Chapter 08

Lies! Lies! Lies!

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The Opened Door: Chapter 8

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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.

NOTICE: This story is my property and protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. It may not be reproduced in any form without my written permission. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author. However, you may not use this work for commercial purposes or to profit from it in any way. You may not use any of the characters or fictional places in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon the story in any way. If you share this story with others, you must make clear the terms under which it is licensed to them. The best way to do that is by linking to this web page.

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. September 21, 2015: Chapter 8 is narrated by Holden. If you have not read the introductory posting for this chapter, I would encourage you to do so before reading on. While the story is fictional, some of the pressures depicted in it are quite real indeed.

THE OPENED DOOR

Chapter 8

It was Friday morning and I was walking across the Yard to the Starbucks in Harvard Square. I wanted to think about my appointment with Professor Jeffords later that day and needed some caffeine to help me cope with the dread I was already feeling.

He’s going to be disappointed with you, Holden; very disappointed.

True enough, I admitted, and I feel bad about that, but what can I do? There doesn’t seem to be any alternative.

Suddenly my stomach rumbled and I realized I was hungry as well, not just depressed.

It’s the pot, Holden; it isn’t healthy for you. If you keep smoking that stuff, you’re going to turn into a blimp. You won’t like that and neither will Sean.

He keeps himself in terrific shape and I imagine his friends do as well. If you want to be friends with someone like Sean, you better stop smoking pot and try exercising a lot more.

Thinking about Sean made me smile. He had left for work two hours earlier, but not before I had popped the question.

“Are we still on for that Red Sox game tomorrow?” I asked, anxious to confirm I would see him again.

“Sure,” he replied. “Meet me down at the T in Harvard Square tomorrow morning around 11:45 a.m. That should get us to Fenway in plenty of time to take in the warm-ups and buy some food.”

“Bring lots of money,” he added, opening the door and grinning at me. “I wouldn’t have to worry about saving for college if I owned one of those food concessions at Fenway. I’d be a freaking millionaire by the end of the day with what they charge.”

“I’ll do that,” I promised. “I’ll be sure to bring plenty of money.”

“And I’ll bring the tickets and my cute little ass,” he added, shaking it ever so slightly before heading off to work.

Trudging across the yard, I found myself worrying about that final comment. It made me wonder whether he had figured out I was gay and was taunting me by shaking his butt like that.

You should have been upfront about that from the beginning, Holden, instead of dropping those all too obvious hints.

He’s smart.

He probably knows; and he probably thinks you want to have sex with him too.

That is what you want, isn’t it, Holden? You want to have sex with Sean, don’t you?

No, I replied sternly, trying to suppress the thought.

But I couldn’t.

Okay; yes, I like him; I like him a lot. He’s so cute and he has a body to kill for.

But that’s not what this is about.

He isn’t gay.

I just want to be friends with him.

Really; are you sure about that?

The more I thought about it, the more confusing the whole thing became.

You’re making a mountain out of a molehill, Holden. He still wants to go to the game with you tomorrow. He was just being a smart aleck with that comment; bad boys say things like that all the time. You have more important things to do than to obsess about some off-the-hand comment.

Forget about it. If he doesn’t already know you’re gay, he will soon enough and then we’ll see whether he still wants to be friends once he knows for sure.

Absorbed in my thoughts, I never saw Roger approaching until he was almost on top of me. Stopping, he blocked my path forward. Then he leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek. It was his pretentious way of showing affection, but it was also presumptuous.

I pulled away, rolling my eyes in the process to let him know I was annoyed.

“You look wonderful this morning, Holden,” he said, seemingly oblivious to the point I was trying to make; “and you smell wonderful too. Of course you always look wonderful to me, dear boy, just like Marilyn Monroe. You know that, don’t you? You know how much you remind me of her?”

Sean doesn’t think so, Roger; and neither do I for that matter. I may be gay, but I’m not a girl.

“If you say so,” I responded.

“I do say so, Holden; and you know what? When I saw you wandering across the Yard, I knew immediately you were unhappy and that reminded me it’s been forever since we did something fun together on the weekend. How about I come over this evening and make passionate love to you? I’m sure that would cheer you up, love.”

