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Chapter One: Historically Significant Snack Cakes

Hi Wil,

I know we just dropped you off, but I wanted to send a quick note to say that we miss you already and we hope you're settling in okay. I'm sure Grandma told you that Pop and I were not the most faithful correspondents when we were at the Hall, but remember, that was back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and you had to write a letter by hand and mail it through the post! All you have to do is click 'send' on an email, so try and drop a line to your dear old dads now and then, alright?

I hope you enjoy your time at the Hall as much as Pop and I did. I'm not going to lie, the food is probably still pretty grim. If you get desperate, there's always Pop's lost time capsule. It's been about 25 years, though, so the cakes might be a little stale.

Let us know how you like your roommate and how your classes are going.

Love,
Dad

***

"I just don't get it."

"Get what?"

"Oh, come on," Mark said, turning his head to give Boots a skeptical look. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."

"Hey, watch it," Boots hissed, elbowing Mark in the side. "Keep your head down!"

It was just after midnight, and they were crouched below the windows of Dormitory 2. Boots rubbed the back of his neck, which already felt as stiff as the bench in Mr. Sturgeon's office. One thing was for sure, it had been a lot easier to hide in the bushes when they were in Grade 8. With just two weeks left until graduation, both Boots and Mark had nearly folded themselves into pretzels trying to keep their heads from peeking up over the row of hedges.

"You and Bruno are going to different universities," Mark whispered, seemingly undaunted. "Different universities in completely different cities. And he's not having a meltdown, he's not organizing a committee, he's not trying to rally the troops. He's completely laid back about the whole situation."

Boots glanced above their heads meaningfully. "You do realize that he's trying to climb down a drainpipe right now, right?" he said.

"Sure," Mark said, waving a hand dismissively, "but that's like, you know, must be Tuesday. And, that doesn't have anything to do with this, don't change the subject."

"It's like I told you before," Boots said. "Bruno's parents are making him go to UT because his dad is the registrar and he'll get free tuition. After paying a truckload to send him to the Hall for the last five years, I guess that sounds pretty good to them. As for me, Queen's is the only school that would guarantee me a spot on the swim team. Obviously Bruno's pretty upset about the whole thing, but there's not anything he can really do about it, you know?"

"Sure," Mark said. "But when has that ever stopped him before, though?"

Before Boots could make half-hearted protest, Bruno's dangling feet came into view. "Hey guys," Bruno called out in low tone. "Sidney's not coming because he sprained both his ankles in English class," he continued once he'd finished shimmying down the drainpipe. "But look, he gave me this!" Triumphantly, he held out one hand, where something glinted slightly in the darkness.

"Is that an earring?" Boots asked, squinting.

"Remember when Sidney tripped and accidentally swallowed one of Mrs. Sturgeon's earrings and he had to get his stomach pumped?"

"Gross," Mark said, making a sour face and pulling back from Bruno's outstretched hand.

"It's been sterilized, obviously," Bruno said. "Well, at least I think it has." He pocketed the earring and clapped his hands together. "Either way," he said, "this is exactly the type of artifact that commemorates the real history of our time at the Hall, which is why it's so important that--"

"Yeah, yeah, okay," Boots said, cutting Bruno off. "Let's get this show on the road before we get caught and the history of our time at the Hall ends with us being the first guys to get expelled two weeks before graduation."

They crept across the lawn in silence, entering the woods that bordered the edge of MacDonald Hall's campus. Waiting for them were Larry, Wilbur, Elmer, Pete and Pete's beat-up foot locker.

"Good evening, gentlemen," Bruno said majestically. "Are you ready to commemorate the authentic history of the MacDonald Hall's single greatest graduating class?"

Wilbur yawned. Pete and Elmer both shot nervous glances in the direction of campus. Larry snorted. "Seriously?" Larry said. "All this because The Fish wouldn't let you put fireworks in the school's time capsule?"

Bruno shot a glare at Larry. "Those sparklers were from the same box as the fireworks that played an extremely prominent role in the hit film Academy Blues," he said, shaking a finger for emphasis. "It's not my fault that The Fish doesn't realize that 25 years from now, Cutesy will have won a truckload of Oscars and that movie is going to be a very important part of this school's history." Bruno gestured at the foot locker expectantly. "Now, c'mon, let's see what you guys have got."

Mark had brought the only remaining copy of the infamous G. Gavin Gunhold issue of the MacDonald Hall Gazette. Larry and Pete provided a small collection of cans from the Rankin Book of World Records-certified world's tallest pop can pyramid. Elmer offered up a complex-sounding experiment about isotopic decay rates, which caused Bruno to wrinkle his nose, and one of his laminated Pacific salmon posters, which caused Bruno to cheer with delight. Boots placed Mrs. Sturgeon's earring in the footlocker on Sidney's behalf. He also added two copies of the longest punishment essay the Fish had ever assigned during their time at MacDonald Hall: a 10,000 word treatise on the moral and ethical lapses associated with deciding to fake one's own death in order to avoid sitting for the provincial literacy test.

