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Lofty Dreams. Ch. 1-3

March 22, 2015 09:59PM
This was my very first JAFF story, originally written in 2007. As such, some of the references to technology and pop culture are a bit dated.

It's a modern canon tale, told in first person from Elizabeth's POV. However, I have a couple of detours in the story in which you'll get to see what's happening from Darcy's eyes...

I hope you enjoy it!

Blurb: Receiving a LOFTY Dreams scholarship is Liz's opportunity to make her college dreams come true. However, now she has to deal with Will Darcy, an arrogant guy from a wealthy suburban high school. But maybe there's more to Will than meets the eye.

Chapter 1

It was a cold, drizzly Monday in early October, the kind of day that made the streets of Longbourn City, as my neighborhood was called, look even more depressing than usual.

Inside Longbourn High, it wasn't much better. Between the overcast skies that were visible through the windows, the dull flickering of the fluorescent lights overhead, and my physics teacher's boring lecture, I had to do everything in my power to keep my eyes open.

I must have failed in that task, because I was suddenly jolted awake by the sound of my name on the PA system: "Elizabeth Bennet, please report to the guidance office." When my teacher nodded at me, I was more than happy to pick up my books and leave.

"Look what arrived today, Liz," said Ms. Taylor, my guidance counselor, as soon as I sat down in her office. She held up an envelope that bore the return address of the LOFTY Dreams Foundation.

I jumped a little in my seat. "Did you open it yet?"

"No, it's addressed to you. Go ahead," she said, handing me the envelope.

I took it from her hand and ripped it apart. Pulling out the letter, I read aloud: "Dear Elizabeth: We are pleased to announce that you have been selected as one of ten winners of this year's LOFTY Dreams scholarships…" I stopped reading and started screaming.

Ms. Taylor laughed at my excitement. "Congrats, Liz. You really earned this."

I tried to calm down, but it was hard. The LOFTY Dreams scholarship would give me a full ride at the college of my choice, as long as it was located in Greater Meryton. If fact, it would make it possible for me to go to college at all. My parents were struggling to pay both the bills and my sister Janelle's tuition at Meryton State. There was no way they could afford to send both of us to college right now.

When I kept going on about the scholarship, Ms. Taylor reminded me that there was so much more. "Leadership training, academic support, summer internships… Liz, this is going to open up so many opportunities for you." She was right, and I couldn't wait to experience them all.

I had a yearbook meeting after school and got home about five o'clock. Our street looks like many in Longbourn City, with block after block of attached six-unit brownstone buildings. We lived in a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of our building.

I could already hear the stereo blaring as I started up the stairs. As soon as I opened the door, I saw my younger sister Deirdre, who we call Dee, dancing in the living room. I went down the hall to the bedroom I share with my two sisters and dropped my backpack and jacket on the lower bunk of the bunk bed I share with Dee. My sister Janelle was lying on her stomach on her bed, covering her ears while trying to read a textbook.

"Didn't you tell her to turn it down?" I said.

Janelle shrugged. "I did. She won't listen."

I am not as nice as Janelle. I went back into the living room and flipped the stereo's volume button about 180 degrees.

"What'd you do that for?" Dee yelled.

"Janelle's trying to study. You know you're supposed to wear the headphones."

"But I can't move around the room with them on!"


"That's why I keep saying I need an iPod," Dee said. "Then nobody would have to worry about my music."

I laughed. "Then you better get a job so you can buy one yourself."

Dee just rolled her eyes at me.

"Don't turn it back up," I warned. She made a face, but since at 5'6" I have three inches and about 15 pounds on her, I knew she would do what I said.

I walked to the kitchen to start dinner. The rice was ready and I was just taking the chicken out of the oven when my parents walked in the door. I was really happy to see Daddy, because I would be able to tell my family the good news at the same time.