Oh, please Roger; give it a rest, will you.

“You’ll have to forgive me, Roger, but I already have plans for the evening,” I lied. “I’m afraid I’ll have to decline.”

“Perhaps Saturday then?” he asked.

“My weekend is completely scheduled, Roger; I don’t have a single moment free.”

“What a shame,” he responded. “I guess I’ll have to find some cute boy in town to play with this weekend; one of those little slugs always desperate to make a dollar or two no matter how humiliating it is for them.”

“You still don’t realize what you’re missing, do you, Holden? Being gay, you’d love letting me copulate with you; I’m very good at it, dear boy, and you would enjoy it immensely if you’d only get over those bourgeois inhibitions of yours and admit you want me. Both of us know you do.”

“But we’ll do it some other time, love. If you haven’t already noticed, I’m persistent and I’m determined to have you. But I have to get to class so ta, ta, for now.”

And with that he was off.

Jerk! I muttered to myself.

Resuming my trek across campus, I made my way to Starbucks. Once settled in, I found myself thinking about Roger, not my appointment.

He had befriended me the previous fall when the two of us arrived at Harvard. At the time I appreciated that. My parents were no longer around to make whatever decisions needed to be made and no one else seemed interested in me.

People were polite, of course; they would help if you asked, but there were limits to what people were willing to do. With Roger there was never any limit. He was a godsend, no doubt about it; unlike me, he knew everything about Harvard and Cambridge because his father was on the Board of Governors and they often visited the place together even before he was admitted.

He was available whenever I needed and I seemed to need him a lot those first couple of months. When I decided to open a checking account, for example, he named all the banks in the immediate area and then recounted their advantages and disadvantages. When I settled on one with his help, he walked me down to the nearest branch and made himself available to answer any last minute questions I had.

At some point that first semester I unburdened myself and told him I was gay because I suspected he was as well. And while he insisted he wasn’t, that he was bisexual instead, he had been entirely supportive of me, even going so far as to say that the secret I had shared only made him want to deepen our friendship.

I was fine with that, at least initially, but soon enough it was all too apparent what Roger wanted. He was polite about it, even charming in the ways he wooed me; with gifts and flowers and amusing poems that he slipped beneath my door or recited to me as we walked the Yard together.

There were even times when I wondered whether I should submit given everything he had done for me.

And yet the longer I knew him, the more I came to dislike Roger. Most people would have said he was good looking and I suppose he was in a way. But he treated people other than me far less kindly. He had a cutting tongue and made no effort to conceal it when he was in a bad mood; which was most of the time when it came to others.

And then there were those obnoxious beliefs of his, the ones he let slip occasionally. He was conservative and Republican on a campus where most people were progressive. I didn’t have a problem with that even though I disagreed with his views. But it went beyond that; way beyond that. He didn’t seem to have any social conscience at all. If anything, he seemed to be living in some entirely different century.

Soon enough he stepped up his efforts to bed me, trying to make me feel guilty for refusing him; and I did feel guilty at times. Like I said, he had done a lot for me. But by then I realized I didn’t love him and never would. Truth be told, I didn’t even like him that much because of how badly he treated others and his disdain for anyone different from him.

Realizing I had allowed things to go on much too long, I ended our relationship just before Christmas; at least I thought I had.

And yet Roger had never given up on bedding me. Even now, months later, he had detoured out of his way and asked whether he could stop by in the evening. He had said he wanted to make passionate love, that I would enjoy letting him copulate with me.

Copulate?

It was his favorite word, but it made me feel like some kind of barnyard animal and I realized again I had made the right decision to break up with him.

****

Glancing up at the clock, I realized my appointment with Professor Jeffords was rapidly approaching. He was my faculty adviser and everyone said he had been at Harvard forever. Unlike many of my classmates, who complained constantly about their advisers, I liked Professor Jeffords.

He was the one person I’d miss when I dropped out of Harvard and I felt an obligation to tell him before I did. Not that I was looking forward to our meeting; he was going to be disappointed in me and I already felt guilty about wasting his time.

You need to wrap things up quickly, Holden. The man has more important things to do than to listen to the problems of some stupid freshman like you; a lot more important things.