Wilbur presented a box of Jos Louis cakes.

"Seriously, Wilbur?" Bruno said.

"Seriously," Wilbur said, placing the cakes in the footlocker with the kind of reverence usually demonstrated toward a religious relic. "These are the extremely limited edition banana creme flavor, and this is one of only five boxes I was ever able to get my hands on. They're way more historically significant than your fireworks."

"I told you, they're not fireworks, they're movie memorabilia, and--"

"Hey, hey, guys, be quiet," Boots whispered urgently, stepping forward between Bruno and Wilbur. "Can we please put the historically significant snack cakes in the trunk and start digging a hole, so we can bury this thing and get back to our rooms?"

Bruno frowned. "Oh, we can't dig the hole here," he said, tapping his foot. "The ground is like three solid feet of granite, you know that."

"It's true," Elmer offered. "There is substantial geological evidence that there was a tremendous amount of glacial activity in this area several million years ago."

"So," Boots said slowly, like he already knew exactly what Bruno was going to say but was just trying to delay the inevitable. "Where are we going to dig this hole, then?"

"Oh, you know," Bruno said, "I was thinking of the orchard over at Scrimmage's."

 

Everything that happened after that was downright predictable: Bruno insisted it was the only way, the rest of them protested and then eventually relented. Wilbur, Larry and Pete dragged the foot locker across the highway while Bruno, Boots and Elmer borrowed a couple shovels from school's garden shed. They were arguing about who was doing the most shirking of hole-digging duty when Miss Scrimmage showed up with her shotgun in tow. Everybody scattered, and somehow Larry ended up in possession of the foot locker. Miss Scrimmage's deafening shrieks chased them back across the highway and were sure to haunt their dreams.

"It's okay," Larry said, panting, once they'd re-grouped in the woods. "If we can make it back to our rooms without getting caught, we should be in the clear."

"Except for the foot locker full of evidence we left in Scrimmage's orchard, you mean?" Wilbur snapped.

"No, it's okay, I buried it!" Larry said. "There was a spot in the ravine right by the highway."

"Um, where, exactly?" Bruno asked.

"I don't know!" Larry said, waving his hands. "I was kind of trying to run away from an armed crazy lady, I wasn't exactly paying attention to my surroundings."

Eventually, after a truncated speech on the tragedy of their lost legacy, the rest of the group convinced Bruno it was time to cut their losses and head back to the dormitories. Just before he split off in the direction of Dormitory 1, Wilbur not-so-subtly bumped shoulders with Boots. "I know Bruno's real upset that you guys have to split up for university," Wilbur said under his breath. "But you gotta get him to cool down."

This time, Boots didn't even bother protesting.

 

"What a disaster," Bruno said once the two of them had both climbed through the window of Room 306. "The time capsule's lost, and look--" he paused, and pulled a stack of envelopes out of his pants pocket, "I didn't even remember to put these in there!"

"What are those?" Boots asked.

"It's every single rejection letter I got back from the UT Athletic Department. I was asking them to make a spot for you on the swim team."

"Bruno, there are like forty envelopes there."

Bruno shrugged, looking sheepish. "Yeah, well," he said, "what did you think, that I started paying attention in math or something?"

"Why did you want to put them in the time capsule, though?" Boots asked. Looking at the envelopes gave him a queasy feeling in his stomach, although it could also have been caused by the unfortunate combination of meatloaf night in the cafeteria and an unexpected sprint back from Miss Scrimmage's orchard.

Bruno gave the stack of envelopes a confident pat. "So that 25 years from now we can laugh about how we ever thought going to different universities was going to keep us apart."

***

"Jeez, what did he do?" Wil muttered to himself, seeing the email from his dad at the top of his inbox. "Send that from his phone on the way to the airport?"

"What was that?"

Wil glanced over his shoulder at the back of Simon Serrette, the guy he'd be living with in a room the size of a shoebox for the next nine months. Simon's back was turned because his attention was focused on stuffing one more pair of pants into a nearly-bursting dresser drawer.

"Sorry, just talking to myself," Wil said. "My dad's already emailing me to see how I'm doing and they dropped me off, like, five minutes ago. My parents both went here, so they're really super invested in me enjoying it as much as they did."

"Both your parents?" Simon asked. "I thought this place had always been all guys."

"Yeah, and?" Wil asked, making the question sound more like a challenge. It was the same tone that had gotten him a split lip on the playground in Grade 6 and a totally lenient punishment from his pop when he got sent home from school.

"Hey, no, it's cool," Simon said quickly. "That's cool." He turned to face Wil, palms out in a placating gesture.

Wil shrugged, feeling sheepish. "Sorry, I just, you know--"

"Oh sure, I get it," Simon said. "Hey, you wanna go get some dinner?"

