They don't understand why I did it. They all think I'm nothing but a suck-up and a fink. I suppose that's true, but not for the reasons they think. They don't know what I've been hiding so desperately all these years. They don't know the loss I felt when the news came. I've never showed it, never showed anyone my real feelings. But I needed to hurt someone else as badly as I was hurting. It couldn't be them, and it couldn't be Neil's father, so there was no one left but Mr. Keating. Neil had pretty well worshiped the man anyway, so it must have been his fault. Or so I told myself.
I just wish it had worked. But all it did was make the others turn on me. Especially when Todd Anderson pulled that little stunt of climbing onto his desk in front of Dean Nolan, when Mr. Keating came for his things. What surprised me the most was that everyone followed along. Even me.
And now it's welcome back to “Hell-ton” following the winter break. Welcome back to a class missing two of its members. Welcome back to the place where I no longer have anyone willing to count me as a friend, however grudgingly. Welcome back to an announcement from Dean Nolan that everyone was getting new dorm assignments, to “keep us from dwelling on the past.” As if anything is going to stop that from happening.
I sigh as I head towards the dorm following the start-of-term ceremony in the school chapel, wondering who my new roommate will be. Hopefully no one as crazy as Charlie Dalton was. Nuwanda. But I'm sure they'll have made sure not to put any of the members of the Dead Poet's Society together, since they're trying to make like Neil never lived and died. And why does it still hurt so much to think of it? He never really liked me, I know that. My fault, really, but I never really wanted anyone to like me. At least not until I learned what it felt like to be truly despised. I hope my new roommate is from one of the other sections of the class. At least if he is, he won't have known Neil quite so well.
But my heart nearly stops when I check the board for the new listings. Anderson? They're putting me in with Todd Anderson? I drop my suitcase, I'm so surprised. As I pick it up and straighten up again, a hand lands on my shoulder. I manage not to yelp, but I do jump a little.
“Mr. Cameron, I'm sorry to have startled you,” Dean Nolan says. “I'm sure you've seen your new room assignment. As I'm sure you know, Mr. Anderson refused to sign the statement against your former teacher. I felt it best to have him rooming with someone the faculty knows they can rely upon to report any further irregularities in his behavior. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir, I do,” I reply automatically.
“Good.” Dean Nolan nods once, looking over the pile of yet-unclaimed suitcases sitting by the notice board. “Have a successful term, Mr. Cameron.”
I head for the stairs as the Dean walks away. Wonderful. Even the Dean is convinced that I'm nothing more than a bootlicker. For the first time, I seriously consider chucking it all. But I'm too scared. I don't know how to do anything but meet the expectations of those in authority. Until earlier this year, it never even occurred to me that there might be other options.
The room is empty when I get there, although Todd's suitcase is open on one of the beds. He must be off greeting someone else. Probably Overstreet. Or Meeks, or Pitts. No matter. I unpack methodically, preferring the solitude to the silent treatment I know I would get if any of the others was in here talking to Todd. He'd changed almost out of recognition in the last couple of weeks of the old term. It was as if a switch had been thrown in him, from the moment he stood up on his desk in defiance of Dean Nolan and in honor of Mr. Keating. The hesitant and shy Todd Anderson had vanished, and the new Todd Anderson seemed almost cocky. As if he was serving notice that he no longer had anything to lose.
Maybe he didn't.
Neil had been Todd's first real friend. Even I could see that. Neil had stood between him and a lot of teasing, had smoothed his way socially with the others, and encouraged his writing. I'd wondered sometimes, was there something about Todd in particular that made Neil want to help him? Or was it just Neil being Neil, helping out the new and nervous person who'd been randomly assigned as his roommate? I wondered if Neil might have liked me better if we'd been assigned together as nervous new students... if maybe he would have seen through my walls the way he seemed to have seen through Todd's. But that had been five years ago, and fate had given me Chet Danburry as a roommate back then, and the only thing Chet did was convince me that hiding my feelings was the best way to avoid becoming his punching bag. I was glad when he flunked out the following year. But by then, I never wanted anyone to know how I felt about anything.
I wish I'd been able to tell Neil how much I liked him.
Todd returns to the room as I shove my empty suitcase under the bed. My breath catches in my throat slightly as I look up at him. With that new confidence or cockiness or whatever it was, the way he walks now reminds me of Neil when he'd gotten the role of Puck in the Henley Hall play. Todd's eyes are different, though. Neil's had sparkled with the joy he'd had in doing something he really enjoyed. Todd's eyes only show pain and loss, which made me want to comfort him somehow.
But I don't even have time to stand before a shutter drops down behind Todd's eyes. He sweeps me with a look of disdain... which I deserve... and turns his back to finish his own unpacking. I sit on my bed, trying not to watch as Todd moves from the bed to the wardrobe and back again. He never says a word.
I have a feeling it's going to be a long term.