Richard's Redemption

Chapter 18

The summer goes by swiftly. Too swiftly, in my opinion. Todd and I had a wonderful time on the Island, and a fairly good time since we've been back in Andover as well. It's been a little harder here, of course, since we each have our own rooms at the house. But tonight is Todd's last evening with us, his parents are due to pick him up tomorrow afternoon on their way home from Washington. We're both a little subdued at dinner, thinking of the coming two-week separation.

AJ is spending the week with friends, and Mother seems to notice our moods, but Father is rather cheerfully oblivious. He's going on about how our senior year ought to be fun and that we'll want to make sure our college application essays are perfect. “I know both of you boys will be applying to Dartmouth in the family traditions,” he says. “Where else are you planning to apply?”

“Yale, Princeton, and the University of California at Berkeley as my backup school, sir,” Todd replies.

“Harvard, Cornell, and UC Berkeley as a backup,” I answer.

Father blinks a bit at our answers. “I understand choosing a good school as a backup, boys, but why that particular one? It's so far away.”

“That's just it, Father,” I tell him. “It is far away. So if it comes to needing to go to my backup school, I can get all sorts of new experiences that I wouldn't have by going to a non-Ivy League school here in the northeast. Just think of all the places of historical interest I could see in driving out there, for example... I could see Washington, the Mississippi River, the Alamo...”

Todd, somewhat comfortable at speaking up around my parents after his time with us, chimes in. “Also, sir, San Fransisco is considered the cultural center of the West Coast. While there may not be the sheer numbers of museums and theaters as in New York City or Boston, those things are available there, as they perhaps wouldn't be elsewhere.”

“All right, I see you boys have thought about it and done some research,” Father concedes. He studies me for a long moment. “Richard, if you'd rather not go to Dartmouth...”

Mother cuts him off. “Andrew, for goodness' sake, this is hardly the time for this discussion. We ought to be getting ready for the Prescott's reception, and I'm sure the boys want to make the most of their last evening together before school starts. I know what you're trying to say, and it can wait for tomorrow night.” She softens her little rebuke with a smile and a squeeze of his hand.

Father returns her smile. “All right, Evelyn, you're correct. Boys, we'll probably not be back until midnight or later.” He gets up from the table and heads upstairs, presumably to change for the reception.

Mother stands as well, but hesitates before leaving the room. “I suppose you two will want to stay up all night talking,” she smiles. “AJ and his friends usually did on their last night together. If you want to, Richard, you can pull out the sleeping bags and camp out in the den tonight, so there's no chance of disturbing us if you're still talking at four o'clock in the morning. Just make sure you clean up after yourselves if you make any late-night snacks... Betty won't appreciate a sink full of dishes when she comes in tomorrow morning,” she adds, referring to our part-time housekeeper. Then she follows Father upstairs to dress.

I smile at Todd. “Camping out in the den sounds like a good idea to me. We can watch television until it goes off the air for the night, then maybe we can do some writing. I bet our friends would like to hear about our summer.”

Todd brightens at that suggestion. “I bet you're right. And we'll have time to go to the post office before my parents come for me, won't we?”

“As long as we don't sleep until two in the afternoon, sure.” I stand up as Betty comes in to collect the dinner dishes. “Let's go find the sleeping bags.”

He follows me to the attic and we rummage around for a bit, looking for the camping gear. Once we find the sleeping bags, we take them to the den along with pillows from both our rooms, and set them up facing the television. Mother pokes her head in to say goodnight and tell us that she and Father will try not to disturb us when they come in tonight, on the off chance that we're asleep by then. Shortly afterward, Betty stops in to ask if we need anything before she goes home for the night. I tell her to go on and have a nice evening, that Todd and I are perfectly capable of opening the refrigerator if we want a drink of milk. She laughs and leaves.

Todd looks up from the TV Guide. “Let's hear it for summer reruns,” he quips. “We've got Maverick, Gunsmoke, and The Twilight Zone, along with Peter Gunn and The Untouchables. Or The Lawrence Welk show.”

