling, along with an incomplete picket fence. Half the shed was whitewash, but Ms. Della had lost interest halfway through.
At least Caleb’s parents made their lawn easy on the eyes.
These thoughts ran through the boy’s head when his parents approached him, letting him know of the trip they were going to take into the city.
“I’m sorry baby, but this is only a trip for me and daddy,” his mom began. “We need to pick up your Auntie and take her to the airport and that might take a while. I know how you get… tired.”
He did get bored after long drives, but he didn’t want to be home alone! He said as much to his mom.
“Don’t worry, sweetie! Ms. Della has agreed to look after you tomorrow at her house. Won’t that be fun?”
“I don’t wanna go to Ms. Della’s house! It’s messy and gross on the outside, and probably the same on the inside! And she’s old. Like, really, really old! It won’t be any fun. I don’t wanna! I can stay here by myself, Mommy! I’ll be okay, promise!”
He mother sighed. “Caleb, It would really put my mind to rest to know someone’s watching you, and Ms. Della was kind enough to offer. We’ll only be gone for a few hours. Can you promise me you’ll be good for Ms. Della? Please, Caleb?”
Caleb huffed, but nodded. A few hours might not seem so bad.
It was bad. Ms. Della was boring and wouldn’t answer any of his questions, no matter how many times he asked.
“Why don’t you have a husband? Why does your house look so messy? Did you set your grass on fire? It looks like you did. Why didn’t you finish the fence?”
Immersed in her backyard garden, the old woman didn’t even glance at him. Despite the general mess and unkempt nature of the place, a lovely row of fruit trees grew along the outer edge. They were the only healthy plants in the yard and grew ripe, sweet smelling apples and pears. She stopped tending to the trees only when she had to open the front door to let Caleb in. As soon as his parents left and the door was shut, she strolled right back to the trees. Caleb had been interested in the things for a little while, but when he noticed that she wouldn’t leave her backyard to come in to the house, he grew awfully lonely. He had no choice but to follow her out for some company.
“Why do you look at these trees all the time?”
Ms. Della perked up. She turned to look at Caleb with a toothy smile. White wisps of hair fell out of the bun atop her head and flicked at her wrinkled cheek, but she didn’t seem to mind.
“I’m glad you asked,” she said. “You see, I’m a big believer in growing your own food. I don’t have enough space to grow all of it, but I can start with a little bit at a time, yeah?”
Caleb couldn’t tell if that was a question he was meant to answer, so he responded with a tentative, “Yeah?”
Ms. Della laughed at that and ruffled his brown curls. He found it annoying and shrugged off her trembling hand.
“You know,” she continued, “sometimes I think I could spend my whole day back here. These plants need constant care, just like you and me. And they give us so much.”
Caleb didn’t understand how one person’s attention could be focused on one object for a whole day, so when he heard the voices of his friends playing on the sidewalk out front, he excused himself to join them, not wanting to stare at leaves the rest of the day. Ms. Della glanced at him quickly as she got up to inspect the fruit on the branches. After a brief pause, she smiled and waved him off.
Caleb ran past the unfinished fence and the riot of flowers to join his friends, who were coloring the sidewalk with their chalk. He was excited to finally be with kids his age and not with dumb grown-ups that looked at trees until they died. He jumped in delight when one of them suggested drawing up a hopscotch pattern. He loved that game ever since he learned it in Mrs. Lori’s fourth grade class two weeks before!
Just as one of his friends finished the pattern, Ms. Della came trudging out from the backyard with something in her hands. She called for him, waving at him to come back.
One of the other boys snickered. “Hanging out with old ladies now?”
Caleb blushed. “No!” Ms. Della continued to call while a couple other boys laughed.
He made an agitated whining noise in the back of his throat before he stomped his foot down and walked over. He didn’t say anything when he stood before her. He just stood there waiting. Ms. Della then revealed a freshly picked pear in her hands and held it out to Caleb. He eyed it warily. He didn’t understand why he had to leave his game for this. After a couple more seconds, he grabbed the pear and, with Ms. Della’s encouragement, took a small bite out of it.