Daddy worked as a custodian at an elementary school. It was a job he always liked because it kept him connected with what was going on in the schools, for our sakes. He usually left work at about 6:30 after cleaning and locking up following the after school programs, unless there was an evening event or meeting at the school. However, there was almost always something going on at some school in the city in the evenings. Lately, he had been picking up a lot of overtime hours by subbing for custodians at other schools who didn't want to work late.

When we were all seated at the table, Dee jumped in before I could bring up my news. "Daddy, can I get an iPod?"

"We don't have any iPod money," he said, biting into his chicken.

"Please, Daddy? That way I can play my music without bothering Janelle or Liz when they're studying."

"That's what I bought you the headphones for."

"Yeah, but I can't move around with the headphones on! Come on, Daddy, please?"

"I said no," he said firmly.

So Dee turned toward Ma. "Can you get me one then?"

"I don't know; maybe when I get my next check," Ma answered.

My father turned toward her. "What are you thinking, Ellie? This child does not need an iPod, not when we're trying to pay for Janelle's education. What she really needs is to get her butt into the books."

Dee wasn't giving up. "OK, then how about getting me a no-name one? I saw some for like $80 at Radio Shack. That's a lot cheaper than the real ones."

Daddy looked at her incredulously. "What world do you live in where $80 is cheap?"

Ma said, "I think I can do $80."

Dee, sitting next to her, threw her arms around her neck. "Oh, thank you, thank you! I love you, Mama!"

Daddy just shook his head. "Ellie… we have to start thinking about school for Liz, too."

"I want to do something nice for my baby. I can do that now and then. We'll work things out for Liz," Ma replied.

I rolled my eyes. I knew the conversation would go this way. My mother could be just as hard-lined as my father about "school first" when it came to Janelle and me, but she spoiled Dee rotten. That's partly because Dee is the youngest, but also because Ma and Dee are so much alike. Daddy always jokes about how she was the flirt in high school who all the boys liked, "but for some reason she chose me." Like my mother, Dee was the biggest flirt I knew.

I guess Daddy, knowing how Ma could be when it comes to Dee, figured this battle was lost, so he let it go. Now was my chance.

"You don't have to worry about paying for college for me anymore. I got the LOFTY Dreams scholarship," I said.

"Liz, that's awesome!" Janelle said.

Daddy grinned and wagged his finger at me. "Now see, that's the kind of thing I want to hear at dinner."

Ma got up to hug and kiss me. "Oh, my baby, I'm so proud of you!"

Dee sulked. "I thought I was your baby."

"You are my baby. You're my baby baby, and you're my sassy baby. Liz is my middle baby and my smart baby."

"What about me?" asked Janelle.

"Well, you're my big baby—"

"I'm not sure I like the sound of that," Janelle said with a smile.

"But you're also my pretty baby," Ma answered. "All three of you are my babies, and always will be."

"So what about me?" Daddy asked.

Oh no. Ma got that coy voice she gets sometimes and said, "You? You're my sexy baby."

Daddy flexed his pec muscles. "Ew, Daddy, don't do that!" Dee and I both shouted. Of course, that made him do it all the more, until we were all laughing.

After dinner, I went through the LOFTY Dreams paperwork with my parents, because I needed their signatures for me to participate in the program. There would be a welcome dinner on the last Saturday of October, monthly meetings throughout my senior year and freshman year in college, and a week-long retreat at someplace called the Hunsford Retreat Center during my spring break in April.

It was Dee's turn to do dishes, so I joined Janelle in the bedroom to work on my homework.

"Liz, I need to ask a favor of you," she said. "Remember that guy Chuck Benson I've been telling you about?"

"The one that's been sitting by you in your psych class?"

"Yeah, him. He's having a party at his house on Saturday, and he invited me to go."

I grinned and raised my eyebrows. "So you think he's interested?"

Janelle shook her head. "I don't know. He's inviting a lot of people to this party."

"Oh, Janelle, come on. Haven't you guys been having lunch together after class, too?"

