Jan/Feb 2022  •   Fiction

The Last Five-Year Club

by Robert Earle

Artwork by Dale Bridges

Artwork by Dale Bridges

On arrival day we were told to come to Mr. Overbrook's apartment at 8:30 for milk and cookies. We should wear our pajamas, robes, and slippers because lights out was at 9:00. We filed in and sat down on the carpet with paper cups of milk in our hands and paper plates with two cookies for each of us in our laps.

Mr. Overbrook greeted us as a group and asked us to say our names and where we were from. After that he recited the dormitory rules, speaking in a solemn tone of voice and looking over our heads at the bookcases behind us as if we were shelved up there, not at his feet. Then he lowered his eyes and said he had something to add to the normal first night welcome. There were 11 of us in the second form, a very small number, he told us, and we would be the last second form.

"We have found only half of you will be with us for the full five years until your graduation. That undermines the rationale for a second form."

"Why will the other half leave?" Edgerton asked, the only one of us to speak.

"Some will choose not to stay because the school is not a good fit. Others will leave for family reasons. Those who stay will comprise what we have called the Five-Year Club. The Last Five-Year Club in fact."


After lights out Upton and Bannock lay in their beds talking about what family reasons meant.

"It's probably the parents get divorced, or maybe they go broke," Upton said.

"I'm here because my parents did get divorced," Bannock said. His father was the one who brought him to Darby. "We're sending you up the river," his father said at one point. Bannock looked around for a river. He didn't see one, just the berms on either side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. "What river?" "That's just a saying." "What's it mean?" "Going to prison."

In their room Miller and Hill talked about which guys wouldn't make it the full five years. Hill said he was going to have to work like crazy because his school in Florida was terrible. Miller said his school in Newburg was terrible, too.

In the room next to Upton and Bannock, Underwood had noticed something about Aronson's pajama bottoms.

"Don't you take off your underwear when you put on your pajamas?"

"Sure, I do," Aronson said.

Kuharich and Davis didn't talk. Neither did Stevens and Graining. Graining hated having someone else in his bedroom.

Three scholarship boys lived in the unrenovated rooms on the second floor, right across from Mr. Beaumont's apartment: Edgerton, Vincent the swimmer, and Littleton Black, or Little Black, as we christened him.

Vincent was shaking the upper bunk above Little Black.

"What are you doing?" Little Black asked.

"Jerking off. Get me a rag, will you?"

"Get your own rag."

"Get it or I'll beat the shit out of you."

Little Black got Vincent a washcloth and threw it up to him.

"Now leave me alone. I'm thinking."


We made it to Mr. Beaumont's table for breakfast sit-down at 7:21. Mr. Beaumont had thinning brown hair and keen, skeptical eyes. Mrs. Beaumont sat beside him. She had wispy strawberry blond hair and troubled, watery eyes. He did all the talking, explaining how things worked. At breakfast one boy would be assigned to collect the cereal dishes and juice glasses and take them to the kitchen where he would retrieve scrambled eggs or chipped beef or pancakes. Then a second boy would go to the kitchen and return with a blue pot of coffee and a green pot of tea. Underwood and Graining were the first and second boys that week. The same procedure was followed at all the tables, five across the dining room's width and six up its length.

After breakfast we met our masters. For English, again with Mr. Beaumont, we would have to write a 250-word theme paper every week. In Latin Mr. Overbrook continued to speak as if he were reciting, his eyes aloft as he told us we would learn the declensions, conjugations, and peculiarities of grammar. In earth science Mr. Sullivan, the football coach, said we would cover the coastal plains, central plains, mountains, volcanoes, earthquakes, and oceans. Ancient history with Mr. Taylor would take us from the Tigris in Mesopotamia to the Tiber in Rome. Math with old Mr. Pike would introduce us to pre-algebra. Bible studies with Reverend White, heavyset but sharp-faced, would begin with the Creation, the laws, and the prophets. Mr. Delveccio, the art teacher, was an Amish-looking man with a neatly trimmed beard but no mustache. He said what we did in art class depended on what interested us: drawing, woodcuts, clay sculpture, or watercolors. Art wasn't a textbook undertaking, he emphasized. It required inspiration and passion. He laughed and asked if any of us were feeling inspired.

After lunch we reported to the basketball court in our jockstraps, where we had our height and weight measured and stepped on a wooden box for posture photographs. Miss Loveday, the registrar, took notes as Nurse Belleau called out the measurements. Edgerton was both skinniest and tallest, leading to his nickname, Edge. Aronson was the fattest. Miller the shortest. Kuharich (already Ku) had scoliosis of the spine. He looked like a goose-pimpled banana. Davis didn't want to take off his socks because the floor was cold. That's when he became Socks.

The Darby Academy was like a watch face whose minute hand swept us along relentlessly. If we wanted to avoid compulsory study hall after dinner in the Middle School basement, we would complete our assignments on time. If we wanted to avoid being late to class, we would learn the shortcuts across campus, which was, in effect, the watch face itself, the place where the minute hand pushed us around and around. Soon we could close our eyes and tell where we were by the sound our shoes made on the bricks or pine floors or worn brown linoleum and whether we were going to beat the bells that rang at the same instant all over campus from seven in the morning until nine at night. Only the chapel bell with its dull clang rang differently, summoning us five nights a week and on Sunday mornings.

Lights out at 9:30 released the twin demons, homesickness and bullying. Homesickness could last for weeks. Until he couldn't stand it any longer, Graining kept his homesickness to himself. Miller threw up his meals. Hill began getting up at 6:00 to study for an hour before breakfast, then he began getting up at 5:30. The reason Aronson's pajama bottoms looked odd was that he had pads sewn into them in case he wet himself. Underwood figured it out. Some of us began raiding their room and pulling off Aronson's pajama bottoms. Another game was using his Countess Mara ties to knot him into his chair. No matter what we did to him, Aronson would giggle apologetically. He said he had never fit in anywhere, so he knew he wouldn't fit in at Darby. Did that mean he had been sent away somewhere else when he was even younger? Yes, in England, where the abuse was worse; that was why he peed at night, waiting for it.

Everyone had a work job to keep the buildings and grounds spic and span. After breakfast Miller cleaned blackboards in a classroom attached to the east side of Darby Hall. He filled a bucket with water in a utility closet and soaked a rag and wrung it out. Then he walked back and forth across three chipped panels of blackboard, wiping off the remaining particles from listing the Roman emperors, Augustus to Otho. After the emperors were gone, Miller took a moment to look out over the Quad from the classroom's back window. Sixth Formers were permitted to walk across its grass in the spring term. No one else ever. Miller opened the window just enough to slip his hands and wrists through so he could clap two erasers together without having to inhale their blooms of chalk.

On Wednesday afternoons when we had town privileges, Harry, the school detective, drove around Pittston to make sure we stayed in the permitted zone. You could buy Playboy at a High Street tobacco shop if you got in and out without him seeing you. If he caught you, you would get three points, which you had to work off in the gym the next Wednesday afternoon with push-ups and sit-ups. Demerits were for worse offenses. You couldn't work demerits off. If you got three demerits in a year, you'd be expelled.

At around five in the afternoon, house sparrows raised a racket in the ivy on the north facade of Old School, where we lived, and if you had your windows open at night, you could hear the clanking and shrieking of Pittston's steel mills.

Little Black began crawling into his laundry bag after sports and before chapel, lying cocooned on his bed, listening to the house sparrows' din.

Two parents visited regularly. Edge's father showed up to watch Edge play Midgets football—it turned out Edge only lived 20 miles away in the Philadelphia suburbs. Coming down from Bethlehem, Stevens' mother sometimes parked on a service road and sat on the hood of her red Corvette to watch him play Midgets soccer. She pushed her sunglasses up over her hair and smoked with a long black cigarette holder. At a distance she and the car looked like a red and gold brushstroke, a single twist of the bristles.

Vincent came to Darby to swim, but in the fall the pool was only open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons with no lap swimming. He had the national 12-year-old freestyle record, so he swam laps anyway, knocking people out of his lane. He got points for that and ended up the next Wednesday working them off in the gym. Next he stuffed his pockets with the little pancakes we were served for breakfast, went upstairs to his room, and sailed them at people below. A rush of victims stormed up after him. Vincent scrambled out the window onto a counterweighted fire escape, but he wasn't heavy enough for the fire escape to drop. There was a fight. Vincent took the worst of it. Mr. Beaumont broke things up and sent Vincent to the infirmary, where Doc Belleau stitched his split eyebrow. Then Vincent had to see Dean Amboy. Dean Amboy gave him a demerit for throwing the pancakes and a demerit for being on the fire escape. One more demerit, and he would be sent home.

