"Are you ready?" Derek asked me.
"Are you?" That was me, always ready to make a decision at the snap of a finger.
He grinned. He knew me well.
"I am if you are," he said. He was good at deflecting my broadsides, keeping questions open till I was forced to voice an opinion. Well, he was good at more than that. So good at so many things.
"Let's do this," I said, knowing that was what he wanted.
So at dinner that evening, Derek, the most unlikely boy in the room, stood up. He clinked on his glass, and the room quieted. All eyes turned to him.
"I have an announcement. Luke, stand up." I stood, feeling like that deer in the headlights one reads about.
"The announcement is," Derek continued, not sounding nervous or tentative at all, "that Luke and I are together. Thought you guys should know."
There was a moment of silence and then clapping and whistles and cheers. Culver House was that sort of place. This sort of announcement was not frequent, but not all that rare, either. The house was all boys, randy boys, and getting together for sex was common enough. That led to couples committing as boyfriends, too.
Banyard had no rules against boys become boyfriends. They did have rules against boys having sex together before they turned eighteen. And I suppose it was very innocent of them to think boyfriends hadn't already had sex together and also not to realize they would continue to do so. You simply weren't supposed to and weren't to be caught at it. While that was the rule, the doors to the rooms also had locks on them. It was a very progressive school.
Tyler and Mike already knew. Mike had known at the same time we had, and Tyler knew before the night was out. Both were happy for us.
Mike had a girl back home, and Tyler was still looking. He was straight but also smart and good looking and buff. I guessed he'd have someone before the next term began.
The fact we were now declared as boyfriends didn't change anything. We hadn't had much sex before this announcement and didn't have much afterwards, either. We were both busy. There was a lot to do at Banyard, and we were encouraged to do it. So both of us were engaged in various activities, and we had our grades to maintain. Both of us wanted 4.0 averages. Banyard didn't offer advanced-placement classes, but the academics were so rigorous that a 4.0 average from Banyard would qualify one for most any college in the country.
We did spend more time with each other, however. The meetings of the four of us in Mike's and my room changed. When we both were done with prep work for the night, Derek and I had become used to walking outside, wandering the grounds, holding hands and talking. The spring air was warm now, the nights romantic, and if we usually ended them by walking back to the house through the woods and stopping on the path several times for kisses, well, what was wrong with that? There was nothing wrong with that.
As the term was winding down, Dr. Rettington called me into his office. I was very comfortable there. He smiled and asked me how the year had gone, and if he could expect to see me next year.
"The year has been extraordinary, sir. Much more than I could have ever dreamed. So many good things have happened. I should apologize to you for the way I acted at first. I might have called your integrity into question, and I know now how wrong that would be. You're the absolute right man for this school. It wouldn't be the same without you here. Thank you for making it what it is."
"Thank you, Luke. I'd also say that you've been a major success story here. I've kept track of you. You've blossomed. I don't think I've ever witnessed such a turnaround for a boy in one school year. But—"
He paused and looked stern for a moment, and then broke into a smile again. "But, you didn't answer my question. Are you returning next year? You said you'd let me know, and you haven't." Then he laughed, and I did, too.
"You'd need an armed militia to keep me out, sir."
"Wonderful! Although I had the feeling that would be the case, because Mr. Fannon passed on your request to room with your friend Derek next year."
I squirmed in my seat. He was looking at me over his glasses.
"Uh, yes, sir. That's what we were hoping to do. Tyler and Mike will be together, too."
He seemed to be thinking about that, and I squirmed some more, and then he said, "Well, I can't see any reason you two shouldn't be together. You're the top two scholars in your class. I imagine what'll go on in that room will be exciting. So invigorating! Discussions of Socrates and Plato, Shakespeare and Joyce, Keynes and Galbraith, Descartes and Einstein; oh, to have an ear at your door!"
I grinned at him. Now I knew he was playing with me. And I had a response. "Only if you approve it, sir. Only then."
"I've already done so," he said, and he winked at me.
I was packing. Not heavily. I had things at home to wear. Just a few things I'd miss if I didn't have them went into the bag. Mike looked at what I was doing. "You're taking that?"
The 'that' was a picture of the five of us. It had been taken after our race. I was soaking wet with a towel around my shoulders. I was sitting on Tyler's shoulders. The grins on all our faces were triumphant.
"Sure. Why not?"
"Aren't you tired of us? We've been mostly together as a group all year. Enough should be enough."
I looked at him, then stepped over and flipped open his bag. The same photo in the same frame was lying on top. I didn't say a word. I just left his bag open and went back to mine.
"It's going to seem strange next year, living next door to you instead of with you." What a comment, coming from Mike. He was the last one to get sentimental.
I nodded, not wanting to play that game; no nostalgia for me, thank you. Derek was my boyfriend, but Mike was my best friend; I could have teared up if this went further, and I hated that. "You'll have to explain your rules to Tyler. Oh, wait. He's bigger than you and has seniority in that room. He'll be the one making rules."
Mike grinned. "That's still to be determined."
"Yeah," I said. "Maybe you can arm-wrestle him for it."
Mike laughed. I wouldn't see him for a couple of months. He was going to Europe with his parents for the summer. I'd miss him.
Derek stuck his head in the door. "You want to go for a walk? Last night here."
I glanced around. I was done with packing. I smiled and nodded.
"Don't stay out too late," said Mike in a parent-like voice, "or do anything I wouldn't do."
