Hello again, everyone! I'd originally hoped to begin posting this new story in early October, but I wasn't able to do so for a variety of reasons, not least among them a major revision to the entire plotline, title change for the story and serious rewriting of this first chapter. Well, serves to teach me not to attempt to schedule things like that again. Anyway, this story will be updated weekly, as usual. All disclaimers apply, no betas were hurt for this and it was inspired by a couple of movies. The title should make the first one rather obvious, but the other one might be a little trickier. I'll stop here so as not to ruin the surprise. This first chapter is a bit short, but consider it an introduction of sorts. Enjoy!
Five years ago, Stanford University
A tall, lanky, curly haired man placed another neatly folded shirt inside the travel bag on his bed and looked for the next item. Not finding it in the immediate vicinity, he decided to ask his roommate about it. "Hey Bryce, have you seen my…? Bryce?" Just then he realized that he was all alone in the room. "Damn," he muttered and resigned to finding the item himself. Finally, a few minutes later, his bags were all packed and ready to be loaded in the Ford Bronco he'd borrowed from his father.
His friends were all gathered in the living room/recreation area of the frat house and they were all very, very quiet. "Seriously, guys, what's with the long faces?"
"Like you have to ask, Chuck," Pete, a sophomore, replied. "Throughout the history of Gamma Delta Phi, not a single member ever dropped out."
"Who told you I'm dropping out?" Chuck asked, letting his bags drop to the floor. The matter was serious and he needed to clear the air.
"That's the impression we got," Bryce replied, with Pete, Ed and Mac all nodding in agreement.
"OK, let's make something clear. I am NOT dropping out. Seriously. I'm a member of this fraternity as much as the rest of you. I'm aware of the traditions and the standards I have to live up to. So, I had a little talk with Professor Fleming. He helped me and the faculty administration find a mutually beneficial solution."
"What the heck are you talking about?" Bryce asked.
"Simple: instead of dropping out, I'm taking a long sabbatical. This way, I'm still a student and eventually I'll come back to finish the last twelve credits and get my degree."
"So… you're dropping out without actually dropping out?" Mac cut in.
"Yes. You see, I have this thing about leaving stuff unfinished, my studies included. Guys, it's just good business."
"Well, it's something, I guess," Ed shrugged. The others nodded in agreement.
"I was still hoping we'd all graduate together though," Bryce grumbled.
"Dude, relax," Chuck said. "I'll definitely attend your graduation and, when the time comes, invite you all to mine. This way you get to enjoy two graduation parties instead of one." The word party did the trick. He smiled. "You guys mull this over while I load my stuff in the car," he said and left. Outside, he ran into someone familiar. It was Jill Roberts, Bryce's bespectacled brunette girlfriend who was majoring in biochemistry.
"Chuck! So, it's true then?" Her eyes had gone wide upon seeing his luggage and her expression turned from shock to anger. "Bryce told me you're dropping out. Are you out of your mind? I thought getting a degree from Stanford was a lifelong dream for you."
He chuckled, but quickly stopped as it only made her angrier. "Jill, I'll have you know that Bryce and the rest of the guys have already given me the lecture."
"And you're still leaving. That's it! I'm calling Ellie. Maybe she can knock some sense into that thick skull of yours."
Chuck cringed. Ellie – his older sister – was still in the dark about his plans. In fact, just one more family member was in the know. If his sister got wind of it ahead of schedule it could turn downright ugly. "Whoa, whoa, hold your horses, Jill. Let me explain first."
"What's to explain? You're dropping out, aren't you?"
"Not exactly," he hurried to explain, seeing the cell phone already in Jill's hand. "Professor Fleming helped me square things with the University administration. As of today, I'm on a sabbatical. Once my business is running smoothly and turning out a good profit, I'll get back to finishing my studies here and get my degree. I've only got twelve credits left, anyway."
"You still haven't told Ellie, have you?" Jill asked with a knowing smirk on her face.
"I've only told my Dad and he's OK with it, provided I do as I said and eventually get my degree."
"So basically you're planning to present Ellie and your Mom with a fait accompli."
"Basically," he nodded in agreement. He still dreaded facing their wrath, but at least his father would be right there with him in the doghouse, at least until his mother came around and saw things from their point of view. He only hoped it would happen fast, but he wasn't really worried. His Mom had a knack for knowing good business opportunities when she saw them and this case was no different as far as he was concerned.
"Does Bryce know?"
"Yes. I explained everything to them, just like I explained everything to you now. He's still trying to come to terms with it, but I think he understands." He smiled. "Besides, the lure of two graduation parties, one for him and the guys and one for me, was too good to ignore."
"Guys," Jill huffed. "Who else is in the know? Morgan?" Morgan had been Chuck's best friend since the first day of kindergarten. The two were practically brothers.
Chuck laughed. "Are you kidding? Morgan can't keep a secret that big. Ellie would have been informed of it within an hour, tops, in which case my head would have ended up detached from my shoulders. I also haven't told Devon yet. He would support me, most likely, but I don't want him to be uncomfortable keeping such a secret from Ellie."
Just then his frat buddies came out to bid him goodbye. "Bro, I'm still not sure I agree with you on this, but do us all proud, you got it?" Bryce said and hugged Chuck.
"I can do more. You'll all get free lifetime memberships plus other perks should you decide to sign up."
Once they were done with the goodbyes, Chuck got in the car and started the engine, his mind already working on improving the plan he'd hatched about telling those not yet in the know about his decision.
"Thank you Morgan," Mary Bartowski said warmly to the short bearded man in a green polo shirt and khaki cargo pants as he maneuvered the hand trolley out of the way after positioning a heavy looking and bulky item in the kitchen. She reached for her wallet to tip him, but he shook his head.
