Cyrus’s eyes were red and dry, but he hoped that by rubbing them one more time, he could manage at least another ten minutes. The coffee cup that sat next to him on his desk had been empty for over an hour, but it was late, and the cafeteria was no longer open. He would just have to make do.
The words in the SAT practice manual seemed to blur together. Cyrus blinked hard, and they came into focus, but then began floating around the page. He yawned. Eying the edge of the book, Cyrus groaned. There was still so much left to cover, and he only had one more day.
I’ll just close my eyes for ten minutes, Cyrus thought to himself. Then I’ll finish this math section. Resting his head on his arms, Cyrus closed his eyes and drifted off. Just ten minutes…
“…Cyrus? Cyrus?” a voice said loudly. Something shook Cyrus’s shoulder. “Wake up.”
Blearily, Cyrus lifted his head off of the desk and straightened, feeling stiff. As his sleep-hazed vision cleared, he found Hayden staring at him, looking amused. “What time is it?” Cyrus asked.
“Ten ’til eight,” Hayden said with an easy air of nonchalance. “Have you been out here all night?”
Cyrus’s eyes bulged. “Ten ’til eight?” he demanded, bolting out of his chair. “We have class in ten minutes!”
Hayden shrugged, nonplussed. “Yeah, we do. Better get going.”
Racing to the bedroom, Cyrus yelled over his shoulder, “Why didn’t you wake me up sooner?”
“To be honest, I didn’t realize you were here,” Hayden admitted, following him towards the room. He leaned against the doorframe and continued, “When I woke up and you were gone, I figured you just went to breakfast. So that’s where I went, but you weren’t there. I came back and found you passed out over there,” he said, jerking a thumb towards the other room.
Cyrus scowled. At least he had been mostly dressed when he fell asleep; all he had to do was switch his undershirt out for a fresh one and pull on his Oxford. Hayden watched him, tapping his fingers on the wall all the while. Cyrus glanced over and Hayden raised a brow. “Well?” he asked, somehow still calm. “We can probably still make it on time if we run. And if you don’t button every single button on your shirt, but we both know that’s not going to happen.”
“It’s… not…” Cyrus said, face wrinkled in concentration as he frantically buttoned his shirt, “…uniform. Sorry I don’t like to look like a mess,” he huffed.
“Cyrus, you are a mess,” Hayden said, pushing himself away from the doorframe. “Let’s go.”
Hayden groaned. “Better tie it on the way, or you’ll be late.” He paused for a second, then amended, “Or we’ll both be late. Not that I care, but…it’s Thompson.”
Cyrus shouldered his bag and brushed past Hayden. “Come on, we have to hurry.”
Tossing his hands in the air, Hayden followed. “Yeah, cause I haven't been saying that for the past five minutes,” he grumbled.
They sprinted across campus, arriving at the classroom out of breath and panting. Breathing hard, Hayden managed a grin. “Well, we made it.”
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t on time,” Mr. Thompson commented from the front of the room. “But yes, you are to be commended for showing up to class like you’re supposed to. As a reward, how about you do me the honor of detention tomorrow afternoon?” he suggested.
Cyrus had finally caught his breath but still felt sick. Detention. He had never had detention before in his life. What did people even do in detention? Luckily, Hayden had a little more experience with such situations. “Sure thing; we’ll be there,” he responded. Thompson gave him a narrow-eyed look, then went back to teaching. Hayden leaned over, whispering to Cyrus, “Don’t worry, you pretty much just sit in silence and do homework.”
“I’ve never had detention before,” Cyrus whispered back, in a panic. The eyes of everyone in the room were on them as they found their seats. Cyrus glanced around; some were smirking, some laughing. Cyrus thought he saw a redhead roll his eyes, his jaw clenching in annoyance. Breaking eye contact immediately, Cyrus slumped into his seat, trying to disappear. He wondered if this day could get any worse.
“I figured,” Hayden replied.
“Stop whispering back there unless you want me to make it two detentions,” Mr. Thompson called.
Cyrus gulped and clamped his mouth shut. He considered playing it safe, maybe going the rest of the day without talking. It was going to be an awfully long day anyway.
“Hey,” Hayden said, knocking on the doorframe of the bedroom late that night. “You busy?”
“Always,” Cyrus replied, not looking up from his papers where they were spread across his bed. “What’s up?” He heard Hayden come farther into the room and finally glanced up.
Hayden thrust a slim package at him. “I got you this. I dunno, I just, uh, thought you seemed kind of stressed…and your music collection is kind of lacking.”
Cyrus sat up, staring at the envelope in his hand. “You got me a 45?” he asked, sliding the slim vinyl record out of the pouch.
“Yeah,” Hayden replied, a slight blush coloring his cheeks. “I thought I’d ease you into good music, so I got you an oldie. It’s one of my favorite relaxing songs.”
“‘O-O-H Child,’ The Five Stairsteps,” Cyrus read. “I’ve never heard it.”
“Not surprising,” Hayden said. “I’ve never heard it on record. Want to put it on?”
“Sure,” he agreed. “I could use a break anyway.”
Hayden nodded. “You could stand to quit, but…” he trailed off with a shrug. Cyrus ignored him and dug out the record player, slotting the single and spacer into the machine and laying the needle upon it. As the first chords drifted from the small speakers, Cyrus leaned against the headboard of the bed, closing his eyes.