Walking back to the Yard, I made my way to Robinson Hall where his office was located. When I got there, his secretary informed me he was running late. I knew he would be from previous experience, but always arrived early because no one who knew the man ever wanted to waste a single moment of his time.

As I sat there waiting, I found myself fidgeting. Finally his door swung open, another student emerged with a grin on his face and his secretary ushered me into his office.

I had been there on quite a few occasions, but was always amused when I walked in. It was different from any other office I had been in at Harvard.

Most professors hung diplomas on their walls and surrounded them with pictures of family, friends, and various Harvard scenes. But there were no diplomas on these walls, no pictures of Harvard.

Indeed, there was only personal picture; one of Professor Jeffords and another young man taken long ago when both of them were obviously much younger. They had their arms around one another’s shoulders and they were smiling and it was kind of hidden away in a corner so you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for it.

But there was something about that picture that drew me to it whenever I visited his office. In some ways it seemed to be a frontal version of that painting back in my room. Unlike mine, however, you could see the delight the two boys took in one another’s company. It made me wonder whether I would ever experience something like that.

Other than that, the walls were covered with Red Sox memorabilia; autographed bats and balls, an actual base from Fenway Park, pictures of him with different players, and even one of him in a Red Sox uniform swinging a bat.

Like I said, it was different from any other office I had visited. As with the man himself, it was one of a kind.

“Holden,” he said, greeting me warmly and leading me to the couch across from his favorite chair. “How long has it been? It seems like forever since the last time we chatted; much too long, that’s for sure. I’ve missed you.”

“Oh, well, never mind,” he continued; “you’re here now and it’s great to see you. Where have you been keeping yourself and how’s everything going? ”

“Um, well, that’s why I decided to come see you this morning, Professor Jeffords,” I responded. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Good news I hope,” he said. “It’s spring after all and spring always brings good news when you’re young.”

“Uh, I’m afraid not, sir; I’ve decided to drop out of Harvard,” I responded, coming to the point as quickly as possible. “I haven’t decided whether to leave immediately or to wait until the end of the semester. But I’ve definitely decided to leave.”

“I see,” he responded, the warm smile on his face replaced with a look of distress the moment I uttered the words.

“Would you like to talk about your decision, Holden?” he asked.

“I don’t want to waste your time, sir,” I said, standing up. “I know how busy you are and it’s not like I’m going to change my mind. I probably should be on my way now that I’ve told you.”

“Oh, there’s no need to worry about that, Holden,” he replied, dismissing my concern and gesturing for me to sit down again. “When my secretary told me you called and wanted to see me, I asked if you had told her the reason. She said no, that you hadn’t explained why you wanted to meet; just that you sounded kind of depressed.”

“I told her to block out an hour for us. My next appointment isn’t for quite a while so you’ll be doing me a favor just keeping me company even if you don’t want to talk about why you’re leaving.”

“We can talk about anything under the sun, Holden. I’m not going to second guess your decision although I’m distressed to hear about it, of course; quite distressed. I was looking forward to having you in some of my advanced courses next year after the time we spent together in my introductory course last fall.”

“I enjoyed jousting with you in the classroom; so many students just sit there these days and write down whatever I say, no matter how nonsensical. Sometimes I even say things I know are ridiculous just to see whether anyone will challenge me.”

“Hardly anyone does these days. That’s one of the things I like about you so much, Holden. You never let me get away with any nonsense like that.”

“You flatter me, sir,” I responded, sitting back down. “I mean, I enjoyed jousting with you as well; not that I can recall ever winning one of those little classroom debates we had. They were fun and I’m grateful to you for putting up with me. But I never won a single one of those debates.”

“But that doesn’t mean you were wrong, Holden,” he countered. “As you well know, there’s a difference between winning a debate and being right. When was the last time you ran into a professor at Harvard willing to admit he was wrong about anything?”

That made me laugh, much too loudly, because he was right. And then, having laughed, I remember being embarrassed I had done so. But Professor Jeffords didn’t seem bothered at all. He seemed happy to have gotten a laugh out of me.

“When I was young and teaching at Williams, I used to admit defeat to students when I realized they were right,” he continued. “But then Harvard decided it wanted to hire me and I foolishly signed the contract. It was only then I discovered one of the rules at Harvard is I could never confess I was wrong to a student; I believe that it’s part of the fine print in the contract I signed.”

