All too soon, it's the last day of school. With long experience at boarding schools, we finished our packing last night, only leaving out the clothes we'd need for today. Most of our luggage is already downstairs with everyone else's, leaving us just an overnight bag apiece to hold our toiletries and a few other things, including the pajamas we slept in last night.
Todd isn't awake yet. His breathing is slow and regular, his body warm against me. I carefully lean up on my elbow to look at him. I feel sort of sappy, doing this, but at the same time I want to burn his image into my mind. God, the next couple of weeks are going to hurt... and I have a decent family to go to. I can only imagine how hard it's going to be on him.
His eyes open and he smiles up at me, reaching to touch my cheek. “I'm going to miss you, Richard,” he says softly.
I lean in and kiss him. “I'm going to miss you, too. But at least it's only for two weeks, right? It's not the whole summer.”
“Thank God for that,” he agrees, returning the kiss. “I don't know if I could take a whole ten weeks with my family. Not after... this past winter. I was always an afterthought to them, but now I'm pretty much a persona non grata. I suspect the only reason Father said I could come stay with you this summer is so he didn't have to hire a full-time housekeeper. He's never shown much interest before in doing anything to make me happy. But why should he pay someone to look after his younger son, when someone else is willing to do it for nothing?”
His eyes hold that flat and beaten look again and I just want to make the pain go away. “Todd... damn it, they might not be there for you, but I am. Always. I love you. Hell, I'd marry you, if I could.”
The light comes back into his eyes at that and he smiles. “I love you, Richard. And believe me, I know you're here for me. I thank God for it every day... because without you, I might have... followed Neil. I was... closer to that than you probably want to think about, back in February.”
I shiver a bit at that, pressing closer to him. He's right, I don't want to think about it. Because then I have to think about the fact that I was also considering the same thing. “I hope neither of us gets to that state again,” I finally say. “You've helped me as much as I've helped you.”
He holds me a little more tightly at that, and we stay there for as long as we dare. But it's leaving day, so we can't linger for too long. We get up and dress, packing our last-minute items and stripping the beds, bringing the sheets to the laundry service cart at the end of the hallway and then dropping our overnighters with the rest of the luggage as we head to the dining room.
Breakfast is noisy, with nearly everyone chattering about summer plans. Afterward, everyone scatters around the dorms or Welton Hall and the chapel and their environs, waiting for their parents to arrive. Todd and I sit outside the chapel with Meeks and Pitts, making plans for a study group for next year. We take it for granted that Knox Overstreet will also be joining us for study group, even though he isn't here right now. Chris Noel, along with her parents and Mr. Danburry, had arrived almost as soon as breakfast was over. We all knew that Chris would be meeting Knox's parents for the first time today. I guessed her parents came along to meet them as well, since Chris would be visiting them this summer. As for Mr. Danburry, well, he and Mr. Overstreet were old schoolmates. I figured he decided to take the opportunity to do a little catching up.
“I hope Knox comes by to say goodbye before he leaves,” Pitts says. “I want to know who he's planning on rooming with next year see if we have a sixth for the study group.”
“Yeah, because we all know you need the help, Pittsie,” Meeks chuckles.
“Just because I'm not a genius like you, Meeksie...” Pitts mock growls while Todd and I grin. “Why else would I ask to put up with your snoring next year?”
Meeks blushes. “I don't snore!” he protests. “Really! I don't! Do I?” He looks at me in appeal, as I roomed with him back in the ninth grade.
“Well... you do snore sometimes,” I tell him. “But not very loudly, and only when you have a cold.”
“I can live with that,” Meeks grins, looking relieved. “And so can Pittsie.”
“What about me?” I ask. “Do I snore?”
“Nope,” Todd replies. “If you did, I wouldn't have agreed to room with you again next year. But you're good at trig, I'm guessing you'll be good in calculus, and I can use the help. Couple that with being a quiet sleeper, and you just might be the perfect roomie.”
Pitts laughs at that. “If Cameron's the perfect roomie, what am I?”
Meeks grins evilly and I know Pitts is in trouble. “You're the stray puppy that someone fed and now you won't go away. It's a good thing you're lovable.”
Pitts good-naturedly gives Meeks a single-fingered salute, then turns bright red and puts his hand down as his parents come into view.
The Meeks family is right behind them. The two greet their parents with hugs for their mothers and handshakes for their fathers. Then they say goodbye to me and Todd, heading off to collect their luggage and find Knox to say goodbye to him as well. As they leave, I can hear Pitts talking about MIT and the opportunities to be had there. Meeks and his father offer the occasional comment as well.
Todd grins at me. “If I had to guess, I'd say Pitts gets permission to go to MIT before the summer is over.”
“I won't bet against you,” I smile. Then I wave as Knox and what I can only call his entourage come strolling over... him, Chris, his parents, her parents, and Mr. Danburry.
Mr. Danburry and Mr. Overstreet are chatting amiably, as are Mrs. Overstreet and the Noels. Chris has her arm looped through Knox's as they approach, but lets go to greet Todd and I with a kiss on the cheek each. “Todd, Richard, I'm glad I got to see you before you left for the summer. May I ask a favor of you two for next year? My little sister Carol will be transferring to Henley Hall on scholarship, and I know she'll be feeling a little awkward. Will one of you please be her date for the Halloween and Valentine balls? Assuming she doesn't meet someone else, I mean. And don't tell her I asked you to ask her, of course.”
