The quiet of the room is broken only by the sound of Todd's pen scratching on the paper as he rapidly composes his letter. I, on the other hand, am not making a lot of progress. Dear Mr. Keating, I start. Then I look at it and take a fresh sheet of letter paper. Oh Captain! My Captain! Much better. Now for the truly difficult part. I think for a long moment, then begin writing slowly.
I know these words aren't worth the paper I'm writing on, I write. But I have to say them anyway. I'm sorry, Mr. Keating, sorrier than I've ever been about anything. I don't expect you to forgive me. I was hurt when I heard the news about Neil; hurt and angry. I don't think I'd realized how much he meant as a friend until he was gone. And I had to blame someone for his death, and I picked you. That was wrong of me, and unforgivable.
Of all the teachers at Welton, you were the only one who seemed to genuinely care about us as people, and not just as objects of pride or scorn. You wanted to know our dreams... ours, and not the dreams that others had for us. I think that's maybe why I lashed out at you in my anger. If you hadn't gotten us thinking about our dreams, Neil would never have tried out for that play. I was angry at Neil, too, but how can you lash out at a dead man? Still, I was angry... angry that he'd managed to have his dream, at least for a few minutes before he died, when I couldn't even admit my dream to myself. So I lashed out at the one person I felt comfortable blaming for everything... you.
And after everything was over and you were gone, I discovered the true meaning of self-loathing. I expect that if you've even read this far, you're glad of that. Well, in a way, so am I. I knew I wasn't a very likable person, but I didn't realize how low I'd sunk. I'm going to change, my Captain, I'm going to become the person I wish I was, instead of the cockroach I've been. Once I'm out of Welton, I'm going to follow my dream, even if it means breaking from my family. I don't expect the next year and a half to be easy, but that's fine. I don't deserve any breaks.
I set my pen down for a moment and rub my eyes. “Todd?” I ask. “Are you... saying anything about us in your letter?”
“I don't know...” Todd trails off uncertainly. “I don't know if that's something he'd... I don't know how he'd take it. I mean, with the way he always talked about women... but then again... he always seemed to understand everything...”
“I know what you mean,” I tell him. “Anyway... I won't say anything in my letter, unless you decide to tell him in yours.”
Todd thinks for a moment. “Not in this one. I want to get an answer to this one. But in my next letter, I do want to tell him... oh... I didn't think of that. How are we going to get a reply, Richard?”
I blink. Oops. I hadn't thought of that part either. As far as I knew, mail wasn't opened at Welton, but then again, everything that had to do with Todd Anderson was getting extra attention this term. A letter with the name John Keating in the return address would likely get him expelled. “Hmm. We can get a post office box when we go to town to mail it,” I suggest. “They don't cost that much.”
“Only problem is, I can't leave the campus, remember?” Todd said. “Part of being on probation. The only exception is if I need to see a doctor or dentist... and even then, one of the teachers has to accompany me.” He frowns for a moment, then smiles. “I know... I'll get Knox to help.”
“How?” I ask.
Todd grins. “How do you think he's keeping up with Nuwanda? You know perfectly well they wouldn't let any of his letters in. Nuwanda writes to Knox in care of Chris Noel. I'll get him to talk Chris into receiving Keating's letters for us.”
“For you, he'll do it,” I say. “For me, he won't.”
“He might, if I ask him in the right way. Besides, if I can get him to give you a chance, things won't be so bad for you anymore. Pitts and Meeks, they just go along with him, you know that,” Todd says. “And I'd like to see you getting a little more included again. That will help with getting to room together again next year. The only thing is...” he hesitates slightly. “I might have to say something to Knox. But I think he'll keep his mouth shut if I do.”
I bite my lip at that, knowing what he means by saying something, but nod anyway. “All right. As long as you're sure he won't spread it around.”
Todd stands behind me, leaning over to peer at what I've written while wrapping his arms around me in a reassuring hug. “He won't. I'll make sure of it.”
I lean into his touch, relaxing in his warmth for a long moment before the bell rings for supper. I wrinkle my nose. “Mystery meat time. Which is going to be especially horrid after last night's meal. But since I missed lunch getting the address, I'm hungry enough to eat it anyway.”
“I'll get to Knox at supper, have him come back here with us afterwards to talk, okay?” Todd asks.
“Yeah, that's fine. Let's go,” I tell him, giving his hand a squeeze before standing up.
We join the crowd headed for the dining hall. As usual, there's a traffic jam in the doorway as everyone tries to be the first inside. “I feel like we're cattle in the stockyards,” someone mutters in a Chicago accent. Another voice responds to that remark with a loud, “Moooo!” which makes everyone laugh.
As usual, I sit near but not truly with Todd, Knox, Meeks, and Pitts. The latter two are discussing integrated circuits and main frames again, although I have no idea what frames and circuits have to do with one another. Knox gives me the hairy eyeball before concentrating on his meal, but I hear him ask Todd if everything went okay this afternoon. Todd reassures him that he's fine and that I was actually pretty nice about things, offering to help him with trig and chemistry in exchange for the help he was giving me with English.
When we're all back in the dorms heading for our rooms after the meal, Todd grabs Knox by the arm. “Come to my room for a moment, will you?” he requests. “I've got a favor to ask.”
I follow the two of them into the room. Knox eyes me warily as I shut the door. “You're not really going to ask me something in front of the fink, are you, Todd?” he says.
Todd replies mildly, “Actually, I am. Will you ask Chris to accept some mail? I'm writing to Mr. Keating, and I'd like to get a reply. But you know there's no way the school will let a letter from him get through, especially not one addressed to me. And I know perfectly well she's getting Nuwanda's letters to you.”
Knox looks as though he's swallowed a live goldfish. “But... but... how... you don't know where Keating is... you can't...”
“Actually, we do know where Keating is now,” I say quietly, moving to my desk and handing Knox the slip of paper with our former teacher's address on it. “I went through the files in Nolan's office and copied it.”
Now Knox looked as though someone had hit him upside the head with a two by four. His jaw worked a couple of times before he got any words out. “You... you... wait a minute here...” he shook his head. “Cameron the fink, broke a rule? Broke into Nolan's office? And to find Keating's new address? For God's sake, Cameron, you're the one who got him fired in the first place!”
I close my eyes, nodding. Then I hand Knox what I've written so far.
There's a long moment of silence while he reads it. Todd gives me a reassuring glance, then turns his attention back to Knox, who seems a bit bewildered by everything. He reads it again and sighs. “I still don't get a few things,” he says. “I suppose I can sort of understand the part about lashing out in anger. And thinking logically, I'm willing to bet the school would have blamed Mr. Keating and fired him even if you hadn't gone to them, because that's the best way they could cover themselves. But what I don't get, Cameron, even if you want to change, why did you go sneaking in the office for the address? It's not like you, to do anything to jeopardize your standing here at school.”
Todd steps forward at that. “Knox. Will you swear that nothing I'm about to tell you will leave this room? I'll keep my mouth shut if you won't.”
Knox blinks, but nods. “All right, I'll swear. I know it won't be anything too horrible, not from you, Todd.”
Todd takes a deep breath. “Richard got the address for me,” he says. “Not as a favor, but because he wanted to do something nice for me.”
Knox narrows his eyes a bit, noting Todd's use of my given name.
“Richard... guessed a secret about me. Something I've been keeping quiet for a while now,” Todd continues. “A secret that he guessed... because he shares it. I... we... we're...” I take his hand gently, giving it a squeeze. He squeezes back and keeps his fingers curled around mine as he continues. “We're queer.”