Vincent said, "Coach Chambliss isn't going to let you send me home. I'm the fastest swimmer in this school."

Dean Amboy said, "Watch yourself, Mr. Vincent. I haven't been hearing good things about you."

"Like what?"

"I think you know."

"Says who?"

"Never mind who."

Vincent thought it must be Little Black, but his eyebrow was bleeding again, so he gave in. "Yes, sir."

"Now go back to the infirmary and get your bandage changed."

That afternoon Vincent came back to his room and found Little Black asleep in his laundry bag. He tiptoed over to Little Black's bed and pushed his head inside. Then he pulled Little Black across the hall and looped the laundry bag's strings around Mr. Beaumont's doorknob.

Mr. Beaumont wasn't there, but as always, Mrs. Beaumont was. The idea was that while Mr. Beaumont taught, she would work on her play. If one of us dared, we could slip out onto the fire escape and position ourselves so as to see her at her desk. She wrote in a notebook covered in a floral design. Sometimes she would raise her eyes and hands and deliver the remarks she had in mind for one of her characters. Emotions made her even prettier. She could be sad, she could be angry, she could be confused, she could look sexy. How long did it take to write a play? We had no idea. She apparently had no idea, either. Her writing seemed to be going nowhere.

She went to the door to her apartment when she heard it rattling and pulled Little Black into her living room.

"Who did this to you?"

Little Black wouldn't say.

"You would prefer not to, like Bartleby the Scrivener?"

Little Black didn't know who Bartleby the Scrivener was but said yes, he would prefer not to.

"How did you get into the laundry bag in the first place?"

"I wanted to see if I would fit."


"I thought it would be a good place. Please don't tell Mr. Beaumont. I won't do it again."

"You've done this before?"


"Do you feel safe there?"

"Excuse me?"

"Does being in the laundry bag make you feel safe? Are you trying to get away?"

"I can't get away."

"Do you mean from Jerry Vincent?"


"Did he tie you to our doorknob?"

"No, I don't mean get away from Vincent."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean I can't go home. I have seven brothers and sisters, and my mother can't take care of us all at home."

Mrs. Beaumont sat Little Black in a director's chair and stepped into her kitchen to get him some milk. By the time she returned, Little Black and his laundry bag were gone.

The next day Vincent received his third demerit. Just like that, we were one down.

Jackie Graining came from New York where his father had a morning radio show, Ranging with Graining, broadcast from a helicopter, sometimes joined by Jackie. So he was sort of famous and carried himself like an adult. He had had the same tailor at Brooks Brothers since he was three, and he had a trap-line of week-end houses on Long Island that led to a girl who was the reason he ended up at Darby, built on a hill overlooking Pittston, half its High Street storefronts papered over and its mills more dead than alive.

In contrast to Graining, Stevens didn't seem adult. He just seemed effortlessly himself, always meeting your eyes when you were talking to him and listening to your stories without interrupting. From his mother, who was Romanian, he had inherited olive skin and thick, dusky blond hair. From his father, an Englishman who had been a professional soccer player and died of a heart attack the year before, he had inherited an athletic build. Naturally, Stevens was good at soccer, but not passionate about it. His passion was art, evidenced by the fact that he had arrived at Darby bringing with him a miniature penis carved from a bar of Palmolive soap. This perfect penis was tumescent with a vein running its length to the circumcised glans. He kept it in a match box on a puff of cotton. When he found the right model, he said he was going to work on a pair of tits.

Whether or not Stevens brought the little green penis out for some air, he drew us to the room he shared with Graining. This irritated Graining. He didn't like guys hanging around, especially if we sat on his bed. Beyond us, Graining hated Darby's bells, food, and mandatory courses. He hated Darby's chapel, and he hated lights out at 9:30. He called the place medieval. "It's like we sank a thousand years into time. Latin! The fucking Bible!"

Sensing things were not well with Graining, his father proposed a remedy that the school quickly endorsed for the free publicity. Every Friday morning at 6:50, Graining would phone in to his father's chopper and they would do a ten-minute segment, father and son chatting about whatever occurred to them.

Making the call from Mr. Overbrook's apartment, Graining sat in a red leather wing chair with the Scriptorum Classicorum Bibliotheca Oxoniensis on the bookshelf behind his head. He was dressed for breakfast, wearing one of his Brooks Brothers suits, and characteristically dry as he and his father poked fun at one another, each about to enter into another silly day being a Graining.

His father said, "I didn't want you going down there. It was your mother's idea, but it seems to be okay, hey?"

"They don't let us drink, and I can't join the Pipe Club for two years, so we'll see, Dad, we'll see."

"I'm quitting smoking again, too. Tell me what you think: which is harder, quitting smoking or being at boarding school?"

"After you quit smoking, you can take my place here. Then you can tell me."

Those of us willing to get dressed in time for Graining's telephone calls were permitted to sit on the floor around his feet. His father might ask who was there and invite us to take the phone.

He said to Stevens, "So you're Jackie's roommate. Give me something good or bad about him that surprises you."

"He barely has to make his bed when he gets up. It's like he doesn't move all night," Stevens said.

"That's his mom's doing—how she tucked him in when he was little. What else?"

"He actually likes coffee."

"Hang that one on me. I'm a fiend for the stuff."

But it turned out the sound of his father's voice upset Graining more than Latin or Bible studies, and he found it increasingly difficult to muster ten minutes of his wise-beyond-his-age persona. One Friday morning Graining blurted that he couldn't take another day at Darby. "Tell Mom this is awful. It's like a monastery, and I'm locked up with a bunch of four-year-old monks. You've got to get me out of here." Graining's father tried to cheer Graining up but soon realized he couldn't and cut to a commercial for Hartford Insurance.

Graining left Darby the next day. We had started as eleven. In two months we were nine.

Upton was so quiet, we wondered if he was going to follow Graining, but he wasn't homesick, he was lovesick. He fell for Colonel Mosbacher's daughter Susie who sat at the Colonel's table in the dining room. She had amazing eyebrows and a pretty smile. The curve of her neck into the slope of her shoulders was perfect. The rest of her, though still girlish, was perfect, too. She listened to all the table talk, her smile flitting into sight now and then, but she seldom spoke. Her parents only brought her to dinner on weeknights and Sunday lunch, but even though Upton was stuck at Mr. Beaumont's table two tables away, he fell hard for her.

Since Colonel Mosbacher taught Russian and German, Upton came with the idea of asking if he could take Russian as an extra course. He was told no, he couldn't, but he could audit Russian three times a week without disrupting his second form schedule. To keep pace with the other students, he then made a practice of walking to the Mosbacher's house after dinner to get extra help and perhaps glimpse Susie. She knew what he was up to. A lot of boys stared at her in the dining room; Upton was the first to take things this far. Somehow he managed to set up a rendezvous with her during Wednesday town hours. They met in the last booth of a soda shop beyond permitted bounds and shared the miseries of her being a faculty daughter at a boys' boarding school and him being a boy at a boys' boarding school. Before they walked separately back to campus, Upton would draw her into an alley and kiss her. He had the hots, all right, and so did she.

One Wednesday Socks saw Upton ducking off High Street and followed him to the soda shop. Upton was pissed, but Susie was pleased. Having Socks there gave her some relief from the intensity of being alone with Upton. Her feelings were becoming too much to manage, and Socks made her laugh by saying he was the kind of doofus who wouldn't be at Darby for long.

"We're already two guys down and Mr. Overbrook guaranteed half of us wouldn't make it all the way through."

"That's not true. Of course, you will!"

"I almost got thrown out because I wouldn't take my socks off for the nudie pictures."

"What nudie pictures?"

Socks described Miss Lovejoy wetting her panties as she gawked at us in our jockstraps.

"That's why they call you Socks?"

"Yeah. Upton's one of the few guys who doesn't have a nickname. Why is that, Upton? Shouldn't we call you something?"

"No, don't call me something."

"What if I brought a friend here next Wednesday?" Susie asked, trying to distract the two of them from how much they disliked one another. "Then we'd be four!"

Socks liked the idea, Upton didn't.

"Harvey will catch us if there's two of us coming here."

"Walk separately, not together," Susie suggested.

"If he sees either of us disappearing over here, he'll get us both. We'll get thrown out."

"Oh, come on, we're not doing anything."

"Not yet," Socks joked.

Upton worried Susie by looking at Socks the way he did, like he would kill him. That was partly why she persisted. Upton might not be as sweet as she thought.

"Next week, yes, I'll bring a friend."