That caused me to laugh even louder and to be embarrassed even more, but Professor Jeffords just smiled when he saw me laughing.

“I’m afraid to ask whether that’s really part of your contract,” I replied. “It sounds like it might be from my experience. You’re right, of course. I’ve never met a professor here willing to admit they were wrong about anything; although there were a couple of times in your class when I thought you came pretty close to doing so.”

“It’s not part of the contract, Holden,” he said, “at least not officially. It’s just one of the informal rules we have around here. You can’t get tenured without being arrogant so I didn’t have any choice in the matter. I just had to grit my teeth and do it.”

“I never found you arrogant, Professor Jeffords,” I replied, protesting; “quite the contrary to be honest.”

“Thank you, Holden,” he said. “That’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me. But what’s this about dropping out?”

Caught by surprise, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

“I’m not smart enough, sir,” I responded. “I mean, I try, but I’m just not good enough for Harvard.”

Suddenly I could feel the tears welling in my eyes.

I looked away, embarrassed. I didn’t want the man to see me like that; tears pouring down my face.

“There are a lot of reasons for my decision,” I continued after finally composing myself. “I suppose the main one is I just don’t belong here.”

“All of the other students are so much smarter than me. They’re able to do the work without struggling like I do. I’m on the verge of flunking my introductory mathematics course. I never get the problem sets right in that course and I don’t have a clue what to do with the latest one we’ve been assigned. I don’t even know where to begin.”

“And it’s not like I’ve made any friends since I’ve been here either. After my experience in high school, I was hoping things would be different in college. But they aren’t; not really. I mean, there was this one person last fall I thought might . . . oh, never mind; I don’t want burden you with my personal problems.”

“The point is I just feel so isolated and out of place at Harvard; so alone and friendless.”

“I see,” he said and then his eyes drifted away toward that picture on the wall that had always intrigued me.

He stared at it for what seemed like forever.

“Did you know I went to Harvard as an undergraduate, Holden?” he finally continued, rousing himself from the little reverie he had fallen into.

“Yes, sir,” I replied. “I knew that. After I started your course last fall and decided I liked it, I googled you to see what I could find out. That was one of the things I learned; that you had graduated from Harvard College and then gone on to graduate school here as well.”

He looked over at me and sighed.

“That was so many years ago, Holden; so many years ago. Sometimes I wonder how time could have passed so fast. In any event, the reason I mention it was that I hit a rough patch my freshman year here just like you. My adviser back then was Harvey C. Elkins, Jr. He was older by the time I got to Harvard, shriveled up, but still smart as a whip and a terrific historian.”

“One day just about this time of year long ago I went to see him and told him pretty much what you just told me; that I had decided to drop out, that I wasn’t smart enough and didn’t belong at Harvard. Do you know what he told me, Holden?”

“No; what?”

“He told me I was exactly right, that I didn’t fit in; that Harvard wasn’t for everyone and that sometimes the Admissions Committee made mistakes and that I must be one of those mistakes. He went on and on like that for fifteen minutes and I remember becoming more and more annoyed the longer he did.”

“When he finished, he stood up, wished me the best of luck in whatever I chose to do in life, and then marched me to the door and sent me on my way. I was stunned, that’s for sure; dumbfounded is more like it. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard and remember getting madder and madder on my way back to my residence hall.”

“Who was this old shriveled up fart to tell me I didn’t fit in at Harvard; that the Admissions Committee made mistakes and I was one?”

“I was ticked off, Holden, seriously ticked off. And finally I decided I would hold off dropping out, at least until the semester was over. I wanted to show Professor Elkins he was wrong; that I could do the work as well as anyone.”

“So that’s what I did. I stayed; and by the time the end of the semester came around, I was surprised with how well I had actually done and changed my mind and decided to stay at Harvard. I won’t bore you with what happened after that. If you googled me, I’m sure you know all the rest.”

“It was only years later I figured the whole thing out. Elkins was a great historian, no doubt about it, but he would have made an even greater psychologist I think. He may have been old and a curmudgeon by the time I ran into him, but the man knew how to press all my buttons and get me motivated.”

