Cray got into the same college his father attended and is expected to go. And to go pre-med. And to get started right away. His parents are paying the tuition. It should be an easy decision.
But it's not.
All Cray knows is that what's expected of him doesn't feel right. The pressure to make a decisionfrom his family, his friendsis huge. Until he meets Rayne, a girl who is taking a gap year, and who helps him find his first real job, at a home of four adults with developmental disabilities. What he learns about himself and others will turn out to be more than any university could teach himand twice as difficult.
About the Author
John Coy is the author of numerous books, including For Extreme Sports-Crazy Boys Only, the young adult novels Crackback and Box Out, and the "4 for 4" middle-grade sports quartet that includes Top of the Order and Eyes on the Prize. He lives in Minneapolis, and travels around the world visiting classrooms.
Read an Excerpt
By John Coy
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2016 John Coy
All rights reserved.
THE END. It was really the end. My right heel tapped away as I sat among three hundred Clairemont High School graduates and watched Nora Engdahl, our valedictorian, stride confidently to the podium. Nora, who'd never gotten a B in her life and was headed to Stanford, paused and brushed back her straight blond hair as she looked around the gym.
"She's hot." Garret Frampton, who'd started drinking early, announced the obvious.
"Definitely." I rubbed the sleeve of my shiny blue robe.
"Party out at the Land tonight," Frampton said. "Be there."
I half listened to Nora tell us that graduation was only the beginning and that we were all embarking on the great adventure of our lives, but that wasn't how I was feeling.
High school graduation was the end. Unlike my friends, who were excited about their fall plans, I was carrying a secret. And as Nora continued on about pursuing our passions and creating a brighter future, that secret weighed on me, heavier than ever.
* * *
LATER THAT NIGHT, after pictures, congratulations, and parental warnings to be safe, Jett Morrison and I ran down the path through the woods on Frampton's dad's land.
"We're free!" Jett hollered as he approached the crowd gathered around the keg in the clearing.
I chased after him but didn't feel free.
Frampton handed me a red plastic cup of beer and took a drink from his tequila bottle. "Lockermates for seven years." Frampton banged his bottle against my cup and beer sloshed out.
"Yeah," I said, trying to get into the spirit of the warm summer night.
"Going to miss you, dude." Frampton stretched out his arm for a half hug. I slid over to avoid spilling more beer as Jett moved over by the big rocks to talk to Nora and her friend Teagan Kleist.
"I had to work so hard to get into Madison." Frampton hit me with a blast of tequila breath. "Now I'll party all freshman year."
I stepped back and tripped on a root. College was the last thing I wanted to talk about.
"I'll be paying off student loans forever, so I'm gonna get my money's worth." Frampton took another drink. "Madtown gets wild."
I took a sip of beer. "Hey, Framp, I gotta talk to Jett."
"Party 'til it's light." He lifted his bottle as I walked away.
"Yeah." After talking to Frampton every school day since sixth grade, I didn't know when I'd see him again.
"Congratulations, Cray!" Kenna Laughlin waved. I'd gone out with her a couple of times at the start of the year without it turning into anything.
"You too." She was one of those girls who was friends with everybody — that was why she was class president — and she was smart. She'd applied to about twenty different colleges, gotten accepted at most of them, and chose Cornell after they gave her a ton of money.
"So you're all set for premed at St. Luke's."
"Not quite." I hugged her and moved toward Jett as moonlight filtered through the pines.
"Nice speech, Nora." I raised my cup and she lifted hers in a toast.
"It wasn't that great." She adjusted her bra strap as Jett watched. She was a star volleyballer and Jett had been after her all year.
"Can you believe we're finished?" Teagan shook her blond bangs and held a big smile. "Make sure you all come to my graduation party Saturday. We'll have tons of food."
I took a gulp of beer. Mom had been all over me about making plans for my party.
"We did it." Jett high-fived everybody. He didn't drink, because he had a basketball scholarship to Duluth. He was the first in his family to go to college, and he followed training rules year-round.
