Not So Different

67. Outlook: Sonny With A Few Clouds

Sonny didn't know which colleges his fellow twelfth-graders were applying to, and he liked it that way. It meant that for a little longer he could cherish the daydream of a future where he never again had to hear from or see Kevin Thompson or Charles 'Upchuck' Ruttheimer or Brittany Taylor or that guy with the tattoos and the piercings and the chain running from his nose ring to his earring, whose name Sonny had narrowly avoided learning when they both equally implausibly found their way onto the yearbook staff. Sonny looked back with pride on all the classmates he'd succeeded in not getting to know, even if some of them had beaten him up. If by the usual pattern of misfortune he did end up at college with some of those knuckle-draggers, or some of the jocks or cheerleaders or suck-ups or grinds or bigots or popularity hounds or fashion fiends, maybe he'd be able to continue avoiding them, but wouldn't it be nice if he didn't have to make the effort? How could he bring himself to complete his applications to Raft or Lloyd or Ellis or Bromwell if he knew some of those people were applying to the same place? No doubt he'd find out soon enough that there were just as many disappointing people at college. He could use even a temporary reprieve. So for now, this particular ignorance was, if not bliss, at least lower down on the list of circumstances ranked in order of unpleasantness.

He did know that Jane was applying to Lawndale State and to State University. He was trying to aim a little higher than that himself. In a way, he was expecting Jane to aim a little higher too. She had expressed interest in going to Boston Fine Arts College, but apparently she'd been having trouble putting together the 'killer art portfolio' required with the application. (He'd accidentally interrupted the process by inviting her out for pizza, and she'd told him that she'd 'only cried tears of relief for ten minutes'.) The only positive she seemed to be seeing in BFAC was that it was in the same town as Raft—they could, she said, 'meet on the weekends to eat pizza and complain'. ('Well', Sonny had replied, 'they say college is all about broadening your horizons.')

Attractive as the picture was that Jane painted, Raft was only his second choice, behind Bromwell. But applying to Bromwell presented him with a 'portfolio problem' of his own: they emphasised wide-ranging extracurriculars much more than he liked. 'Damn well-rounded crap', as Jane had said.

Of course there was another way to 'round out' your 'portfolio' for Bromwell. You could come from a family of prestigious alumni. A family like the Sloanes, for example. Tom's uncle had donated a building. Tom kept insisting it was only a wing, as if that made a difference. (He'd also told Sonny not to worry. 'You'll get into Bromwell with your incredible test scores and grades. I'll get in the old fashioned way: bribery and nepotism.')

Still, despite Jane's sarcastic remarks on the subject, and whatever Tom's motivation might be, Sonny wanted to go to Bromwell because it was an outstanding university, not because the students engaged in the rectal transport of steel rods.

Besides, he had to try a lot of places. If he didn't get rejected more than once, his mother would think he hadn't sent out enough applications. She'd probably agree with Tom's theory that a lot of rejections were good preparation for a career as a writer.

His father, on the other hand, was easily reassured by being told that under no circumstances would Sonny ever consider any military academy. He'd been so pleased about this that Sonny had seized the opportunity to let him know that he wasn't going to Middleton, either, smothering the protests about Middleton being a family tradition by pointing out that so was military school. It had even seemed a propitious moment to bring up the idea of Sonny's going on a road trip with Tom to check out colleges, first to Bromwell and then after that to the Boston area (Tom said that was where all his 'safeties' were). Sonny's father had not only approved, he'd gone so far as to persuade Sonny's mother to go along with the idea as well. All she asked Sonny was that he try to be enthusiastic when meeting the college representatives—try to be less unenthusiastic?—at least not insult them to their faces?

Sonny told her he was sure he could guarantee to avoid physical violence.

Sonny finally got in for his appointment to see Lisa Goldwin in the Bromwell admissions office after she finished up her three-quarters of an hour with Tom. The two of them came out of her room chatting like old pals about a Sloane family story Tom had apparently been recounting. As Lisa Goldwin escorted Sonny in for his interview, she wondered aloud whether he was 'as full of Bromwell lore as Tom'.

'Um', said Sonny, already starting to hate himself, 'I doubt it', privately thinking, Tom seems to be really full of it.

Once Sonny was seated across from her at her desk, he realised that his mind was automatically reverting to the pattern where he skimmed lightly across the wave crests of somebody else's conversation, absorbing just enough to remain in contact with the main flow. This time, that would definitely not cut it. He needed to focus all his powers of concentration on exactly what she was saying. Unfortunately, the effort of doing so seemed to freeze up the part of his brain he needed to generate usable responses. He was aware that his eyes were shifting evasively from one side of the room to the other, but he didn't seem to be able to stop them. It also didn't help that she was asking stock questions about his impressions of Bromwell and his reasons for wanting to attend. He eventually managed to force sentences out of his mouth. Or perhaps they were only phrases. They made him wish he could forget them as fast as he uttered them—especially the agonising 'ums' and 'ummms'—which only made the whole attention problem worse.

Eventually Lisa Goldwin asked him whether everything was all right.

If she was asking him whether everything was all right, obviously everything was not all right.

'Ummm', he said (No! Dammit, no!), 'do you think we might possibly start over, and this time, I'll just answer your questions instead of agonising over them internally and then blurting out something asinine?'

She laughed professionally and said, 'Sure'.

Sure Sonny was not.

When he found himself back with Tom in the outer office, Tom suggested that they get a cup of coffee.