“As you were talking to me, I found myself wishing he was still around. He died years ago, of course, but I wish he was still here because he would probably know what to say to you. I don’t.”

“Let’s face it, Holden; students these days are a lot smarter than when I went here. They would see right through Professor Elkins today; know immediately what he was trying to do. I was too dumb to realize that at the time.”

“It’s funny in some ways,” he continued. “If I had to compete back then for an admission spot like students these days have to compete, there’s no way Harvard would have ever admitted me. Back then the College liked to take on what they called challenges; students with some talents, skills and abilities who had never really applied themselves in school or had done poorly on the standard tests or had otherwise screwed up somehow.”

“They were students like me who would never have been admitted if the admissions criteria were strictly applied.”

“I was fortunate to be a beneficiary of that system, but things are much different today. They don’t take on challenges like me anymore here at Harvard. I serve on the Admissions Committee, but we hardly ever look at individual student records anymore. We spend all our time discussing the criteria for admission.”

“Once that’s settled, the Admissions Office follows the criteria pretty strictly because they don’t want to be accused of playing favorites. And then those of us on the Committee just ratify whoever they’ve chosen more or less.”

“The point is, when Harvard admits students now, they’re qualified and if they stick it out almost all of them will eventually graduate. These days the problem is different.”

“Harvard may have made the right decision for Harvard, but we don’t always make the right decision for the student. For some students, this is the wrong school. They need something different; not better or worse, just something different than what we offer at Harvard.”

“That may be true for you I suppose. I hope not because I would miss not having you around. I’ve grown rather fond of you, Holden. But I wouldn’t want to hold you back if you could do better elsewhere.”

“Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I remember being confused. I wasn’t entirely sure what he was saying, but it was obvious he thought there was some lesson in there for me. More than that, it was also obvious he cared about me. Knowing how much I admired the man, it was a relief hearing that.

After that we talked about a lot of different things, including many of the things we had debated the previous fall when I took his class. I was astonished the man could still recall those debates so vividly, let alone what I had said. Sometimes he even recalled what I said better than I did; and then, swearing me to secrecy, he admitted in hushed tones I had been right several times and he had been wrong.

Just the way he revealed that, feigning secrecy as if his office might be bugged and he might be fired for daring to admit such a thing, had me in stitches; indeed, the longer I was there, the more I realized how much fun I was having talking to him. But eventually he caught himself.

“Sorry to get off on a tangent like that, Holden,” he said. “I’ve squandered your time with me.”

“Not at all, sir; I enjoyed it.”

“Well, look, about this other business, I just want to say a couple of things,” he continued. “As for not fitting in here, you’re wrong Holden. You do fit in. You met the criteria better than other applicants and Harvard admitted you so you definitely fit in.”

“Whether this is the right school for you is an entirely different matter, one only you can decide. I won’t say anything more about that except I hope it is.”

“As for the other students, sure; some are smarter than you, Holden, some less smart, but most are pretty much like you. They struggle and everyone deals with that differently. Some aren’t willing to admit it to anyone, especially their fellow students, so they pretend they don’t work hard or that all their courses are a breeze.”

“It’s a shame really because the first step in getting help is having the courage to admit you’re struggling; that you don’t know everything and need some help. To me that’s the sign of a real scholar; if you already know everything, why bother with us after all?”

“Here’s the bottom line, Holden; of the things you mentioned, the only one that concerned me was the math course. I can understand that. That’s a very hard course and everyone at the College knows that. Have you talked to your TF about the problems you’re having?”

“I have, sir,” I responded. “And I think he genuinely wants to help, but no matter what he does, I just don’t get it.”

“That can happen,” Professor Jeffords replied. “There’ve been times when I’ve tried to help a student and couldn’t. It wasn’t that the student was a dunce or I’m a lousy teacher. I just wasn’t the right teacher for that particular student; and what I would try to do is to find someone who could better help him.”

“Could I ask a favor, Holden?”

“Of course,” I responded.

“Before you leave, would you give me a little time to see if I can find the right person to help with that math course? I mean, if you’re absolutely bound and determined to leave tomorrow, I wouldn’t want to stand in your way. You need to do the right thing for yourself.”