I felt very grown up, walking out onto the platform carrying my father's leather suitcase packed with things I'd want at home during my summer vacation. I'd left many things at Banyard, and I had regrets leaving, even for a couple of months. I'd miss the boys more than the place, but I'd miss the place, too. I realized I'd come to love it. It was home now in a way that where I was now going was no longer.
Even taking the train was a new experience. Many of the first year students were being picked up by their parents. I was taking the train. By myself. Hodges would be at the other end to drive me home, but the first leg I was doing by myself. Maturity, thy name was Luke.
I'd almost unconsciously put on my casual Banyard uniform, pressed tan khakis and a bright-blue polo shirt with the Banyard crest on the breast. I hadn't worn the blazer and tie we had for formal occasions. That would have amounted to showing off. I was still fourteen. Boys that age are far from immune from a desire to show off, and I felt very proud, decked out in my blazer and school tie. So I'd considered that, then eschewed it. Overdressing, showing off, wasn't who I was. I set my suitcase down next to a bench on the platform and sat down to wait for my train.
"Well, what do we have here?"
I knew that voice and the sneer that colored it. I was sure I'd always remember it. I looked up to see Frank Norris, my nemesis from Kennilworth House, standing in front of the bench, looking down at me. He was dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, both of which could do with the ministrations of a launderer and hot iron. He looked a little bleary-eyed, too, and hadn't shaved recently enough. He had a smirk on his face, and even bloodshot, his eyes had a nasty glint in them.
I stood up. It seemed the natural thing to do. I was surprised to find that, while he was still taller than I was, he didn't tower over me. I'd grown in the months since I'd last seen him.
While standing, I had a quick realization that I didn't feel like I had all those months ago. Then I'd been overcome with fear. I'd been ready to do anything to avoid a confrontation. Eager to assume the position of toady if by doing so would keep me from getting hurt.
I smiled, thinking those thoughts, realizing who I'd been and who I was now. I wasn't that scared kid any longer.
I now knew who I was, and I wasn't about to let Frank or anyone else take advantage of me like he'd done back then. It suddenly became clear to me what the difference was between the boy who'd been so intimidated by Frank and the others who'd been sitting on those porch steps back in the previous fall. I was a cipher back then with no idea who I was. I was rather like a feather that drifts with the slightest of breezes, no will of its own, buffeted by the whims of anyone and anything. I'd allowed myself to be mistreated and abused. I'd let anyone push me around because I had no substance, no confidence, no structure.
I now knew who I was. I'd learned, and I'd changed. I'd stood up to Joe, I'd stood up for Alder, I'd been a vital part of a rowing team, perhaps even its leader, but more importantly a visceral part of it. The fact I'd found a boy to love, one who loved me back just as fiercely, mattered, too. Those events had changed me, changed how I thought of myself. I was proud of who I was, and never again would I allow myself to be minimized. Where before there'd been no substance to me, now there was. There were still people like Frank in the world, but they would no longer intimidate me.
I realized that what Dr. Rettington had told me early on was indeed true. I'd lacked self-respect, and it was apparent to everyone I dealt with.
I was standing, and so was he. I picked up my bag and took a step toward him. He was in my way. He didn't move, and smirked. "Where do you think you're going?" he asked with what he meant to be a challenge in his voice.
I stopped and looked into his eyes. They were looking back, and I held the gaze with mine while the moment lengthened. The glint in his slowly became confused, and his smirk faded. In looking at me, I guess he saw something he hadn't seen before, that hadn't been there before. I was standing straight. My face was firm, my eyes confident. There was no quailing, no flinching now.
I answered his question with an even voice. "I'm going where I want to go, Frank. The real question is, where are you going? You might give that some thought. Just where are you going?" I paused, still meeting his eyes, then said with no change in my voice, without hesitation or obsequious inflection, "You're in my way, Frank."
He didn't know what to say, how to act. He'd meant to have fun with me again; that was obvious. But the boy standing in front of him wasn't a boy he could do that with. And somehow, just in my carriage and voice and eyes, he knew that. Yet I wasn't putting on an act at all. What he was seeing was simply me. Me, and that was enough.
I stepped forward, walking directly toward him. I had my suitcase in my hand, and if he didn't move, it would hit him. He hesitated, but then took a step back. I walked past him, not even glancing in his direction.
I thought about this meeting on and off all the way back home, what it meant. And then my mother was there to meet me with questions about school, and I had a lot to fill her in on, and Frank was less than even a memory.
I'd be home three days before Derek was going to arrive for a visit. He'd spend a month with us.
- Epilogue –
I found I'd dropped the letter in my lap while I'd been lost in my reminiscences. I picked it up again and scanned through it. Fiftieth reunion. Banyard, Dr. Rettington, Mike, that first year, and then all the rest. Crew, and Sutton.
I was holding the letter, wanting to let my mind wander, when I was interrupted.
"What's that, then?"
I looked up and smiled. After over 55 years, I still smiled when I saw him. He had that effect on me. Then I growled, the way I sometimes do when teasing. "What do you mean, 'what's that?' You got one, too. Just open it."
"Didn't want to. I was afraid they'd found some irregularity, that I was still a credit short of graduating, and they wanted their diploma back."
I looked up at him. He was staring back. Then he grinned.
"Come here," I said.
"Oh no! No no no! I know that look, and I've got things to do today. You randy old goat."
I stood up. "I can catch you, you know. I may be old, older than you in fact, but I can still run faster than you can."
"Shuffle faster, maybe." Then he laughed. I always had liked Derek's laugh. And as he laughed, he moved toward me. I didn't have to chase him at all.
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