'We should probably get going', Sonny said, 'if we want to make Boston by dinner.'

Tom looked at him closely and lowered his voice. 'That bad, huh?'

Sonny's glance flicked quickly to the secretary. 'If you want to talk about it …'

'Right', Tom said briskly, 'let's get going. Don't want to be late to Boston.'

As they headed back towards where Tom had parked his car, Sonny explained. 'Once I stopped worrying about what to say and just said it, I thought the interview went okay, but by then I'd used up five of my fifteen minutes.' He looked across at Tom. 'There's something you're not saying.'

'Well, I did notice you weren't in there so long … listen, we can focus on Raft tomorrow. I don't really need to visit any more colleges.'

Don't you? Sonny said to himself. I thought all your 'safeties' were supposed to be in Boston. This time Tom didn't pick up any hint of his thought processes.

They got to Boston a little later than they'd planned that night, and they got a late start in the morning, and then it started raining, so they didn't get quite as good a look at the Raft campus as Sonny had hoped. It wasn't bad, though, even if it wasn't in the same class as Bromwell, which had libraries big enough to park a jumbo jet in. And Sonny did talk with somebody in the admissions office.

When Tom cautiously inquired following his interview, Sonny said, 'Maybe that experience at Bromwell wasn't all bad.'

Tom's face fell. 'Hey, Sonny, I'm really sorry …'

'No, I meant that maybe I learned something from it that helped me to be more comfortable the second time around.'

'Oh, sorry I misunderstood. I just assumed—'

Sonny finished the thought for him. '—that I was as usual expressing my relentlessly sour view of the world, implying that this went so badly that even what happened at Bromwell improved in comparison. No, I think this interview went well. It helped that I got the feeling that she was just as much trying to persuade me that Raft was right for me as she was trying to find out whether I was right for Raft.' Unlike your pal Lisa Goldwin at Bromwell, he thought, but Tom didn't pick up on it.

He didn't pick up the opportunity for an interview of his own at Raft, either. 'We don't want to be too late back to Lawndale', he said. 'And the rain isn't going to make the traffic situation any better.'

'Okay', Sonny said. 'Seeing as there isn't anything else for us in Boston.'

When Sonny got home, his parents asked him how the trip had gone.

'Well, we only had time for Bromwell and Raft.'

'Those are the ones you're most interested in, aren't you?' his mother said. 'And they're both schools with great reputations. What did you think?'

Sonny was feeling the weight of his suitcase. He shifted his grip. 'I think Raft likes me better than Bromwell does, and I think Tom likes Bromwell better than Raft. He saw all the good stuff about it, and didn't seem to find the smugness a drawback.'

His mother's face took on a patient look. 'You know, Sonny, Bromwell's high opinion of itself does have some justification.'

'Remember that if I go there and then come home on break referring to you two as "the farmers".'

'What?' Sonny's father said.

'It's a joke, Jake', his mother said heavily, before responding to Sonny. 'We're glad to see you aiming high', she said, the words 'for once' visibly left unspoken, 'but in the end it's your choice, and we respect that.'

'That's right!' his father said. 'Whatever choice my boy makes is good enough for me!'

'Thanks, Dad … I guess.' Sonny heaved a sigh. 'I'm really tired after the trip. I'm heading for bed.'

Sonny had been thinking of writing a short story, but now he figured he was about twenty pages too deep for 'short' to be applicable. Before he could get deeper, Tom rang to ask whether he wanted to see Rope. 'I thought a film about bumping off your Ivy League classmate would help us get in the spirit for next year.'

'Hmm', Sonny said, chewing at his lower lip. Tom wanted to take him to a film. 'I'll admit, a good murder movie never fails to cheer me up.'

Tom suggested it would save him time if he didn't have to pick Sonny up. Sonny made no objection to just meeting there.

'Great!' Tom said. 'See you inside at seven-thirty.'

The exchange complete, Sonny resumed typing at the point where he'd broken off, but within a minute he paused again and called Tom back with second thoughts, explaining that, 'I really shouldn't leave my protagonist all alone just after her eyeballs have burst. How about later in the week?'

Tom acquiesced, suggesting that Sonny call when he was free. Sonny again moved back to his story.


'Yes. Stacy.'

'Um … Quinn says you don't believe in angels?'

'Yes. That's right. I don't', said Sonny, with a complete absence of additional meaning.

'But what about curses? Do you believe in curses? Quinn said she thought you probably don't believe in any of that stuff, but just because you don't believe in angels doesn't have to mean you don't believe in curses? Does it?'

Sonny didn't want to give the question any consideration, but he couldn't help himself. 'I know that sometimes people say things or do things which are intended to lay curses on other people.' He was about to go on to explain about autosuggestion, but Stacy didn't give him a chance.

'But I didn't intend it! Really I didn't!' She began breathing harder and faster. 'See, we were having a cake for my birthday, and Sandi kept interrupting me while I was trying to blow out the candle, so I wished she'd just be quiet, and then after that she came down with laryngitis and lost her voice, but I didn't mean to curse her! And Quinn said I should find somebody who was an expert on hoodoos to tell me how to lift the curse, and you're the only person I know who's an expert on anything!'

'I'm not an expert on curses.'

'Then what am I going to do?' Stacy started to hyperventilate.

'If you didn't say anything out loud, there's no way Sandi or anybody else could know about your wish, and if nobody but you knew about it then there's no way it could have had any effect on anybody.'

