Richard's Redemption

Chapter 9

I wake up with an unfamiliar warmth and weight across my chest, and smile to myself as I realize it's Todd's arm. My own arm is a little sore from being under him, but I don't want to wake him just yet. I squint a bit at the light coming in the window, guessing it must be 7:30 or 8:00. We've got a little while before we'll have to get up for chapel. I watch Todd for a moment, smiling to see him looking so relaxed and peaceful for the first time since... well, since the night of the play.

Todd stirs a little, snuggling closer to me. Then his eyes open and he blinks at me in astonishment. “It... it wasn't a dream?” he asks a little uncertainly.

“No dream,” I reply softly, brushing my lips against his cheek.

He blushes and sits up. “I didn't... I thought... you... you're not mad?”

I sit up as well. “Not at all, Todd. Although I think we're going to need to talk. Somewhere we won't be overheard. The cave, maybe? Or does that have too many bad memories now?”

“Not the cave,” he says. “Nolan knows about it, after... after everything. Knox and Meeks and Pitts... they broke. And whatever you told him, of course.”

I flush, looking down. “Right... I forgot about that. He'd know to look there, then. Um, how about the bell tower, then?”

Todd thinks about that, then nods. “After chapel, then? But before lunch?”

“That's probably the best time.” I stand up, then offer him a hand up as well. “I... call me a sap if you want, but... last night... meant a lot to me. I don't want anything to mess it up.”

He smiles then, taking my hand as he stands and pulling me into a quick hug. “Me either. So we'd better go start getting ready.” He grabs his clothes from his wardrobe, then ducks out the door, heading for the showers.

I make up my bed, then get my own clothes and head off to shower. Todd passes me in the hallway as I return to the room, obviously heading down to breakfast and chapel. I hurry along to the dining hall as well, finding a seat near the fringes of where Todd is sitting with Meeks and Pitts. Those two are going on and on about Amy and Tina and the wonderful time they had last night. I grin to myself as they announce with some awe that Amy is going to arrange for them to meet her father, the integrated circuit fellow. Oh, and that Amy and Tina are going to meet them at the soda shoppe on the next town pass weekend. I can't help but wonder which event they're anticipating more... dates with real girls, or meeting a man who is apparently some sort of leader in the engineering field that I know they're both interested in entering.

After I finish eating, a better than usual breakfast thanks to the presence of the female guests who aren't scheduled to leave until after chapel services, I wander off to the chapel a little early. I have some thinking to do. Why is it, I wonder, why is it considered so wrong to have feelings for a member of one's own sex? I continue to ponder throughout the service. And I finally decide: it's only wrong because society says so.

I hang back after the service is over, sneaking to the staircase leading up to the tower. I climb to the top, smiling to see Todd waiting for me as I emerge through the trap door. As soon as I shut it, he gives me a kiss. I can't help but smile and kiss back.

“I still can't believe last night really happened,” he smiles, huddling close to me for warmth.

“I just can't believe you gave me a chance, Todd,” I tell him, brushing his cheek with my thumb. “I... you know as well as I do what will happen if word of this gets out.”

“Yeah,” Todd frowns. “Is that what this is about?”

I nod. “I meant it when I said I didn't want to lose you, Todd. But if we get caught...” I grimace. “We'll both be expelled. And God only knows what will happen with our families.”

Todd laughs mirthlessly. “My father is already convinced I'm worthless,” he says flatly. “He always calls me five ninety-eight... the value of the raw chemicals in the human body. He'd praise my brother's accomplishments, and tell me I'd better bust my ass to be more like Jeffrey, or all I'd ever be worth in this life is five ninety-eight. He wants me to be a doctor like him and like Jeffrey, but at the same time, he expects me to fail at it. The only thing that would bother him about finding out I'm queer is that someone might question his masculinity, for fathering a queer.”

Dear God, I think, what kind of hell has Todd lived all his life? I pull him closer to me, trying to comfort him as best as I could. “Damn it, Todd, you are not worthless,” I tell him. “You're worth ten of me. You're caring and understanding and forgiving... and how you got that way in spite of your father is beyond me. And you're strong. You're the only one of the Society that didn't break. I broke... I broke first. Granted, I was lashing out, but I still broke.”

“You were trying to save us, though,” Todd says softly. “I think you just didn't realize how much Keating meant to us... to you, even. I saw you stand on your desk with the rest of us that day.”

I nod, still red-faced. “Anyway... I just... I have an older brother too, but I know my father will be horribly disappointed when he finds out I'm queer. I'll probably end up thrown out, so I want to try to keep it quiet until graduation. I can work my way through college somehow, if I can just get through Welton.”

Todd nods in understanding. “So how do we manage, then?”