"And we're all off to different schools in the fall." Nora grinned like she couldn't wait to start.
I didn't have the guts to tell the truth. I turned away to watch some theater girls down by the creek singing the school song. I couldn't keep my secret much longer, but I wasn't ready to deal with it, so I tried to lose myself in the party.
After that, everything blurred together. Jett left with Nora and didn't come back. There were bonfires, beer, and vodka shots. People paired off and disappeared into the woods. Others got totally smashed and hugged one another, promising to stay connected forever. I did my best to pretend I was into it, but my fear of telling my parents about my decision tugged at me.
* * *
TEAGAN DROVE ME BACK AFTER THE ALL-NIGHT PARTY, her pink fingernails flashing against the steering wheel as the sun rose above the trees. "I've been accepted at Beloit, but I'm on the waiting list at Carleton." Teagan talked fast. "My aunt went to Carleton and really wants me to go there, but my parents say I should let it go and focus on Beloit, but I can't. Carleton's a better school and I love Northfield, but if Carleton says yes, I don't know if they'll give me the same financial aid. I feel trapped in between. The whole process is crazy."
I tried to listen but was colleged out. I wanted a different topic, anything else.
"What do you think I should do, Cray?"
"Me? I don't know. What do you want to do?"
"Go to Carleton. But they don't want me. I did everything I was supposed to do: got involved in clubs, stuck with gymnastics even after I tore ligaments, did well on my tests, got good grades, and wrote an interesting essay, and I still didn't get in."
She looked at me expectantly, but I was the last person to offer advice.
"I feel like a failure," she said.
"You're not a failure, Teagan. You'll do fine wherever you go."
I asked her to drop me off at the gas station by the university since it was too early to go home without risking running into Dad.
When she stopped the car, she beckoned me with her pink-tipped finger, like she had something to whisper. I unbuckled my seat belt and leaned in. She grabbed the back of my head and pulled my face to hers. Teagan's hair smelled of cigarettes and beer, but her breath was cinnamony fresh as our lips met. Her tongue darted around my mouth as I shifted my position to get a better angle. She kept her eyes closed, so I did, too, and her lips pressed harder against mine.
Just then a car pulled into the spot next to us and Teagan straightened up. I watched the old guy who'd interrupted us take forever to turn off his engine and open his door. He stuck a wooden cane out the door and it took even longer for him to stand, the slowest guy getting out of a car in history.
I turned to Teagan, who was adjusting her bangs in the rearview mirror, and wondered if we'd go back to what we were doing, but she acted like she'd already moved on.
"I've got to go, Cray," she said breezily, as if the kiss hadn't even happened.
"Thanks for the ride." I opened my door.
"Happy graduation," she called.
"Yeah, you too."
I wandered the empty aisles of the store thinking about the kiss. My breath probably tasted like a mix of beer, pizza, and Doritos. No wonder Teagan wanted to stop kissing. I bought three glazed doughnuts and two packs of gum. My head throbbed from the beer, the bright fluorescent lights, and being up all night, but I couldn't go home. Dad would still be getting ready for work.
I devoured the doughnuts as I walked across campus. I stopped at a water fountain for a long drink. My first day with no school felt kind of empty as I wandered down to the river and popped gum into my mouth. I stood at the edge and watched water splash against rocks and lost myself in a trance. After a while, I climbed the steps to the dirt path that curved downstream.
At a bench, I sat and listened to birds chatter away before humans got up to claim the day. Exhaustion pulled me down as I checked the time on my phone.
Even though I didn't want to, I had to get it over with. I had to tell my parents. But first, I desperately needed some sleep.
I headed home, hoping it was safe to do so.CHAPTER 2
ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS CRASH. I walked up the flower-lined driveway to our big house and quietly opened the back door. I kicked off my shoes in the entryway and smelled coffee and French toast as my mom talked with my eighth-grade brother, Lansing. I went into the kitchen to let them know I was home before going straight to bed.
"Where the hell have you been?" Dad glared at me from the table.
