Jane ran up the walkway to her house, carelessly waving 'goodbye' over her shoulder to the teammate who had just dropped her off. The car pulled away as Jane threw her softball bag down on the porch, rummaging through the mess for her keys. Tuesdays were the day her mom volunteered at the soup kitchen, and Jane usually came home to an empty house, unless one of her brothers was grounded and not allowed to be out after school with their friends.
Jane finally dug her keys out from beneath all her dirty clothes and equipment and unlocked the door with one hand, grabbing the sheaf of envelopes from the mailbox with the other. Her bag got kicked aside in the hallway; she'd get it into her room before her mother came home. Or she'd forget, as usual, and get another reprimand and "What will become of you if you don't improve your housekeeping skills?" speech.
She wandered into the kitchen, grabbing a cookie from the jar on the counter. She ate standing up, rifling through the mail for anything interesting. Bills, bills, advertisements...a letter for Frankie? Addressed in a girl's handwriting? She put that one aside. While she fully intended to rib Frankie over his receiving letters from girls, she had enough sympathy to protect him from their mother's prying inquiries.
The final envelope, a large, flat packet, had Jane's name printed on it. She stuffed the last of the cookie in her mouth as she scanned the envelope, eyes settling on the return address. She froze mid-chew, the cookie crumbs suddenly feeling like chalk in her mouth. She struggled to swallow, choking down the bite before allowing herself to open the envelope.
She tugged the papers loose and unfolded them, mentally preparing herself for disappointment. She'd just applied on a whim anyway, and even though the interview had gone surprisingly well, they only took, what, eight percent of applicants, and she'd already been accepted at a couple of perfectly good state schools-
Her mental rationalization died out as she read the beginning of the letter:
Dear Ms. Rizzoli,
I am delighted to inform you that the Committee on Admissions has voted to offer you a place at Boston Cambridge University for this coming September. Following an old BCU tradition, a certificate of admission is enclosed. Please accept my personal congratulations for your outstanding achievements...
The letter continued down the length of the page, but Jane just read the first paragraph over and over again. I got in? I got accepted to Boston Cambridge University? One of the top universities in the country wants me as a student?
She sank down to the floor and sat there with her back against the counter, just staring at the papers in her hands. She tucked the letter behind the others in the stack; the one that emerged beneath it was her admissions certificate, with the BCU seal on top, stating in fancy language and font that she, Jane Rizzoli, was admitted to the incoming freshman class at Boston Cambridge University. She couldn't believe it. She gazed across the kitchen, shaking her head. When she had applied, it was just for the hell of it, just a "well, why not?" kind of thing. She never imagined she was somebody BCU would actually accept.
She looked down again, noticing that she was smudging the certificate with mud from her dirty hands. She wiped them uselessly on her jersey, knowing she was just moving the dirt around. She smiled disparagingly. It's gotta be a mistake, right? People like me don't go to schools like BCU. They're all like...the classy kids of rich diplomats and businessmen, or math dorks who've got a couple of patents and have published a bunch of articles before they're even out of high school. They're not tomboys who spend more time playing sports than they do bothering to study. And they're definitely not the daughter of a plumber and a housewife who struggle to find the money for the bills, let alone thousands of dollars for a prestigious school.
And that was the end of the matter, really. There was no way Jane could possibly attend. There was no way she could even tell her mom and dad- they'd say she had to go. They'd sacrifice everything to scrape up the money to send her there, and she couldn't do that to her family, couldn't make them give up everything so she could attend some pretentious university where she wouldn't even fit in.
She tried to convince herself that it was for the best. Getting in was accomplishment enough, right? Even if she could never tell anyone about it- people talked, and she couldn't risk the news getting back to her parents. They'd want to know why she hadn't told them, and they'd be doubly hurt that they were left out of the news, and Jane's reasoning behind it. She had to protect them from that. So getting into BCU would have to be her own private success, one she'd never get to mention to anyone.
She didn't know how long she sat there in dejected stillness, but when she heard a key turning in the lock, she bolted into action. Jumping to her feet, she frantically grabbed the envelope and stuffed the letter inside. Her eyes darted around the kitchen, searching for a place to stash it.
Her mother's voice bellowed from the hallway. "Janie! Get over here and pick up your bag! How many times do I have to tell you not to leave your things lying everywhere? You're just as bad as your brothers, I swear..."
No good hiding the letter in the kitchen- her mother knew the room inside out, and she'd find it for sure before Jane could surreptitiously sneak it out. Gritting her teeth as Angela's footsteps approached the room, Jane stuffed the envelope down the back of her softball shorts. She'd just have to be careful how she moved until she could get out from under her mother's eye.
