Fiction Coming of Age

“There was another life that I might have had, but I am having this one.”

― Kazuo Ishiguro

Mom killed Nicki last week. I heard the news from my younger sister. When something like this happens, I page through Never Let Me Go, my favorite novel, until the right line hits me. I’ve never had no one in my life I can truly rely on, so maybe being an outsider here is simply a continuation of that.

I’m describing this to Oliver, my new roommate, because he’s been sobbing in the corner of our dorm room about missing his dog in New Jersey. 

“At least your dog is still alive,” I say, in the most comforting tone I can, while feeling utterly exasperated inside. “My Mom killed my guinea pig.”

He looks up. “Seriously? Where are you from?”

“Minnesota. St Cloud.”

Oliver looks lost for words. At least he’s now looking at his mobile instead of crying over a very much alive border collie. I have someone here who is more of a mess than me, which is strangely comforting.

I’ll introduce myself to you the same way I did to Oliver. Hi. My name is Brad Jorgensen, and I have no idea how I got into Yale. 

I half closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up.

― Kazuo Ishiguro

My constant references to Kazuo Ishiguro might make you think I’m an English Lit major (Oliver made that mistake) but you would be wrong. I’m studying Business Admin with a minor in Psychology. I stan Ishiguro because he’s the one Japanese who’s really succeeded within the Western cultural world, from the inside. An equal. Growing up half Japanese in Minnesota, always feeling like an outsider no matter how hard I tried, I look to him as a role model. At Yale, looking around and seeing that almost half the class is Asian, there’s far more hope to fit in.

Two days after Oliver was crying about his pet, he’s found a girlfriend. From what I heard, she also misses her dog.

I’ve never had a pet, except for the guinea pig, the reason being that every summer we spend a month with my mom’s family in Japan. 

Picture this. On the banks of the Hirose river in Sendai there are a row of cherry trees. They look dull and ordinary most of the year, but for two weeks in spring, they explode in pink blossoms and create the most glorious, beautiful spot in the world. The Yale dormitory is like right now. Oliver has a girlfriend, everyone else is hooking up, and there’s a never ending party in the dorm lounge.

But, I’m watching the cherry blossoms through a window from a distance, locked alone inside.

On my way to lunch in the Commons, there’s an open door to a conference room with students pouring in and out. A sign reads, “Student Activities Bazaar”. With nothing to lose, I venture inside. 

I glance at the students behind the tables:

Yale College Republicans, too blond.

Yale College Democrats, too hipster.

Yale Entrepreneurial Society, too serious.

Yale Robotics Club, too nerdy.

Yale Daily News, I’ve already spent three years typing interviews in high school.

As for the many sports clubs, I can’t help but notice their eyes on me as I walk past. At 6’2”, I catch their attention. But I have no desire to explain my torn rotator cuff from my days as my school’s opening pitcher. The good ole days.

The “International Travel Club”, hmm. Maybe?

Behind the table, four students are locked in conversation, oblivious to the bustle of people around them. They exude an air of nonchalance and calm. Hovering nearby, I wait for an opportunity to introduce myself,

“Dinner at the Park Hyatt is amazing!” a young woman with a faint Southeast Asian accent exclaims. Her tone of enthusiasm shines out.

“Tokyo? I’ve been there.” I interject.

The group turns their gaze towards me, taking a moment to register my presence. The woman who was speaking extends her hand in greeting. “Hi! I’m Nora. So you’ve been to the Park Hyatt. Do you travel much?” The boy beside her introduces himself as John.

“Brad Jorgensen,” I reply, before answering her question. “Not really. Just to Japan.”

“Where are you from, Brad? “


“That’s nice.” Nora’s response is polite but lacks enthusiasm. An awkward silence hangs in the air. “Enjoy the bazaar,” she says before returning her attention to her companions.

“Is there any info I can get?” I’m feeling desperate.

Nora passes me a leaflet, and then I take my cue and leave.

“We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls.”

― Kazuo Ishiguro

Professor Krantz, Nobel laureate in Economics, stands at the front of the lecture hall.