Caleb’s eyes lit up with surprise as the fresh fruit filled his mouth. He’d never tasted anything so sweet before! He took another bite with a satisfying crunch. The only thing Caleb could think of what how much it tasted the way the rain smelled after it hit the grass.
“It’s yummy!” he shouted, attention completely diverted from his interrupted game. Ms. Della let out a hearty laugh before gesturing to the basket she put together, which sat five feet away.
“I’m glad you like it. Be sure to take the rest of it home to your parents when they get back.” She placed her hand on his head once more to ruffle his curls. Caleb leaned in to the touch.
After that day, Caleb frequently went to Ms. Della’s house after school. He wanted to learn how to plant his own trees and make his own food. She happily showed him the ins and outs of gardening, how to properly care for a rose bush versus a peach tree, and the differences between them. After every encounter, she gave him a piece of fruit from the garden.
“The sweetest one for the sweetest boy!” She would laugh and pat his head. He would giggle at that every time.
When winter rolled around and the flowers died out and the trees ceased to produce fruit, Ms. Della stayed inside. Caleb’s parents kept him home and claimed they preferred he stayed at home instead of bother the old woman when she was resting indoors.
He didn’t see her at all during the winter.
And when spring made its bright appearance, she didn’t.
Caleb looked out the window sometimes, hoping to see Ms. Della would come outside to care for the flowers that started to bloom again. It wasn’t like her to ignore them.
He asked his parents only once about Ms. Della. They told him that she wasn’t feeling very well. Now everything was clear! Caleb knew that spring season was allergy season, but once springtime ended, Ms. Della would come back!
And then Summer. And then-
…Where was she? Her plants were suffering without her care. Her roses wilted. Pears and apples, unpicked, fell to the ground, squishy and brown. The yard looked worse than it usually did without anyone doing something for it.
Caleb offered to check on the woman, but his parents refused him.
The next day, a lot of cars were parked outside her house. A lot of people were there, too. People he’d never seen in the neighborhood before.
They cleared out after a couple of hours. And then-
The front yard was empty. Caleb gasped. “When did that happen? Where’s all of Ms. Della’s stuff?” he asked his parents.
They said she had gone away. But where?
He raced out of the house one morning to check on the backyard. Everything was still there: the incomplete fence, the dried-up flowers, the fruit trees. But…would they be gone too? Why was everything disappearing? He didn’t understand!
Caleb sat down next to the pear tree, the ground littered with the fallen fruit, inedible at that point. Ms. Della hated that, the waste of a fresh fruit in her own backyard.
“Don’t worry, Ms. Della,” Caleb thought to himself as he toed at a wilted tulip. “I’ll take care of them. Just until you get back.”
Picture a stone. Small, smooth and clean on the top. It’s a different story on the stone’s bottom. Dirty, damp and unrecognizable. Fortunately the stone is sitting so that we can only see it’s top. Only see one side of it’s story. All of a sudden the stone is kicked in the air. For a split second it travels up, and it seems that it will never come back down. Then it starts to fall.
Robert sprung out of bed, his eyes filled with excitement. Surely it couldn’t be her. There was no way she was the one calling to him. He quickly put on his favorite American Eagle t-shirt, a pair of jeans and ran downstairs. “Aunt Jenny!” he called, “Is that you?”
Halfway down the steps Robert stopped just before he crashed into his mom. It wasn’t Aunt Jenny, it had all been a stupid dream.
“Now, Robert, you know how Aunt Jenny isn’t coming. She didn’t come last year, or the year before that. I wish things could work out better between my sister and I, but you know that isn’t the case. “
“You should be excited,” she continued. “Tomorrow you graduate high school and everybody is going to be there!”
