Written: November 20th, 2007, 11:52 (UTC) By: omer
Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.
Update: thanks to Benjamin for pointing out that Smith is an all-girls school. I've replaced all "Smith"s with a new, better (though admittedly similar) school and one that (I made sure) would not take gender into account if presented with an application from Orr. Enjoy!
The novel continues here.
His method was simply to put all curious-sounding schools onto a queue, exploring each in turn, and if they still enticed his curiosity or appeared worthwhile, he would add them once more to the end. And, to his surprise, The Colorado College, with its simplistic name and liberal-arts focus, outlasted every other member of the queue (which were too good, too hot, too sports-oriented, too far away, or too unlucky at catching Orr on a disgruntled day), save the two givens. Though, really, he told himself he would only go there if he could not go to the other.
But, again, he had remained quiet for too long, and again his mother's scowl was growing so fierce that it almost made her chair, and perhaps the entire house, shake with her effort to will him to answer.
So, he answered, in an order he thought might dissatisfy everyone the least due to its absurdity: "I'm applying to a school called the Colorado College, to UNM, and to Columbia."
After saying this, Orr leaned his body in, blocking out both Tom and his parents from view. All he could see were Tomer and Joan, Tomer alternating between glances around the room and mindless shoveling of food into his mouth, and Joan smiling as widely as ever at Orr and munching contentedly at her food.
"Oh," she said with a full mouth. "Lovely!"
During the silence that followed, as she swallowed some food, Orr heard something from his right, where both Tom and his mother sat, and before he could make it out, he moved his arm up to lean on the table and, accidentally, cover his right ear.
After she finished the process of swallowing, Joan continued, "Colorado College is next to the Garden of the Gods, is it not?"
Orr had remembered seeing the term somewhere, though he had no idea what it was. So, he hedged his bets and said, "Yeah... I think so."
Joan let her spoon-hand rest on the table and wistfully said, "Lovely area, a grand view of Pike's Peak too, if I remember correctly."
This statement piqued Orr's curiosity.
He said, "You've been there?"
Joan smiled again, more widely than Orr had thought possible; her wrinkles transformed and moved like lines on being manipulated on a graph, and her eyes glistened in the light. She said, "Oh, yes. Many times, it turns out. You see, my daughter attended it years ago."
Orr said, "Oh, really?! And, did she like it?"
Joan said, "Oh, I'm afraid not. She rather loathed it. Such utter misery befell her there that she had to depart after a year. She moved on to The St. Tymia of Shiviry College in St. Paul, where all of the mistakes of the Colorado College were amended, and she righted herself almost immediately."
Orr had, in his perusal of advertisements and statistics, never heard such a story, about any school, and it emitted a stunned "Really!" from him.
Joan said, "Indeed. St. Tymia is a good school. If your mother were not so set on your sitting through my classes, I would suggest you look into it."
Orr couldn't think how to respond to this statement. He had never considered St. Tymia, though he recognized the name. With so many possible schools, he simply had not had the time. So, he pondered adding (for the first time in a week) a new school to his now-defunct queue and managed to say only, "Hmm..."
So distracted was he that he let his arm slip from his ear that was muffling any sounds coming from beside him well enough that he could ignore them. But, without his hand on his ear, and with nothing more to say to Joan, he heard Tom loudly proclaim, "St. Tymia! Another distant but good school!"
Orr looked over to apologize for having not looked at it previously (though he had never heard Tom speak of it either), but Tom was not speaking to him. Nor, indeed, to Joan. He was staring straight into Orr's mother's eyes, which were, in turn, directly focussed on him, and her scowl had redoubled. Tomer would later tell Orr that the two had stared so fiercely at each other for the entire conversation between he and Joan, after Tom had made a remark that the schools Orr listed were in opposite order, and Orr's mother had told him that if he uttered anything so ridiculous again, she would send him home. Tom's statement about St. Tymia was the first that had been uttered by either of the two since then.
But, Orr's mother ensured that it was not the last.
In a low, hard, over-articulate voice, which for the first time in Orr's memory, was punctuated by an Israeli accent, she said, "Thomas S. Mately, you have been a good friend to Orr, but your influence on him is too strong, and I will not have you steal his ability to make his own decisions out of your fear of loneliness!"
Tom's retort was delivered in the same cool tone as Orr's mother's (sans accent) and as he delivered it, his eyes retained their focus on Orr's mother, without so much as blinking, as far as Orr could tell. But, his face was horrifying. It had lost its usual flexibility and natural inclination to a smile, and Tom's eyebrows (or, at least, the one that Orr could see), which usually danced around between joy, delighted heckling, and mock confusion, were arched and sat so close to his eyes that they were in line with his small glasses.
Tom said, "I may be afraid of loneliness, but at least my fear has given Orr an opportunity to attend a great school with a track record of developing gifted minds like Orr's, rather than limiting him to, and I'm sorry Joan, a mediocre state university." He said the last portion in the same tone as the rest, without a hint of apology, and neither his eyes nor his face turned to Joan as he apologized to her.
