Drew could feel the life being squeezed out of his body. That’s the way his Grandma’s hugs had always been: big andsqueezey, the sort of hug usually reserved for soldiers going off to war, or kids about to leave home for college. Grandma hugged everybody that way. Drew stayed the night with his old college roommate after Sara kicked him out and left for Reynolds first thing the next morning, bound for his grandmother’s house. He was scooped into a Grandma Hug the second he arrived at her door, before even being invited inside.
He had called his grandmother the split second after realizing that his fantasy escape plan to Reynolds was no longer a fantasy. Drew had plenty of family in Reynolds, Missouri, but his Grandma had been the only one he had kept in regular contact with during the 14 years that he had been away from the place. He would call her once a week, and three or four times a year she and his Grandpa would make the drive to come visit. The visits stopped a year prior to his departure from PeoplesPost, when his Grandfather passed away, but the calls continued on like clockwork.
Any of his family in Reynolds would have taken him in, but Grandma was the only one who would do so without asking questions about why he was coming back after so many years. And besides that, living with Grandma until he could find a job in town had always beenstepone of The Escape Plan. The Plan had been fully formed in the back of his head for longer than he wanted to admit to himself (long before he ever set foot in the PeoplesPost offices) so he figured that he may as well follow it to the letter. After all, staying in St. Louis and moving back in with his parents was absolutely not going to happen. For one, they would never allow such a thing and for two, even if they did, Drew doubted he could stand living with either of them for a single day, let alone for a few months.
Grandma invited him into the house and ushered him into the kitchen, insisting that he sit down and eat something after such a long drive into town. Drew did as the woman said, allowing the full weight of his body to collapse with a thud onto a chair at the kitchen table. The drive to Reynolds from his apartment in St. Louis had taken four hours, but it felt like eight. Grandma joined him at the table, sitting in the seat across from the one he had taken.
“So I guess that new job didn’t work out,” she said, arms crossed, her face melting into a grin of sympathy. Drew let out a deep sigh, remembering that Grandma was the sort of person who was always at least three steps ahead of the rest of the world – she never asked questions because she could usually figure out the answers for herself.
“Something like that,” Drew said.
Grandma took his hand and said, “Listen, I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I have some advice. Now, you can take all of it, some of it, or throw it out the window, but I want you to hear it.” She squeezed his hand harder. “Don’t give up on writing. I don’t know what happened at that job – and you don’t have to tell me – but whatever it was, don’t let it take away your passion. From what you told me, that job stopped being about writing a long time ago, anyway. So don’t think of this as losing a job, think of it as getting a chance to get back to what you set out to do in the first place. I called your Uncle Eric, who works up at the paper – you remember him?” Drew nodded. He had spent a lot of time with Eric as a kid, and it was the memory of a school trip to his Uncle’s job at the Reynolds Tribune that led him to a career in journalism in the first place. “Well, I told him you were moving back, and he said that there was an open spot on his staff and it’s all yours if you want it. Call him. Try it out. It’ll be a step down from what you’re used to, but maybe that won’t be such a bad thing.” Grandma smiled, patted him on the arm and without another word rose from the table and started making him a grilled cheese sandwich.
Working for Uncle Eric was a good idea. Drew knew this; knew that he needed some sort of job so that in a few months he could save up enough money to move out of his grandmother’s place, and then…And then, what?
He had no idea. Becoming a novelist had been the answer to that question once upon a time, in the earliest days of college, before his fear of the Real World led him to sacrifice his dreams for something more practical.
Reynolds, Missouri had been the place of escape fantasies as an adult. But now he was here. Fantasy no longer, he had actually done it: escape from the real world and go back to Reynolds to live with Grandma, and find a job until he made enough moneyforhis own place. But then what? The Escape Plan didn’t have an answer. It was a plan concocted by a high school student terrified to leave home and go to college and held on to by a college student terrified to graduate and enter the Real World. These were versions of him that had been too deep inside of a bubble to think about the futureinanything other than the broadest of strokes. But now he needed to add some detail to those strokes, and he had no idea how to do that.
The thought of writing a novel once again entered into Drew’s head.Writingwas the only thing he had ever been good at, the only thing that had ever made sense. And as he took in the sights and sounds and smells of his Grandmother’s kitchen, his old dreams of writing the Next Great American Novel swirled back into his head. The dreams built into Grandma’s house – into the whole town of Reynolds – as deeply as the bricks that made up the walls. Being back inside the place awakened something from deep within him all at once, a love (a need) for telling stories that he had thought lost forever.
He would write a novel, Drew decided. He had attempted to write one before, but he had still been living in the Bubble then, that simple, shallow world where the Escape Plan was born, and so he never managed to finish. But being back in this place, viewing it with fresh eyes that could finally look past the bubble, made completing a manuscript feel like something easily within his grasp.
First, though, he would call his Uncle Eric and accept that job at the paper. Dreams wouldn’t provide him with a paycheck – at least not for a while – another fact made clear by living life outside of the bubble.