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SUMMARY: Two boys from dissimilar backgrounds, one trying to stay out of jail, the other privileged and seemingly destined for greatness. Thrown together by chance and only imperfectly aware of just how much they need one another, the boys struggle to connect across the many divides that separate them and slowly begin to recognize they may share more in common than they could have ever imagined. And yet whether they’ll be able to overcome their fears, doubts and insecurities and open up to each other remains to be seen. Please note that italics are typically used to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Unless otherwise noted, all of the characters in the story are fictional; any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. While some of the places described or mentioned in the story are fictional as well, others may be real. However, some liberties may have been taken with the truth to enhance the story. Please note that the story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you do not like or approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.
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NOTES: Please check these notes every week. If there’s something I want to alert you to as I post each chapter, this is where I will I do so. October 26, 2015: Chapter 13 is narrated by Holden.
THE OPENED DOOR
The next couple of days passed uneventfully. I followed my usual routines; attending class, studying at the library, and all the rest of it. But for some reason I was more content now; happier than I had been since arriving in New England the previous fall.
Even my math class didn’t seem so bad any more. Not that I liked it, of course; I didn’t. But thanks to Sean, I understood what the course was about for the first time.
He would stop by in the evening after work and the two of us would go over my notes and assignments and what I had learned in class. Unlike me, math was exciting for Sean. He found it challenging and was able to explain it to me in a way neither the Professor nor the Teaching Fellow could.
It wasn’t the only thing we talked about, of course, and far from the most important. Having promised to be totally honest with one another, we talked about everything, including the problems Sean was dealing with at home. He had managed somehow to patch up things temporarily between his father and Kevin, but the underlying issue was far from resolved.
Nor were problems on the home-front the only ones Sean was dealing with. I began to realize how much he hated his jobs and could understand why given what he told me about his bosses; and even though he liked the extra money peddling marijuana brought in, he seemed to have guilt feelings about that as well.
From what he told me, he was being pressured by some of my classmates to sell other drugs to them, things like heroin and cocaine he considered dangerous and didn’t want them to use. We talked about that a lot and I tried my best to provide a sympathetic but non-judgmental ear.
I think he appreciated having someone to talk to about all of that and sensed he wanted to get out of the business. The more he talked about it, the more I understood why.
Not everything we talked about was as serious. Sean had a terrific sense of humor and he liked bantering with me all the time. Just as it was for me, I think stopping by my room before heading home in the evening was the highlight of his day.
Every night I tried to persuade him to stay at my place, but he felt like he needed to be at home given how tense things were there. I couldn’t blame him for that. We would hug before he left and by now his body was no longer stiffening the way it did the first time we had embraced. I could tell he liked those mutual embraces as much as I did.
Having arranged a weekend sleepover for Kevin at Bobby’s place, he promised he’d spend Saturday and Sunday evening at mine. I was looking forward to that.
He was still having trouble using the word love to explain how he felt about me. But what I saw in his eyes told me another story and I kept reminding myself I needed to take things slowly. And yet try as hard as I could, I somehow became convinced the upcoming weekend would be a turning point for us.
I wanted it to be special for Sean and was determined to do whatever it took to make that happen. Even though it proved completely embarrassing for me, I forced myself to go to the store and buy some condoms and something called Boy Butter that was supposed to make everything easier.
But just thinking about what might happen made me nervous.
As the week progressed I debated whether I should cancel my appointment with Professor Jeffords on Friday. He had been extraordinarily generous with his time, but now that Sean was helping me with my math I felt guilty about bothering the man. In the end, I decided to keep the appointment as there was something else I wanted to discuss with him.
Sean had finally remembered to give me a copy of his high school transcript after a lot of nagging. When I looked at it, I was astonished. His grades were at least as good as mine in most subjects and better in some. That got me wondering again about the guidance he had received about college.
Finally Friday arrived and I was on my way to my appointment. Preoccupied with what I wanted to talk to Professor Jeffords about, I never saw Roger approaching.
“Goodness; you seem to be in a good mood today,” he volunteered. “You’re actually smiling for a change, Holden. Did you and Sean have a good time last Saturday evening?”
“We did,” I responded, cautiously. “We had a very good time.”
