The Boys of McKinley House

Chapter One—Facts and Figures

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At 8:52 in the morning, Sunday, September fourth, aboard Pan Am flight 929 from Kennedy International Airport to a nameless airport in Portland, Oregon (estimated time of arrival 11:41 AM, Pacific Standard Time), David Jacobs was flying alone for the first time in his life. The plane had reached a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, with a ground speed of 537 miles per hour and an outside temperature of -57 degrees Fahrenheit; ice crystals could already be observed forming on some of the passenger windows. David had been in the air for eleven minutes, with five and a half hours left to go, which translated into about three hundred and thirty minutes, or 19,800 seconds, if you wanted an even more exact measurement. He wouldn't be coming home again for nine months; how many seconds that was, he wasn't sure.

He wanted to keep track of all these details because, at the age of sixteen years, three months, and twelve days, very little had happened to him, and he wanted to make sure he remembered everything that had.

He had never gotten blind drunk, or crashed a car, or even driven a car, as there was no point in getting your license when you live in a place like New York, anyway. He had never slept out under the stars, hitchhiked down the New Jersey Turnpike, looked down the barrel of a gun, or danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight. He had never (as his friend Dutchy Pulaski had) woken to find himself in a garbage dump somewhere in the Meadowlands, tripping out of his mind, and, with no idea how he had gotten there or how he would find his way home, lain on a pile of coffee grounds, lemon rinds, and Coney Island whitefish, and watched the nuclear sunrise. He had never fallen in love, or kissed a girl, or even been a member of the raincoat brigade at one of the X-rated movie theaters that lined the streets downtown, including one two blocks from his house that had shown Deep Throat every single night for the last five years.

At sixteen years, three months and twelve days, the greatest thing he had to show for his time on earth was a record of dental hygiene almost as perfect as his grades, a gift for telling teachers just what they wanted to hear, and long string of near-flawless test scores stretching back to his third grade ERB's.

It was this last that had allowed him to end up where he was today. The year before, he had done very well on the PSAT, and in addition to letters from college telling him that you were never too young to think about a higher education, he had also been sent information from Caldwell Academy.

The first time he ever heard of the school was when he read the return address on the thin white envelope that arrived one afternoon in November: The Caldwell Academy of St. Helens, Oregon, Thaw and Rosemary Hall. He tried saying it a few times standing there next to the mailbox in his hat and gloves: Caldwell Academy, Thaw and Rosemary, Rosemary and Thaw. To someone whose father was a barber, it had a nice ring to it.

Printed on the front of the envelope, in the same excitable imperative that he read on signs at the grocery store down the street, proclaiming things like "Buy Kornblatt's Brisket!" or "Sale All Evap Milk Must GO!" were these words:

Get a First-Rate Education!

He would never have imagined that, ten months later, he would actually be following through on their advice.

Inside was a letter from the headmaster, saying that, due to information the school had received from the College Board, he, David Jacobs, seemed like a perfect candidate for admission to the "vibrant and diverse environment that is Caldwell Academy." He also said that he could try to explain what Caldwell was like, but David would never truly understand until he had experienced it for himself—until he had discussed the second battle of Manassas over scrambled eggs in the dining hall with his history professor, sat in the Wilbur McKinley library reading Nietzsche for his Intellectual History class, or watched the sun set over the Columbia River. Which didn't sound all that bad to David. So he sent away for a viewbook and more information, as the letter suggested, not quite knowing what he wanted from it, only that it would never in a million years be something he could possibly hope to be a part of, and wisely choosing to ignore the fact that an application would be sent to him as well.

The Caldwell Academy of St. Helens, Oregon, Thaw and Rosemary hall. Founded in 1910 by two brothers, graduates of Exeter and then Princeton, who wished to bring a boys' preparatory school to their home in the Pacific Northwest that would be as fine as any eastern counterpart. Coeducational in 1959, current student body 595. Located thirty miles north of Portland, on five hundred verdant acres overlooking the town of St. Helens, home to over four hundred types of tree and shrub. In the letter enclosed with his application materials, he was advised to come for his interview in early March, when the lilacs were in their fullest bloom.

His mother found the application and viewbook two weeks later, when she was doing her monthly search through his bedroom for dirty magazines. (His sister Sarah kept a copy of The Communist Manifesto hidden under her mattress, but there was nothing they could do about that. Sarah, Mrs. Jacobs had come to accept, was just the bad seed of the family.) But instead of Hustler or Penthouse—which, God forbid, she still would have been able to understand—she found a glossy booklet proclaiming that "Caldwell Academy is the finest and oldest preparatory school on the west coast, and prides itself on a history of dynamic educators and individual attention to the student."

