The tail lights of a Mercedes E-class blink off as it accelerates through the stone gate pillars.
An exhaust pipe of a BMW 5-series coughs up a plume of fetid smoke.
On occasion there is a slight wave from a Lexus RX 350’s window—a white hand, manicured nails, rings with rocks worth more than my guidance counselor’s annual salary.
Finally, the parents leave and I have their sons.
And why shouldn’t they leave? They’ve done their job, stroking a six-figure check to matriculate their beloved young men to a storied academic institution. Our curriculum is rigorous. Our faculty are accomplished. Our alumni are renowned, giving commencement speeches on how easy it is to be successful in life by using one’s knowledge and skills and grit—and generational wealth. Here on hundreds of acres, their progeny will learn how to row crew, play lacrosse, tie a Windsor knot, and learn what fork to use when bribing a congressman at dinner.
The cars come and go—much like my smile when they pass out of view.
🜋 🜋 🜋
The students arrive in clusters on the quad, milling about, yelling to friends, jockeying for position on the social strata.
I stand ready to welcome them—to make them feel as if they were home.
The jaded upperclassmen know the drill. Meandering towards the dormitories, they have their duffel bags and expensive suitcases and knowing smirks. There is talk of summer girls and pilfered alcohol and pharmaceuticals and college applications and essays to write, but—should worse come to worse—their fathers will buy a building on a college campus to ensure their sons’ admission.
The sophomores are a happy lot, quick to discover others on campus more loathsome than they are. I find it ironic how quickly the 10th graders embrace their newfound role of bullying, as if they weren’t still the picker of zits and noses. Their greasy hair sticks up at odd angles. Axe Body Spray fails at its singular purpose. Their ties are askew, tied too short. Their khakis are two inches higher than they should be because they’ve grown over the summer and no one has taken the time to notice. But they good naturedly punch one another. They laugh, braying like pack animals. I nod at them. At least they are socializing.
The fourteen-year-old freshmen have no idea what to do. They stand apart with their untidy bundles about their feet, necks bent into their phones, ignoring all about them, even the million dollar landscaping that their parents are paying for.
To steel themselves for their new normal, these children—who are now strangers in a strange land—digitally disappear into the ether.
It’s my first job to bring them back.
🜋 🜋 🜋
Fifty freshmen sit in the auditorium, their welcome packets unopened on their laps or under their feet or lost somewhere between the parking lot and the auditorium. I bring an armful of extras.
Using the remote, I queue up 80+ slides of rules and regulations to review. The new students will retain next to none of it, but I gamely give them my best warm-and-welcoming smile.
“Welcome, gentlemen!” I say again from the podium. “Please put away your phones for a bit. I want to go over some housekeeping items with you.”
“Housekeeping? Do we have to clean?” asks one of the smaller boys, his voice cracking from delayed puberty. His name tag reads DYLAN.
“It’s an expression,” I assure him. “Housekeeping means we are just going over some things to make sure we’re all doing what we should be.”
Dull eyes gaze up from their screens, but only for a moment. I ask them to put their phones away again. Soon they’re fidgeting, wondering when the lunch buffet will open.
“Now look in your manilla envelope. You will find your key code card, room number, and roommate assignment.”
“Wait, what? I’m sharing a room?” Dylan cries out, apparently missing that point on the dormitory tour I gave him and his family last spring.
“All first years share a room—”
“My dad said—”
I cut him off. “All first year boys share a room. Single rooms are only available for upperclassmen.”
I look at him over my glasses. Your dad isn’t here, I say without verbalizing it. And I’m sorry about that, but here we are.
He slinks back into his chair.
🜋 🜋 🜋
To an extent, the new boys have successfully found their lodgings, have determined how to deal with their new roommates, and have consumed their body weight in pizza and soda.
During Recreation Time, I see them making tentative moves towards each other. I marvel at the primal need to belong to something—even a ping pong tournament.
They’ll find their friends in time. Until then, I’ll keep an eye on them.
I stand at the back of the recreation room to watch the freshmen discover their common interests. The sports junkies are in the corner talking football stats for the fall. The anime enthusiasts are scribbling together in a silent brotherhood over by the art room. Several boys are shooting pool (badly) while the gamers are light years away in their virtual reality headsets.
I scan the room, quickly determining there is peace in the valley.