“Well... senior year, we get to choose roommates. Maybe we could... get to be friends... for public purposes, I mean... so that no one will think twice if we request each other as roomies next year?”

“That might work. But how...?”

I think fast. “Umm... well, you're brilliant in English. I'm good in trigonometry and chemistry. We started being civil to each other at the dance last night, so maybe you decided to ask me for some help? Or I could ask you, either way. English is my worst subject anyway.”

He smiles warmly. “That's great, Richard! I'll let you ask me, though. Meeks is good at trig as well, and he might wonder why I went to you instead of him. And we probably shouldn't use first names in public, since we never did before.”

“I hadn't thought of that, but you're right,” I say.

Todd smiles and gives me a kiss. “I'm also freezing. Are we done for now?”

I laugh. “Yeah, we're done for now. Go warm up. I'll come asking for help tonight when everyone is studying. Ignore it when the others give me the cold shoulder. They'll come around or not, on their own.” I open the trapdoor and peek down. “All clear... get out of here.”

He smiles and gives me a thumbs-up as he drops through the hatch. I wait a few minutes, then follow. I wonder if there's anything special I can do for him, that won't get us caught. After a while, I think of something that I'm sure he'll like. There's a serious risk, but I know how much it will mean to him if I can pull it off. Instead of heading back to the dorm, I stroll casually towards Nolan's office.

I'm going to find out Keating's new address.

I glance around, trying to see where everyone... meaning the teachers... might be, as I prepare to duck into Nolan's office. He and Dr. Hager are momentarily visible in the doorway of the guest hall, busy with sorting out the departures of the female guests. There's no sign of McAllister or any of the other teachers around. That's always a bonus of Sundays, most of the teachers vanish for the day. Not that any of us really care where they go or what they do, but it's nice having fewer eyes watching.

Especially when one is planning the equivalent of breaking into Fort Knox.

I make sure I'm unobserved, then casually reach for the doorknob. I silently bless the honor code of the school. No one would ever contemplate entering Nolan's office without a summons, so the door is unlocked. I slip inside, and quietly shut the door behind me. The office actually consists of two rooms. Mrs. Nolan, who acts as the dean's secretary, uses the room I'm standing in, while Nolan has the larger room behind this one. I check the file cabinets first thing, looking for anything concerning the teachers. I figure there must be a file somewhere. I know the teachers have contracts. One would then assume that any teacher who leaves... or is let go... would be required to leave a forwarding address.

Aha! There it is. One whole drawer dedicated to the teachers' files. Good God, they've got records in here dating back to the school's opening. I can't help but chuckle at that. Considering there are a hundred years' worth of records here, it's surprising that it all fits in one drawer. But then again, there doesn't seem to have been a lot of turnover, either. It looks as though most teachers who come here stay on for thirty years or longer. I blink when I note Hager's date-of-hire... 1928. My fingers keep flipping through until I find Keating's file. Right, there it is. Terminated, December 1959... may be contacted at... I grab a pencil from Mrs. Nolan's desk and a scrap of paper from the wastebasket. I jot the address down as quickly as I can while still keeping my printing legible.

I tuck the address into my pocket, replace the file and then the pencil. I'm about to open the door when I hear Nolan and Hager talking in the hall. Damn. Now what? I decide I'll be better off trying to bluff my way through if they come inside. After all, I'm Richard Cameron, Welton Society candidate. I'm on the honor council. I'm a known suck-up and tale-bearer. That's what they all think, anyway. They'll have no reason to disbelieve anything I care to tell them.

When Dean Nolan opens the door, I'm standing in front of Mrs. Nolan's desk, facing the door with a mildly embarrassed and yet slightly anxious look on my face. At least, I hope that's the expression I'm wearing. “Dean Nolan, sir?” I say, striving for a sheepish tone. “I've been having a little trouble in English in the last couple of weeks. I, um, don't think my grade is in danger yet, but I was wondering if you could suggest someone to tutor me before I run into a problem. I, um, used to get Dalton to coach me when I needed help before, sir, but...” I give a slight shrug. “I thought, since you're still teaching the class, you would be able to tell me who would be the best to approach. I don't want to ask for help from someone having as much trouble as I am, after all.” There, I thought to myself, that should work. Richard Cameron, the perfect apple-polisher.

And Nolan seems to have bitten. “Well, Mr. Cameron,” he says. “Your roommate Mr. Anderson is actually at the top of the class in English. But I don't quite understand why you came to my office today. You could have waited and spoken to me after class tomorrow.” He peers at me a bit suspiciously.

Damn. Think fast, Cameron. I put on a slightly shamed expression. “Actually, sir, I really should have spoken with you on Friday after class. But with the excitement of the Valentine's Ball preparations... well... I just wasn't thinking. And since the analysis of Tennyson's 'The Lotus-Eaters' is due tomorrow...”

