Title: A Change in the Weather
Author: Jae Gecko
Pairing: Technically, S/OFC and S/OMC -- but really, this is a story about Sam.
Rating: R.
Spoilers: None.
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Aaron Sorkin, who is a far more talented writer than I am. I'm not confused; I'm just borrowing them. He can have them back when I'm done!
Archive: Yes to list archive; all others please ask.
Summary: A barely twenty-year-old Sam heads off to Washington for a student journalism seminar, has an adventure, and starts to figure some things out. Pre-Josh. First person, Sam's point of view.
Feedback: Send to jaegecko@yahoo.com
Website: http://www.geocities.com/jaegecko/
Notes: This is a prequel to "Turning Myself Into You", taking place a little more than a year and a half before the beginning of that story. No prior reading is necessary, though if you want to find out what happens next, the rest of the Turning-universe stories are available on my website. Thank yous: To Carrie, whose input on "Turning" set this story in motion, and who gently reminded me that although this one may *feel* at times like original fiction, the rules of fanfiction still apply. To both Scott and Joerg, for inspirational memories of early twentysomething male angst. To Adina, for all of her no-holds-barred editorial commentary, especially the part about the cheese fondue approach to fiction writing, which I hope I've managed to apply here. To Minna Leigh, who's been there every step of the way, sharing the excitement of being a new writer, and who has turned out to ROCK as a detail editor. Special credit also to Anna-Maria Jennings, who in addition to being my dear friend and my right arm on every story I write, was even more indispensable than usual on this one, if that's possible. No Ann, no "Weather".

A Change in the Weather by Jae Gecko

*Did I forget to pack my deodorant?*

Racking my brain, I mentally retraced my steps of the previous night. I'd left the office of the Daily Princetonian around two in the morning, walked over to my apartment to pack for the student journalism seminar I'd be attending in Washington for the next week, and then stumbled four blocks through cold drizzle to Carol's apartment and fallen into bed next to her, nearly dead on my feet. This morning, then, the familiar chaos at the paper had kept me from checking to make sure I had everything, and now I couldn't get the idea out of my mind that I'd forgotten something important. Like my deodorant.

I still had to get a couple of issues straightened out at the paper before I left, I had to say goodbye to Carol, and I had an hour -- no, less, now, I confirmed, looking nervously at my watch -- to catch the only Greyhound bus that would get me from Princeton to Washington before the seminar started the next morning, and now it was looking an awful lot like I'd have to go back to my apartment one last time first. Groaning, I rummaged through my backpack, setting my toothpaste and toothbrush case on my desk in front of me as I searched. No deodorant.

"Sam, c'mere for a minute." Carol, the arts editor and my girlfriend of nearly a year, summoned me over with a wave of her right hand, immediately returning it to her mass of long brown hair to continue playing with it. Walking toward her, I frowned as I watched her ravel and unravel a strand around her finger as she waited for the person on the other end of the telephone to respond. She only did that hair thing when she was nervous, and the last thing I needed was for the person filling in for me while I was gone to allow nerves to cloud her judgement.

"Yes?" I said, tensely suppressing my annoyance.

"Lean toward me," she whispered, removing her fingers from her hair long enough to put her hand over the mouthpiece of the receiver.

I stepped back in surprise. What, was she going to kiss me in front of everyone? Carol wasn't exactly the type.

"Lean *toward* me."

I leaned forward and felt her slip something into my jacket pocket. I put my hand inside, wrapped my fingers around my deodorant, and smiled.

"I thought you might need that," she said, returning the smile, "and I didn't think you'd want me to parade your toiletries around in front of the rest of the staff."

"Where would I be without you?" I asked, admiring.

"This week? Not in Washington, that's for sure. Don't you forget that. Now *leave*, already!" She reached out to squeeze my hand ever so slightly, and I squeezed hers back, returning quickly to my desk and stuffing the deodorant in my backpack, along with the other things I'd taken out of it.

"Sam, here's the first piece for the sports page." Tommy, the sports editor, thrust a page in front of me, his enormous hands clutching two sides of it.

"Whose is it?" I said, grabbing the printout from him.

"I wrote this one."

"Who edited it?" Tommy knew I didn't want the section heads editing their own work, but they all still tried to slip something past me every once in a while.

"I had Chris look it over," he confirmed.

Mike, a scrawny sophomore reporter none of the rest of us liked, peered across the desk at the page I held in my hand and cackled. "Girls' volleyball? Tommy, *you* wrote a piece on the *girls'* volleyball team?"

"I'm an equal opportunity reporter, Mike," Tommy said with a grin.

"I just can't see you jumping at the chance to watch a bunch of chicks running around in tight shorts, if you know what I mean," Mike said, and I heard one of the other guys snicker.

I looked sharply at Mike, and then back at Tommy, but Tommy's grin hadn't vanished. I shifted in my chair and shot Mike a purposeful glare, but didn't push the issue. A flamboyantly gay sports editor the size of a small horse was bound to take a little ribbing around the offices of a student paper, but it still never failed to make me uncomfortable, even if his laid-back nature meant he was able to let every jab roll right off of him.

"Hey, Tommy!" At the angry tone in Carol's voice, we all looked abruptly over at her. I knew if she hadn't already had one hand on the phone and the other cupped over the mouthpiece, both would have been on her hips and she'd have been standing in front of us in a flash. "What are you doing, giving that to Sam?"

Tommy's wide forehead wrinkled in confusion. "Uh, it's done. What else am I supposed to do with it?"

She shook her head jerkily, violently. "For the next week, when your articles are written and edited, you give them to *me*. Sam's not even supposed to be here right now."

"I just figured-"

She hung up the phone with a crash and strode over to my desk, looking up at Tommy with wild eyes. "You give that to *me*. I'm managing editor for the next week."

Tommy looked at me with a hint of uncertainty. "I just thought that as long as Sam was still here-"

"Yeah, that reminds me." Carol turned toward me, her face still frozen in a scowl. "Sam, don't you have a bus to catch?"

"I've got forty-five minutes," I protested.

"And it'll take you at least fifteen to get to the station."

I hesitated. "Did you get the new printer on the phone?"

"They're not answering," she said, twirling her hair furiously around her finger. "I'm sure they're trying to fix things as we speak. I'll try back in ten minutes. You get *out* of here."

I looked around the room, watching the paper seemingly fall apart before my eyes, feeling more and more like going to this seminar had been the worst of all possible bad ideas. I hadn't been away from Princeton even overnight since I'd started as managing editor, and now I was going to be gone for a whole week? That would mean five press deadlines without me there to supervise things, and probably about five *thousand* unforeseen crises.

"What about the computer?" I asked, my tone cautious and hesitant. "If we don't get that thing up and running, there won't be any way to print anything out, and you won't be able to get the paste-up done in time to get the paper over to the printer, anyway."

"They're sending somebody over right now, Sam," Carol spat, teeth clenched. "Leave, already."

"Maybe I should stay home."

Carol stamped her foot. "Sam!"

"I can still back out. The registration cost is refundable."

"All right, that's it. In the hall, right now."

Tommy chortled as he turned around and walked back to his desk. "Sounds like she means it, Sam. I think you'd better listen to her."

Mike leaned back in the chair on the opposite side of desk and smirked, putting his feet up on a milk crate. "See what happens when you put a girl in charge? Give 'em an inch and they-"

Carol whirled around, her hair flying. "Fuck you, Mike."

The room erupted in hoots of laughter, and Carol's face grew red with fury. If she'd been any angrier, the smoke detector would have gone off. "We'll be right back," I explained as I followed her to the door, grabbing my backpack and tripping nervously over a stack of yesterday's papers as I fell into the hall. She slammed the door behind us.

"Sorry about all that," I tried to smooth things over.

She snorted. "What, those guys? They're pigs. I expect it from them. I *don't* expect it from *you*."

"What?" I stared at her. "I didn't-"

"You did *too*," she spat, twirling her hair around her finger again. "You finally gave me some teeth with them by picking me to replace you for this week. You could have picked Chuck, or even Mike, but you chose me. They already think you're only letting me take the reins because I'm your girlfriend, so I've got *that* shit to deal with, but now you're pulling the rug out from under me right in front of them. You couldn't undermine my authority any better if you told them all point-blank that you thought I'd do a crappy job this week. You ... hanging around here, talking about not going, all that makes it look like you can't deal with the idea of a girl making *your* decisions."

"But that's not because- it's not because you're a girl!" I shouted, trying to defend myself. I prided myself on running a meritocracy rather than a good-old-boys' enterprise, and her accusation stung. "It's just ... it seems like everything's going wrong at once. First the thing with the computer, then the new printer saying they couldn't do what we need them to do, and now they're not even answering the phone-"

"We're running a newspaper, here," Carol retorted, shaking her head. "Something's *always* going wrong. You deal with this stuff every single day. Let me try for once."

I hesitated, shifting my backpack to my other shoulder.

"I can do this," she said, more quietly now. "I'm ready. You go to your seminar, learn something awesome about this business, then bring it back to the Prince and teach me."

I stared at her for a long moment. She stopped twirling her hair around her finger and stood tall, obviously trying to appear confident. I remembered how nervous I'd been on my first day in this job, and how that hadn't stopped the editor-in-chief from giving me a chance. I breathed in slowly, then exhaled again through my nose in a loud sigh. "Okay," I said finally. "You're right."

Carol's lips turned up in a grin, and she wrapped her arms around me and tilted her head up slightly to kiss me. Her lips were warm, her body soft and familiar against mine, and for a moment I felt myself relax. "Thank you," she whispered into my ear.

I pushed back from her a bit, still holding her by her shoulders. "You'll call me if anything goes wrong."

"Sam-"

"I mean it, Carol. I won't be able to think of anything else the whole week unless you promise to call me if anything goes wrong."

Stepping back from me, she sighed and put her right hand on her hip. "Something's *always* going wrong!" she repeated.

"I mean anything that you don't know how to fix," I clarified.

"If anything gets botched that badly, I'll have to take it to Jeff, anyway."

"And whatever it is, you know he'll send it back to the ME, which for the next week is *you*. Jeff's got plenty to do as EIC -- he's barely passing his classes, he's so busy already. You can't bug him with the little stuff."

She snorted. "Ten seconds ago you said I should only call if something big happens. Now we're talking about *little* stuff?"

I reached for her arm. "Just humor me, okay? Please. Call me if anything goes wrong."

"Okay," Carol grumbled. "I'll make a stupid long-distance call to Washington if there's so much as a minor glitch in production."

"Promise?"

"I *promise*, Sam."

"Did I already give you the phone number of the hotel?"

"Twice, now."

"I don't know the room number, yet, but you can-"

"I'll ask at the front desk, just like you already *told* me. Now get out of here, or you're going to miss your bus." She opened the door to the office and I followed her back into the room, lingering in the doorway while she walked over to the rest of the staff and leaned against my desk, as if to claim it as her own.

"All right, guys, Carol's in charge," I said with as much authority as I could muster. At the inevitable groans erupting from the group, I tried to glare simultaneously at all of them. "And just remember, if she complains at all about any of you guys acting like jackasses while I'm gone, all I have to do is pass your names on to Jeff. I know tons of freshmen who'd just love a shot at your jobs."

Carol took a deep breath and shot me one last questioning look. My heart skipped a beat, but I forced a smile at her, and she smiled back -- that wide, toothy grin I knew almost better than my own after a year of spending nearly twenty-four hours a day with this tough tornado of a girl. She turned confidently to Mike, and I stepped back out through the doorway, still watching them over my shoulder.

"All right," Carol said, clasping her hands together. "Mike, you get the new printer on the phone, tell them they promised us better resolution and now they're just going to have to find some way to follow through -- I don't care what their excuses are. Chuck, just to make sure, why don't you call the old printer and see if they'd be willing to do a rush job for us if the new people flake out. I'm going to call and ask what's keeping that repair guy. Come on, guys, hurry up, we've got a paper to get out."

Mike scowled, but headed over to the phone Carol had been using earlier and picked it up. As she sat down at my desk, I nodded at her and waved. The last thing I saw was her satisfied smile as I shut the office door behind me.

#The D.C. Greyhound bus station was dirty and rundown, and by the time I'd made my way through the bustle of the crowd to the taxi stand out front, I was more than ready to get myself over to the hotel and just stop and rest for a moment. The lack of sleep for the past few nights had caught up with me on the bus, but I still hadn't been able to nod off out of worry over leaving the paper in someone else's hands. Carol had promised to call me if anything went wrong, though, I reminded myself. I vowed not to be the one to call first; I knew she'd never forgive me if I did.

The line at the taxi stand was long, but it moved quickly as hordes of people, tourists and locals alike, all climbed into cabs that were quickly supplanted by identical replacements. The guy directly in front of me was young, about my age or possibly a bit older, with thick, dark blond hair ending just above his shoulders that he kept pushing out of his eyes whenever he bent over to pick up his bags. It was an unseasonably warm day, and it didn't take long for him to decide that the jacket he had on was too much. I watched him pull his arms through his sleeves and tie it absently around his waist, throwing one bag over each shoulder in the process. The guy stood out among the crowd -- like he wasn't quite a part of the city, but nonetheless fit in, somehow.