“That’s wonderful,” he said, catching me by surprise. “I’m glad to hear that; ever since we broke up before the holidays, I’ve been worried about you. You seemed to become more and more depressed with each passing month. I suppose that’s understandable under the circumstances, but it’s nice to see you smiling again this morning.”
“Thanks, Roger,” I replied. “I am feeling a lot better these days thanks to Sean.”
“That’s terrific,” he said. “He seemed very nice. I realize I overdid it a bit last weekend when I ran into the two of you. I hope you’ll forgive me. Whatever else you think, I’ve never had anything except your best interests at heart.”
It was surprising, no doubt about it, a side of Roger I had rarely seen. He seemed genuinely contrite.
“Sure,” I responded. “I was annoyed at the time because you seemed to be deliberately trying to embarrass me, but I forgive you. I’ve been under a lot of pressure lately and I suppose other people have been as well. But things are looking up for me at the moment. I hope the same is true for you.”
“They are, Holden,” he said. “And thank you for forgiving me; I had my doubts you would and I wouldn’t have blamed you if you didn’t. But after we parted I promised myself I was going to turn over a new leaf; to stop being so nasty to people, especially friends like you I admire so much.”
“I won’t blame you if you don’t believe me,” he continued. “Like they say, the proof is in the pudding so feel free to judge me by my deeds, not my words. But speaking of words I need to apologize to Sean as well, not just you. I was much too nosy and treated him badly. Could you tell me where he works? I’d like to apologize in person.”
Suddenly a red flag went up. Roger was being nice; much too nice given everything I knew about him.
“Uh, well, I don’t really know where he works, Roger; somewhere over in the Square I think. But I’ll be happy to convey your apology to him the next time I see Sean.”
“That’s fine,” Roger said; “but could you give him my cell number as well? I would prefer to apologize in person, of course. That’s how I was brought up by my mother. If that’s not possible, it would be nice if he called so I could do it over the phone.”
“Sure,” I responded, still suspicious. “I’m not promising he’ll call, but I’ll give him your number.”
“Thanks, Holden; I really do appreciate it. Have a nice day.”
With that he turned and was off.
It was hard to know what to make of our conversation. Roger’s mood swings were already the stuff of legend on campus.
I don’t know, Holden. Maybe you’re being too suspicious. I have my doubts, but maybe Roger is genuinely sorry. You should probably mention it to Sean and see what he thinks.
Making my way to Professor Jeffords’ office, I found myself waiting. He was running late as usual. The man was incapable of ending an appointment with a student at the designated time. He would spend as much time as you needed and then even more just because he enjoyed talking to you so much.
It was one of the things all of us he advised loved about the man. He was genuine and his interest in us was genuine as well, not forced or contrived.
Eventually the door opened and he ushered one of my classmates out of his office. They were smiling. Just by looking at their faces you knew their meeting had been a good one. Finished at last, he walked over and shook my hand.
“Good afternoon, Holden,” he said. “It’s great to see you; I apologize for making you wait so long, but your classmate was having some problems and it took a while to help him work through them. In any event, do come in. I have some terrific news for you.”
With that he ushered me into his office and over to the couch. Having delivered me safely to it, he sat down in the chair opposite me.
“Did you have a good time at that Red Sox game last Saturday, Holden?” he asked. “I was there myself and that game was a real nail biter. But that’s always the best kind of game when the Sox go on to beat the Yankees. What did you think of it?”
“I loved it,” I replied. “It was an awesome day and I loved everything about the experience. Fenway Park is fantastic and just sitting among all those crazed fans was fun. I loved rooting for the Red Sox; I especially loved it when they won on that walk-off homer in the bottom of the eleventh.”
“My friend had an even better time than me,” I continued. “He’s at least as rabid a fan of the Red Sox as you and he got to go to the game against the Yankees on Sunday as well with his younger brother.”
“That was another terrific game,” Professor Jeffords chimed in. “Watching the Sox take the Yankees apart like that was fun. In any event, I’m glad you got to take in the game; that friend of yours sounds like a terrific influence. You know, being a Red Sox fan excuses many sins, Holden; many sins indeed.”
“But what I wanted to tell you is I’ve found someone I think might be able to help with that math course of yours; assuming you’re still open to that, of course. If you’ve decided to go ahead and leave, I won’t bother you with his name. But I hope you’re willing to let him try before dropping out. It would mean a great deal to me.”
