“I’m so excited,” Lucien bubbled as he paced nervously backstage.
“Relax, babe,” Robin said with a smile. He took Lucien’s hand and pulled him back to his seat.
“Sorry, I just never expected to be here.”
“Lu, you worked your butt off,” said Griffin.
“Yeah, Lucien,” Robin added. “I’m so proud of you.”
“I’m proud of you, too.” Lucien smiled and squeezed his hand. “I’m proud of all of us.”
“I’m so proud I can't even sit straight,” Elliot exclaimed.
“Not like you do much straight,” Colby chuckled and put his arm around his boyfriend. "Thank goodness."
Lucien and Robin sat with Griffin, Elliot, Colby and fifteen other members of the senior class. They were a mix of boys and girls, the best and brightest Columbia High had to offer. As a group they’d been accepted to some of the finest universities in the world. Each year high schools hosted signing days for their graduating athletes where they made known the schools where they would continue to play football, baseball, what have you, after high-school graduation. With so many of its students bound for the upper echelon of academia, Columbia High had decided to do the same for its scholars.
It was the district communications director’s idea. She’d approached the principal with it and they’d agreed it was a way to shine a spotlight on what a fine academic school Columbia High actually was, particularly for a small, rural community.
As the boys chatted among themselves the ceremony began. The conversation died down and as each name was called, the students took a moment to congratulate their fellow classmate before they took to the stage.
“Our next student is Mr. Lucien Kutsenko,” Mr. Kissick announced.
Lucien rose from his seat, his friends clapped him on the back and Robin gave him a peck on the cheek for good luck before shoving him out on stage. The audience clapped and Mr. Kissick shook his hand. Then Lucien sat at the table to sign his letter of intent.
Lucien took a deep breath, smiled and, with a noticeable flourish, signed his letter. He reached into the box stashed under the table cloth and donned his university’s baseball cap, just like the jocks did.
“With a 3.7 GPA, Mr. Lucien Kutsenko will be attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he’ll study Business Management,” said Mr. Kissick. “I bears mentioning that the faculty is extraordinarily proud of this young man who, through dedication and hard work, compressed two years of studies into one so that he might graduate with his class.”
The audience applauded, Lucien shook the principal’s hand one last time and then took his place on stage with those who had signed before him. The smile never left his face.
Griffin wished he shared Lucien’s exuberance. It’s not that he wasn’t excited about college—he was—it was just that he’d been plagued with indecision almost from the moment he’d opened his acceptance letter three weeks earlier…
It had been an ordinary January day. Griffin climbed from his car and trudged through the snow after a long day at school; he was looking forward to a little rest before heading over to Robin’s for their nightly study group. He couldn’t believe how tired he was. He thought he’d coast through his senior year but that was not the case. Griffin was an ambitious kid, he had lofty goals, and he knew if he was going to make them a reality he’d have to work hard. One of the many things that had suffered from his relationship with Royce McGuire was his GPA and in order to correct it he was taking more advanced placement, college level, courses than anyone in his class.
When he walked in the door he dropped his messenger bag by the foyer table with a contented sigh. It seemed to weigh him down more and more every day. He climbed the stairs and entered his room ready to flop down on the bed and take a nap. but his entire demeanor changed when he found the note on his bed—a post-it attached to a white envelope whose return address read Stanford University.
Dad’s working late tonight and I had to drive into town for a department meeting at the college. I know you have your study group tonight but call me if you want me to pick you up some dinner on the way home.
PS: I didn’t peek.
He slowly sat down on the bed and cradled the envelope in his hands. He stared at it for a long time. He’d been accepted to some of the best schools in California: USC, University of the Pacific, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Pepperdine, and Loyola-Marymount, but Stanford was the big one; his dream school. Stanford was the key to Harvard Medical School, an MD, a PhD in Psychology, the life and career he dreamed of.
The answer was right there, sitting in his hands, waiting to be revealed, but he couldn’t do it. He wanted to share this moment with Devyn; it would affect his life too, but his boyfriend was at band practice. They wouldn’t meet until they were all gathered for study group. He sat the letter on his bed and paced nervously for what felt like hours. There would be no nap today.
When he couldn’t take it anymore he snatched the letter up, ran downstairs, grabbed his bag and his keys and jumped in the car. He was on autopilot as he made his way across town, his mind a maze of questions and opportunities. He got to the Kirkwood’s early, before Robin even got home, and chatted with the twins until his friends arrived.
Robin had wrestling practice after school so Devyn hitched a ride with him when band practice broke up. They must have met Lucien, Austin and Derek in the driveway because they all entered the house together. They went into the dining room and found Griffin waiting for them.
“Hey Griff, you’re early,” said Robin.
Griffin held up the envelope for everyone to see.