Nolan looks mildly disappointed in me but completely understanding. “Very well, Mr. Cameron, you're forgiven for procrastinating this time. And I trust you enjoyed the ball. How is Mr. Anderson doing this term? Am I correct in guessing that he has seen the error of his ways, and is properly applying himself to his education?"

“Yes, sir, as nearly as I can tell, sir.” I answer. “He doesn't exactly confide in me, you understand, sir. But I haven't noticed any particularly odd behavior from him since the term started.”

“Good, good. I knew everything would blow over, once the instigator was removed. Go on back to your dorm now, Mr. Cameron, and if Mr. Anderson should be reluctant to offer his assistance, you may tell him that I wish him to be your tutor.” Nolan picks up a folder from his wife's desk, clearly dismissing me.

“Thank you, sir,” I say, and hurry out of the office.

Blown over, my hind foot. Swept under the rug is more like it. If we all pretend it never happened, it won't have happened. A small part of me wonders what Nolan's reaction would be if I told him that yes, I had seen some unusual behavior from Todd... that he'd enjoyed it when I kissed him. But of course, I can't do that. After all, the whole point of this charade is to keep us in school until graduation.

I walk into the dorm, seeing assorted study groups scattered about the lobby. Todd glances up as I walk in, catching my eye with the tiniest of nods, timed so that I'm the only one to see it. I walk in his direction. Knox, Meeks, and Pitts are busily conjugating Latin verbs to each other. Todd is simply doodling in his notebook.

“Sum, es, est, summus, estis, sunt,” I say as I approach the table. “Anderson, you look like you're finished already. Are you?”

Todd gives me a wary look, while the other three gaze at me suspiciously. “Yeah, Cameron, I am. I did this yesterday before the dance. Why?”

I put on my best hangdog look. After all, I'm supposed to be swallowing my pride here, asking for help. “I, um, wondered if maybe you could help me out with English? The Tennyson analysis?” I mutter, looking at my feet.

Knox glares at me. “Todd, you don't have to help a fink,” he says. “No one should. Let him fail, for all I care.”

I can feel my face burning, even though I try to ignore the harsh words. But I know he means it. He's mad about Nuwanda as well as Keating.

Todd saves the situation perfectly, though. “I'm tempted, Knox,” he sighs. “But like it or not, Cameron's my roommate. I'd rather he didn't go crawling to Nolan that I wouldn't give him help when he asked for it, you know? Especially since I'm still on probation for refusing to sign the accusation paper.”

Knox looks down at his book, flushing. But he shuts up. Meeks and Pitts also make a point of diligently checking their books. All three of them signed. Under duress, to be sure, but they signed. I wish I could tell them how sorry I am, but I know they won't believe me. Not yet, anyway.

Todd gets up, pausing to playfully mess up Knox's hair. “I'll be fine, I promise. Besides, it'll be good to have him owing me one, right?” Knox nods as Todd gathers up his books. “We might as well work upstairs,” he says to me. “More room to spread out the books.” I nod and follow him up to the room.

Once we're inside and the door is shut, we smile. I wrap my arms around him from behind as he sets his books on his desk. “I don't actually need help,” I murmur in his ear. “Not on the Tennyson analysis, anyway. But I do need help with something else. And connected with that, I got you a present.”

Todd looks at me over his shoulder, his one visible eye holding a puzzled expression. “A present? But...”

I chuckle, stepping back and reaching in my pocket to pull out a certain scrap of paper. “How would you like to find out for yourself that the 'Captain' is okay?”

“What?” Todd looks at me like I grew an extra head.

I can't help the self-satisfied smirk that I can feel settling onto my face. “I thought you might like to write to Keating, so I sneaked into Nolan's office and went through the teachers' files until I found the forwarding address he left.” I ceremoniously hand Todd the paper.

He looks at it for a moment in disbelief. “My God, Richard... what if Nolan had caught you? I can't believe it! Thank you!” He throws himself at me, kissing me hard.

I kiss back, smiling. “Nolan did catch me, actually,” I tell him. “But I managed to bluff my way out of trouble, by asking him to suggest someone to tutor me in English. He not only suggested you, Todd, he told me to tell you that he wished for you to help me... if you tried to say no when I first asked, of course. And that, by the way, was brilliant, what you said to Knox back there.”

Todd blinks, then laughs. “Thanks. So, if you've already done your English, what do you need help with?”

I take a deep breath. “I want to write to Keating as well... to try to apologize for what I did. I can't blame him if he won't forgive me, but I have to try.”

He meets my eyes and I'm nearly overwhelmed by the compassion I see there. “Well, what are we waiting for?” he says. “Let's get writing.”


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