The car’s shocks protested as another dip in the rough, rock-strewn road slammed the full weight of the chassis against the wheels. Brooke had been smart enough to provide him with a tourists map of how to get to Galliard Groves, Henry wished he had been smart enough to follow it. Instead of backtracking all the way to the highway, he had turned off on a service road that should have been a shortcut. It probably would get him to where he wanted to go, but the question was would he be driving or walking by the time he got there.
The service road meandered through rocky foothills that lead to a towering mesa. In the distance, Henry could make out a swath of green that he hoped was an orange grove. Coming around a hillock, he was momentarily blinded by a glaring reflection. A horn screamed at him as Henry whipped his car out of the way of a charging black pick-up truck. Gravel crunched and sprayed as his tires struggled to grip the roadway. Henry tried to correct his drift, but the car slid sideways off of the road and crunched to a stop in a ditch.
Henry cursed and looked around. The black truck had disappeared in a cloud of dust, never stopping.
“Next time, stick to the highway you moron,” Henry said to himself. His cellphone showed no bars. He sighed and got out of the car. His front wheels were pointing in different directions, and there was no way to get it out of the ditch without help.
Henry’s car was engulfed in its own dust cloud as he came to a stop in the empty parking lot. The cloud blew on into the sun-bleached Arizona countryside, dissipating among the scrub brush and cactus. Getting out of the car, Henry squinted as the mid-day June sun glared off of the small windows of the pueblo-style restaurant. The faded rooftop sign proclaimed that this was Montezuma’s.
A bell on the restaurant door jingled as Henry stepped inside, blinking to adjust his eyes to the dark interior. The walls were thick with plaster and photographs. Clean but mismatched tables and chairs studded the worn wooden floor. A long bar dominated one wall, complete with a large patinaed mirror and shelves half-full of bottles.
As Henry wandered over to the bar, a girl strode out from the kitchen archway behind the bar.
“Hi there!” she said. “Welcome to Zuma’s.” She smiled, her cornflower blue eyes dancing below blonde hair twisted up into a bun, and waved her hand at a bar stool.
“Thanks,” said Henry. He ran his fingers through his hair as he sat.
“Where are you headed?”
“I think it might be here,” he said.
“Really? Most people who wind up here are lost.” She arched an eyebrow. “Are you looking for someone?”
Henry swallowed as caught the scent of vanilla. “Not really. I’m Henry, by the way.”
“Brooke,” she said. “So why are you here, Henry?”
“There’s a research team coming, from Duke University, to do a dig on some local ruins. I’m volunteering.”
“I heard about that,” she said. “You know you’re about two weeks early, right?”
“Yeah. I didn’t have anything else to do so….”
“So you came to a dead-end dust bowl in the middle of nowhere?”
Henry shrugged. “It beats going home.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, anywhere but home. I so get that.” She picked up a pitcher of iced tea from behind the bar. “Drink?”
“So what’s Duke like?” asked Brooke as she grabbed a glass.
“It seems like a nice place,” he said. “I don’t actually go there yet. Next year.” He gestured to her t-shirt. “Are you at Arizona State?”
She shook her head and handed him a glass full of ice and brown nectar. “Next year for me too. What do you want to study?”
“I don’t know yet,” she said. “I’m really only going to make my dad happy.”
Brooke frowned. “What’s so funny?”
“Sorry,” he said. “It’s just that, in a way, I’m not going just to piss my dad off.” He took a sip of the cold, sugar-laden tea. “So, you don’t want to go to college?”
“I do,” she said. “I just want to travel first, you know? See the world for a while.” She sighed. “But I’m the first in the family who’s got a chance to go to college, even if it is just State.”
Henry nodded. “My dad wants me to become a lawyer. If he had his way, I wouldn’t be allowed to be anything else.”
“Yeah.” Henry raised his glass. “Here’s to parents demanding we live their lives, instead of our own.”
Brooke laughed, then leaned in against the bar and locked eyes with Henry. “So, what are you going to do for the next two weeks?”
He smiled. “I would love to play tourist,” he said, then sighed. “But, to be honest, I’m running low on cash. Is anybody hiring around here?”
She shook her head. “There’s really nothing around here, except orange groves.”
Henry snapped his fingers. “I passed a couple of trucks full of oranges as I drove in. Any chance of a job picking fruit?”