Robert smiled meekly and went back upstairs to brush his teeth. As he put the toothbrush to his mouth, he thought about how wrong his mom was.
The stone came back down to earth, but it is still falling. It has fallen into a deep black pit that seemingly has no end.
It wants to stop, but there is no way to stop gravity. A stone can’t fly. It hurdles down the hole, starting to veer out of control, towards the pit’s side.
The last day of school was hardly memorable for Robert. It was like any other final day, except the senior class all went to the gym during 4th period to take their class photo. On the way Robert stopped to gaze at framed images of previous senior classes, all smiling as if to beckon that everything was perfect. One image caught his eye, the graduating class of 1984. His eyes fixated on the image, scanning it, searching. He found them in the very front row, smiling, happy, together; his mom and Aunt Jenny, ready to graduate.
Robert was not your average 18 year old. He was a three time all state linebacker for the football team and had committed to play at the University of Ohio next fall. Inside his body sculpted to withstand everything thrown at it, cracks were starting to show, all though he seemed smooth on the outside. They were the bruises that naturally came with him taking the conflict between his Mom and Aunt personally. The school’s trainer had claimed he was the most durable and untouchable player he had ever seen, but Robert felt like he was getting pummeled internally, falling deeper into a void that seemed bottomless; causing him to experience emotions that nobody can prepare for.
The stone has hit the side ledge of the cliff. Time slows down. For a split second the stone is touching something else. It is no longer falling.
As soon as school ended Robert grabbed his keys from his locker, got in his car and began to drive. Five minutes later he parked in the driveway of his friend Drew’s house. Drew’s parents both worked late so the driveway was always empty. In fact, Robert had been parking in their driveway for years as Drew had labeled cars “a sin committed against mother nature,” and always rode his bike.
Robert knocked on the door twice and was let in by Drew’s friend, Jake. After wiping his shoes on the front mat, Robert followed Jake downstairs where Drew was sitting on the couch, playing Fortnite.
“If you’re going to college in New York City, how are you going to get anywhere without using any form of motorized transportation,” Jake was telling Drew.
The words Victory Royale flashed on the screen. Once they were gone, Drew turned to Jake and starting prating, a favorite hobby of his.
“Don’t worry Jakey, they installed bike lanes a couple of years ago. It’ll just be me cruising past the cars, and maybe the drivers will realize how wrong they were to buy a carbon emitting, climate killing, air polluting piece of machinery,” Drew shot back.
“You realize that many people just park their cars in the bike lanes to the point that they are practically unusable,” said Jake.
“That’ll be the least of my problems. What about you guys? Any problems you want to talk about?”
“My mom,” Robert blurted out. Both boys looked up, not noticing Drew’s avatar getting attacked from behind.
“What about her?” Drew asked. “She put parental controls on your phone of something?
“Something worse,” said Robert. He told them about his Mom being happy about his Aunt not attending his graduation.
“Look,” said Drew. “Anything going on between your family isn’t your fault. You’re 18 Robbie! Dieciocho! An adult! Point being, you have every right to feel hurt, but you can still love both of them. At the end of the day, they both love you.”
“I guess,” said Robert. His watch beeped, and he groaned. His mom wanted for the two of them to have dinner the night before he graduated. If he stayed at Drew’s any later, his Mom would freak out.
After thanking Drew for having him over, Robert put on his shoes and headed to the car. Behind him he heard Drew trash talking Jake as the sound of Fortnite played in the background. Robert’s mind kept going back to what Drew had said about being able to love both his Mom and Aunt. It was good advice he thought as he drove towards home, feeling better than he had in awhile
All good things must come to an end. The laws of physics take over. Every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction. The stone bounces off the ledge. It only seems as if the ledge is getting smaller but then it seems that it is above the stone. The worst has occurred, the stone isn’t latched on anymore. It is continuing to fall, but there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Now it was time to eat.
Robert dug right into his his meatloaf and mashed potatoes. All the things on his mind had caused him to forget how truly hungry he was. His Mom was the first one to talk.