"Yeah, okay," Wil said. "I hear the food's terrible, but I guess there's no point in putting off the inevitable." He stood up from his desk and closed his laptop. Surely his parents couldn't fault him for not responding to his dad's emails if he was off bonding with his new roommate.

 

Chapter Two: Secret Girlfriend or Whatever

Hi Wil,

Glad to hear you guys are having school dances with Chutney High. With Scrimmage's closed, I was starting to worry that you'd be spared the extremely important and totally mortifying rite of passage that is the school dance!

I'm sure the last thing you want is romantic advice, but just a couple of tips: Whatever you do, don't try to sneak a teen movie heartthrob into the dance disguised as a foreign prince and don't ever pretend to have a long-distance girlfriend. In my experience, both of those things just end badly.

Love,
Pop

***

"What are you doing?"

"What do you think I'm doing? I'm studying."

"Can't you study later?"

"Yeah, but if I don't want to fail this Econ exam, I need to study now and later. C'mon Bruno, you promised we'd actually study this time."

"Okay, okay, fine," Bruno said, making a shooing motion in Boots's direction. "Study. Pretend I'm not even here."

A few minutes later, Boots looked up from his Econ textbook. Across the table, it appeared as though Bruno was playing Tic Tac Toe against himself using the table's sugar and Sweet'n Low packets.

"Snack break?" Bruno said brightly. "Great! Nothing helps you really focus on studying like a full stomach." Bruno glanced over to their waitress, who was currently standing at the counter re-filling salt and pepper shakers. "Hey, Christine," he called out. "Can we get two slices of blueberry pie a la mode?" He gave her his most winning grin, but Christine was immune to Bruno's charms by this point and rolled her eyes in return.

During their first year at their respective universities, Bruno and Boots had become regular customers at the Rosebud Diner in Coburg, a small town on the shore of Lake Ontario. The ambiance was lacking and the coffee was terrible, but Christine let them sit in a booth for hours without complaint and the Rosebud's blueberry pie was quickly becoming one of Bruno's major food groups.

"Jeez," Boots said when Christine put down two plates on the table in front of them. "You order that pie so often I'm surprised you haven't gone all Violet Beauregarde on me."

 

A couple weeks later, Bruno found himself at an impromptu birthday party for Jessica, his next door neighbor in the dorm. The party mostly consisted of sitting on the floor in her room, eating cake off paper towels, drinking lukewarm Molson and listening to bootleg Electric Catfish live albums. Bruno and Jessica had originally gotten friendly because they both habitually overslept and missed the same 8AM Intro to Psychology lecture. The two of them were trying to arrange a system where they shared notes and each only had to make it to class half the time, but so far it was a work in progress.

"I'm completely serious," Bruno told Jessica. "One Christmas, this guy conned his little sister out of her Easy-Bake Oven and smuggled it back in his suitcase." Bruno said this with a thumb jerked at Wilbur, who was sitting on the floor next to him.

A bunch of guys from the Hall had actually ended up at UT and some of the girls from Scrimmage's as well. Bruno tried to keep up with all of them, but he saw Wilbur and Cathy the most because they lived in the same dorm. After five years at the Hall, it was still weird that he could just walk down the corridor and visit Cathy any time he felt like it, no window-scaling or orchard prowling required.

"I maintain it was a great plan," Wilbur said. "But when I plugged in the oven and the popcorn machine at the same time, I blew a circuit and the whole building lost power."

"Oh yeah," Bruno said wistfully. "That was the time we found out that Larry sleeps in bunny print boxer shorts."

"I love your weird boarding school stories," Jessica said, reached over Bruno for another can of beer. "It's like you went to school inside a John Hughes movie or something."

"Actually, funny story about that--" Bruno started to say.

"Hey Jessica," Wilbur said, emphatically cutting off Bruno mid-sentence. "How come you're not eating any cake?"

"Honestly?" Jessica said, shrugging. "I don't really like cake. I'm more of a pie person. I'd take a slice of blueberry pie over the best piece of cake in the whole world."

"Hey, you know where you can get the best blueberry pie?" Bruno said. "This little diner in Cobourg. I don't know what they do, I think they put spices in it or something? But I have to get it every time I'm there."

"Why on earth are you making regular trips to Cobourg?" Jessica asked.

"Oh, no real reason," Bruno said absently. "It's just the halfway point between Toronto and Kingston."

Jessica's eyes lit up. "And what," she asked. "You have some secret long-distance girlfriend you've never mentioned who goes to Queen's and you meet up in Cobourg and eat pie?" She clapped her hands together, looking increasingly gleeful as Bruno's face got progressively more pained. "Bruno, that's so roooooooomantic!" she added in a sing-song voice before collapsing into a fit of laughter.

"Uh, no, that's not--" Bruno started to say.