“But it’s a pretty important decision, Holden, and you would be doing me a favor if you let me see if there’s someone I can find who can help.”

“Truth be told, I have an ulterior motive. I don’t want to lose you as one of my students; it’s important to me because I need young people like you to help me become a better teacher. Not many are willing to do that these days, but you’ve already shown you are and it would be a real kindness if you gave me a little time.”

“If I can’t come up with someone to help or you decide you still want to leave after getting the help, fine. I would feel better about things then and you would know the decision wasn’t based on just one difficult course; that it was based on something more fundamental.”

“What do you think, Holden? Can you give me a little time?”

I couldn’t believe the man actually thought he needed to get better as a teacher, let alone someone like me could help him in any way. He was the best teacher on campus. Everyone knew that.

“Uh, well, sure; I doubt I’ll change my mind Professor Jeffords, but I’m not wedded to leaving before the semester is over. On the other hand, I don’t want to impose on you, sir. I know you’re a very busy man and my problem isn’t your fault.”

“Ah, but you’re wrong about that, Holden,” he interjected. “A better adviser, someone like Professor Elkins, would have been on top of this much sooner; so, you see, it is my fault. I’ve been meaning to call you, but I’ve just been so busy lately and I haven’t been feeling well either. That’s why I’d feel better if you gave me a chance to help, if only belatedly. I’d feel less guilty if you left after that.”

“Let’s do this, Holden. It’s Friday and I won’t be able to accomplish very much over the weekend; and it’ll take a little time next week to see what I can come up with. Could we make an appointment to meet again in a week?”

“If I can’t find someone to help, I’ll be honest with you. If I can and we can get you straightened out in math, well, then we’ll have at least set up a situation where your decision isn’t being made on the basis of just one really hard course; a course I couldn’t pass if my life depended on it I should add.”

“Sure,” I responded. “I’m willing to do that.”

“Good,” he said, smiling.

Looking up at the clock, I was amazed. We were thirty-five minutes over the hour he had set aside for me, an appointment already far more generous than any other adviser would have permitted.

Walking me to the door, Professor Jeffords stopped at his secretary’s desk.

“Mr. McCall is going to come back to see me in a week, Mary. Does the same time work?”

“Not really,” she replied, scrutinizing his appointment calendar. “You’re booked the entire day; in fact you’re booked solid the next three weeks.”

“Let me see that thing,” Professor Jeffords said, taking the appointment calendar from her.

“There,” he said, handing it back to her and pointing to a time late in the day the following Friday.

“But you have a medical appointment at that time,” she replied, agitated. “It’ll take forever to reschedule that and you shouldn’t be rescheduling it in any event. You know that perfectly well.”

“Cancel it and pencil in Mr. McCall for that hour instead, Mary,” he said. “You may be the boss around here, but occasionally I still get to make one or two decisions myself.”

Then, grabbing hold of my arm, he turned, walked me through the outer door and the two of us headed down the long corridor.

I felt bad about him cancelling his medical appointment to make room for me. I was about to protest when he spoke up, preempting my effort to do so.

“So what do you think, Holden?” he said. “Are the Red Sox going to do it this year? Are they going to make the playoffs and win the World Series again?”

“You’d know better than me, Professor Jeffords,” I responded. “I’ve never followed baseball very much at all, but I have this friend, at least I’m hoping he’ll be my friend, who’s taking me to my very first game at Fenway Park tomorrow. I should probably be studying, but I decided to go to the game instead.”

“Good for you, Holden,” he said. “That was a very wise choice on your part. Watching the Red Sox play will do far more good for you than a couple more hours in Lamont. Baseball is good for the soul.”

“You know, a while back I tried to interest the Department in letting me teach a course in the history of baseball, but they wouldn’t approve it,” he continued, looking over at me. “Of course, if a student came up with an idea for an independent study of something like that and asked me to work with him on it, who knows what might happen? I doubt they could turn that down.”

“If you enjoy the game tomorrow, think about it,” he added, smiling at me and wrapping his arm around my shoulder as we continued down the corridor.

I was surprised he did that. I had never had a teacher touch me in any way my entire life. But I liked having his arm around my shoulder. It made me feel like someone actually cared.