Ooh, child, things are gonna get easier. Ooh, child, things’ll get brighter.
“You’re right, this is relaxing,” Cyrus commented, opening one eye to look at Hayden. “I kind of thought your music was going to be more…hardcore, I guess?”
Hayden snorted, “I told you, I’m easing you into it. Everyone needs an easy song now and then; I’ll show you some real stuff later.”
Someday, yeah, we’ll get it together and we’ll get it all done. Someday, when your head is much lighter.
Cyrus almost snorted. This song was so perfect for him right now; it was exactly what he needed, and he had to admit, he was enjoying it. It wasn’t too far off from the music he normally listened to, and it left him wondering what else Hayden had in store. “You know, if it’s all as good as this, that might not actually be so bad.”
Someday, yeah, we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun. Someday, when the world is much brighter.
“Crap, I should’ve started out with a lame song,” Hayden said. “Given you low expectations.”
Cyrus’s mouth turned up in a smile. “You realize,” he said, “if I’m going to listen to your music, you’ve got to listen to mine.”
Hayden made a face. “What, Beethoven?”
“Amongst other things.” Cyrus gave him a look. “Be honest, have you ever actually heard any classical music or folk, besides the super popular stuff?”
“I thought that when you’ve heard one song, you’ve heard them all,” Hayden muttered.
Cyrus rolled his eyes. “That just goes to show how misinformed you are.” The record faded out, and he got up to stop it. “But if you ever want to enlighten yourself, you have my permission to use this,” Cyrus said, gesturing towards the device as he slid the single out. “What’s ‘You Waited Too Long’?” he asked, reading the title off of the B-side.
“I dunno,” Hayden replied. “I just got it for the other song.”
“Huh,” Cyrus replied, slipping it back into the envelope. “Maybe I’ll listen to it later. I should probably get some sleep; tomorrow’s an important day,” he said, worn out before the day even started.
Hayden nodded. “Yeah. Just don’t stress out about it too much. One test isn’t going to make or break your whole life.”
Cyrus swallowed. In his mind, it pretty much would. “Right,” he found himself saying anyway. “Things are gonna get easier.”
Grinning, Hayden agreed, “You bet.”
“Thanks for the record,” Cyrus said sincerely. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“It was in the interest of spreading good music,” Hayden replied with a half shrug. “My mission in life.”
Cyrus smirked. “If only we could all have goals as noble as yours.”
“Shut up,” Hayden said, whipping a sock at Cyrus’s head and stifling a grin.
Knocking it away with the back of his hand, Cyrus joked, “I don’t have to take this kind of roommate abuse. I’m leaving.” He stood and snatched up his toiletry bag, storming out in mock anger.
“Finally, some peace and quiet in this place,” he heard Hayden mutter in a stage whisper as soon as he stepped into the hall. Cyrus laughed and walked to the bathroom, humming to himself.
Ooh, child, things’ll get brighter
Cyrus whispered, “Right now.”
“Get up!” Cyrus groaned. “Hayden!”
The boy slept like a rock. Cyrus glanced at his watch; he had been trying to get him up for five minutes now, and if he spent any more time, they’d be cutting it really close for the SATs. So Cyrus resorted to plan B, grabbing his own pillow off of his bed and whacking Hayden in the head with it. “Wake up!”
All this got him was a muffled groan and a tired, “Go away.”
“The SATs are in a half hour. Get up.” Cyrus hit him with the pillow again.
Surprisingly fast for one so tired, Hayden’s arm flashed out and wrested the pillow from Cyrus’s grip. He shoved it under his own and burrowed deeper. “Not taking ‘em.”
Cyrus let go of the pillow that he was trying to drag back out from in under Hayden’s head. He blinked. “You’re what?”
Hayden groaned again and sat up on his elbows. “You really don’t get the concept of ‘go away,’ do you?”
“What do you mean you’re not taking the SATs?” Cyrus asked, ignoring his comment.
“I’m not taking them,” Hayden reiterated. “That’s exactly what I mean. Can I go back to sleep now?”
“But if you don’t take them, you can’t get into college,” Cyrus pointed out in confusion.
Hayden nodded wearily. “Yeah, I get that. I’m not going to college.”
“Dude, it’s like, seven in the morning. I really don’t want to get into this right now,” Hayden said, laying his head back down.
Cyrus stared for a minute. “Come take them. It won’t hurt anything, and at least you’ll have the option of going to college. Which I totally think you should do, by the way,” he added.
“Ugh, but I’d have to get up.”
“Fine,” he conceded. “But we’re getting coffee first.”
Cyrus glanced at the time again. “I don’t think we’ll have ti-“
“We are getting coffee first,” Hayden said again, enunciating and not willing to take no for an answer.
“Better get going, then.”
Hayden was dressed and ready in record time, and they set off at a fast power walk to the dining hall. Coffee didn’t actually sound like a bad idea.
“So why aren’t you going to college?” Cyrus got up the nerve to ask.
“Long story,” Hayden replied dismissively.
Cyrus waited, but Hayden didn’t volunteer anything else. “Care to elaborate?”
“No,” he decided.
That was an obvious close to the conversation. Cyrus frowned. Hayden was pretty smart, and he had the potential to be an excellent student if he would just put a little effort into it. There didn’t seem to be any reason why he wouldn’t go to college. Why waste all that talent?
It didn’t seem right.