“Sharpe’s Boarding School,” the sign read. Cyrus stood facing the marble pillar with a sigh. Another year, another school. Another class of people for him to drive away, he thought with a bitter scowl towards the sprawling buildings.
In the three hours they had been together, Cyrus’s mother had imparted on him all sorts of wisdom, most of which had been patronizing and none of it useful. It was as if she had saved every lecture over the past six months for this one car ride. It’ll be a fresh start, she had said on the way back from the science camp she’d dumped him at for the summer. Well, at least she was throwing the odd bit of encouragement in with the lecturing.
Maybe he just wouldn't try this year. Maybe he’d just accept the fact that he’d never have any friends and try to move on with his life. After all, it was his last year before college, and all he had to do was make it through. A fresh start my ass, Cyrus thought to himself. More like a fresh group of people to get hurt by.
With another sigh, Cyrus pushed open the gate and stepped onto the grounds. Naturally, his mother had to rush off to some kind of business appointment, leaving Cyrus on his own. Resigned, he lugged his large suitcase and duffle bag towards the old fashioned stone buildings of the main campus. The plastic wheels broke the silence as they caught in the gaps of the cobblestone pathway.
Sharpe’s, Cyrus was told, was one of the oldest boarding schools in the state of Pennsylvania, and, therefore, all boys. As if this year couldn’t get any worse. They were all about academics, creating their courses with only one thing in mind: acceptance into Ivy League colleges. Cyrus wasn’t worried. It wasn’t pride that drove him to think that way, but few friends and no social life meant that there wasn’t much to occupy his time other than studying. Plus, as much as he railed against the science and math camps his mother enrolled him in every summer, he had gained a lot from them. No, the school part wasn’t going to be the issue here. It was without a doubt going to be the people.
A woman in a preppy maroon blazer met him at the doorway to the school, her hands clasped in front of her and a guarded smile plastered on her face. “Cyrus Angeles?” she asked.
Cyrus nodded, “That’s me.”
She inclined her head, her tight bun of dark hair seeming to weigh down her head and force her chin high as she corrected, “I believe you mean, ‘That’s I.’” Cyrus could see her eyes narrow ever so slightly behind her glasses as if to say, And I thought you were supposed to be smart. He sighed inwardly this time.
“Yes, ma’m.” Sure, that was what he meant, if he was living in nineteenth century England.
“Good,” she said, as if satisfied that she set the tone for their relationship. “I’m Assistant Headmistress McMillan. It's a pleasure to welcome you to Sharpe’s Boarding School, the oldest school in the state and the most prestigious on top of it,” McMillan said, sounding as if she had memorized the brochure. Or swallowed it. Maybe that was why she stood so stiff and upright. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to meet a student who will be showing you around and helping you with whatever else you need.”
McMillan set off down the hall, her heels clicking hard against the stone floor. At least this school fit the pattern of those ones he had been at previously: meet someone important, get dumped off on some unsuspecting kid, get ditched by the kid and be forced to figure things out alone, usually with much embarrassment.
Cyrus walked with her in silence, wincing every time the wheels on his suitcase caught in a rut between the stones. The school was indeed old; it was almost like a castle on the inside. High ceilings and gray stone were everywhere, and everything looked gracefully worn. If someone were to add some fire-lit torches on the walls and a few people wandering around in full length robes, this could either be a monastery, a wizarding school, or a proper cult. He probably would’ve preferred either of the last two over what it actually was.
They turned a corner and found a boy Cyrus’s age sitting on a bench, his light blonde hair a little disheveled and his tie crooked. He stood immediately, pulling on his blazer to straighten it and smiling as if it was a reflex.
“Mr. Brenton,” McMillan said, addressing the boy, “this is Cyrus Angeles. Take care of anything he might need,” she commanded. Turning to Cyrus, her tone softened a bit as she said, “Cyrus, this is your new roommate. Feel free to explore the campus and everything Sharpe’s has to offer. I’m certain you’ll enjoy it here.”
“Thank you,” Cyrus said with little sincerity.