Stacy managed to bring herself sufficiently under control to ask Sonny whether he was sure. Sonny confirmed it, but Stacy still did not look convinced.

That piece of light entertainment was not enough to distract Sonny from his own concerns. At least he could talk with Jane, as they walked home from school together, about how he was feeling, or at least part of how he was feeling, the part about how waiting to hear whether he'd been accepted into college sucked, 'although it does provide the unexpected benefit of taking my mind off every other aspect of my life'.

He thought Jane could have confided in him, as he was confiding in her, but she was cryptically ambivalent about doing so. He wasn't sure whether he should be suspicious of the difficulty in getting the information to flow from her to him or the ease.

The story, or as much of it as he got, was that she'd been rejected by Lawndale State and State University. But given her lack of respect for their art teachers, she could hardly have wanted to go to either of them anyway, surely? That couldn't really be an adequate explanation for her decision not even to submit her portfolio to BFAC, could it? And when she told him that she'd discussed that decision with Trent, how could she possibly have intended that as reassurance?

She did have an argument which, as a general proposition, he could see had merit: that not everybody went to college, that lots of people succeeded in art and in other fields without formal education—especially if the formal education was provided by 'untalented dopes', like the art departments at Lawndale State and State University. It was allegedly only 'Sloane-esque snobbery' that was stopping Sonny from seeing this.

Sonny's problem was not with the general proposition, but with the particular application: not just the particular application of the concept of 'Sloane-esque snobbery' to himself (this wasn't the time to quarrel with Jane about that, he'd save it up for later), but more importantly the particular application of the whole argument to the Jane Lane who was now telling him, 'I gotta be footloose'.

Sonny told her 'screw loose' was nearer the mark. 'I'm not saying everybody has to go to college. I'm saying old footloose Jane Lane doesn't know all there is to know yet about art or anything else, and may be making an ill-advised decision to end her education based on temporary, if admittedly justified, disappointment.'

Just at this point they reached the Morgendorffer house. Jane stopped, turned towards Sonny, and folded her arms. 'Sonny, you're so predictable' she said, as she thrust her face forward and then pulled back again. 'I knew you were going to try to talk me out of this.'

'Is that why you brought it up?'

Maybe he'd carelessly let too much into his voice. Jane gave a shrug and cocked an eyebrow at him. 'Look, Dr Freud, I appreciate your concern and all, but our forty-five minutes are up. See you later.' She unfolded her arms, turned again and walked on. He was left with some thoughts about what she'd said about him and some thoughts about what she'd said about herself, but for a moment he was distracted from both by the bundle of mail waiting for him. He picked it up and carried it inside.

The contents of the promisingly big thick envelope from Raft told him that he'd been accepted.

The contents of the ominously small thin envelope from Bromwell told him, after the depressingly clichéd softening phrases, that he'd been 'wait-listed'. Just to be sure he got the message, the writer—or the automatic form-letter generator—had followed up with an explanation of why the 'waiting list' was 'exceptionally' long this year.

Just at that moment his mother walked into the room. He gave her the two pieces of news and she supplied the formally appropriate congratulations and commiserations, respectively. She also made a feeble attempt to persuade him that he might still get into Bromwell, which she abandoned when he withered it with the contempt it deserved. (Did she not know who she was talking to?)

'Sweetheart', she went on to say, having taken a seat across from Sonny, 'I know you're disappointed, but Raft is a great university, and it's smaller than Bromwell, so you'll probably get more individual attention.'

'Says the woman who thinks Bromwell is a magic carpet ride to success', Sonny said, looking at the floor. 'Don't patronise me.'

'Don't patronise me, Sonny. I haven't changed my opinion of Bromwell, but I haven't changed my opinion of Raft, either. It's a wonderful school.'

Sonny stood up. 'It's just not the wonderful school', he said as he left the room.

When he was up in his bedroom, the phone rang. If he had been firing on all cylinders, he would have reckoned that Tom's letter from Bromwell was likely to arrive at the same time as his own, and he would have guessed that Tom would call when it did. Maybe he had half-realised, subconsciously, but at best he had been only partly ready. Something in his voice when he greeted Tom must have given a hint. He'd have to watch out for that in future. Tom asked him what was wrong. At least he had a good answer.

'It looks like my team isn't going to make the play-offs. Oh, and I've been wait-listed at Bromwell.'

Tom explained that nobody got in from the wait-list as if it were a piece of information Sonny might not already have. Sonny asked him to stop being so diplomatic. Tom apologised for blurting and explained he'd been shocked as if that were a piece of information Sonny might not already have.

'I did get accepted to Raft', Sonny said, failing to change the subject.

'I can't believe it. I was sure you'd get in.'

Obviously Tom's head had been full of images of himself and his boyfriend at Bromwell together. Sonny tried to break in by saying, 'Did I mention that I was accepted at Raft?'

This time Tom registered, but he was still having difficulty with a positive response. Sonny was accustomed to flat responses, but this was different. He asked Tom to control his enthusiasm. Tom was saying good things about Raft, but Sonny knew that it was still Bromwell on his mind. He prompted Tom for confirmation of the reason for his call.

Tom said nothing, so Sonny filled in the blank for him, and Tom half-heartedly owned up.

'Well, surprise of surprises', Sonny said. 'A Sloane at Bromwell.'