“Whoa,” said Robin, noting the unmistakable red Stanford logo.
“Ewww, the big school,” Austin added with a smile.
“Bum, bum, bum,” said Derek, dramatically.
Devyn hopped into the seat next to him and took his free hand.
“I couldn’t open it,” said Griffin.
“Nervous?” asked Lucien.
“A little, but I wanted to be with Devyn, too.”
Devyn smiled and planted a kiss on his cheek.
“You want us to give you some privacy?” asked Robin.
“No, no, it’s okay,” said Griffin and then he just sat there.
“So, um, you gonna open that?” Lucien finally prompted.
“I don’t know if I can.” Griffin sighed. “Everything hangs on what’s in this envelope.”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” Lucien teased. “You’ve gotten into every school you’ve applied to.”
“Yeah but this one, if I get in there…” he trailed off.
“So open it,” Austin prompted.
Griffin sat quietly and stroked the envelope as though it were a little pet. The suspense was killing Devyn who'd finally had enough. He grabbed the envelope from his boyfriend and tore it open.
“That’s more like it,” Robin said and laughed.
Devyn unfolded the letter and read the contents. When he was finished he looked up grimly.
“What’s it say?” asked Griffin, his voice catching in his throat.
Devyn’s face broke into a broad smile.
“Yes!” Griffin shouted as he seized the letter and began to read aloud. “Dear Mr. Douglas we are pleased to inform you of your acceptance into the one-hundred-thirtieth class of Stanford University…YES!”
He dropped the letter and threw his arms around Devyn. He kissed his lips, his cheeks, and then pulled him into a bone-crushing hug.
“Congratulations,” said Robin.
“Yeah, dude, that’s awesome,” Lu added.
“I’m really happy for you,” said Austin.
'I love you,' Devyn signed then kissed him again.
“What’s all the shouting about?” asked Mrs. Kirkwood, sticking her head into the room from the kitchen.
“Griffin just got accepted to Stanford,” said Robin.
“Oh, my, congratulations honey.” She smiled and wiped her hands on a dish towel. “It’s going to be so strange not having you boys all gathered around my dining table next year.”
“I’ll be back in a minute,” said Derek as he rose from the table and headed quickly for the door.
“What’s with him?” asked Lucien.
“He’s going to miss Griffin,” said Austin.
“Duh, we all will,” said Lucien.
“Yeah, but Griffin’s Derek’s little buddy, you know?”
“He hasn’t said anything,” said Griffin, blushing slightly at the ‘little buddy,’ comment.
“I don’t think he wants to upset you or for you to feel guilty.” He coughed and said, “Or, you know, in case you don't feel that way.”
“I’ll go talk to him,” said Griffin, his lips compressing.
Griffin stepped outside and found Derek sitting on the front steps. He was glad he’d thought to grab his jacket; it was freezing.
“This seat taken?” asked Griffin as he plopped down next to Derek.
“No,” Derek sniffled.
Griffin let out a small sigh. “Der, it’s only college. I’m not going away for good.”
“Austin told you? He's got such a big mouth.”
“He said you were going to miss me and I’m going to miss you too, but it’s only for college and…” Griffin trailed off, seeing his words weren't getting through to Derek. Worse, they had a ring to them he didn't like, either.
“You may as well be going away for good. It's three thousand miles away,” said Derek. “Not here, not close.”
“I know, but…”
“Do you know how many high-school friendships last after high school?” Derek asked, his voice soft and fragile.
“No,” Griffin admitted.
“Lu and Robin’s brothers, they still hang out, but ask them how many of their other friends from school they still see. I bet you the answer is near zero.” Derek refused to make eye contact with Griffin as he said this, afraid he'd break down.
“They still hang out because they’re close, just like us,” said Griffin.
“They’re also close to home. You’re going to be out in California, we’ll see you maybe at Christmas, maybe a few days during our summers when we're not all working or whatever…”
Seized with an idea, Griffin excitedly said, “You could come to California! You’d love it out there—”
Derek was already shaking his head. “My dad can’t afford the out of state tuition, I’m SUNY bound,” said Derek. “And I'm lucky to get that. Going to an out of state school makes it more expensive, you know?”
“You could get a scholarship and—”
“I’m not smart like you,” said Derek.
“What? Of course you are.”
“Griffin, you’re probably the smartest guy I know. I’m not saying I’m stupid but I’m not special enough to get a scholarship.”
“I’m sorry,” said Derek. “I didn't want to tell you because I didn't want you to feel bad. That’s not fair and I want you to be happy. I know how important Stanford is to your future and I’m happy you got in, I just don’t want to lose you. I don't want you to leave...me.”
“You’re not going to lose me.”
