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Aspiration

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The sleek streets, glazed with a layer of rainwater, proved a great inconvenience to the squeaking tires of the boy's bicycle. Steering was nearly impossible, not only due to the weather, but also the rust keeping its handles stuck to the front of the contraption. By now, Jack was growing far beyond irritated, forcibly twisting the handlebars around until they were movable again. It was beginning to rain down harder on the edge of the city, the boy's soaked clothing weighing down on him just as much as the stress from the day. He could hardly tell the time, as he was too poor to afford a watch, too low on the social ladder to ask a passerby, and the thick grey clouds dumping buckets of rain caused the sky to darken, hiding what light may be used to identify the time of day.

Jack let out an aggravated growl before he leaped back onto his bike and began peddling. Raindrops pelted against his face, like little shards of ice jabbing his skin. He squinted against the wind until he reached his house, if you could even call it that. He couldn't expect to be much drier inside, due to the various holes covering the ceilings. Jack parked his bicycle and slung his damp messenger bag over his shoulder, stumbling in through the door, which was just barely hanging on its hinges. As he expected, his mother was shuffling about in the kitchen, her thick curly hair tied back in a tight bun. Her face seemed to be more worn out than usual today, wrinkles visible over every inch, and a few grey hairs hanging over her eyes. She hardly noticed Jack once he had entered, setting his things down by the table and slinging his coat over one of the broken stools. He waited for a few moments for his mother to turn and greet him, but he was feeling impatient, so instead he cleared his throat loudly, causing the old woman to jump and bring a hand to her chest as she turned her gaze to the boy.

"Jack, you scared me! Don't do that!" The tone of her voice was serious, but it still brought a smile to the boy's face. "Don't look at me like that, Jack! I could've had a heart attack!" Now, Jack began to chuckle, and the woman's frown was replaced by a smile that matched her son's exactly, followed by soft laughter. The two gave each other hugs and kisses on the cheeks, sitting themselves down on the floor by the fireplace, with a few blankets spread over their legs. They sat there for a while together, silently, just enjoying each other's company, until finally Jack's mother spoke, rather tensely. "How many did you sell today?" Her voice was hardly over a whisper, her eyes looking out at her son's hopefully.

"Not many," Jack replied, afraid to meet his mother's gaze. His thoughts moved to the satchel by the doorway, still filled with stacks of newspapers. "Did you call loud enough?" His mother asked quickly. "You know what David said. You have to be inviting and loud, so the people can hear you. Make it sound interesting."
"I did, Mother." The disappointment in the woman's eyes leveled that of her son's, as she stared at his sad face and he studied the floorboards. "I tried." They went silent for a couple minutes, Jack's mother trying to hold back tears as her throat began to burn. After a while, she spoke, forcing a smile onto her lips and stroking the boy's arm with a gentle hand. "I know you did, Jack. I'm still proud of you...I know you'll sell more tomorrow." When no reply came from Jack, his mother sighed and lifted herself up, moving back to her spot in the kitchen. While she started to sweep up the dirty floor, Jack took his bag and dragged himself up the staircase towards his room, shaking off his wet clothes and changing into the only other pair of pants he owned. The house was just as cold as the temperature outside, so he shivered violently where he sat, wishing his jacket could be instantly clean again.

There weren't many ways to distract himself of days like these. The things he owned were mostly only used for necessity. A few pencils, most of them broken, were lying somewhere inside the drawer near his mattress, probably under a pile of other useless junk that Jack certainly wasn't in the mood for. Besides, he didn't find himself wanting anything else except his satchel. About a month ago, Jack found a job as an "advertiser" for the local newspaper after searching for three months. His mother had no real qualifications that could bring in money, so she sent out her son, and his paycheck, despite how small it was, was the only thing paying for food, clothing, and the little shack they called a home. Other than that, Jack did not attend school, nor did he have any social relations to anyone besides his mother, the only family he had left. On the days after work, they followed the same ritual - talk for a while, make dinner, sit upstairs in his room. It was a cycle that Jack loathed with his whole heart, always wishing he could provide a better life for his mother.

Still, selling newspapers on the city streets was rather underrated, at least in Jack's own opinion. No one could realize how difficult it is having that as your only job, which everything you love rests on, and still only selling ten or twenty a day, and that was only on good days. Thinking about it made Jack feel sick to his stomach. He already had began to feel that way after the conversation with his mother, the look in her worried eyes. It also couldn't help that he had only a scrap of bread for breakfast. But he knew his mother's worries were mostly about him. She wanted to know that when she left him, he would be able to take care of himself. "This is a rough world we live in," she would tell him almost every day since he was old enough to comprehend language. "You can't trust other people to watch after you. You gotta fend for yourself."

Beside his mattress, stacks of more newspapers leveled to about halfway up his wall were the product of weeks of unsuccessful business. Some dated back a month, those ones kept hidden under his bed. Each day a certain number of papers were left over, it was part of Jack's job to sell those within a week. He was far behind, much too far, and he sometimes wondered why they kept him. Pity, maybe, but certainly not sympathy. The publishers were all rich men with money pouring out their pockets, but never enough to pay young boys such as himself enough to pay for his own clothing. Though, Jack's messenger bag could only fit so many papers, and the rest were left in his room, beside him each night as he prayed for a better outcome.

As Jack flopped down on his back, his shaggy chestnut hair sprawled out on the pillow, he reached a hand out and grabbed a paper closest to the top of the stack. The date was marked October 21, 1958. Exactly a week ago. Jack sighed, having memorized every story in this one, but continued to flip through the pages anyway, his eyes scanning intently, as if searching for something. At page five, Jack stopped and a small smirk crept up in his face. The name Pete Avery drew him in, admiration for each and every word glinting in his dark eyes as he read. He knew this man as if they were personal friends. He knew his views and opinions - his personality and the way he thought. He most closely examined the picture, black and white, underneath the name, where a man in his forties looked up charmingly at the camera.

His writing was genius. It always evoked thought on Jack. Sometimes, in the mornings, when Jack rode down to the office to receive his papers, he could see Pete Avery sitting at a sleek oak desk, typing away with nimble fingers. The concentration in his eyes was another thing Jack admired. The man was his role model. Since the boy never attended school, he hadn't been taught how to read very well. Even before Jack got a job selling the Boston Globe, he read Avery's work and taught himself the words. He still wasn't very skilled with writing, but he was able to think like a journalist.

So he decided that he would approach Avery the next day and ask for an apprenticeship. It was his only choice, after all, if he wanted to make a living for him and his mother. "So it's decided," the boy said to himself, a grin spreading on his lips as his eyes scanned over the paper. "Paul Avery will teach me how to write." The next day came faster than the speed of light, and Jack's mother was asleep by the fireplace. Her face still looked red from crying, so her son wrapped another ragged blanket over her shoulders and placed a soft kiss on her forehead before heading out the door. The streets were still slightly slippery from yesterday's shower, but he could more easily maneuver his bicycle than before. He reached the building where he gathered up his newspapers and went inside. He shook off his rain jacket and walked through a small crowd of other, older boys, his eyes flickering around to find Avery's.

Eventually they did, and he managed to stutter out the question he'd waited so long to ask. At first, Pete Avery said no. He was a stubborn old man who was too much of a workaholic to even go home at night, much less consider tutoring an uneducated teenager. But when Jack showed the man his talents, or at least what he had taught himself to do, Avery rethought his answer and finally gave in. He would meet the boy every morning before Jack went off on his bike, and they would go over a rough draft of an article, whee Jack would have to point out any errors. Avery was his doorway to a better future, and Jack knew it. Now he could finally do something right.



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