When Tom had been sublimely confident that Sonny's 'incredible' grades and test scores would get him into Bromwell, he'd had no trouble saying that he'd get in himself by nepotism. He'd had no hesitation about working the family connection for all it was worth in his interview, and before that in his application (his parents had reviewed it to make sure he hadn't left any relatives out of the alumni section). But now, unsurprisingly, he was defensive.

'Your uncle built them a wing', Sonny said. 'The only thing that might have kept you out of Bromwell is a murder conviction, and even then, only if you'd killed the Dean of Students.'

'Hey, it's not my fault you had a shaky interview. You said yourself it wasn't as good as the one you had at Raft.'

'Maybe because the admissions office at Raft had no reason to look for ancestor anecdotes as a sign of my qualifications.'

There was an edge in Tom's voice now. 'Are you saying it was my fault you had a shaky interview? because I told all those stories to that Lisa Goldwin and created expectations in her mind that you didn't match?'

'You don't think that had anything to do with it.'

'I don't know', Tom said. 'Look, Bromwell may be full of old family friends of the Sloanes, but Lisa Goldwin isn't one of them. I didn't have any advantage of prior acquaintance and, yeah, I used some stuff I was lucky enough to know to try to make a good impression on her. Isn't that supposed to be the point of an interview? Is it wrong to use the things you know? Did you want me to set out to create a negative impression? If I did create an atmosphere that made things more difficult for you, and I'm only saying if, then that wasn't the idea, but I'm sorry things worked out that way. May I remind you of something?'

'Is it some other way you think I'm being unreasonable?'

'Actually, no. Do you remember when we first got together, I told you about how I understood how the whole thing with my family and the club and everything else, which I suppose would have included Bromwell, could make you feel uncomfortable?'

Sonny grunted in acknowledgement.

'Well, I can still see that. But it's also true what I said then, that there's nothing I can do about it. All I can do is offer to share some of the advantages with you. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that my family connections at Bromwell did help me get in. I'm sure that my parents would be happy to write a letter of recommendation for you. What do you say?'

'Yes, Virginia, there really is such a thing as noblesse oblige. Thanks, but I'll pass. I'd rather get in on my own merits, and besides, I think I'm gonna like Raft just fine.'

'You sure?'

'Yeah' Sonny said, 'but again, I say thanks.' He scratched behind his ear. 'And thanks for taking me to Boston to see the place.'

'Well, thanks for coming with me to see Bromwell, no matter how it worked out. I enjoyed taking the road trip, apart from anything else.'

'Yeah, me too.'

They'd barely hung up when Sonny's mother came into the room and asked to finish their conversation. Sonny reported Tom's news as evidence that Bromwell wasn't rejecting everyone.

'Oh, well', his mother said, 'some people have a certain … edge over the rest of us.'

'You don't say.' Sonny blinked and cleared his throat. 'I shouldn't have snapped at you. You were the one who told me about the advantages of a Bromwell education, but on the other hand I did just get finished telling Tom that I think I'm going to like Raft just fine.'

Sonny's mother sat down on the bed next to him. 'I know you would have preferred to get into your first-choice college, and it was my first choice for you too, but look at me', she said, putting her hand to her chest for emphasis. 'I applied to college with the height of the baby boom. Competition was so fierce I got rejected from my first and second choices. I wound up at Middleton, which isn't half the school Raft is.'

'I noticed you weren't as keen on it as Dad, fortunately.'

'Your father needs to maintain certain illusions about his youth in order to function. It's'—Sonny's mother forced a laugh—'cute. I made the most of the education I did get at Middleton, and so will you, at a much better school. You should be proud of getting into Raft. I know I'm proud for you. And I know you're destined for great things no matter where you go to school.'

Sonny cocked an eyebrow and said, 'All right, then. I suppose I can stop worrying about getting into college and start worrying about this disgusting elitism I've managed to develop during the process.'

His mother cocked an eyebrow back at him. 'Good. That'll keep you from worrying about what kind of weirdo you'll get for a roommate.'

Sonny let his face fall and gave the obligatory groan.

Sonny had invited Jane out for pizza. Now that his own college future was settled, he wanted to ask Jane again about submitting her portfolio to BFAC. She'd made a point of telling him that she'd decided not to, but that was exactly it—she'd made a point of telling him. He'd checked, and although the normal submission deadline had passed, it wasn't too late to apply for mid-year entry. He hoped, because he paid for the pizza, that she'd feel too obligated to storm off in a huff when he raised the subject. Instead of plunging straight into it, he confided his own story to her. She thought it was decent of Tom to suggest that his parents might write to Bromwell on Sonny's behalf.

'I did think', Sonny said, 'that at least being gay meant avoiding sappy clichés from the kind of romance novel where the troubled young viscount decides the lowly kitchen maid is good enough for him after all. At least in that genre the troubled young viscount would never make advances to the stable boy.'

'I see you more in the role of the boots', Jane said.

'And why should the Sloanes' seal of approval matter more to Bromwell than my transcripts?'

Jane pretended to quote from the letter the Sloanes might write. 'Dear Dean Skippy, please admit Sonny. He's a fine young man, even if he isn't one of us.'

'Exactly. Besides, if they write a recommendation, it'll just make it that much worse when I do get that ultimate rejection.'