"Hey Cathy!" Jessica called out, louder than necessary considering the room was the size of a sardine can and Cathy wasn't sitting any further away than Jessica's roommate's bed. "Hey," Jessica said. "You knew Bruno at school, did he have a girlfriend? Is that why he's sneaking off to Cobourg to eat pie all the time?"

Cathy had appointed herself the DJ of the party, so she'd been busy rummaging through a box of cassette tapes. She looked up immediately, puzzled for a moment and then a metaphorical lightbulb seemed to go on above her head and she became positively gleeful.

"Yes," she said emphatically. "He totally does. They were together the whole time Bruno was at the Hall. It was so sweet!"

"Very funny, Burton," Bruno said, throwing a balled-up paper towel in Cathy's direction. "You're a regular laugh riot."

Beside Bruno, Wilbur was practically doubled over with laughter. Bruno silently vowed not to feel even a little bit bad if Wilbur choked on his cake and died. "They were inseparable!" Wilbur managed to sputter.

"C'mon guys, it's not funny," Bruno said, crossing his arms over his chest in a huff.

"God, this explains so much," Jessica said, propping her chin in her hand. "That girl in our Psych study group was totally flirting with you last week and I couldn't figure out why you weren't interested."

Bruno could vaguely picture the girl Jessica was talking about. She wore fuzzy angora sweaters and chewed gum like a machine gun. "Yeah sure," Bruno said, deciding it was just the beer and the overcrowded dorm room making his cheeks burn bright red. "Secret girlfriend or whatever."

 

A few weeks after that, Bruno and Boots were back at the Rosebud. "Sorry I'm late," Boots said as he slid into their usual booth. "We had extra swim practice this morning. Doesn't anyone ever ask you where you disappear to on the weekends?"

"Nope," Bruno said, suddenly paying very close attention to the menu. "Never comes up."

***

"You see what I mean, though," Simon said. "It feels cruel. You could go to this dance tonight, meet the most amazing girl in the world, you fall madly in love and then what? She's in Chutney and you're on lockdown at MacDonald Penitentiary."

"Yeah, I guess," Wil said inattentively, making a pained face. At the moment, Wil was primarily concentrating on breathing as shallowly as possible. He and Simon were sitting side by side on the bus that would deliver MacDonald Hall's students to Chutney High for its harvest dance, and that many guys in such a tight space smelled like a knife fight at a cologne factory.

"Huh," Simon said, sounding thoughtful. "I guess your dads weren't exactly sneaking into Chutney to hook up with girls, right?"

"Ugh, don't be gross," Wil said, already feeling slightly ill from the cologne bomb and not wanting to think about the words 'dads' and 'hook up' in the same sentence. "Anyway, it was different when my dads were here. I guess there was a girl's school nearby or something."

"Really, where?"

"Yeah," Wil said as the bus finally grumbled to life. "When they dropped me off last month they said that psychiatric hospital across the road used to be a girl's boarding school. I don't know what was so hilarious, but my pop practically drove off the road laughing when he saw the sign for it.

 

Chapter Three: A Plan, A Backup Plan, A Desperate Attempt and a Last-Ditch Scheme

Hi Wil,

Can't wait to hear about the big game this weekend. Wish we were close enough to visit more often, I never turn down a chance to see York Academy get creamed!

Speaking of which, I think we're going to try and come out and visit for Founder's Day. I read in the newsletter that they're going to dedicate the statue of Mr. Sturgeon and we'd both like to be there, and see you of course. The only thing is that Pop has a big case at work that might be going to trial soon, so he may not be able to get away. We'll keep you posted.

Love,
Dad

***

Jessica's door was already ajar, so Bruno poked his head in without bothering to knock. "Hey, does your VCR work?" he asked.

Jessica was on her bed, sitting in a small forest of Microbiology notes. "Yeah, why?" she said. She had that glassy-eyed look that had spread amongst most of the students on campus as final exams loomed ahead of them.

Bruno shrugged. His first final was three days away, so by his calculations he had a good 60 hours to find other things to do besides study. "Mine's had Camp Calamity stuck in it for the last six months," he said, "so I'm just gonna throw it out." Bruno and Jessica were planning to be roommates in an apartment off campus next year, so Bruno saw no reason not to consolidate their inventory.

Jessica tilted her head at him. "Have you just been watching Camp Calamity over and over for the last six months?" she asked.

"Um, only when I'm drunk?"

"You realize your boyfriend Jordie Jones was, like, eleven in that movie, right?"

Bruno rolled his eyes. "Shut up," he said. "So, my VCR. I'm tossing it."

"Bombs away," Jessica said, and then,"Are you seriously packing right now?"

"Why, is there something else going on?" Bruno asked, feigning innocence. He retreated across the hall before Jessica tried to impale him with a pencil.

 

Once Bruno was back in his own room, he realized his phone was ringing. The sound of the ringer was muffled, probably because the phone was buried under a small mountain of dirty laundry.