McMillan looked between Cyrus and the other boy, then strode off down the hall with purpose. After she left, the boy turned to Cyrus. “She’s pleasant, isn’t she?” he said with a wry smile. Cyrus just looked at him as he offered his hand, saying, “You can call me Hayden. Welcome to Hell.” He said these words with such a false cheery smile on his face that Cyrus couldn’t help but crack a smile of his own.
Cyrus shook his hand and said, “I’m Cyrus, obviously.”
“You’re also apparently my new roommate,” Hayden said, his brown eyes seeming to appraise Cyrus, seeing if he was indeed roommate material. After a moment he broke his gaze away and started off down the hall. “I thought I might end up alone this year; we don't get many new people. Come on, I’ll take you to the dorms so that you can drop off your stuff. Classes don’t start until tomorrow, so I’ll give you a tour of the place afterwards.”
Cyrus nodded, saying nothing, but following him down the corridor.
“Want me to take one of your bags?” Hayden offered.
“I got it, thanks,” Cyrus brushed him off.
Hayden shrugged. “Suit yourself. So, where you from?”
Cyrus wondered how he should answer that. He hadn’t had a home in over five years, instead moving from school to school, camp to camp. His mother lived in Canada now, but he’d never even been to visit her. His father was dead. “Ohio,” he blurted, the first state that came to mind.
“Huh,” came the noncommittal reply. “I’m from New York, myself,” he said to fill the conversational gap. There was a silence which Hayden evidently found dissatisfying. “So…uh…tell me a bit about yourself, Cyrus.”
“I can’t,” Cyrus replied flatly, almost without thinking. Immediately, he kicked himself; usually he was in far tighter control of his words, and he wasn’t sure what had made him slip. “There’s really nothing to tell,” he explained, recovering fine.
“Aw, come on. I’m sure that’s not true,” Hayden said, his brown eyes searching Cyrus’s face to see if he was just being humble or whether he was, in fact, serious. Cyrus just shrugged. Eventually, Hayden gave in, whatever determination he had come to remaining a mystery. “Well, alright then.”
Neither made any further attempt at conversation for the rest of the walk to the dorms. It wasn’t that Cyrus was deliberately being standoffish, only, well, he was. Cyrus had gone through the disappointment of hoping that the person he'd been stuck would be his friend too many times. He wouldn’t fool himself into thinking that Hayden’s friendliness was anything more than doing what was asked of him. He wasn't any different from the others, chances were he'd get annoyed by Cyrus in less than a week. It was always the same. Cyrus was always the new kid trying to tag along with the first person he met, and it never worked out. This time, he wasn’t even going to try. He could survive one year by himself, no problem. He had survived all the others. Only this time, Cyrus decided, he would be alone by choice. It was all about control, and if Cyrus had it this year, maybe it wouldn’t seem as miserable as the others.
“Here we are,” Hayden said at last, gesturing to a twisted staircase that led up to the dorms. Cyrus looked at him, and Hayden must have been able to read his expression. “Yeah, I know. Like some Harry Potter crap. Go on, though, it’s pretty nice up there. You sure you don’t want help with those bags?”
They were a little heavy for carrying up stairs, so Cyrus said, reluctant, “If you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” Hayden replied. “Here, give me the larger one.”
Whether or not he was just trying to show off, Cyrus handed it over without argument. Cyrus was far from weak himself, but Hayden’s arms were tight and muscular - strong, but not in an ostentatious way. Perhaps he was an athlete. That would be all Cyrus needed; a jock roommate to witness his weirdness first hand and relate it to the rest of the popular crew. Without a word, he hefted the duffel bag and headed upstairs.
At the crest of the staircase, Cyrus found himself stepping into a small lounge area with a fireplace and several cushy chairs. A few tables lined the walls, each stacked with either books or the occasional chess set. Preppy, just like Cyrus had expected. The corner of a playboy magazine peeked out from behind a large textbook on the table, but the boy sitting in front of it hurried to adjust the stack as he caught Cyrus's look. They made brief eye contact before Cyrus hurried to follow Hayden from the room. Two hallways branched off of either side of the lounge, and Hayden took the one to the left. A few boys looked up as they passed, but none seemed to care much about the new kid. Cyrus preferred it that way.