“I wonder how many other friends have said that,” Derek said listlessly and sighed. “I wonder how many people have sat on porches just like this one and promised their friendships weren't going to fade away, that they'd make the time.”
“It doesn’t matter, we’re not friends, Derek. That's not us. We’re family. I’ve never had people in my life like you guys before. You’re way more than friends—you’re my brothers and brothers stick together,” said Griffin.
“Yeah,” Derek chuckled. “I never had friends like this back home, must be something about this place.”
“Brothers stick together. Geez Der, you’re going to be my kid's Uncle Derek one day. You’re not going to lose me and I'm damn sure not going to lose you.”
Derek colored at the emotion in Griffin's statement. “You know, you can dress Dev in pink all you like but you’re never going to knock him up,” said Derek and giggled.
“Asshole.” Griffin laughed. “Feeling better?”
“Yeah,” said Derek, pulling him into a hug. “I love you man, I’m good.”
“Our next student,” said Mr. Kissick, “is Mr. Elliot Lindley. With a GPA of 3.9, Mr. Lindley is a member of Sahara, our concert band. He will be attending the Julliard School where he’ll study music composition. Mr. Lindley is the first student in the history of Columbia High School to be accepted to this prestigious conservatory…”
“I still can’t believe he got in there,” said Colby, shaking his head.
“I can; he’s great,” Robin said as he watched Elliot walking onto the stage.
“I agree. He’s the best pianist I've ever heard,” said Colby, “but no one gets in there; competition is fierce; acceptance is practically impossible.”
“Pretty awesome that you got into NYU, too,” said Robin.
“Yeah, I’m almost as thrilled as your boyfriend,” said Colby with a grin.
“Ha, no one’s as excited as Lucien, that’s for sure,” Robin agreed. “So are you and Elliot going to live together?”
“I wish we could, but apartments in the city are crazy expensive. Probably we'll have to settle for spending time in each other's dorm rooms.”
“That sucks. I can’t wait to live with Lucien,” said Robin. “My brother said the best part about Cornell was rooming with Chase.”
“I’m sure there are some fringe benefits that go with that,” Colby giggled.
The day after getting his acceptance letter, Griffin found himself running along the cross-country trail with Philip. The cross-country season was long since over, but the school's athletes had gym as the last class of their day. It was taught by their coaches and when their seasons were over, they spent their time keeping in shape for the next year or moving on to another sport. There would be no next season for Griffin; he loved to run but had no interest in competing in the NCAA.
“So, Stanford, huh?” Philip panted, his breath fogging in the chilly air.
“Yeap,” Griffin smiled.
After a lengthy pause Philip said, “All the way out in California.”
“Derek was pretty upset last night, about me leaving.”
“Duh, that guy adores you,” said Phillip. He slowed his steps and came to a stop causing Griffin to stop as well and face him. Glancing away from his friend Philip said, “I kind of do, too.”
“I don’t know what’s with you guys! I’m just a regular old asshole like the rest of you,” Griffin replied, grinning at his friend.
“No,” said Phillip. He grabbed Griffin’s shoulders and looked at him with a fierce expression on his face. “You most certainly are not.”
“I just meant…”
“I know what you meant, but you're wrong. Most people, if I’d done to them what I did to you, they would have just kicked my ass,” said Philip.
“Dev did.” Griffin giggled, trying to break the tension he was feeling.
“Yeah, that little midget packs a mean punch,” Philip snorted. “I’m serious though; you’re a good person, Griff. I don’t know where I’d be now without you.”
“Ah, you’d have found your way…”
“No, I’m not so sure I would have.” Philip released his hold and looked away. “That day I came to apologize to you, if you’d told me to fuck off I’d never have come to Robin’s party, we wouldn’t have hung out, and I would have lapsed because I'd have had no support and no one to believe in me. Shit, I almost lapsed a few times anyway. I felt Little Phil trying to come out but being your friend is so important to me it gave me the strength I needed to shut all that down.”
Griffin's mouth worked a few times without speaking and when he managed, it was with a very meek voice. “Thanks, Philip. You mean a lot to me, too.”
“I’ll tell you something else, I certainly wouldn’t have Sterling.”
“Boomer,” Griffin exclaimed. Sterling “Boomer” Bennett was Philip’s boyfriend and Griffin absolutely loved him. He was the perfect guy for Philip, calm and easy going, he also had a quick mind. The way he shot down Jamie Kirkwood’s wisecracks assured Griffin he was the perfect guy to handle Little Phil if he ever showed up again.
“I like Sterling better,” Philip replied with a blush. “Though Boomer is accurate in some ways.”
Griffin was well aware that Philip preferred his boyfriend’s proper name and he had to admit, it was kind of sexy, but he loved watching him blush like that. Philip could be so cute sometimes and Griffin thought his blushing was adorable.
“He’s so big,” said Griffin.