The next week Harvey caught Socks with Susie and her friend in the soda shop, but not Upton, who didn't go into town that Wednesday. Neither Susie nor Socks mentioned Upton. She said she and her friend just happened to be at the soda shop. Socks said he was lost and thirsty. But this was a faculty daughter and neither Dean Amboy nor Susie's parents believed them. Instead of demerits, Socks was sent home for the rest of the semester. He could finish his classes with a tutor and return in the winter term. Susie's mother decided not to bring her to the dining room anymore, leaving Colonel Mosbacher to sit at the head of his table by himself. Upton? He dropped Russian and developed what people called a BA, bad attitude, which lasted several years. During that time, there were no more rendezvous. Susie sent him a note that he didn't answer. When Socks came back, he couldn't wait to tell us the truth, which Upton denied.


Mr. Delveccio would move from one workstation to another, offering suggestions and criticisms with a single exception, Stevens, who didn't need suggestions, much less criticism. Just one week into the first term, he asked Stevens into his office after class and told him that he was the most talented young man he had ever known.

"This school of ours is a piece of work, my friend, but I will help and protect you any way I can."

"Protect me?"

"Talent has enemies on all sides. That's why someone has to keep it safe." He gave Stevens a key to the art studio. "Come up here and use whatever you want, whenever you want."

Stevens had never had an art class in public school. The things he did, his penis, his sketches, his origami and woodcuts, came naturally to him. The next time we met, Mr. Delveccio told us to watch Stevens when we had no idea what to do next.

"I've asked him to unveil his latest project so you can all see what artistic ability means. "

Stevens' project was a dozen bars of Palmolive soap transformed into a torso featuring a woman's breasts. We didn't know until years later that he worked from a photograph Mr. Delveccio gave him of his wife's breasts, but we could see that these were not generic breasts. They had life in them. These breasts belonged to someone very real.

Mr. Delveccio told us to try to make a sketch of Stevens' breasts. "Have some fun with them."

Ku's version looked like two condoms stuck to a paper bag. Miller got the globular essence right but not the energy of the nipples.

Hill wouldn't even pick up his pencil and try.

"Mr. Hill, what's wrong?"

"I don't know, sir."

Hill got the best grades across the board except for art, for which he couldn't prepare in advance. His performance in Bible studies was astounding. He read every assignment in our textbook so many times, he could quote it verbatim in answers on quizzes. Reverend White stared at Hill as if Hill were some New Day prophet. "Mr. Hill, please explain yourself. Where did you get such a memory?" Hill wouldn't say what we all knew. All he did was study. You could try to talk to him, and he would keep studying. You could snatch his pencil, and he'd pick up another. He was a nice guy but so tense he seemed to vibrate while sitting at his desk.

"Just draw a boob, Mr. Hill. Make it look like a long balloon if you have to."

After Hill did his best, Mr. Delveccio picked up his sketch with his index finger and thumb.

"Now tell me, Mr. Hill, have you ever seen a balloon like that?"

"No, sir."

"None of the balloons you've ever seen?"

"No, sir."

"So you do see all right. Is the problem in your hands, then?" Mr. Delveccio looked over Hill's hands as if he were inspecting the front hooves of a horse. "Hands look good. Must be your brain. Something's screwy in your brain."

Hill blushed, upset to have his brain questioned. "I'd like to keep trying, sir."

"Okay, Mr. Hill, but one word of advice: don't try so goddamn hard."

"I don't know if I can do that, sir."

Mr. Delveccio patted him on the shoulder. "I understand, Hill. You want everything to be perfect, but that's not art. That's religion or something. Art is the rendering of how things really are. God is what doesn't exist."

"Yes, sir."

Something bad happened to Hill during this exchange. It was as though he folded over himself trying to hide and never came out again.

Miller whispered to him, "Ask Stevens to help you."

"I can't do that. It would be cheating," Hill said.

"Better than flunking art, isn't it?"

But Hill wouldn't give in. He drew another goofy looking boob. Mr. Delveccio returned and cuffed Hill lightly on the back of the head.

"I told you to stop trying so hard, Hill. You're going to end up killing yourself if you don't lighten up."

From then on, all of Hill's grades fell. He stopped getting up at 5:30. Then he began skipping his 6:30 wakeup call. Some of us thought it was sudden-onset homesickness. It didn't look as though Hill would get over it, either. We weren't surprised when we returned for third form the following year and he wasn't among us. Now we were eight.


The 60 newboys who joined us for third form in 1965 and the additional 60 newboys who joined us for fourth form in 1966 weren't interested in our aboriginal oddness. There was no second form anymore, and they had no idea how deeply we had become ingrained into Darby's world of brick, granite, oaks and ivy, its worn thresholds of wood and stone, the cracked red leather chairs in the reading nooks of the library, the dirty climbing ropes hanging from the rafters of the old gym. This is not to say we were stuck in place, more that we changed by the place growing into us. Little Black had become a 130-pound wrestler, his muscles solid and his stride springy. Ku had worn a back brace for two years and looked less like a bipedal banana. Aronson learned the lyrics to almost every rock song ever written and as the manager of the cross country team would recite them on drives to away meets. Miller kept growing faster than anyone else and starred on the basketball and baseball teams whose games Edge's father never missed. Underwood became number one on the varsity squash team in the winter of the fourth form. With his large head and feet, he might look clumsy off the court, but he was a swordsman on it.

A month into the fourth form year, Bannock's older brother was killed in Vietnam, and his parents wanted Bannock home with them. The only trace Bannock left behind was a likeness to his brother's picture on the varsity football team of 1962 hanging in the gym's gloomy main corridor. And a few weeks after Bannock left, Dr. Armentrout gave Socks the news that his father had committed suicide. Socks ran across campus in tears yelling, "I need a black suit! I need a black suit! Who's got a black suit?" Stevens had a charcoal gray suit he had worn to his own father's funeral before second form and never wore since. He took it to Sock's room.

Socks tried it on. The shoulders were fine, so was the waist.

"I'll mail it back to you."

"No, don't. Keep it."

"What if you need it?"

"I'm not going to need it."

"I didn't think I was going to need it."

"My father's already dead. Keep it. I don't want it back."

The next week a package for Stevens arrived in the mail room. Stevens put it on the windowsill in his dorm room and left it there, which was sort of like him and sort of not. From our first days at Darby, we thought Stevens was absolved from the kinds of worries that plagued the rest of us. He was cool. He played soccer brilliantly, and his haunt remained the art studio, whose windows overlooked Pittston's semi-defunct steel mills. Those mills fascinated him. On Wednesday afternoons he would walk their way despite being off-limits to make sketches and collect pieces of junk metal that he welded into sculptures in the machine shop. Mr. Delveccio asked him what he was drawing on for inspiration. Stevens said his father had worked for Bethlehem Steel before he died, so he had been around steel mills all his life. "It's like the mills up in Bethlehem were my father's mills, and these Pittston mills are mine."

Miller could tell Stevens was off and suspected it had to do with the package on the windowsill.

"When are you going to start wearing that suit?" he asked Stevens.

"Why, you want it now?"

"Me? I'd never fit."

"Me, either. I hate that suit."

"Why did you hold onto it?"

"It's more like it's holding onto me."

The next Wednesday Miller saw Stevens carrying the package as he headed toward the mills and decided to follow him, although something told him to stay back, not try to catch up, just see what Stevens had in mind. The streets in the mill district were lined with sooty brick row houses, many of them abandoned. Stevens kept going until he came to a chain-link fence around a yard piled with discarded scrap. He hurled the package over the fence. So much for the offensive suit. Miller scrambled to avoid Stevens seeing him as he headed back to campus.


By our fifth form year, 1967, a few small dorms had been built on Gate Street, but the campus looked much as it had the day we arrived as second formers, not that we really saw it anymore. What counted in fifth form was whatever we could do to get into the college we had in mind, getting better grades, getting better SAT scores, singing in the choir, working on the newspaper, tutoring poor kids in Pittston, earning at least one varsity letter. We assumed Underwood wanted to go to Harvard and major in classics because Mr. Overbrook had gone to Harvard. The two of them were a close but distant pair, radio-signaling interesting ways to translate passages of Cicero to one another while waiting for other students to finish mangling the simplest texts. They knew what no one else knew: Cicero wasn't that hard! At least for them. But in fifth form something began happening to Underwood, and it happened quickly, in only a few weeks. While playing squash, he let balls pass him that he could have returned. He just stood there. We didn't understand because squash was his real passion, not Cicero. What was going on? For four years now he had kept all his broken rackets mounted on the walls of his dorm rooms. He said he held onto them as a reminder to keep looking for a racket that would last, but in those days, no racket would last. If you accidentally hit a wall hard enough, any wooden racket would crunch and splinter. By now Underwood had more than 30 shattered rackets in his collection, Dunlops, Bancrofts and Slazengers that once had been so beautiful with their fine leather grips, long handles, and little heads.

