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Never Give Up
Author's note: I think teamwork is a virtue, and friends are key. Please comment, and rate! I'd really appreciate it. Thank you so much(:
Bridget walked into a circus filled with mad, roaring lions. They had their fur all riled up and kept wandering around the room. They scavenged the area, making subtle threats and taunts to the others. It was a domain thing, she thought. It probably had something to do with the top of the pack—definitely the alpha with the big, broad shoulders and a huge mane that made it seem effortlessly confident—and how they constantly broadcasted a sense of popularity. It didn’t matter they were kind or not, because their population had grown up with the idea that they have to fit in to be recognized.
It wasn’t until a boy yelled, “Bridget, get out of our way!” that she realized she wasn’t at a real circus, and these weren’t true lions. For a second, she had been fooled.
She was in the middle of her high school Chemistry lab, standing absentmindedly in front of the TV, which the guys had put on Jerry Springer because the teacher was missing. She sighed, shook her head, and walked to the back of the room. She opened her notebook—the one she doodled in whenever she was sad or bored or angry—and opened to a fresh, blank page. The lines weren’t creased or filled with excess Sharpie marker splotches from the previous page like the other ones. This one was different, and that meant something to her.
In the middle of the page, she wrote in bright, bold letters:
You are the change you wish to see in the world. – Gandhi
This made her wonder. Did Gandhi know that society didn’t even care? That these high school boys only cared about who fought with who on the newest Jerry episode; who looked the best in a Victoria’s Secret bikini; who had the best home.
Bridget wanted to cry but instantly stopped when she heard the empty stool slide next to her on the loud tile floor. When she looked up, it was Luke. He had shaggy blonde hair and bright blue eyes and was always silent. They didn’t give off a hint of arrogance, nor did he seem to mind the ruckus going on. He didn’t even shout or defend himself when he got picked on, which was too often. No one else defended him, either.
“You shouldn’t have to put up with their collective obsessions and jokes,” he said softly.
Bridget jumped at the sensitivity in his voice. It was uncharacteristically manly, and very mature. It was deep, too. Though they had been going to school together since kindergarten—and they were now juniors in high school—she couldn’t remember a single time when she had heard his voice. She hoped, no, she prayed, that he was the voice that would change the world, because she knew it was already changing hers.
“You shouldn’t have to either!”
“Well, sort of…”
“No, you don’t! You don’t deserve to be picked on, or treated horrendously, for whatever reason I’m not completely aware of!”
“I’m an orphan,” he muttered nonchalantly, as if it used to be the biggest secret in the world but now it meant nothing to him. For Bridget, it couldn’t have been more deceiving.
“You’re an orphan?” That brought her back to the beginning of sixth grade. They were partners for this big English project and she had gone to his house. It was amazing, small and beautiful. The yard and acreage that surrounded it was at least four times bigger than the house. It was a rambler, with marble siding and huge windows on all sides. The property was located at least ten minutes away from downtown Bear Valley Spring, where the school and Bridget’s home was located, as well as the rich developments with manicured lawns and eight stories with million-dollar furniture inside.
So inside that rambler, she had met his mother, a petite, very tall woman with sleek brown hair, Luke’s bright blue eyes and a never-fading smile. The first thing she said to Bridget was, “I hope you come back to our homestead when your project is finished!” To Bridget’s ever-growing regret, she never returned.
Luke’s mother, a woman named Laura, was a volunteer at the USCF Benoiff Children’s Hospital after losing her goddaughter Marcie a congenital heart defect. Laura’s volunteer work—which she did successfully for two days every week for nineteen years—would come to a close when she developed breast cancer. She died nine months later, three days after Luke’s birthday in seventh grade. Bridget attended the funeral but it was too much for her to handle. Looking into Luke’s eyes—the ones that reminded her so of Laura—made the situation even worse. Laura had been a devote charity-worker, and her life ended prematurely.