'You are very wise for a humble hall boy', Jane said, 'and generous too', she added, turning the subject to Sonny's motive for paying for the pizza, as he had hoped. According to plan, he raised the subject of her BFAC portfolio; as expected, she mentioned the submission deadline and he countered with the mid-year entry date. Then she repeated her opinion (her half-baked opinion, Sonny thought) that she and college were incompatible, before admitting that with the application requirement hanging over her head she hadn't been able to paint anything up to BFAC entry standards. Sonny remembered the joke she'd made about tears of relief the last time he'd invited her out for pizza. He hadn't really believed then that Jane would seriously be so stressed about applying to college—but it meant, he realised, that it did matter to her, no matter what else she said. She further confirmed this—and that the development of her talent also still mattered to her—by telling him that she'd started doing 'some really interesting stuff' again as soon as the pressure was off.

'So it's the old "reject them before they reject me" ', he said.

'Yeah', Jane said, 'the same thing you're doing with Bromwell.'

That didn't sound like a valid analogy to Sonny. He had applied to Bromwell, offering himself up for rejection and receiving it. When he pointed this out to Jane, she said that she'd done the same with State U and Lawndale State.

That didn't sound like a valid analogy to Sonny, either. He had really cared about Bromwell. Despite everything, it was an excellent school. Jane had no opinion of the two schools that had rejected her, or at any rate of their art departments. When he pointed this out, Jane revealed more of the truth. The lack of real interest in art at State University and Lawndale State was such that submitting a portfolio wasn't even part of the application process for their art departments.

'Wait', he said. 'You get rejected by schools that don't care if you have artistic talent, but the one that does care, you decide not to go for?'

Still on the defensive, Jane kept the invalid analogies coming by comparing her decision to avoid rejection by not applying to BFAC with his decision not to let the Sloanes write to Bromwell on his behalf. For Sonny, there was still something more important than straightening the score. If Jane thought the two things were equivalents, well …

'I'll make you a deal.' Sonny gathered himself. Time to fish or cut bait. 'If I prostrate myself before the Sloanes and ask them for that letter, will you finish your portfolio and send it to BFAC?'

'God, Sonny!' Jane's eyes narrowed in totally unjustified surprise and her shoulders twitched. 'You must really think I have a shot.'

'And all I had to do to convince you was offer myself up for a round of thoroughly gratuitous humiliation.'

'Well, I guess I wouldn't be much of a friend if I deprived you of that. You drive a hard bargain, Morgendorffer, but you've got yourself a deal.'

Sonny Morgendorffer made good on his commitments. He made the call to the Sloanes as soon as he got home. Tom knew Jane, Sonny could have told him the real reason he'd changed his mind, but … he couldn't tell Tom, Tom knew Jane. At least Tom was pleased. The only crumb of consolation Sonny could extract from the call was the opportunity to suggest that Tom's parents could just send out 'the form letter'.

'Right', Tom wisecracked back at him, 'the good form letter.'

Maybe it was the good form letter they sent, but whatever it was, it failed to work the charm. Bromwell did write to him again, but only to say that he definitely wasn't getting into the freshman class. His mother commiserated with him, and his father started ranting about the idiocy of Bromwell in rejecting a smart boy like Sonny.

'You know what?' Sonny said. 'I'm not even sorry.'

His mother said, 'You have nothing to be sorry about.'

His father kept ranting. 'Stuffy arrogant …'—he paused to affect a haughty, snobbish voice—'Oh, look at us, we're Bromwell!' Then he returned to a normal voice. 'So long as this doesn't drive you into a military academy! You know, we might be able to find a way to get you into Middleton after all …'

'Jake!' Sonny's mother said. 'Sonny's already been accepted into Raft! What are you talking about?' She looked at Sonny. 'Didn't you tell your father?'

Sonny looked back at her. 'I assumed you'd told him.'

His father said, 'It doesn't matter who told me! My son's going to Raft! That's gonna be great, Sonny! Raft's a damned good school! Better than any military academy!' He started to give his son the kind of friendly male-bonding shoulder-punch that Sonny loathed, checked himself, and embraced him instead. Sonny couldn't account for his own pleasure.

He expected no pleasure from delivering the news to Tom. They were sitting in a booth at the pizzeria having a slice each when the subject eventually came up, with Tom, who was exceptionally buoyant, mentioning that they hadn't checked out the pizza when they were in Newtown. That gave Sonny the opening to explain that he would be in Boston. It took Tom a moment to take in the implication, but when he did, he exhibited not just shock but also bafflement and distress. In that moment Sonny realised that, although he regretted a little having punctured Tom's mood, for himself he felt mostly relief. He was pleased to be going to Raft. He'd given Bromwell his best effort, all the way up to supplicating Sloane assistance, and in the end it hadn't panned out. Well, that was all right. Tom was bothered that a glowing recommendation from his parents (or so he described it; Sonny wondered idly what it had actually said, and why Tom had seen it but he hadn't) wasn't the key to every lock, but Sonny had never counted on it in the same way. He found himself able to make a wisecrack about it to Tom, about how he was 'such a loser, even a nod from the Sloanes couldn't help me'.

Tom wouldn't see the humour, becoming defensive, almost as if he imagined that Sonny might actually be thinking of himself as a loser and blaming Tom for it. So Sonny turned serious and explained that even without all the Sloane advantages, he was not a loser. Tom was still protesting defensively about his family advantages, and Sonny found himself turning his head away from his boyfriend to look down at the floor for a moment. When he looked up again he realised what decision he'd reached.

'Listen', he said to Tom. 'You're a smart guy and a good student.' He felt his gaze start to drift away and brought it back. 'I'm sure you deserve to get into Bromwell, and I wish you every success there.'