“Here we are,” Hayden said, taking a metal key from his pocket and slipping it into the hole. “Room 203.” He swung the door open and then handed the key to Cyrus. “Here, take my key. I have a spare around here somewhere.” He walked down a short hallway into the main room and headed for a messy desk, rummaging in a drawer while Cyrus looked around.
The room was much larger than Cyrus had been expecting. In fact, there were two rooms; one broke off the small hallway and contained two twin beds pushed against either wall and the other held a couch, two desks and a projector hanging from the ceiling. “Bathrooms are at the end of the hall,” Hayden said, returning to Cyrus’s side. “Your bed is the one on the left, if that’s okay,” he added, gesturing towards the other room.
Cyrus stepped from the living room into the bedroom, noting how symmetrical everything was. There were two parallel beds, each with a dresser and bookshelf at its foot. Two wardrobes lined either side of the door, and a window hovered over a low, shared bed stand on the far wall. The window was open slightly, making the little curtains that framed it flutter in the wind.
Without a word, Cyrus dropped his duffel bag on his bed and started unpacking, figuring Hayden would probably leave him alone for a bit.
He didn’t. “So, what do you think of the place? Like my decorations?” Hayden asked with a grin as he flopped down on the bed. He gestured at two posters hanging on the wall, one of a car and the other featuring Pat Benatar in an outfit which was a little too revealing in Cyrus’s sensible opinion. “Nice, huh? That beauty is a ’67 Jaguar E type. The other’s just a beauty. Well, and a rock legend.”
“Cool,” Cyrus said, hoping his blatant lack of enthusiasm would impress upon Hayden his desire for solitude. He turned back to his bag, taking out his clothes and placing them, already folded, into the drawers. He unzipped his hard suitcase and removed his button-down shirts, moving to the closet for hangers. When Cyrus turned around, Hayden was standing at the edge of the bed and taking something out of his luggage. “What are you doing?” Cyrus snapped.
Hayden’s head jerked up, and he stepped back, hands raised in surrender. “Sorry, it’s just- I mean, not to pry, but… are those vinyl records?”
Hesitant, Cyrus nodded.
“That’s so awesome,” Hayden replied, a grin appearing on his face that was such a perfect balance of genuine and mischievous that it somehow caused Cyrus to forgive him without thought. “I’ve always wanted a record player, but…” he trailed off with a shrug. Glancing around, Hayden asked, “Did you bring a turntable too?”
“Kind of,” Cyrus replied, taking a slim device shaped almost like a TV remote with a slit in the side of it from the pocket of his duffel. He popped it open at the slit and showed Hayden the pin in the middle. “You put the record in and it clamps down on both sides, then there’s a needle that swings out.”
“That is wicked.” Hayden’s eyes lit up, re-evaluating Cyrus, his eyes saying, Maybe this guy is cool after all. As if. “So what kind of records do you have? The Stones? AC/DC?”
“Uh,” Cyrus said, but Hayden had already pulled out the stack of records that took up almost half of the room in his suitcase. Even though his two bags had to hold most of his earthy possessions - save the few boxes at his mom’s storage unit somewhere or other - Cyrus’s records were important to him. He would sacrifice the space to have the one thing that made him feel better - music.
The more Hayden flipped through, the more disappointed his face got. “Jim Croce? What’s this - Beethoven? Mozart?” He looked up. “Dude, we gotta update your collection.”
“I like my collection the way it is,” Cyrus said, his voice stiff, “thank you very much.” He took the small pile of records out of Hayden’s hands and stacked them on the bookshelf standing up, as he’d learned was the best way to store his precious vinyls.
“Maybe I can change your mind,” Hayden said, smiling an uneven, crooked smile.
Giving him a dull stare, Cyrus said, “Hardly.”
Hayden shrugged, grinning that same sincere but mischievous smile again. “I like a good challenge.”