True, Underwood had strange ways from the beginning. His first work job was to help put milk and cream pitchers on the tables before breakfast. Two other guys, third and fourth formers, shared this task with him, but on some mornings, they would arrive and find that Underwood had put out all the pitchers on 31 tables by himself. Underwood also tapped his right heel all the time, seated or standing, and every morning he walked past the boxwoods bordering the chapel and tore off a sprig that he kept in his shirt pocket. This ensured that he always had a faint odor of cat piss about him. He said he found it comforting. Then in fifth form this new quirk appeared, ruining his squash game. The certainty that he would become team captain in sixth form slipped away, maybe Harvard, too. Finally came the day when Underwood completed his math homework twice and handed in both copies at the same time.

Mr. Ritchie rose up on his tiptoes with hands behind his back as he did when he was perturbed. "These papers are identical, Mr. Underwood. Why are you giving me two of the same assignment?"

Underwood had no answer. Always peevish, Mr. Ritchie found Underwood's silence impertinent.

"Did you hear me, Mr. Underwood?"

"Yes, I heard you."

"Well, why? Please enlighten me."

"I don't know why."

Mr. Ritchie grew concerned. "All your answers are correct, but once is enough, don't you think?"

Suddenly Underwood conveyed the impression—what else was there to think? —that his right hand was to blame by flinging it as hard as he might when he smashed a squash racket.

"Good God, Underwood, what are you doing!"

Underwood gave Mr. Ritchie a bloody look with the oversized eyes in his oversized head. "Trying to wake up, sir."

Mr. Ritchie went to Mr. Overbrook, who had become Assistant Head of School, to ask whether Underwood had personal problems, something going wrong at home or possibly something to do with drugs. Mr. Overbrook said Underwood must be feeling driven to get into Harvard and had taken that too far. Since Underwood had broken two knuckles against the wall and now couldn't play squash at all, Mr. Mieux, the squash coach, became involved. He agreed something was wrong, potentially quite serious. Mr. Overbrook arranged for Underwood to see a Pittston psychiatrist, who suggested Underwood was suffering from suppressed masturbation guilt. Underwood rejected this judgment in a peculiar way. He said it wasn't him. What wasn't him? the shrink asked. Underwood didn't answer.

Mr. Overbrook asked two of us—Miller and Little Black—to "touch base" with Underwood. They spotted him in the Snack Shack, ignoring his hamburger, tapping his right heel and looking out the window at Upper School on the other side of the Quad.

"What are you looking at?" Miller asked him.

"Edge over there," Underwood said, keeping his big eyes fixed on the ivy-covered south face of Upper School.

They took a look and didn't see Edge over there.

"Where do you see Edge?" Little Black asked.

"You never liked him, either," Underwood said.

In fact, that had been true since Little Black and Edge had been locked up in the scholarship suite with Vincent second form year. Little Black resented the fact that Vincent tormented him so much while leaving Edge alone, but we never had noticed that Underwood might feel the same way about Edge.

"Hey, Underwood. what's going on with you?" Miller asked.

Underwood shot a glance at Miller as empty of emotion as a bullet. Miller and Little Black decided it was better to leave him alone. An appointment was arranged for Underwood to be seen by a psychiatrist in Philadelphia, who diagnosed him as schizophrenic and sent him to an institution somewhere west of Princeton. Now we were six.


One Wednesday afternoon in February of fifth form—1968—Upton and Susie Mosbacher saw one another on High Street. She now was 15 and beautiful in a way that didn't seem reasonable; it was as though everyone else in the world was in black and white and she was in color. Without even saying hi, they took different routes to the soda shop.

Her restrictions were still the same, she said. She was not allowed to go to the dining hall or walk on campus.

"And I'm not supposed to be downtown on Wednesday afternoons, but I am sometimes when I want to get out of my life at the high school, but I've never seen you once. Three years, not once!"

Upton was wearing a topcoat with a velvet collar but no hat despite the cold, and he was more settled in his features than three years earlier—his straight eyebrows and straight nose, his small mouth, and in the middle of his lightly freckled face, his blue eyes. His natural gaze, like his overall manner, cruised in and out of indifference. He might care about life and then not care about life six times in a minute.

"Why didn't you show up that day?" she pressed.

"The day Harvey caught you and Socks?"

"We were going to meet like every Wednesday, weren't we?"

"I think I had to work off points in the gym."

Susie knew about points. She knew about forms, the grading scale, the daily schedule, chapel, the long vacations, and what happened to Socks because of her (that's how she felt, Sock was sent home that school term because of her). "I'm glad he was allowed to come back at least."

"Until his father died."

Susie also knew about Socks' father. "Do you know why he killed himself?"


"You didn't ask?"

"I never had the chance. A guy named Stevens loaned him a dark suit, and he was gone."

"Was Stevens Socks' friend?"

"I don't know."

"You all aren't close?"

"You mean the guys I came with in second form? Sure, we know each other, but when you leave, no one keeps up."

"At all?"

"Not that I know of."

"Like you didn't keep up with me?"

"How was I going to keep up with you and not sink us both?"

"You never even answered my letter. And you dropped Russian."

"I couldn't handle Russian."

"Like maybe you couldn't handle me?"

Upton had thought for some time that he was pathetic when he showed up at Darby and an idiot for going crazy over her.

"That wasn't it."

"What was it?"

"I didn't have my act together."

"What do you mean?"

Upton lit a cigarette. He couldn't tell if she was okay with that, but he needed it.

"I wasn't that quick getting used to Darby."

"You sure were quick kissing me."

"You kissed me back."

She blushed. "I know. I have to watch myself."


"High school isn't like Darby. The boys and girls are all mixed up together. You can get in trouble."

Upton sensed she was about to tell him about some of the other guys she had kissed and realized it made him jealous. Something still connected them, and she went right for it.

"So," she said, half-joking, half-serious, "do you still love me? Remember you said that?"

"I did?"

"You know you did. Didn't you mean it?"

"I was 13, for God's sake."

"What about since? Have you told other girls you loved them?"

No girl Upton had known at other prep schools or at home in Greenwich would have wanted to hear him saying he loved her.

"No, I haven't."

"So I would have been your first and only time?"

He gave in to the double-entendre. "I didn't get there until I was fourteen."

Susie touched her cheek with her fingertips as if to calm herself. "Same with me."

They let a few moments go by, knowing one another in some indelible way but knowing nothing, not really. They had hardly discussed who she was and who he was when they first met, and they weren't the same people anymore anyway. She told him her parents had allowed her to model in Philadelphia, and that was why she was wearing such a stupid car coat, given to her for a shoot. She unfastened its toggles to demonstrate its stupidity as modified by the black cashmere sweater she had on underneath.

"That's probably what I'll do before I go to college—keep modeling. It pays a lot of money. I suppose you'll be going to college right away."

"I guess so."


"Wesleyan if I can get in."

"My father wants me to go to Gettysburg because he went to the war college there."

"What do you want?"

"I don't know. Remember, I'm still one year behind you. In Darbyspeak, you're in fifth form and I'm in fourth."

Upton reached a conclusion: she was really pretty and pretty interesting, but he could get kicked out if they started seeing one another again. He told her that. "And if I get kicked out, forget Wesleyan."

"Socks was just sent home for a while, and then they let him come back."

"It's not that I don't want to see you."

"Double negative, the Colonel would say. But I'm going to see you, I promise you."


"I don't know. I have to think."

They left the soda shop. Susie tugged him into the alley.

After she finished kissing him, she said, "This is how I'm going to see you: I want you to invite me to your sixth form prom."

"That's over a year from now."

"Just invite me. Do it. Invite me."

"What will your mother say?"

"Who cares?"

"What will your father say?"

"He's cool. He's the one who said I could model. Invite me, and we'll see."

"All right, would you come to my senior prom with me?"


"But we won't see each other until then?"

"If that's what you want."

"I told you, it's not what I want. I just—"

Susie stopped him by putting her hands on his temples and meeting him eye to eye. "See you next year."

She left the alley first.


Before lunch one day Miller and Little Black were talking with Aronson and Ku about Underwood being gone. Edge joined them.

"That jerk swimmer was the first one of us to go," Ku said.

"Vincent," Little Black said.

"No, the first one who left did the radio show with his father," Miller said.

"Graining," Little Black said.

"After that who left next?" Ku asked.

"The guy from Florida who studied so much and couldn't take Mrs. Delveccio's tits," Aronson said.

"In the middle of the night sometimes he'd sit on the toilet and use the ceiling light to read," Miller said. "What was his name?"

"Hill," Little Black said.

"And now Underwood," Aronson said.

"I hate what this place does to you," Little Black said.

"I don't think even Darby could make you schizophrenic," Aronson said.

"If any place could, this one could."