Angela stomped into the kitchen, scowling. "Jane Clementine Rizzoli, you get in there and clean- " She broke off at the sight of Jane, her face instantly morphing from anger to concern. "Honey, what happened to you? Is that a bruise on your arm?" She crossed the kitchen, reaching out toward Jane's right side.
Jane twisted her arm around so she could get a look at it. Yup, there was a large bruise there- it must've happened when she was sliding into third base and collided with her teammate.
She tried to brush off her mother's concern. "It's nothing, Ma, just a little bump from practice. Don't worry about it."
Angela's brow furrowed even further. "You're always getting hurt, Janie! I worry about you. You're my little girl, and I just have to sit by and watch while you do these dangerous things..." She moved in, trying to wrap her daughter up in a protective hug.
Jane hastily backed up out of her mother's reach, conscious of the admissions letter sitting against her lower back. She couldn't let her mother feel it- she'd insist on knowing what Jane was hiding from her. But she was also liable to make a federal case out of Jane's injury and lack of affection if Jane didn't do something to distract her. Jane spotted the envelope she'd set aside for Frankie. Ignoring the twinge of guilt, she decided to throw Frankie under the bus. If he knew, he'd understand that she had to protect their parents over him this time.
"Hey, Ma," she said, cutting Angela off before she could begin her lament over Jane's unwillingness to be showered with physical affection, "Do you know if Frankie was expecting a letter? Something came in the mail for him today, but I'm not sure who it's from." She grabbed the envelope from the counter and casually held it out to her mother.
Angela took it, starting to brush the issue aside. "It's probably just a bill for your father. They get their names mixed up sometimes- " Then she looked down at the envelope, and her eyes widened at the handwriting. The bubbly script and "i"s dotted with little circles definitely screamed "teenage girl".
"This came in the mail?" she asked.
Jane tried to suppress her grin of relief- her distraction had worked; Angela was definitely intrigued.
"Yeah. Why? You know who it's from?"
Angela held the letter up to the light, squinting at it. "No. Who could be writing to him? Is he hanging around with any girls at school? What have you seen?"
Laughter sounded outside the window, along with the thud, thud, thud of a basketball being dribbled. Jane grabbed a water bottle out of the fridge as she nodded towards the noise outside the house. "I haven't noticed anything, but here come the boys now. You can ask him all about it while I go put away my softball bag." Solidifying her escape, she added, "I've got a lot of dirty practice clothes- I'll throw in the next load of laundry, ok?" And she gave Angela a quick kiss on the cheek and backed up out of the kitchen, retreating to her room to hide the letter away from her mother's eagle eyes.
Once Jane had gotten the laundry started, she flopped down on her bed and took out the letter again to look at. She rubbed the edge of the paper absentmindedly with her finger as she read it.
It was weird to see her name written there on the same sheet of paper as that legendary school seal. She flipped through the other pages in the envelope. In addition to the letter and certificate, there was also a form requesting that she accept or decline their offer. She felt the heat rise in her face- that paper had gotten smudged with mud too, and even wrinkled a little from when she unceremoniously shoved it down the back of her pants. She couldn't very well mail it back in to BCU in that condition. No need to make herself out to be even more unsophisticated than she already was. She'd have to call to decline- and probably better sooner than later so that some other kid could get their news that a spot had opened up. She wondered why that other student hadn't gotten this letter in the first place- what had made them choose her? Had they mixed up her SAT scores, misread her list of extracurriculars? Or maybe her admissions essay was just read by some kook who'd taken an odd liking to her.
She shrugged to herself. It didn't really matter, did it? She wasn't going- she'd find herself at some other school come September, surrounded by people more on par with herself, rather than being the lone "average" kid, the one surrounded by a bunch of geniuses who'd sense that she was some kind of mistake. It was better this way.
And yet, she knew she'd hold onto the letter- hidden away, for her eyes only- but she'd always have this reminder that someone out there thought she, Jane Rizzoli, actually belonged at BCU.
During her free period the next day, Jane asked the librarian for a hall pass, and went in search of the school's payphone. She knew she wouldn't be able to count on any alone time at home to make the call, and she wanted to get it over with anyway. Calling BCU to decline- how many people did that?
She lifted the receiver and dropped her quarter into the slot, then dialed the number listed in her admissions packet. The halls were empty, but she nervously looked over her shoulder anyway, and after she heard the cheery "BCU, Admissions Office, Marina speaking, how may I help you?" she hunched into the phone to keep her voice from carrying down the hallway.
"Umm, hi Marina. My name is Jane- Jane Rizzoli- and I received an acceptance letter from BCU in the mail yesterday- "
Marina interrupted with a hearty, "Congratulations! Your parents must be so proud!"
Jane closed her eyes briefly, feeling the sadness sitting like a weight in the middle of her chest. Her parents would be proud of her, and she wished she could tell them. She wanted more than anything for them to be able to know that they'd raised a daughter who could get accepted into one of the country's top schools. But with that pride would come either years of sacrifice to send her there, or a lifetime of guilt that they couldn't afford for her to take advantage of the opportunity.