Orr chanced a look at Joan. She was serving herself some gezer khai, keeping both eyes on the serving spoon, and smiling as always.
Orr's mother said, "You're clever, Tom, but do not make the mistake of thinking that understanding the motives of a parent is equivalent to parenting. If Orr makes it apparent to me that he believes, like you said, that his flourishing depends on attending Columbia, I will support his decision with my entire despairing heart, but right now, and correct me, Orr, if I am mistaken, but right now I believe that Orr is only applying to Columbia because of you, Tom." Just as when Tom apologized to Joan, when Orr's mother addressed Orr, she didn't look at him or even reveal that she was no longer speaking directly to Tom in any of her mannerisms.
But at the end of this speech, Tom suddenly smiled and turned to look at Orr. Orr's mother turned to him as well. And, Orr realized that, for the second time in the night, he had been placed into a trap unwittingly and did not even have time to think of a way to extricate himself.
So, he looked from his mother to his best friend, hoping to find in their looks some way to not choose between them, but in their eyes he only saw the same expectation that he himself felt.
So, he did the best he could to compromise: he got equally angry at both.
He said, "I don't know!"
Neither his mother nor Tom found this argument compelling and continued to look at him. So, he repeated it: "I don't know!"
Tom said, "But, I thought you were as excited as I am for Columbia!"
Directly after which, Orr's mother said, "And, we agreed that New York is too dangerous!"
And, Tom said, "But, we dreamed of being the next Louis Rossetto and Enrico Fermi!" He was looking at Orr's mother again, and she at him.
Orr's mother said, "And, you can be the same people but attend UNM for a fraction of the price and live in a much pleasanter city!"
Tom had begun a retort that started with Fermi's name, but Orr interrupted him.
Orr said, "Well, if you two are done talking about what I want, I'll go!" The two turned to face him, but their scowls made it apparent that his tone won him gratitude with neither his mother nor Tom. On the other hand, his anger was helping him to feel less helpless, so he continued. "The fact is, you're both so obsessed with convincing me one way or the other that I have no idea how to make the choice!" He was on a roll now, and he didn't want to lose it, so he continued, though he didn't have anything else to say. "It's ridiculous! You have me so afraid of disappointing you both that I'm going to make a decision that affects my entire life based on that instead of what's best for me! But, that's ridiculous!" And, with that, he ran out of breath.
The next voice to speak was one that Orr did not at first recognize as Joan's, since it had lost its levity and had increased almost imperceptibly in volume, just enough to command everyone's attention.
She said, "Fah! What a dreary meal! I feel as though I have entered a bad television show. Calm down, all of you. We have the same interest here, namely the same goal of helping Orr make the best decision for himself, and so we only stand to benefit by working together. Not every child demands academic excellence, like you do, Tom. Nor does every child benefit from remaining near his family, Gili. Moreover, it is entirely possible that we are ruining our dinner over a moot point, for Orr has neither applied nor been accepted by either of these schools yet. And, indeed," her eyes began twinkling again, "he may yet apply to and choose to attend my suggestion instead of either of yours."
Nobody spoke for a few seconds, so Joan continued, "Now, I am here to have a pleasant evening and, if it pleases Orr, to talk about what our department is like at UNM. I would be happy to humor young Tom's questions as well. But, if this ridiculous melodramatic fight persists any longer, I'm afraid that I have better things to do with our time."
And, with that, she served herself another helping of gezer khai and began munching. Tomer, sitting next to her, was beaming at the absurdity of the spectacle, and Orr's father had shrunk so far into himself in an attempt not to be noticed and inculpated that his shoulders were were touching his ears.
Orr's mother suddenly laughed, and the sound sent a shiver through Orr's spine. But, in a second Tom had joined her, and that was all the impetus that Tomer needed to join in, so he did. Though Orr's father didn't laugh, his head did emerge from its shoulder-nest, and he smiled, a smile that was matched by Joan, who was eating her carrots with vigor. Even Orr smiled, despite the nagging remnants of his anger attempting to forbid him the pleasure, and finished his dinner while trying (and failing) to think of a useful question to ask of the one person he knew who could describe UNM to him.
Tom, on the other hand, had taken her inclusion of him to heart, and asked her a myriad of questions, from the research at the university to her favorite courses to teach. She spent so much time talking that, after an hour, when Tom's parents called demanding their in-deep-trouble son finally home, Joan had still not finished the second helping of carrots, and Tom had not even begun his first.
When Orr finally settled into his comfortable bed, however, after a disappointing game of Trivial Pursuit, in which Joan had won in three rounds (before anybody else had managed to acquire a single pie slice), one statement from the evening refused to abandon his thoughts: Joan had accused them of acting as though in a television show. The comment sounded eerily reminiscent of something else in Orr's past, but the exact event eluded him, for the event had transpired several years ago.