"So says Little Black," Ku said.

"Why do you guys keep calling me Little Black?" Little Black asked. In fifth form Little Black still lived by starving himself, but he had given up the 130-weight class and now wrestled at 140. He would be 160 without the brakes on.

"It's what we always called you," Ku said.

"Fucking stop it. Call me Black."

"Okay, Black," Miller agreed. "Sounds better."

Aronson began to riff, "I see my red door and I want to paint it black."

Black cut him off. "You're annoying."

Aronson laughed the apologetic laugh we hadn't heard from him in years. He was still pudgy and waddled when he walked, but increasingly he was special the way Stevens was special. He had become really good on electronic keyboards. "I know. That's why everyone painted me black in second form. Figuratively, not literally, as Mr., Beaumont would say. I wish he hadn't left."

"I do, too," Edge said.

"He loved you," Aronson said. "Why?"

"He told me he liked the way I read poetry out loud, and he liked the way I wrote."

"I wish he had taken to me that way. Second form was a nightmare."

"We were awful to you," Ku said to Aronson.

"Don't apologize to him," Black said.

"Why not?" Ku asked.

"Because you did what you did to him. Now you've got to live with it."

"Well, I'm sorry I didn't do anything to keep Vincent off you," Edge said.

"Fuck you, too, Edge," Black said. "Fuck all of you."

Black walked off toward the dining room. He never ate lunch, but he had to sit there staring at all the food until the meal was over.


Edge's father was like a building and grounds superintendent, always around. Never Edge's mother, always his father: Mr. Edgerton arriving for one of Edge's basketball or baseball games. Mr. Edgerton cheering from the stands. Mr. Edgerton talking to the coaches. The only other parent who showed up outside of parents days remained Mrs. Stevens. In the fall she watched soccer matches. In the winter or spring, she might park her red Corvette in front of the arts and crafts building and go upstairs to see what Stevens was doing and talk to Mr. Delveccio, who seemed pretty interested in seeing her. Having her around didn't bother Stevens the way having his father around seemed to bother Edge. Edge said it wasn't that his father was crazy about sports. Sports were more an opportunity for his father to keep his idea for Edge front and center—get himself accepted by Penn and its undergraduate business school, Wharton, with a scholarship, just as he had gotten a scholarship to Darby, with which his father was familiar because he had run a Lincoln/Mercury dealership in Pittston before Edge was born and had customers who went to Darby and then on to Penn—wealthy men, doctors, lawyers, mill executives, and so forth. Eventually, the dealership went bust, but his father never gave up on Penn and its Wharton School, what that could do for you, which had never been done for him. In fact, Edge's father had not graduated from high school.

One Wednesday Edge decided to go looking for what had been his father's car dealership, which he always thought had been the apex of his father's life. The building now was an electrical supply company with a MacDonald's to its right and a Howard Johnson's motel to its left. That was what Edge had been expecting but not exactly what he wanted to see. He was looking for something about himself more than about his father, something he saw in Stevens and Aronson. Edge wanted to be creative and imaginative like them. He definitely did not want to go to Penn and study business. He wanted to go to Yale. Dr. Armentrout had gone to Yale and said that a paper Edge wrote about Lincoln and procrastination was one of the best he had read in his years of teaching US history. "If you allow me, I will talk to your father about Yale and dissuade him from pressing Penn's case on you," Dr. Armentrout said. "No, sir, please don't. Penn is all he's ever wanted." "But not what you want." "No, sir, but I've got to figure this out for myself." They sat in the headmaster's study, Dr. Armentrout smoking a pipe and leaning his elbow on his big German typewriter with its well-known blue ribbon. "We know you're no college athlete, Richard, but you're a college intellect. I insist. We've got to get you into Yale. It will suit you to a T."

Edge stared at the electrical supply company and remembered that there had been a time before Darby—he would have been eight or nine—when he had thought about finding this building and helping his father make it a car dealership again. His plan had been that he'd sell Lincolns side-by-side with his father. Which raised other perplexing questions: who the hell was his father, and what was he doing in the middle of Edge's life?


College gave you a deferment from the draft, but we still had to register when we turned 18 during sixth form year, 1968-69. "Taking the birthday walk," we called it. The Selective Service office in Pittston was a dismal place with a wooden bench along the right wall and two metal desks facing the door. An elderly man sat at one desk, smoking a cigar and occasionally flicking its ashes off his plaid shirts. A frowning, middle-aged woman sat at the other desk. Scylla and Charybdis, we called them. Guys from Pittston high school usually were sitting on the wooden bench waiting to register, too, but we didn't say hello and they didn't, either. The difference between us in our suits and ties and them in their jeans and sweatshirts said enough. When we went off to college, many of the Pittston guys would head to Vietnam. You could see what they thought of that, and us, in their eyes.

Among us only Ku wouldn't be drafted even if the war kept going for another four years. Coming from Aruba, he was Dutch, and the Dutch had finished their fighting in southeast Asia a long time ago. Besides, even if Ku were an American and stood straight now, he still couldn't carry a backpack. Aronson probably couldn't, either, but he was one of the first to make the birthday walk that year. After him came Edge, Miller, Stevens and Black, whose 18th birthday almost didn't come at all after an opponent picked him up and dropped him on his head.

When we walked back to Darby after registering for the draft, we knew we had become part of a world that had been waiting for us all along, and sooner or later its time would become our time and its place would become our place. Just not yet.

College interviews started before we got to campus that year. Ku had his at the University of Miami on the way up from Aruba. Stevens and his mother flew to Los Angeles to interview at the University of Southern California. Stevens said, "I took a portfolio with me, and they wanted to know how I planned to turn this weird stuff into a movie. I said maybe animation. They seemed to like that." Black traveled by himself to Iowa State in Ames, which he called the wrestling capital of the world. The coach said maybe. After that he went to Michigan State. Another maybe. Penn State said they had heard about him, so maybe. Aronson had begun going up to New York every other weekend because his father was sick. He interviewed at Columbia. Columbia said yes on the spot. Upton was still hoping for Wesleyan with Tufts and Bates as back-ups. His father wanted him to think about UConn, which would save money. What was wrong with UConn?

Some colleges sent admissions officers who met with applicants in the Darby House formal rooms—large mirrors, hard sofas on tiny gold legs and the portrait of Cornelius Darby, a bald man with mutton-chop sideburns and a Bible in his hands.

Penn's admissions officer kicked things off by telling Edge, "Your college advisor says you write beautifully. Maybe you'll become a great writer." This flattery embarrassed Edge. To resist it, he said he might like to become a lawyer. The Penn guy said pre-law at Penn was rated third highest in the nation. Edge said he knew that, although he didn't. The Penn guy added that pre-med at Penn also was tops and the Wharton School at Penn was the best undergraduate business program in the nation. Edge said he knew that, too. "Do you think Wharton might be the right place for you, followed by a law degree?" the Penn guy asked. Edge said it could be. After the Penn guy left, Mr. Tittle the college advisor told Edge he would be accepted and receive the maximum scholarship.

Edge was nonplussed. "I haven't even sent in the application."

"Do it. It's just a formality. Penn really wants you. Now I know you're interested in Yale, but how about Princeton? Mr. Beaumont is coming here for interviews next week." Mr. Beaumont had left Darby to join Princeton's admissions office, and he was single now, his wife having disappeared during our fourth form year with no explanation, not to us, anyway. "I know he's always liked you."

In fact, after Vincent was expelled, Mr. Beaumont began inviting Edge and Little Black into his apartment for milk and cookies in the evening. The entertainment was the four of them, including Mrs. Beaumont, reading poetry out loud. Little Black had a terrible time doing this, but Edge was good at it. Frost, Wordsworth and even Shakespeare, although one evening he said, "I hope you know I don't understand most of this." Mrs. Beaumont laughed and said she often didn't, either. Mr. Beaumont grew serious. He said, "Of course, you do, Richard. You get the sound. That's poetry's most vital dimension." In fourth form, Edge had Mr. Beaumont for English again and wrote a paper about The Death of a Salesman. He said it was a weak play and Willy Loman was the worst of it, too easy a target. Arthur Miller should have taken on someone who wasn't so defeated by his business failures and family troubles. Mr. Beaumont gave him a zero, the highest grade in Darby's weird marking system.

Edge told Mr. Tittle, "No, I don't think I'll try for Princeton, sir."

"Why not?"

"It's not coed."

"It will be before you graduate. Otherwise it won't keep up with Harvard and Yale."

"I still think I prefer Yale."

"You'll have to go up for an interview. They're not coming here this year."

"Okay, that's what I'll do."

"When you're already in Penn and a shoo-in at Princeton?"

"Dr. Armentrout says I can get into Yale."