“I will. I’ll definitely think about it, Professor Jeffords; and thanks again. I feel better already just from talking with you.”

“And so do I, Holden,” he responded; “so do I. I feel fit as a fiddle.”

“Have a nice weekend, Holden.”

18 thoughts on “Chapter 08

  1. Once again Kit Kat great writing and the telling of a story. I guess you all want us to think that the Professor is gay and that Jeffords interest in Holden has a little of sexual interest. Perhaps I am reading my own thoughts into it.

    I hope Holden stays but then the thought is he could leave and go to the community college with Sean! How is that for an idea?

    Thanks for such a good story and I can not wait till next Tuesday morning when I read the next episode.

    1. That’s a very interesting take on things, Graham; i.e., that Professor Jeffords is gay or at least has some kind of sexual interest in Holden. I hope other readers will comment on that as well as I would be very interested in knowing whether the professor comes across that way to others.

      Your suggestion that Holden might leave and end up going to community college with Sean is also interesting, but somewhat less plausible I think. It could go down that way, I suppose, but I can’t imagine Holden’s parents would be at all happy about that. And Holden is from Virginia after all. Why would he attend a community college in Massachusetts?

      Of course, going to a community college might just be what Holden needs to break away from his parents; and since he’s already in Massachusetts and interested in Sean, that might work.

      As always, though, we’ll just have to see. There are a lot of possibilities and I guess that’s what keeps bringing people back; to see what actually happens.

  2. Hi Kit

    I have the same feeling as Graham. I got that from Holden’s thoughts on the picture of the professor and his friend and the expression on their faces. My guess is that Holden will stay in Harvard get the help that he needs and go on. I think the baseball game will bring he and Sean together sexually either that evening, or very soon thereafter.

    Great writing as usual.

    Tom

    1. Another vote for Professor Jeffords as having a sexual interest in Holden . . . along with an opinion that the baseball game will be an important bonding experience for Holden and Sean, one that lands them in bed pretty quickly thereafter. But there seems to be some split opinion on whether Holden stays at Harvard or leaves.

      In other words, more possibilities for the author to possibly influence the course of events 🙂

      Assuming things haven’t already gone too far, of course; we’ll have to see.

      Since no one has mentioned it, you may want to go back to Connected (Chapters 15 and 16) and see what you can from those chapters about the type of person Professor Jeffords is.

  3. Hi Kit

    I disagree with Graham’s prognostications. Professor Jefford is possibly/likely gay, but he is in no way interested in Holden sexually. His introduction to the story is “to save Holden from himself”. As Jefford recounted to Holden, he survived Harvard because of the intervention of Professor Elkins “way back then”. What Jefford is doing is making the same sort of intervention. Good teachers know good students when they meet them. They also want them to reach their potential.

    I enjoyed this chapter. My prognostication is that (EVENTUALLY!) Sean will be Holden’s “maths saviour”!

    NB: In US it is “math” … in the Antipodes it is “maths” 🙂

    Cheers

    1. Still another take on it. Gopher thinks there’s no sexual interest on the part of Professor Jeffords, but is guessing Sean will help Holden solve his math (or maths) problems.

      I have to say that it’s actually quite amazing to see how readers interpret the words I’ve put down on paper. When I’m writing, I know the way forward for the characters and it even seems almost too obvious to me. Clearly, it’s not necessarily obvious to readers as you seem to be all over the place about what comes next.

      But, as I’ve said many times, that’s part of the fun. All of us (but perhaps readers especially) have to be constantly revising their opinions of what will come next based on new information; or, alternatively, doubling down on what they already think when new information is provided.

      Hmm, Kit … maybe now’s the time to start charging by the chapter 🙂

  4. I agree with the wonderful Gopher. I don’t think Prof. Jeffords has any interest in Holden sexually. I think that when he was a student at Harvard he struggled with his sexuality and there was no way at all the he could be out (unless he attended Harvard in that brief period post WWI – Pre Depression). So he recognizes Holden’s troubles and will able to help him.

    PS. As someone born and bred only 30 miles from Boston who just moved to China, I really appreciate how well you paint the picture of my hometown. Thanks for the taste of home Kit.

