Over the Edge

William Montgomery Fiction Scholarship – Fiction

Kaitlyn Andrews

Traverse City St. Francis – 12th Grade

Lily hadn’t meant to take it. Honestly, after her last stunt she had resolved to keep a clean reputation from then on, but the opportunity had been so tempting. Too tempting. The little gold key hung on its hook, swinging gently in the autumn breeze, clinking deliciously with each sway. It practically begged her to reach out and grab it. It had been too easy.
She had planned on returning it, she could come in the next day, say she’d found it on
the street and the shopkeeper’s eyes would likely fill with little tears of gratitude, nestled into the wrinkles of his sweet sun worn face. He would thank her repeatedly and maybe even offer a reward for such an honest bystander. Honest. Hah.
Lily was many things but honest was not one of them. There was no denying that now. Despite the heavy load of shame that settled atop her shoulders, she turned the key in the lock and crept deftly into the pawn shop, her feet silent and her spirit sagging. Reviewing the goods with an expert’s eye she instantly recognizing which items held more value than the others. She reached out with shaking hands for an antique music box nestled under a fabric spool, a priceless piece. She doubted even the owner knew of its worth. Just as her fingers began to brush the smooth porcelain base an arm shot out of the darkness clamping her wrist in a gentle yet iron
grip. “Now my dear,” a cracking whisper of a voice murmured “I don’t believe that belongs to you.”
Lily let out an involuntary gasp as she jerked her head up to face her captor. Her eyes met that of the gentle shopkeeper. “We close at 8:00” he told her softly “but I think you knew that.”
She stared dumbly unable to speak.

A raspy sigh escaped the old man’s lips as he stared at Lily. She was shocked by the sadness conveyed in his wise brown eyes. “Please have a seat” he said gesturing to a nearby chair.

She sat down hesitantly perched on the edge of the seat, awaiting condemnation. Staring up into his mournful eyes she felt her own fill with tears. The moisture balanced on her lashes, threatening to spill over. “I’m sorry” she whispered.
“I know my dear” the shopkeeper replied, a note of tenderness in his voice as he handed her a handkerchief.
She sniffled and wiped her face gratefully on the cloth.
The shop keeper waited patiently while she composed herself.

“Thank you” she mumbled, reaching out to hand him the damp handkerchief only to hesitantly pull it back when he waved his hands in a negatory gesture.
“You keep it, I have plenty.”
She was struck by his kindness “why….” she began, stuttering as her voice got caught in her throat, “why are you being so nice to me?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” He asked looking genuinely puzzled by her question.
“I broke into your shop.” She whispered her voice barely audible “I was prepared to steal from you, and the only reason I didn’t is because you caught me.”
He nodded along with what she said, frowning a little at the end “now there’s where I think you’re wrong” he said gently. “I believe you have enough good in you that you would’ve made things right once you came to your senses.”
Lily was taken aback “Then you don’t know me. I’m a bad person, I’ve stolen plenty of things, plenty of times!”
He nodded again “yes I’m sure you have, but that doesn’t make you a bad person.”
“But I am!” She protested, surprised by her deep urge to convince this man of her guilt, “I’ve done so many terrible things and I’ve had so many chances to make them right but every

time I’ve just ran away!” Tears threatened again “you wouldn’t even be speaking to me if you knew some of the things I’ve done.” Lily’s shoulders slumped, and she tensed herself for the rejection that was sure to come.
“May I tell you a story?” The shopkeeper asked.

Lily stared up at him. Out of all the things she had anticipated him to say this was not one of them. She nodded numbly after a moment. What could it hurt?
The shopkeeper’s eyes twinkled as he began his tale, face shifting into an expression that can only be described as melancholy as he was transported back to a time long past.
“When I was a boy I grew up in a little town called Cambridge” he told her. “My dad was often gone, so naturally I would get into a bit of trouble while he was away, as young boys do.”
“My choice of company was a gang know as the Vipers.” He chuckled, “Those boys were as wild and free as the wind itself and I enjoyed the rush that accompanied their escapades. I never questioned the nature of my involvement with them until one unforgettable evening in late July.”
“It was the hottest day I can remember. The air itself seemed to be sweating as we walked along the riverbank. The water was ice cold with a current that raged constantly, destroying everything in its path. It terrified me, but per usual what terrified me enchanted the others. There was a peak overlooking the depths of the river where the rapids rushed at break-neck speeds, that was our base. Monty Mcwarnis, the leader of our group, decided that day that it would amuse him to see somebody jump the gulf.”
“‘I’ll bet not a single one of you is man enough to jump the river’ Monty taunted his eyes gleaming. A couple of the younger boys chuckled thinking him jesting, but the more experienced

of our ranks knew that when Monty locked onto something it was nearly impossible to detach him from it.
‘You think it’s funny, do you?’ he asked them, turning a withering glare on the newly initiated Robby. ‘Why don’t you go ahead and give it a try?’
All ounces of humor drained from Robby’s little face as he shook his head vehemently, too startled to speak.
‘Oh, come on!’ Monty insisted gesturing to the cliff ‘it’s only a couple feet, I could jump it with my eyes closed.’
‘Then why don’t you?’ I heard a voice say that I was shocked to recognize as my own.”
The shopkeeper turned his gaze on Lily “I’ve thought back on that moment a lot” he told her. “For many years I believed I spoke up to help little Robby, but now I think I did it for me. I had been sick and tired of Monty running his mouth and never doing anything to back up his talk. I remember thinking that even if I went down, at least Monty would go down with me.”
Lily nodded knowingly, the concept wasn’t too foreign for her to grasp, she had run into similar situations herself. “So, what happened?” she asked. Even in her gloom she was enthralled by the tale and charmed by the enthusiasm of its speaker.
The shopkeeper smiled at her. “Well Monty was not all that happy to be challenged. His attention was on me in an instant, all thoughts of Robby forgotten.”
“‘Why don’t I what?’ he snarled.
‘Jump over the gulf with your eyes closed.’