"If Dr. Armentrout has so much influence, why isn't Yale visiting us anymore?"

Edge's father leaned on Edge to forget Yale whenever he dared mentioning it. "Yale? Yale! If it's Yale, you're on your own dime. I'm not giving Yale a cent." Of course, Edge already had been on his own dime for almost five years. He had a full scholarship and worked hard to keep it. He earned varsity letters in basketball and baseball. He was president of the History Club and managing editor of the Darby News. Nonetheless, the prospect of going to New Haven intimidated him, and he wanted to get it over with fast, up and back by train in a very long day. Aronson said this was crazy. He would be in New York because of his father, and Edge could stay at his place in Manhattan after he had his interview in New Haven. They could make it a weekend and travel together to Pittston on Sunday.

The Yale interview was nothing like the Penn interview. From the start the admissions officer seemed skeptical about why Edge wanted to attend Yale and pressed him hard on how he would explore Yale's resources and what issues really concerned him: Vietnam, race relations, urban renewal, the environment, religion, the humanities, what? Edge sort of said yes to everything and began to realize—too late, he thought—that what really concerned him was himself and his success at Darby, none of those major issues that made the world go round. Of us all, he was the most tightly wrapped up in Darby's chrysalis of time and space. Ergo, he experienced a reassuring sense of familiarity as soon as he walked onto the Yale campus. The architecture, the lawns, the trees, and the settled pace of students walking about bolstered him. Perfect, he thought. Yale was a giant Darby. But now he saw that this familiarity was basically familiarity with his past, and this guy wasn't interested in his past. He wanted to explore how Edge envisioned Yale helping mold his future.

As he watched the admissions officer losing interest, Edge grabbed hard at his chrysalis and began to tear at it. He said what he wanted from Yale was exactly what the admissions officer had pointed to. And what was that? the admissions officer asked, still skeptical. Edge took a stab at it. He said he didn't want to lead a little life; he wanted to lead a big life. Good, that's Yale's mission, the admissions officer said; now tell me what's your vision of a big life? At that point Edge felt himself foundering again, but for some reason the admissions officer mistook Edge's hesitation for thoughtfulness and warmed up to him. You seem to be very good at history and biology, he observed. Would those be fields you would emphasize at Yale? What might be the connection? Edge had never thought about any connection between history and biology. He blurted the first thing that came to him. Evolution, he said. That's interesting, the admissions officer said, tell me about why evolution intrigues you. Edge said something about mutation in history, the mutants that survived, the mutants that didn't, Greece's mutation into Rome, Rome's mutation into chaos. So, you are something of a Hobbesian, the admissions officer said. Edge had heard of Hobbes but knew nothing about him. He said he wasn't sure he would go that far. "Then you believe in evolutionary progress and don't think mankind is doomed to a life that is 'nasty, brutish, and short?'" the admissions officer asked. "No, I don't," Edge said. Thinking fast, he made something up, pure bullshit: "But that's the question that history and evolution may help us answer, history being social evolution, sort of the next step beyond biological evolution."

The admissions officer gave no indication whether Edge would be accepted, but he did say that he enjoyed their discussion. "Thank you for coming up to New Haven, Richard. Now it's time for your group walking tour."

Edge already had walked around the campus and skipped the tour. He had shown up for the interview not believing in anything except getting into Yale, which he now didn't want any more than he wanted to get into Penn.

Aronson had told Edge New York was easy. Just get lost in Penn Station for a while, push your way up to the street, and fight for a taxi. Edge went through all that. Once in Aronson's building, an elevator operator took him to the 27th floor, where there was one door and Aronson was standing there waiting for him. He was very happy. No one ever came to visit him.

"But first thing we've got to see my father. House rule."

Aronson's father was a liver-spotted walrus of a man who had a bedroom full of medical equipment and two private nurses, one who was flipping through Life, the other who was crocheting. He had an oxygen mask over his nostrils and mouth and appeared to be sleeping although his eyelids weren't fully lowered.

Aronson asked the nurse who was crocheting, "How is he?"

"He's resting."

"Wouldn't be a good idea to wake him up, I guess."


"You couldn't if you tried," the nurse paging through Life said.

The crocheting nurse shot the Life nurse a sharp look.

Aronson led Edge out of the room and explained the apartment to him. It overlooked Central Park and was pretty big—six bedrooms. He did not have to say that the Aronsons were rich.

"Wanna eat?" Aronson asked. "I think there's something cooking in the kitchen."

"Let's go see."

"No, can't do that. I'm not allowed in the kitchen."

"Why not?"

"I've sort of been banished. The doctor says I'm too fat. He has me on pills."

"What if you just want a snack or something?"

"I ask for it to be brought to me, but this will be dinner. I eat dinner in the dining room. Another rule."

They crossed the large living room again and took seats at a long maple table in the dining room. The walls were covered with large paintings of Venice and a few small ones of Hong Kong and Shanghai. A maid in a black uniform served them flounder filets, asparagus and small potatoes followed by plum pudding. Aronson asked about Yale.

"It's like Darby times 20—castles and guys, no girls until next year."

"What about the interview?"

Edge tapped the flounder with his fork. "I feel like I was filleted myself."

"They wouldn't bother doing that if they weren't interested. They wouldn't even have given you an interview."

"Or maybe they'll just throw me back in."

Aronson led the way down another hallway to two bedrooms that, joined together by a large bathroom, he called his private quarters. He had hundreds of record albums. He also had piles of books, stuffed animals everywhere, and his own balcony overlooking Central Park, which at night looked like a dark cavern in the middle of Manhattan. Edge thought the entire world, Darby and Yale included, could crash into it and disappear, taking him with it.

Aronson asked if he wanted to smoke dope or drink. Edge said drink. The maid brought them a bottle of Scotch, a bucket of ice, and two glasses.

"It's like being in a hotel," Edge said.

"I can get what I want until nine. Then things shut down."

"Is your mother around?"

"The last I heard she's in Buenos Aires."

"What is she doing there?"

"Learning to tango."

"Is dancing important to her?"

"Nothing's important to her."

"Is your father going to be all right?"

"Maybe for a while.

"What does he do?"

"First, he had the family bank, which he sold. Then he bought some tobacco companies and drug companies he doesn't manage anymore. I have an older brother with a different mother who's in charge. I sit on one of the boards, but all I do is eat the cookies."

Aronson sat on the floor with his legs crossed in a lotus position. Edge dropped into a recliner. They talked more about Yale. Aronson giggled at Edge insisting there had to be girls on campus. Aronson said he would go to Columbia despite them.

"The ones from Barnard are all over the place. That's Columbia's sister school."

"What's wrong with girls?"

Aronson took a big swallow of his drink. "Nothing, but I like boys."


"I'm queer, Edge."

"You are?"

"It's not obvious?"

"Not to me."

"Well, I am. I'm a fag."

Edge didn't know what to say. He looked at Aronson's elephants, hippos, and gorillas. "That's really a lot of stuffed animals."

Aronson said he got them from F.A.O. Schwartz.

"Who is he?"

"Who is who?"

"F.A.O. Schwartz."

"It's a store here in New York, silly."


Edge felt as if he had just begun another interview he couldn't handle. "I told you I have never been to New York."

"I like stuffed animals, that's all. I like a lot of things. You, for instance. I've had a crush on you since second form."

Edge said he didn't know that, either.

"You've never even sensed it?"

"Not really."

"And here I've been thinking about you at Yale all day and asking myself if I should go there with you. We could help one another out."

Thinking about him all day? Helping each other out? "Could you get in at Yale?"

"I could have my brother give them money, but what if you didn't get into Yale and went to Penn? Who would I know? So I decided to stick with Columbia. Anyway, if you do get in, now you know you've got a place to stay when you come to New York. That's how we can remain friends—at least in a Darby sort of way."

"What way is that?"

"Coexisting, mostly. You never came upstairs and beat me up."

"They said you liked the attention."

"They're crazy. I wanted to kill Vincent and Underwood and Bannock. Even Ku. My only consolation in second form was that at least I had you to think about when I couldn't stand thinking about anyone else."

Edge could not imagine what Aronson meant by that. What did Aronson want from him now? He asked that outright.

"Just keep on being friends, like I said."

"You're not thinking I could be homosexual, too?"

"Of course not. I probably wouldn't like you if you were. That's one of my perversities. If I want someone I can't have, it keeps me in check. My shrink says I should let go, but I'm terrified."


"What I'd like to do." Aronson giggled and poured them both more scotch.

Edge could see how happy he made Aronson by sitting with him and paying attention to him, but first he hated Yale and now he hated New York. He drank himself to sleep in the recliner. The next day he took the earliest train that would get him back to Pittston.


