The Soldiers and Sailors Monument loomed over Luke, somehow looking as dignified and honorable even while overlooking a crowd of FFA students posing for a yearbook picture. Limestone faces and bodies, with bronze weapons and tools, looked like they were about to lean down and shake enormous fingers in Luke’s face. As if they knew he was about to break the rules. The camera’s flashed a few times before the group was allowed to break.
Luke circled around the monument, leaning against the limestone banister overlooking the huge fountains.
“Luke?” Luke jerked to the side, covering the screen of his phone protectively as his best friend, Biggs Darklighter, slung an arm over his shoulders. “Whatcha doing?”
“Nothing, Biggs,” Luke lied, pulling away from his friend. “I’m just looking at the water.”
“They are pretty nice fountains,” Biggs agreed, “you know they empty these when winter hits. They put in a ton of Christmas decorations.”
“Neat,” he pulled out his phone, checking the messages, “what are you doing Biggs?”
“Oh, you know. Just chaperoning my best friend carefully. Making sure a little farmboy like him doesn’t get lost in a big city like this.” Biggs pinched his cheek affectionately, grinning when Luke scowled and brushed him off.
“Come on, Biggs. This is Indy. No one can get lost in Indy. The city is on a grid pattern. Three rights and you’re right back where you started.”
“Not always, but you’re mostly right. I’m actually wondering why you look so depressed, Luke.”
“I’m not depressed.”
“You love the FFA Convention. It’s your favorite part of the school year. You love coming to the city and going shopping at the mall and seeing all of these depressing monuments to wars. You even like talking to the lady over by Starbucks whose always knitting things and panhandling.”
“She’s very nice,” Luke said automatically, “and I still have those mittens she made me.”
“Well, I’m glad, but you’re moppy, and you love Indy.”
“I’m not,” Luke sighed, tugging on a spare thread on his blue jacket. “I’m a little depressed,” he said after a moment. “Because I don’t know if I can get the scholarship I want to go to Purdue.”
“Oh,” Biggs sobered, the smile sliding off his face. “Luke, you know, there are thousands of applicants for that scholarship.”
“I know,” Luke sighed, flopping over the banister and staring at the water below. “Be realistic, be hopeful. You sound like Father Kenobi.”
“Well, the good Father’s got a few good ideas,” Biggs mused, “even if he can’t grow anything worth a damn. Did you see his tomato plants this year? They were awful.”
“I did, I gave him some of our extra ones. Aunt Beru grew way too many.” Luke stopped, perking upright as his phone buzzed in his pocket. Grinning, he pulled it down and read the message. “Biggs, you’ll cover for me, right?”
“We’re allowed to explore the city, right?” Luke said, smiling.
“Yeah, but the buddy system is in effect, Luke. You need to take a friend.”
“I’m going with a friend,” Luke clapped Biggs on the shoulder and took a few hopping steps back. “I’ll see you at the convention center, alright?”
“Luke!” Biggs yelled, aghast as his friend bounded down the stairs and jogged through the seething, pushing horde of high schoolers in matching blue and gold blazers, and vanished in the crowd. “Damn!” He pulled out his phone and sent a quick text.
KEEP ME UPDATED! DON’T BE LATE! STAY SAFE!
Luke’s reply came a few moments later. A simple smiley face followed by a winking face.
“That little brat,” Biggs said, more amused the angry. “Always headed somewhere else.”
Luke bounded as quickly as he could manage, up the steps of the mall and into the Artsgarden. A wide open space filled with plants and arts and small tables and chairs, standing directly above the wide street. Traffic, foot, and motor, passed by underneath.
But he wasn’t focused on the art or the plants. His attention was focused on a short brunette, wearing a pencil skirt, brightly polished Mary Janes, and an FFA blazer that was nearly identical to Luke’s except the word across the back was “ Pennsylvania.” She stood beside a small table, holding two ice-cream cones with one hand and her phone with the other.
“LEIA!” Luke jumped the last two steps, sliding across the floor until he collided with his friend, careful of the ice-cream and her phone.