I mock-shiver. “No! Save me from the evil bubble machine!”

Todd laughs and switches the channel to Maverick. We watch a few shows before taking a break to change into our pajamas and then fix popcorn and get a couple of cokes apiece. We're back at the tv in time for The Twilight Zone. Todd grins. “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street!” he exclaims. “Followed by The Hitch-Hiker.”

“Oh, I love that one! Let's hope we don't see anyone like that... or blow out a tire... when we're going to California,” I chuckle.

He laughs as well, moving over to snuggle against me as we watch and eat the popcorn. Afterward, when the news comes on, I grab some writing paper and a couple of books to lean on and we settle back to write.

Oh Captain, my Captain!

I hope your summer has been as good as mine has. Having Todd with me for the last six weeks has been wonderful. Sure, we've had to be careful, but we've managed. The only bad news is that Todd has to go home for a couple of weeks before school starts again. His parents will be picking him up tomorrow. This will be the first time I've truly looked forward to returning to school!

One thing that's interesting, my father asked earlier this evening about our choices of colleges. And he started to say something that I'm pretty sure indicates he won't try to force me into attending Dartmouth. Mother stopped him, but more in the manner of not wanting to get into a personal discussion with Todd there, than in disapproving of what he intended to say. So it looks as though I'll be able to come to California without opposition from home, at least not from the perspective of Father insisting I follow family tradition. I think telling him about Meeks and Pitts getting permission to go to MIT helped. I only hope Todd has the same sort of luck with his family, but I don't think he will.

I've told Todd to call me any time he needs to over the next couple of weeks. Even my parents have commented about his, and the way they treat him. They saw enough, when our families met at Welton on leaving day, to upset them. I'm going to ask if they'll invite Todd back a few days before school starts, and drive us up to school together. But I'm not telling Todd, in case they say no. I don't want to hurt him by getting his hopes up and then having them say no for whatever reason. I figure his parents will be more likely to accept the invitation if it comes from my parents.

But enough of the gloom. Summer was wonderful. I taught Todd to fish out on the Island, and he ended up being the one to land a small shark when we were out on the boat with my father. He and I kept my mother supplied with blackberries for cobbler, and my brother AJ taught us both to play poker. We also spent a day in Salem once we got back home, touring the Peabody Museum and having fun on the rides at the Salem Willows park as well as seeing the House of the Seven Gables.

I can't wait to hear about your wedding, and your trip to Yellowstone. I think Todd and I might try to plan our route to visit there when we drive out to California next summer. Which assumes everything goes well until then, of course. Still, it's nice to have a plan in mind. It gives me something to do besides worry over what might happen if we're found out. But we've made it this far, I think we'll be all right.

Your friend,
Richard

Despite having gone to sleep well after midnight, I wake up fairly early in the morning. Todd is still asleep, curled up against me with his head on my shoulder and one arm over me. He looks so relaxed when he's sleeping, I hate to disturb him, but I'm thirsty. I carefully ease out from under him, trying not to wake him, and head into the half-bath attached to the den. One drink of water and a few minutes later, I head back to snuggle beside Todd once more. I wish we could just stay here like this forever... no outside world to condemn us.

But the outside world is there. I can hear my parents moving around upstairs. I squint over at the clock. 7:15. Father never sleeps in on weekends. Sometimes I wonder if that ever bothers Mother. Most of the time I don't mind starting a Saturday early... everyone knows the fishing is best just past sunrise... but every now and again I like to be lazy and lounge in bed even if I'm awake. Like today.

Todd stirs beside me. I like watching him wake up; he has this whole little routine of yawns, stretches, and blinks that he goes through before he's fully alert. I give him a gentle kiss to help the process along. He smiles and hugs me even before his eyes are completely open.

“Wha' time's it?” he mumbles.

“Not quite 7:30,” I tell him. “You can sleep more if you want to.”

