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John Cunningham was a handsome, charismatic boy of fifteen with striking blue eyes and a hesitant smile.

He was average weight and height for a fifteen year old, he had brown hair and was could usually be found in his beat-up brown leather jacket even in winter. John tended to blend into the background of wherever he was, which is just how he liked it. Most people didnt notice John except to say, Oh yes, hes a nice boy. After which theyd immediately forget about him. No one knew that John was desperate. Johns mother Jenny Cunningham was a slight, pale woman. Years ago, shed been an athlete a championship track and field competitor with a bright smile and a tireless running stride. John knew this because he had seen photos of his mother in her old high school yearbooks. Photos of his mother smiling and linking arms with her friends. She had been so pretty. Lately, John doubted his mother even looked into a mirror. Jenny always seemed to be lost, her face pale and confused. They lived with Johns father in the small farming community of Trussler, in southeastern Manitoba. Jennys smile had drifted away as years of hard times had taken their toll upon her and her husband. She could barely face herself in the mirror most mornings, and she could not allow herself to truly understand how bad things had become for her and her family. Walter, Johns father, had himself grown up with an absent, alcoholic father. Despite himself and despite his earnest, hopeful promises to his beautiful young bride, Walter found himself following in his fathers footsteps. While sober, Walter felt ashamed and helpless to change, and so he tried to say too drunk to care. Somehow, John had made through school without anyone noticing how much his family struggled. As a young boy, John understood his family was different, and this difference was something to be ashamed of and hidden. He took his cues from his mother, and he learned how to hide his familys secrets. But as John grew into a teenager, his anger and resentment towards his parents grew. At times he found his anger difficult to control. He got into fights at school but that only attracted the attention of his teachers, and so John tried to stay away from his home as often as possible. He slept over at his friends houses, he went on every school trip, and he got a job at a summer camp in Northern Manitoba teaching other

kids how to swim, canoe, fish and make friendship bracelets. It was one summer at this camp that he picked up a guitar and found himself obsessed with learning to play. By the end of the summer he could play most popular radio tunes by ear, and he was writing his own songs. It was his guitar that gave him focus and the faint hope that he could be something, something other than an alcoholic who had never left his small town home. John was desperate to get out of town. It was this desperation that inspired John to google Canadian Boarding Schools in the computer lab of the Public Library. The very first result was: Frewin Friends School for Future Leaders ~ Musical Scholarship Program With his heart in his throat, he clicked on the link. Unbelievably, it seemed this scholarship was made just for him. Scholarship Qualifications: Applicants must: Be between 14 and 16 years of age. Be a Canadian Citizen. Demonstrate musical talent. Demonstrate experience in leadership roles. Submit an essay or musical equivalent explaining why he or she deserves a place in FFS. Please complete the attached application and submit it along with your essay to: Frewin Friends School for Future Leaders ~ Musical Scholarship Program Post Office Box 498 Bella Coola, British Columbia V0T 1C0

John had barely dared to hope as he printed out the application. He had enlisted the help of his music teacher to record one of his original songs on to a CD as his

musical equivalent essay. He had foraged his mothers signature on the parental consent form. For the first time in his life, John prayed. In the weeks that followed, John began to doubt himself. He couldnt find the school website after hed sent in his application. He had lost his copy of the application with the school address, and it wouldnt reappear when he attempted to find it using keyword searches. What had been the top rated result the day he searched for Canada Boarding School couldnt be found at all no matter how many hours he spent on the library computers. He was beginning to think he had imagined the whole thing when he received the plain, small card of acceptance. The modest manila envelope contained a brief explanation of his scholarship. Mr. John Walter Cunningham, We are pleased to accept your application to attend the Frewin Friends School for Future Leaders on Musical Scholarship effective September 1st, 2012. Please find enclosed: - Form letter of acceptance, to be completed and returned as soon as possible. - List of required clothing and school supplies - Ticket pickup information Transportation to the school will be provided by: - Greyhound bus leaving Trussler, MB on August 29th at 3:15 pm, local time, connecting Winnipeg, MB - Via Rail train leaving Winnipeg, MB on August 30th at 4:30 pm, local time to Vancouver, BC - Chartered busses will collect all FFS students upon arrival in Vancouver. We at FFS look forward to your reply. Kindest regards, Regina Wilson, Secretary and Administrator