As for Luke’s father, that’s a completely different end to his life. He was driving drunk and swerved down a road into Pike’s Peak, where a man named Pike Jenson—Billy, one of the primary bullies in school who picked on Luke the most, is Pike’s nephew and was there during the incident—lived. Pike was notorious for aggression but when he saw Luke’s dad—a man named Joel—he called for an ambulance right away. Joel didn’t even make it to the hospital. This was when Luke was a freshman, after Laura’s death. Joel’s drinking habits were definitely sparked by the death of Laura, because he had never drunk previously. It also sparked his own death, unfortunately.
Bridget put her soft hand on his tough, farmer’s hands. He wasn’t necessarily a farmer, but she remembered he loved to build things and restore vehicles. Trucks, mostly—Model T’s were his specialty. When his parents were alive, his blue eyes would search for any tool imaginable and tinker with his Grandpa Marv’s Mustang from the 50’s.
“You aren’t in this alone,” she said, but it was too late. The jokes had just begun.
The alpha male pounced on his victim with verbal assaults. “You aren’t so tough as you let on, are you, Lukey?” It was known that that was Laura’s nickname for her son. Luke stood up furiously, turning around to examine the predator.
“You do not talk to me like that! Especially in these conditions.”
“What are the conditions, Lukey? You think you deserve some sort of special treatment after what my family did for you? We could have let your father die, right then and there!”
“He did die, right then and there!” screamed Luke, putting one punch to Billy’s neck and slammed the door open. When it closed, the lions roared with victory. But Billy’s lethal gray eyes weren’t satisfied.
The bell rang, and neither a teacher nor Luke appeared.
Bridget didn’t understand. Wasn’t Luke part of their pack? He was always friends with Noah, the smart kid who always sat by the corner because it was his only chance to pick up some Vitamin D, for he loved gaming at home. At least, that’s what Bridget assumed.
When school got out, she drove her Lexus out east for once since sixth grade. The road was in horrible condition—cracked in spots, potholes in the other, extra tar slabs in the next—and much longer and narrower than she remembered. But for Luke, the trek was worth it.
It didn’t take long to find him once she reached his house. It was in the middle of a clearing, filled with rolling hills and a corn field, though no cornstalks were popping yet. She could always see as she drove in he was laying in the backyard grass, fresh and green and plentiful.
She parked in the driveway and immediately walked around, not even caring to knock on his front door and formally introducing herself. She had heard that his grandmother was currently his guardian, but she’d have to wait.
She laid down next to him, and the look on his face—a mixture of shock and embarrassment—made her laugh uncontrollably for the first time in weeks.
“What are you doing here, Bridget? How did you even find me?”
“I have a pretty good memory, Luke. I remember you didn’t like anything more than spending time outside, looking up at the sky, whether it be during a thunderstorm or blue skies.”
He cracked a smile and sat up. “Why are you here?”
“Why can’t I spend some quality time with you?”
“Alright…I wanted to make sure you’re alright.”
“Now you’re talking. Continue.”
She giggled. This wasn’t the Luke she remembered—but, at the same time, it was. She had convinced herself, through a fading relationship and after time of tragedy and heartbreak, he gave everyone the impression that he was a solitary creature, only doing things for his benefit. No, he was still the friendly, smiling boy she had left so long ago at the burial ground that terrible, terrible morning. He still had the same blue eyes, the ones that didn’t weather when everything else around it eroded obviously.
“Bridget, what happened to us?”
“Time changed our relationship, I mean, our friendship.”
“So you’d agree that we had something more than just a natural bond?”
“Of course! We were conjoined at the hip, practically. We’d go everywhere together. My family started putting a plate on our table out of habit, and when you’d stop coming over, I’m not sure my parents ever got over it. It was a big deal at my home.”
He smiled. “Your parents were always so kind to me. It wasn’t pity, either, it was just a natural sense of helpfulness.”
“Well, that’s who they were—that’s how they were raised.”
“You want to know how I was raised? I’ve been surrounded by people who abandon me, always, no matter how close I get to them. My parents; my friends; everyone who I once cared about. My grandma will soon be absent as well.”
“None of them could help it, Luke.”
“No—but you could.”
Bridget winced and a tear dropped. Luke continued. “Those idiots have mocked me since freshman year, and it’s only gotten worse since everyone got their driver’s licenses. They’ve made it a weekly thing to come and TP my house, forcing my grandmother to pick it up because I’m always sleeping in or at school. She’s so kind for this kind of immature behavior. But even with her, I’m alone. I’ve never had anyone to talk to since my parents died, and no one seems to care about me. I didn’t believe I’d live this long—so alone.”