“Yeap.” Philip grinned and blushed harder.
“I take that grin to mean Boo..er, Sterling has the same problem Derek does? You know, finding underpants that can contain him?” Griffin laughed and pushed Philip playfully.
“I was smiling about his muscles,” Philip scoffed and punched Griffin’s shoulder.
“Oh, so it’s little then?”
“I didn’t say that, either,” Philip snickered and looked away from Griffin.
“We haven’t done that much,” Philip said with a laugh. “We’ve blown each other a few times but we’re still taking it pretty slowly.”
“Wow, you never told me,” Griff said, sounding a trifle hurt.
“You don’t tell me every time you blow Dev,” Philip countered.
“Fair point,” Griffin conceded. “But I thought I was your, how did you put it, Sherpa up the mountain of gayness?”
“Totally,” said Philip, “Maybe I should have talked to you about it. I might not have been so surprised when he came in my mouth.”
“I’m joking.” Philip laughed, then sighed. “I’m going to miss our talks when you’re gone.”
“I will, too,” said Griffin, giving him a hug. “You know I’ll only be a phone call away. I’ll never be too busy to talk to you if you need me.”
“I know,” said Philip. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay.”
“Yeah, you’ll have Sterling to take care of you.”
“And he takes care of me just fine.” Philip grinned and reached down to adjust his balls.
“Ha,” Philip snorted and took off sprinting down the trail, his laughter trailing behind him.
Colby was called on stage after Rebecca Chambers. Griffin found himself sitting alone with Robin.
“You’re so quiet today,” said Robin.
“Yeah, I’ve just had a lot on my mind.”
“I know,” said Robin. “You’ve been struggling with your decision.”
Griffin turned and smiled his friend, shaking his head. “Sometimes I forget how intuitive you are.”
“It’s my gift.” Robin smirked. “That and washboard abs.”
“Dork.” Griffin giggled.
“For what it’s worth, I think you made the right choice.”
“Really?” Griffin said, his tone filled with disbelief.
“Don't get the wrong idea, Griff,” he said, placing a hand on the smaller boy's shoulder. “I’m going to miss you and Devyn as much as anyone else but you’ve gotta do what you gotta do. It’s part of growing up. As much as I love all of you guys, and I do, we all have to go our separate ways from time to time. We all have to carve out our own lives.
“The important thing is we have a family to come home to, and not just our parents, either, but the family we’ve built. I think that family’s on a pretty firm foundation and I know you’ll always be there for me when I need you.”
Griffin felt his throat tighten. “I will, Rob. I swear I will.”
“I know.” Robin smiled and patted his shoulder. “Just like we'll always be here when you need us. Not that you will, smart guy.”
“Our next student is Mr. Robin Kirkwood,” said Principal Kissick.
“That’s my cue,” said Robin.
“See you out there in minute,” said Griffin as Robin walked on stage. As his friend shook hands with their principal, Griffin wiped his eyes and worked to master his breathing. It took very little, he discovered, to remind him of what he'd found—what had been so freely given to him here.
“Robin is a varsity athlete in lacrosse, swimming and wrestling. With a 4.0 GPA, he will also be attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he will study mechanical engineering…”
On Friday night Griffin slept over at Devyn’s house. Devyn’s parents were almost as excited for Griffin as his own mom and dad were about his acceptance to Stanford. Mrs. Kennedy insisted on making spaghetti, Griffin’s favorite meal, that night and after three helpings the boys retired to Devyn’s room. They usually slept in their underwear but it was still a bit early so they changed into their pajama bottoms while they surfed the net.
They were sitting on Devyn’s bed, propped up against the headboard with their legs stretched out, the laptop on Griffin’s lap. There was a rap on the door and Nate, Devyn's cousin, poked his head in.
“Hey, Nate. Come on in,” Griffin said, waving a hand to him. Nate was part of the Kennedy household, and he'd taken quite a liking to his cousin, Devyn, and Griff.
“Hey,” he said and plopped at the end of the bed. “What are you doing?”
“Looking at stuff online. Check it out, Dev, there’s a great auto mechanic's program at City College of San Jose,” said Griffin.
'How far is it from your school?' Devyn signed.
“Practically down the street,” said Griffin, “Palo Alto is like a suburb of San Jose.”
“It’s gonna be great, Dev,” Griffin enthused. “You’ll love California, there’s so much to do. We’ll be less than an hour from San Francisco, the beach is right there and the weather! Imagine winter without snow!”
'It sounds great, I can’t wait.' Devyn smiled.
“I’m so glad you’re coming with me. As much as I’m going to miss everyone else, I couldn’t do it without you,” said Griffin.
'I’d never let you get that far away from me. I’d go crazy without you.'