She just shrugged. I swear, Janelle just didn't see herself the way other people did. Dee and I resemble Daddy, with the same round faces and dimples he has. We're what most people probably consider cute. Janelle is beautiful, just like my mother. Ma has gained some weight since her teen years, but she still turns men's heads.

I laughed. "If I was going to bet on it, I'd say he likes you."

Janelle smiled a little. "Maybe. But here's the thing: he lives out in Netherfield Park."


"So? You know how much money people have out there? I'd be out of place. Plus, I have to talk Daddy into driving me there. I was kind of hoping that maybe you'd go with me?"

I thought about that for a minute. Daddy would be more willing to take us way out there if we were both going. Although I was pretty sure this guy Chuck probably liked Janelle, in case he didn't or was busy playing host, then Janelle and I could hang out together. And unlike Janelle, the thought of going out to Netherfield Park didn't intimidate me.

"Yeah, I'll go," I said. "It'll be fun."

Chapter 2

"Here?" Daddy said. "I have another two blocks to go." He glanced at the MapQuest directions in his hand.

"Yeah, here is fine, Daddy," Janelle answered. "We can walk the rest of the way."

"But anything could happen to you out here at night."

"Daddy, this is Netherfield Park, not Longbourn City," I said. "Nothing is going to happen to us out here."

I knew exactly why Janelle wanted Daddy to let us out early. She didn't want to get out of Daddy's old hooptie in front of Chuck's house.

Daddy sighed. "OK. But listen, I'll be back here at this stop at 11 o'clock sharp to pick you up."

"Eleven, Daddy! That's too early!" Janelle protested.

"OK, eleven thirty, but no later."

As Janelle and I got close to Chuck's house, we could hear the music and see cars lining the street in front of the large manicured lawn. Some of the cars were Jags and Mercedes, and I could better understand Janelle's concern about having Daddy drop us off here.

We had to step through people hanging out on the front steps to get in the door. Even as crowded as it was, it seemed like only a minute had passed before a nice-looking guy who was about 5'10" with milk chocolate skin approached us. When I saw the way he looked at Janelle before giving her a hug, I thought, this is Chuck, and he definitely likes her.

"Chuck, this is my sister, Liz," Janelle said loudly, trying to talk over the music.

"Nice to meet you," he said, smiling. He had a very nice smile. You have good taste, Janelle, I thought.

Chuck offered to take our coats and get us something to drink. I let him take my coat, but told him I was fine. On cue, Chuck took Janelle's hand and they headed off together.

I watched them walk away with a smile. Since I didn't know anyone, I decided to find a spot in a corner in the living room to people-watch. The crowd was multiracial, which I thought was cool, and a lot of people were dancing or just hanging out. I spotted a place to stand just as some girl bumped into me. She had been carrying a cup of Coke or something, which spilled on her blouse.

"Why don't you watch where you're going!" she shouted. "Look what you did!"

"Excuse me, but you bumped into me," I answered. "Besides, if you wash that out now, it'll come out."

"I didn't ask you!" she snapped, then turned away.

Welcome to Netherfield Park, I thought, and stifled a laugh. I watched her walk up a nearby staircase, heading to the bathroom I suppose. She passed a tall guy on her way up the stairs. I started to head back to the corner, and then I stopped and looked at the guy again.

Now, I pride myself on not being boy-crazy, so normally I don't stare like this. But something about this guy got my attention. He was about 6'2" and well-built. He had a handsome face, but that wasn't it. It was his eyes. He had some of the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. They were light brown, a little lighter than his skin, framed by really long lashes.

Suddenly, he looked down and caught me staring at him, and grinned. Oh, real smooth, Liz! I thought. I turned away, but this time I couldn't hold back my laugh. When I finally felt that I could turn back without embarrassment, he was still on the stairs, but now he was talking to the girl who had bumped into me earlier. His girlfriend? I wondered. Or maybe in her short skirt and now damp-and-slightly-see-through blouse, she was more interesting than me in my black T-shirt and jeans. Oh, well.