“Half of you will be drug addicts, unemployed, or dead by the age of 29.” He pauses, staring intently at us. “Unless you pick up the lessons, I will teach you in Social Psychology 110”

We chuckle politely. Professor Krantz isn’t as polished as a TED speaker, but he’s filled with enthusiasm. He’s been prefacing his lectures with stories about students meeting tragic ends to get our attention.

Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.

As he writes notes on the whiteboard, the squeak of the marker is relentless. He narrates, “Commitment fallacy. The tendency to follow the path you’ve chosen even if it is not the optimal economic payoff—”

A student in the front row interrupts, “Is this juxtaposed with the Rational Choice Theory?”

Professor Krantz glances at who spoke. “Please don’t interrupt. And never use the word juxtaposed in my class again if you don’t fully understand it.”

Once he finishes, I notice Nora is also in the lecture, and now she’s raising her hand.

“Yes, Nora,” the professor addresses her.

“So, if I order sushi, I’ll finish it before ordering the next dish?”

“Thank you, Nora. That is a clever way to put it.”

He returns to writing on the whiteboard. Another theory about the reasons why smart people make bad choices.

 I diligently take notes on all the words and concepts I’m not familiar with. I see other students in class listening to music or playing games on their mobiles.

“All children have to be deceived if they are to grow up without trauma.”

― Kazuo Ishiguro

The next day, Nora’s presence lingers in my mind. A vision of the graceful arc of her neck as she asked that question. I study the invite to the International Travel Club event.

- A social club for those who travel the world in style -

If there’s the slightest possibility of making a connection with Nora, I must put my hesitations aside.

On Friday night, I arrive at the address on the invite, a stately home nestled next to a Greek fraternity a stone’s throw from campus. As I draw nearer, my attention is drawn to a black student shouting outside. “You assholes! My Dad is going to do something about this.” His accent suggests he’s African. 

John steps out the front door and greets me. “Brad! Good you could make it, buddy.” He quickly pulls me inside.

“Who’s that?” 

“That’s the son of the Foreign Minister of Nigeria. He’s been expelled.”

“Why is he here?” 

“Don’t worry about him,” John says, and puts his arm around my shoulder. Someone puts a drink in my hand. John introduces me to a half-dozen members of his club, and leaves me with a group of people I don’t know.

I eavesdrop on their conversation. ‘Eavesdrop’ not being the right word when you are standing in front of them, smiling, and feeling completely invisible.

“I’m contemplating switching my major to Computer Science,” one of them declares.

“That’s preposterous. Who thinks that Elon Musk designs Teslas or writes code? Or Steve Jobs?”

“How can you manage things you don’t understand?”

“You don’t need to understand them. You merely need to make your employees think you do.” The student gulps the last of his drink. “I’m off now, flying to St. Thomas tomorrow morning.” 

“What about class?” I ask, out of curiosity.

“I’ve got people to handle that,” he says. “Smart people get other people to do the work for us, that’s what my dad says.”

These people seem to exist in a different universe than I do. An outsider in Minnesota, I hoped I could do better here. 

After a couple of drinks, I finally find myself in a friendly conversation. A small group of us form a circle. John is posing questions: asking if we have brothers or sisters, places we’ve travelled, funny things we’ve noticed about our professors.

“Tell us the most unique thing about yourself,” he asks, and they begin to answer. Back home this would mostly be a list of birthmarks and disgusting habits, but here at Yale it’s a recital of clever skills and Instagrammable life experiences.

After a student named Rebecca demonstrates her acappella singing, it’s my turn.

I hesitate for a moment, then say, “Jeff Bezos is my uncle.”

John looks at me incredulously. “Your name isn’t Bezos.” 

“It’s complicated.”

 “You’re full of shit, dude.” John laughs.

“Forget about it. Bad joke,” I say. “I was the opening pitcher for my high school baseball team. The St Cloud Bulldogs”

“And I suppose Ohtani is your uncle too,” John smirks.


John moves on to listening to the next person’s answer.

By midnight, the organizers are more interested in talking amongst themselves than engaging with us. Most of the invitees sit awkwardly, staring at their drinks or fidgeting with our phones.