“Uh, not to get all girly but...” Nate paused and his tongue darted out and ran across his lips. “I'm really going to miss you guys, too.”
“Nate,” Griff said, “you knew we were going to California. In fact you were one of the first to know, I think. Why are you saying this now?”
“Because!” Nate exclaimed, “it's real, now! When you started talking about this it was way off, the end of the school year, end of summer! Now, it's looking me dead in the face and you guys...you guys are leaving, man. There isn't really an upside to that.”
“God, I feel like I'm having this conversation all over town with everyone who means anything to me,” Griffin said with a sigh. “Nate, I'm never more than a phone call away and you can Facetime Dev, if your sign gets any better, or text him anytime. You know we'll always make time for you.”
“It's not the same,” Nate replied dejectedly. “I'm...I don't want to keep this up, it won't change anything. I'm going to bed.”
Devyn stood quickly and wagged a finger at Nate and pulled him into a hug. Nate, for his part, sniffled and returned the hug which went on and on. With a clap on the back the cousins pulled back from one another.
“I'm starting to feel like shit. I'm not taking him away from you, Nate,” Griffin said with a sigh.
“Maybe. I know he'll go wherever you do. But did Dev ever say where he wanted to go to school? Did you ask him?” Nate challenged.
Dev smacked Nate on the shoulder and began signing furiously but Nate just shook his head sadly.
“I'm sorry, Dev. I gotta go to bed.” So saying he left the room. Devyn sighed in his wake, but turned to find Griffin looking at him steadily.
“Is it true, Dev? Did I not even...ask you?”
Dev tilted his head and brought his hands up. 'You need a specialized school to do what you plan to do. One mechanic school is pretty much like the next and they are everywhere. I don't even know if I really want to be a mechanic. Maybe I'll just go to community college and test my options out. So it's only logical your school take priority and where you go, I follow.'
'No,' Dev signed. 'That's the way it is and you're not leaving me behind. I love Nate—I mean I seriously love him. He's fantastic and caring about him came out of nowhere for me. I know staying in touch with him is going to have to be a priority. But my heart...my heart belongs with you.'
Griffin beamed and kissed Devyn’s lips. He pulled away when he heard the doorknob turning.
“Hey, fellas, I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
“No, Mr. Kennedy,” said Griffin. “We’re just checking out some stuff on the computer. We found a great auto mechanic program for Dev out in San Jose.”
“Oh, yeah?” No one was more surprised that Devyn wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps then Dale Kennedy himself. He hadn’t been the best father to his son, he knew that, but he’d been trying to make it up to him. They’d bonded when Devyn had worked for him at the garage over the summer The part time job really brought them closer.
“It’s a two year program and it’s right down the street from the university so neither of us will have to commute very far,” Griffin continued.
“That’s great, Sparkplug,” said Mr. Kennedy. “We’re real proud of you boys. You’ve got smarts and good heads on your shoulders. I’m sure you two will be very successful.”
“Thanks.” Griffin smiled.
Looking over his shoulder before addressing the boys he said, “I think Nate is taking you leaving pretty hard, Dev. He thinks the world of you. I hope you realize that and, you know, take time out to reassure him.”
Dev grabbed his iPad and started to type. “Before we go, he'll know I'm here for him. He's really important to me, too, and I'm going to miss him a lot. But, we have to go where the education is.”
“I know,” he said softly. “It must be hard for you. Both of you. I'm sure Nate isn't the only one who is upset you boys won't be close by. Anyway, I just came in to say goodnight,” said Mr. Kennedy. He reached out and tussled Griffin’s hair, then he kissed the top of Devyn’s head and tussled his hair, too.
'Night dad,' Devyn signed.
“Sleep tight, kiddo.” Mr. Kennedy studied his son for a moment then turned and walked out of the room.
Devyn hopped off the bed and padded to the door. He placed his ear against it and listened until his father’s footsteps disappeared.
'I thought he’d never leave,' Devyn signed, then he untied the drawstring in his pajamas and dropped them to his ankles. He took off his t-shirt and stood there in a pair of pink briefs.
“Awww, you’re wearing the undies I bought you.” Griffin giggled and, setting aside the guilt he was feeling, lifted his butt up and shimmied out of his pj’s.
'You seem to like them,' Devyn signed then pounced on his boyfriend.
Griffin loved sex with Devyn. They’d taken their time getting to that point in their relationship but once they did, it was like a dam had broken. Devyn was different from Royce in many ways. With Royce, sex was all about him. He'd never made love to Griffin, he'd only ever fucked him. Okay, sure, sometimes Devyn fucked him, or vice versa, but it was all built on a foundation of love and caring about one's partner.
“Whose turn is it to be on top?” Griffin panted when they broke their lip lock long enough to take off their underwear.