The squeal of brakes pulled my gaze away from the guy and out into the street, where a car stopped just short of running over a young woman with a stroller. The woman flipped the driver the finger, and he sped off with another screech. When I looked back at the guy in front of me, he had already pulled out a small pocket notebook and was jotting down the license plate number. I nodded to myself, impressed. He was quick.

As he adjusted the strap on one of his bags, my eyes traveled down and rested on his right hand as it played with the outer pocket, where a brochure that matched the one in my own backpack was peeking out at the top. I smiled. "You look like you must be a journalist," I blurted, before I could stop myself.

The guy looked up from his notebook in surprise. "Now, how could you possibly know that?"

"Lucky guess." The guy took a bewildered step back from me. "Or maybe it's your telltale spiral-bound notebook," I offered, pulling out my own.

"You can tell I'm a journalist from my notebook?"

"Well, it might have had something to do with the journalism seminar brochure peeking out of your bag," I confessed.

"Ahh. By your own logic, though, if you've got one of those telltale spiral-bound notebooks, you must be a journalist, too," he said, playing along.

"When I'm not in class, I try to be," and the guy smiled. Trying to seem worldly, I held out my hand for him to shake. "Sam Seaborn, managing editor of the Daily Princetonian."

"I guess I know where you must be headed, then," taking my hand with a nod. "Andy Keller, editor-in-chief, Harvard Crimson."

I knew the cocky grin on his face was reflected on my own. We had each learned that particular way of sizing someone up that only happens when Ivy Leaguers recognize each other -- half rivalry, half instant acceptance as kin. "We might as well share a cab, then," I said, noticing that the guy -- Andy -- had reached the front of the line.

"Great, cheaper for both of us," he said to me, then turned his head toward the driver. "Rhode Island and 15th," he added, with the flair of a knowledgeable local.

I dumped my backpack into the trunk and climbed into the back seat behind the driver. I had a good head for details like that, too, but I knew I still would have had to at least double-check the information they'd sent me to remember where the hotel was. Not that I'd have admitted that to Andy. "You're EIC?" I asked. "How did you get away for a whole week?"

Andy shrugged, dismissing the thought that he might have had a reason to stay home. "I'm the boss -- I just told them I was leaving."

"Aren't you afraid they'll make a mess of things while you're gone?"

"Are you maligning the good name of my staff?" he asked with a tone of mock annoyance.

"Of course not, it's just-" I stopped for a moment and scrutinized him. He seemed so completely unflappable. "You're not worried at all?"

"You are?"

"Petrified," I admitted.

He shrugged again and freed his hair from where it had drifted behind the neckline of his shirt in the back. "The way I look at it is that if I've done my job right, they can run it without me. It's just a week. Plus -- wait, how long have you been ME?"

"Since March."

"Okay, maybe the editing thing is too new for you, then. But I was ME last year, and now I'm EIC this year, and I'm telling you, I've been looking forward to this seminar for months. Don't you ever miss just being a reporter?

"I guess, sometimes."

"Well, this week, I get to be a reporter. I'm in Washington. I get to meet Bob fucking Woodward on Friday. Nobody's gonna tell me I should be back in Cambridge behind a desk. This week is *mine*, man." The look in his eyes was so powerful that I knew I had to look away, but I held his gaze for just a moment longer than was comfortable before turning to look out the window.

I watched the edges of Chinatown fly by as we headed closer to downtown, and I felt a strange, buzzing sensation of excitement. This was where ambassadors and congressmen and Presidents came to assume office, where history had been made countless times and where, even right now, decisions were being made that would affect the entire world. Somewhere in this city Reagan had planned and then announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, and right now, on Capitol Hill, a group of Democrats were working to develop a message to show what a huge mistake it all was. This was where Congress had just voted to reaffirm the War Powers Act, and where Congressman Brock of Iowa had made that brilliantly pacifistic speech opposing it. Somehow it made them all seem less larger-than-life to be right there in the same city -- it made them feel less like news stories, and more like people.

"It's so hot here," Andy complained, shifting around to remove the jacket from his waist and lay it on the floor of the cab by his feet.

"Yeah, it hardly feels like October," I agreed. "You originally from New England?"

"I grew up all over, actually. Military brat. But my dad retired after Vietnam, and I went to high school north of Boston, near the New Hampshire border. How about you?"

"Los Angeles." It sounded boring, compared to the kind of life Andy must have lived. His eyes traveled down to my chest, and I shifted self-consciously, knowing he was probably thinking I was too skinny to be a surfer type. I shot him my best intellectual look.

"So, you must be used to temperatures like this in October," he said, his voice turning up at the end of the sentence in a half-question.

"I've been in Princeton for a couple of years." It seemed like forever since I'd lived in California, like I couldn't possibly still be used to anything from so long ago.

"You a junior?"

"Yep. You?"

"Senior. And no matter what else happens, I *am* going to graduate this year."

"Isn't it against the rules for an EIC to make it through in four years?"

Andy lay his arm restlessly across the back of the seat. "If I have to step down to do it, I will. I'm so sick of school. I want to get a real news job, earn some real money."

"Since when do reporters make real money?" I teased.

"They make more than I made last summer, working for minimum wage stocking Harvard sweatshirts in the student bookstore."

I nodded, knowing exactly what he meant about wanting to be self-sufficient. Even with scholarships, there was no way I could have afforded Princeton tuition on my own, and it was the feeling of indebtedness that kept me from balking too much at my mom's constant worrying, even though I knew it would keep me from feeling fully adult until graduation. And the weight of that was nothing compared with the disappointed silences that accompanied each phone call from my dad whenever I got anything less than an A.

"That little bit of independence is worth a lot more than home-cooked meals, though," I said, and Andy responded with a smile that left no doubt in my mind that he understood.

Although the hotel held many more people than the hundred or so who were involved with the seminar, it was clear from the time the taxi pulled up in front of the entrance that for this week, at least, it was ours. A group of obviously college-aged guys lounged casually on the lobby furniture, eyeing all of the girls as they passed, an apparent couple sat off in the corner, watching television, and a far younger clientele than the staff was accustomed to hovered near the front desk and helped maintain a low level of background chatter as Andy and I walked up to the check-in counter that had been set up for seminar attendees. They checked us in by last name, and I lost track of Andy briefly when I went to take my place in the R-Z line, but he caught up to me again at the elevator.

"What's your room number?" he asked, pressing the up arrow.

"342. I guess I'm sharing with a guy from the University of Virginia."

"Hey, I'm in 346."

"They've probably got us all on one floor. Like being back in the dorms, only with maid service," I laughed, putting my arm through my backpack's other strap. "Guess we won't be sleeping much this week."

Andy threw his bag over his right shoulder and pulled his hair out from under the strap. "I don't really sleep, anyway."

"Of course you don't -- you work for a student paper."

"No, I mean, I don't sleep much at all, even when I try. And it's completely pointless in a strange place," Andy clarified as we stepped off the elevator.

I stared at him, amazed at how casually this guy talked about his weaknesses. It gave him an remarkable ability to seem simultaneously arrogant and vulnerable.

"It's okay, I'm used to it," he shrugged, in that nonchalant way I was beginning to recognize already. "Hey, I'm going to call in that near-accident. Can I say there were two witnesses if they ask?"

"Sure," I said, glad to have a chance to help. "I was there, too."

"Great. See you tomorrow."

"See you."

I unlocked the door to my hotel room to find my roommate already lying across the bed furthest from the door, wearing nothing but boxers and a T-shirt. I surveyed the room as I stepped inside, noticing that he seemed to have tried lying on both beds before picking the one closer to the television. He was tall and muscular, and his slicked-back hair and well-maintained tan made him look generally like he'd seen the inside of a salon a lot more frequently than he'd seen the offices of a student newspaper.

"You must be Princeton," he said without fully looking up from the television.

"Sam Seaborn. It's Don, right?"

"In the flesh," he said, stretching out his legs.

Noticing that he had spread his belongings sloppily across the surface of both dressers, I grimaced and began unpacking my own things from my backpack onto the bed, finally hanging my shirts and pants in the yet-empty closet. It wasn't until I walked into the bathroom, though, that I wondered just how much havoc one guy could wreak on a single hotel room. He couldn't have been there more than a couple of hours, and already it looked like his crap had completely taken it over. I set my toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, deodorant, and comb as unobtrusively as possible on the far corner of the sink.

"Hey, Princeton," Don called out as I emerged back into the room.

"It's Sam." I briefly considered calling him 'Virginia', but decided against it on the grounds that it might cause some unnecessary friction between us.

"Right," he responded, obviously not paying attention. "Can we work out some kind of a signal? Like, for when we can each use the room?"

What, was there some reason for us to sleep in shifts? "Uh, I probably won't be here much except at night. It looks like they'll be keeping us pretty busy."

"Yeah, but like, if one of us brings a girl back here or something, there should be some signal letting the other one know not to come in just yet."

I tried not to roll my eyes. It seemed I'd been closer to the truth than I'd realized when I'd told Andy that this week would be like being back in the dorms. "I suppose we could use the trusty old 'do not disturb' sign," I joked, removing it from the back of the door and waving it at Don.

"Hey, right!" he said, brightening. "They thought of everything."

As I was dropping off to sleep that night, listening to my roommate's seemingly endless snoring, I thought about what I'd tell Andy about Don tomorrow. *He's dull, plastic, and thick,* I'd say. *Destined for television,* Andy would answer, and I smiled at the thought.

It occurred to me, too, that some of Andy's relaxed demeanor must have rubbed off on me sometime that day, since I hadn't been tempted to call Carol to check on the paper even once since I'd stepped off the bus in Washington.

I woke early the next morning, showered quickly, and, hungry for the morning news but finding Don still asleep, went downstairs to a corner of the lobby where I'd spotted that television the night before. Grabbing a fresh copy of the Post from the front desk, I sat down to my daily ritual of double-teaming my news sources. First, though, I retrieved my schedule outlining the week's activities from my backpack, looking ahead to who today's guests would be. This morning was a lecture by a war correspondent currently with the Post, Erin Wakefield, and this afternoon would feature a series of hands-on workshops with lesser-known names in the world of journalism, most local to Washington. It would be a good beginning to what looked like a terrific week.

"Hey, I thought that was you over there in this corner."

"Hey," I said, feeling the edges of my mouth crinkle slightly as I looked up to see Andy standing in front of me. "I couldn't let a lazy roommate keep me from catching the Today Show," I explained as he sat down next to me on the couch.

"Good thinking," he said, and my slight smile transformed into a grin at the compliment.

"Did you sleep?" I asked, remembering his insomnia. I noticed that he didn't look unusually tired, but I knew that could have been due to the early morning cup of coffee no journalist could live without.

"Not really. It could have been worse, though -- I brought along a pillow from home and managed to convince myself I was lying in my own bed for about three hours or so."

"I didn't get much more than that, myself. I should have brought ear plugs."

"Oh, God! I take it your roommate does a passable imitation of a buzz saw?"

"Yep," I laughed, trying to adopt Andy's laissez-faire attitude toward things like sleep and stupid roommates. "Hey, did you call the police about that near-miss?"

"Yeah, though they didn't seem to care that much. I guess nobody in this city is all that used to people who just want to do the right th-"

"Shh!" Something on the television I hadn't quite been able to catch penetrated my consciousness, and I cut Andy off with a hiss and a wave of my hand.

I reached over to turn up the sound. "The initial assault, met by stiff resistance from the Grenadian army and Cuban military units on the island, consisted of some 1,200 troops," the newscaster announced stiffly, tonelessly, reading from a teleprompter as if oblivious to the meaning of the words as he spoke them.

"Oh, my God," I heard Andy say. "We invaded Grenada."

Both of us stared at the television, listening, dumbstruck. Though it had been clear for a few weeks now that the region was turning into yet another of the world's hot spots, this seemed like a huge, completely unexpected move. I shook my head angrily as the anchor recounted pointless statistics about the size of the opposing army, knowing this couldn't possibly have had any motivations other than the purely political.

The surprise invasion seemed to have caught the Today Show reporters off guard, too, if their strangely superficial and almost contradictory reporting was anything to go by. I swallowed, feeling both eager to hear what was going on and frustrated that not even the television people seemed to know, hours after the bombing had begun.

The sudden blaring volume of a toothpaste commercial shocked me back into the hotel lobby, and I looked at Andy. "They don't know what the hell is going on," I said, irritated.

He ran his finger through his hair, pushing it back casually behind his ear. "Well, we know this isn't really about Grenada. I mean, nobody had even heard of Grenada until the coup two weeks ago. This isn't about some meaningless island country."

"Of course it's not," I agreed, thrilled to find we were on the same page about this. "And it's not about a bunch of medical students, either, no matter what they're saying." The reporter who'd repeated the claims of the U.S. military on the air hadn't even seemed to believe it himself.

"Reagan can't bear the thought of another pro-Castro regime in the Caribbean. This is about Cuba."