When we woke up one day in February 1969, snow sealed the campus in a thick coat of white. The roofs and gutters were covered. The walkways were covered. Big trees became enormous, ghostly visitants; small trees bent over into parabolas. Darby had been erased. No movement, no footprints, no squirrel tracks, no signs of birdlife, no sound except the rustling of snow on snow, snow burying us, sending us back to sleep, classes cancelled, and breakfast not until 10:00 amidst a spooky clamor of happiness we could sit there not wearing coats and ties and eat scrambled eggs with crispy bacon and biscuits warm from the oven until we groaned our way back outside to the truck loaded with snow shovels and got to work on a road or a path or the Darby Hall steps. Shovel and laugh. Shovel and throw snowballs. Shovel and then go back to our rooms and back to bed, ignoring the snow falling again. Why should we care? All our college applications had been sent in, typed as neatly as we could type; our essays looking dismally short or spilling over the allotted spaces; our academic records to be sent separately by Miss Loveday; our SAT scores to be forwarded by the College Board. The snow covered up worrying about our fates.

In March Aronson created a group he called the Quad, he on keyboard, Ku on drum, and two guys who had arrived after second form on lead and bass guitar. They wanted to play at the sixth form prom if they could get the prom committee to agree. Aronson said by then the Quad could do everything—Stones, Beatles, Airplane, Motown—plus some of his original stuff.

Rehearsals were on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the little yellow brick building called the Music House between the chapel and Upper School. Over time Ku got better, and it turned out he could sing. The guitar guys were good and took maximum advantage of opportunities Aronson gave them to solo. He said they had fingers, apparently something said in New York: The guy's got fingers, what a set of fingers.

Ku was especially grateful for the Quad because his girlfriend was in Aruba and couldn't make the prom. He told us she was Dutch chocolate, meaning black. Aronson had no date, either, and Miller was too busy with baseball to bother with girls. He pitched all season at Darby and played on a New York traveling team all summer. The college baseball powers in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Florida recruited him, and he spent a lot of time considering whether to choose one of them or go to Dartmouth, which was nowhere in the baseball world. In any case, he was blasé about the prom. He said five years at Darby had made him completely ignorant about girls.

Ironic then that Upton came to him with a girl problem.

"Why me?" Miller asked, looking at the letter Upton handed him.

"Because you take Russian, and you know her."

"I've seen her at Colonel Mosbacher's house a couple of times. Write her a letter back if you don't want to tell her face-to-face."

"Some letter she wrote," Upton said. "How would I top it?"

The letter addressed to Upton was a question mark on a blank piece of paper, postmarked Pittston. No signature, but he knew who sent it.

Miller said, "Look, I'm no good with girls and you are, or you wouldn't have two dates to take to the the prom."

"I literally haven't seen her in a year. I thought she was joking."

"Tell her that and explain this other date of yours."

"As soon as her mother catches on, she'll figure out it was me back then and I let Susie and Socks take the blame for meeting at the soda shop."

"So what?"

"When mothers get involved, these things never end."

"Sounds like you know."

"All you have to do is go down there and explain I have this other date from Connecticut. We've been going out for three years."

"What if she starts crying?"

"She might with me, but not with you."

"Why not?"

"Because you're you."

"But you're the one she loves."

"No, she doesn't. She just wants to make me pay for ditching her." Upton lit a cigarette, forbidden in Upper School, to calm himself. "After you tell her I'm booked, ask her to go to the prom yourself."

"I told you I don't know her."

"She'll still say yes."

"No, she won't."

"Bet you she will. She's wanted to go to the sixth form prom since she was a little girl."

Upton tapped his cigarette ash into the palm of his hand and blew it onto Miller's desk.


When you arrived at Darby, you were assigned a small mailbox in a bank of mailboxes in Darby Hall that would remain yours until you left. It had a brass door with a little window in it. Above the window there was a dial. You turned that dial to the left, then to the right, and then to the left again according to your combination, and the mailbox opened. The mail was placed in the boxes in time for the 11:00 break: letters from parents, hometown newspapers, postcards from traveling aunts, trust fund statements, magazine subscriptions, and occasionally something from a girl in a pink or purple envelope. But none of this mail was as important as two envelopes that arrived sometime in April. These envelopes were known as thick or thin. A thin envelope meant some college had written to inform us we had not been accepted. A single sheet of paper was enough to convey the bad news. Then came the questions from other guys clustered around us. Which college said no? There was no escaping the public humiliation, but that pain was quick. A longer lasting pain came in the following hours, sitting in a classroom and paying no attention, walking to lunch and not wanting to talk to anyone, deciding how to tell our parents. On the phone? Send them the letter? Don't say anything at all?

Fortunately, thick letters arrived at the same time as thin ones. They were thick because they contained forms associated with acceptance, rooming forms, medical forms, meal plan forms, and financial aid forms. After receiving a thick letter, we quickly split, avoiding guys who just got thin letters we'd make feel even worse.

Next came the task of accepting or declining the acceptance, which meant sticking with your priority choices or second-guessing yourself. Some of us had no trouble with this. Aronson would go to Columbia, the only school to which he had applied. Ku chose Miami. Stevens chose USC. Upton chose Tufts because Wesleyan had turned him down. Black found himself wrestling with his wrestling problem. After he recovered from his injury, he was as good as before, but did he want to keep wrestling in college? No, but he had to have a wrestling scholarship because his mother with her eight children and no apparent husband couldn't pay anything, and the only thing Black was really good at was wrestling. He might get mediocre grades, but he had developed a kind of permanently ticked-off personality that helped him make opponents gasp.

Edge faced a different dilemma. He had avoided Mr. Beaumont when he came to campus to interview Darby seniors for Princeton; nonetheless he received a thick letter from Princeton. Mr. Tittle said Mr. Beaumont asked him for Edge's records and then persuaded his colleagues in the Princeton admissions office to make him an offer. Edge didn't know if he was upset or flattered. When he told his father he had been accepted by Yale, his father said, "So what?" As far as Princeton was concerned, his father said Princeton wasn't Penn. Dr. Armentrout urged Edge to take Yale. Mr. Beaumont called him and said Princeton was a place where he could best sort out his interests. "And break your father's grip on you," he added. That startled Edge. "Is that the way you see it?" "I've seen it since you were in second form. At least come to visit Princeton, won't you?" Edge said okay. He'd visit on spring prom weekend because he was another guy without a date.


Sixty girls sitting beside their dates startled everyone in the dining room on Friday night. Stevens' girl was French—wouldn't you know it?—and worked as an au pere for a family in Bethlehem. She wore her hair in a pixie cut and spoke English in a way that bewitched the others at the table, telling stories about biking around Europe and her plans to attend the Sorbonne in the fall. Upton's date from Connecticut possessed what someone called "eat-you-up-eyes." She was noisy and tilted her head back when she laughed, almost the exact opposite of the taciturn Upton, but Upton seemed really gone on her. One of Black's sisters came as his date. She was jaunty with us and a little motherly with Black. It turned out Black's mother had had three husbands. This sister and Black shared the same father. Ku and Aronson skipped that dinner because they were in the music house practicing for the prom on Saturday night. Edge was at Princeton. And Miller, knucklehead Miller, came with Susie Mosbacher. She didn't have to be the prettiest girl of all to attract attention, although she was, because she was the happiest, and that made her impossible to ignore. She had made it into the dining room again, and not at her father's table! For her that was bliss. Miller knew he had done something special by playing along with Upton, but he didn't know if she liked him and suspected she didn't. He had been out of it with girls, had dodged them or gone dumb and mute with them before, but now he was totally out of it, dazed speechless by Susie, afraid to say anything himself about because the only thing he could think of was the next day's baseball game. The game might be the most important he had ever pitched, but not as important as Susie telling everyone how long she had dreamed about going to the Darby senior prom, the times she had watched it, even helped with the decorations when she was younger. Her eyes had welled up when he told her why Upton had sent him to say he couldn't take her to the prom. "Well, what about you?" Susie asked even before he had had a chance to offer himself up. "Will you take me?" "Me? All right. Sure, I'll do it." Even Miller knew that was a clumsy way to put it. In the ensuing weeks, he had expected to receive another one of Susie's letters, saying, "You know what? Let's skip it. But thanks for asking," which he hadn't.

The plan for Saturday was that the girls would go to tennis matches or baseball or lacrosse games or the track meet and then return to the vacated dorm where they were staying and get into their dresses. At seven they would be escorted by their dates to the white tent on the Darby Quad for another dinner followed by dancing to the music of Aronson's Quad.

