Author Topic: Part 1, Chapter 1  (Read 1476 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 1, Chapter 1
« on: June 10, 2022, 12:59:59 AM »
Part 1

Chapter 1

He'd put on the gown and cap. He'd endured the speeches, both sincere and self-congratulatory. And now, having moved his tassel from one side of his face to the other, Tom was finally done.

A cheer rippled through the assembled crowd, and the band started playing again- thankfully a much quieter song than the last time. Tom smiled and shook the hands of his nearest classmates, along with everyone else. He excused himself as soon as decorum allowed, though. As much as Tom enjoyed the camaraderie, there were some people he wanted to speak with- at least before the pack of predators he called his family had a chance to descend upon him.

On the other side of the chairs, he could vaguely see Vicky and Amir meet up and embrace. He made his way towards them, around the front of the chairs instead of the back in order to avoid his family for a bit longer. When he finally got to them, Vicky gave him one of her usual bear hugs and Amir shook his hand warmly.

"Well," he said into the brief pause following that. "We made it."

"We sure did," Vicky said enthusiastically, and Amir nodded in his usual serene way. She pulled out the cylinder each of them had gotten up on stage. "Ready?"

As one, they opened up the cylinders and pulled out the papers inside. Each was a simple yet elegant announcement, belying the sheer effort and time necessary to reach the stated achievement. Thomas Penderton III, Andrea Victoria Brandt, and Amir Meir Hoberman had all just graduated. For a moment, Tom just enjoyed the feeling. Their actual diplomas wouldn't arrive for another few weeks of course, but they had survived, and triumphed.

"Tom, darling!" A voice filtered its way over to him from behind the chairs. "Do come over here, dear."

Tom grimaced. Well that hadn't lasted long. "Are we still on for tonight?" He asked his friends, glancing back at his mother and giving her a nod.

They both confirmed it, and reluctantly- as if going to some kind of execution- Tom turned to face his assembled family.


Vicky had to hold back a laugh as he tottered off. Tom loved the spotlight and always had, but his family was a bit much to handle. As she and Amir watched, his parents insisted on putting him in photo after photo, introducing him to various no-doubt-influential people. It was never too early to start peddling influence for their son, it seemed.

"You did well up there, with your speech," she said to Amir after a moment, and he grimaced.

For a moment he picked at his graduation gown- which was a little different from the rest. "I rushed through the last bit, I'm sure of it," he said regretfully. "I was supposed to be speaking to the student body, but I ended up speaking at them instead. Still," he added thoughtfully. "I didn't throw up or pass out up there, which were both genuine possibilities."

"Mission accomplished, then," Vicky said wryly, and he shrugged. The only other student in an altered robe was only a dozen feet away or so, and she shared a respectful nod with Amir before turning away.

"Was that your version of saying 'well fought?'," Vicky asked curiously, and Amir paused for a moment, "or are you still sore over being salutatorian instead of the other thing?"

"No, she beat me fair and square," Amir admitted reluctantly. "She deserves her laurels. Besides, I can compete with someone- even fiercely- and still respect them. I doubt we'll ever be friends though."

"More for me, then," Vicky said smugly, and grabbed his arm. She pulled him away from the assembling crowd.

Her father was approaching, and he gave her a warm embrace. "I'm so proud of you, Vic," he mumbled into her shoulder.

Tears appeared unbidden as they hugged, and she wiped at them quickly. "Thanks, dad."

Amir stayed back a respectful distance. His own parents wouldn't be here, of course. They had agreed to pay for his education, provided he became a doctor like they wanted, but they had disapproved of his choice to attend a college here in the States. To this day Vicky had no idea why, nor how he handled it so gracefully. If her dad hadn't shown up, she would have been devastated.

He let go of her and moved over to shake Amir's hand. "Good to see you again, Amir. You've done well, or so I hear."

"You too, sir, and thank you. Of course I have medical school, internships, and a residency to complete, so I'm nowhere near the finish line yet," he put in glumly. "Still, I'm glad to be here. At least Vicky can get working right away." He paused for a moment, looking at her. "Or at least I hope she can. Any bites yet on your applications?"

"You mean she didn't tell you? She got accepted by a company up in Chicago. She starts in two weeks!"

Amir smiled broadly, and Vicky blushed slightly. "I only got the letter yesterday. I didn't want to distract you," she said softly. "Besides, it's nothing to get excited over. It's a biotech firm called Etani, and my position is practically entry-level. I'll have to work my way up."

"Still," Amir insisted. "A chance to engineer the coolest new gadgets and implants of the future. With your skills, you'll probably be running that place in a few years."

Her dad and her friend kept on talking, mostly about her future, for the next few minutes. Or as much as they could, with an aspiring neurosurgeon and a long-time farmer in the conversation. Vicky had to admit she felt a bit of trepidation about the future. Sure, she loved her engineering classes, and she was good at it, despite the pretty blatant sexism she'd faced in a lot of those courses. A lot of the men in class had viewed engineering as men's work only. She had to wonder if it would be the same in a work environment, though.

Most of the graduating class had dispersed by now, but there were tons of friends and family staying behind to see Tom. As a Penderton, he had always borne a lot of expectations from his family. They had been politicians for six generations straight now: mayors, governors, congressional representatives, and even a presidential cabinet member. Tom had been pressured to follow that trend his entire life.

Vicky thought that most people in his situation would have either crumpled entirely and become disappointments to everyone, or risen magnificently and been exactly what everyone thought he would be. Tom had avoided both possibilities.

From day one he had been an activist- taking the political interest that had been instilled in him since childhood, and using it to further his own goals of helping people. In fact, that was how she'd first met him. She and Amir had been getting out of a shared class and they'd run across Tom holding a rally on the campus yard. He had been protesting the unreported sexual assaults happening on campus over the last year.

"I can’t do anything about a professor who trades good grades for sexual favors from one of the students," he'd said passionately, "or about the piece of shit who roofies some poor soul and drags them into a car. Still, we can and must do something about basic security, as long as Campus Safety won't protect all of us!" It was clear over the next few weeks that he meant what he'd said, and it had left an impression on both of them.

His activism was wider than just college, too. He had organized rallies, or taken part in ones already set up, all over the place. When the local police chief was accused of letting a black man die in police custody, Tom made a sign and marched right along with the protestors. When a fracking company was found to have contaminated the groundwater in a small community two states over, he spread the word, loaded up his car with bottled water and another homemade protest sign, and made the trip to join in there as well.

Tom had been arrested multiple times, and even beaten once, but none of that had even slowed him down. He seemed to have inexhaustible energy and drive, and Vicky and Amir had both felt a pull to join in. Those years had been truly extraordinary. Not for the classes or the work though, so much as for their friend, who was known to many as Hurricane Thomas.

As they watched, Tom's crowd grew. One side had his family and the influential people they wanted to endear him to, while the other side had all the activist friends he'd accrued over the years. Frankly, given their pretty radical differences, Vicky was thankful a fight hadn't broken out during the ceremony.

Pretty soon the crowd was calling for a speech, which caused Vicky and Amir to share a cynical glance. Unlike both of them, Tom loved being the center of attention. She would have found it galling, but he was also a genuinely helpful guy, and used that spotlight to elevate people instead of putting them down.

As he got to it, Vicky looked up at the green canopy formed by the nearby trees and closed her eyes. The unknown was ahead, but she refused to let herself be afraid of it.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 02:22:22 AM by Daen »