'Well, that's a nice thing to say, even if that Sonny Morgendorffer voice of yours makes it sound like a kiss-off … wait …'

'I think we should break up.'

Of course that, because it was the right decision, was the easy part. What he had to do next was explain it to Tom, who was still fixating on Sonny's rejection from Bromwell. Sonny dismissed that. Tom deserved the truth: they both did. It was just that the transition to college was only going to make it even more obvious that the two of them came from different places and were going to different places—not in the physical sense.

Tom's gaze shifted around for a moment. 'Sonny, when you say "physically"—you know, whether it's high school or college or whatever, I'm not looking for a girlfriend or for a boyfriend—I'm looking for the person I want to be with, and I'm not ditching anybody for being the wrong sex—I've never done that.'

Sonny took a deep breath. 'I can see how it could prey on your mind what I might be suspecting about that, but that's really not the point. Am I really the person you want to be with? Maybe you haven't recognised it yet, but we have little enough in common as it is. Now we won't see each other for months at a time, and every time we do, it'll be more difficult to pick up where we left off.'

'Not if we work at it.'

Sonny shook his head. He got the feeling that Tom, though reluctantly, was beginning to accept the truth. 'Why should we work at it when we're already getting bored?'

Tom made one final struggle to deny it, but he was silenced by Sonny's suggestion that he was just upset that Sonny had admitted the truth first. They sat for a moment in glum silence.

'You'll get over it', Sonny said, the words being what the situation called for. 'We both will.'

Jane came up to their booth, carrying her own slice of pizza.

'Hey, kids! What's new?' she said.

They both looked up from their plates to turn their heads to her. Jane could read both their faces and her own changed unmistakably.

'Oops, sorry', she said. 'Wrong table.' As she walked away to find another booth they looked back at each other silently.

Sonny had gratefully been seeing less of Quinn than usual. The most recent in a string of expensive sprees on the parental credit card had broken the camel's back, and their parents—well, mainly their mother—had insisted on Quinn's getting a part-time job to repay the money. It had taken up so much of her time that she'd even had to take a sabbatical from her 'duties' with the Fashion Club. Sonny had a vague impression that the experience had not worked out badly for Quinn, but more importantly it had worked out well for him. Too bad his last summer at home couldn't be blessed by Quinn's getting a three-month contract on an offshore oil-rig.

These were not the thoughts running through his mind on the evening he sat at home in front of a switched-off television after breaking up with Tom, not even when Quinn came into the room. Her mood seemed to match his, except that she wanted to talk about it. He didn't bother paying full attention to their conversation. Quinn needed only the barest of prompts from him to keep going. He gleaned that her concern was about a workmate with a drinking problem and whether Quinn should say anything to her.

'I don't really feel qualified to give any advice on interpersonal relationships today', he said.

'Why not?'

'I just broke up with my boyfriend. It's kind of a first for me', he said. 'So is this feeling in my stomach like it's been through a paper shredder.'

Quinn was surprised that Sonny had broken up with Tom—almost as surprised as Sonny himself had been—and was curious about the explanation. Sonny didn't feel like going through all that again so soon, not with Quinn or with anybody else, and just fed her some woolly clichés: 'come to the end', 'both move on'.

Quinn thought she did know about interpersonal relationships and was more than ready to offer Sonny unasked-for and unwanted advice. To her it seemed obvious that you didn't break up at this time of year because it would leave you with nobody to go out with for summer. Sonny was unimpressed by the idea of asking Tom to play the role of warm body.

'You don't tell him, Sonny', Quinn said, as if it should be as obvious to him as it was to her.

'For some reason, I continue to opt for honesty', said Sonny, 'despite mounting evidence that at the end of that road is an aging queen alone in a one-room apartment with old Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand posters peeling from all the walls.'

For some other reason, Quinn was impelled to contradict him with reassurance. She'd been to a college party and thought the people were smart and nice.

As if Sonny would accept Quinn's appraisal. 'So it's the opposite of high school?' he said. That kind of luck was a pipe dream.

'You're gonna have friends and everything. I know it sounds hard to believe.'

'Gee, thanks', Sonny said reflexively. Then he thought about what Quinn was doing. 'But', he said, forcing his voice and his face into a different register, 'um, thanks.'

'You were right to be honest. That's what I'm gonna do.'

'You mean you'll hang out with me in my one-room apartment and tell me what's wrong with the décor?'

At that moment, as Quinn smiled at him, the doorbell rang and it felt to Sonny like a good time to get up and go answer it. It was Jane.

Jane, familiar as she was with how Sonny projected to the world, had reached almost the right conclusion from seeing his facial expression at the pizzeria and again now. She thought 'that bastard' Tom had dumped him, as she'd always feared.

'No', Sonny said, 'I dumped him.'

'You dumped…'—Jane leaned forward—'you're the bastard?' She leaned back again. 'Whoa.'

'Yes, I'm the bastard, and the bastard is hurting like hell.'

Sonny lay on his bed, on top of the covers, fully dressed, staring at the ceiling. The cordless phone receiver lying next to him rang and he picked it up and answered. The person at the other end did not utter a word, but Sonny was sure he heard the sound of a mouth opening and breath coming out of it, and he was sure it sounded like Tom. He imagined Tom lying on his own bed staring at the ceiling, but he didn't say anything. After another moment the connection was broken. Sonny sighed and switched off the phone.

