We get to Welton in plenty of time for the opening ceremonies. I'm glad that it's the juniors who traditionally carry in the banners and all that. I'm not sure I could stand to be called upon to define any of the Four Pillars this year. I sneak a glance over at Todd as Dr. Hager, the oldest staff member, lights the candle of the seventh grader on the first pew, passing the light of knowledge from oldest to youngest in accordance with Dean Nolan's traditional speech. Todd seems a bit tense, but not nearly as strained as I was afraid he would be. After the Four Pillars are defined, the headmaster introduces the new English teacher, Mr. Robert Standish. Like Mr. Keating, he's relatively young, somewhere in his thirties, I think. Unlike Mr. Keating, there's no real character to his face. He's a Columbia man, according to Nolan's introduction, come here from teaching at Hotchkiss in Connecticut.
Father gives Mr. Standish a slightly suspicious look. “I hope this one doesn't try to inspire the boys to anything but their homework assignments,” he whispers to Mother. “The last thing Welton needs is another scandal like last year's.”
“Shh,” Mother replies, although she nods her agreement.
I try not to let my face betray how I feel about Father's words. He doesn't know, I remind myself. He can't know, not now, anyway. Maybe someday I can tell him. But not now. I have to get through senior year first, before I can tell him... well, both of them... anything of real importance to me. Still, I'm glad Todd is on the other side of me, and didn't hear that little exchange.
Following yet another mumbled word or two from Mr. Alexander Carmichael, Jr., class of 1886 and the oldest living Welton graduate, the convocation comes to a close. We all file out of the chapel to say our farewells to our parents. Mother catches Todd unawares, hugging him as well as me, and Father shakes both of our hands. With a final wave, they make their way to the car for their drive home. Todd and I head over to the dorm.
We get our room assignment and bring our luggage upstairs. But before we can decide whether to unpack or go greet friends, Mr. McAllister comes around to send the seniors to Welton Hall for the annual assignment of extracurricular activities. I glance around the Honor Room, noting that our class is slightly smaller than many of the graduating classes I've seen since I've been here. But then again, our class is the first group to have been born during the war. I suppose it stands to reason that many people about the age of our parents didn't have as much opportunity to engage in the begetting of children once the United States got pulled into the war following the Jap attack on Pearl Harbor. There will only be thirty-nine of us graduating this year. Although it should have been forty.
Todd nudges me just then, interrupting my musing. Meeks and Pitts are waving from the far side of the room. We wave back, remaining quiet while Dr. Hager shuffles down the stairs, followed by four young men. “Anderson, Cameron, Dalton, Overstreet,” he calls in his dry voice.
Charlie Dalton gives me a brief sneer as we approach the stairs, but schools his face into neutrality as we file into the office. As usual, Dean Nolan is seated with a hunting dog at his side.
“Gentlemen,” he greets us with a nod. “Mr. Dalton, welcome back.”
Charlie gives a polite nod. “Thank you, sir,” he replies.
Nolan looks us over carefully. “You men are familiar with the process by which I assign extracurricular activities,” he tells us. “However, the board of governors and I have decided to institute a few changes this year. From now on, each student will be permitted to join one activity of his own choosing. Anyone carrying six or more activities already will be given the option of dropping one to take up one of his own choosing.” He gives Charlie a stern look then. “However, the school paper is not an option for you, Mr. Dalton. Not after the way you abused your position there last year.”
I can feel Charlie tensing up next to me, but he maintains his neutral expression. “Very well, sir,” he answers, his tone as controlled as his face.
The headmaster studies us for a long moment, then gives a nod. “Mr. Dalton: Service Club, rowing, soccer, and what will your choice be?”
“Drama, sir,” Charlie replies. It surprises me for a moment. Charlie was the other writer in the Dead Poets Society, the English coach for everyone before Todd came to Welton. Neil was the actor. Then I remember. He's been dating Ginny Danburry, who attends Henley Hall and is involved with the drama club there. By opting for drama, Charlie's giving himself the opportunity to see his girlfriend more often than just on pass weekends.
Nolan nods. “Very well. Drama it is. Mr. Overstreet: Welton Society Candidates, the school paper, Sons of Alumni Club, soccer, and what else?”
“Debate Club, sir,” Knox Overstreet requests.
“An excellent choice. Mr. Anderson: Service Club, school annual, soccer, and your choice?”
“Rowing, sir,” Todd says firmly.