“I’ve got to go,” I say. There’s a stack of homework I need to finish tomorrow.

Someone taps John’s shoulder, “See you later Brad!’ he smiles from across the room and waves goodbye.

As I leave, a junior club member says, “We will let you know…” 

“Know what?”

“If you’re accepted.”

“You have to accept that sometimes that’s how things happen in this world. People’s opinions, their feelings, they go one way, then the other.”

― Kazuo Ishiguro

No one contacts me. A week later, I’m positive I was rejected.

After Professor Krantz’s lecture, Nora rushes up to me in the hallway after class. She smiles, “Brad! How’s it going?”


“Let’s get a coffee. I’d like to catch up with you,” she says, with no hint of hesitation. I’ve never met anyone as confident as her before.

Over a latte, she asks me questions, and I find myself talking more freely than I normally do. It feels good to open up to someone about how hard it is to fit in as a new student here.

“It will get better,” she says. “Now, where in the world would like to visit most?” 

“Machu Pichu.”

“Its amazing. I’ve been there twice.” Nora has been talking to me for a half an hour. She smiles warmly. “Maybe we could go there together sometime? We could really use you in our club. I think you’ll enjoy it.”

The next day, I officially accept their membership offer. They have an office on campus, and soon I’m spending all my time with Nora and the other members.

I hadn’t realized how wealthy students at Yale could be! Nora drives to school and parks her Mercedes off-campus it. John travels constantly. He has connections all over the east coast. The next three months I live the life I’ve always dreamed of: catered dinner parties in New Haven, private art galleries in New York. Weekends at John’s beach house in the Hamptons while he takes care of house repairs for his dad. The strangest thing about being around them is I never have to spend a dime. Everything is paid for. They never mention I owe them anything.

It’s probably because they feel I’m at the same level. Now and then they drop a hint that I could tell them something about Jeff Bezos. But for a nephew, that doesn’t seem appropriate.

Staying at John’s beach house, I realize his family owns Kyungpo Electronics, one of Korea’s largest electronic corporations. At school, he dresses very casually and never mentions it.

“I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart.”

― Kazuo Ishiguro

We’re alone in the student lounge. Nora closes her textbook and looks at me, holding my gaze. “I need you to do me a favor.”

“What can I do for you?” My heart thumps at the thought of being able to do something for Nora, maybe something personal or secret.

“Professor Krantz is under investigation for sexual abuse. You are in his class. Did anything happen to you?” Before I can speak, she continues, “I think something must have happened. When you remember, go to the dean’s office and make a report.”

“Professor Krantz, really?” I ask incredulously.

“It would be a big favor” Nor reaches across and grasps my forearm. “Do it for me?”

Krantz is one of my favorite professors at Yale. As I leave the student lounge, I feel it’s impossible he could be guilty of such a thing.  

After a week spent thinking about him, small details pop up in my mind. Things Krantz said during his office hours, innuendo that I missed. His hand touched my knee. 

I visit the Dean of Student Affairs office. “There are a few things I would like to report about Professor Krantz.” 

We compile a list of Professor Krantz’s transgressions and I sign my name at the bottom.

“That night, it seemed to me these dark byways of the country existed just for the likes of us.”

–Kazuo Ishiguro

A new sense of caution grips me. After reporting Krantz to the Dean, I’ve been on edge, no longer sure who to trust.

In International Relations 201, John sits two rows ahead of me, texting in Korean, as he usually does during lecture. Looking at the circles and squares of the Hangul script, it doesn’t seem a decipherable form of human communication. But I’m curious. With my mobile and, as casually as I can, I zoom in and take a screenshot. Google translate does the rest.

[Dad] Good work on the Nigerian. And Professor Krantz. If the Greek government doesn’t buy our telecom system, we need to start digging up dirt on Stavros Tsoukalas.

[John] Got it, Dad.

[Dad] make it quick.

[John] I need to get out of class for a week, and stay at the house in St Martin.

[Dad] Girlfriend? I’ll think about it. We have most of your professors covered.

From behind, I can feel John’s gaze look up at our lecturer. Professor Luo just received a research grant from Kyungpo Electronics.