“I didn’t know, Luke! I didn’t mean to abandon you. That was so long ago! We fell apart, and, well…”
“There are no excuses for your actions, leaving me as prey to be snacked on by the savages we call teenagers.”
“It wasn’t like I had a choice! My father came back from the military with a brain injury and I had to help him cope. He suffered one of the most severe forms of PTS. I couldn’t have any distractions—no friends, no sports, nothing. It was all focused on my father.”
“You didn’t tell me that.”
“Well it isn’t like you told me how you felt and how people were treating you, either! You never speak up! You never defend yourself! You just have your grandmother pick up the mess.”
“That is NOT true, Bridget!” he shrieked, standing up and shaking. Thunder struck overhead, his hair twisting and blowing from the crazy wind like the dust storms in the Sahara. “I fight my own battles!”
“So why are you blaming me for them?”
That’s when he broke down. The wind and thunder stopped, but the rain poured harder than either remembered. “I just…I’ve never known where to turn.”
“Then say so,” Bridget replied softly. “I’ve been in so many of your classes over the years…I guess it’s partially my fault.”
“No way. This isn’t anybody’s fault but my own. And now, I’ve got to change.”
“Change what, exactly?”
“The amount of respect orphans give! I am one, and though I have my grandma, I’m one of the fortunate ones, which says a lot. Bridget, do you want to help me?”
“Of course I do, Luke. I’ll do anything for you.”
Bridget and Luke high-five each other as they step back to admire their masterpiece. Luke’s rambler had been remodeled by some very generous donations made by the Bear Valley Spring High School students—most prominently made by Pike and Billy—to create the Elephant Home for Orphans. They were now twenty years old and have been dating for two. A day after Luke and Bridget graduated from high school, his Grandma Rose passed away in the master bedroom, which was now renovated for five girls to sleep in. On the door entering, it said “ROSE ROOM.” The rambler now had five stories added onto the basic two and was widened by nearly eighty feet. It had become this massive project and took eighteen months—not to mention nearly 4.2 million dollars—to complete. But with the help of each other, Bridget and Luke accomplished something they thought would never be possible to do alone.
At the Grand Opening, a press conference was held with dozens among dozens of townspeople, reporters, journalists and strangers from around the state—some even from beyond—came to collect information, ideas and inspiration.
“Yes, ma’am with the gray trench coat. Do you have a question?” asked Blake as they stood on the front porch, overlooking the enormous crowd all sitting impatiently on the front lawn in metal folding chairs.
“Yes. My name is Felicity Banks from the New York Times. I think we’re all curious on your name choice.”
“I’ll give you a briefing of my personal past before I answer your question directly. My mother died when I was in seventh grade, my father during my freshman year. Ever since then I’ve gotten picked on and ridiculed because of it, but also because I was I never told them to stop. I never crushed them, or fought back, or defended myself. In the prime of my emotional breakdown, Bridget here resurrected me during junior year and we became extremely close. My grandma—who had been my guardian since I was fourteen—died a day after my graduation. Bridget and I had been designing an orphanage somewhere in a big city, like Los Angeles or San Antonio, when we realized the ideal place was what every orphan needs: home.”
“You still didn’t answer my question, Mr. Benjamin.”
“Elephants don’t mess with other animals where they live unless they are being provoked. They are kind, powerful creatures that we all look up to, both literally and metaphorically. I think elephants are exceptional role models for everyone to believe in, because some people just don’t know where to turn. It’s how they’ve been raised that treats them right from wrong, and often that can get jumbled. Here at the Elephant Home for Orphans, Bridget and I—along with our fourteen highly-trained teachers, social workers and medical personnel—will treat every child or teenager here with the upmost curtesy, open-mindedness and respect. And that doesn’t just go for the faculty, but the kids will treat each other like that as well. Elephants are pack animals. They help each other and die together, because if they fail, at least they’re never alone.”
You are the change you wish to see in the world. – Gandhi