Nolan nods before shifting his gaze to me. “Rowing it is, Mr. Anderson. Mr. Cameron, you've had Welton Society Candidates, Debate Club, rowing, Service Club, Forensics, and Honor Council. Will you keep them all, or do you prefer to exchange one for something else?”
“I'd like to drop Debate Club for Biology Club, sir,” I reply.
Nolan looks surprised at that. “Not quite what I expected of you, but perfectly acceptable,” he tells me. “Right, gentlemen, you're dismissed. Make your senior year a successful one.”
We file out behind Hager, then gratefully leave Welton Hall for the dorm. Todd decides to break the ice with Charlie. “Is it still Nuwanda?” he asks with a smile as soon as we're away from all teachers.
Charlie gives me a hard look before answering with a question of his own. “Is Cameron going to fink on me if I say yes?”
Todd shakes his head. “Of course not. Didn't Knox tell you anything about last term?”
Knox breaks in then. “I couldn't say as much as I wanted to. They open letters at Choate, he warned me about that right away. And on Fire Island, there was no real getting away from the families. But if we can find somewhere to talk...”
“How about the chapel?” I suggest. “If we sit in the middle, we'll be able to see anyone come in before they're close enough to hear us.”
They nod and we change directions to head to the chapel. Charlie looks expectantly at Knox. “Well?” he asks.
“Remember I told you I was writing to the Captain?” Knox asks. At Charlie's nod, he continues. “Well, it was Cameron who got the address for us. He's changed for the better, believe me.”
I give Knox a smile as Charlie's jaw drops.
“You... but... for God's sake, why?” Charlie explodes after a moment.
Knox shakes his head, glancing from me to Todd, then putting a finger to his lips. I understand the warning, and I won't tell Charlie the whole truth. “Well, to start with, the more I thought about... what I'd done... I came to the conclusion that I was wrong. That I'd been so wrapped up in trying to live up to my father's standards that I'd missed the whole point of everything the Captain tried to teach us.”
“You can say that again,” Charlie mutters.
“When we came back after the holiday recess, Nolan decided to swap everyone's room assignments. He put me and Todd together, and as good as told me he did that because he knew he could rely on me to report on any 'irregularities' in Todd's behavior. Well, that made me take a good hard look at myself, and I didn't like what I saw. I finally realized that just because others expect something of you, giving it to them isn't always the right thing to do. And I decided I had to change, before I got to the point that I couldn't.”
“He started out just being polite to me,” Todd picks up the story. “Even when I was pretty damn rude. Eventually, I tried to get him to start a fight. I said something that he could have gotten me expelled over, since I was on probation all of last semester for not signing the accusation. Instead of going to Nolan, Richard apologized for having gone to Nolan back in December. We ended up talking and becoming friends.”
I nod, grateful that Todd also noticed Knox's warning. “Anyway, I decided to prove that I meant what I said, about wanting to become a better person. I figured that of all of the members of the Dead Poets Society, Todd was the one I'd hurt the worst by what I did. Well, you also, but you weren't there to make things up to... and anyway, I figure that punch you threw on me probably evened things up some between us.” I rub at my cheek and nose in remembrance; Charlie has a mean right hook.
Charlie chuckles a bit sheepishly. “Yeah, I suppose it did. Even if it was the last straw that made Nolan decide to chuck me out. Hell, if I hadn't pulled off that article in the paper plus the phone call from God, Nolan probably would have let me stay even with punching you. He likes my family's money.”
I choose not to comment on that, knowing he's probably right. “Well, I tried to think of what I could do for Todd, to show that I meant what I said. And then it occurred to me, he probably would like to hear from the Captain. So I snuck into Nolan's office and dug through the teachers' files until I found his address. Todd got Knox to talk Chris into getting any replies for us, since we knew Nolan would never let a letter with John Keating's return address on it get through to a student. And in my first letter, I apologized to the Captain for what I'd done. He answered that I shouldn't blame myself for getting him fired, because Mr. Perry blamed him and went to Nolan and the rest of the administration before I did. That there wasn't anything any of us could have done to prevent him from getting fired, once Neil...” I swallow hard and shake my head, unable to go on for a moment.