I decided to go in search of something to drink or eat. I wandered into another room, where tables had been set up with a few remnants of pizza, subs, and soda pop. I was pouring myself a cup of ginger-ale when I noticed a woman trying to work her way through the crowd while carrying two platters of food. No one was moving out of her way.

I walked closer to her and shouted, "Coming through!" to some of the kids blocking her path to the table. That got a few of them to move. When she came closer, I asked if I could take one of the trays off her hands. She nodded and I took one.

She was an attractive black woman with a few strands of gray in her relaxed hair. "Listen, honey, can you grab one of those trays that's almost empty, and then put this one down?" she said.

I did so, and then followed her back to the kitchen with the empty tray in hand.

Because the kitchen had a swinging door that shut, it was several decibels quieter inside. There was hardly an empty spot on the kitchen table or counter, which were covered with food and beverages. The woman took the tray from me and placed it on the stove, along with the one in her hand.

She sat on a kitchen chair and offered me a seat. "Thank you so much! I'm Chuck's mom, Lois, by the way. What's your name?"

"I'm Liz."

"Are you a friend of Chuck's?"

"No, I just met him tonight. He's a classmate of my sister's." I didn't know what, if anything, his mother knew about Janelle, so I didn't say anything more than that.

"Well, welcome to my home. This is how I keep my sanity."

When she saw the surprised look on my face, she laughed. "I guess it doesn't look like it, because I'm so stressed tonight. What I mean is, hosting parties at my home for my kids keeps me sane, because I know where they are and what they're up to. I've been doing this since they were young teens. And walking around to serve food allows me to keep an eye on things."

"It seems like you need extra help, though," I said with a grin.

"Usually my husband helps, but he's out of town this weekend."

"I don't really know anyone here, so I can help you, if you'd like."

Lois gave me an appreciative smile. "Would you? That would be great, and I'd love the company. Are you are Meryton State also?"

"No, I'm still in high school. I'm a senior at Longbourn High."

"Longbourn… my sister-in-law graduated from there, but that was way before your time. What kinds of things are you involved in at school?"

I told Lois about serving as editor of the yearbook, on the National Honor Society, as a student council representative, as a peer counselor and a member of the track team.

"You know, my nephew runs track also. He's a senior at Pemberley High School. I don't know if you'd know him—William Darcy?"

"I don't know him," I answered, "but I definitely know his name. I know he holds the state records in the 400 and 800 meter hurdles."

Lois nodded. "That's him. He's around here somewhere. If I see him the next time we go out, I'll introduce you."

Lois and I talked for the rest of the evening, taking periodic breaks to replenish the food and beverages. She told me that Chuck was the youngest of her three children. She also had a 25-year-old daughter who was newly married, and another daughter who was a senior at Spelman College in Atlanta. She asked all about my family, and about my college plans. When I told her about the LOFTY Dreams scholarship, she said that her nephew Will was also a recipient.

"I'm really happy about that, because it means he'll be here in town," she said. "Otherwise, I think he'd be off to someplace like Harvard or Stanford. His father—my younger brother Billy—was very active in the community, and I think Will looks at this as a way to honor his father's memory."

I wondered what had happened to her brother Billy, but it seemed rude to ask.

On one of our food runs, Lois said, "There's Will now. I'd like you to meet him." She called his name, and the cute guy with the pretty eyes I had noticed earlier started heading our way. I was surprised but happy; this was promising.

When he was a few feet away from us, the same girl who had bumped me earlier ran up also, and slipped her hand inside his arm. An annoyed look crossed Will's face.

I turned my head a little to hide my laugh. Yes, she was pretty, but her shirt was dry now and no longer see-through, and it looked like she had become an unwelcome appendage to Will. Definitely not his girlfriend.

