"You what?" the young man demanded of the couple standing in front of him. He threw his blue book bag in a chair,
causing the seat to slide backwards across the tile floor. "How could you?"
"Now, Paul," the man said calmly, ";nothing is for sure yet. We just entered you in the contest. There
are no guarantees. Don't worry about it, son."
"Dad, I don't want to go to Japan. I don't want to be an exchange student!"
"Hey, you probably won't win anyhow. It's a big school and I'm sure a lot of people entered. And, Sport, how many
17-year olds do you think get to be an exchange student, especially to a place as radical as Japan? This could be an amazing
opportunity. It was really
brilliant of your mom to think of it." Paul glared at the tall red-headed woman standing next to his dad, then redirected
his attention to his father.
"That woman is not my mother. My mom lives in LA. Jenny is not my mom!" Paul yelled, a small tear appearing
in the corner of his eye. He grabbed his book bag from the chair and ran up the steps to his room, slamming the door behind
* * *
The clamor of several hundred people chattering at one time was almost too much for him. Paul crossed his arms and slouched
in his chair.
"Hey, Paul." A familiar voice called out from somewhere behind him. He turned to see who was saying his name.
"Oh, hey John. What's up?" He hollered across some people at his best friend.
"Hey man, you seem down. What's going on?" John looked concerned.
"Nothin' dude. Just hate these stupid meetings, ya know?"
"Yea," the boy replied through his braces. "But it does get us out of first period class. And I'm kind
of excited to hear who gets to go to Japan."
"Are you kidding? Math class almost sounds like a better option. Did you register for this stupid thing?"
"Definitely! I wouldn't miss an opportunity like this. You know, Japan is a beautiful country with a history as rich
as Bill Gates! Did you know that the Japanese people..."
"Hey, John. A little less geek, yo. There is nothing interesting about Japan, a'ight?"
John looked down at his sandals. Not sure how to relate to his friend, the handsome blonde pushed his frameless glasses
up on his nose.
"Sorry Paul. I didn't mean to..." He was interrupted by the irritating scratching of the microphone crackling.
"Good morning students." A short gray-haired man blankly announced from the stage in the front of the room.
The auditorium suddenly became quiet.
"Thank you for your attention. It's time to find out who gets to go to the lovely country of Japan for two weeks."
The room was still, except for the clapping of John, who promptly returned his hands to his pockets.
"Right," the man behind the microphone said in his eternal monotone. "And, with no further to-do, the winner
of the "Cultural Exchange" contest." He reached in a box and pulled a small folded piece of paper out. His
face was expressionless as he announced: "And the winner is Paul Hawkins." The colour drained from Paul's countenance
like spaghetti slipping though a strainer.
"Congratulations, Paul," said John, disheartened. "You are a very lucky man."
"Yea, lucky like a possum crossing a six-lane."
* * *
He swung his 1989 black Honda into the garage. He leaned into the back, grabbed his backpack, jerked the keys out of
the ignition, tossed them into a cup holder and trudged towards the door leading to the kitchen. He walked into the large
room and sadly shut the door behind him. The smell of baking chocolate chip cookies was welcome. After such a terrible day,
chocolate would be a sweet relief. He inhaled deeply and slightly smiled. He started towards his room, deciding to return
for the cookies when they finished baking.
He went upstairs. Tossing the blue bag on the floor, he pulled out the English book and started on homework. The
assignment for that week was to write a story. He did not consider himself a particularly creative person but, none the less,
found that he got caught up in the life of his main character, Amy. As her story began to unravel, Paul lost track of time
completely. His attention was snapped back to the present by a gentle knock at his door.
"Doin' homework!" he informed the unknown entity in the hallway. The knock repeated itself. Paul sighed.
"Yea, who is it?"
"It's," the voice paused, "Jenny." Paul rolled his eyes. What could she possibly want? Did she already
know that he was to be sent away to a prison in the land of slanted eyes and raw fish? Was she here to torment him some more?
Try to be his mom? He looked at the photo on his desk. A beautiful lady with long wavy Chestnut hair and deep brown eyes sat
in a chair, smiling warmly, with affection. To her left stood Paul, his hair falling down into his eyes and a hand on his
mothers shoulder. That lady was his mom, not Jenny.
"Paul? Are you alright?" the voice called out.
"Um, yea, come in, or whatever." He mumbled back, trying to conceal any hint of emotion. The brass door knob
turned slowly; the door glided across the soft white carpet.
"Hi Paul. I wanted to apologize." Paul looked at Jenny in astonishment.
"You're kidding me."
"No, I'm serious. I shouldn't have signed you up for the exchange trip. It just sounded so exciting and fun. I thought
that maybe you might enjoy it, if you even won, you know. Anyhow, although my intentions were good, I definitely shouldn't
have done it without your permission. I really hope that you can forgive me. I guess I was just trying to make you like me
more. Anyhow, these are for you." She set a plate of steaming hot chocolate chip cookies on the desk next to his notebook
and kissed him on the cheek. Turning towards the door, she said, quietly,
"I love you, Paul."
"Yea, whatever." He wasn't quite sure why he came back with that response. He felt a little bad about it, but
after all, this was Jenny, the lady that had welcomed herself into his life, taken over his dad and tried to act like his
mom. He hardly considered her a person, yet he couldn't get over the thought that he had been acting like a total jerk toward
her. That bothered him. But the look on her face caused the beginnings of tears in his eyes. Jenny looked so... hurt. Like
he had just broken her into pieces. She hung her head and made her way back into the dark hall, closing the door behind her.