'Technically yours,' said Devyn, 'But, I’ve never fucked a Stanford man before.'
“Take me, grease monkey.” Griffin laughed as they rolled over and Devyn settled between his legs.
When they finished making love, Devyn rested his head against his boyfriend’s chest, and Griffin stroked his silky blond hair. They rested quietly and Griffin found his mind drawn to the look on Mr. Kennedy’s face when he’d said goodnight.
“Your dad, he’s really changed, huh?” asked Griffin.
'You have no idea,' Devyn signed. 'I wish he’d done so sooner.'
“Yeah, my dad and I are pretty close, I know what that feels like.”
'I wish I knew him better. We’ll be leaving for California before I know it and I feel like I’m still just getting to know him,' said Devyn.
“Are you sure we’re doing the right thing?” Griffin asked with a sigh.
'Of course, why would you ask that?' Devyn signed rapidly.
“I guess I never really thought about what going back to California would mean. I mean, for me, it's home, it’s like I’m stepping back into my old life. But can I really do that, or would I want to? I never had friends back there like I do here, and then there’s all the progress your dad’s made…Am I being selfish, taking you away from your family and everyone who loves us?”
'Griffin,' Devyn signed, 'If you want to be a doctor you have to go to school, and they don’t have a med school in Sanitaria Springs or Binghamton. You have to go away and there’s no way you’re going anywhere without me.'
“I know, I just...I could have chosen somewhere closer.”
'You said Stanford has the best pre-med program in the country. I told you, I can go to any old community college anywhere in the world, but I want nothing but the best for you,' said Devyn.
“I love you,” said Griffin. “I couldn’t do this without you.”
'That’s because we make a great team.' Devyn smiled.
“Yeah, we do.” Griffin smiled back.
Griffin went home after breakfast the next morning, though only briefly. He had plans to hang out with his friends in Robin’s basement but felt he should at least make an appearance at his house for a few minutes. His parents were out, probably antiquing again, but with the weather so cold he was sure they’d be home soon. He went up to his room and found his mail from the day before waiting on his bed.
He flopped down on the comfy mattress and started sorting through what was mostly junk. Ever since he'd started applying to colleges he'd begun getting more mail from loan companies, credit card companies offering special rates to students, not to mention solicitations from universities he’d never even heard off. When he reached the end of the pile he was surprised to find a letter from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
In addition to all of the West Coast universities he’d applied to, Griffin had also applied to a number of safety schools but RPI wasn’t one of them. If things hadn’t worked out with his California selections he would have attended SUNY Stonybrook or Albany; he wasn’t even sure why he’d filled out the RPI application. It was a great school, he knew that much, and when he’d gone to the career center at Columbia High with Robin and Lucien to pick up their applications, the career counselor had given him one, too. It had been on a pile on his desk with all the others and he must have just filled it out by rote.
At the time he'd had a stack of applications and his parents had set a limit due to the application fees. The fees had varied wildly from about ninety bucks down to thirty. By the time he'd been done, his parents had spent a few hundred dollars in fees to the schools he'd applied to.
He tore the envelope open and was surprised by the letter he found inside.
Dear Mr. Douglas,
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to the one-hundred-ninety-first class of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute…
“I’ll be damned,” Griffin swore to himself.
Something wasn’t right. This was a letter he'd never expected, and now it appeared that he'd gotten into RPI—even though he didn't remember actually applying. Now two of his friends where going there and it was in Troy, New York, which was barely two hours from Sanitaria Springs. It wasn’t the world class pre-medical and research university that Stanford was, but it was one of the top engineering schools in the country. No, it wasn’t Stanford but it was an excellent school that would keep him close to his family, keep Devyn close to his parents—keep both of them close to their beloved friends.
Griffin started to sweat as his mind began to churn. Why was this happening now, of all times? He'd gotten into his dream school, he was going home, dammit! The last few days he'd been getting hit with waves of guilt and feelings of loss as he contemplated leaving his friends and now this? It was the very last thing he needed! When he heard his parents downstairs he shoved the letter under his pillow and went downstairs to greet them.
“Hey,” said Griffin as he trotted into the kitchen.
“There he is,” his mom said, smiling. “Have a good night at the Kennedy's?”
“Yeah, were you guys out hunting down new junk?”
“Don’t talk about my treasures like that,” Mrs. Douglas scolded playfully.
“In a word, yes.” Mr. Douglas winked.
“Can I make you some breakfast?”
“Thanks, Mom, but I ate at Dev’s. I just came home to see what you guys were up to,” said Griffin, checking his watch. “Now I need to head over to Rob’s.”
“What do you guys have going on today?” asked Mr. Douglas.
“Just hanging out. I think everyone’s tired out from school and just looking forward to kicking back.”