On the last day of school Jane wanted to get straight back to a canvas she'd been working on at home, her recent spurt of inspiration continuing. Sonny walked up to his own house to see Tom's car parked outside it, with Tom next to it. Tom's face showed that he was still feeling down over the break-up. Sonny's face, naturally, showed nothing. When they'd greeted each other, Sonny made a wisecrack about not getting into Tom's car. 'That's how all this trouble started in the first place', he said.

Sonny thought this should have lightened the mood, but to his surprise Tom took him seriously and he needed to be told explicitly that Sonny was just kidding.

To Sonny's further surprise, Tom had come to him looking for reassurance. He'd accepted, after much thought, what Sonny had said about their breaking up, but he still wanted to be told that Sonny had liked him once.

Sonny didn't think Tom should have needed to be told this—why on earth would Sonny, of all people, have got involved with Tom if he didn't like him?—but it was the truth, so he didn't mind telling it. Besides, he owed it to Tom.

'Tom, come on. I still like you. You're a good guy. A little spoiled, a hair smug, a trifle egotistical …'

'This isn't going quite the way I hoped', Tom admitted candidly.

'… but a smart, funny guy who's basically very caring and sensitive in the not-pukey way', Sonny continued. 'And somebody who helped me with something important in my life. I probably would have figured out about myself eventually, but I'm glad you came along to make it happen when it did and the way it did, despite what happened with Jane. Going out with you worked out to be a really good experience for me.'

Tom took half a step towards Sonny. 'Thanks for saying that.' He scuffed at the ground with one foot. 'I really look up to you, and your opinion's important to me.'

Sonny blinked twice. 'Huh? Well, I meant what I said. I wouldn't lie to you about something like that.'

'Yeah, I know.' Tom nodded. 'Do you think next year I could call you from school, and we could compare notes on our lives in a completely non-romantic fashion? You know, like friends?'

'You mean like maybe we could compare notes about good-looking males in Boston and in Newtown? Hmm, yeah.' Sonny thought quickly, and with an effort changed his voice to sound less like wisecracking. 'Yeah! That's a good idea. Call me. Or I'll call you. That'll be nice.' He was pleased to feel his face signalling his sincerity.

'Okay', Tom said. 'I'm starting to feel a little better. How about you?'

Sonny caught a glimpse from the corner of his eye of somebody peering at him from behind the curtains in his house.

'See my mother watching us? Or my father?' He tilted his head unobtrusively and firmed up his judgement. 'It's both. You've met my parents, right.' The last word omitted the question mark.

Tom knew how Sonny felt about interaction with his parents. 'That bad, huh?'

'Well, not as bad as getting beaten up. No worse than a school assembly.' Sonny waited as Tom got into his car and gave him a subdued wave as he drove off. Then he turned and walked into the house.

When he entered the living room, his parents were making an unconvincing pretence of reading newspapers, and his mother lost no time, once his overt presence licensed her, in dropping both of them (the pretence and the newspaper). She feigned a casual 'how was your day?' inquiry about his last day at school (ever!), but rapidly spilled over into a rare display of solicitousness.

Sonny said, 'I have an announcement to make.'

His mother seemed to be on the verge of breaking down as she started to promise him that things would be 'all right', but his father leapt from the sofa and cut her off.

'Helen, didn't you hear? Sonny has an announcement to make! My son's a smart young man, and I think we can trust him to think about things and make his own decisions. So long as he's not going to a military academy!'

Ignoring both his parents' contributions, Sonny continued. 'I have broken up with my boyfriend. Yes, it hurts, but it was my idea, and despite the pain I feel, I remain convinced it is for the best. I am looking forward to summer, and, to my amazement, excited about college next year. Now I shall go to my room without taking questions.'

'No questions! That's right! And no military academy! What a great announcement!' Sonny's father started to applaud. Sonny's mother turned a baffled wide-eyed stare on him. Sonny turned and headed upstairs, leaving them to it.

Sonny was letting Jane drag him to the party Jodie was throwing to celebrate graduation. 'One more night with those whose stupidity has so tormented and entertained us, lo, these many years', Jane was calling it: 'A farewell to dopes!'

Overriding Sonny's continued protests, she steered him into the middle of what she called 'the group dynamic you crave so much!' It still tempted Sonny to pull out a can of mace. Then Jodie conventionally welcomed them and went on to ask after Tom. Sonny limited his explanation to 'No Tom no more', prefacing it only with a wincing 'Um'. He left it to Jane to provide the detailed response to Jodie's further enquiries. Jodie switched from showing regret to showing regret combined with a little something else—was she actually impressed?

'Yes', said Sonny, 'I terminated the relationship so I could indulge my compulsive need to play the field.'

At just that moment they were interrupted by Brittany, giving Sonny an opportunity to dig himself an even deeper hole when she asked after Tom. He muttered another 'um' before saying 'covert mission'.

'Really? I didn't know he was religious.'

To complete the cycle, they were then interrupted by Kevin, who also alleged an interest in the person who featured in Kevinworld as 'that guy you know'. When Brittany took it on herself to pass on a version of Sonny's answer, Kevin was excited by the thought of an interplanetary space mission. Sonny and Jane looked sideways at each other, and Sonny thought to himself, When we have a moment to ourselves, I must check whether this is what you brought me here for.

But when they did have a moment to themselves, what Sonny did was tell Jane about his most recent encounter with Tom. He wanted her to confirm that the idea of somebody looking up to him, though flattering, was weird. But what Jane did, to his incredulous response, was to hint that Tom might not be the only person who valued his opinion and then to say straight out that she took him seriously.

