Away We Go - Emil Ostrovski


I was fifteen years old.

It was a dreary March day, a year and a half before the world was supposed to end. And the closest person I had to family wanted me gone.

Alex and I spent most of our time in a converted bathroom that the administration of the Richmond Youth Recovery Center for Boys had stuffed with books and called a “library.” Nobody cared enough to dispute the title. The library’s reading selection ranged from The Little Engine That Could to On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and while the stalls and the sinks had been ripped out to make way for bookshelves, a lone urinal had inexplicably been left standing against the far wall, so half the library’s visitors were boys whose interest in relieving their overfull bladders far exceeded that of engaging with the world republic of letters. We were settled in a corner of the library, passing a cig between us. Footsteps pattered down the hallway. Alex brushed a lock of brown hair away from his eyes, handed the cig to me, and asked me what I thought about Director Mary’s latest spiel.

I sucked in the smoke, held it in my throat as long as I could.

“Noah,” he said. “You even listening or those ears just for show?”

“Huh?” I croaked.

I had been studying his perpetually dirty nails.

“You know, No,” he said. “What Mary Poppins said about taking the NAAPs and getting the fuck out of here, son.”

“You mean you were actually at assembly?” I said in mock disbelief.

Alex took offense. “Fuck no, No,” he said. “But word gets around.”

I shrugged. “Well, Al. Even if we take the NAAPs, and honestly I’d rather take a nap instead—”

“Oh God,” he said, feigning an allergic reaction to my punniness, gasping for breath.

I nudged him with my shoulder gently. “And even if we take the NAAPs, and get like perfect scores, the chances of getting into Westing are minute.”

“Look at you. Using words like ‘minute,’” Alex said. “You definitely don’t belong here.”

“There’s no point, man,” I said. “We’re going away in a few years max, no matter if we’re at Westing or Richmond.”

“Richmond’s library”—Alex pointed to the far wall—“has almost as many urinals as books. I hear Westing is like a fucking castle. Gothic architecture and shit. And stained-glass windows, son.”

“The chances are minute.” I wanted to tell him his nails were disgusting. I wanted to kiss him.

“I’ll NAAP if you will,” I finally offered, and waited for him to take me up on it.

When he met my eye, it was with a pitying look, the kind that says: Have you always been slower than a tertiary-stage relay team, or is this a new development?

“It would be pointless for me,” Alex said. “There are kids who’ve never shown up to class who have higher GPAs.”

“Maybe if you do really well on the NAAPs—”

“Please, son,” Alex said, rolling his eyes. He didn’t say it, but he meant: Grow up.

“Then I’m not applying. Or taking the test.”

“I’d do it if I were you.”

I opened my mouth to ask him if he meant that, if he’d really leave me behind, but I stopped myself.

I didn’t want to know.

There was no more talk about the NAAPs. I didn’t study or take the prep classes. But a few weeks later, on a muggy Saturday in mid-April, Alex shook me awake at nine a.m., pulled me half naked out of my bunk bed, and made me dress myself.

I was in a semi-comatose state and thus did not muster much of a protest. Eventually, I caught a glimpse of the time on our wall clock and asked desperately, “What’s going on?” I hadn’t gotten up at nine a.m. on a Saturday since before my balls dropped. Usually I skipped breakfasts on the weekends (if the weekdays were anything to go by, I wasn’t missing much) and went straight from bed to lunch.

Alex didn’t answer. He was bent over, rummaging through my footlocker. He tossed a pair of socks over his shoulder, not looking. They hit me in the face.

“What the fuck,” I said.

A pair of jeans followed.

“What the fuck.”

He turned, saw the jeans and socks on the floor. “Hurry up,” he said.


“Trust me, son.”


“Don’t be a bitch.”

After I dressed myself, he grabbed me by the arm and led me through our dormitory, crammed with the bodies of over two hundred snoring boys, down a number of gray and peeling hallways, and into our gym. He practically threw me into one of the