“Don’t call me honey,” he muttered quickly.
“Ok well Robert I just want you to know that you have every right to be upset about your Aunt not being there. There is no problem with you feeling that way.”
“Uh- thanks Mom.”
“I am SO excited for tomorrow. I have worked so hard for this moment, and know it will be just perfect.”
Robert set down his fork and knife. “Perfect?”
“Yes dear, perfect.”
“First of all, it’s disrespectful for you to act like that only you alone worked for this,” he said angrily.
“Robert, you know I didn’t mean it that way-”
“Yes you did. One second you’re telling me that it’s unfortunate Aunt Jenny won’t be there. The next moment you say everything is perfect. I’m tired of people being hypocritical towards me!”
“Don’t Robert me! I texted Aunt Jenny last night. She wanted to attend. You know why she can’t?”
“Well it’s complicated. Very complicated,” his Mom said sheepishly.
“You didn’t invite her. Not only that, you told her she shouldn’t come. Why can’t you just put any history the two of you have between each other aside for me! She wants to put it aside, but you? I could say anything and nothing would change! I’m going to bed. See you in the morning.”
“For the last time, don’t call me honey!”
Robert slammed the door as hard as he could and fell onto his bed. He could hear his Mom crying downstairs. Although very mad, Robert began to feel guilty too. Falling asleep, he wondered if things would ever be the same between the two of them.
The ground is visible now, but the stone doesn’t care. It just wants to stop falling. The bottom of the pit is no better than the top, it’s cold and there is no way back up.
Everything goes black as the stone hits the bottom. For a second everything is still. Suddenly the stone realizes something. It isn’t right to assume that where it came from is better than where it is now. The only way to find out is by adjusting to its new surroundings. By adjusting, maybe the stone can get comfortable again, make this new place into a new home.
If a stone could wake up, this particular stone would be wide awake. It had geographically fallen down but it never felt any higher.
The next morning, Robert put on his cap and gown and drove to school. Most of the ceremony was a blur. When his name was called he stood up, looked around, and took the stage. The applause rung in his ears but its meaning had no impact.
Something at the back of the audience stopped him, causing him to look back. Robert’s eyes comprehended what he saw, sending signals to his brain, the signals nearly enough to make him fall.
Aunt Jenny and his Mom, standing side by side, clapping so hard that you could see the pain in their faces. That pain wasn’t because they were right next to each other, both of them truly appeared to be happy, and sad at the same time. Robert’s mom was crying, tears running down her cheeks. Aunt Jenny had a grin so wide that you could identify the colors of her braces. Lavender, turquoise, and red.
Interrupted only by the principal motioning for him to return to his seat, Robert turned away and sat back down, still in shock from what he just saw.
As soon as the ceremony had ended and the new graduates had collected their caps, Robert made a beeline towards his Aunt and hugged her. She truly was somebody who made everyone around her look better. Then Robert turned to his Mom.
“I’m sorry,” she said, the tears still fresh in her eyes.
“No, I’m sorry,” Robert replied. “For doubting you, and not acknowledging the sacrifices you made every day for me to get here. I love you.”
The two of them embraced and Robert’s emotions settled. He was 18 and starting college in August, but the fact that he had two strong women in his life immediately caused the anxiety he had felt, for over a year, to disappear.
As Robert headed back to the car, later on, he saw a stone on the side of the curb. Impulsively he gave it a kick. The stone went spinning for what felt like an eternity, but then it stopped. A voice calling his name seemed to be coming from inside the rock. That’s when Robert understood.
When he kicked the stone, it hadn’t been displaced. Where it ended up was where it was meant to be. For over a year, Robert had felt uncomfortable and out of control. These feeling has stopped at graduation, and what had happened previously was meant to happen. Robert had always been in the right place, and only now he realized that he was in control. He could choose his Mom, his Aunt, but he could also choose both. It was one of the many perks of being an adult.