The admissions offers start coming in the mail not long after Leonard brings home his first semester report card. First is Georgia State, of course, and he would've been happy to toss the rest but Ma insists he looks at all of them and he knows his Daddy is waiting for the package from Ole Miss to arrive.
Leonard's grades are good, and he'd sent his applications in the fall with letters of recommendation from all his teachers, so it's no surprise that the offers are competitive. Even Harvard sends him one, but Leonard only ever applied there for bragging rights; he snorts when he sees the package sitting at his place at the breakfast table and says "No, Ma, I'm not goin' to that one."
She clicks her tongue at him but doesn't argue, just takes the envelope away and replaces it with a serving of griddle cakes and sausage.
Two days later there's another envelope on his plate, and his Daddy's sitting at the table, waiting. Leonard turns around and goes back to his room for the Georgia State package. They compare the offers over breakfast, paging through housing pamphlets, program offerings, available courses and professor ratings, the meal plans and stipend terms and conditions.
The thing is, Leonard's Daddy spent eight semesters at the top of the Ole Miss Chancellor's Honor Roll during his pre-med undergrad years and graduated summa cum laude. Then he transferred to the School of Medicine and spent another eight semesters at the top of the Chancellor's Honor Roll, and spoke as Valedictorian at the commencement ceremony. He's the lead consulting trauma surgeon at Emory University Hospital now, and still occasionally goes back to Mississippi to present guest lectures. David McCoy was a good student and he's a good doctor, and Leonard is the royalty of legacy students just for being his son. Add to that his own academic achievements, and... well, he's got a top choice of school, that's sure enough, but anybody'd have to be crazy to turn down the terms they're offering him in Mississippi.
"They got a campus tour in April," Leonard says, finally, feeling the weight of his Daddy's eyes on him as he studies the housing pamphlet again, side by side with the one from Georgia State. "Probably they're sending a shuttle 'round. I can visit, see what I think."
He hasn't suggested a visit to the campus of any other schools. His Daddy seems to take it as a victory and Leonard thinks, well, he's probably right.
Except, as the weeks go by and the campus tour creeps ever closer, Leonard can't keep his mind off it. The thought of going makes his stomach twist and his palms sweaty. He's never been so far from home before: they go on family trips, sometimes, when his Daddy gets a weekend away from the hospital, but they never go far. Ma's a homebody, really, and Daddy's always ready to be called in for a surgery, even on his free weekends, so it's just fishing trips and hiking at Lake Rabun. Leonard's never even been on a shuttle--they all pile into Daddy's truck for their trips, and when sometimes Daddy has to go back early on a shuttle, Ma drives the rest of them back on Sunday night.
His Ma asks him once, in the week before his trip is scheduled, whether he wouldn't like to postpone and go sometime when she could go with him, instead. He's ashamed by the long moments that pass while he considers it; sixteen, almost seventeen years old, and never been a few hours from home without his Ma before.
"No," he says, swallowing down the lump of fear in his throat. "No, I'm going, Ma. I just got to get used to it; you're not goin' to be there next year, wherever I go."
So it's settled. The morning of his trip he shows up to the dockyard bright and early with a small duffel slung over his shoulder. He's still nervous, his mouth dry and heart hammering as he approaches the shuttle bay where the transport to Ole Miss will pick him up, but he's determined to make the most of this trip. He's wearing his favourite dark blue wool sweater and his most comfortable pair of jeans, his lashes thickened by a matching dark blue mascara that Jocelyn says brings out the colour of his eyes. He's packed snacks, a PADD for reading, a cheap tricorder for audio and video capture, and enough credits to buy a lunch and dinner and maybe a souvenir, if Ole Miss makes a good enough impression.
Leonard's the first one at the platform, but he's early: other hopeful students continue to arrive right up until the shuttle gets there. He recognizes one of them--Catherine? Cathleen?--a girl he used to see at the church youth group before he gave his Ma an excuse about needing to spend his time on studying if he wants to get into college. She tries to strike up a conversation, but Leonard only replies distractedly; his eyes are on the horizon, watching anxiously for the shuttle to arrive, and he can't seem to stop fidgeting with his bag, his clothes, tapping his feet and chewing on his lip.
When the shuttle finally lands at the dock and drops its door--right on time, though Leonard feels like he's been waiting for hours--his heart jumps up into his throat. He takes a deep breath, wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans, and steps up the plank into the cramped little cabin. There's a smiling attendant who shows him how to buckle himself in. Before they move on to the next seat they reassure him that it's perfectly safe and he'll be back on the ground before he knows it; Leonard wonders what his face must look like to make them think he needed it.
The seat is comfortable enough, he thinks, and he decides to focus on that. He leans back into the plush padding. Closes his eyes and breathes deep and imagines himself sitting at home in his Daddy's favourite armchair and he hears the shuttle door close and stops breathing.
It's a two hour flight from Atlanta to the Ole Miss main campus. Leonard doesn't remember any of it, doesn't remember vomiting into the bag under his seat or the shuttle attendant fitting him with an oxygen mask and holding his hand and telling him just breathe, just breathe, it's almost over, we'll be landing soon. He stumbles out into the cool Mississippi air at the end and knows only that his face is streaked with tears and the mascara he had applied at home is clumped on his lashes and smeared under his eyes.
He has to wait at the landing dock while a medtech checks him over with a medical tricorder. Leonard answers her questions mechanically: his name is Leonard McCoy; he was born on June 27, 2227; today is April 14, 2243; he lives in Atlanta, Georgia; and finally she asks if he'll be okay to get home tonight and he looks at the shuttle and says shit because his vision's graying out around the edges and he's throwing up again.
She gives him a blanket to wrap around his shoulders, a bottle of water and a slice of replicated pizza, and a breathing exercise to help settle his nerves before she lets him go. He finds a washroom where he can clean up his face in the next building over, and someone to help him catch up with the tour when he comes back out.
The campus grounds are green and fresh with spring, the buildings with their centuries-old red brick facades are fully modernized on the inside, and the legacy dorms are small but comfortable full suites--more space than Leonard's ever had to himself before, and he'll have his own kitchen and washroom. He thinks of the common kitchen in the brochure for Georgia State's dorm complex, the communal washroom shared by all the students in the dorm, the possibility of bad roommates, and Leonard makes a decision.
There's a different medtech on duty when the tour group returns to the shuttle docks in the late afternoon. He singles Leonard out by name and pulls him aside with a sympathetic smile.
"I heard you had a rough time this morning," he says, and offers a hypo of lorazepam. "It might make you drowsy but it'll keep the panic down. Should help with the nausea, too."
Leonard is too much relieved to feel humiliated.
When his Ma picks him up at the dockyard that evening, his limbs are still pleasantly heavy and his eyelids less pleasantly drooping. It takes three tries to haul himself up into the truck, and he melts into the seat, yawning.
"Seatbelt," she says. Leonard nods, yawns again, fumbles for the clasp.
"You look like you had a long day," she comments as they pull away toward home. "How'd you like it, then?"
"I'm goin' to Ole Miss," Leonard replies, a slow and drowsy drawl, "but I ain't never steppin' on a shuttle again."