"Hello?"

"Uh … hi Bruno, it's me."

"Hey, what's up?" Bruno said. With the receiver in one hand, he was unable to successfully unearth the base of the phone and place it back on the desk, so he elected to plunk down on the floor and recline against Mount Laundry.

"Sorry," Boots said. "I kinda thought I was going to get your machine."

Sitting on the floor gave Bruno an unattractive view of the various bits of detritus that had ended up under his bed during the course of the year. Landing a single room had been great for a lot of reasons, but without a roommate strong arming him to keep a bare minimum standard of tidiness, things had gotten … a bit out of control. From his current vantage point, Bruno could see a bunch of loose change, some beer can empties, a tennis ball and what looked like a framed photo covered in thick layer of dust.

"Sure, no problem," Bruno said. He leaned toward the picture frame, stretching out his free hand to swipe a thumb through the dust on top of the glass. Boots's face appeared, with Bruno's own alongside it, both grinning at the camera. They each had their hands held out in an exaggerated gesture of emptiness, illustrating exactly how many fish they'd managed to catch up at Boots's parents' lake house last summer.

"Hey, I wanted to ask you anyway," Bruno said, "are you going to the lake with your parents when your finals are over? Because--"

"Look, I need to tell you something."

"Okay…"

"I'm not going to the lake with my parents," Boots said. "I'm actually going to Vancouver. For the summer. I'm doing a summer program at UBC. It's supposed to be a good thing to do if you want to get into their graduate program for teaching. So I'm gonna do that this summer, and then if I like it, I'm gonna apply to the grad program in the fall."

"What do you mean?" Bruno asked, assuming there must be a different way to rearrange Boots's sudden avalanche of words so that they made sense. "That's not the plan! You said you wanted to do a grad program here."

"Yes, I said UT had a good program, but--"

"But what?" Bruno interjected. "You come here, we can be roommates again, everything's great. What's the problem?"

"Look," Boots said, suddenly sounding very tired. "I can't spend another three years of my life eating blueberry pie and being roommates with you."

"Why not?" Bruno replied automatically.

"I just can't."

The way Boots said it gave Bruno a strange feeling of deja vu. It was like this wasn't the first time the two of them had walked a conversation up to the edge of the diving board, only for Bruno to realize he didn't know what he was supposed to say when it was time to jump off.

"So when do you leave?" Bruno asked.

"I'm leaving tonight, actually," Boots said. "My flight's at ten. My finals are over, so I already moved my stuff back to my parents' house. They're gonna drive me to Pearson in a little bit."

Bruno gulped. "And you're just telling me now?" he said.

On the other end of the line, Boots sighed, sending a burst of static through the connection. "I guess I was worried if I told you any sooner you'd be able to talk me out of it."

Bruno chuckled weakly. "You know me too well, Melvin," he said.

"Yeah, I guess I do."

For a long moment, neither of them said anything. Normally, Bruno's mind would be racing at a time like this, trying to coming up with a plan, a backup plan, a desperate attempt and a last-ditch scheme to stop events from unfolding. But Bruno's brain felt pained and frozen, like he'd been hit with an unexpected ice cream headache.

"Look," Boots said eventually. "I have to go. Just, have a good summer, okay Bruno?"

"Sure. Whatever. You too."

 

After Bruno hung up the phone, he looked around his room, but he couldn't remember any more why packing had seemed so important.

He tried to watch Camp Calamity one last time for old time's sake, but he couldn't concentrate. He dragged Jessica to the mess hall for dinner, promising to spend the meal quizzing her about eukaryotic versus prokaryotic microorganisms. When he got back to his room, he even fleetingly considered breaking out the notes for his Environmental Politics exam. With everyone buckled down studying for finals, the whole dorm was eerily quiet.

A little after eight o'clock, he flopped down on his bed and thought about just going to sleep. He closed his eyes for a few seconds and then sat bolt upright in bed.

Bruno ran around in circles, stuffing his feet into sneakers and flipping over his Econ, Stats and Environment Chem textbooks before he finally found his wallet. He darted out of his room and down the hall, stopping up short to pound on Wilbur's door.

"No," Wilbur said as soon as he saw Bruno.

"Great, I'm glad you're here," Bruno said. "My car's still in the impound, I need you to drive me to the airport."

"No," Wilbur repeated. "Nope. No way. I have the Lit final to end all Lit finals tomorrow morning, I do not have time for Hurricane Bruno."

Bruno thought for a second about what to say next. The thing about being somewhat prone to hyperbole was that it was difficult to get across when something really was an absolutely catastrophic, potentially world-ending and completely life-altering situation.

"Boots is getting on a plane in--" Bruno paused to glance at his watch, "eighty-five minutes. He's going to Vancouver for the summer and if he likes it there, he's going to stay and never come back."

Wilbur apparently found this explanation somewhat amusing, but had the decency to try and hide it. "And?" Wilbur asked.

