“William, you’re running late!” his mother yelled up the stairs.
“I’ll be down in a minute,” Will said, opening his eyes and peeling himself off his bed. He still hadn’t packed; he’d just put off the inevitable.
He strode over to his closet and tried to calm his nerves. Will wrenched open the door, prepared for the usual mountain of junk that came flying out. He winced as his trombone smacked his shins. His mom would be in for a surprise when she came to clean out his stuff. Will pushed the thought aside as he dug through a pile of clothes. Eventually, he found what he was looking for.
He pulled his half-zipped suitcase out from under an old skateboard. God, what was that stench? Will began haphazardly stuffing clothes into his suitcase, not bothering to fold them. He’d lived in Westmouth, South Carolina his entire life. Never once had he left the small town. But now, he was leaving, once and for all. Will couldn’t necessarily say this was how he had expected to leave, and he hadn’t slept a wink the previous night, dreading his departure.
He’d gotten the phone call early one morning. In fact, it had awakened him from a pleasant dream about an eagle in flight, swooping through the air before him. At first, he’d had to pinch himself to be sure he wasn’t still dreaming. The voice on the other end of the phone just didn’t seem real. Will remembered sliding down onto the floor, his back against the wall, the phone clutched to his ear by his white-knuckled hand. That was the phone call that had changed his life forever.
Will slammed his suitcase shut and surveyed his room one last time. The walls were painted black, and the ceiling was covered with glow-in-the-dark stars. A few beat-up paperbacks sat on his bookshelf. His Star Wars alarm clock barely illuminated the room with the faint glow it was emitting. At last, Will’s eyes rested on the only photograph in the room. It was a bit battered, but Will didn’t mind. The picture displayed three grinning faces: his 5-year-old sister, Lily, his 17-year-old brother, Mark, and himself. It had been taken a few weeks ago, before Will knew he would be leaving.
Will gingerly picked up the photo, as if it was in danger of disintegrating in his hand, and pocketed it. His head snapped up when he heard the floor creak outside his door. Mark stood there, hands shoved in his pockets.
“Are you ready? Mom’s having a panic attack,” he said, surveying Will’s nearly empty room.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Will said, avoiding his brother’s gaze.
“Well, come on, then,” Mark muttered, crossing the room in three strides and grabbing Will’s suitcase.
“What do you have in here?” Mark demanded as the two brothers stomped down the stairs. “It feels like two dead bodies and a hand.”
Will felt a lump rising in his throat, prohibiting him from forming words. The lump seemed to double in size when he reached the kitchen, where his mother and Lily were sitting. He fought to hold back the tears that threatened to spill over as his little sister streaked across the room into his arms. Almost immediately, he felt his shirt grow moist from Lily’s tears.
“Please don’t go, Will,” she pleaded, her red, puffy eyes meeting his.
“I’m sorry,” Will said, disentangling himself from her monkey-like grip and planting a kiss on the top of her head. Taking hold of his bag, Sergeant William Mercier, of the U.S. Air Force, walked through the door for the last time.
Olivia McCloskey is one of the winners of the first “Teens Take the Park” writing contest.