"It's about Cuba, and it's about the suicide bomber the other day in Beirut. It's about trying to save face." I clenched a fist, struck by a desire to write something about this, damning these hypocrites and revealing their motivations for what they were. "It's about telling the world not to screw around with the U.S., or with anybody in our back yard."

Andy nodded, his eyes glistening with mounting excitement. "And that's the angle."

I knew, suddenly, that I wanted to be in the middle of this, somehow -- I wanted to be present while the decisions were being made, instead of on the receiving end of pre-digested news after the fact. "You know, I'd love to get even two or three words in with MacFarlane right about now. He's only been National Security Advisor two weeks. Not even. That's got to be relevant."

"I'd settle for just getting to sit in on a press conference," he said, almost salivating, and then he paused, his mouth half-open. His thoughts were mirrored on his face, and I could read them as if from my own mind: *Wait a minute. We're in Washington.*

My eyes locked on Andy's, and I watched them dance. "You know, it'll be a long time before we get a chance like this again," he pointed out. "After graduation, we're going to have to pay our dues at podunk local newspapers in east Texas or something before we ever end up back here."

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"I think so."

"Is anybody going to listen to us?" I couldn't quite believe we were actually going to do this.

"We'll make 'em listen," he gasped, breathless, and as if propelled by the same unseen force, we both leapt to our feet and headed toward the door.

Rushing in the direction of the front desk, we passed a bank of phones, and I stopped, recognizing the woman whose picture I'd just seen in our brochure. She was speaking angrily, strangling the phone. "Hey," I hissed at Andy. "She- she's supposed to speak today. Wakefield. Somebody Wakefield. War correspondent with the Washington Post."

"Somehow I think her talk's going to end up getting cancelled," Andy dismissed, reaching out to grab my arm and hurry me up before realizing what I'd said. As he stopped walking, we stared at each other again, and in a strange sort of wordless communication, we each immediately rushed over to assume positions in front of the telephones on either side of the woman. My hands shook as I withdrew the receiver from the phone and pretended to dial.

"I know they're delayed -- I'm supposed to be on a plane right now," I heard her say, and I felt an almost overwhelming compulsion to look at her, but forced myself to fix my eyes on the phone's keypad instead. "That much I can figure out for myself."

She hunched down, and Andy caught my eye over the top of her head. When she looked back up at him, he turned away and spoke quietly into the receiver, mimicking a conversation.

"Well, I think we should have the whole lot of them thrown in jail, the President included," the reporter raged. "I suppose this is one way around the little issue of the First Amendment."

Realizing exactly what she was suggesting, I glanced over at Andy again, but he was facing away from both of us. If this was true, it would certainly go a long way toward explaining the confusing nature of the reporting we'd seen on the Today Show.

"Can't you send somebody else to the Pentagon at this point- all right all right, I'll head over there. But as soon as they give us the okay, I'm in the air. You're not grounding me at this point. Right. Later." At that she hung up the receiver, rushing away from the bank of phones and out toward the door. Andy was gone almost as quickly as she was, and I replaced my own receiver in its cradle and followed them out.

Despite the early hour, it was already warm, but a brisk wind that hadn't been there the day before blew my shirtsleeves ferociously as I caught up with Andy outside. "There must be a press conference at the Pentagon," he shouted over the wind. "How are we going to get over there in time?"

Looking over toward the reporter, who seemed to be making a beeline for her car, I didn't even bother to try making my gesture in her direction look unobtrusive. "There's somebody on her way there right now."

Andy ran up to her just as she was about to jump into her car, waving his arms, and I jogged along behind. "Ms. Wakefield!" he yelled. "I'm Andrew Keller of the Harvard Crimson, and this is Sam Seaborn of the Daily Princetonian. We're both big fans of yours, and we'd love it if we could hop a ride with you over to the Pentagon."

"You guys want to go to the Pentagon?" She shook her head in disbelief, the edges of her mouth twitching with a hint of amusement.

Andy beamed at her. I tried my best to imitate the innocent, yet eminently capable look on his face.

The reporter put her hands on her hips. "Even if they do let you into the building, how do you think you're going to get in to the press conference -- on the strength of your wit and charm?"

Andy's smile wavered only slightly as the look on her face grew more skeptical, but his face fell when she shook her head and sat down in her car, slamming the door and adjusting her mirror through the open window. "I'd love to help you guys, but this hasn't been the best day for me so far, and I'm supposed to be in about fifteen places at once right now. Sorry."

Andy sighed as we watched her drive off. "That was our best chance."

"We'll just have to get ourselves over there, then," I said, feigning confidence. I wasn't quite ready to give up this crazy idea, not yet. "How much cash do you have on you?"

"About seven dollars."

I dug in my pocket, pulling out four one-dollar bills, two quarters, and a dirty nickel. We almost certainly couldn't afford to pay for a taxi with that, even if we pooled our money. Wasn't the Pentagon in Virginia somewhere?

"Come on, it might be enough," Andy said, grabbing my arm. "There's a cab now."

Andy took off like a shot toward the cab, but another guy, short and probably in his mid-forties, ran up to claim it at the same time. He and Andy challenged each other with their eyes as they stood in front of the car, neither of them willing to relinquish the prize.

"Hey, I needed to be at the Pentagon ten minutes ago," the guy argued, and, watching an obstacle turn into good fortune, I grinned.

"Well, that's exactly where we're going -- maybe we should share," Andy suggested, reading my mind yet again.

The guy looked relieved. "Sure," he said, climbing into the front seat, and sending the two of us scrambling into the back. "The Pentagon," he said to the driver, and as the car pulled out, Andy and I looked at each other. My heart was pounding.

"So, you guys are from the seminar?"

"Yeah. I'm Andy, and this is Sam," Andy introduced us, omitting our credentials this time.

"Joe Freeman, Detroit News. I'd shake your hands, but-" He raised his right arm and waved it, displaying a wrist wrapped in a thick, pinkish Ace bandage.

"So, you're on your way over to a press conference?" Andy asked, sounding convincingly nonchalant.

The reporter nodded. "They keep moving it back. If I were a more cynical sort of guy, I'd think maybe they didn't want to talk to us or something," he said, his tone thick with obvious sarcasm.

"Wakefield said they've been delaying the press flights to Grenada," I offered quickly, hoping the use of just her last name made it sound like I knew her, rather than like I couldn't remember her first name.

"Erin Wakefield? From the Post? She told you that?" The reporter looked incredulous.

"Actually, we overheard her talking on the phone about it," I admitted.

"You sure?"

"We both heard her say it," Andy added.

"I'll have to check that out. Thanks." He settled back into his seat. "So what business do a couple of college kids have at the Pentagon? You're not planning to steal any state secrets, are you?"

Andy managed to keep the guy occupied with idle chatter for the rest of the drive, leaving me to stare out the window, afraid to say anything else out of fear that it would jinx the incredible luck we were having. By the time we pulled up in front of the monstrous concrete building, the wind had picked up to a dizzying speed, the money almost flying out of the reporter's hands as he paid the driver.

"So, thanks for the tip about the delays," he said as we rushed toward the front door. "I owe you."

"Yeah, about that," Andy said pointedly, staring at the guy.

He stared back, a look of recognition crossing his face. "*Oh* no. Guys, you don't have any press IDs, and- come on, this is the *Pentagon*. I can't just sneak you in. Do you even have any identification on you?"

"I'm carrying my driver's license," Andy argued.

"Me too," I added.

The reporter sighed, weakening. "You might need your social security cards."

"I've got mine," Andy said, a huge grin beginning to form on his face.

"Me too," I repeated, thankful I'd thought to bring my larger wallet.

The reporter shook his head and muttered something under his breath. "All right, but hurry. And once we get inside, you're on your own. God, I can't believe I'm doing this."

The first set of security guards towered in front of us as soon as we set foot in the building, and I tried to appear as if we belonged there as we followed the Detroit News reporter through the metal detector, displaying our driver's licenses to a somber-looking young woman in a blue uniform who took down our stats. I allowed myself a moment to breathe when she waved us through, and we followed the reporter down a hall to another security checkpoint. My heart caught in my throat as I saw how carefully the guard studied each press identification badge of the journalists who walked through in front of us, suddenly certain that we would now be sent back to the hotel empty-handed.

"Hey, hey, wait, you kids can't go in there without press identification," the guard argued as Andy tried to push past without him seeing that he didn't have a badge.

"It's okay, they're with me," the reporter said, displaying his bandaged arm. "They're interns, here to take notes for me. We were too rushed to get them IDs."

The guard eyed us suspiciously, and Andy flashed him the same brilliant smile that had gotten us this far. Looking back at the guy from the Detroit News and scrutinizing his press identification once again, the guard finally passed us through, and I felt myself let go of a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding.

>From there, we were automatically ushered into a large room where about fifty or more reporters from various newspapers and television stations were already seated. Home free. I turned to the reporter who'd gotten us in, who looked not entirely unlike a hero to me just then. "Thank you," I exhaled, feeling like I should pinch myself to prove I was really there.

"Just don't implicate me in this, okay?" he said brusquely. "Like I said, you're on your own."

"Do you really need us to take notes for you?" Andy asked.

"I'm left-handed," he shrugged, turning away from us to move closer to the front and take a seat next to Erin Wakefield. She glanced back, doing a double-take at seeing us there, and the stress left her face momentarily as her face filled with a grin. I grinned back, waving, and she winked at me.

Though to everyone else in the room it was just one of many press conferences about the invasion that day, to me and Andy it was like striking oil. The names and faces were of people I otherwise knew only from the printed page and the television screen, and although I felt more than a little starstruck, I tried to concentrate on what was being said. By the end, my hand ached from the sheer volume of notes I'd taken and the speed with which I'd managed to jot them down. I knew this was a notebook I wouldn't be throwing away so quickly after the story was written.

Andy and I were bustled out along with the rest of the crowd afterward, and all at once we found ourselves in front of the escalator leading down to the Pentagon subway station. "Do you *believe* we got away with that?" he cheered, clasping my shoulder in exhilaration. His grin filled the entire lower half of his face.

"I'm still not sure we're not both in some mutual dream state," I agreed, my own expression echoing his as I gestured toward the Metro sign. "We'll have to take the subway back."

"At least it's an alternative to cheating a cab driver," he laughed as he sprinted down the escalator.

A comfortable silence settled over us as we climbed onto the train, and I closed my eyes, trying to file away every moment of the past few hours into my memory. The room had been positively bursting with journalists, and every last one of them had probably had to fight for that assignment. Andy was right, we wouldn't have a chance like that again for years.

"Next stop, Arlington Cemetery," the dark voice of the announcer intoned over the PA system. I looked back over at Andy to find him still standing in the doorway, half-turned toward me, staring, suddenly trancelike, out the window at the dark tunnel outside. The sluggishness of his movements made him appear deceptively calm, but there seemed to be a hum of energy just below his surface that grew progressively louder as the train neared its destination. I couldn't tear my eyes from him, my heart awash with a strange feeling that the adventure wasn't quite over yet, that something important was about to happen.

The doors of the train opened automatically as we pulled into the station, and Andy stared down at the platform outside, blocking the entryway. Then, suddenly, he jumped down. "I'm getting off here," he yelled back to me, dashing away.

A rush of panic gripped me as I found myself suddenly alone. "What? Wait!" I took off after him just as the train's doors were closing, looking back to watch it pull away, and continue on its path out of the station. By the time I looked back up at Andy, he was already halfway up the stairs. Running behind him, I followed him outside as he turned and headed determinedly toward the cemetery gate, the wind blowing his hair back as he ran. He looked like he was pursuing something long-desired that had suddenly drifted just within his reach.

I couldn't quite keep up with his frantic pace, so I was a good hundred yards behind him when he finally paused. Ahead of us, at the gate which formed the entrance to the cemetery, one of the largest American flags I'd ever seen flapped against the sky with a series of loud thwaps, and Andy stared up at it, mesmerized. Catching up to him, I felt filled with curiosity about what was driving him, but forced myself to stand silently at his elbow, not wanting to interrupt whatever profound thoughts were causing him to appear both like he'd suddenly grown up and like he'd been transported back to childhood.

I lay a steady hand on his arm. "We should get back," I said finally. "We have a story to write."

Andy turned around, his eyes resting on me only for a split second as he began walking briskly away from me, first back toward the station, and then right past it, as if following some unseen piper. A gust of wind encouraged him, blowing us both away from the subway station and toward the city, stinging the skin on the backs of my arms.

Halfway across the bridge, where the river divided the land cleanly into two pieces, Andy stopped walking. Leaning out toward the water, he retrieved his notebook from his pocket and dangled it over the edge. I felt my heart pound in my chest, sure he was going to drop it, but instead, he clenched his fist tightly around it and shook it. "Look at me now, you son of a bitch," he said in a voice so quiet I almost couldn't hear it over the wind.

Pulling himself back up to stand tall, he held the notebook in the air like a trophy and let out a cheer of unabashed joy, loud and triumphant, that I was sure could be heard on both shores. The wind ripped savagely at his hair, making him look like some sort of mythical, otherworldly creature, his body a graceful silhouette against the clear, pale turquoise of the sky. For lack of a camera I tried desperately to commit every detail of the vision to memory -- a perfect memory summarizing a flawless day.