On my way out of the building, I see a lone figure.
“Hi Dylan,” I say. “You want to hang out with the others?”
He is sitting in a chair on the portico, facing the late afternoon sky. There is a nip in the air promising fall, the change of leaves already evident.
“Did you get enough to eat?” I try again.
I sit next to him.
“I am,” he replies.
We sit in companionable silence.
After a few minutes, he turns to me. “Do I have to go to recreation? Can I just sit here?”
“You can sit wherever you wish, Dylan. Recreation Time is meant for you. Do what makes you happy.”
“I think I like being alone.”
“It’s good to have time by ourselves to ponder our thoughts,” I say. And Dylan, sometimes we’re the loneliest in crowded rooms.
“That’s okay, isn’t it? To want to be alone?”
“Shakespeare wrote that ‘society is no comfort to one not sociable.’”
“I don’t think I know what that means,” he admits.
“It means we introverts need to stick together. It’s a noisy world out there.” I roll my eyes and gesture towards the recreation room. Dylan laughs. “And figuring out that you prefer your own company is a really good thing.”
“Know thyself,” Dylan replies. “That's Shakespeare, too, I think. My dad says that all the time.”
“It’s not bad advice.”
Fireflies blink on and off along the tree line.
“Okay. I’m going to let you hang out with yourself,” I say, standing up.
You will be, I think of little Dylan on the portico. You will be.
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IMMENSELY relatable for me. I was (very) far from a rich kid, but I went to a college with similarly snooty vibes and S-T-R-U-G-G-L-E-D. Tried to drink and smoke through it (this doesn't always work, believe it or not) and eventually had to take time off. “And figuring out that you prefer your own company is a really good thing” puts some nice words to something that I've been learning over the last couple of years. More =/= better, and we're all different: when it comes to people, I prefer an IV drip to a deluge. Thanks for making me thin...
I think my fellow introverts get a bad rap. We need more contemplative souls, not fewer. It is a loud world out there...and I'll take John Keats over Lord Byron any day of the week :)
Great story. I could picture those poor freshman boys. I like how you quoted Shakespeare.
9th grade boys are heartbreakers for sure. Earnest lads, all.
Amazing story. Still surprised it doesn't have 200 likes and 100 comments.
Very relatable. "I look at him over my glasses. Your dad isn’t here, I say without verbalizing it. And I’m sorry about that, but here we are." - I imagine you doing this, every day. (you doing it, not me imagining it) 🤣
We teachers have to master a few looks (since we learn that raising our voices NEVER works and just throws water on the grease fire.) I have the following looks: 1. Don't make me kill you 2. That was almost funny 3. I'm sorry, I was talking. How about when I stop, you can talk?
I felt much like Dylan did when I did my cooking stent in a sorority house, long after I'd finished all of my schooling and was into adulthood. I just was so overwhelmed by the WHELM of it all. I think it's wonderful when educators/adults just let kids be who they're naturally dispositioned to be. If that means they want more time with themselves, so be it! You have such a rich knack for description of the teenager in their natural habitat! I'm so late to this story, apologies!
Always a joy to see your name in the comments -- always astute, witty, insightful. I adore you!
Sometimes we are the loneliest in crowded rooms. I really loved that line. I don’t think it’s possible for you to write something that I don’t enjoy. I enjoyed this piece in particular. Dylan really captured the feelings a kiddo can have first year in boarding school, amazing command of language, descriptive and engaging. Thank you for sharing your amazing talent with us all. 👍👏🙌❤️😇
You're a sweetheart, Dustin :)
Thank you for following me. I hope we can share ideas in the future
Another great story. Again lots of lines to love but my favourite is "learn how to . . . tie a Windsor knot". A skill well worth learning ;-)
Never had a need for a Windsor knot. Hangman's knot, yes.
Don't suppose this story had anything to do with a recent job interview? ;) Great story, as always.
“Write what you know…”
You've done it again. 🤯*mind blows*🤯 I loved the ending. Very nicely intertwined with the "but my dad said..." and the "we have to share a room?" part. Also loved the narrator. You were able to communicate this role to the reader in such a way that would imply that you've actually done this job-maybe you have, it was written so well-and I admit, you've really outdone yourself on this one...again. 👏👏👏
Oh Lainey -- Thanks for the wonderful comment. I wasn't sure what story "Dylan" was going to tell...he surprised me :) I was going for a spoiled brat until he revealed a side of him I didn't know was there. (I love when our characters take over and demand their due.) Thanks again for your continued support.