 I knew people cheated to get into Yale. I didn’t know they cheat at Yale as well.

After I return from Minnesota at Christmas break, I’m soon called to the dean’s office.

“Thank you for your testimony regarding Professor Krantz. That was very brave,” she tells me. “Professor Krantz is no longer with the university.”

“There’s another matter I’d like to speak to you about,” she says, tapping the bottom of her fountain pen on the large wooden desk. ”You told people you are the nephew of Jeff Bezos. But that’s not true, is it?”

“Am I on trial?”

“You need to tell me the truth.”

Her authoritarian gaze peers into my soul.

“No, I am not related to Jeff Bezos,” I admit begrudgingly.

“Noted,” she says. “You can show yourself out.”

My last name, Jorgenson, does happen to be the same as Jeff Bezos’s birth name. A peculiar factoid relayed to me by someone in my high school. I tucked it away in the back of my mind, thinking it could be useful someday. 

Professor Krantz taught us people believe things more readily when they think they have discovered the truth themselves. John or Nora must have googled my last name.

“It was like when you make a move in chess and just as you take your finger off the piece, you see the mistake you’ve made, and there’s this panic because you don’t know yet the scale of disaster you’ve left yourself open to.”

― Kazuo Ishiguro

The next morning, I carry my bagel into the International Travel Club’s lounge, and nod at the half-dozen members sitting inside. “Good morning, guys!”

There are a few mumbles, but no one looks at me:

I ask Nora if she’s ready for tomorrow's Applied Mathematics test. She’s ready, she says and looks back at her textbook. Something has changed.

That afternoon, John says to me, “You’re not a member of this club anymore.”

“Why not?”

John bites his lip. I realize I already know. He’s found out I’m not Jeff Bezos nephew. But, he can’t say it out loud. The pain of being played a fool for months would make him lose too much face.

For the next month, I’m expecting to be called to the Dean's office to hear why I’m being expelled, but the call never comes. Maybe I’m not important enough, or maybe they still have a use for me. I’ve never studied more in my life, and I’m receiving B’s. They get A’s in every class while barely attending. 

Life marches on. I start spending time with Oliver and his girlfriend. On a night out bowling, I meet their friend Chloe, who has the gift of an infectious laugh which brightens our night out. I ask her out on a date, and we go the next evening to a Ruby Tuesday’s on Crown Street. As she shares all of our previous misconceptions about Yale, and I mine, I feel the weight of my worries lift. The sound of my laughter spills forth in a long-suppressed torrent.

November 10, 2023 09:01

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Marty B
06:09 Nov 16, 2023

This reminded me of a Fiction story from the New Yorker, great themes and characterization. the details were spot on. When you expand this into your novella, the paragraph of 'I hadn’t realized how wealthy students at Yale could be.." is where you can add more scenes of 'rich kids acting poorly'. “Your -story- must now run the course that's been set for it.” Kazuo Ishiguro ;)


07:10 Nov 16, 2023

Thx Marty, I come up with ideas pretty quickly but I'm so bad at putting actual readable word count down on the page, I haven't contemplated a novel yet (but I should) it seems with the advent of KDP there's a lot of mini-fiction being sold in the 100page and under zone so maybe its doable! thx for the encouragment. I mostly was inspired by reading about the plot of 'the secret history' combined with my own experiences of knowing some international students/trust fund kids while myself having paid my own way through uni as a middle class m...


Show 0 replies
07:21 Nov 16, 2023

another anecdote I once had an interview in New York to get my 7 year old daughter (who was attending public school), into a private school. The admissions counselor at 'Friends Seminary' looked at me and said definitively "our waiting list is full" and then just stared at me without saying anything. So I said, "Thanks, I'll check in again next year!" and left. When I told my more clued in coworkers about this, they said that's the point of the interview where I was supposed to bribe the school with a donation, or threaten them by telling ...