"Well, it was my idea to go over to the Pentagon in the first place," Andy insisted, one eyebrow raised.

"But if I hadn't had the news on this morning, we'd have both ended up going to the lecture, instead, and by then it would have been too late."

"I was the one who convinced that Detroit News reporter to get us in to the press conference."

"I wrote most of it."

"Oh, bullshit, you did *not*," he said, rolling his eyes up toward the ceiling.

"I wrote the good parts."

Andy snorted and grinned, but didn't answer. I cocked my head at him, daring him to say it wasn't true, but only an amused silence followed. I folded my arms and leaned back against the couch, smiling.

I was astonished at how comfortable we were with each other after what had happened on the way back from the Pentagon. The strangeness of the experience could have easily driven away the camaraderie we'd managed to build so quickly, but if anything, it had only strengthened the bond between us. We'd ended up walking wordlessly across the Mall, past monuments and memorials, until we'd reached another subway station, finally taking the train back to the hotel.

By that point, it had seemed completely natural to sit down in the same corner of the lobby where Andy had found me that morning and write the Grenada piece together, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. It was far enough off the general flow of traffic in the lobby that no one involved with the seminar was likely to see us there for long enough to wonder why we weren't in the workshops, and there was enough room for us to spread out our notes and write what had ended up being the best thing either of us had ever written.

"Okay, how about this. Your name can be first as it appears in the Princeton paper, and mine can come first on the article in the Crimson."

I tried to look skeptical, but couldn't erase the smile from my face.

"Come on, you know that's the best solution."

"Okay," I yielded, trying to sound like I was only grudgingly giving up something I'd earned.

"Great." Glancing at his watch, Andy grabbed his notes and stood. "I'm going to go back to my room and call this in. Do you realize we've only got forty-five minutes left for dinner unless we want to pay extra for it in the restaurant?"

I looked at my own watch in disbelief. "Oh, my God." I couldn't remember when I'd last lost track of time so completely. Unless I got the answering machine at the paper and could just prattle it off in peace, I knew it would take at least half an hour on the phone with Carol to dictate every word, every comma of the story.

We both took the elevator up to the third floor and, after agreeing to meet Andy down at dinner after the phone call, I stuck the key into the door of my hotel room. Hoping Don wouldn't be there so I wouldn't have to explain my absence at the day's activities, I carefully opened the door, only to find him sitting at the edge of the bed, his arms wrapped tightly around a girl wearing more makeup than I'd have thought her tiny features could hold. I realized he'd probably been busy during the afternoon workshops, himself.

"Hey, Princeton," he called out, still preoccupied with the girl, who shot me the barest hint of a glance before turning back to Don.

"Hi." I watched him put his hand up the back of her shirt, and I turned away, not sure whether to be more embarrassed for him or for the girl. I sat down at the desk and picked up the phone. "I'm just going to make a call."

"That's okay, we were just leaving," he announced, as the girl jumped off his lap and walked over to the door. She couldn't have been more than eighteen. As he passed me, he leaned over, and I was assaulted by a thick cloud of his cologne. "You've got the room to yourself tonight," he whispered with an exaggerated wink.

I phoned the paper as soon as the door slammed behind them, breathing a sigh of relief as I heard it ring four times before a click signalled the beginning of the answering machine message I'd recorded myself. The excitement of the day returned as I offered a quick explanation and then dictated the story Andy and I had written. I knew I'd have to wait until I got back to Princeton to see how it would look in print, but my imagination would hold me until then.

Andy was already waiting for me by the time I reached the room just off the hotel restaurant where seminar attendees were supposed to go for meals. Spurred on both by hunger -- this being the first meal we'd managed to eat that day -- and by the hotel staff's annoyance at finding us just beginning dinner as they were cleaning up, we ate quickly and then retired to the main dining room with our desserts.

"I wish I were just ten years older, ten years further along in my career," Andy said, gesturing excitedly between bites of chocolate cake.

"Why?"

"This is just such a great opportunity for a journalist, a *real* journalist. I'd love to have the chance to follow up on this piece. The whole situation is so complex -- Grenada really deserves some substantive analysis in terms of how it fits in with everything else that's going on in the world. Nicaragua. Even Lebanon."

I nodded vigorously. "In the scheme of things, this is really such a small event, but at the same time, it's not. It raises the stakes in the whole Cold War. Germany and France have already made pretty strong statements admonishing us for this move, and that might very well give the Soviet Union the encouragement it needs to get more involved. It's just- the way we're going about this is pretty horrifying. American lives are being put at risk so that the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet won't feel threatened by a country a fraction of the size of his own. Five men have already died fighting this ridiculous, totally transparent war. I just want to do something about it, you know? There needs to be an opposing voice in this."

"Now you're sounding more like a politician than a reporter."

The look on his face let me know that Andy meant that as a criticism, but I actually felt more proud than ashamed that journalistic detachment had never been my strong suit. This was *important*. "Well, I am a poli sci major."

"You are?" Andy looked horrified, and I shrugged in response. "You're not a Republican, are you?"

I peered over at him, insulted. "Do I sound like a Republican to you?"

He looked reassured. "I don't know, they can have pretty crafty disguises," he joked. "All the poli sci majors I know are Republicans."

"That's because you go to Haahvard," I teased.

"Yeah, about that." He took a sip of water. "Why don't you?"

"Why don't I what?"

"Why didn't you decide to go to Harvard? I have to assume you applied there, and I can't imagine they didn't accept you, because I know your grades were probably even better than mine, and you'd have written a deadly good admissions essay. And Princeton doesn't have a J-school."

"Neither does Harvard," I challenged, an irritated edge in my voice.

"Yeah, but there's the Nieman Foundation, and-"

"What is this 'Harvard is the only Ivy worth the money' attitude all of a sudden?" I interrupted, feeling defensive.

"I was just wondering."

"I applied to Harvard. I got in. Princeton gave me more scholarship money, so I went there. I wasn't- I didn't know back then that I wanted to do journalism. I didn't have any idea what I wanted to do, at all." I still wasn't sure, when I was being honest with myself, though spending time with Andy certainly made the picture look a little clearer.

"You happy there?"

"It is a good school, you know," I snapped.

"I know."

"And I'm saving my parents a lot of money."

"I was just wondering," Andy repeated, his foot brushing my leg under the table as he shifted position slightly. His voice softened. "I don't mean to make it sound like I thought Princeton was second-rate, or like you made the wrong choice. I was just thinking it was too bad you're not at Harvard. It would be great to have the chance to do this again. To write with you again."

My irritation was gone as quickly as if he'd opened a valve and let the air out of it in a loud whoosh, and I felt my heart race at the thought that he might have been as moved by our shared experience as I'd been. I smiled.

Andy smiled back. "I'm sure your parents appreciate your efforts to keep the costs down."

"I don't even know if they're aware that's why I chose Princeton." Though I did know that the real reason for that choice hadn't been altruism, but my knowledge that the pressure to succeed increased with every extra dollar my parents spent on my education. "God, I wish I could tell them about today," I breathed.

"Why can't you?"

"My dad would kill me if he knew I skipped out on a whole day's worth of the seminar." *I'm not paying for you to take a vacation and go joyriding around the city,* I could almost hear him say, the disappointment seeping out through the sharp edges of his voice.

Andy looked down at the table. "My parents don't even know I'm here."

"You're kidding!" I couldn't imagine going anywhere for a week without my mother finding out about it.

"Yeah, I knew my dad wouldn't pay for it, so I didn't bother to tell them anything, and saved up for it myself. Anything that doesn't put me on the track toward med school is a waste of time, as far as he's concerned."

The only pre-med student I knew -- a kid from a history class I'd taken sophomore year -- spent more time with his books than he ever did with people. I couldn't imagine Andy poring over diagrams of the human digestive tract; he was too full of energy for that. "You were going to be a doctor?"

Andy shrugged, but I could tell it meant more to him than he was letting on. "*He* thought I was going to be. I never really did. He's an army surgeon," he added, as if that explained everything. "His idea of an achievement is the sort of thing that might earn you a Purple Heart, saving American lives just behind the front lines, something like that. It was pretty clear early on that I wasn't going to go that route, but he still held on to the notion that I'd end up in med school." He was silent for a moment, as if lost in thought, and his expression was tense and unreadable. "I guess there were lots of ways I didn't exactly turn out the way he wanted me to."

I shook my head. It was so obvious that Andy was an amazing person, and if I could have been aware of that after knowing him for no more than a single day, it seemed like his father must have been completely out of his mind not to recognize it. "He's the 'son of a bitch' from earlier, isn't he?"

Andy looked flustered. "Yeah."

"Your dad's not- he's not ... *buried* at Arlington, is he?" I asked, trying to tread lightly on what was almost certainly a whopper of a minefield.

"Oh, no, no. Though he'd like to be, someday, I'm sure. No, he's still alive. It's just- I guess I got a little crazy, there." He shifted back in his chair and looked away from me. "Sorry about that, by the way."

"No, it-" I tried to think of how to let him know that it had been fine -- more than fine, in fact. It had made the whole incredible experience that much more exciting. "It was okay," I attempted. "It was good. It was ... fun."

Andy looked back over at me, dubious, uncomfortable.

"It was electric," I tried again, and as the embarrassment disappeared from Andy's face, it was immediately replaced by a look of admiration, like he just might have been somewhere close to as impressed with me as I was with him. I sat a little taller.

"You know," Andy said quietly, "if I were your dad, I'd tell you that it was okay, that getting to sit in on that press conference was worth a thousand missed lectures."

"Well, if I were *your* dad, you wouldn't have to go to med school to prove to me how amazing you are."

The admiring look on Andy's face intensified as we sat there, staring at each other. Discomfort nipped at the edges of my consciousness, but I couldn't bring myself to look away.

"I think I'm going to go back to my room," I heard myself say, finally, and I stood, as if to prove that was what I was actually going to do.

Andy's intense expression was gone as soon as I reached my full height. "I want to be awake for the 8:30 lecture tomorrow," I tried to explain. "I mean, we really should be sure to go to it this time."

He nodded blankly. "Okay. I think I'll sit here a while longer, actually, but I'll see you in the morning."

My eyes rested on him for a moment as he picked up a menu and studied it. He looked vulnerable, almost awkward -- or at least like he'd have looked awkward if he'd been any normal human being, anyone other than this incredible guy who could talk his way into the Pentagon with a little white lie and a magic smile. It had been a crazy day for both of us, but especially for Andy. Something had happened to him as he'd stared past that huge flag at the cemetery, something important. It occurred to me that he might not have wanted to be alone right now.

"I don't *have* to leave just yet," I said carefully, and he looked back up at me. "I just thought we should both get some sleep, if we- but you wouldn't sleep, anyway, right?"

"Right. And actually-" he hesitated for a moment, taking a deep breath. "My roommate had a girl in there when I left, and I'm sure they're still there, and I just figured that since I wouldn't be sleeping anyway, I should just hang out here for a while. You go on to bed, it's okay."

"You're going to sit in the hotel restaurant all night?"

"I don't know. Maybe." He shrugged. "I'll probably go back to my room once I'm sure I won't interrupt anything."

*You've got the room to yourself tonight,* Don had told me. "You could stay in my room if you want," I offered. "Even if you don't sleep, you could ... rest, or something."

Andy's eyes lit up, and the corners of his mouth twitched. "What about the buzz saw?"

"The buzz saw's going to be disrupting someone else's dreams tonight, actually. He told me he wasn't coming back to the room. So you can crash there, no problem."

The smile in his eyes spread to his face. "Okay."

I watched him stand up and stretch gracefully, his arms long, his chest puffed out, a contented, grateful look on his face. "Thanks," he said quietly.

"It's no problem," I repeated, following him to the elevator.

#"Funny, it looks just like mine," Andy joked as I opened the door to let him into my room.

"That might be a good thing," I argued. "You can trick yourself into thinking it *is* yours, and then maybe you'll actually get some sleep."

"I'm not planning on sleeping much tonight, anyway."

A loud crash exploded from the hall, followed by a screech and then the sound of four or five voices erupting in laughter. I grinned. "It was pretty noisy last night, wasn't it?"

Andy didn't respond verbally, but as he sat down next to me on the bed, a little closer than he needed to, the look on his face seemed to communicate that he just might have meant something entirely different from the noise factor. As his eyes locked onto my own, I felt my stomach lurch. Every conscious thought in my head screamed out for me to move away, but I somehow felt bolted to that spot.

"You know, a seminar like this is a recipe for disaster," I said nervously, suddenly feeling clumsy and awkward. I moved my hands from my lap to the bed behind me and leaned against them, but the tension in my shoulder threatened to develop into a cramp, and I withdrew them again, returning them to my lap.

"How so?"

"They're throwing together seventy-five kids who've all learned how to go without any sleep," I tried to joke, but it came out in a whisper.

"That can be a useful skill, though," Andy responded quietly. "Especially if you have better things to do."

"Like- like put out a paper?"

"That's one example."