“That’s a bust-ass job,” she said. “Have you ever done anything like that before?”
“No, but it beats going home, which is the only other thing I can do.”
“Well,” she said. “The valencia’s are running late this year, and a lot of the field-hands have already moved on. Galliard might be hiring.”
“Galliard Groves. It’s owned by Milt Thompson. They’re a few miles down the road.”
Brooke grabbed a notepad and pulled out a pencil hidden in the bun of her hair. She shook her head and her blonde hair cascaded around her shoulders as she sketched a map. As Henry inhaled another wave of vanilla, his heart thumped in his chest. She handed him the map and gave him a warm smile.
“Good luck,” she said.
“Thanks,” he said. “I really appreciate this. I’ll stop by later? Let you know how it went?”
Brooke’s smile echoed Henry’s. “I’d like that.”
The secondary office block of the Anthropology Department wasn’t set up as a museum, but it certainly gave that vibe, with a central room full of neatly shelved artifacts in various stages of examination. Henry nodded to one of the grad students pouring over a pile of paperwork and thumbed one of the office doors. “Is he in?”
At the grad student’s grunt of confirmation, Henry knocked on the office door marked ‘Professor Jacob Lieberman’.
A wearied voice called out. “Yes? What is it now?”
Henry opened the door. Liberman’s office was a classic study of chaos. Books and artifacts were stacked side-by-side with bundles of loose papers wedged between. Henry weaved his way around the stacks in the middle of the room to reach the main desk, where the white-haired man sitting behind it hadn’t looked up at Henry’s entrance.
“Hey Professor,” said Henry. “I’m sorry to bother you—.”
Professor Lieberman’s head snapped up, his frown of annoyance replaced in an instant to a genuine smile of welcome. “Henry! Do come in and sit...somewhere.”
Henry sat gingerly on the armrest of a wingback chair piled high with books. He swallowed. “So it looks like I won’t be joining you this year after all.”
“Oh! I’m so sorry to hear that.” The Professor frowned. “Do you need me to write another letter?”
Henry shook his head. “No, and thank you again for writing one in the first place. The admissions office was quite willing to let me sign up.” Henry clenched his jaw. “It’s my father. He’s cut me off.”
The Professor nodded, his white hair bobbing up and down like a seagull in the ocean. “That’s terrible.” He sighed. “I’ve known your father a long time. He’s been a great patron and supporter for my work. Maybe I could—.”
“That’s okay Professor,” said Henry, shaking his head. “My father is perfectly fine with me coming to Duke, so long as it’s the law school. Anything else is a hard no.”
The Professor picked up a thermos flask from the floor and took a sip. “You know, there’s one thing I don’t understand. You’ve graduated a year early from high school and have the grades and capability to make it in the college environment. Why didn’t they give you a scholarship?”
Henry shifted on the edge of the chair, and the tower of books swayed. “Because I got labeled as a troublemaker.” He stood up. “A good friend of mine was getting bullied. They made a complaint, but the school never did anything. Then, just after Christmas break, the bully took it too far. I had to step in. There was a fight…” Henry shrugged, then laughed. “It was the start of a lot of my problems, I guess.”
“The school was going to kick me out for fighting. I got hold of a video another kid made of the fight on their phone, which also included the bullying that provoked it. That, and my friends’ registered complaint that the school hadn’t taken seriously, opened the school up to a huge lawsuit.”
“I heard about that from your father,” said the Professor. “He was quite proud of you, you know, for how you handled the entire thing.”
Henry snorted. “I know. He kept telling me I had to go to law school, because I had such a talent.”
“So why don’t you?”
“The law is my dad’s life. Not mine.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
“So,” said the Professor. “What now?”
“I want to come here and study with you, but I’m blocked. I worked my butt off to graduate a year early for nothing, because I have to take a year off without taking any classes anywhere or I’ll never be able to pay for it.”
“That is a waste.” The Professor pressed his fingertips together. “Though, the classroom isn’t the only place to get an education.”
“Are you suggesting I get a job?”
“Of sorts. You see, summer is an interesting time in the field of anthropology. There are excavation and research sites all over the country, internationally too though I don’t think you’ll get there this year, given your age.”
“Getting some time on an actual dig site would be cool. Do they pay?”