“Um, well, I’m feeling a little embarrassed right now, Professor Jeffords,” I replied. “The thing is, I found someone myself who’s been helping me with the course this week. I feel like I understand the material much better than I did when we talked last Friday.”
“Great! That’s terrific, Holden. I’m delighted to hear that; one of your classmates, perhaps, or a graduate student?”
“No; this will probably shock you, but it’s the same friend I went to the Red Sox game with last Saturday,” I replied.
“It turns out he’s a genius when it comes to math. We were having dinner after the game and I happened to mention all the problems I was having and how I was thinking of dropping out of Harvard. One thing led to another and he came back to my room and I showed him the problem set I was having trouble with. He solved it in, like, a minute. It was unbelievable; and he’s been helping me out ever since.”
“Wonderful!” Professor Jeffords responded, slapping his thigh. “Who would have believed it; a math genius and a Red Sox fan? He probably has all the stats for the players memorized as well.”
“Oh, he has, sir,” I said. “As each of the players came to the plate last Saturday, he would tell me everything about them; what they were batting, their on base percentage, slugging percentage, everything. I can’t imagine what it would be like if the two of you ever went to a game together. It would be special, that’s for sure.”
“Well, I would definitely like to meet him sometime, Holden,” Professor Jeffords responded. “You’ll have to bring him by. The truth is my colleagues here at Harvard just barely put up with this little passion of mine for the Red Sox. They humor me; but not a single one of them shares my passion and they head for the hills whenever I start talking about the Sox. They don’t want to hear it.”
“I used to have a friend who shared my passion for the team. We had season tickets together and we used to go to the games all the time. Unfortunately, he died a couple of months ago. He even willed his season ticket to me. Do you believe that, Holden? He was a terrific friend, not just a Red Sox fan, and it was a big loss for me. Finding someone who shares a passion like that isn’t easy; losing them is even harder.”
“It seems like a lot of my friends are dying lately,” he continued. “Sometimes I wonder whether I’d be well advised to join them given how badly things are going these days in the world. But that’s a bunch of hooey, of course, especially when there are still some young buckaroos like you around willing to joust with me.”
“It keeps me young; at least I like to pretend it keeps me young. I’m usually pretty good at that as long as I stay away from the mirrors back at my place.”
“You don’t look old to me, sir,” I responded.
“And you certainly don’t act your age either, that’s for sure,” I added, giggling. “It’s what everyone loves about you.”
“Thank you, Holden,” he said. “That’s a terrific compliment. Like I said, I’d be delighted to meet this young friend of yours sometime. They say only older people appreciate baseball, but I don’t believe it; not for a moment. It’d be good for me to take in a game with some younger fans like you and your friend.”
“Perhaps the three of us could do that sometime if you’re interested. I have the two season tickets, one of which I end up having to give away a lot these days; and the fellow who sits next to me has become a good friend as well over the years.”
“He gives me first dibs on his ticket whenever he isn’t able to make a game. Sadly, he’s been sick a lot lately as well so he’s been missing quite a few games. What do you think, Holden? Are you up for something like that; assuming I can get that third ticket, of course?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “In fact, that’s the main reason I kept my appointment with you today; not to wheedle a free ticket out of you, but because I wanted to talk to you about my friend.”
“Sure,” he said. “You’re my last appointment today. We have lots of time and can talk about whatever you want.”
“I want to talk about Sean,” I replied. “Sean Tierney’s his name; he’s that friend of mine and like I told you, he’s a genius when it comes to math. He scored 800 on the math portion of the SAT. By comparison, I scored 710.”
“That’s an impressive number, Holden, no doubt about it,” he said. “If I had to take that thing myself, I’d be lucky to score 200; and I’d only score that because they give you 200,” he added, chuckling.
“The rest of Sean’s scores on the SATs were equally impressive,” I continued. “He scored 800 and 760 on the other two portions; and his grades in school were equally good.”
“I brought along a copy of them,” I added, sliding the transcript Sean had given me across the table to him.
He laid the sheets of paper down on the coffee table separating the two of us and looked at them for a minute or two.