Sonny made a crack about drink-spiking, but Jane ignored it in order to tell him that at his prompting (or, as she called it, 'constant haranguing and brow-beating') she had, after all, submitted her portfolio to BFAC—and been accepted.

Sonny read a lot of fiction, so he knew what his face was doing. It was beaming. And he didn't care.

'Jane Lane! What did you say?'

Jane gestured significantly. 'You. Me. College. Same town. Be ready to have your'—she strangled the next word before she'd more than half-articulated an indeterminate vowel, and stopped gesturing—'I mean, be ready to get dragged to more parties.'

'Hey, you're allowed to be conscious of my anatomy. You're even allowed to refer to it if you want to.' Something else they owed to Tom, Sonny thought. I should share that thought with him next time we speak. I don't know that I should share it with Jane, though, or not yet, anyway.

'Well, anyway, I just got the letter today. So, what do you say? Make a pledge right now to go up to Boston and get separate boyfriends?'

'Statistically speaking, the pools we're fishing in shouldn't overlap much anyway.' Sonny raised his drink in Jane's direction. 'But, to be explicit, you got yourself a deal. We've been lucky. Let's not push it.'

Jane raised her drink reciprocally. 'Thanks for talking me into applying. I owe you a huge one.'

'You don't owe me anything. Thanks for helping me get through high school.'

Sonny scratched behind his ear. The train of thought just started wasn't even derailed later when he heard the full story of the expected inevitable final break-up of the Fashion Club. He learned that Stacy had gone to the Web and found somebody who sold her an allegedly curse-removing potion. Unfortunately she'd lost track of which drink she'd put it in, and Tiffany had ended up swallowing it instead of Sandi. Her reaction to the vile taste had provoked a guilty outburst from Stacy disclosing the whole story back to her birthday party, ending with her offering to do anything to make it up to Sandi (although apparently she didn't offer amends to Tiffany, the only person, speaking factually, she had done something unpleasant to). At Jodie's party, Sandi, her voice recovered, presented Stacy with a list of demands which she felt would constitute adequate compensation, but Stacy had executed a worm's turn. Sandi had threatened her Fashion Club membership, but Stacy had decided that she'd be better off imitating Quinn's sabbatical, Quinn (despite having left her job now that her credit card debt was paid off) had spoken of extending her sabbatical, Tiffany had done her sheep impersonation, and Sandi had only scrabbled her way out of the pit by announcing her own sabbatical (saying 'your precious club no longer serves my needs as a multi-faceted young woman of today'). The four girls had wept briefly for the demise of the Fashion Club, and then agreed (at Sandi's suggestion, of course) to meet the next day at the Griffin place to discuss what they'd do with all their new 'free time'. Stacy had even volunteered to bring the magazines for them to look at …

Jane smirked when Sonny told her the story. He said, 'Two steps forward, one step back'. They were meeting, after the ceremony at the school which confirmed their emancipation, to share their first slices of pizza as actual official high school graduates. Sonny was still thinking about thanks and about things that might be owed, now not only because of their conversation on the night of Jodie's party but because of another thank-you he'd received himself, in the form of an extraordinary invitation. Jane almost dropped her pizza slice when he told her.

'DeMartino asked you to be his best man?' She managed to close her jaw, but then dropped it again. 'Wait, DeMartino's getting married? Who to?'

'Onepu. That's why he's asked me to be his best man. I mean, apart from the fact that I don't think he has any actual friends. Onepu wouldn't even have come to the school if Barch hadn't been removed, and Tony has an idea how much I had to do with that.'


'I'll have to use their given names at the ceremony, so I'm starting to acclimatise myself now.'

Jane gave him a quizzical look. 'Does that mean you're actually going to do it? You're getting soft around the edges, Morgendorffer.'

'Maybe, or maybe you've got glaucoma.'

Jane chewed and swallowed a thoughtful bite of pizza. 'So does that mean you know her given name too, now? Is it as unusual as Onepu?'

'Daria. So when she was a kid there must have been people at school calling her "Diarrhoea". I hate it when I find reasons to sympathise with people. She was thrilled about having one of the students from the school as best man, and thrilled about the condition I made as well.'


'Yeah, I said the only way I was gonna be best man was if you were the maid of honour.'

Jane nearly choked. 'Stop doing that to me', she said when she recovered.

'The best man will be expected to dance with the maid of honour, and there is no way I am doing that with anybody else but you. It just wouldn't be right. Especially not at that wedding.'

'Just so long as Mystik Spiral isn't playing, and we're not dancing to "Freakin' Friends". There's only so much heart-warming I can take.'

Sonny nodded. 'But while we're on that subject … and not on public display in the middle of the dance floor at a wedding … there's something I owe you.' He reached across the table and took hold of Jane's hands. 'But more importantly I owe it to myself.' He stood up, drawing Jane up with him.

Then he leaned forward across the table and kissed her.

After a minute they drew apart and sat down again.

Sonny said, 'I was right, though. It's just not there, that's all. I was right all along.'

Jane turned her head a little to the side, looking over Sonny's shoulder and out of the booth. She grinned hugely at whatever she saw.

'What?' said Sonny.

'Kevin just saw everything.'

Sonny let his head fall forward onto the table.

Some dialogue from 'Is It College Yet?' by Glenn Eichler and Peggy Nicoll