“No. The type of laborer work you’d be doing is usually left to local volunteers. But they do provide room and board, even if it’s just a tent and whatever is being served to everyone else by the camp cook.” The Professor leaned forward. “However, what can be done is once one site is done, you can move on to another one. With a good word from the faculty-in-charge and a bit of advance planning, I know some of our students spend nearly their entire summer on the road.”
Henry nodded. “That would be a lot of fun, and at least give me something to do for the next few months. That might be time enough for my dad to change his mind.”
The Professor laughed. “Knowing your father, I doubt it.”
“Yeah,” said Henry. “You’re right. So who should I contact first?”
“Well, I happen to have a research dig scheduled in three weeks in Arizona. I have a promising lead on an Anasazi site and I finally got permission and funding. So you can meet me there.”
“That’s great! Thank you!” Henry blinked. “Wait, meet you there?”
“Oh yes. I’ve got several conferences to attend and I’ll be flying all over the place. I leave in two days. You’re welcome to stay with me until then if you want to save on a hotel but….”
Henry nodded. “That’d be great, thank you Professor. I won’t let you down.”
The chuft-chuft-chuft of the wall clock kept time with the ever-tightening knot in Henry’s stomach. His meeting with the admissions officer should have started eleven minutes ago. Instead, he sat outside their office, trying not to fidget with the Windsor knot in his tie. He reached for his magic to calm his nerves, letting it slide through his fingertips like sand.
Rich or poor, no one wants to deliver bad news…
The office door opened. “Mr Wrexford?” She was petite and neatly dressed in a skirt and jacket that matched the blue of the school’s logo. “Please come in,” she said.
She waved Henry to a seat and went to her side of the desk and sat. “I’m sorry for the wait--,”
“You’re telling me no,” said Henry.
She fidgeted with the papers on her desk. “Yes.”
“The university accepted my application months ago,” said Henry. “I don’t understand what the problem is.”
“You were offered a spot at Duke Law School,” she said, shaking her head. “That you were accepted at such a young age is miraculous.” She took a breath. “You are now applying to the paleoanthropology department of Trinity College. This is a very separate institution.”
“So what is it? Are my grades not good enough?”
“No, your grades are excellent and the personal recommendation from Professor Lieberman is a nice touch. What are you hoping to study?”
“I want to know more about when we evolved to use magic. There’s evidence that at one point we didn’t have it, and yet now we do. That line, though, is very fuzzy.”
She nodded. “That’s a significant area to focus on, and I know they would normally accept you without a moment’s hesitation.”
She swallowed. “It’s a payment issue.”
Henry frowned. “I don’t understand. I have a trust fund to pay for college.”
“You do, but your trust manager included a clause in the payment contract that the fund would only pay for your education at the law school. Should you take classes in any department that is not part of the law school curriculum, the trust will not cover them.”
Henry’s face flushed and his hands clamped on the smooth wood armrests of his chair.
...but the rich never deliver it themselves.
She reached for the phone on her desk. “I can call him back. Maybe if you speak with him?”
Henry took a breath and forced his hands to relax. “That won’t be necessary. He’s only doing what my father told him to do.” He swallowed the bile that rose from his stomach. “What about scholarships?”
“It’s a bit late for that,” she said. “And your options for financial aid are limited, given that you have a significant source of funds available to you.”
“Only if I go to law school.” Henry shook his head. “My father badgered me about becoming a lawyer for months. I told him no enough times that we’ve stopped speaking to each other. That’s why he set up the trust fund.” He cocked his head. “You said there’s some financial aid, not zero. Did I hear you right?”
“Yes. There’s a private foundation you can apply to that would support you, given your grades and desired field of study, but it’s not enough to cover your tuition.”
“So I’m screwed.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Family difficulties are stressful, believe me, I know. If there’s no chance of reconciling with your father…?”
Henry snorted. “That ship has sailed.” He frowned. “Would that private foundation cover the cost of a part-time tuition, or maybe a community college? I could get some of my basic courses out of the way while I try to figure this out.”
“Yes,” she said. “But I wouldn’t recommend it.”
“If you really have split from your family, there is a scholarship that you could apply for that would pay for everything. I’m confident they would fully fund you, next year.”
Henry leaned back in his chair. “So I go to community college now, then come to Duke next year. That sounds good to me.”
“That scholarship is for first time college students only. If you even audit a class at a community college they will deny your application. I’ve seen it happen.”
Henry’s eyes narrowed. “So. Law school or nothing.”