The reason Miller was keyed up about his baseball game was that the coach, Mr. Southern, had asked a guy from nearby Norristown to come see him pitch. His name was Lasorda, a scout for the Dodgers. Miller kept his eye on Lasorda—an Italian guy with rings under his eyes, pudgy cheeks and a small mouth—more than he glanced toward Susie. He realized he was overthrowing right away and walked the first two batters. After that the ball got lighter in his hands and he had that flicking feeling when he released it. No more walks, a few hits, no runs, nine strike outs, Darby won, the last game Miller and the other seniors on the team, Edge on third base, would wear their uniforms with maroon lettering. When the victory celebration was over, Miller held up his hands to stop Susie from getting too close. "I smell like a horse, and I have to talk to that guy over there." "Who is he?" "Some guy Mr. Southern wanted to see me pitch." "You'll come get me at the house?" "Absolutely. Quarter to seven."

Mr. Southern led Miller over to Lasorda.

Lasorda said, "Good work, son. I sure couldn't hit you."

Mr. Southern said, "Tommy was a pitcher himself in the majors."

"0 and 4," Lasorda said.

"But you had a 100+ wins in the minors," Mr. Southern said.

"Exactly, the minors," Lasorda laughed. "So how did you feel out there?"

Miller said after the first walks, he felt good. "Having you watching me made me nervous."

"That pretty girl you had cheering for you is what made me nervous," Lasorda joked. "So, look, what did I see? You've got a good fastball, but that curve of yours shows up all over the place. You really like baseball?"

"Yes, sir."

"Like it's in your guts, you can't get rid of it?"

Miller knew he wasn't what Lasorda had in mind. There was something wrong with him, but he didn't know what it was. In his hesitation to reply, Lasorda told him.

"See, you roll over these high school kids. It's not that easy higher up."

"I know that."

"Yeah? Coach here says you have interest from some of the baseball schools out west, Arizona and Oklahoma. We have coaches out there who could track you."

"And then make an offer?" Mr. Southern asked.

Lasorda shook him off like a catcher calling for another pitch. "I never say that until we're making an offer. Two different things: promises and payday."

"I'm thinking about Dartmouth, too," Miller said.

"Where's that?"

"New Hampshire. They're Ivy League."

Lasorda took off his ball cap and wiped his hair back. "That could be a great idea. Ivy League. How could you go wrong?"

The three of them broke up cordially. Miller and Mr. Southern walked together toward the locker rooms. Mr. Southern told Miller he definitely would play if he went to Dartmouth.

"But I shouldn't be thinking about a major baseball school?"

Mr. Southern said, "I guess not. Listen to Lasorda: the higher orders of baseball aren't for you."

Somehow, he had just pitched a shutout and lost, Miller told himself. He was a big kid who liked games, except now his favorite game didn't really like him anymore.


The faculty wives oversaw the prom. Two of them roomed in the dormitory the girls occupied, ready to solve technical problems with dresses, hair and emotions. The others focused on decorating the tent with evergreen boughs, placing flowers on the tables, arranging seating, and making sure that a nearby restroom for the girls in Upper School wasn't the scene of tricks played by guys from the lower forms. We had no idea that these women would put themselves out for us this way, but of course, we weren't the stimulus for them, the dates were. This was going to be a perfect evening for the girls, they told us. We would behave. We would dance nicely. We would create memories everyone would cherish.

Mrs. Mosbacher, whom few of us had seen in recent years because she didn't bring Susie to the dining hall, was one of the wives present, her blue Sunday dress buttoned up to her throat. She kept her eyes fixed on Miller, watching him for any moves, who in turn had to keep his eyes fixed on Susie since she began chattering at him, trying to lift his mood. Except for Upton, none of us knew she was a model, but we did know she wasn't in the same category as the other girls. She was that much more beautiful, starlet beautiful, Elizabeth Taylor beautiful, Natalie Woods beautiful, and now that things had moved to the tent on the Quad, it was as though she really cared about Miller, dumbfounding him again.

Before starting up the music, Aronson gave the other guys in the Quad some uppers he brought with him from New York.

"Take this. It's going to be a long night."

Ku wanted to know what he was being asked to swallow.

"Speed, so you can keep up with us," Aronson said.

"What's speed?" Ku asked.

"Don't worry. My doctor gave it to me."

"What for?"

"To lose weight, look at me."

In fact, Aronson had begun to look like a snake halfway out of his old skin and heading toward becoming handsome.

"So, after five years I get kicked out for doing drugs," Ku said, not a question, just a fact. "Overbrook will be right. I'll be the one who makes it six out of eleven gone."

"Just take it. You'll love it."

Ku took the pill and sat down at his drums as Aronson summoned the dancers to get moving with the first bars of "Light My Fire." After that, Ku's night was a blur. He crushed his drums. He crushed his solos. He whacked himself on the bridge of his nose with a drumstick. After an hour or so, each one of the Quad guys had a chance to dance with one of the girls while the other guys kept the music going. When Aronson's turn came, mirable dictu, he could really dance. He'd been given lessons starting when he was five. But he didn't actually dance with a girl, he danced at a distance around a few of them, and a few of them broke off from their partners to dance at a distance with him, sometimes two or three girls at once.

Susie finally got Miller to open up and talk about baseball, about Dartmouth, about why he hadn't had a girlfriend of his own to ask to the prom. Eventually, the two of them were speaking so quickly, they hardly knew what they were saying. At one point, Upton's date with the big, greedy blue eyes came over and asked Miller onto the dance floor. After their dance was over, she kissed him on the cheek and said, "Thank you," into his ear, and when he returned the table where Susie was sitting, she stood up and kissed him on the lips.

All the faculty wives knew this was coming, not just Mrs. Mosbacher, and it wouldn't wait until midnight. Couples began to slow down, many to a halt, not even pretend to be dancing, and let it go.

Aronson sat at the keyboard with his eyes closed playing "Light My Fire" again, Ku drumming tight along with him, the two of them off in some other world. The guitarists weren't up there anymore. Didn't matter. Aronson played "Light My Fire" yet again. Didn't matter. People were taking slow walks into the darkness, eventually reaching the dates' dorm, or in Miller's case, Susie's house on Gate Street.


In February Dr. Armentrout had announced he was leaving to become headmaster at the prep school he had attended in Massachusetts, and Mr. Overbrook would take over at Darby. So Mr. Overbrook presided over graduation ceremonies while Dr. Armentrout gave the commencement speech. He talked about his tenure at Darby and his excitement at heading back out into the world, just as we were heading into the world. Sometime in the future, he couldn't predict when, we would realize we had never been as free as we had been at Darby, never have so much liberty to pursue our interests, never be so unfettered by the demands of others, perhaps never have so much time to think, really think, as we had thought our way through the weeks and years toward the adulthood we had now achieved, each of us our own man, confident we were prepared to reckon with the challenges ahead because the job we had undertaken on our first day at Darby was completed. The time had come to leave this beautiful campus behind and begin our life's journey anew.

Black sat there thinking, "What a waste of five years." Edge was bent over a copy of Catch-22 concealed between his thighs. Stevens was doodling a bank of steel mill smokestacks on the Commencement program. Aronson kept looking at his father, who had been brought to the ceremony by his nurses and fallen asleep in his wheelchair. Edge's father sat with his mother. She also was in a wheelchair, a thin, straight-backed woman no one had ever seen before, obviously the parent whose genes had predominated in Edge. Next to her Mrs. Stevens wore a dramatic blue hat with a broad brim and purple veil, apparently to give her privacy if she happened to weep. Ku's parents remained in Aruba like his Dutch chocolate girlfriend. Upton could not help noticing Mrs. Mosbacher had brought Susie with her to sit in the faculty spouses section. Susie acknowledged his look only once before returning her gaze to Miller.

Before the graduation ceremony concluded with the benediction from Rev. White, Mr. Overbrook took a moment for something unexpected. He asked those of us who had been at the school the longest, five full years, the last class of second formers, to stand as he called out our names. He didn't mention that we had beaten his prediction. Slightly more than half of us had survived. But there were a hundred guys graduating, and we were just six of the original eleven, scattered here and there by alphabetic happenstance. A few guys clapped along with the parents and faculty. Most of the others faked it, making little sound. In their place we would have done the same. No reason for applause. We weren't whoever we had been five years ago. That time's spell had been broken, and the campus, which we had been crisscrossing all morning to attend a final service in the chapel, to gather on the steps of Darby Hall for a photograph, to plant a class tree on the banks of the pond, seemed to be falling away from us like cargo jettisoned from a plane, piece after piece of the Darby Academy spinning wildly in the air. In the end, Miller had no trouble deciding to go to Dartmouth, but one surprise was Black wasn't going to college right away—despite risking the draft, he was taking a year off—and another surprise was Edge going to Penn, maybe because his mother joined his father in pressuring him, or maybe because he knew that's how things would turn out all along.