"Uh ... um ... a graduation party. I told Mom." I'd thought for sure he'd be gone.
"You didn't tell me."
I jammed my hands into my pockets and felt more like a kindergartner than a high school graduate. Lansing, who was a math and science wizard, glanced up and then poured maple syrup on his French toast.
"Thank God you're finally home." Mom adjusted the clip in her hair. "We didn't give you a curfew, but I certainly expected you back before now. You didn't answer any of my texts."
"Sorry, my phone died."
"Have you been drinking?" She examined me like a science experiment gone wrong. "Your eyes are bloodshot."
"I'm just tired." I was glad I'd chewed the gum to hide the smell.
"You're only seventeen," Dad declared.
"I'm almost eighteen."
"Either way. You're underage and living here. We're not having you crawl home at all hours after you've been out drinking."
I'd had less to drink than most people, but I knew there was no point in arguing with him. That just made things worse. "I'm going to bed."
"Not so fast." Dad stood up. "You and I need to talk."
Lansing smirked, and I could have smacked him. I followed Dad into the living room and imagined putting on a suit of armor to protect myself from another one of his lectures. He pointed to the brown leather couch, and I sat down.
"Let's get one thing straight. High school's over. It's time to start acting like an adult." Dad towered over me as I looked past him at his two treasured blue-and-white Chinese vases protected in their secure glass cases. He didn't like to travel, but he loved collecting things that he thought would increase in value.
I rubbed my eyes. "How come you're not at work?"
"For your information, I didn't have surgeries this morning. I went up to your room and you weren't there, so I've been sitting here listening to your mother worry."
"Sorry." I looked down at the orange-and-brown carpet, Dad's favorite, which had been handmade in Pakistan.
"In the fall, we're not going to be around to remind you of everything. You'll need to be responsible for getting your work done and keeping your grades up so you can get into a top medical school."
I stared at the complex carpet pattern. Dad had talked about me being a doctor since I was little, and last fall, he'd made me apply early decision to St. Luke's, where he and his dad had gone. When I was accepted, he made it clear that he'd pay for everything as long as I studied premed.
"College will be much more demanding," he continued. "You can't coast like you did in high school."
I hadn't coasted. I'd worked hard but hadn't met his standard of straight As. I looked up at him in his jacket and tie and thought about my decision.
"You have to concentrate in every class, every lab from day one. You have to prove you have what it takes to be a doctor."
Three glazed doughnuts on top of beer, pizza, and Doritos churned in my stomach. My head felt like it was about to explode as he droned on. Finally, I couldn't take the pressure anymore.
I blurted it out before I could stop. "I'm not going to be a doctor."
"What?" Dad's face tightened.
"I'm not going to be a doctor."
Dad stared down at me. "Yes you are. You're Crayton Robert Franklin, the third. Your grandfather was a doctor. I'm a doctor. I expect you to carry on the tradition."
Doctor. I hated that word.
"Your uncle Ed's a doctor," Dad continued. "Your cousins are preparing to be doctors, and Ed doesn't miss an opportunity to tell me how well they're doing."
"Jacob's not going to be one." I rubbed my hands on my pants.
"He doesn't count," Dad shot back.
"He's got special needs. He can't be a doctor."
"He still counts."
"Of course he counts." Spit flew out of Dad's mouth.
The back door closed as Lansing left to catch his bus for his last day of middle school. Mom turned on the super-quiet new dishwasher and it hummed.
"There are plenty of specialties to choose from," Dad said. "Oncology, radiology, anesthesiology. I know that, like your mother, you're not great around blood, but many areas of medicine don't require that."
He didn't need to bring up my fainting, which hadn't happened in a long time. "I want to take classes I'm interested in, like Spanish, history, and English. I'm not even that good in math and science."
"That's because you don't work hard. If you did, you'd do fine." Dad sat down in his leather chair and grabbed the arms. "You've been accepted at St. Luke's. We've paid the deposit. Everything's set."