“Luke!” She laughed, equally excited. Hugging him as much as she was able. “You made it! What took so long?”
“I had to shake my chaperon,” Luke beamed as he pulled away, “ice-cream?”
“Yes,” Leia held out both cones primly. It didn’t even look like it had started melting yet which was only common sense? Ice-cream wouldn’t dare melt on Leia. “Choose your flavor?”
“I’ll take Superman,” Luke accepted the cone, and Leia grinned as she pulled her pistachio closer. “I don’t eat green desserts.”
“That’s because you have no taste,” Leia said, “you don’t have to eat the ice-cream. I can take it back.”
“Nope,” he licked up one side, grinning. “too late.”
“Then stop complaining,” she sat down at the little table, “and we need to have a serious discussion.”
“Um, about what?”
“About an essay competition,” she answered briskly, reaching into her backpack and pulling out a folder. She flipped it open and turned it to Luke. “If you’re one of the best four essays you get to on a Europe trip. It includes Britain, France, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Naboo.”
“How long is this trip?”
“A month, and we need to win.”
“Leia,” he shifted, “you can afford to go on a trip like this. You don’t need to win it in a competition.”
“I know, but I thought it would be more fun if we went together.”
Leia, unlike Luke, was from a rich family. Part of the old elite in Philadelphia, she’d been a debutant, and had a driver, and a security guard, and a nanny. Luke was a farmer and only got to go on trips like this because the school helped pay for them.
“But what if there are other students who want to go, and can’t afford to go,” Luke said, and Leia’s expression darkened. It wasn’t what he wanted to see. They hadn’t seen each other in person since the last FFA convention, a year ago.
“But I already picked out our topics!” Leia exclaimed, pulling out a page and waving it in his face. “Look, I did the calculations, and I even weighed the topics on how interesting they’d be. If one of us writes on Naboo, we’re more likely to win. No one ever writes about Naboo. It is a tiny country. I put the statistics of each country on the list on another paper and the different subjects.”
“Naboo, that is a small country.” Luke licked his ice-cream as he flipped through the contents of the folder. It was through an outline of the rules in easily understood language. The prize, and the cost of the prize if paid for out of pocket. Who had won in the past, what they’d written about, and their essays. All marked through with red and purple gel-pen and highlighted to show where they’d done well and where they’d messed up. “When is this due?”
“Check the top page,” Leia said, still scowling out the window and eating her ice-cream with offended gusto.
“Leia! This isn’t due until half-way through our senior year!”
“That way we have plenty of time to work on it. I’ve also gotten this together. This is all the information I could draw up on Purdue scholarships, plus other ones you can apply for. Do you want to go over it now or just read it when you get home.”
“When I get home,” Luke said, reaching the cone and taking a bite. “Why did you put all of this together?”
“Because we’re best friends,” Leia said officiously. “You’ve helped me do stuff.”
“You don’t need me to do anything,” Luke shook his head, “you’re going to Harvard or Yale, or one of those big law schools.”
“I am, but you're going to Purdue.” With that said, Leia closed the folder and leaned back in her seat. “How is your family?”
“Oh, Uncle Owen’s fine. He was one of the only people in the county who didn’t lose most of his crop. We had that huge wind storm in the middle of the summer. Aunt Beru is pretty great; she’s working at the school some days. Um, that’s about it. We pulled all of the corn in before that heavy rain storm, so it’s actually been a pretty good year. I think we’re the luckiest people in the county.”
“I still want to drive a tractor,” Leia said, “I’ve been in the FFA for a year now, and no one will let me drive a tractor.”
“You live in the middle of a big city. Why would you drive a tractor? I still have no idea how you found an FFA group in the middle of Philly.”
“There wasn’t one in my area originally,” she winked when Luke frowned. “But I convinced the school it would be a good idea. You know, so many people don’t know anything about where their food comes from or anything about farming. The school board thought it was a great idea.”
“You got your own FFA chapter started?” Luke gaped, “why, how?”
“I had a friend tell me that it was a great club to be a part of,” Leia winked as Luke began to laugh. “Besides, it will look fantastic on a college application.”