Rarely when a seventeen-year-old kid seriously considers leaping out a top-floor window is it for the right reason, but you might agree with me on this one. See, unlike the image you probably have of said seventeen-year-old swan-diving to his death on the pavement below, I wasn’t jumping to take my life. I was jumping to save it. And if I was trying to save it, that means there musta been someone trying to take it. Fifteen someones, as a matter of fact. Three of whom were seconds away from succeeding if I didn’t do something very stupid, very soon.
As I sprinted toward the stained-glass window, my brain was stuck on one question: had the gunmen chased me up threeflights, or was it four? On any normal day, I’d say, “Eh, what difference does a floor make?” But on most days I hadn’t just been chased across the campus square, through the mailroom, out the back, and up into the St. Frederick Academy history department building. And certainly most days I wasn’t being shot at. On a day like today where I could hear the footsteps clamoring up the stairwell after me, yeah, that potential extra floor was an issue. In fact, it was the difference between smashing through a floor-to-ceiling glass window and hitting the concrete below at a velocity of 38.5 feet per second or 47.2 feet per second. I could thank Fournier’s Mathematical Principles, required reading for Physics 3—a class I wasn’t really taking— for that suddenly pertinent nugget of info.
If you were interested, I could have also told you that by jumping from that additional ten feet, the calcaneus bone would be the first to shatter on impact, likely followed by the talus and navicular an instant before my fibula splintered as it pressed up on the patella, all this thanks to Anatomy and Physiology, another class I wasn’t taking. But that’s another story. Well, no, actually, it is this story; it’s just that the fact a seventeen-year-old kid stuck on the scholarship/probation carousel has been surrep‐ titiously attending extra classes in order to then sell papers to trust fund kids is not relevant the way, say, deciding whether to propel oneself out a third (or possibly fourth) story window is.
The good news is, regardless of the 8.7-feet-per-second difference in velocity and the extra bones I was about to break, I had little choice. Because in seconds, all three of them would burst into this empty classroom and start, nay, continue shooting.
I used to roll my eyes whenever I’d hear people who, after all sorts of crappy things had happened to them, still said, “I wouldn’t have changed a thing” or, “It made me into who I am today.” As I sprinted around the desks and toward the window, I doubled-down on my metaphorical eye roll: people who say those things are either liars or are fooling themselves. After everything that had happened today, I would have changed a lot of things. Among them: I’d have told my mother to call in sick so I didn’t have to see her with a gun to her head. I’d have preferred not to have had to choke out a stranger. And I would have done something, anything, to keep Kira out of it all.
On a dead run, I closed my eyes and hurled myself through the sheet of glass. The instant the glass shattered, four distinct thoughts scrolled across my mind:
— Here I was jumping out a window in order to save my life when not two years ago I’d have probably welcomed a similar opportunity to end it.
— A quote from Samuel Johnson, courtesy of 18th Century Poets (this time, a class I was actually enrolled in): “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
— Actually, the quote was the third thing, if we want to get picky. It popped into my mind in response to this prior realiza‐ tion: a very sudden, yet absolute certainty that it was in fact the fourth-floor window I had just leapt from.
— And the last wasn’t so much a thought as it was a word: Shit.
Earlier in the Day
Like every other time someone found themselves leaping through a fourth-story window, there is a backstory. A whole “where, what, when, and who” that needs touching upon.
I guess the “who” was the bored-looking seventeen-year-old kid in the passenger seat of the 2002 Toyota Camry. They say the Camry is the least distinguishable car on the road today. I’d believe that. Unless of course your Camry was in a private school parking lot with a 2018 Lexus LC in front of it and an acces‐ sorized Range Rover Sport HSE in the rearview. Never mind the three Beemers, two Mercedes, and a coterie of black SUVs that made up the rest of the cars in the row. Which brings us to the where: St. Frederick Academy, a prep school deep in the heart of New England. Heavy on the gray stone buildings, pre–Civil War statues, and immaculately manicured lawns. Take away the line of over-priced luxury cars and the teenagers face-diving into their various phones and tablets, and you’d be hard-pressed to know if you were in 1819, 1919, or 2019.
But 2019 it was. St. Frederick Academy’s parking lot was where we were. The observant would notice how dusty some of the luxury cars were. You’d never guess the reason, though. These cars had sat there since the first day of the semester, un-driven because these particular kids didn’t have their licenses yet, but they had parents who didn’t want their precious little ones to feel left out.