He shakes his head. “Uh-uh. 'S our las' day. M'parents are comin' th's'afternoon. Wanna enjoy th' time with you while I can.”

I smile and give him another kiss. “You won't hear any complaints from me.”

He completes enough of his waking up routine to get him as far as the bathroom. When he returns, his face shows signs of a splashing, but his eyes are fully open and he looks reasonably alert. “Do we have plans for the day?” he asks.

“Other than strolling to the post office to mail our letters, no,” I tell him. “Although Mother might have plans for a farewell lunch for you... as opposed to a farewell dinner, since you won't still be here at dinnertime.”

“I can live with that,” Todd smiles, getting dressed. “I wish my mother was like yours. Hell, I wish both my parents were like yours. Your father is going to let you go to Berkeley if you want, isn't he?”

I pull on my own clothes. “I think so. As much as he'd like to see me do what he wants, I think he's pleased enough that AJ is following his plans... law school, the firm, and a possible political career... to let me try something different. It's the advantage of being the younger son, I guess, at least as long as the older one is doing what's expected of him.”

He snorts. “Yeah, unless you're the son of Dr. J. Warren Anderson of Portsmouth. About the only advantage I have is that my grades are not exceptional enough to guarantee me entrance to Dartmouth. God help me if I do get in there. And that reminds me, I need to close out that bank account of mine before we go back to Hell-ton, so I'll have the money when I need it to send my confirmation deposit to Berkeley.”

“You're much braver than I am, I think,” I tell him as I start rolling up the sleeping bags.

Todd blushes. “I couldn't be, if I didn't have you believing in me, Richard.”

Now it's my turn to blush. I finish rolling the sleeping bags and take them upstairs to the attic while Todd returns the pillows to our rooms.

On my way back down to breakfast, I detour to my parents' room. “Father? May I talk to you for a moment?”

“Of course, Richard, what is it?” Father beckons me inside. “Your mother is downstairs already.”

“Would you... that is... I'd like to have Todd back the weekend before school starts, if it's all right with you and Mother.” I look down nervously, not wanting him to guess the real reason behind my request. “You saw... at school... the way he's treated. I know it's not really our business, they're not beating him or anything, but... well, they'd probably see it as a favor, if they don't have to drive him to school this year. They can go concentrate on Jeffrey. Besides, I know Todd would prefer riding with us anyway.”

Father rubs his chin thoughtfully. “You're right about the way his parents treat him, son. He was awfully uncomfortable around me and your mother when he first joined us. But it's more than that, I think. Wasn't Todd the roommate of that boy who killed himself just before the Christmas break last year?”

I try to hide my wince at hearing Neil spoken of so casually. But of course Father has no idea how I'd felt about Neil. “Yes, sir, Todd and Neil were roommates.”

“So, top off uncaring parents with the loss of a friend to suicide,” Father nods. “Todd's very lucky to have a friend like you, son. And I'm proud of you for being there for him. All right, when his parents come for him today, I'll ask if he can come back for the last weekend and ride up to Welton with us. But no promises, his parents might want him to remain home.”

“Thank you, Father,” I smile.

He ruffles my hair. “Just keep studying with him this year. Your English grade showed a nice improvement once the two of you started working together. Now get out of here and let me finish getting ready. Just make sure you and Todd leave some bacon for me!”

“Yes, sir!” I reply, snapping a salute. Father's laugh follows me down the stairs.

Todd's already in the dining room. Mother is just getting up from the table. “Oh, Richard, I was just telling Todd that whatever you boys do today, I'd like you back by one. I'm going to make Todd's last meal with us a festive one, even if it is just lunch.”

I nod as I take my seat. “All right, Mother, we will.” Todd and I dig into the food that Betty brings us as Mother goes upstairs. After we're done, I give him a smile. “How about we go for a ride downtown? We can stop off at some of the stores, and even get a postcard to mail to your brother if you want.”