“You have a very bright friend here, Holden,” he said, looking up at me. “Excellent grades; it’s not surprising someone as smart as this would be a Red Sox fan. May I ask where he goes to school; MIT perhaps? It wouldn’t surprise me, not with grades like this and his interest in math.”
“That’s the thing, Professor Jeffords,” I responded. “He’s not in college. He’s working; more than one job actually. He’s trying to save up enough money to go to one of the local community colleges in a year or two, but it seems to me he should be aiming higher than that.”
“Definitely,” Professor Jeffords said. “Community colleges fill a critical role in our educational system, but these grades and those SAT scores are definitely good enough to get him into some excellent four year institutions. Why is he focused on a community college?”
“Because his family is poor and he doesn’t have much money and he doesn’t want to go into a lot of debt to finance a college education,” I said. “That’s why.”
“Well, that’s certainly understandable,” he replied. “But he would obviously qualify for financial aid if he applied to a good four year school with a record like this. Have you told him that?”
“I have,” I said. “The thing is he got some bad advice from his high school guidance counselor, Professor Jeffords. The only school he applied to was the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts. He got admitted and they offered him a financial package, but a lot of it was in the form of loans. That’s why he decided not to go there.”
“I was wondering whether you think he would be admitted if he applied to Harvard,” I continued; “and how much financial help he could get if he did? You told me you were on the Admissions Committee last week and I figured you would know whether I should encourage him to apply here.”
“No doubt about it,” he replied. “If these grades and his SAT scores are accurate, I have no doubt he would be admitted; and assuming he and his family don’t have the money to pay, I’m also certain he would qualify for a financial aid package that covered most, if not all, of his expenses. It’s a point of pride here at the College that we never lose a student because he or she can’t afford the place.”
“Of course, Harvard has already made the decision on its next freshman class, Holden,” he added. “The college sent out acceptance letters last month; and since we don’t admit freshmen in January, he would be looking at a March decision a year from now at the earliest if he was interested and decided to apply.”
“Is there any way around that, sir?” I asked. “Couldn’t he apply now and get placed on a wait list and maybe get in next fall?”
“Hmm,” Professor Jeffords replied. “I don’t know about that. I’d have to check. I suppose that’s possible, but there are already a bunch of students who’ve been wait-listed, Holden. I’m sure they must be ranked somehow, but I don’t know how that works exactly. I would have to ask someone in the Admissions Office.”
I remember slumping in the couch when he said it. A lot could happen in a year and the thought of Sean having to wait that long for a decision was devastating.
“Where did Sean go to high school?” Professor Jeffords added, sliding the papers with his grades back across the table to me.
“Cambridge Latin,” I replied.
“Really?” Professor Jeffords said.
Retrieving the transcript, he took another look.
“I see,” he said. “The name of the school got cut off when this copy was made. I thought some of the courses looked familiar.”
“I don’t how good a high school it is or where it’s located for that matter,” I said, “but that’s what he told me.”
“And his name is Tierney?”
“Yeah,” I responded; “Sean Tierney.”
“Tierney . . . Tierney . . . why does that name sound so familiar?”
Professor Jeffords seemed perplexed for a moment; then his face suddenly brightened.
“Of course,” he finally responded. “Now I recall. Cambridge Latin is an excellent high school. It’s not very far from here actually. They have an honors program for exceptional students, one designed to put them on a fast track to college. I teach the honors history course there and have a student in the course named Kevin Tierney. He’s a freshman. I wonder if he and Sean are related.”
I remember being surprised.
“They are,” I said. “Kevin is Sean’s younger brother and he’s says he’s very smart.”
“He’s right about that, Holden,” Professor Jeffords responded. “Kevin’s a very bright boy; on top of that, he’s not shy about jousting with me. He has a friend in the class that’s always egging him on to challenge me. I like both of them. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is it might change everything if Sean went to Cambridge Latin.”
“How?” I asked.
“You have to a resident of Cambridge to go there, Holden; and if Sean is from Cambridge, that could make all the difference in the world.”
“He is,” I replied. “He lives not too far from here, on Tremont Street. But why would that change anything?”
“That’s an interesting story in itself,” Professor Jeffords said. “A few years ago I was doing some research in the school archives. Harvard was about to celebrate its 375th anniversary and the President asked me to come up with some interesting historical tidbits she could use as she traveled around the country talking to various groups.”