“Sounds fun,” said Mr. Douglas.
“Yeah, anyway, I better go.”
“Alright, but promise me we’ll spend some time together,” said Mrs. Douglas. “You’ll be going off to college before you know it and I’m going to miss you.”
“Sure mom, I promise,” said Griffin. He felt somewhat guilty, though, as he seemed to be hearing that a lot of people he cared about didn't want him to leave.
Griffin was quiet at Robin’s. He snuggled up on the couch with Devyn and pretended to be interested in the movie they were watching but he was haunted by the letter hiding under his pillow. It was crazy: he knew Stanford was the place for him and he wanted it more than anything, but the little voice in the back of his head kept asking him, ‘Are you sure? Is it really worth it? Do you really want it more than anything?’
He knew he was going to miss Derek and Philip, and, well, all his friends. He felt a little guilty for taking Devyn away from his family when things were finally going so well with his dad, but Devyn had assured him this was what he wanted, too. Was he being entirely truthful, though? Would Dev tell him if he had any regrets? Would Dev ever stand between Griffin and one of his dreams? That, at least, he felt he could answer: No. What if Devyn was sacrificing everything else for Griffin? Now, of course, there was the letter from RPI. It offered a way out—a way to stay in New York and be close to those he loved.
Griffin wrestled with the letter all weekend but kept it to himself. On Monday morning he picked Devyn up for school. It snowed that morning and Griffin smiled when Devyn stepped out in his pea coat and beanie, his scarf wrapped around his neck. He’d been dressed like that the first time Griffin picked him up for school and Griffin smiled at the memory of his little Paddington Bear.
Devyn started toward the car but stopped short when the front door opened. His mom leaned out the door, kissed him on the cheek, then watched him as he walked to Griffin’s Prius. Griffin couldn’t help noting the expression on Mrs. Kennedy’s face. It was the same expression his mom wore lately, like he was getting ready to go off to war or something.
'Morning,' Devyn signed, then kissed Griffin on the cheek.
“Hey,” Griffin replied.
Their car conversations were never lively. Griffin couldn’t afford to take his eyes off the road in order to concentrate on Devyn’s hands. Instead, he held Devyn’s hand and kept thinking of the look on Mrs. Kennedy’s face.
Griffin parked, his mind the blur he was growing used to the last few days. Dev opened his door to get out and noticed Griffin wasn’t moving. 'Aren’t you coming?' Devyn signed.
“Um, no,” said Griffin. “I suddenly have a huge headache. I think I’m going to head home.”
'Are you alright?'
“Yeah, I’ll be fine, just a headache,” said Griffin. He kissed Devyn goodbye and watched him until he entered the building.
With Devyn gone, Griffin pulled the RPI letter from his pocket; he’d kept it with him ever since coming home from Robin’s Saturday. Thinking of his friends and filled with a sadness, a longing, he quickly plugged the address into his GPS then pulled out of the parking lot, bound for Troy.
“This is crazy,” Griffin told himself when he was half-way to his destination. “I got into Stanford University! It’s my ticket to Harvard, my ticket to everything I want for my future! This is crazy!”
He got off at the next off ramp and crossed the highway, rejoining the flow of traffic heading towards home.
“God damn it,” he swore, pounding the steering wheel, then got off at the next off ramp and returned to his northerly route on 88.
When he reached the Rensselaer campus he was struck by its far flung layout. It was undoubtedly interesting; that was unexpected. The architectural mix of old buildings with modern facilities was eclectic, a combination he found appealing. Moving quickly in the cold he followed the signs, found the admissions office and parked nearby.
“Can I help you,” said a young man at the front desk. He was clearly a student working for the admissions department to pay his bills. He had that youthful but scholarly look about him.
“Hi, my name’s Griffin Douglas. I got this in the mail the other day,” he stated and produced the letter.
“Oh, wonderful, Griffin,” the young man smiled. “My name’s Peter, is there anything I can help you with?”
“Yes, actually. I know I should have called first but I was wondering if someone could give me a tour?”
“I’d be happy to,” said Peter. “Just let me get someone to cover the desk.”
“Oh, you don’t have to…”
“No problem, it’s my job,” said Peter. “I’m a student liaison. We just take turns watching the desk while Mrs. Curtis is at lunch.”
Peter disappeared for a moment and returned with a pretty auburn-haired girl and his jacket in hand. The girl took the chair behind the desk and Peter put on his coat and then gestured toward the door.
“Sure,” said Griffin.
“What are you planning to major in, Griffin?”
“I want to double major, biology and psychology.”
“Boy, you don’t mess around, do you?”
“I want to be a psychiatrist.”
“Great, well, everyone thinks our school's just for engineers but all of our programs are fantastic. Many of our graduates go one to top notch medical schools.”