Bruno hadn't fully worked out an explanation for himself yet, but he gave Wilbur everything he'd got so far. "And--" Bruno said, pausing to mop his brow with the neck of his t-shirt. "I can't let him do that."

 

"Why's your car in the impound?" Wilbur asked Bruno as he navigated his way out of the dorm's parking lot.

"Oh, I don't know," Bruno said, "couple parking tickets, something like that."

Wilbur gave Bruno a sideways glance. "I thought the school didn't impound your car until you had $1000 in unpaid parking tickets," Wilbur said.

"Cut the crap, Hackenschleimer," Bruno said, feeling exasperated. "You know perfectly well that I'm prone to under-exaggerating my screw-ups."

"Wow," Wilbur said. "So, this is pretty serious." And Bruno didn't know what that was supposed to mean, but at least Wilbur let the rest of the trip to the airport pass in silence.

"You can just drop me off at Departures," Bruno said when they got to Pearson

Wilbur snorted. "Are you kidding me?" he said. "It's finally about to happen. The rest of the guys would kill me if I missed this."

 

Boots was sitting by himself at the departure gate, slumped in his seat with his hands crumpled in his lap and his feet propped up on his suitcase. Bruno had run through the terminal at a careening pace and when he came to a stop in front of Boots, he was leaned over with his hands on his knees, panting.

"Don't--"

"Don't what?" Boots said. He looked not nearly as surprised to see Bruno as anyone else might have, but he made up for it by looking twice as angry. "Don't leave?" Boots spat out. "Stay here? Keep putting my life on hold? Don't try to quit whatever the fuck it is we've been doing since we were fourteen?"

Still half doubled-over, Bruno reached out and wrapped two cautious fingers around Boots's wrist. Suddenly, he was very aware that they were standing in the middle of a crowded airport. He looked down at where his thumb rested on Boots's pulse point.

"Don't leave without me," Bruno said.

Boots pursed his lips. "Look," he said, "my flight's boarding." It wasn't even a lie. All around them, people were gathering up their belongings and queuing to board the plane. But Bruno knew what it looked like when Boots was about to give him an inch.

"Fine, I'll go with you."

"You'll miss all your finals."

"Who cares? I don't know, I'll say I had a family emergency or something."

"You don't even have a ticket!"

"I'll buy one!" Bruno looked around frantically for Wilbur, who had trailed him through the airport at a much more reasonable pace and was now watching them from the concourse. "You have a credit card, right Wilbur?" Bruno said once he spotted him. "I need you to buy me a plane ticket to Vancouver."

"What? No!"

"C'mon, it's important, can't you see that?"

"Look," Wilbur said, approaching Bruno and Boots warily. Boots turned to give Wilbur a puzzled look and a slightly delirious wave. "I'm already gonna fail my Lit final because I'm spending all night driving you to the airport," Wilbur continued. "I'm not letting you max out my credit card."

Bruno took a cautious step back from Boots, but also kept one eye trained on him like Bruno didn't totally trust Boots not to make a run for it. "Listen, I'm begging you," he said. "I'll do whatever you want. I'll name my first-born after you. I'll never ask you for another favor for as long as I live."

"Where have I heard that one before?" Wilbur grumbled, but he was already reaching for his wallet.

***

"Oh great," Wil said, looking up from his computer when Simon and Noah Carlton entered Wil and Simon's room. "My parents want to come out for Founder's Day."

"Wow, you weren't kidding, they really love this place," Noah said. Noah lived a couple rooms down the hall, and they'd all started hanging out when Noah showed Simon and Wil how to hack into and rename the school library's wireless network. "Did they, like, drag you here all the time when you were a kid?" Noah asked.

"Nah," Wil said. "I grew up in BC, so it's kind of too far. My dads went to university around here, I think, but then they both went out to BC for grad school and stayed there when they were finished." Wil closed out of his email. "Anyway," he said, opening up a new browser window, "I downloaded all the YouTube videos of Mr. Utrecht's banjo recitals, did you figure out how to upload them on the class homepage?"

 

Chapter Four: Every Romantic Comedy Cliche Ever Invented

Hi Wil,

Bad news, looks like this trial is getting started next week so we won't be able to make it out for Founder's Day. Be sure to give The Fish's statue my best!

Love,
Pop

***

"I just still can't believe it."

"Well, I mean, he was pretty old. And with Mrs. Sturgeon already gone--"

Bruno and Boots were sitting in a rental car parked outside the Chutney Tavern. Bruno had just turned off the car's ignition, but he was seemingly stuck in the driver's seat, his face washed out and blank.

"Sure, of course," Bruno said eventually. "It's just -- the The Fish was old when I was fourteen. He's been old my whole life! Somehow, I never really thought he'd--"

Boots laid his hand on top of Bruno's where it still rested on the gearshift, lacing their knuckles together. "Yeah," Boots said, leaning over to press his lips against Bruno's temple. "I know."