Lois seemed a little surprised by the girl's sudden appearance, but she recovered quickly. "I'm Lois, Will's aunt," she said. "And you are?"

"Candy," the girl answered.

"Well, Candy and Will, I want you both to meet Liz." Lois held out her hands toward me. "Liz has been helping me out tonight."

They both spoke at once, but I caught what each of them said. From Candy: "Oh, I get it now! You're the help!" and from Will: "Why would I want to meet her?"

Lois gave them both a withering look. "No, Candy, she's a guest just like you are," she said coolly. "She's just being kind. And Will, I wanted you to meet her because she's going to be in the LOFTY Dreams program with you. But I guess now is not a good time. Why don't you both go back to the party? Will, I'll talk to you later."

As they walked away, I guess Will was fed up with his extra appendage. He shook her off his arm and said something sharp to her. She gave him a look and walked away.

As soon as Lois and I got back to the kitchen, I couldn't contain myself anymore. I burst out laughing.

"Oh, Liz, I'm so sorry," she said.

"No, please don't apologize!" I answered. "It didn't bother me at all."

"OK, maybe I don't owe you an apology for Candy, since I don't even know her. But I do for my nephew. He knows how I expect him to conduct himself in my home. And I will talk to him about it."

"Thank you, but you really don't need to, Lois," I said. "That was actually pretty entertaining."

Lois started laughing, too. "It was, wasn't it? Poor Will seemed like he was having trouble getting rid of her."

I noticed the clock on the stove; it was 11:08. I realized that in four food runs, I hadn't seen Janelle once. I had better find her so we could get ready to leave. "My father wants my sister and me to head out by 11:30," I said. "I should go look for her."

Lois gave me a hug. "Liz, it was such a pleasure meeting you! I hope I'll see you again."

"It was great meeting you, too, and I hope so also," I answered, hugging her back.

I finally found Janelle outside the house, in the backyard. There was a pool there, empty and covered now because it was fall. However, several people were hanging out around it. Chuck and Janelle were sitting on a lounge chair that was barely big enough for the two of them. He had his arm around her shoulder and their heads were close together.

So I wouldn't embarrass her, I tapped Chuck's shoulder. "I'm sorry," I told him when he looked up. "I'm still in high school so I have a curfew. And Janelle needs to take me home."

Chuck gave me a resigned expression and stood up, holding out a hand to help Janelle up. "Liz, Janelle and I will get your coat and meet you out front."

Several minutes later Janelle and I were walking down the street to meet Daddy. "OK, chica," I said. "What was this about your not being sure he liked you? You two could barely have been any closer on that chair."

Janelle was beaming. "OK, OK, I was wrong!"

"He's very cute," I said, "And he seems like a nice guy."

"Oh, he is! So what about you? Did you meet anybody tonight?"

"I actually spent most of the night talking to Chuck's mother. She's really sweet. Did you get to meet her?"

"No! Chuck wouldn't let me. He said she would talk my ear off and ask me a bunch of questions, and he wouldn't get any time with me."

I laughed. "That's exactly what she did with me. Now she knows all about you."

Janelle's eyes got big. "What did you tell her?"

"Well, I didn't tell her you were his girlfriend, because at the time I didn't know. But I told her a lot of other things about you. Don't worry, I made sure she has a very good impression of you."

Janelle grinned. "Come on, we're going to be late meeting Daddy." She grabbed my hand and we ran the rest of the way.

Chapter 3

On the day of the LOFTY Dreams welcome dinner, Ma and I spent the afternoon at my grandmother's beauty salon getting our hair and nails done. I am so not a dress person, but Ma convinced me to wear one of the two that I own, and Janelle did my make-up. Daddy teased me, saying, "Who is this beautiful young lady, and where is my daughter?"

When we were in the car, I asked my mother to promise not to embarrass me that night.

"When do I ever embarrass you? I never embarrass you!" she argued.

"Naw, your mother never embarrasses anybody," Daddy said, winking at me in the rearview mirror.