Monty’s eyes flashed angrily ‘who do you think you are?’ He asked me ‘am I not still the leader of this gang? Nobody tells me what to do!’

I had just looked at him and shrugged ‘I’m not really telling you what to do.’ I said, ‘I’m just asking you to demonstrate what you said you could do in the first place.’ ‘Besides,’ I
reminded him ‘it’s only a couple feet.’”
“The boys began to murmur around me and many of them agreed with the notion of Monty jumping the river. A chant came out among them which soon grew to a deafening roar. There was no way Monty could back down without looking like a coward.”
“‘fine!’ He announced waving his hands for silence. He was the picture of nonchalance, but I could see the fear in his eyes. And the anger. ‘But’ he added ‘if I’m going, you’re coming with me.’
‘fine’ I had said mimicking his casual tone, trying and failing to calm my racing heart ‘how about you show me how it’s done?’
Monty’s face went ghostly pale, but he quickly covered it up with an obnoxious guffaw ‘not a chance’ he told me ‘There’s no way I’m letting you chicken out.’”
“I knew I was in deep then and there was no way of getting out. I searched my mind desperately for an excuse, a reason why he should go first or why I shouldn’t go at all but
everything I came up with make me sound weak, pathetic. So, at the price of my pride, I squared my shoulders and marched myself to the edge of the cliff. Once I reached the edge, I took one final look back at the boys knowing that no matter what Monty and I would jump or be forever humiliated. I took a couple steps back, preparing myself for a running start to jump over the ravine. My feet slammed against the ground as the cliff grew closer and closer until I was almost on top of it. I watched as my feet left the edge only to be suddenly jerked back by a powerful
grip on the back of my shirt.”

“‘What do you think you’re doing boy?’ A furious middle-aged man demanded sticking his face close to mine ‘do you have a death wish?’”
“I stared up at him for a moment looking into his red, slightly wrinkled, angry face and then I look at the river raging below and the devastating jump of 20 feet that I had just been prepared to take all for the sake of my pride and I knew without a doubt that this man had just saved my life. And with the shock and realization of how close I’d been to death came an overwhelming wave of emotions that ended with me falling, sobbing uncontrollably into the arms of my rescuer.”
The shopkeeper blinked up at Lily, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes at the memory “I never went back to the gang after that” he said.
“The man who saved me was named Henry Clipper and he became more of a father to me then my own had ever been and remained that person until he died five years ago” ,his voice was choked with emotion, “I will never forget that day when he saved me, twice.”
“Twice?” Lily inquired uncertainly.
“The first was when he lugged me back over that cliff, and the second was when he

pulled me out of that lifestyle.” “He saved me from the person I had become and the person I
would’ve been if I had somehow survived that fall. And now when faced with someone that I see myself in I’m trying my best to do the same.”
Lily looked down at the cold hard floor “you don’t know me” she said at last.
“Ahh but I do” the shopkeeper replied tenderly “I know the look in your eyes and the longing in your spirit and the emptiness in your heart and I can tell you right now that what you’re doing isn’t going to fix it.”

“Then what will” Lily asked her own tears resurfacing “nothing will ever help me escape this life. I can’t escape the decisions I’ve made, the things I’ve done.”
He pondered this for a minute “you can’t change the things you’ve done” he agreed “but what you can change is the things you will do.”
“I don’t know how” Lily admitted. This was the only life she had ever known. “If I may offer a suggestion?” The shopkeeper asked gently.
Lily looked up at him, unsure of how he could possibly help her.

“I’m getting old” he told her “I can be forgetful at times, and I love this old shop so much I can’t bear to see it go down with me. I can’t afford to pay you much, but it would be steady and in a couple years, if you’re willing to stick around, and wouldn’t mind having me for company, you could take it over. I think you’ll find running this little place fulfilling in many different ways.”
Lily stared at him for a moment completely and utterly speechless “you want to…. hire
“Yes, that’s what I’m saying” he said warmly.

“But why…. why would you ever…. how could you?”
The shopkeeper smiled patiently “I think you’d be a nice addition to my little business” he said. Then in a conspiratorial tone he leaned in and whispered, “And between you and me I have been a little worried about thieves lately.”
Despite herself a tiny chuckle escaped Lily’s lips which soon became a laugh. The old man joined her and somewhere along the line her giggles turned into sniffles which soon became sobs. Strong comforting arms pulled her out of her hysteria, and she turned her bleary eyes onto that of the shopkeeper’s “I don’t even know your name” she confessed.

He smiled “it’s Joshua, Joshua Colman.”
“Thank you, Mr. Colman,” she whispered, “whatever happens I do believe you’ve pulled me back over the edge.”