John held the letter and stared at it for a long time; in his hands he held freedom. * Instinct compelled John to keep his application and acceptance to Frewin a secret. He felt he needed to protect this fragile promise of a new school. John felt that his real life might crush the possibility of the new one. Quietly he acquired as close an approximation to the required clothing and school supplies list as he could manage. He scrounged whatever cash he could, and he squirreled it all away in a hockey bag in his bedroom closet. With just two days remaining until his departure, John was constantly on edge with worry, agonizing whether to tell his mother he was going, or whether to simply disappear and write later to let his family know he was alright if he was alright. But the decision had been made for him, when John came home that afternoon to find his father in the kitchen, beer in hand, Johns acceptance letter on the table in front of him. Somethin you need to tell us, son? Walter grunted, gesturing to the paper. Johns heart stopped. He answered shakily, Its a scholarship, Dad. Im going away to school in September. What? Whyd ya wanna go to another school? Walter demanded, too loudly. Too good for the school here? He peered at John through watery, bloodshot eyes. Its a specialized school Dad. Theyre letting me in because of my music. Ill be able to live there during the school year everythings paid for. You dont have to do a thing - At this, Johns father let out a slow, loud bark of laughter, ending in a wet, choking cough. They are, eh? And howd you swing that my boy? Charm a teacher finally, eh? Youre getting to be a talker, just like your old man! At this, he slapped John too roughly on the back, and Johns temper flared. No, I submitted a recording. And its all the same to you anyway better actually. Youll have me out of the house, finally. It was happening, John felt his anger take control of him as his voice rose to a shout. Out of the way at last! No disruption to your life of endless partying! John picked up the edge of the kitchen table and

slammed it back down, causing some empty bottles to topple over and rattle onto grimy linoleum floor. John was gasping with fury. He felt the choaking hand of his anger close over his throat. He was nearly blind with rage - angry at his father, at their dank apartment in their dirty neighborhood. He hated the filthy, worn-out linoleum, the sticky spilled beer, the old pizza boxes piled in the corner, the ancient, grey curtains that were never opened to the light of day. Now that he was finally looking at escape, he found he hated this place he lived with every fiber of his soul. It made his skin crawl, and he could barely stand it. WHAT DO YOU CARE, ANYWAY! John roared, With me gone, there will be more money for all the effing booze- John? His mother, drawn by the shouting, poked her head into the living room. Although it was late afternoon, his mother was still in her faded, striped terry bathrobe and pajamas, and she clutched a cup of cold coffee like a security blanket. Mother, Im going away to boarding school. Tonight. I cant stand it here, I cant stay here! John, what are you so upset about? What school? I didnt know anything about a special school To his horror, John found his cheeks had become wet with tears. He loved his mother, he even loved his father it was this love that caused the deep hurt inside his chest that he didnt understand. All he knew was that his very soul cried out against this house, this life. And he was afraid, deathly afraid if he didnt escape it now he would become trapped. Im so sorry, John choked out the words as his throat tightened. His heart, so full of resentment a moment ago, was suddenly painfully full of love for his mother, who had always tried to show John that she loved him. John allowed his mind to flash, briefly, upon his favourite memory of a family picnic when he was three years old. He remembered that day whenever he wondered if they had ever been happy as a family. Yes, they had. A long time ago.

He had to leave now, he had to save himself. John regained his composure and he kissed his mother. In that moment, Jenny understood; it was better not to hold on to her son. Let him go, and try not to think about it too much. Promise to call, John. Jenny did not cry. In her stoicism, she felt she was clinging with all her strength to her last bit of sanity. Instinct told Jenny that if she started to cry, she may not be able to stop. So she focused on staying absolutely still like a lake, or a puddle, or a swamp. Promise. That youll call. I promise. John quietly walked away from his mother, down the dark hallway to his room. Even though his tickets were dated for two days hence, John packed his guitar in its soft padded case and threw it across his back. He picked up the hockey bag, snatched the keys to his dirt bike and headed out the back door, hearing the hinge shriek in the wake of the silence left by his parents. John worked fiercely to strap the hugely awkward hockey bag to the back of the small bike, half hoping half dreading that one of his parents would try and stop him from going. They did not come. The bag finally secure, John hopped on his dirt bike and cranked the clutch the bike tore up the dirt driveway throwing mud and rocks into the air with an ear-piercing roar. The bike would do the screaming for him as he hit the paved highway and sped away. * The woman behind the greyhound counter had long, black hair with white streaks drawn back into two long braids. She had a warm, copper complexion and fortunately, John thought to himself, an open smile. Excellent, John thought. He turned on the charm and approached her with an open, disarming, slightly embarrassed smile. Good evening, maam, he said, with an earnest nod of his head and a flush in his cheek. I have a real problem here, and I just dont know what to do. You see, I bought this ticket to Winnipeg for next week to visit my, my aunt, but the trouble is, I just got off the phone with her and she needs me there now. Now young man, I wish I could help you, but tickets are non-refundable.

Oh of course, maam, I understand that. Its just that I need to use this ticket tonight, my aunt, she needs my assistance with the farm down there and Im quite anxious to help. John turned his beautiful, pleading blue eyes upon the woman, his cheeks and lips still flushed with emotion, his most disarming smile dancing across his face. John knew that when he was in his element, he was almost impossible to resist. The bus depot clerk was no more immune to his gentle smile and earnest gaze than his young classmates and former teachers. Well now, strictly speaking, I shouldnt really. But, you know son, theres a bus leaving for Winnipeg in an hour with plenty of room. Perhaps we can just do an exchange for you, since its an emergency. Oh, thank you, maam. Thank you so much, John bathed the woman with so much loving eye contact and sweet, grateful words she positively blushed with pleasure. She handed John his new ticket, her hand lingering over his for just a minute. An hour later, the bus pulled out of the station. John was exhausted, hungry and emotionally wrung out. But he was on his way.