“Some do, sure,” said Peter. “You’ll love it here.”
“Maybe,” said Griffin.
“Our last student is Mr. Griffin Douglas,” said Principal Kissick.
Griffin took a deep breath and stepped out on the stage. He smiled for the camera as he shook the principal’s hand, then took his seat behind the table. There was a list on the table before him, each student was supposed to sign their name and the school they were attending, then reach into the box under the table and pull out the baseball gap for their university. It was all neatly organized by the district communications director but Griffin was about to throw a wrench into those well laid plans.
He stared at the list for a moment before picking up the pen. He signed his name quickly then hesitated for a moment before writing down his school.
“Mr. Douglas is a member of the varsity cross country team, holds a 4.1 GPA and has the distinction of taking more advanced courses then any other member of the senior class. He’ll be attending Stanford University in the fall where he’ll study psychology and pre-medicine,” said Mr. Kissick.
Griffin was wearing his Stanford tie. It was blue with the trademark red S and redwood logo of the university. After Griffin wrote his school on the list, he stood up, removed his tie and laid it on the table.
“Um, Mr. Kissick,” he said, “There needs to be a correction. Mr. Griffin Douglas will be attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.”
A murmur went up in the audience. Griffin was sure his parents and friends were all shocked, but he felt it was the right thing to do. He’d come to a realization since his trip up to Troy: he didn’t need to go to the best pre-med school in the country to be the best professional he could be. What he needed was to go where he could get the education he needed and be close to the people he loved. He stepped up to the line of students on stage and snatched Robin’s RPI cap from his head and placed it on his own with a smile.
Mr. Kissick concluded the ceremony and the students headed backstage. Derek, Austin, Philip and Devyn pushed their way through the audience and met their friends there.
“I think I speak for all of us when I ask 'what the fuck'?” said Robin, his laughter barely restrained.
'What he said,' Devyn signed.
“I got this a couple weeks ago,” said Griffin, pulling the RPI letter from his back pocket and handing it to Devyn.
Devyn read it then handed it to Robin.
'Why didn’t you tell us?' Devyn signed.
“I wanted too but I needed to figure it out for myself. I knew you guys, all of you, would support me in whatever I decided to do but I needed to keep a clear head.”
'Are you sure this is what you want?' Devyn signed.
“I’m sure. I’ve agonized over this but it’s what I want, what's best for me. California is so far away and I thought I was going home but I realized this is my home. You guys are my home. And I’m not ready to be three thousand miles from any of you.”
“Griff, I’m sorry, if anything I said…” Derek started.
“Don't be sorry, especially not for telling me you didn't want me to leave. Despite evidence to the contrary,” Griffin said with a sniffle, “this wasn't a strictly emotional decision; I did my homework. RPI is an incredible school, I should have considered it from the start.”
“Okay. I mean, I'd be flattered if you were considering it just because I said something but...that works. That's good,” Derek said, then he hugged his friend.
“Hey, let me get in on that,” said Philip. He hugged Griffin and then got pushed out of the way by Austin.
“My turn,” said Austin.
After Austin got his hug, Devyn nudged him out of the way and signed at his friends.
“I recognized dog, I think,” said Derek. None of Devyn’s friends were very adept at sign, nothing like Griffin was.
“He said, back off bitches,” Griffin translated.
Devyn smiled and nodded his head, then squeezed Griffin tight.
Quite suddenly Nate appeared and, just as Devyn released Griff, Nate grabbed him and squeezed him tightly. His eyes were were wet and his voice thick, but everyone could hear him. “I don't know why you changed your mind, but thank you. Thank you so much.”
“Nate...” Griff said softly as he returned the hug. “I wasn't trying to take Dev away from you.”
“I know,” Nate said and nodded, his face pressed to Griffin's cheek. “But that's what was happening, anyway.” He leaned back and looked Griffin in the eye. “I'm just a cousin; I haven't even been around Dev for a year. You're his boyfriend, the one he was ready to leave everyone behind for. I know where I stand. Even though you didn't do this for me, it still changes everything for me.”
Griff pursed his lips and smiled at Nate. “Nate, I did this for us. All of us. You, too.”
Nate sniffed and Devyn shook his head and patted his cousin on the shoulder. Nate colored and glanced around, perhaps fully grasping the emotional scene he was making.
“Uh,” Nate paused, but he was saved.
“Hey, you know what this means?” asked Robin with excitement. “We can all live together, the four of us.”
“Yeah!” Griffin enthused. “That’ll be amazing! We’ll talk about it really soon, but,” said Griffin while smiling and opening his eyes wide. “Right now I’ve gotta go explain to my parents.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll understand,” said Lucien.
“I'm sure they will, too.” And Griffin, picturing his mother's happy grin and moistening eyes, smiled.