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A tiny part of Paul resented everyone, even his mother, for simply being able to move on. Why was it so hard to let go? More importantly, why was it so easy for everyone else to let go? Didn’t they love Bill?
Paul realized the principal was about to call Jordan’s name. He scanned the other graduates as he waited.
“Jordan Bieliel,” the principal said.
Jordan stood just as Paul found him. Paul offered a loud shout that he hoped conveyed that he was happy for his friend even if he wasn’t actually happy in general.
“Jordan has been accepted into the applied physics program at Carnegie in Pittsburgh.”
A smile bloomed on Paul’s face even as Jordan pointed at him and smiled. The smile seemed to say, “We’re still a team!”
Paul always worried that they’d drift apart. It was still a dirty trick to keep it a secret until graduation. Jordan had implied that he hadn’t had a lot of luck with the application process. Paul clapped for a few blissful seconds until he thought how everything was almost perfect.
Was there a reality where Bill was alive? Paul was going to study at one of the top schools in the country. His best friend was going with him. They were decorated students. The single omission of Bill being there to see it seemed to make the absence even worse. Would he really feel better if none of it happened?
Paul tried to be happy for his friend, and he could sort of do that. But every time he tried to be happy about anything he had in his life, his thoughts returned to the person who wasn’t there. That made him worry about losing Jordan, or worse, his mother.
He couldn’t stop the mental loop he was trapped in. But what eventually ended was the list of students. The final student made his way across the stage, and that was the signal for the rest of the students to stand up. The class began to file into a large square section of the football field that had been designated for the final part of the ceremony. The students arranged themselves into rows as the school’s junior varsity band played Pomp and Circumstance.
The song reached a crescendo, and the graduates, including Paul, snatched their caps and tossed them into the air. The PID on Paul’s wrist went crazy in vibration as people in attendance snapped photos that instantly transmitted to each other so long as the network identified who was in the picture.
The moment marked the end of the ceremony, and Paul began the search for his best friend. As usual, Jordan found him. Jordan didn’t grow up so much as put on enough weight to ensure a stiff breeze probably would’t blast him away.
Paul, however, grew into a large, square man that seemed an odd contrast to his academic performance. While his genetics made him one suited to physicality, Paul denied the hints about joining sports. Those things were too much like Paul’s biological father, and Paul didn’t want to be anything like that man.
So why can’t I let go of this anger? Anger and fear were the two key aspect of his biological father, and they were Paul’s core emotions too if he was being honest.
The anger in Paul’s heart wasn’t always about the same thing, but there was always anger. Even as Paul recognized the irrationality of it, he couldn’t do a thing to change it. What he could do was sort of hide it under other things, usually. One such way was to spend time around his mother or Jordan, who smiled as he flung his arms around Paul.
“Had trouble with applications, huh?” Paul said as the quick, two-pat hug ended.
“It’s not a lie,” Jordan said. “Those applications were tough! I honestly think I got in because I put you as a reference. I feel sort of guilty riding your coat tails.”
Paul scoffed. “It’s not like you’re not helping. I told them how much you helped me during my interview.”
Jordan shrugged. “I guess I owe you.”
Paul froze, worried Jordan would ask about when they’d start working not he project again. He couldn’t. He couldn’t face those white boards. He couldn’t sit at that table. He couldn’t talk about it.
“So I was wondering.” Jordan looked away as he spoke. Oh no! Don’t ask! Please don’t make me think about it! “I know you’re super self conscious about things like this, but … “
Paul felt the anger and resentment building. Why would Jordan do this? Why would he ask about this now?
“Do you think I could take you and your mom out to dinner? I just want to hang out, and it’s been a while. Why are you laughing?”
Paul couldn’t stop to answer for a few moments. He wasn’t going to ask about the project. He was just trying to hang out. Of course he wouldn’t push Paul. Jordan always knew how to shift the topic.
“Look man, you hate it when people try to do things for you,” Jordan said. “But dude, you helped me get through school, and you helped me get into a great college.”
“You were in the top ten of our class!” Paul said.
“Because you helped me,” Jordan said.
“We studied together, but it’s not like I took the tests for you or did your work for you,” Paul replied.
“True, but let me treat you and your mom, OK? Tonight?”
Paul thought about finding a polite way to say no. He had another appointment. Then he thought better of it. It was already clear Nobody always knew where to go, so it didn’t matter what Paul did. If Nobody said he’d appear tonight, it would happen.
“I think Mom would like that,” Paul said with a smile he hoped looked genuine.
… to be continued …