Only inches away now, he was staring again, no, it looked more like he was *gazing* at me, and the tension in my stomach spread as I felt all of my internal organs clench into tight knots. It was as if the pale gray of his eyes was simmering ever so slightly with a strange fire I'd never seen before, but which I nonetheless somehow recognized. *If he were a girl, this is the point where he would kiss me,* I thought. *If he were a girl, this is the point where I would want him to.*

The rough stubble against my lips felt foreign, and I tried to pull away with the shock of it, but then Andy was pushing me back against the bed, pressing himself against me, slipping his hands under my shirt and stroking my chest, and by then I didn't want to stop. It was like an entirely new kind of energy had been building inside of me for the past day and a half -- or possibly much, much longer than that -- and my lips had become a valve, allowing that energy to flow out of me and into Andy, feeding him.

His hands roamed over my body as if to memorize it, and I felt my own hands reach under his shirt to touch him as well. The muscles in his chest were hard, taught, with none of the softness of a girl, and around his nipples his chest was covered with a light dusting of hair. It felt strangely as if I was coming to know myself just as my hands were coming to know his body. Every surge of feeling felt more intense until I wanted him to completely engulf me; every inch of my body vibrated from the inside outward, broadcasting shivers to the very tips of my fingers and out across Andy's bare skin.

The feel of his hand between my legs sent shock waves rippling through me, and I gasped, inciting him to press more firmly against me. I felt his fingers at my jeans, unfastening them, reaching inside, and the sensations intensified as his fist closed around my erection. The heat of him burned, leaving me lightheaded, like I could almost lose consciousness from the power of it.

When the phone rang, I reached for it half out of instinct, half out of a crazy, overwhelmed feeling of wanting to regain some control over my body and mind. "Hello?" I heard myself pant into the receiver, my voice laced with passion.

Carol's own voice was tense, defensive. "I'm not calling because I can't handle this, okay? I'm only calling because I promised you I would if anything big happened."

A sudden blow of guilt crushed me against the bed, and I wrenched myself away from Andy and sat up, swinging my legs off the edge. "Okay," I managed to squeak.

"So what do you already know?"

"What ... do I already ... what?"

"About Anne Seymour," she clarified, impatient. "What do you already know about Anne Seymour?" She sounded incredibly far away, like she was calling from another planet. "Honestly, I expected a call from you already. Congratulations on your will power, by the way."

"Anne Seymour?" The name sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn't quite place it.

"You haven't heard *anything* yet? Haven't you been watching the news? There have been plenty of reporters prowling around already, so we know the story's gone national."

"Uh, you're going to have to start at the beginning. I don't know what you're talking about."

"Anne Seymour. The volleyball player? She was raped and murdered in her dorm room early this morning."

"Oh." I sat for a moment, stunned. "Yeah, that's big, all right."

"Tell me about it. Tommy's a basket case because he just interviewed her, said she was a really nice girl, so we're letting him sit this one out. Anyway, we've got pictures. Lots of them, but three really good ones. There's one of her body, one of her room without her in the shot, and one of the closed door to her room. James took them before the police got there, so they're shots no one else has. Exclusives, Sam. This is the big time. The Times doesn't even have what we've got."

Her excitement, normally so infectious, sounded like something out of my distant past. If I'd been in Princeton instead of in Washington, it would have been me feeling like that. If I'd been in Princeton instead of in Washington, my girlfriend wouldn't have interrupted me in the middle of what I'd just been doing with a guy from Harvard. "Wow, that's great," I forced out.

"Isn't it? So now the dilemma is which one to run. Tommy says it's disrespectful to run any of them, but they're *exclusives*, Sam, we've *got* to use at least one of them. The one of the body is obviously pretty gruesome, but James has been arguing that it could remind people of the dangers of leaving your door unlocked in the residence halls. Chuck thinks the one of just her door is evocative enough, and it's true, it's pretty haunting. I'm leaning toward the middle ground -- the crime scene without the body. There's not really any gore to speak of, and there's a great look at the edge of her desk with a volleyball trophy on it. What do you think?"

What did I think? I thought Princeton seemed a million miles away right now, and even a major headline like this one small and inconsequential. Even Grenada seemed somehow less important at the moment than what had just been happening in my hotel room. Here I was, talking to this terrific girl who admired me, trusted me, and just moments before I'd had every intention of cheating on her. With a guy. I wiped beads of sweat from my forehead, unsure whether they were mine or Andy's.

"Sam? You still there?"

"Did you talk to Jeff?" I asked, dazed.

"What?!" Her giddy tone turned incredulous, almost angry. "You told me to come to you first!"

"Oh, yeah."

"If you want me to run down the hall and get him, I'm going to have to call you back -- he's in the middle of about twenty thousand other things right now."

"No, don't do that." I took a deep breath, trying to stop my heart from racing, hoping that if she could tell how frantic I felt, she'd think it was because of the story. I looked down at my lap and saw that my fly was still undone. I quickly zipped and buttoned it, blushing as furiously as if she'd actually been in the room to see me.

"It sounds like you've got a good handle on the situation," I said, as calmly as I could. "If Jeff wants you to make the decision, and I'm sure he does, I'm not going to stop you."

"What?"

"I trust you." I was obviously the one in this relationship who couldn't be trusted.

"Sam, is everything okay?" Carol's voice was filled with the suspicion of a trained reporter. Any other time I'd have been proud to hear it, but this time I just wanted her to believe me, to go back to what she'd been doing, to immerse herself so thoroughly in the paper that she couldn't possibly put two and two together. "You haven't been replaced by a pod person, have you? Like in that movie, Invasion of the Body Stealers or whatever it-"

"What do you mean?" I asked, miraculously keeping my voice from shaking.

"It's just that you demanded I call you at any little thing, and this is pretty huge, and all of a sudden it seems like you're in a hurry to get me off the phone." Clutching the edge of the bed as if that would help me get a better grip on my own thoughts, I forced myself to focus. "You say there are three pictures?"

"Exactly." She paused for a moment in thought, and I became intensely aware of the silence in my hotel room. "I think I'm going to let them run the photo of her room."

"Wait, wait." She couldn't really be intending to run a picture of the inside of a dead girl's dorm room on the front page. "Don't you think that would be a pretty heinous invasion of her privacy?"

"What?" Her tone was suddenly defensive again. "Would you make up your mind already? A moment ago you said you trusted me to make the right decision!"

"It's just- we can't sensationalize this. We're not the National Enquirer, and this is ..." This girl, she'd been brutally murdered in her own room. A shudder ran up my spine, and I clutched the bed harder. "Does there have to be a picture?"

"Sam!" she yelled, and I held the phone an inch away from my ear. "God, I *knew* you were going to do this. These are *great* pictures. I'm not going to let you tell me just to run the story by itself!"

All at once Andy's hand was on my back, stroking, and I felt my grasp of the situation falter again as my head began to swim. It was as if my worlds were colliding and shattering into a million pieces. "Okay, listen. You're right, you have to figure this one out yourself."

"You won't be mad if I run the shot of her room?"

Andy's hand moved up to the back of my neck, brushing lightly against my skin, and I jerked away. "The decision is yours, as managing editor, and I'll stand by whatever you decide."

"You mean that?" She sounded suspicious.

My neck felt cold where Andy's hand had been. "You have a paper to put together, and I trust you to do it right."

"I really do need to learn how to make my own decisions without you looking over my shoulder."

"Exactly." I tried to sound cheerful.

"So I'm going to assume I'm actually talking to the real Sam Seaborn, and believe you when you say it's okay for me to make my own decision on this one."

"That's just what you should do. So I'll see you in five days?" I rushed.

"Yeah. Sam?"

"What?"

"We- we miss you. At the paper, I mean."

"Well, that's-"

"I miss you," she blurted.

I knew how hard it was for her to say things like that. The fresh wave of guilt wafting over me was nauseating. "Uh, me too."

"We got your story, by the way. I transcribed every word myself. Gonna run it on page one, probably even before the story on the murder, and that's saying something. You're awesome. Who's Andrew Keller?"

I cringed at the sound of Carol's voice speaking Andy's name. "Uh, just someone I met here. Listen, I've- I've really got to go."

"Okay. I do, too. Have a good week."

"You, too."

"G'night."

"'Night."

I set the receiver back in its cradle and looked down at my hands. They were trembling. I clenched them both into fists and closed my eyes.

"Big story?" Andy's light tone sounded tentative, forced.

"Uh, yeah," I said, unable to make myself turn back toward him. "A student athlete was killed in her dorm room."

"Wow. That's pretty huge."

I nodded, still facing away from him.

I heard Andy shift on the bed, moving closer, and even though he wasn't touching me, I still flinched. "It's days like that when I feel sorry for the guys at the universities where they only run a weekly, you know?" he said, an edge of arousal still in his voice. "They don't have the same daily grind, but they also don't have the chance to run breaking news like this unless it happens the day before."

I nodded again, trying to force my vocal cords to engage, to say anything at all in response.

"Did you know her?" His voice was gentle.

"No, I-" And then his hands were on my back again, and I jumped up as if by reflex, shooting four feet across the room before turning around.

"Whoa!" His eyes flew open, and he pushed himself backward onto the bed. "You okay?"

"Yes- no. No, I'm not. Andy, I can't."

His face wrinkled in confusion. "You can't what?"

"Do ... what we were going to do. I mean, I'm assuming we were about to do something."

"I thought so. But-"

"I can't."

He looked bewildered. "Okay."

I sat down on Don's bed, facing Andy but looking down at my hands, silent. I felt completely miserable, in every sense of the word.

"Is there somebody else?" he asked, hurt and exposed, and I nodded, sure now that the guilt was apparent on my face. "I should have known. A guy who looks like you would never be without a boyfriend for long."

*A boyfriend,* I repeated in my mind, realizing Andy thought I was gay. Given what I'd just been doing -- what I still wanted to be doing, in fact -- maybe I was. I squeezed my eyes shut again.

"What's his name?"

I sighed and finally looked at him. "Actually, it's Carol."

"Carol?"

I nodded again.

"That's not a guy's name," he responded, running his hand nervously through his hair.

"It is, technically," I corrected. "I mean, it can be. Actually, it started out as a guy's name, and in Britain especially there are still lots of guys named Carroll. So it could be a guy. Technically."

Andy looked at me like I was babbling nonsense, and I realized I probably was. "But this time- this time it's not," I admitted.

"You have a girlfriend?"

I nodded again, and swallowed hard. My throat hurt.

"Uh, you're not- have you ever ..."

I shook my head. "Oh, man." Andy looked dismayed, alarmed, like he'd just stumbled into someone else's nightmare. He leapt to his feet, moving swiftly toward the door. "I've got to find somewhere else to stay tonight."

"No, you can stay here," I insisted, following him across the room, first with my eyes and then with my feet. I'd promised him a place to sleep, and I wanted to give him at least that much. "You can- this room has two beds." I pointed back toward the center of the room. "You can sleep in Don's."

Andy turned slightly, one foot almost already out the door, the other one pivoted awkwardly in my direction. His lips were pressed tightly together, resigned. "I like you, Sam," he said finally. "I think I could learn to like you a whole lot, in fact. But you know, I've been out for two years now."

He thrusted his chin toward the ceiling, and sandy waves of hair fell across his shoulders. "Christ, I co-founded the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus last year, and I personally met with the university president in September to try and pressure the university to include sexual preference in its non-discrimination policy. I came out to my parents when I was nineteen, and nearly got myself disowned -- I'm a fucking poster boy. I really don't need to spend a frustrating, platonic night in a hotel room with a guy who's clearly thinking of me as an experiment."

He turned again toward me, and the tension between us swelled. He looked like he couldn't decide whether or not to kiss me goodnight. I took an involuntary step back.

Andy nodded like he understood. "I- I'm going to go, okay?"

He opened the door quickly, roughly, and I watched him go, my heart pounding in a rapid yet steady rhythm, pumping a combined sensation of relief and regret through my veins. I could still feel his tongue on my lips.

As it turned out, I was the one who couldn't sleep that night.

When Andy passed over my table at breakfast the next morning in favor of a seat alone by the window, I was more relieved than hurt. Haunted by the fact that I'd been distracted enough to let Carol run that picture, I wrote a scathing editorial about Anne Seymour's murder, phoning it in during the lunch break and allowing the familiar outrage to make me feel more like myself again. With Andy avoiding me, it was easy to convince myself that ten minutes of insanity in a hotel room didn't have to change the course of my entire life, so I played the good student and got my parents' money's worth out of the rest of the time I spent in Washington. I attended every lecture, every workshop -- and for the most part, I even managed to concentrate my full attention on them.

It wasn't until I was back at the bus station that I really saw him again, at least up close. I was standing by the glass door that led outside to the area where the buses were parked, staring up at the sky and hoping that the dark clouds I saw approaching at an alarming speed wouldn't keep the bus from a scheduled departure, when I heard a familiar voice from behind me. "You look like you must be a journalist," I heard him say.

I spun around, a smile dancing involuntarily at my lips. "Now, how could you possibly know that?" I asked, reciting the next line in the scene we'd rehearsed once before.

"Lucky guess," Andy responded, returning the smile.

"When does your bus leave?"

"I'm on the 11:45 to Boston."

"Mine leaves at 11:10."