I shook my head. St. Luke's was a small, all-male Catholic college out in the middle of nowhere. I'd never wanted to go to an all-guys school, but Dad had determined that was the only place I should apply.
"I decided I'm not going."
"You decided?" Dad shot out of his chair and got in my face. "Are you crazy?"
Mom rushed into the living room. "What on earth is happening?"
"Tell her." Dad's face was pinched with anger.
"I'm not going to St. Luke's. I don't want to be a doctor." I tried to say it confidently, since it was the biggest decision I'd made in my life. "I know you want me to, but I can't."
Mom looked from me to Dad and then back. "What do you want, then?"
"I don't know. I'm good in Spanish. Maybe I could be a translator and travel to different countries —"
"A translator?" Dad cut me off. "Who's hiring you for that?"
"We're offering to pay all that money." Mom paced next to the grand piano.
"You could graduate from college and med school debt-free." Dad's face was getting redder. "Who gets that kind of opportunity these days?"
Mom looked like she was about to cry. "How can you be so ungrateful, Cray?"
"I'm not ungrateful, but I can't do it this way."
Dad shook his head like I disgusted him. "You're making a monumental mistake."
"And we're in the middle of planning your graduation party." Mom paced faster.
"If you don't get your act together, we're not having any damn party," Dad said. "I don't want a houseful of people hearing you're not going to St. Luke's."
I sank deeper into the couch. "So what happens if I don't accept your deal?"
"You'll accept it." Dad leaned over and banged his fist on the table, and the lamp shook.
I started to stand up.
"Sit down!" he yelled. "What do you plan to do?"
"I don't know," I said quietly.
"You need to figure it out, fast." He jabbed a finger at me.
Like I could solve this after being out all night.
"You can start by getting a job. You've had it way too easy around here. The free ride is over," Dad shouted. "While you're pretending to be unsure about St. Luke's, you'll pay rent to get a taste of what not being in college is really like."
"Crayton," Mom pleaded, turning to Dad. "Isn't there some way to fix this?"
"He needs to learn to accept consequences, Miriam. He's not a little boy anymore."
"I'm late for work." Mom pulled a tissue from her pocket and held it in the air like she'd forgotten what to do with it. She wiped her eyes, crumpled it up, and shoved it back in her pocket. "We'll work this out later. You're going to St. Luke's. That's what we've planned. We'll talk about it at dinner."
I heard the door close and listened as she started her Audi to go off to her dietician job at the hospital.
"We're not standing by while you make a selfish damn decision." Now Dad was pacing. "Selfish, immature, cowardly. You'd ruin your future. You'd regret it every single day of your life."
I wasn't listening, just waiting for him to stop as my head pounded. I felt like I'd floated up to the ceiling and was watching everything from there.
"When I get home this afternoon, you need to have a job. Understand?"
"Say it out loud. Do you understand?"
"Yes." I bowed my head and squeezed my hands together as he went on about my selfishness. Maybe I was making a monumental mistake. But I'd be miserable if I went to St. Luke's and he chose my classes and what I'd become. That would be an even bigger mistake.
* * *
AFTER DOWNING A COUPLE OF ADVIL, I closed the shades in my room and got into bed. My brain was bursting, but I wasn't doing anything until I got some sleep. I charged my phone and set the alarm for three so I'd be gone before any of them got home.
I lay back and tried to push thoughts of Dad out of my mind. Selfish. He was the one being selfish by picking St. Luke's and insisting I be a doctor. Of course I should have acted sooner, back when he had me apply to only one college, but I wasn't ready then.
What are you going to do? What do you want to be? Everyone was asking the same questions, and I was sick of it and didn't have answers.
There was one thing, though, that I was one hundred percent sure about. I knew what I didn't want to be. I didn't want to be anything like my dad.
Excerpted from Gap Life by John Coy. Copyright © 2016 John Coy. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Like Any Other House,
Her Favorite Place Is Where?,
Laying Down the Law,
On the Bridge,
Breaking Up Properly,
Time to Tell,
About the Author,