David came home that afternoon to find his mother sitting at the kitchen table, sobbing over pictures of teenagers cheering at lacrosse games, giving speeches at their graduations, and having animated discussions in class.

"David," she wailed, "is this what you've been looking at every night? Is this why you've been losing so much sleep?"

"Well, um, Mom, you see, that's a funny story—you know Dutchy's new girlfriend, Margo? Well, her cousin—"

"Your father may not know when you're lying, David, but I do. Tell me the truth."

"I want to go there, Mom," he said, suddenly realizing that this was the truth as he knew it.

"You know we can't afford this. Your father can only cut so much hair."

"I know, but—"

"And what about your sister, David? Sarah's a communist! How do you think she'll take it if you start going to some hoity-toity prep school?"

"Actually, I thought that might kind of be incentive for you."

"It is," she said, drying her eyes. "But that's beside the point. You and I both know we can't even begin to pay for something like this."

"Well, actually," he said, picking up the application forms and beginning to flip through them, "they accept on a need-blind basis. And once you're in, you can get a lot of financial aid; all we have to do is send in our tax forms, and I can get some scholarships too, probably. After I did so well on the PSAT they made me a national merit scholar, and my grades are good enough." By the time he stopped to catch his breath, he had nearly convinced himself. "I did the math. If we're lucky, we'll only have to pay eight hundred dollars a year."

David's mother closed her eyes a moment, thought about her communist insurgent daughter, and then thought about her son; how he ended up as smart as he was she had no idea. She thought about how he had never done less than the best he or anyone else could possibly do, had never met a subject he couldn't master. She thought about his fifth grade victory in the state spelling bee with "obstreperous"; about all the Saturdays they had spent in the planetarium, at the museum of natural history, looking at the moth wings and bird skeletons, all those rainy afternoons in the Metropolitan Museum. She thought about how, after his father made a desperate attempt to get him interested in anything normal and boy-like by taking him to games and quizzing him nightly on the history of baseball, David had responded memorizing the names, number, and batting averages of every person who had ever played for the New York Yankees all the way back to when the Boston Red Sox were the Boston Bean-Eaters and Italians were ethnics and ethnics weren't even allowed on any of the teams. And the more she thought about it, the more she realized that this was what her son had been waiting for for his entire life.

"Fine," she said, looking up at him. "We'll think about it. Don't get it into your head that we're promising you anything, though. And you'd better get all the financial aid you can, because I can tell you we're not paying for all this. Now. Would you like some cocoa?"

They didn't get in for eight hundred dollars, of course. They got in for free. David won a full ride for a year; even Sarah managed to rationalize her misgivings by deciding that David's best chance of toppling the bourgeoisie was by working from the inside, so she could still hug her brother goodbye at the airport, and wish him well.

And so it happened that David S. Jacobs, aged sixteen years, three months, and twelve days, came to be on an airplane by himself for the first time in his young life, and also, for the first time in his young life, to be flying somewhere other than Florida. It was the first thing he would do in his junior year that he had never done before. It would not, by any means, be the last.

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Author's Note: And so it happened that Dakki, who in the coming year was going to go through her last year of high school at her own west coast prep school, not to mention applying to college, decided to start a fic, just in case she had any foreseeable free time in the next nine months that needed to be filled up. And, as always, it is completely unbiographical.

Plus, Dalton's looking forward to finally reading a fic set in a world he understands—coming from Welton, it's been hard for this annoying yet semi-cute preppie muse to adjust to reading all these stories about newsboys. He always says things like "why doesn't Race ever have to worry about his Latin homework?" and I say "Race doesn't have Latin homework" and he says "how can someone not have Latin homework?" Et cetera. So Dalton's really happy. Of course he won't take it well when he finds out how many roommates at Caldwell end up hooking up—

DALTON: WHAT?

So anyway, here's yet another fic to be added to the rainbow selection of newsies-in-present-day. There will be slash, there will be het, there will be Latin homework, and just to lower the stress level for me, there will be a very small casting call. I've actually planned this more than I have anything else in the past—I got the first inkling of an idea for it last summer—but I need characters to play students at Caldwell, and its rival school, Reingard-Mandler, townies from St. Helens (which is a real little town in Oregon), David's friends in New York, assorted relatives of the other newsies, and so on and so forth.

I can't guarantee that everyone will get a sizable part, but everyone who sends in information will make an appearance. If you're interested tell me in your review or email me at ElisabethRaincoat (at) Gmail (dot) com, and I'll send you the casting call as soon as I can.

DALTON: I'M NOT GAY! AND REVIEW!

…What he said. And if you could possibly include Dalton's masculinity and hotness on a scale of 1 to 10, we would all appreciate it around here.