Andy glanced at his watch. "That's pretty soon."

"Yeah, I was just heading out."

"I'll walk you over there?"

I did my best to imitate his nonchalant shrug. "Sure."

An awkward silence enveloped both of us as we headed out to where my bus was parked. I didn't dare look at him, not wanting to know whether I'd find him looking back at me, and there didn't seem to be anything to say. I shifted my backpack to my other shoulder as it started to drizzle, and when we reached the front of the bus, I stopped walking, staring at it.

"So," I heard him say, and I forced myself to turn to face him. He was trying to smile, but the muscles at the edges of his eyes were tight, strained.

"So." I shifted position, suddenly feeling the weight of my pack. "I should probably get on."

"Okay."

I stepped away from him toward the bus, still watching him. There had to be a good way to say goodbye to someone who'd almost been your friend, someone who'd almost been ... something.

"Listen. I ... wait." Stepping toward me, Andy grabbed his notebook from the pocket of his jacket and jotted something on a slip of paper, tearing it off and folding it in half. My eyes followed his arm down to where the sleeve met bare skin at the back of his hand, and I tried to shake off the memory of the feel of the hair on his chest. But when he grabbed my hand to press the slip of paper into it, I couldn't stop everything from crashing back -- how the roughness of his face had contrasted with his soft lips, how his fingers had felt more like an artist's than a reporter's against my skin, how those gray eyes had proclaimed his need to me, and how my own had answered in kind.

I stood there, holding onto his hand, staring, remembering. I had wanted this guy, just as much as he had wanted me. There was no denying that.

He squeezed my hand one last time and withdrew it, leaving the slip of paper behind. "For when you get things figured out," he explained.

I shoved it into my pocket. "Thanks," I responded, and now there really was nothing left to say. "Have a good trip home."

"You, too."

The rain didn't start to fall in earnest until I'd already claimed a window seat in the front, behind the driver. I watched through the glass as Andy stood perfectly still and looked up into the sky, closing his eyes, letting the rain begin to soak his hair and press it down against the back of his neck. The downpour drenched his jacket, revealing the striped shirt he was wearing underneath. Then he turned and walked slowly back toward the station, the streams of water from the sky blurring the outward appearance of the world through my window.

I removed the slip of paper from my pocket -- his phone number. *Andy: (617) 349-9186,* it read, in the big, loopy handwriting I recognized from writing the Grenada story with him. I traced the curved line of the 'y' absent-mindedly with my finger.

"There's been a change in the weather."

Startled, I looked up sharply to find that someone had sat down next to me without me even noticing. It was an old man wearing a baseball cap turned backward, what was left of his hair poking comically through the hole in the front. "Pardon me?" I asked.

"There's been a change in the weather," he croaked, his gravelly voice forming the r-less syllables of a broad rural New England accent. "Winter's coming. In just a few weeks, all this rain will be snow. Just you wait."

"It would be strange to get that much snow in November," I argued. "At least this far south."

"Ayup. These are strange times, and strange times mean strange changes in the weather. Maybe it'll be a permanent change, this time. Maybe we'll even have another Ice Age." The man grinned, revealing a gap where his front teeth should have been, and I shuddered, turning back away from him to look out the window.

The thunderstorm that seemed to follow us home forced the driver to drive more slowly, giving me plenty of time alone with my thoughts on the long ride back to Princeton. Could I have really lived twenty years without knowing I was gay? It didn't seem possible. It wasn't as if I'd never thought about the idea of sex with a man, but it had always been faceless, vague, while my sexual feelings for women had always had a specific object.

But maybe ... there had been Mr. Howell, my history teacher in high school. That hadn't been exactly *sexual*, but I'd definitely fixated on him, been thrilled whenever I'd gotten any extra attention, imagined what it would be like to be his friend, really his friend, not just a student he wanted to nurture to greater success. Maybe it wasn't-

"Coffee, tea, newspaper?"

"Hmm?" I jerked my head up to find a slim, dark-skinned young man smiling down at me, pushing a cart.

"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you." His light voice reminded me of Tommy's. I wondered if that meant something. "Did you want coffee, tea, or a newspaper?"

"Uh ... sure, I'll take a newspaper."

"Washington Post or New York Times?"

I'd already read the Post that morning. "I'll take the Times."

"That'll be twenty-five cents," he said, handing me the paper.

I dug into my pocket and fished out a quarter, and his fingers graced the palm of my hand as they took it from me, sending a shiver up my spine. Had his skin lingered just a moment too long on mine? But then he was gone, leaving me with a strange sensation of near-insanity.

I shook off the shiver. *Was* I going crazy? It certainly felt as if Andy had awakened something raw and undiluted and not quite balanced inside of me. But no, I reassured myself, I wasn't crazy, not really. Just, maybe ... gay. The vague thoughts of sex with men I'd never thought twice about, Mr. Howell, and now, of course, Andy. It all added up -- I was gay. I had to be.

But if I was, then the odd number in the equation was Carol. If I was gay, didn't that make the past year with her a sham? I did genuinely care about her; it didn't *seem* like I was just deluding myself. And I'd always enjoyed having sex with her, hadn't I? And before Carol, there had been Tina, and Amy. But that was different -- they were in the past, and Carol, well, Carol was my present.

Or maybe she was in the past, too. Maybe she had to be, now.

I had plans for my life. I was going to finish off this year of school, maybe with an internship this summer at a major paper if my parents would let me stay out east again, and then there was one more year of school before Carol and I were going to graduate, and if we were still together then, maybe we would get married.

Or maybe we wouldn't. Maybe I would never marry anyone.

Andy had said he'd "come out" to his parents, told them he was gay, and now his relationship with them was obviously incredibly strained, especially with his dad. So there was Andy's dad, and then there was ... my dad. My eyes watered at the very idea of telling him. I could see he disappointment on his face, hear the strained tones of his voice ... The morning's bagel attacked the inside of my stomach as a wave of nausea sent me reeling.

*Carol, my parents -- how am I ever going to tell any of them about any of this? And yet, at the same time, how can I not tell them?*

The seemingly endless drive finally brought me back to Princeton late that afternoon, and only minutes after arriving back at my apartment and dropping off my backpack, I found my feet carrying me, almost unwillingly, to the campus and the offices of the Daily Princetonian. The pouring rain reduced the familiar buildings to silhouettes as I passed them, rendering them hazy, almost alien. I paused only for a moment before walking into the building, squeezing the water from my jacket and fluffing my hair as I headed for the office.

"Eek! Don't you dare do that!" The screech of Tommy's voice carried down the hall as I rounded the corner, and I froze. Was it a sign that the first voice I'd heard was Tommy's? If it had been Carol's, would that have meant something different?

"Don't who dare do what?" I asked as I entered the office.

"Sam!" Tommy cried out, a smile on his face. "Hey, Chuck, go tell Carol Sam's back."

Mike slumped down in his chair in a posture of mock-relief. "Oh, thank God. My week of hell is over."

"You're totally soaked," Tommy chided, taking off my jacket with formal, exaggerated, butler-like motions. "You know, there is a such thing as an umbrella."

I felt my shoulders raise and then lower again in a slow, self-conscious shrug. I wondered if I'd ever be able to shrug again without thinking of Andy. "Yeah. I didn't think of it, I guess."

"This weather is crazy," Tommy chattered, leaning his huge frame against the desk by the door as he shook some of the water from my jacket and hung it on the coat rack. "You know, when I walked over here this morning, it was sunny? Was it raining like this in Washington?"

I waved my hand dismissively. "It was okay." I didn't want to talk about the weather.

"Hey!" Turning around at the familiar voice behind me, I found Carol in the doorway, grinning broadly. "You're still willing to spend time with mere peons after hobnobbing with the journalistic elite, I see?"

She looked so thrilled to see me, and guilt swelled inside of me again. I was suddenly thankful for Carol's distaste for public displays of affection, providing me with an excuse not to touch her. "I didn't get to hobnob all that much."

She snorted. "False modesty doesn't wear well on you, I'm afraid." Stepping closer, she stood directly beside me and grinned. Are you aware that you wrote more for the paper the week you were gone than you have for over a month otherwise? I'm starting to think we should send you away more often."

"Thanks a lot." I tried to smile at her.

"Chuck?" She nodded at the tall, dark-haired junior, and he disappeared momentarily into the hall, reappearing with a large, flat package wrapped in newspaper. He handed it to Carol, who passed it on to me. "I didn't have time to get real wrapping paper," she apologized, "but somehow this seemed more appropriate, anyway."

I stared down at the package. It was heavy, like a picture frame. "Uh, thanks." I shook it a bit. "It's too big to be a record," I joked, hoping my voice didn't make me sound as uncomfortable as I felt.

"Open it," she encouraged, her eyes shining.

I tore the paper off, revealing a matted, expensively-framed copy of the front page of the Princetonian. My eye was drawn to the bottom of the page first, where the story on Anne Seymour's murder was all but drowned out by the picture of her frighteningly empty-looking dorm room, and I felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I glanced up toward the top of the page, my eyes rested on my own Grenada story. *Sam Seaborn and Andrew Keller,* the byline read, in stark black and white typeface. Then, at the very top, just under the banner announcing the name of the paper, a handwritten message leaped out at me in metallic gold ink. *For Sam, the best reporter I know. Love, Carol.*

Guilt threatened to eat away at every last one of my internal organs, and I stared down at the page, watching the words I'd written with Andy begin to blur as my world clouded over. I couldn't look up at her, couldn't even *think* of reaching out to give a physical sign of thanks to this tremendous girl who had no idea she had good reason not to trust me.

"I had to take it off campus to get it matted," she said excitedly, "but they were able to finish it by late yesterday afternoon."

"Wow. Thanks so much." God, I was such an asshole.

"You look a little stunned, there," Tommy laughed.

"Yeah, I- thanks," I said again. "It's great. It's just- I'm actually- I'm not feeling that well."

Carol looked up at me with worried eyes, and I turned my head sharply away from her, walking across the room to lay the gift on my desk. "I think I'm going to go back home. I just wanted to check up on you guys, make sure everything was okay."

"Sure, we can handle it," she answered, with a confident toss of her head that let me know things had gone quite well for her over the course of the past week.

Grabbing my dripping jacket off the coat rack again, I bolted for the door. "So, tomorrow?" I announced, questioning, to the entire room.

"See you tomorrow," Chuck confirmed as I walked through the doorway, and Tommy waved.

"Just a second," Carol called out to him as she accompanied me out into the hall, closing the office door behind her. Smiling again, she reached for my hands and pulled me closer to her. I didn't resist.

"Should I come over tonight? It wouldn't be until late."

"Uh, no, no," I protested, turning my head just enough so that her kiss landed on my cheek instead of on my lips. "I wouldn't want you to catch whatever I've got." At her renewed look of concern, I squeezed her hands tight. "I'm sure I'll be okay -- I just need to get some sleep."

"Okay," she responded, reassured. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Right," I called back to her as I ran off, my eyes planted firmly on the path in front of me.

#I spent the next five days slipping in and out of my own private mental fog -- emerging just long enough to take notes in class or edit a column. Avoiding Carol, I spent only the bare minimum amount of time necessary at the paper, attributing my absence to the handy excuse of needing to catch up on my classes after the trip. My roommates knew better, though, because it was only the two of them who had the opportunity to peer past my half-open door and into my room and wonder why I was spending so much time at the apartment, staring at the ceiling.

"Sam," I heard Tim say, fluttering his hand against my door in lieu of a knock. "Your mom's on the phone."

"Oh, okay." I hadn't even heard it ring. Stepping into my bedroom, my roommate pulled on the long phone cord and set the phone on the edge of my bed, handing the receiver to me. "Hello?" My voice echoed strangely into the mouthpiece, like I was speaking into a cavern.

"Hi, honey! Did you try to call yesterday? I only stepped out for a few minutes, but I figured I must have missed you."

I closed my eyes, wondering if I should reconsider discounting the insanity hypothesis now that I'd apparently missed my weekly phone call to my mother. "No, I've just been really busy, getting caught up with everything. Sorry, it must have slipped my mind."

"I tried you at the paper first, but they said you'd gone home early this evening. Is everything all right over there?"

"Yeah ... yeah." I shifted over to lie on my side. "Is Dad around?"

"He's at the Chicago office for the week. Would you like him to call when he gets home on Saturday?"

A sense of relief filled me as if her words had flipped a switch, and I realized I'd never been so glad to discover that he was out of town. "Oh, no, that's okay."

"We read about that poor girl at Princeton last week. The basketball player? Did you know her?"

*Volleyball. She played volleyball,* I corrected mentally, and sighed. "No. One of my friends did, though."

"We were both just horrified. You never think something like that could happen at one of the country's most elite universities."

"Yeah." I rubbed my eyes. "I was in Washington, though, so-"

"Right, tell me about the seminar!" Her voice sparkled with genuine excitement, like she'd been waiting all week to hear about every detail.

Tugging at the phone cord, I sat up straight on the edge of my bed and pushed my door closed over the top of it with my foot. "It was great. The workshops were fantastic. There was this one on journalistic writing, and it ..." I let my voice trail off, remembering suddenly how that had been the only workshop Andy and I had both attended. I wondered now if he'd deliberately signed up for different workshops so as not to have to interact with me.