Did that sound like jealousy? It wasn’t meant to be. I couldn’t be happier to not be one of the rich kids. This may sound like rationalization, but having been around these guys for the last three years, one of the craziest things I’ve discovered is that there is a near reverse correlation between happiness and wealth. Don’t get me wrong, poor sucks. My mother was miser‐ able for years (although there was a particular man who was at the root of most of that), but once she started working here for Headmaster Harkin, there was some happiness. She didn’t make much, but it was enough. And what I’ve seen is that the further you get in either direction away from enough, that’s where you find problems. You see it with drugs: the poorest guys I knew from my old school and the richest ones I knew here did the most. The rich ones just had easier access to the good kinds. Bored, lazy kids who have been shipped off to prep school since they were eight have another thing in common: an inclination to do the least amount of work necessary. On the plus side, they also have plenty of disposable cash. Which was where I came in. The scholarship that got me in here was great, sure, and the work study job in the mailroom put a few bucks in my pocket, but it was the bottomless supply of rich slackers that paid the alimony.
I should probably clarify: not my alimony. My dad’s.
“Who needs Am Lit? I’ve got a Thoreau and a Willa Cather. B- plus, A-minus range.”
I looked up from Weav’s laptop. It was Harper. Decent guy. Way too smart to need me to write papers for him. But as I had quickly realized, when it came to smart, rich, and motivated, generally most everyone here had two but rarely all three. Which made someone like Harper perfect for me: Lazy enough to be a customer. Rich enough to be a repeat customer. And smart enough that I could actually write something interesting for him to turn in without raising suspicions in his teachers.
“Forty. Seventy if you want some bullet points.” That was something I had come up with this semester: talking points for seminar discussion. A nice entrepreneurial touch if I do say so myself.
Because I lived off campus, I needed a place to do business, and Weav was happy to let me use his dorm room. There was me, Weav, Harper, Reece, and three other of my regular customers. Weav was one of those sons of a son of a St. Frederick alum. But one of the good ones. I knew him even before I got the scholarship here. Back when I used to sit in the library waiting for my mother to get off work, he was the only guy who ever came up and said hi.
“Give me Willa Cather,” Harper said. “But just the paper. McMaster knows something’s fishy whenever I raise my hand to say something.”
I took Harper’s flash drive and uploaded a paper on the belief of justified fate vs. self-determination in My Antonia. As I did so, the door opened and Sean walked in with Preston, the new guy.
“Yo, lock the door this time,” Weav said as he pulled out his wallet. “I’ll take Thoreau.”
Even though Weav loaned me his laptop to write papers and let me make my sales in his room, he always paid me for his assignments. Whenever I insisted he take them for free, he said, “Third generation, bro.” Which was his shorthand for what he said the first time I had tried to comp him: “You know that saying ‘the first generation makes the cash, the second one grows it, and the third generation blows it,’ well my goal is to blow it. They all did shitty things with the money or in making it. I figure me just wasting it is an improvement over any of them.”
As I took the other orders, Weav pulled out his baggy and papers from their hiding spot in the closet. Weav was old school. No cotton-candy-flavored vaping for him; he smoked his weed the old-fashioned way. As he prepped it, he began explaining his third-generation theory to Preston, apropos of nothing. The guy had only transferred in a few weeks ago but had already become a regular customer, although, I don’t think Preston even turned mine in. He was smart enough and motivated enough to do his own and probably only bought them to fit in with a guy like Sean. Most of these guys fell over themselves trying to fit in with Sean. Maybe it was because of his dad. Maybe it was his faux alpha-dog act. Preston was a guy who had apparently moved from school to school and learned the importance of ID-ing the alpha dog and aligning with him. Only three weeks here, and he’d been Sean’s pet ever since.
“. . . See, if I were to do a flat zero with my life,” Weav continued as he lit the joint, “I’d still be ahead of my dad or granddad.”
“How’s that?” asked Preston.
Weav inhaled, held for a few seconds, and then blew it into the wet towel he kept to muffle the smoke smell. “Doing nothing with my life is a plus on the ledger compared to building stuff for the military so they can bomb the crap better out of someone. No matter how much coin they’ve made, me smoking weed and living off a trust fund will be a drastic improvement.” Weav offered the roller to the rest of us. No takers. Which isn’t as surprising as you might think. No one here was against drugs per se; it was just that out of these seven guys, I’d bet five were already on Adderall, Xanax, or some other drug of parental choice.