They ran into Larry walking into the bar, and inside Mark, Wilbur and Sidney had already claimed a couple tables. The memorial service had been packed with former students of all ages and glancing around the bar, Boots noticed a few different groups of guys. Some were older than them and some younger, clustered at tables and in booths, drinking beer and looking somber.

"One drink and then we have to go," Boots said as they claimed seats across from Wilbur and Sidney. "We're flying out tonight because I have to teach tomorrow morning."

Larry shook his head. "I still can't believe you're a primary teacher," he said. "What year, again?"

"Grade 3," Boots said. He gave the rest of the guys a conspiratorial look, while under the table he reached out to hook his pinky finger through Bruno's. "I figure riding herd on twenty 8-year-olds is about the same as one fourteen year old Bruno," he said.

 

Later, on the way to the airport, following the long familiar stretch of Highway 48, Bruno said, "Remember what The Fish's nephew said at the memorial, about how he and Mrs. Sturgeon never had their own kids, but how all the guys at the Hall were like their kids?"

"Yeah," Boots replied, "That was nice."

"Sure, but -- is that how you feel about being a teacher?"

Boots considered this for a moment. He actually thought about Mr. Sturgeon a lot when he was teaching. The first time he ever gave one of his kids detention, he half-expected Mr. Sturgeon to magically appear behind him, giving Boots that fishy glare and letting Boots know just how preposterous he found the entire situation.

"It's different for me, I guess," Boots said. "I have kids for a year and then they move on. But no, that's not how I feel. I would still want my own kids."

Bruno shot him a sideways glance, eyebrows raised. "Would want," he asked, "or do want?"

Boots reached over and gave Bruno a comforting pat on the thigh. "Well," he said, "it's not like it's gonna happen for us on accident, unless Elmer's at MIT working on a science experiment that exceeds even my worst nightmares."

 

"You know," Bruno said, glancing over his shoulder as he eased the car into the lane for rental car parking. "It's kind of our anniversary."

"What are you talking about?"

"Well, it was seven years ago at this very airport…" Bruno trailed off. Boots smiled down at his lap, remembering what Wilbur later described as Bruno and Boots's valiant attempt to act out every romantic comedy cliche ever invented.

Even now, Boots still wasn't sure exactly what he had thought was going to happen when he waited until the eve of his departure to tell Bruno he was going to Vancouver for the summer. In a way, calling Bruno and telling him that he was getting on a plane in two hours had been Boots's very own version of a last-ditch scheme.

"The thing is," Boots said, "that was in June and right now it's October. The whole point of anniversaries is that they fall on the calendar at the same time every year."

Bruno brushed off this concern with a wave of the hand. "Whatever, semantics," he said.

"You're ridiculous."

"But you love me," Bruno said, pulling the car up to the rental return kiosk.

"Unfortunately, yes," Boots said. And then, unlike seven years ago, Bruno leaned over and kissed him.

 

Seven years ago, they'd both been scared out of their minds and also in full view of a couple hundred airline passengers. Wilbur had bought Bruno a ticket, and with only some light haranguing Bruno had convinced a guy in a business suit to switch seats with him. They'd sat silently next to each other during takeoff, Bruno still looking pretty wrecked from his sprint through the airport and Boots wondering if the other passengers could visibly see his heart trying to pump out of his chest cavity.

A couple minutes after takeoff, a stewardess had announced the in-flight movie: Escape from Mount St. Helens, Jordie Jones's recent ill-advised attempt to transition from a teen heartthrob to a full-fledged action movie star. Bruno and Boots had looked at each other and instantly started laughing. And then the absurdity of everything that had just happened had sort of collapsed on them, and they laughed even harder. They'd kept laughing until Bruno had the hiccups and Boots had been hyperventilating into his barf bag.

They'd watched Escape from Mount St. Helens twice, once in English and once in French. By the second time they'd watched Jordie's character escape a landslide on a toboggan, Boots had known that he and Bruno were going to be okay.

 

"It does make me think, though," Bruno said as they got out of the car. "If we do have a kid, you realize one of the biggest decisions is already taken care of."

***

"Hey, can you do me a favor?" Wil asked when he and Simon got back to their room after dinner.

"Sure, what?"

"Can you type out an email to my parents? I haven't emailed them in a couple weeks and I don't want them to get suspicious and find out about, you know," Wil nodded in the direction of his right arm, which was still in a sling after their misadventure with the Zamboni machine after last week's hockey game.

"Yeah, alright," Simon said, sitting down at Wil's desk. "Who's The Fish?" Simon asked, reading over Wil's pop's latest email.

"That's what they called the old headmaster," Wil said, shaking his head. He wanted to flop down on his bed in exasperation, but the sling was forcing him to move with the caution of an 85-year-old man. "Because his name was Sturgeon. Hilarious, right?"