I smiled at Daddy and turned back to my mother. "Ma, yes, you do. Especially when you start bragging about me. Please don't do that tonight."

Ma looked back over the shoulder rest. "Why shouldn't I brag about you? How many other kids get selected the way you did for a scholarship like this?"

"Um… nine. And they'll all be here tonight. That means I'm nothing special. Please promise me?"

Ma twisted her mouth. "Ok, baby, if it will make you happy, I'll promise."

"Thank you."

After we entered the hotel, a woman at the front desk directed us to a small banquet hall on the second floor and told us that there would be a registration table outside.

When we reached the right area, we saw a boy with brown hair and glasses walking away from the registration table, with two people who appeared to be his grandparents. Ma hurried into the spot they'd just left.

"Excuse me, but I believe my son and I were next," came a very proper voice behind us.

I looked back and saw a tall, light-skinned black woman wearing a long leather coat and a tight-lipped expression. Even if I hadn't seen her son standing beside her, I would have known exactly who she was by the color of her eyes.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't see you there!" Ma replied cheerfully. "You go right ahead."

As Will and his mother stepped forward, his mother glared at Ma. "Maybe you should pay better attention," she said coldly.

"I said I was sorry," Ma snapped.

Oh God, I thought. We weren't even here five minutes and she'd already broken her promise. Will watched me with an expression I couldn't read, and I wanted to sink into the floor.

Daddy pulled Ma back by the elbow, saying her name in a really firm voice. "What?" Ma said, almost yelling at him. "I made a mistake, and that woman's acting like I did something to her."

"Ellie, just cool it. Remember what you said in the car," Daddy whispered in a tense voice. Fortunately, that stopped her. Sometimes my mother can get on a roll when she's attitudinal.

When it was our turn to register, a blond man with a moustache and goatee greeted us warmly, as if that whole little interlude hadn't happened. "I'm Paul, one of the instructors in the program," he said when we introduced ourselves. He handed me a folder. "Inside are your name tags and tonight's agenda, along with information about the program overall. You're at table three."

We entered the banquet hall. I looked around as we hung up our coats. The room contained eight round tables with seats for eight at each one. The tables were covered with china, candles, and napkins folded in really pretty patterns. It was very fancy, and I could feel the stupid grin on my face growing, I was so excited.

An Asian couple and girl and two older white men were sitting at table three. We introduced ourselves all around. One of the men was a Meryton City Councilor, and he and Daddy immediately started talking politics. The other one said he was a hospital executive.

The girl's name was Kathy Tranh. "Hey, Elizabeth, do you want to sit here?" she asked, indicating the seat next to her.

She had a friendly smile and I gladly sat down. "Everybody calls me Liz," I told her.

After I put my nametag on, which also read, "Longbourn High School," Kathy grinned and said, "We beat you guys last night."

I looked at her nametag, which said, "Northwood High School." They had trounced Longbourn at last night's football game, 24-3.

I groaned a little. "I know, I was there! You guys have that one player who kept making all those interceptions."

Kathy nodded. "Jamal. Now his head is going to be even bigger on Monday than it was before."

We started talking about school and all kinds of other stuff, while Ma talked the head off of Kathy's mother, who just nodded periodically. At one point, Kathy's mother asked her something in Vietnamese, and she answered.

"Does your mother speak English?" I asked.

"Not much," she answered.

I smiled to myself. I wasn't sure Ma realized this about Kathy's mother, as she just went on with her conversation.

Waiters in black pants and short red jackets started bringing plates of food to us. Once we started eating, a stocky middle-aged man walked up to the podium at the front of the room. He greeted everyone and introduced himself as Mark Cunningham, the chairman of the board of the LOFTY Dreams Foundation, as well as the CEO of a corporation in the city.

He told us how he and several other business and civic leaders had founded LOFTY (Leaders of the Future: Today's Youth) Dreams five years earlier. They were concerned about Meryton, which, like many Midwestern cities, used to get its prosperity from manufacturing, but now had become a region of high unemployment and poverty.

