The Pembrook Academy for Gifted Children - Short Story
© 2020, Jori Hanna
Brandon looked at the list of names, reviewing the addresses before him and glancing up at the trailer park he’d parked outside. This one kid had potential. Maxwell Jones. Three years old. Perfectly healthy son of a single mother, abandoned by his father when he was one. The guy didn’t even send child support, and Maxwell’s mother didn’t press him.
She was struggling to make ends meet.
She’d take the bribe.
He’d take the kid.
And he’d give them both a better life than they were set up for now. Neither would want for anything. Well, except for Maxwell. He might long for his mother. And maybe Lizzy, too. It would all depend on how well she behaved and if she looked for her son once she figured it out.
Brandon got out of his car and walked up to the door of the old silver trailer and knocked. He could hear Maxwell playing inside and his mother Lizzy’s footsteps as she came to open the door. She wore a waitress’s apron and uniform from the diner a few miles in town, and when he looked past her wiry shoulders he saw stacks of ones on the small trailer’s table where she’d been counting her tips. Her hair was graying prematurely in her 50s style ponytail, and she had a stern look on her face and the kind of sallow cheeks and wrinkles that came with a lifetime of struggle.
“What do you want?” she asked, a nervous hand keeping a firm hold on the door.
“Are you Lizzy Jones?”
“Yeah . . .”
“I’m a representative for the Pembrook Academy for Gifted Children, and I’d like to speak with you about an educational opportunity we have for your son.”
“Pembrook. Sounds expensive. I’m not—”
“Please let me tell you about it. We’d like to offer him a full scholarship at our boarding academy for young minds. Can I come in?”
She looked Brandon up and down and finally stepped out of the way, welcoming him into the tiny trailer. Maxwell got up and ran over on wobbly toddler legs and wrapped his arms around her exposed leg. She bent over and scooped him up, absentmindedly bouncing with him, though she seemed to be struggling under his weight. He was almost too heavy for her to handle. She gestured to the table and brushed the stacks of one dollar bills bundled in rubber bands over to one side—her side—and set Maxwell on her lap.
“So. What is this school?” she asked.
“As I said before, it’s a training academy for gifted children. There is a five to one student to teacher ratio maintained at all times.” He checked his notes, as if he needed to. “Maxwell, isn’t it?”
“Of course. Max would get to grow up traveling the world and studying languages and cultures and job opportunities, studying trades and professions and exploring as soon as he can. The world would be open to him, all expenses paid.”
She looked down at her little boy. “He’s awfully young for all that.”
“They start in a live in preschool and go from Kindergarten through third grade here in the states. In fourth grade they begin their travels, by high school our current students are equipped to enter into a trade profession, by college they’re prepared to specialize if they choose to. This is a completely free ride at one of the most prestigious academies in the country.”
She shook her head. “It sounds too good to be true.”
He glanced at the pile of tips on the table and let his eyes wander to her disheveled kitchen, empty cans filling the trash can. “You’d only have yourself to feed, Lizzy. Your son would be well-cared for. You’ll get monthly updates and photos. For the first month we suggest no phone calls to help with separation anxiety, but you can send letters that will be read to him until he can read himself, and after the first month you can call and talk with him.”
“Can I come visit him?”
“Of course, depending on the course schedule. Our goal is not to take your son from you but instead to help you both into a happier life free of cost to you.”
She was quiet for a moment, taking his little hands in her fingers and bouncing his arms up and down in a version of patty cake. He laughed, the first sound Brandon had heard him make while he’d been there. “Where do you get the funding for this?”
“We’re a government funded program that qualifies as a private school. It’s the best of both worlds.”
“Can I have time to think it over?” she asked.
“Of course. I’ll leave my card with you. Just don’t take too long, or we’ll have to fill his spot with another lucky child. You have three days to decide, since the new quarter is coming up and he’s the right age to fit in with this upcoming class.” Brandon stood and placed a business card on the table, offering his hand to her.
“Call me when you’ve made up your mind.”
She shook his hand and saw him out the door.
“Bye bye,” Maxwell said, waving at him as he went to his car.
He waved back. “Bye Max.”
* * *
Two days later, his phone rang with Lizzy on the other end, accepting his offer.
Three days later, he was back, having Lizzy sign a transfer of custody statement disguised as a release form. He strapped Max into the carseat in his backseat and waved at Lizzy as he drove away, looking back at his new ward.
Four days later, Maxwell was settling into the nursery nowhere near the address Lizzy Jones had on the paperwork and pamphlets.
Five days later, Maxwell was starting to respond to his new name, Lucas.
* * *
One month later, Lizzy Jones tried to call the “school” and found a discontinued line.
By the time Lizzy figured out what she’d fallen for, her son was long gone, no pictures had been sent, she was still living in the trailer finding it harder and harder to find or keep a job, and she had a sinking feeling that she’d fallen for the worst con she’d ever encountered.
* * *
Three years later, Lucas was still showing promise for this business, and he moved on when his classmates did not.
* * *
Twelve years later, Lucas passed all of his martial arts classes with flying colors and was showing interest in electrical engineering.
Brandon watched him grow, watched him develop into the person he’d always known he could be, and smiled at his ward.
By the time Lucas graduated into the specialization fields, Lizzy Jones had died of poverty.
As far as Brandon was concerned, Lucas never needed to know where he came from so long as he kept heading where he was going:
Straight to the top of the entire organization.
This story, segments of this story, and ideas from this story are not to be duplicated or replicated in anyway. This content belongs to J. J. Hanna alone.
Please note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real life events is unintended by the author.
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J. J. Hanna is a writer and reader from Colorado. She loves suspense stories above all else, and is currently working on a debut novel of her own. When she's not writing, you can find her cuddling with a cat, drinking a caffeinated beverage, and watching one of her favorite shows. Go find her on social media @authorjjhanna to keep track of her most recent reads, current adventures, and to get the most up to date news on all things publishing.