Your voice is so strong here, I love that your narrator doesn’t try to change Dylan. Your stories never disappoint!
THANKS BETH :) -- I don't know where you find the time to read my drivel, but I always love to see your comments. You are a great cheerleader and the hardest working gal on Reedsy!!
Drivel?! I think we need to package up all your education shorts and use them as optional teaching guides! Help out with empathy and understanding toward different types of students.
As a former sociable college student whose social sphere is now quite limited, I could and couldn't identify with Dylan. He's an outcaste, but a snivelly one. The combination makes me want to give him proper nurturance. I'm glad the guidance counselor takes her vocation seriously. She's sarcastic, but amicable - attributes the English exhibit with characteristic flair.
"sociable" college student -- is that code of Jägermeister jello shots? Sarcastic + amicable = my kind of people :)
No Meister shots, just a sarcastic, amicable bookworm amongst similar fellow bookworms.
That was quite the twist. It wasn’t super obvious but it was still really well done. At the beginning of the story I thought Dylan was just a selfish and spoiled rich kid who didn’t like to share but it turned out he just prefers to be alone. You caught me judging a book by its cover.😂. Very well done. I’m always impressed with your stories
I'm not sure 14-year-old boys are developed enough to know who or what they are other than a carbon based lifeform...he's probably all those things: selfish, spoiled, introverted, annoying, pitiful, wonderful, kind, idiotic, friendly, goofy, somber. He'll need another decade or so to figure it out. :)
Lol. That is a good point. I’m 27 and still figuring some parts of life out.
Really nice story! I must say you have the talent of writing contemplative stories without losing reality or going too dramatic. As a fellow introvert who was struggling with self-acceptance, this really helped.
This is my favorite line(s) . He is sitting in a chair on the portico, facing the late afternoon sky. There is a nip in the air promising fall, the change of leaves already evident.
When I was younger, I was a 100% extrovert. I am the main reason why my friends know each other and have bonded because I basically adopted fellow introverts. As I grew up, I became more of an introvert. Someone has to initiate a conversation topic that piques my interest enough to hold a proper conversation then I can let out my extroverted side. As a chameleon* (*Someone who either stands out or blends into the environment) I tend to try and mold into the crowd by shrinking down until I disappear as a fellow peer exactly like them. Or I po...
I really like this. As I was reading the beginning I was thinking as a Scot, there might be a lot that would go over my head as our education systems are so different, but I can relate to so much in this. I work with kids and the grip that social media and phones have on them is staggering. I liked this line: "To steel themselves for their new normal, these children—who are now strangers in a strange land—digitally disappear into the ether." In a world where so much anxiety is felt by kids who feel the need to check their phones every minu...
“Wait, what? I’m sharing a room?” Dylan cries out, apparently missing that point on the dormitory tour I gave him and his family last spring. Yeah, THAT thought would be torture for an introvert… I wasn’t a rich kid, and have never been a boy, but - always an introvert! As others have mentioned, I assumed at first that he was just being an entitled brat. So glad the counselor with the (necessarily) tough exterior sniffed out the truth! The parts that really stood out to me were: sometimes we’re the loneliest in crowded rooms. And “It ...
A very nice story, and a lot seems to be happening here. I guess the main thread is the most important one, since it ties everything together. You've got a counselor looking out for their charges. This includes keeping an eye out for Dylan, and knowing how to approach him. I'll admit I misjudged Dylan myself (as some other readers observed, something something "sniveling self-absorbed rich kid") which stings, as a fellow intravert. But it speaks to the protagonist's skill at their job. Beyond that, I'm seeing themes of observation and dedi...
Teenage boys are easy to describe. Not too much disparity there. (Now teenager girls are another matter.) Thanks again for explaining my story to me. I wanted a jaded, but loving guidance counselor who knows that growing up is a process ("No. No. Don't touch that. Let me get the first aid kit".) I was a Dylan. I had wished someone told me it was all right to prefer the silence. I wish I had read Susan Cain's Book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" in my teens. That's the joy of older age. We can sit and wh...