"No need for that, Mrs. B," he said. "You're family."
"You did all the hard work," she reminded him.
"Thanks to you I'm the salesman of the month at the store, even though I work part time there," he smiled. "There is a nice bonus coming my way."
Mary paused to admire her new hi-tech stove. The old one had broken down the other day just as she was preparing to host an important dinner party. Fortunately, a neighbor had let her use her stove, but the very next day Mary had driven down to the Burbank Buy More and purchased a new one. Morgan had already moved the old worn out stove to the garage, where Mary's husband would strip some parts he needed from it, for one of his contraptions. A familiar sound of a car engine made them both look at the driveway.
"Mr. B is home early," Morgan commented.
"I may have mentioned you'd be coming, so he probably wants to see you."
"It's Chuck!" Morgan exclaimed. "What's he doing here? He should be in Stanford."
"Let's find out." She led the way to the two-car garage. Chuck had just put the Bronco in park and jumped out.
"Hey guys," he said with a bright smile when he saw his mother and his best friend. "I see you finally got the new stove you told me over the phone last night, Mom."
"I did," she confirmed. "And Morgan has been of great help."
"He always is. How's culinary school going, buddy?" His friend always wanted to be a chef, so he was taking classes at a good school while working part time as a Buy More salesman to support himself.
"I'm having trouble flipping the shrimp," Morgan admitted. "But otherwise I'm doing great. What are you doing here? Don't you have classes to attend?"
"Not for a while," Chuck replied. "Something came up."
"Is something wrong?" Mary asked, suddenly worried.
"Mom, everything is fine," her son hastened to reassure her. "Better than fine, in fact," he added. "Remember the project I was working on over winter break?"
"Well, to cut a long story short, I found some people willing to invest some venture capital to get it rolling. It's about to become a reality. Dad had a lawyer friend of his help out with the contracts." He took a dramatic pause. "Mom, you're looking at a new Internet millionaire."
"I'm so proud of you, Chuck!" Mary squealed, wrapping her son in a tight hug, which Morgan joined as well.
"Well done pal," he told Chuck. "If you need a sous-chef for a party to celebrate, I'm in."
"All in due time, little buddy. There are a few things to take care of first."
"Like signing the contracts?" Mary asked. "I'll get your suit out."
"Thanks Mom, but the contract signings are just a small part of the job. I'll have to get everything up and running, because once the deals are done I'll be on a deadline."
Mary was the first to see a potential problem. "What about Stanford? Finals are in a few months."
"About that… well…" Chuck stammered, desperately trying to remember his well prepared and rehearsed speech.
"Charles Irving Bartowski, you didn't drop out of school, did you?" She'd heard a lot of stories about young people dropping out of school to start new businesses and she didn't want that to happen to her son, no matter how lucrative the new job appeared to be.
"Um, no?" Chuck replied hesitantly. "I mean, not exactly." Seeing her narrow her eyes at him, he quickly proceeded to elaborate. "I talked it over with Professor Fleming and we found the best formula for the situation. Based on his suggestion, I went to the University administration and applied for a sabbatical. The application was approved this morning, effective immediately. I can go back and finish my studies any time I want. Besides, I've only got twelve credits left."
Mary crossed her arms and tapped a foot on the concrete floor of the garage. "Does your father know about this?"
"I may have told him what the new job entails. But he said it's OK as long as I keep my word and go back to school once my business is running smoothly."
"Huh. I'll have a nice long talk with both you and your father later about the need to keep me informed of such matters, but for now I only hope you'll get your degree one day, like you promised."
"You know me, Mom. I hate leaving things unfinished," he tried to reassure her. Then he turned to Morgan. "Not a word about this to Ellie, OK? I want to break the news to her myself." Chuck was very much relieved as he saw how well his mother was taking it. Of course, he and his Dad would be in the doghouse for a couple of days, but it was nothing they couldn't live with.
Ellie Bartowski, however, was another matter. The moment the word 'sabbatical' left Chuck's lips, she grabbed hold of his ear and twisted it – painfully. "I hope you're just pulling my leg now, Charles Irving Bartowski," she ground out.
"Babe," Devon began, trying to rescue Chuck from Ellie.
"Not now, Devon." She turned back to Chuck. "Well?"
"Let go of my ear. I'm not six any more."
"Really? You could have fooled me." But she let go anyway.
"She wanted to become either a teacher or a doctor," Chuck told Devon, as he was rubbing his hurting ear. "Ellie, I'm serious. This is what I wanted: to make a good living by designing computers and programs."
"This is no reason to drop out of school," she pointed out. Seeing him about to object, she amended her statement. "OK, OK, temporarily interrupting your studies. Can't you do both at the same time?"
"I thought about it, but it's impossible to work on the project within the contract specified timeline and make the mandatory attendance in Stanford. I only have twelve credits left, anyway, and I've completed the more important classes."
"Did you tell Mom and Dad?"
"Yes, and they agreed with my reasoning. Mom took a little convincing, but Dad was behind me all the way from the start."
"Well, you're an adult, although occasionally that merits some debate. Do what you have to do, but be warned. I'll be reminding you of your promise to go back to school and get your degree." And there the discussion ended. Aside from his reddened and throbbing ear, Chuck had managed to come out of the conversation intact. For his part, Devon was glad that an intervention on his part to save his girlfriend's brother had not been required. Now, the ball was in Chuck's court. He had to prove to everyone, and by everyone meaning his family and closest friends, as well as himself, that he had made the right choice. He was determined to succeed in the new business, generating a hefty income for himself and equally hefty returns for his investors, as well as get his degree from Stanford at the earliest opportunity.