“I don’t get why she thinks she has to come here just to talk about it,” Cyrus complained as he straightened his tie in the mirror. It was stupid that he was dressing up so much just for lunch with his mom, but if he was going to have the best chance of pleading his case, he would have to look the part of the confident, self-assured, unyielding son.
“Maybe it’s an April Fool’s joke,” Hayden grinned. Cyrus shot him a look.
“My mother doesn’t do April Fool’s.”
“Well, it’s a big decision,” Hayden said, sitting cross legged on his bed. “It’s probably better for you, actually. I think she’ll take you more seriously in person, so you might have a better chance.”
“Maybe,” Cyrus said with a frown. “Still doesn’t make me very happy about it.”
“You’ll be just fine,” Hayden assured him, his confidence far surpassing Cyrus’s. “It’s your mom, after all. For all your differences, I’m sure she’ll love you just as much no matter how this goes.”
Cyrus was less sure. He glanced at the time and sighed. “I guess I should go. If I’m late, this’ll be over before it even begins.”
“Good luck,” Hayden said. “Tell me how it went when you get back.”
“I will,” Cyrus promised, “Bye.”
Leaving the dorm room, Cyrus ran into Lee in the hall. “Going somewhere all fancied up?” he teased.
“Lunch with my mother,” Cyrus replied, his voice devoid of any sort of enthusiasm.
“Sounds rough. Have fun.” Lee clapped him on the shoulder and headed past him towards the bathrooms.
“Thanks,” Cyrus muttered under his breath. Fun would be one way to describe it. Torture would be another.
Outside, there was a car ready to take him into town where his mother would be waiting for him. She had already cleared it with the school and, since it was a Saturday, they didn’t seem to have a problem with it. The driver didn’t speak as Cyrus got in, and still hadn’t said a word when they pulled up in front of the fancy French restaurant at which his mother had made their reservations.
Cyrus went inside and met the hostess at the front. “Hello, is there a reservation under the name ‘Angeles?’” he asked.
“Yes. One person is already here,” the woman said, glancing at her list. “I’ll take you to the table. Follow me.”
Damn, Cyrus cursed internally. He had wanted to be the first to arrive. The hostess led him to a little table in the corner at which his mother was already sitting. She looked exactly the same as she had on the day she’d dropped him off in August. Her dark brown hair was precisely shoulder length and cut straight across, barely brushing the shoulders of her crisp pantsuit. There were a few wrinkles on her face, but they were hidden underneath well-done makeup. One thing that Cyrus knew never changed was his mother’s piercing, challenging stare, which he now had the fortune of being subjected to.
“Cyrus,” she said in greeting. “It's good to see you.”
“Same to you, mother,” Cyrus said, his voice as stiff as his words.
“Congratulations on your acceptance to Princeton,” his mother said, seeming more genuine than usual.
“Thank you,” Cyrus said. They lapsed into silence as they both studied the menu. It wasn’t until they had ordered that they truly began to talk.
“So, you said on the phone that we had to talk about college,” Cyrus’s mother said. “I quite agree, but what did you mean by it?”
Cyrus took a deep breath. Here goes. “I don’t want to go to Princeton.”
His mother’s face was a mask devoid of emotion. “Surely you aren’t being serious.”
As if Cyrus would ever attempt to crack a joke to his mother, of all people.“I’m entirely serious,” Cyrus said, looking her in the eye. He hid his shaking hands under the table. “I don’t want to go to Princeton.”
“Why?” she demanded. “Princeton is quite possibly the top school in the country and you’re finally in. Do you know how much work that has taken? The inconvenience, the additional interview? This has been your goal for your whole li-“
“No, it’s been your goal,” Cyrus cut her off. “There’s a difference.” She pressed her lips into a hard line. “My entire life you’ve been doing what was best for you - what you wanted. You’ve put me in schools that you thought were the best, you’ve enrolled me in summer camp after summer camp that you thought would benefit me,” Cyrus said, becoming more and more confident as he talked. Everything he had bottled up in the past few years was spewing forth in a disastrous rant. “You never once asked what I wanted. You never once considered that maybe I might like to go to an art camp over engineering.
“But that’s fine. I’m okay with that, I guess,” Cyrus continued, not letting her talk. “But this is a major part of my life. I’m not going to settle for something I’m not happy with just because you want it. I’m sorry, but I won’t.”