“In the course of my research, I came across something we would call a memorandum of understanding these days. It was an old document, very old, one dating back to the founding of what was then being called the New College in 1636. It was basically an ancient agreement between what later became the Board of Overseers of the College and the leaders of Cambridge, which was called Newtowne back in those days.”
“The Board was trying to persuade the community to provide some land for the school; and the community was willing to do that but with one caveat. They wanted their sons to be able to attend the college if they were qualified so the agreement stipulated that students from Newtowne could petition the Board of Overseers at any time and get an immediate decision on their application for admission.”
“Shortly thereafter Newtowne became Cambridge and the New College was renamed after John Harvard, a deceased clergyman and alumnus of the University of Cambridge, who had left the college his library of some 400 books and a tidy sum of money. However, the original agreement continued to be honored.”
“Cambridge was a very small community back then and not many local students petitioned the Board for admission; and not all those who applied were qualified, of course. As best I was able to figure out, the last time someone was admitted under the agreement was sometime back in the early twentieth century.”
“I would have to ask, but I never found anything indicating the agreement had been abrogated. It would be interesting to find out whether Sean could apply for admission under that agreement. It would be highly unusual, of course. I can’t recall anyone ever doing it, at least since I’ve been a member of the Admissions Committee; but if so, there would be an added benefit as well.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
Professor Jeffords laughed.
“Those local community leaders back then drove a hard bargain, Holden,” he said. “The agreement also stipulated that any local student who petitioned the Board successfully would be able to attend the College free of charge. To do that the Board endowed a scholarship fund for that sole purpose.”
“If Sean was successful in petitioning the Board of Overseers for admission, he wouldn’t have to worry about paying. His expenses would be taken care of.”
“That’s assuming he wants to apply, of course,” he said, looking at me. “Have you asked him about that?”
“I haven’t,” I replied. “I didn’t want to raise his expectations so I’ve never discussed any of this with him. He doesn’t even know I’m talking to you about it. I’m sure he’d be worried about whether he could get in or could afford to go here; and he might be concerned about whether he fits in at a place like Harvard.”
“Just like some other people I know,” Professor Jeffords said, smiling at me. “You know, Holden, almost everyone I advise seems to be concerned about that their freshman year. I spend a lot of time reassuring students they fit in, but you have to tailor the message differently for every student.”
“In any event, why don’t I call the head of the Admissions Office and ask whether Sean could petition the Board under these expedited procedures?” he continued. “We’re good friends and I’m sure he’ll be able to give me an answer quickly enough. If Sean can do so, I’ll let you know.”
“But it might be best not to mention any of this to him, at least right away. I want to be certain about all of this before talking to him and you might scare him off if you told him. That would be a shame because he sounds like the kind of student we could use more of at Harvard.”
“I’d also like to get to know him a little better before we raise the subject. If he’s anything like his younger brother, however, I’d be willing to go to bat for him with the Board.”
“Why don’t we do this, Holden?” he added. “The Sox are playing the Detroit Tigers tomorrow evening. Why don’t I check to see whether that fellow who sits next to me is planning to go? If not, I’m sure he’d sell me his ticket. Then I could invite you and Sean over for an early dinner at my place in Boston and the three of us could take in the game that evening.”
“Do you think Sean would be interested in doing something like that?”
“I think so,” I replied. “He’s a pretty rabid Red Sox fan so I imagine a free meal and a free ticket to the game would sound good to him.”
“Excellent! Why don’t you let me make all these calls then? I’ll get back to you with what I find out and we can go from there. I think I still have your cell number. Is this it?” he asked, handing me a card from the old fashioned rolodex he kept on his desk.
“That’s it,” I said.
That was pretty much the end of our conversation that afternoon. By the time he walked me out of the building, I was feeling pretty good about things; and by the end of the day I was feeling even better.
By then Professor Jeffords had called me back to let me know Sean would be able to petition the Board under the expedited procedures if he wanted and that he had been able to secure the third ticket he needed for the Tigers game the following evening.
The two of us talked a long time about how to approach the whole thing with Sean and ended up agreeing on a plan for how we would raise what we had discussed with him.
Now it was up to me to persuade Sean to attend the game Saturday evening. I figured that would be the easiest part of my day.