    1. The split in opinion grows deeper still 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, Tom. Though I will say it would be pretty darn hard for Professor Jeffords to have been at Harvard in the late 1920s and still be teaching in contemporary America. If that was the case, you would definitely be right and there would be no sexual interest there at all for the good Professor (unless my understanding of old age is way off the mark).

      Indeed, I doubt the good Professor would be quite as articulate as he comes across in the chapter. I’m thinking dementia would have set in if he was alive at all 🙂

      But leaving aside pesky details like that, I found your thoughts on his psyche quite interesting. We’ll be seeing more of the good Professor as the story progresses so that should give you more time to develop your thoughts about him.

      Good Lord, China? Is there any place in the world this story isn’t being read? But thanks for the kind words, Tim. I’m glad to be helping you cope with being away from home. I have another story coming along in 2016 that should help as well.

  5. Hi Kit

    The whole thing about reading fiction is “reading forward”! And then seeing if one’s “reading forward” is a good prognostication (LOL). Any good story is battle between the reader and the writer about “what will happen next.”

    I will go back and re-read those chapters of “Connected” 🙂

    I’ll work out the MATHS eventually LOL.

    1. I don’t mind wrestling with readers about what comes next, gopher; unlike you, however, I actually know what comes next. But I don’t think I’ve ever changed anything to undercut a reader’s views. If you’re right, time will prove you right. If you’re wrong, I will expect you to bail Professor Jeffords out of jail and to find a math (or is that maths) tutor for Holden 🙂

  6. Goodness. I’d read Connected but I’d forgotten about Jefford’s part in that. The equivalent of the Boardwalk teddybear link!
    Well done, Kit.

  7. Hi Kit

    They are not “linked” … they are books within a multi-volume opus 😉

    I know Prof Jeffords will re-appear. In your last chapter he chose to delay an important medical appointment so that he could re-connect with Holden.

    My “mild” prognostication is that Jeffords has a terminal condition which his secretary knows about or is concerned he might have. He wants to do for Holden what Elkins did for him before that, whatever that condition might be.

    And I’m with you – this is a Post-WWII story!

    1. Thanks, gopher. There have been times when I wondered how things would turn out if I ever decided to step back and rewrite all these stories and see if I could connect them together somehow.

      I’m not saying I’ll never do that, but right now I have at least a couple more stories inside me. We’ll have to see how those go before trying something ambitious like trying to connect all of them together. But sometime I may utter the magical words: War and Peace here I come 🙂

      Feel free to prognosticate all you want, gopher. You could be right. You could be wrong. And if you’re a good enough prognosticator, I may even change the story around just to stay one step ahead of you 🙂

      Or will you start feeding me false prognostications if I do that?

  8. About your last … very likely 😀

    Nah. The writer should always lead and the readers’ job is to TRY and predict where it’s all going.

    Any good writer will confound us all.

    I grew up reading Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and O. Henry’s short stories. Both writers always had unexpected “twists” that caught the reader “unawares”! (Very “trans-Atlantic” for a boi from the Antipodes! Even NZ’s home-grown Katherine Mansfield – best known for her short story “The Birthday Party” knew that trick.)

    The best crime fiction writers of the 20th Century, both female and one from Britain and one from NZ (Agatha Christie from UK; Ngaio Marsh from NZ) both had that same skill. Prognosticate all you want, reader. I know where this story is going! LOL.

    1. Drat! Now you’re really stepping up the pressure, gopher, with that “Any good writer ….”

      But, of course, you did miss Professor Jeffords entirely in the first instance so I won’t be completely humiliated 🙂

  9. Oh man … Katherine Mansfield is the complete and polar opposite of our dear Kit. My 15 year old students are reading her short stories here in China and so far we can all agree that we haven’t read a single character of hers that we like. Unlike Kit who writes characters that I want to invite to my home for a cook out.

    1. For better or worse, I rather doubt we’ll ever know what your students think of my characters, Tim, so perhaps a fair comparison isn’t possible; and as I have no clue who Katherine Mansfield is in any event, I believe I’ll leave this to you fellows to sort out 🙂

      Hmm … I wonder which of my characters would accept an invitation to a cook out at Tim’s place and which wouldn’t? Perhaps more to the point, which ones could he invite without bringing scandal on himself?

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