Cyrus’s mother stared at him, stunned and more than a little angry. “Cyrus, you do not want to arg-“
“I don’t want to?” Cyrus interrupted, which caused the muscles in his mother’s jaw to clench in annoyance. “How do you know what I want? How could you possibly know what I want? You just pop into my life a couple days a year, and then you think you could actually know what I want?”
“Lower your voice,” she hissed, glancing around at the other people in the restaurant. Cyrus clenched his fists to calm himself as she sighed. “Where would you go, if not Princeton?”
“University of North Carolina,” Cyrus said immediately. “For fine arts.”
“Fine arts is not a major, not a career,” she snapped. “You can’t earn a proper living that way.”
“I don’t care,” Cyrus said. Inside, though, he knew this was going as well as could be expected. At least her doubts meant that she had begun to consider the alternative.
“No. You may not care, but I do,” his mother said. He was about to protest when she held up a hand. “If you went there, I would at least require you to double major in something scientific as well. You would need something that would give you a solid income.”
Cyrus blinked at her for a minute. “Are you saying I can go if I double major?”
His mother pursed her lips, then sighed. “I’m certainly not happy about it, but you do make a point. I have not been as… available as I might have been, and I realize that I’ve been rather, well, demanding,” she conceded, adjusting the napkin in her lap, “and I suppose this is, essentially, your choice. Still, I strongly, strongly, encourage going to Princeton, and I would hope that you would at least entertain it for graduate school…”
“But that’s a yes?” Cyrus’s heart soared.
She hesitated before finally giving in. “If you've given this serious thought and are still determined, then I suppose.”
Cyrus was so overcome with emotion that he actually got out of his chair and hugged his mother. She stiffened in his arms, for they never hugged. Ever. After a minute, though, she relaxed and hugged him back, albeit a bit awkwardly. Letting go, Cyrus sat back down again just as the food came. “Thank you,” he told her with the most sincerity he had ever put into those words.
“Don’t make me regret this.”
“I won’t,” Cyrus promised.
Cyrus’s mother nodded once, then her expression clouded over. “I… I didn’t even know you were interested in art.”
Cyrus was quiet for a long moment, picking at his food. “I guess we should talk more, huh?”
“We should,” she agreed.
A few minutes later, Cyrus decided to push his luck. It might not have been the best idea, but he was feeling bolstered on by his recent victory. “Mother, does your company still offer that scholarship program?”
She frowned. “Well, yes, but you would hardly need it.”
“No, not for me,” Cyrus said. “I just wondered if I could put in a good word for a friend.”
His mother took a dainty sip of water. “I suppose.”
“Well, it’s my roommate, actually. He wants to go to UNC too, but he’s, uh, an orphan,” Cyrus admitted. “But he’s really smart, and it’d be a shame if he couldn’t go. I think he’s more than deserving of the scholarship.”
“You know that I review the final application pool and accept the winner myself, but I am hesitant to jump someone forward to that pool without having met them,” she said. She dabbed at her lips, then checked her watch. “But I have an hour until my flight leaves, so perhaps we could stage an impromptu interview of sorts?”
Cyrus was already agreeing. “Yeah, yes, of course!”
“I’ll send your driver to pick him up and bring him here, then?” Before he knew it, his mother’s phone was in her hand and she was texting the driver.
“Can I borrow your phone to call and let him know?” Cyrus asked. He hoped Hayden would be okay with this. Cyrus wished he had explained a little more about the scholarship beforehand.
When his mother handed over the cellphone, Cyrus dialed their landline and waited as it rung. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s Cyrus.”
“Uh, what are you doing calling the phone-that-should-never-ring?” Hayden asked, his voice sounding different over the phone, but still familiar. “I thought you were having lunch with your mom. Is something wrong?”
“I am,” Cyrus said. “Actually that’s what I’m calling about. She wants to meet you. You remember that scholarship through her shipping company that could give you a free ride to college?”
“Um, you didn’t tell me about a scholarship…”
“Yeah, that one,” Cyrus kept going, not wanting to let on to his mother that Hayden was in the dark about this. “Well, she just wants to ask you a few questions, and get to know you and all. There'll be a car for you in about ten minutes, okay?”
“Cyrus, what’s going-“
“See you in a few,” Cyrus finished in a hurry, then hung up. He smiled at his mother and handed back her phone.
“Everything good?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied, smiling. “Everything’s fine.”