"So … two dads, twice as many dad jokes?"

"Oh my god," Wil said. "You have have no idea."

 

Chapter Five: Happy Kidnapping Day

Hi Wil,

Happy Kidnapping Day! It's hard to believe that fourteen years ago today I almost had to learn how to change a diaper in a Vancouver city jail.

Love,
Pop

P.S. Hope you got your birthday package last week. Would it kill you to send your poor sweet old dads an email now and then?

***

Bruno and Boots were standing in an elevator, each with one hand white-knuckle gripped on a car seat held between the two of them. They were so focused on the car seat that they didn't even notice when the elevator arrived at the ground floor, paused, and then began its ascent back up to the main floor of the hospital.

"Don't cry, kiddo," Bruno said, looking at their screaming tomato-faced baby with a mixture of total adoration and complete gut-wrenching terror. "Daddy's gonna find the parking garage sooner or later."

"Nope, no way," Boots said.

"What?"

The elevator arrived back at the main floor. The doors opened, and Boots glanced out. Admittedly, the hospital lobby could have been full of dancing purple elephants when they'd entered the elevator and he probably wouldn't have noticed, but he was pretty sure they were right back where they started. He reached out with his free hand and punched the button for the garage level.

"We talked about this!" Boots said. Meanwhile, the baby continued screaming, but this was one of the few hills that Boots was willing to die on. "We agreed! I let you win the name argument, so I get to be Dad."

"You say you 'let' me win like we had a choice, which is--"

Arriving once again at the ground floor, the elevator dinged. Boots didn't even hear it over the baby's continued wails, and so they began another return journey to the hospital lobby.

"I just don't think," Boots started to say, trying to shift his weight so he could keep one hand on the carseat and also reach out to see if the baby somehow already needed a bottle or a diaper change in the 90 seconds since they'd left the hospital wing.

"I don't think," Boots repeated, "that we had to choose a name for our baby based on a completely unenforceable promise you made 10 years ago, and--" Boots glanced up and saw Bruno's face had broken into a huge grin. "What?" Boots said.

"Our baby," Bruno said. They still had the car seat in between them, but Bruno managed brush their shoulders together. "I just, you know -- I like the sound of that."

Boots had been studying the Gordian knot that was the car seat straps, wanting to unbuckle the poor kid but afraid he wouldn't be able to re-secure him if they ever eventually got to the car. He looked back up at Bruno, though, knowing he was making a particularly soppy smile. The sentiment was apparently lost on the baby, who continued to screech.

Meanwhile, the elevator completed another journey to the main floor, the doors sliding open once again. Unbeknownst to Bruno and Boots, a hospital security guard had been watching their back and forth journey with increasing concern. "Excuse me, gentlemen," the security guard said, stepping away from his post and toward the elevator. "Do you need any assistance?"

***

"Hi Dad," Wil said, muttering aloud to himself as he typed out an email reply. "Thanks for the birthday package. I'm not sure which poor sweet old dads I'm supposed to be emailing, though. The only dads I know are crazy people who do things like celebrate Kidnapping Day."

Across the room, Simon laughed at Wil's muttered commentary. "What's Kidnapping Day?" he said.

"Sorry, I thought you were asleep," Will said. "It's really stupid," he continued. "So, I'm adopted, right?"

"Uh, yeah, I kind of figured."

"So, yeah," Wil said, "my birthday was last week, but today's the day they actually took me home from the hospital. And, I don't know, it was the 90s, so I guess two dudes leaving a hospital with a newborn was still kind of conspicuous or whatever. They got lost trying to find the parking garage and a hospital security guard thought they were kidnapping me."

Wil rattled this off in the same bored way most kids had when they talked about embarrassing stories their parents never shut up about, like a traumatic encounter with a mall Santa or a first clarinet recital that ended with two lost front teeth. "Anyway, it's just some dumb thing my dads made up," he concluded. "You don't wanna hear about it."

"Oh, sure I do," Simon said. "I love hearing ridiculous stories about your dads, it gives me faith that one of us isn't going to get completely murdered by our parents when we inevitably get caught doing this Founder's Day thing."

"Eh, fair enough," Wil said. "That reminds me, did you manage to get the duct tape? I don't think we're going to be able to get anything to stay on the statue without it."

 

Postscript

Wilbur Patrick Walton-O'Neal, you are in a great deal of trouble, young man! I just got off the phone with the Headmaster. He was calling to inform me that you'll be on dishwashing duty until after Christmas because apparently you broke curfew, completely disrupted the Founder's Day ceremony and totally defaced Mr. Sturgeon's new statue. This is a very serious …

Hahah, just kidding! I couldn't even type that in an email with a straight face. Enjoy dishwashing duty. We'll send you some hand lotion, a few weeks with the suds in the school cafeteria really does a number on your skin. I just want to know one thing -- where did you get the bikini?

See you soon!

Love,
Pop