Marty B
05:11 Nov 17, 2023

That is ridiculous! A little less pretension out here on the West Coast, or at least the requests for money are more conspicuous If it comes to it though- I'm going to say I know the soon-to-be famous author Scott C. Sure to get me into the Best Places! :)


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 2 replies
Tommy Goround
16:24 Nov 14, 2023

Boom: "I knew people cheated to get into Yale. I didn’t know they cheat at Yale as well." There goes the social relevance... Chloe brought it all together. Clapping


02:56 Nov 15, 2023

thanks! happy to get the mr goround comments on my dark academic epic cheating scandal! felt this needed another 3,000 words. Next week is more a one scene story. I had a coworker from yale who deeply annoyed me with his sense of entitlement so just needed to make that school the target even though it was the same school as 'The Secret History' apparently the most famous dark academia book of all time.


Tommy Goround
05:27 Nov 18, 2023

Smiling. Feel free to call. I've been out adventuring.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Tommy Goround
16:20 Nov 14, 2023

ok. 80% of the book quotes are working. The character is like a holding caufield that is inspired by a woman. The way you introduced the professor under investigation was tremendous. I am wondering if he will lie for a girl. You move the Time parade forward one week and at present it seems like a real memory instead of one made up for a girl. So far the flow is good and the characters are introduced in such a way that they have meaning in the short space. I almost hate taking notes instead of just reading....


Show 0 replies
Tommy Goround
16:13 Nov 14, 2023

shirt punchy style works with character voice. Nice table setting, guinea pig. Good tension on Nora intro (you are hitting Norwegian wood style)... I eavesdrop on their conversation. ‘Eavesdrop’ not being the right word when you are standing in front of them, smiling, and feeling completely invisible [third example of excellent narration. It takes forever to quote on my phone... So this was good enough to spend an extra 4 minutes going out]. Still reading...


Show 0 replies
Mary Bendickson
07:04 Nov 13, 2023

I knew there was a reason I never went to Yale.


03:05 Nov 15, 2023

haha yeah, maybe its better to avoid all of that. of the grads I've met from ivy league schools, some of them were great, but a high proportion of them have been super lazy and work avoidant compared to people who've come up through public schools. And I recall there was a good student from my high school class who went to harvard, came back over the summer and said harvard used exactly the same text books as everyplace else and it wasn't that special. I did hear she went into NGO work later on and did well.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Amanda Lieser
23:51 Jan 07, 2024

Hi Scott! What an interesting take on this week’s prompt. I appreciated the way that you created a narrative that made us feel like we were truly out of water. So much of your life in college is you figuring out who you want to be as an adult and so I think it creates a natural setting of confusion. Another author pointed out my favorite line in this piece, but I have to mention it for my own sanity: ‘Eavesdrop’ not being the right word when you are standing in front of them, smiling, and feeling completely invisible. I also loved the format...


Show 0 replies
Michał Przywara
22:30 Nov 15, 2023

Good take on the prompt, and a number of themes playing at the same time. The cheating is a big one, only it's not cheating as most of us know it, but rather career ruining manipulation funded by big money. This naturally leads into class differences, where the outsider protagonist is introduced not just to the new world of academia, but also the new world of the old rich. Then there's perceptions and identities, who we are, who people choose to see us as, when he suggests he might be a Someone - even though he knows it's false. They believe...


Show 0 replies
10:19 Nov 10, 2023

My first attempt at Dark Academia turned out to be slightly too long for a short story, but was fun to write.


Tom Skye
15:47 Nov 10, 2023

I think I do see your concerns , but it was a good read. Never let me go is one of my favourite books. You must know it inside out to litter apt quotes like that throughout. You did a great job introducing quite a few interesting characters in a short space of time. It really captures the early days of college when you are out of your comfort zone and get overwhelmed with people who are different to anything you have met before. On the other side, the Bezos mix up, highlights the problem of elitism in college, and you climaxed this in qu...


12:25 Nov 11, 2023

Thanks Tom! I feel like I had a lot of ideas going on here, probably could stretch this out over a full ya novel, but nice to hear you picked up on the main themes I had in mind. How wealthy students might have learned from their parents to be more Machiavellian in how they deal with others (I've heard stories) And in real life a lot of drama and conflict just fizzles out unresolved.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.