I handed Preston his flash drive. “That’s fifty.”
“Can I Venmo? I don’t have cash.”
“You can forget Venmo,” Sean said laughing. “Cade doesn’t even have a phone.” He said this last bit with a verbal ellipsis after “phone,” which I knew was his chump brain churning away as it searched that empty cavern for some smartass remark. “Gotta pay cash or food stamps.”
There it was. One more townie crack. Always his go-to with me. Food stamps. Welfare. Section Eight. Haha. Did I want to crack back at him? Sure. But it was a losing cause, as I learned two semesters ago that time with him and Kira. Besides, the only one I’d be hurting was my mother. Screw up this paper-writing gig, and there goes the alimony payment. I had spent enough time mooching off her all these years, so it had been nice to finally be able to put some back in. Not that she knew. She would never take it if she thought it was coming from me. Making the deposits look like my father was actually paying his child support was a win-win for all of us.
Ignoring Sean’s existence was always the safest thing to do. And I had. Mostly. A couple weeks ago, though, I had been sorting the mail and listening to Reece, Sean, and a couple others through the mailbox slots. I had stayed silent through most of their humble-bragging, but when Reece said, “It was their own fault. They’d have gone bankrupt anyway,” I blurted it out before I could censor myself: “Yeah, their fault for trusting your dad.”
Reece had peered through the glass windows of the mail‐ boxes and snapped, “I wasn’t talking to you.”
I could of course have left it there, but instead I went to the service window and said, “Well, I’m talking to you.” Leaving it there would’ve been smart too. “You really believe your daddy wasn’t to blame?”
“Hey, the nature of a private equity takeover is that some don’t turn out as you want. But that’s on the company itself.There’s no takeover if they aren’t in deep trouble to begin with.”
“The nature of. Okay,” I had laughed. “Your dad’s company leveraged them to the point they’d never dig their way out. I wish I could borrow $700 million to buy a tech company and not put up dick of my own.” There weren’t many benefits that came with schlepping mail around campus, but unlimited access to The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and every other publi‐ cation to which the professors subscribed was one.
“He’s the one willing to take the risk.”
“What risk? It’s all on the company he’s taking over. Your dad’s company raked in tens of millions in fees during the whole process with Burke Tech. Then they sell it to another company . . . that they own. More fees and paydays for your dad and the rest. And when they inevitably had to declare bankruptcy, shocker, your dad’s company was the first to get its money out.”
“You win some, you lose some,” Sean had smirked.
“By win, you mean, the times they stay in business by gutting the company of half their employees for ‘efficiency’s’ sake?”
“So, what’s he supposed to do, keep everyone on, worthless or not?” Sean had said. “I’d love to see how your little socialist plan would turn out.”
“Just because someone doesn’t want to be an asshole, doesn’t make them a socialist. But, hey, by all means, follow in Daddy’s footsteps. I’m sure it’s a perfect little life for you.”
“So’s this one for you,” Sean mocked.
“Oh yeah? What’re you going to do with your life?”
“I’m doing it.”
“Looks exciting,” Sean said.
“I’d rather think about what I am doing with my life. Not
what I am going to do with it.”
“That’s the rationalization of someone with a crappy-looking
Well, it went something like that. And there was more, but
none of it got any better. Since then, we’d had an icier relation‐ ship than ever. Not that I cared.
“Your parents give you a credit card?” I said to Preston. “Yeah.”
“Go put in five dollars in gas and get fifty cash back. Your parents’ll never look. They never do. Or if they did, they’d just think you’re buying beer.”
“Just don’t stiff him,” Sean said. “You might end up with a mysteriously broken hand.”
Sean’s other go-to: my stupid probation. When he didn’t go the townie slight, it was the thing with my father. Hilarious.
Sean handed me fifty.
“Yours is eighty,” I said.
“That’s bullshit. It’s the same class.”
“But you’re getting a B.”
“What’d he get?”
Weav laughed, knowing where this was headed.
“Writing his is easier,” I said. “You know how much harder it
is to write knowing I can’t get higher than a B-minus without giving you away?”
Getting a laugh from the room at the expense of an asshole with a thin skin like Sean was always satisfying. But like I said before about the whole “I wouldn’t have done anything differ‐ ently” canard, it’s all bullshit. Had I known what he would do to get back at me, you better believe I would have kept my big dumb mouth shut instead.