Waiting until Hayden arrived was torture. Cyrus and his mother tried in vain to make small talk about his school and her work, until at last they gave up and focused on clearing their plates. Just before Hayden arrived, the three plates of flan that Cyrus’s mother ordered for them all came, so there was already a dessert waiting for Hayden.
“Hello, Mrs. Angeles,” he greeted with a bright smile, approaching the table and offering his hand. Hayden looked sharper than usual for some reason, despite the fact that he was simply wearing his school shirt, tie and blazer. “I’m Hayden. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
“The pleasure is mine,” Cyrus’s mother said, her professional, polite persona resurfacing after the brief bit of unguarded conversation she had with Cyrus. Her smile was reserved as she gestured towards the unoccupied place setting. “Please, have a seat.”
The server had already provided an extra chair, so he sat down, but didn’t touch his food yet. “So, Cyrus tells me you’re visiting from Canada? This weather must seem refreshing, then.” His smile was genuine, and his eyes seemed to assure her that one hundred percent of his attention was directed her way.
“Yes, quite,” Mrs. Angeles replied. Cyrus watched her face soften a fraction and could tell that Hayden was slowly charming her, just like he did everyone else. “You're interested in a scholarship, I hear?”
“I am, if at all possible,” Hayden said, nodding. “I’m not sure how much Cyrus told you, but my parents died in a car accident when I was younger. I’ve been at Sharpe’s ever since, and I planned to move to Greensboro to be close to my younger brother, but there’s no way I would be able to work enough to put myself through college on minimum wage.”
Cyrus was surprised to hear him talking so openly about his situation, but it seemed to be having the desired effect. It was slight and invisible to anyone else, but Cyrus could see a hint of sympathy in his mother’s eyes. “And what would your intended major be?”
“I have a definite interest in history, but I also think I would enjoy business,” Hayden said. “Or maybe even some sort of combination of the two.”
“Business is something I could get behind,” she said with a half smile.
Hayden laughed. “Yes, I’m sure. Cyrus told me you built your company from the ground up.”
“I did. It was hard work, but it paid off.”
“In my experience, hard work always does,” Hayden replied, locking eyes with her.
Cyrus’s mother cocked her head at him, the motion throwing the straight line of her hair askew. They talked for a few more minutes about academics and other trivial matters until finally she said, “You definitely ought to send in your application for this scholarship, Hayden. I do like it when the award goes to someone deserving.”
That was an insane compliment coming from her mouth, and Cyrus had to stop his jaw from dropping open. Hayden would get the scholarship, he had no doubt.
“Thank you very much, ma’m,” Hayden said, beaming. “I’ll be sure to do that.”
She nodded, then reached for her coat. “I ought to go. Perhaps if I arrive early, they’ll be prepared to leave early. It was nice meeting you,” she said to Hayden who returned the sentiment. Turning to Cyrus, she said, “And, Cyrus, do keep in touch. Put the bill on my card.”
“I will,” Cyrus said to both requests. “Thank you so much, Mother.”
With a nod, she said a quick goodbye and swept out, her high heels clicking on the marble floor. The moment Hayden and Cyrus were alone, they relaxed. “Wow,” Hayden said. “Just wow.” After a beat, he gave Cyrus a narrow look. “A little warning next time, maybe?”
“Sorry,” Cyrus apologized. “I didn’t want to get your hopes up if she said no to jumping you ahead in the scholarship pool.”
“A full scholarship,” Hayden breathed. “Wow,” he said again. “Do you think it’ll really happen?”
“She seemed pretty charmed by you,” Cyrus said, then gave a wry smile. “Maybe it runs in the family. But yeah, I think it will. She makes the ultimate decision, you know.”
“Thank you,” Hayden said. “If it weren’t for you…” he shook his head. “I have no idea where I’d be.”
“It’s the least I can do,” Cyrus said. “Eat your dessert, then let’s get out of here. This place is too fancy for me.”
“Wait, you didn’t tell me what she said about Princeton,” Hayden realized. “Is she going to let you go to UNC?”
“Yeah,” Cyrus told him, unable to contain a grin. “As long as I do a second major in something science related, she’ll let me major in fine arts too.”
Hayden grinned so wide it reached his eyes. “Awesome. That’s so awesome!”
“It is, isn’t it?” Cyrus replied. And it really was. In his wildest dreams, he couldn’t have expected this to go as well as it did. Maybe everything would work out for once. Happiness and success always seemed mutually exclusive in the past, but, with any luck, this could be Cyrus’s chance to change that.