Todd looks puzzled for a fraction of a second, but realizes I've added that bit in case anyone wondered why we might want to go to the post office. “That sounds like a plan,” he agrees.

We stop off in the study to grab our letters before getting out the bikes and heading to town. Once we've mailed the letters, I lead the way to the woods a couple blocks away from my house. AJ and I built a treehouse there, the year before Mother had gotten sick. It's still in good shape, though, and we won't be disturbed there. Todd laughs when we climb up and find a few old copies of Playboy magazine that AJ must have left up there. “Better hidden here than under the mattress,” he quips as he shoves them aside.

I pull him close, needing to feel him in my arms so I can forget for a little while that he won't be there for the next couple of weeks. He seems to feel the same way. For a long time, we simply hold each other.

Eventually, of course, we do have to pull apart and return to the house for lunch. The phone rings as we're washing up. To my surprise, Mother calls out that it's for me. Wondering who might possibly be calling, I dry my hands and take the phone.

“Richard? It's Knox,” I hear in my ear.

“Knox? This is a surprise,” I tell him. “I didn't think I'd be hearing from you until school started.” I turn the receiver slightly, so that Todd can also hear.

“Well, I had some news that I figured you and Todd should hear before then,” he says. “Is Todd still there?”

“I'm here,” Todd answers for himself. “Although not for much longer. My parents are picking me up this afternoon.”

“I'm glad I caught you, then,” Knox laughs. “Father would have really grumbled if I wanted to make two long-distance calls instead of one."

We both chuckle, then I ask, “So what's so important that you called?”

“Charlie's coming back to Welton,” he replies. “I wanted to warn you before you showed up and saw him. I did get him to promise not to harass you, Richard, since you did get the address for us all. I'm hoping he'll come around the way I did over time. But I figured if you ran into him unawares, you might say something that would make him lose his famous temper again.”

“One display of his temper is enough for me,” I grin ruefully. “But I do appreciate the warning.”

Todd adds, “Let me guess, he'll be rooming with you, and therefore in study group with us, right?”

“Ding, ding! Give the boy a prize,” Knox chuckles. “Exactly. Look, I've got to go. See you in a couple of weeks.”

“See you,” Todd and I chorus, then I hang up the phone.

By unspoken consent, neither of us mention Charlie's imminent return to Welton at lunch. Mother went to extra effort to make a nice meal for Todd's departure, and we don't want to risk spoiling it for any reason at all.

But all too soon, the Andersons pull up out front. I go with Todd to fetch his bags. While upstairs, I steal one last kiss. “I love you, Richard,” he says softly.

“I love you too, Todd,” I reply equally softly. “Call me tonight, let me know you got home all right.”

“I will,” he tells me as he picks up his big suitcase. I take the overnighters as we head back downstairs.

Out by the car, Father is smiling while Dr. Anderson has an odd expression on his face, a mix of surprise and approval. “Todd, Mr. Cameron tells me you've been an exemplary houseguest,” Dr. Anderson announces in a tone of mild disbelief. “And he has offered to have you back just prior to school starting, if you would care to travel to Welton with them. I'm willing to allow it, as your mother wants to go to Connecticut to help Jeffrey settle in at Yale.”

I note Father's silent disgust at Dr. Anderson's manner. Todd blinks, then smiles diffidently at Father. “I would like that, sir, and thank you for offering.”

“Anytime, Todd, it's been a pleasure having you,” Father smiles. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm a firm believer in avoiding long farewells. I'll give a call on Monday, once I know exactly what my schedule looks like, so we can work out the arrangements for getting Todd down here with his school things,” he adds to Dr. Anderson.

Todd and I load his bags into the car. “I guess I'll see you sooner than we thought,” he says, still looking dazed.

I hide my smile, pleased by his reaction to my surprise plans. “I'm glad. Have a safe trip, and I'll see you soon.”

He gets into the car and we wave at each other until they're out of sight. Then I go up to my room and just sit until dinnertime, already missing his quiet presence beside me.


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