"There were guest speakers in the mornings and then workshops in the afternoons," I continued, realizing I'd fallen silent for a moment. "It- it made good use of time."

"It sounds very well run. Your father will be pleased to hear that."

I twisted the phone cord around my arm. "On Friday we got to hear Bob Woodward speak." I remembered how excited Andy had been that he was going to be there, and realized Carol would have loved to hear him, too.

"That name sounds familiar. Would I have heard of him?"

"He's one of the guys who broke the original Watergate story." I wondered if Andy's admiration for Bob Woodward meant that he wanted to do investigative work himself. That was what Carol wanted to do, someday. "He was really young when he got involved in the whole thing, so I guess they thought he'd appeal to a college-age crowd."

"So did he give you all a road map for how to end up in the middle of the story of the century?" she joked.

"Not really," I said absently. "He said it was incremental, like he didn't really realize how deeply involved he was until it was already too late, and then he just had to let things happen." The metaphor he'd used echoed in my mind. He had likened the experience to sitting in a bathtub, turning the water on progressively hotter and hotter until you could no longer feel it, not even realizing that you could scald yourself to death doing it. I stood suddenly, grabbing the phone, and walked across the room to my desk.

"Did you learn anything you think you'll be able to use at the paper?"

"Yeah, I ..." I had, right? I knew I must have. I searched the recesses of my memory for specific details to mention about the seminar, but Andy dominated every anecdote I could have told her. The amused banter between us at the bus station, sharing a cab to the hotel, the press conference, writing the story together, his lips pressed against mine- "Mom? In Washington, I- uh- met this- this guy?"

"Mm-hmm?"

My knuckles white around the phone, I paused, hovering over my desk, frozen in place. What was I doing? "I- we, uh- we wrote this story together. About Grenada?"

"Really? We both thought of you when that happened, with you right there in Washington. Did you talk about the invasion at the seminar?"

"Yeah ... yeah. It was definitely on everybody's minds. A couple of talks ended up getting cancelled because of it."

"And you got to write a story on it?"

"Yeah, I- well, this guy- he goes to Harvard, and- anyway, the story, it- it turned out really well, and we-" I choked on a breath, realizing I was hyperventilating. I sat down abruptly at my desk, the phone landing with a thud on the surface. "It ran in both papers. Front page, at least at Princeton."

"That sounds really terrific, honey."

"It- it was." I put my hand over my eyes as if doing so would finally block out the world. I sounded like a stammering idiot.

"Are you feeling all right? You sound tired today." That was it. I was tired. "Yeah, I haven't been sleeping much," I exhaled, watching the opportunity slip away.

"You shouldn't drink so much coffee. It's just going to keep you up at night."

"I only had two cups this morning," I argued, my feet suddenly resting on familiar ground again.

"You know, I read a magazine article the other day, and it said that even one cup a day can be harmful, especially if you're still growing. Even Pepsi's supposed to be too much caffeine for-"

"Mom, I'm pretty sure I'm done growing. In case you don't remember, I turned twenty-"

"I know how old you are, but that doesn't keep me from worrying about you and what you put into your body, you know," she insisted, her tone firm. "I'll send you the article."

I sighed, not really wanting to argue. "Okay."

The connection to California crackled with near-silence. I wasn't quite ready to hang up yet. For once, I wanted her to just talk for a few minutes about something that had nothing to do with me, instead of constantly asking me questions or nagging me about how I'd been eating or sleeping. I knew, though, that the probability of that happening was somewhere close to zero. She'd always taken more of an interest in my life than her own. "So what's been going on at home?"

"Oh, you know, same old story. It's finally cooling down a bit. Did I tell you I ran into Andy's mother while I was jogging in the ravine a couple of weeks ago?"

"Who?" I gasped, almost dropping the phone.

"You remember Andy Fowler, right? You went to kindergarten together."

"Oh. Right." I pushed my hair out of my eyes and held it, pressed tight against the top of my head.

"Well, I ran into his mother in the ravine. She asked how you were doing. She was so impressed that you were at Princeton."

Tim peeked his head into the room. "It's Carol."

I covered up the mouthpiece with my hand. "On the phone?"

He raised an eyebrow at me and smirked. "Not unless you had an additional line put in when I wasn't looking. Didn't you hear the door? She's in the living room."

"Right." I closed my eyes.

"I told her you were on the phone."

I couldn't let her stand there in the living room. "No, no, I can talk to her." I removed my hand from the receiver as he stepped back out of the room. "Mom, I've got to go. Carol's here."

"All right, I know how busy you are," my mother answered, her tone more resigned than disappointed. "That's why you're supposed to call *me*, remember?"

"Sorry." I looked up as Carol brushed against the door on her way into my room, closing it behind her to stand awkwardly in front of it.

"So I'll talk to you next week?"

"Okay. Talk to you then."

"I love you, honey. Give Carol my love."

I cringed. I couldn't even give her my own. "Love you, too. Bye."

Setting receiver in its cradle on my desk, I turned toward Carol. "Hi."

"Hi," she said, pressing her back against the door as if waiting for something to happen. "Tim said I should come in."

I played with the phone cord. It was an ugly clear plastic, and it faded, almost into nothing, against the brown carpet. "Everything go all right tonight?"

"Of course."

"It's just- I thought there might have been a problem with the paper or something, after I left. I thought you might be here because-"

"I'm here because I wanted to spend a little time with my boyfriend."

She could have said those same words in a teasing, joking manner, and it would have been all right, but this time her voice sounded solemn, and I felt my pulse start to quicken. I noticed she'd exchanged her thin fall jacket for a thick navy blue winter one, but she still didn't take it off as she sat down on the corner of the bed, her knees about a foot from my chair. It made her look transient -- like she already knew, somehow, that she couldn't stay.

"You know I want to do real investigative journalism someday, right?"

I felt my forehead wrinkle in confusion. What did that have to do with anything? "Right."

"So I -- actually, you might know this, too -- I practice. I try to pay attention to what's going on around me, what's out of the ordinary, what suddenly doesn't seem quite right."

Her eyes pierced mine, and I felt my stomach begin to fold in onto itself.

"And I can't help but notice ..." Her voice trailed off as she inhaled deeply and began counting off mental check marks on her fingers. "You didn't spend even five minutes bragging about the famous people I *know* you met at the seminar, you've been hiding in your apartment, you're only at the paper when you absolutely have to be, and you've been pretty distracted when you are. You never did hang that copy of the paper on your wall." Her eyes delved deeper, searching. "And we haven't spent a night together since you got home."

I looked away from her, focusing my gaze on the corner of the door, where the phone cord lay against the ripped edge of the carpet. I knew Tim's cat must have torn it, but when? How had it happened without me noticing?

"And so I've been thinking about all that, trying to figure out what could be behind it. I know it can't be that you're unhappy with how I handled things while you were gone, because you've been full of praise about the job I did, and anyway, you've been a lot looser with your control at the paper lately, so I know you're not just saying that."

"You did do a good job," I insisted, looking back at her again. "A *great* job."

"Right, so it's not that," Carol nodded. "So the most likely thing that occurred to me is that you're mad about the picture of Anne Seymour's room."

I sighed. "I told you what I thought about that."

"You're not even going to put your article on the wall, are you?" Her voice reverberated with barely suppressed irritation. "Just because the picture is on the same page-"

"It was *wrong*, Carol," I said, shaking my head. "We shouldn't have run that picture."

"Damn it!" she shouted, punching the bed. "You told me I had to make the decision myself!"

"It just wouldn't feel right to put it up on the wall, okay?"

Her eyes blazed with anger. "I didn't have to call you, but I did, and you told me you'd stand by whatever decision I made. You have no right to punish me for that now!"

"Carol, I'm-" I put my hand over my eyes, rubbing so hard that white specks vibrated in front of them. "I'm not really mad at you about that. I'm not mad at you at all."

"What?" Her obvious surprise reduced some of the heat in her voice.

"I would have made a different decision in your place, but you're right, I did tell you to make that call, and so I can't blame you for it. I won't be putting that picture on my wall, but I'm not angry."

A long, ominous silence descended on the room as she stared at me, reevaluating the situation. "Well, if you're not mad, there's got to be some other explanation for how you've been acting lately," she said finally, her words carefully measured. "And the only other thing I could come up with was that you met another girl while you were in Washington."

I looked back over at the carpet. I could hear her fingers reach for her hair, rustling through it. Raveling, unraveling.

"So I guess I'm going to ask you about *that* now, and I don't want to hear you get all indignant. I just want to hear you deny it, okay? Did you meet somebody else while you were in Washington?"

I closed my eyes and opened my mouth. "Y- yes," I managed to whisper.

Forcing my eyes open again, I looked at her. She was completely stunned, as if I'd hit her across the back of the head.

"It- it's not like that," I said quickly. "It's not what you're thinking." I wasn't even sure what I meant by that. *It wasn't another girl? You interrupted us before we actually managed to get naked?*

"Well, that's good, because what I'm thinking is pretty bad." Her voice was shaking, her fingers tied into knots around her hair. "Did you or did you not meet someone else, spend some time with her getting all hot and bothered, and then, eventually, take her back to your hotel room?"

I exhaled. Apart from her pronoun choice, that was pretty much exactly what had happened. "More or less, yes."

Her lip started to quiver as what I'd said sank in, and my chest caved in with grief. This was it. There was nothing more I could do. It was as if I had a pile of bricks in front of me, and I was driven to stack them, compelled by some force inside of me to build a wall between the two of us.

"Are you in love with her?"

"No. We- no." I winced at my own careful word choice. "I don't even know h- we didn't really have much of a chance to get to know each other." The attempt to hide behind a neutral pronoun burned in my throat, adding another brick to the wall.

She raised a hand to her mouth in shock. "I can't believe you're telling me this," she breathed, her words muffled against her fingers.

I kept thinking she would raise her voice, get in my face and scream at me, but the unexpected silence was far more devastating. "I'm sorry," I choked.

"It's just- you're nothing if not loyal, you know?" Her voice sounded hollow. "You're, like, the very last person in the world I'd expect to cheat on his girlfriend."

Slap. Another brick. A whole layer, this time.

"Does she know about me?"

The pronoun grated, turning my half-truth into a lie that rubbed my insides raw. "Y- yes." It occurred to me to tell her that it had been her presence in the room that had prevented more from happening that night, but I knew, in the long run, that it didn't really matter. It wouldn't change what I had done. "I'm not going to- we're not going to see each other again."

"If you're not going to see her again," she murmured, in a breathy, tiny voice I could have never imagined emerging from Carol's mouth if I hadn't been there to see her lips uttering the words, "and you're not in love with her, then does that mean- do you- how do you feel about *me*?"

I stared at her, watching the tears hover, balancing, at the edges of her eyelids. It felt as if she had her hands around both sides of my heart and was pressing against it, crushing it. "I don't know. I don't really understand how I feel ... about much of anything."

The tears poured down her cheeks, completing the wall which now stood, impenetrable, in front of us. "So ... what? We're not even going to try to work through this?"

I felt my own eyes start to water. I couldn't even give her that one little thing. "I don't think- I don't think this is something that *can* be worked through."

A sob ripped from her lungs, and she stood, turning away from me, raising her hands to her face as I felt a tear dampen my cheek. I wanted to reach for her and tell her it was all a lie, that I still belonged to her, but it was too late for that.

She spun around to face me again. Her eyes were red and sunken. "I don't understand! Why are you doing this?!"

"I know I owe you an explanation, but I don't have one." I stood, and she backed away from me, toward the door. "I'm sorry, Carol. I'm so sorry."

"Why can't I hate you?" she wailed, wiping her face with her hand, and ran out of my room. From a distance, I heard the front door slam behind her as she left the house.

Throwing myself onto the bed, I raged, sobbing into the pillow, not even caring anymore if my roommates thought I'd lost it. Then, sitting up violently, I ran an arm, full-strength, over the top of my nightstand, sending all of the contents on its surface crashing to the ground. She might not have been able to hate me, but I could do that for her. I could hate myself.

Staring at the floor, my eyes rested on a red notebook I'd bought for a class and then never used, and I felt myself bend down, reaching for it with my fingers. I opened it greedily with my right hand, retrieving a heavy ballpoint pen from the floor with my left. The blank lines taunted me, and as I touched the tip of the pen to the page, the floodgates opened, pouring a torrent of my thoughts into the notebook. Sitting crumpled on my bed, I watched its pages fill with my neat, tiny handwriting, as the pen told the story I could only barely begin to admit to myself.

The one place I knew for sure I wouldn't find Carol that night was at the paper, so when I decided at four in the morning that I was far too torn up for sleep, that was where I found myself, notebook in hand. The next morning's edition was already at the printer, but I only had to take a look around the office to realize there was still plenty to do. The large table in the middle of the room was covered with a mixture of trash, reference materials, and pasteboard, all of which belonged elsewhere. Sighing, I began filing the folders my staff had left lying on the table, and then rolled up my sleeves to gather the trash into a bag and take it out, allowing the transformation of the messy room to calm me.