Realizing that she'd let the silence on the phone go on for an awkwardly long time, Jane gritted her teeth and continued. "Uh, yeah. Well, anyway, I just wanted to let you know, I- I have to decline. So...I guess you can let the next person on the list know they're in."
There was a pause, "Oh, well, Jane, I'm sorry to hear that." The perkiness in Marina's voice had faded- she really did manage to sound like she was honestly sorry about the news.
Geez, thought Jane, Even the office staff is talented. She wasn't sure what the right response was- probably something like, "Thanks for your time, take care now", but she wasn't quite ready to hang up and sever her connection with BCU completely. She stalled, wanting just another moment before closing the door on that world. "So, um...I guess you don't get very many people declining, huh?" She grimaced, wishing she could take back her words. Could you sound less articulate if you tried?
"We do hear a lot of 'yeses', of course. But there are many good schools out there, and unfortunately for us, some of our acceptees do decide they would be better suited at another institution. Which school are you turning us down for, Jane? MIT? Yale? Or perhaps even a university overseas?" Marina's voice was friendly- she seemed genuinely curious, not judgmental that Jane might select another option over BCU.
Can you imagine, having to choose between which top-tier hoity-toity university to attend? I'd love to come from a world where that's the biggest college decision problem instead of 'which college won't put my parents in debt for the rest of their natural-born lives?'
She was embarrassed. "I haven't decided yet. One of the state schools, I guess. Probably UMass Amherst." Her words came out in a mumbled rush, as though she could somehow slip the content of her answer past Marina.
After a beat, Marina responded, her wording delicate. "We do have some great state schools here in Massachusetts, Jane. UMass Amherst is generally a good choice. But...the education and opportunities you'd receive there just aren't comparable to the ones available to you at BCU. I don't mean to put you on the spot, but may I ask what's guiding your decision? You're clearly a bright and ambitious student, to have been offered a place here- I wonder if you might like some additional time to think over your choice?"
Jane felt the uncomfortable prickling of tears welling in her eyes. She could feel the dream of attending BCU dangling tauntingly in front of her, just out of reach. She was tempted to just agree that she needed more time to think, but that would just be prolonging the inevitable. She wasn't usually ashamed or secretive about the amount of money her family had, but she also wasn't usually talking to a woman who spent her life surrounded by wealthy professors and students whose BCU tuition wouldn't put a dent in their family's yearly income. Still, better to suck it up and be straightforward.
"There's no way my family can afford the tuition." The words came out more gruffly than she had intended. She didn't want to seem ungrateful or angry towards a woman who was just trying to help, and she tried to take the defensiveness out of her voice as she continued, "I know my parents would love for me to go to BCU- and I'd love to go- but it just wouldn't be right for me to ask my family to make that sacrifice for me."
Marina's earlier enthusiasm came back in full force, "Has anyone gone over financial aid information with you? One of our goals is for every deserving student to be able to attend BCU regardless of income."
"I didn't know that." Jane doubted it would make much of a difference- unless BCU was willing to fork over $50,000 a year towards her tuition, it wasn't going to be enough to justify turning down a practically free education at a different school.
"Oh, yes! Students from low-income families are eligible to receive full financial aid- any net income below $65,000 a year would qualify you for that complete assistance. And then there's a sliding scale of expected contribution for families whose income is between that amount and $150,000 a year. Now, even if your family has a higher income than that, you may still qualify for some assistance if you're facing unusual financial circumstances..."
Marina was still talking about the various options, but Jane was no longer focusing. The first thought she was struck with was Shit, $65,000 a year is considered 'low-income'? What are we then, living in abject poverty?
"Wait, wait." She interrupted Marina's speech. "Are you saying that if my family makes less than $65,000 a year, I could go to BCU for free?"
"Yes. There are forms you'll have to fill out, of course, but we can mail those to you and get the process started."
Jane felt her mouth gape open, but no words came out.
Marina gave her a moment in silence, waiting for her to respond. When Jane still didn't say anything, she seemed to sense that she was too overwhelmed to speak and continued, prompting, "Jane? Why don't you give me your address? I'll put the financial aid application in the mail today, and once you fill it out we can confirm your aid officially. In the meantime...may I take it that we can put you down as a conditional 'yes' for accepting your place here?"
Jane found her voice, saying, "I...yeah. Yeah, you can." She felt a smile start to take over her face. I'm saying 'yes' to BCU right now. I'm going to BCU. Still dumbfounded, she managed to scrape together a few words that couldn't come close to expressing the flood of emotions she was feeling. "Marina- thank you. Thank you so much."
"My pleasure, dear. Congratulations again, and welcome to BCU!"