"Another big issue was the brain drain," he said. "Meryton's best and brightest young people were leaving in droves for colleges and careers in other parts of the country, and most of them weren't returning.

"We asked ourselves, what could we do to change this and help Meryton regain its prosperity in the 21st century? From that question, the LOFTY Dreams Foundation was born. We decided that we would make an investment—and it's a significant financial investment on the part of a lot of important players in our community, including the colleges and universities—in ten exceptional high school students each year from a variety of different backgrounds.

"In return, we ask them to make an investment back into Greater Meryton. We ask them to choose to attend one of the nine colleges and universities in the metro area, which provide these students with four-year full tuition scholarships. Throughout their senior year in high school and four years of college, we provide summer internships, leadership training, support around academics and career planning, and exposure to the institutions and systems and processes that make our community viable. Our hope in doing so is that after graduation, they will choose to remain in Meryton and become a part of the solution of making this city an even greater place to work and live in the future."

He then introduced the executive director of the LOFTY Dreams Foundation, Dr. Sheila Maxwell, a woman he called "the driving force behind LOFTY Dreams." Dr. Maxwell was a tall, thin black woman with glasses and long braids tied behind her head with a scarf. She didn't stand still behind the podium, but rather walked around the front of the room with a lot of energy, and she spoke with a powerful voice.

"I want you all to take a moment and go back in time with me tonight. Think about when you were about five or six years old. What did you want to be when you grew up? Maybe it was something legendary, such as a pirate or a princess. Or maybe it was the biggest thing you could imagine: an astronaut, or the president, or the richest person on earth. Or maybe you had simpler goals, but you wanted to be four or five things, and you knew you could do it all: you wanted to be a police officer, a fire fighter, an actor and a doctor!

"Why do we think this way when we're young? It's because we have lofty dreams. We don't doubt for a minute that all of them are going to come true. We think the sky is the limit."

I glanced at my father, who looked deep in thought. He was a person who had given up a lot of his dreams in order to raise his family.

Sheila Maxwell continued. "Mark talked about what we want LOFTY Dreams to accomplish for Greater Meryton. I want to talk about what we want it to accomplish for your children. In a short while, you're going to meet the ten young people who have been selected as this year's scholarship winners. There are five young women and five young men; five youth from the city of Meryton proper, and five from the suburbs. You will notice that they're a very diverse group. That's intentional, because we believe that if we're going to change Meryton, it will involve all of us, from all backgrounds in our metropolitan area.

"But even more than that, we know that all young people, no matter who they are or where they come from, have lofty dreams. We want to be a part of helping those dreams come true. We ask them for a two-year commitment—senior year and freshman year in college—after which they can evaluate it and decide whether or not they want to continue in the program until graduation. After that, they're free to move on to other places if they choose, although we hope they stay here in Meryton.

"During those five years that we work with them, we will give your children every support and resource we can to help them achieve their dreams. Your kids are awesome, and I'm sure you've already been bragging about them—"

At this, everyone laughed, and Ma said, "See? I told you I could brag about you!"

"Shhh!" I answered.

"However, society is becoming much more complicated and much faster paced, and even our best and brightest are often at a loss for how they can make a difference in the world today. We want to give them the tools to do just that. And I believe with all my heart that these young people will pass on their gifts to their peers, the next generation, and even us old fogies in a way that will transform us all. Thank you for being here tonight and welcome again."

She received a round of applause. Mark Cunningham returned to the podium and began introducing various political figures who were in the audience, starting with the mayor of Meryton. Each one came up in turn to congratulate us and share their support for the program. It started to get boring, and Ma said, "How many people are going to get up and say the same thing?"

Several people at the next table looked over at her as I mentally ticked off in my head. That was the third time Ma had gone back on her promise. Maybe I should have been more specific, instead of just telling her not to brag.