Knox covers while I compose myself. “Once the letters started coming, it was easier for the rest of us to start letting Cameron back into the group. The Captain pretty much told us all the same thing, that we shouldn't blame anyone here at the school for what happened. Well, I showed you the letters he wrote me when we were on Fire Island, so you know that. And I'll give the boy credit, he's even better than Meeks in chemistry, and I know I was glad for the help. By the time school let out for the summer, everything was almost like it had been before, only better in some ways, because by then, we all knew we could trust Cameron. He'd earned that trust.”
I blush a bit, once again cursing my redhead's complexion. Charlie laughs. “All right then. To you guys, I'm still Nuwanda if you feel like calling me that. But I'll also answer to Dalton or Charlie.” He looks at me, his expression serious. “I think we both did some growing up since December,” he says. “I'm willing to start over if you are.”
I nod, then offer my hand. “Richard Cameron, nice to meet you,” I smile.
He chuckles and shakes. “Likewise. Charlie Dalton. My friends call me Nuwanda.”
Todd claps. “All right, we've got a truce. Let's go unpack now, and find Meeks and Pitts. I want to hear what they've been up to all summer. Especially with Amy and Tina.”
Knox grins as Nuwanda looks astonished. “They really did find girlfriends? You weren't just kidding me?”
“Real girls,” Knox confirms. “Girls that know electronics, no less. I'm never sure whether to be amazed or scared when the four of them get talking...”
We head back to the dorm, continuing the conversation as we find the other two and help each other unpack. Pitts is jubilant that his father agreed to let him try for MIT. And he's even more excited because Amy also plans on attending MIT, much to the surprise of the rest of us. But Meeks points out that while female students are not precisely sought by MIT, they are admitted, and have been since 1870. With Amy's background, she'll have a better chance than most young women at getting into the highly competitive school. He adds that while Tina wants to try for MIT, her parents are not supportive of the idea. Her mother wants her to go to her alma mater, Bryn Mawr. Tina is hoping to compromise on Radcliffe, so that she'll at least remain in the Boston area near Amy and Meeks at MIT.
Knox and Nuwanda talk about Fire Island, and the fun they had when Chris and Ginny came visiting. Todd and I talk about Martha's Vineyard. Todd is just telling about catching the shark when a younger boy comes down the hall hollering for Knox Overstreet. “You've got a visitor,” the boy says when Knox pokes his head out the door to ask what's up.
“I bet it's Chris!” he grins, heading for the stairs at a rapid clip. The rest of us laugh and follow more sedately, to give him time to greet her properly.
Chris laughs when she sees the five of us come piling out of the dorm. “I might have known I'd get the full welcoming committee,” she grins. Then she walks over and gives each of us a peck on the cheek in greeting, earning a few whistles from some of the other fellows who happen to be outside. Then she pulls a large envelope from her purse. “I have letters for you guys.” She hands each of us a letter, except for Nuwanda, of course. “Sorry, Charlie, but I'm sure you'll have one in the next batch, now that you can also write him,” she tells him.
“No problem,” Nuwanda grins. “Knoxious will let me read over his shoulder anyway. Are you and Ginny still planning to meet us in town when we get a pass in a couple of weeks?”
“We are, yes,” she replies. Then she looks towards me and Todd. “Carol will come along too, if you two are still willing to meet her.”
“Sure thing,” Todd says. “But we've still got some unpacking to do, so we'll leave you alone for now.”
I get the hint, and I nudge Meeks and Pitts as well. It takes them a moment, but they also realize that Chris and Knox probably want a few minutes alone. Knox hands Nuwanda his letter and tells him he can read it first if he wants to. Nuwanda heads back into the dorm, as do Meeks and Pitts. Todd and I head for the bleachers by the football field instead, since the sun is still up and the day is warm. We relax against the top railing as we read.
I'm glad to hear your summer went so well. Poker will prove valuable in your future, no matter where you go. After all, men always need to have the occasional poker night. It sounds as though you and Todd had fun.
The wedding went well. Jessica was even more beautiful than she normally is. And I cannot recommend enough that you boys see Yellowstone if you have a chance. It is absolutely breathtaking! In places, the land looks like the set of a science fiction movie, as though it were on some other planet. I know you know about the geysers, after all, who doesn't? But did you know there are places where you can see boiling mud? And hot pools of water in a rainbow of colors as well. And all that is in addition to the beauty of the mountains and the forests of the area. I hope you and Todd will get to see it when you come to California.
And on that note, I'm going to wish you a happy and successful school year. Keep me updated in all you do, and I'll keep you updated about UC Berkeley.