Knox chuckles. “I told her we'd find someone for Carol, but Chris says she wants it to be someone I know and trust. Which means you two, Meeks, and Pitts. But they're tied up with Tina and Amy.”
I look at Todd and he gives a little nod. “I'm sure we can work something out,” I say. “Maybe we could all meet in town on our first pass weekend next September? I'm not looking to... to get involved with a young lady at the moment, but there's certainly no harm in meeting Carol.”
Todd nods agreement. “My father keeps telling me to pretend girls don't exist, at least until I pull my grades up a little more. But as long as Carol doesn't mind that she likely won't get a boyfriend out of it, I don't think Richard or I would mind being her escort for the dances.”
“She'll probably pick you,” I tease Todd. “After all, you're the poet. I'm just the math nerd.”
Todd blushes as Chris giggles. Knox chuckles. “Well, we can worry about that next year. You two, I hope your summer is as good as mine looks like it will be. See you in September!” He shakes hands with both of us, Chris pecks us on the cheek again, and the group moves off, discussing lunch together before the Overstreets leave for home.
My parents show up next, my mother rushing over to hug me while my father remains more dignified, shaking my hand once Mother lets go of me. “It's good to see you, Richard,” he says with a smile. “Is this your friend Todd who will be joining us this summer?”
“Yes,” I reply. “Mother, Father, I'd like you to meet Todd Anderson.”
“Pleased to meet you, ma'am, sir,” Todd says, standing up to shake hands with both of them.
“Good to meet you as well, Todd,” Father answers. “We're looking forward to you joining us on Martha's Vineyard.”
“Do you play tennis?” Mother asks with a smile.
Todd smiles a little nervously. “I'm looking forward to it as well,” he answers, “but I'm afraid I don't play tennis. However, I am an excellent picker of blackberries.”
Mother laughs at that. “I see Richard's already told you about my cobblers. Well, I think AJ will be more disappointed than I will that you don't play. He was hoping someone else would partner me for a few sets this year, but Richard is hopeless at tennis.”
I blush and Todd chuckles, seeming a little more at ease now that Mother is teasing us both. Father speaks up then. “Todd, are you parents here yet? Evelyn and I would like to at least introduce ourselves to them so they'll know exactly who it is you'll be spending the summer with.”
“I haven't seen them yet, sir, but they're due at any moment now,” Todd replies, checking his watch.
As he speaks, another couple moves into sight. The woman is rail-thin, with perfectly styled blond hair that even I can tell is bleached. Her clothing and makeup are also perfect, as though she expects to be photographed at any moment. The man is quite distinguished looking, with salt-and-pepper hair and a perfectly tailored suit. Todd bears little resemblance to either of them at first glance, but they are headed in our direction. As they draw closer, the man speaks to Todd.
“We expected you to be in Welton Hall. However, we took the opportunity to speak with the headmaster before we came looking for you, Todd. He seems to believe you've redeemed yourself after the nonsense of last term. Certainly your grades have improved this term. Dean Nolan gives me to understand that this is a result of studying with your roommate. Is this he?” Dr. Anderson looks me over. Now that he's close, I see that he and Todd have the same eyes, only his are cold and calculating, while Todd's are warm.
“Yes, sir,” Todd says, looking somewhat strained and pale in the presence of his parents. “Richard gave me some coaching in trig and chemistry.”
I try to summon up an engaging smile such as Nuwanda would, but it's difficult to do in the face of Dr. Anderson's coldness. “It's good to meet you, sir. And to be fair, Todd gave me plenty of help in English in return.” I hope that will thaw the ice a little, although I doubt it.
My father steps in then, which salvages the situation. “Andrew Cameron, attorney at law,” he says, offering Dr. Anderson a hand to shake. “And my wife, Evelyn.”
“Dr. J. Warren Anderson, and my wife, Paige,” Dr. Anderson replies, briskly shaking the offered hand. “It's quite good of you to host Todd this summer.”
“Nonsense, we're glad to have him,” Father says. “About time Richard brought a friend out to stay. His brother AJ almost always has a friend out for all or part of the summer.”
Dr. Anderson nods. “Be that as it may, I do appreciate it. Saves me a bit of trouble, and allows me to have Paige accompany me to Washington. So, June 30th at Portsmouth harbor?”
Father nods. “That's right, we should be there about ten in the morning, so we'll have enough time to make it down to the Island before dark.”
“Todd will be there,” Dr. Anderson says. “Come along, Todd, we have quite a drive ahead of us.”
I really want to give Todd a kiss or at least a hug goodbye, but there's no way, not with our parents all standing there. I give him an encouraging glance instead. “See you in a couple of weeks, Todd.”
He smiles back, although he still looks a bit strained. “I can't wait,” he answers. “See you soon.” He follows behind his parents.
Father helps me with my luggage as we head for his car. Mother shakes her head. “That poor boy,” she comments. “I knew women like Paige Anderson when I was at Vassar. Excellent society women, perhaps, but terrible mothers. And his father doesn't seem much better.”
I silently agree as the car pulls out of Welton's gates. I can't wait to see Todd again.