"Oh, my God, it's Sam Seaborn." Tommy took a step backward into the doorway, clutching his heart dramatically. "The managing editor himself, gracing this humble office with his presence. To what do we owe this great honor?"

"Come on, I haven't been gone *that* much." I turned around and shelved another book, embarrassed. "What are you doing here so late, anyway?"

"I was just going to leave my Thursday column on your desk before heading home. I've got a paper due on Friday, so I figured I'd get it in early."

Hovering at the shelf, I noticed that three of the large reference books had Carol's name on the tops of their spines. My chest felt tight. I hoped she wasn't going to quit the paper now because of me. "Okay, great, thanks."

"Hey, you okay?"

I looked back at him. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, you seem distracted." Tommy leaned against the desk by the door. "In fact, you've been acting pretty weird since you came back from Washington."

"I'm okay. Just ... overwhelmed with school, the paper, you know. Catching up."

"Is anything going on between you and Carol?"

I jerked my head up at him, alarmed. "Why would you think that?"

"I don't know -- she's been strange this week, too."

I exhaled slowly. I knew it would be all over the office by tomorrow anyway. "Actually, we broke up," I admitted. "Tonight."

"You broke up?" Tommy shrieked. I was glad it was five in the morning, or else the whole building would have known. He ran over to stand beside me at the shelf, and I looked away, feeling a lump begin to form in my throat. "*God*, Sam. You going to be okay?"

"Yeah, I'm okay," I lied, walking back over to the table as if I had to focus all of my attention on the pile of old file folders lying on it.

He followed behind me and leaned against the table, looking determined. "I mean, you two have been together a long time-"

"No, really. I just- I really need to concentrate on this, now."

"Cleaning up the office takes concentration? I'd have thought that was the sort of thing you could do in your sleep."

I fixed my eyes on the table, leaning against it, trying not to think about Carol, Andy, anything. Couldn't he see I just needed to empty my mind for five minutes?

"Hey, why are you doing that, anyway? Don't you have minions to do the scut work for you?"

"I don't see anyone else offering to do it," I snapped, and sank into a chair at Tommy's vaguely unsettled look. "Really, I'll be fine," I insisted, trying to sound convincing.

He tilted his head nonchalantly to its side, as if deciding he wasn't going to get anything more out of me. "Okay."

Out of the corner of my eye I watched Tommy as he first put his column into my inbox, and then walked over to his desk. I realized now that his ostentatiousness had always set me a bit on edge, and I wondered whether he was aware how stereotypical some of his behavior was. His voice, for one. Were the high-pitched, expressive swoops subconscious, or an affectation? On the other hand, his size and abrupt, masculine way of propelling himself across a room was hardly cliched at all -- not to mention the fact that he was a sports editor, and the biggest New York Giants fan I knew.

"I'll see you tomorrow sometime, then?" he prompted, waving as he walked toward the door.

"Actually, Tommy?"

He turned around fully to face me. "What?"

I inhaled deeply and looked across the room at him, meeting his eyes. "I guess there is something I'd like to talk to you about."

He nodded. "Okay."

Walking over to the table, Tommy claimed a chair next to mine and sat down, crossing his legs. I stared up at him for a moment, my heart pounding in my chest, not at all sure this was a good idea. Tommy was more Carol's friend than mine. What if he was so disappointed in me for hurting her that he told everybody on staff that I thought I might be gay? I shook my head quickly and brushed my hand across the table, taking in his calm, self-assured expression. No, Tommy wouldn't do that.

*Tommy, you know how I've always dated girls* I tried to force the thoughts into words and propel them through my open mouth. *Well-*

"You going to tell me what it is?"

"Yeah, just- just a minute." I exhaled sharply and drew in another deep breath, trying again. *Tommy, you know the thing with Carol? Well, I broke up with her because I almost slept with this guy in Washington-*

"Let me guess. You've been embezzling funds from the paper."

"What?!"

"Or maybe you didn't really go to that press conference in Washington, and that whole Grenada story was a figment of your imagination."

I leaned back in horror. "It was *not*!"

"Or maybe you-"

"Tommy!"

"Sorry. I just thought if I made some guesses, it might help get you over the hump."

"Well, it's not working!"

"Sorry."

I stared at him again, silent, watching his expectant eyes wrinkle at the corners. "I don't think I've ever seen you at a loss for words before," he mused.

Sighing, I rubbed my forehead, suddenly feeling my exhaustion. "It's not that words are failing me, exactly, it's that my brain doesn't seem to be able to connect with my tongue."

I looked down at the red notebook on the table in front of me. Laying the palm of my left hand flat on it, I ran over again in my mind what I remembered of the thirty pages I'd filled earlier that night. It laid everything bare, from meeting Andy at the bus station to the feel of his hands on me in my hotel room, from the awkward conversation with my mother to the gutted feeling of the breakup with Carol. Everything. It was all in there, uncensored.

Feeling the muscles in my arm clench and my heart pounding furiously, I slid the notebook across the table to rest in front of Tommy. He looked down at me, eyes questioning, and I nodded wordlessly and withdrew my hand. Trying to turn my attention back to the file folders spread out in front of me, I found myself unable to do anything but stare at the table as he opened it and began to read. I felt as if I'd just jumped onto a train that had been chugging along at a walking pace, but as soon I'd set foot on it, it had turned the corner to scream furiously down a mountain. Talking to Tommy was just the beginning, I realized suddenly. As soon as someone else knew, I couldn't pretend there was nothing of any importance to tell. I closed my eyes as I felt a shudder begin in my chest and spread through my arms to my trembling hands. That realization was far more ominous, even, than the possibility that he might be angry with me about Carol.

It was probably half an hour later that he finally set the notebook back down, but it felt as if it had taken the better part of a week. "Wow," I heard him say finally.

I pressed my eyes shut and tried to swallow.

"I knew you could write, but this- this is incredible stuff." Awe reverberated through every lilt of his voice.

Bewildered, I jerked my head up at him. "Uh, thanks."

"I mean it," he insisted, eyes wide. "You could probably publish this."

"Uh, you- I thought you might be a little more taken aback by the *content*."

Tommy waved his hands around in front of him, shaking his head. "Oh, no, *that* part doesn't surprise me. But the *writing*, now that-"

"It *doesn't*?"

He shrugged. "Not really."

I was staggered. I'd been prepared for anything from stunned silence to anger, but this easygoing *presumption* was more than I could take. How could he have known when I'd had no idea?

"Don't you know we're supposed to have sort of a sixth sense about these things?" he replied, as if he had heard my mental question. "It doesn't work all the time, unfortunately, but I've been wondering about you for a long time."

Appalled, I felt my mouth fall open.

Tommy laughed. "It's not like you're walking around with pink triangle tattooed to your forehead, Sam, it's just a feeling I had." A wicked glint appeared in his eyes, and he folded his arms. "And don't knock that sixth sense -- you might find it useful, yourself, someday."

I realized immediately that he meant that I, too could benefit from being able to recognize whether or not other guys were gay. Because I, too, might someday want to sleep with them. I felt my face burn. "I can't even think about that right now."

He cocked his head at me, uncrossing his legs and leaning back further into the chair. "Nobody's saying you have to. There's no schedule for this."

"It's- I have so many things to think about before I can even consider anything like that." Like why, if Carol had just been a way of hiding my true feelings from myself, had breaking up with her still made me feel like the world had ended? "I mean, I don't want to do this again. I don't want to hurt anybody el-"

"All right, that's enough." Tommy held up first a hand, then an accusing finger at me. "Fair warning -- you just propelled me into lecture mode, so now you're going to have to sit back and listen. First of all, I think you have to stop being so hard on yourself. Yeah, so maybe you shouldn't have been messing around with a guy while you were still involved with Carol. But you could have gone through with it, and you didn't. Personally, darling, if this Andy was anywhere near as fabulous as you've described him, I think you're only to be commended for your willpower!"

I shook my head in protest. "But Carol- I at least owe her an explanation-"

"And you can't explain it to her until you can explain it to yourself!" He exhaled, exasperated. "Give yourself a break. People do crazy things when they're coming out. I think if you compare kissing a gorgeous guy from Harvard with something like sleeping with your best friend's stepfather, then you definitely got a better deal than I did."

"You slept with your best friend's stepfather?!"

"And the worst part was that he wasn't even *cute*!" Leaning forward, he clasped his legs with the palms of his hands to punctuate the final word, his tone turning up in a high-pitched, vocal grin.

I put my elbow on the table and leaned my forehead into the palm of my hand, closing my eyes, and I felt Tommy's hand, strong and steady, on my arm. "You know, all the things you're worried about -- what your parents are going to think, how your friends are going to treat you -- I've been there. And let me assure you, the stuff your imagination can cook up is a lot worse than anything that's actually likely to happen."

My mind flashed back to the brave, yet obviously wounded look that had flashed across Andy's face as he'd mentioned he'd paid for the journalism seminar himself. The worst possibilities definitely weren't *always* just the stuff of nightmares. "You don't know my dad," I sighed, looking up at Tommy.

"I told my dad over Christmas break freshman year. I was *so* sure he was going to kill me. But he just ended up smoking a lot and walking around in a daze for a little while. Then, a couple of days later, he sat me down to this totally *surreal* conversation that started out with him asking me whether this meant I hated football now, and ended up with him saying that at least this way I wouldn't be going and getting anybody pregnant."

I smiled slightly.

"And Carol will understand, eventually. She's a great girl."

I sighed again, unconvinced that she could ever come anywhere close to forgiving me after how crushed she'd been at my revelation.

"Come on, put yourself in her place," he chided. "Wouldn't you think she'd rather find out her boyfriend broke up with her because he turned out to be gay than wonder what was wrong with her?" "I can't tell her about this."

"Maybe not now. But someday, you will. And she'll understand."

I drew in a breath. I couldn't imagine telling anyone else at all. All of the important people in my life loomed like a huge mountain in front of me. If I was gay, then they'd have to know someday, but I had to take this one step at a time.

"There are lots of guys out there who've been through this, you know. People you know. Hey, why don't you let me take you to the GAP fall potluck?"

I shook my head. I couldn't go to a gay student event. "I don't even know for sure that I'm gay."

"It's not like they check your Official Gay ID card upon arrival," he said, grinning. "Come to the potluck, hang out, meet some new people, have a good time. And just because you're the most awesome ME I've ever worked with, I won't even make you pretend you're my date."

I pressed my lips together into a hesitant smile. "How about I think about it?"

"That's a start." Tommy looked down at his watch and groaned theatrically. "But you know, I really should get back to my apartment. My bed beckons." He stood, pushing his chair back.

"Right. Me too." My eyes followed him over to the door. "Tommy?" The name echoed in my mind. *Tommy. Tommy. Tommy.* It sounded ... wrong.

He turned around.

*Tommy.* The syllables still caught on my tongue. "Thanks for listening."

"No problem." He paused in the doorway and smiled.

I'd always called him Tommy, just as everyone else did, but now I had to wonder why that was. The other guys at the paper weren't diminished in the same way -- Chuck was Chuck, not Chuckie, and no one would have dared refer to Mike as Mikey. I wondered if people would start calling me Sammy if I decided I was gay. I supressed a shudder. "Hey, Tommy?" I called out again.

"It's going to be okay, Sam," he reassured. "A year from now, you'll wonder what the big deal was."

"Does it ever bother you that people call you Tommy?"

He scrutinized me, and I knew my expression was earnest, but for once he didn't tell me to lighten up. "What do you mean?"

"It's a little kid's name, isn't it?"

"I've been Tommy since freshman year," he shrugged. "My roommate called me that, and it just stuck. I've never really thought much about it."

"It makes you sound- it sounds like people are trying to turn you into something smaller and maybe ... cuter than you are. Like they're trying to shrink you or something."

"Yeah well, then it's too bad it hasn't worked yet!" he laughed.

I smiled again, but as I turned the idea over again in my mind, I became even more convinced that I was right. Calling him Tommy seemed to make him more insubstantial, easier to dismiss. "You know what? I'm going to start calling you Tom."

"I don't care what you call me, as long as you dooo!" he chortled as he left the office.

The edges of my mouth turned up in a grin, I looked down at the diminished, but still substantial mess on the table in front of me. Sticking the top two file folders into the cabinet by my desk as I passed it, I walked over to the door and turned off the lights as I locked the door behind me. The rest could wait; there was no rush.

The sun was just beginning to come up as I walked slowly back across the campus to my apartment, clutching my notebook to my chest. I took my time and tried to savor it, finally deciding to sacrifice sleep for beauty and sat down on the steps of McCosh Hall just to watch. The sky filled with light over trees planted by people who'd existed long before me, people who'd walked across this campus when its buildings hadn't even been imagined. I watched breathlessly as the sun swept in clouds to dust the top of the chapel, just enough of them to give the pink in the sky somewhere to go.

I opened my notebook, turning to the first blank line. My story wasn't finished yet, and maybe it never would be. But for the first time in recent memory, that didn't seem quite so frightening.

-- Jae <gecko@intranet.org> http://www.geocities.com/jaegecko/

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