The councilman at our table laughed. "Don't you know we public officials like to hear ourselves talk? When it's my turn, I'll do the same."

Since there were several more on the agenda before they announced us, I decided that this would be a good time to find the restroom. I left the banquet hall in search of it. On my way back, I passed a tall, lanky guy in one of the waiter's uniforms, who said hello to me. I said hi and kept walking.

"Are you one of the kids getting the scholarship tonight?" he asked.

I said yes.

"You must be very smart, then," he said.

I shrugged.

He grinned and imitated my shrug. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Since he wasn't going away, I figured I might as well stop and talk to him. "It means there's no good way to answer that question. Anything you say makes you look bad. If you say yes, you sound conceited. If you say no, you're either lying or you really are stupid."

The guy laughed. I noticed that he was kind of cute.

"There, you've just told me. That was a good answer. That says to me that you're very smart," he said, enunciating the last two words.

That got a smile out of me. He held out his hand. "I'm Geo, by the way. What's your name?"

I shook his hand. "I'm Liz. Is Geo your real name, or did you take that from the Matrix movies?"

"No, dear, that's 'Neo.'"

"Oh, yeah, that's right."

"Plus, come on," he added. "If I was going to name myself something out of the Matrix, don't you think I'd name myself after the brotha? I'd call myself, 'Morpheus,'" he intoned, deepening his voice in a good imitation of Laurence Fishburne. I laughed.

"Actually, my real name is George. I go by Geo because it sounds cooler, doncha think?"

"You have a point."

We were interrupted by the sound of someone approaching. I looked over to see Will Darcy standing there staring at us. He looked really ticked off. Then, as quickly as he had come up, he turned on his heels and headed for the men's room.

The whole thing was so odd that as soon as he walked away, Geo and I both started laughing.

"What was THAT all about!" I said.

"Some people have no manners," Geo replied. "Will's always been like that."

I couldn't hide my surprise. "You know him?"

"Know him? I used to live with him, for almost three years. I used to be his foster brother."

"What a small world."

Geo pointed his finger at me. "See, another great observation. I knew you were very smart," he teased.

I grinned. "Yeah, right. So how'd you end up as his foster brother?"

"That's a very long story, and I have to get back to work. But tell you what…" Geo reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a pen and a business card bearing the name and address of the hotel. He wrote on the back of the card and handed it to me. "That's my cell phone number. Call me sometime and I'll tell you."

I got back just in time, as Mark Cunningham and Dr. Maxwell started to announce the names of the ten students. Good thing, too, because I was second. Will came back in a few seconds after I did, which was also good, because he was third. Ma, of course, stood up and hollered, "That's my baby! That's my baby!" when my name was called.

As they called our names, we each came to the front of the room and received certificates: Michael Allen… Elizabeth Bennet… William Darcy, Jr…. Stacy Grange… Heather Linsky… Nathan Liu… Abner Ohene… Peter Marcovich… Anna Sanchez… and Kathy Tranh.

A photographer did a round of picture-taking, after which we all hung around and got to know each other. Except for Will. He and his mother must have taken off right away. I guess they assumed they were too good for the rest of us.

Lofty Dreams. Ch. 1-3

Amy A-NWMarch 22, 2015 09:59PM

Re: Lofty Dreams. Ch. 1-3

Shannon KMarch 26, 2015 04:19PM

Re: Lofty Dreams. Ch. 1-3

Amy A-NWMarch 26, 2015 06:33PM

Re: Lofty Dreams. Ch. 1-3

Carrie CMarch 23, 2015 10:21AM

Re: Lofty Dreams. Ch. 1-3

Irene G.March 23, 2015 10:10AM

Re: Lofty Dreams. Ch. 1-3

Amy A-NWMarch 23, 2015 03:54PM

Re: Lofty Dreams. Ch. 1-3

LisetteMarch 23, 2015 08:30AM


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