Acceptance (Short Story)

This short story provides background for the character, Father Pete, from my screenplay Taking the Fall,
by sharing a key event from his youth.  The story is set in 1977.

by Mil Scott

”Looks like this is the big day, Pete!”  The mailman called from his truck on an unseasonably balmy March Saturday.  Pete looked up from his weekend ritual polishing of a gleaming black Firebird and laughed.  As he sauntered over to the truck and retrieved the official-looking envelope marked ”Harvard University” he responded, ”It could be the worst day of my life…if they rejected me.”

”Valedictorian of our high school class, probably the best grades of any college student in New York State, and a singer in the church choir to boot — not likely.”

Pete answered absently as he ripped open the envelope.

”Come on, Joe.  The choir thing’s just for my mom.  You know how she is about all that church stuff.”

He let out a shriek and read the opening lines aloud.

Dear Mr. Andrews:  Congratulations on your acceptance into Harvard Law School.”

Joe grinned. ”See, I told you this was your big day.”

Still shaking his head in awe and admiration, he shifted the truck into gear.

”Well, I’ve gotta go, Pete.  Mrs. Johnson’ll have a fit if she can’t make it to the bank with her Social Security check before noon.  I’ll see you around.   Congratulations, Harvard Man.”

Pete laughed. ”Thanks, Joe.  I’ll see you around.”


Pete eased his Firebird into the driveway and up to a neat bungalow, beeping the horn.  A tall slim girl with long blond hair and sincere blue eyes emerged from the house tugging on a pale yellow sweater and flashed him a somewhat breathless smile.  Pete stepped out of the driver’s side and greeted her with a quick kiss.

“You’re early, Pete.  The movie’s not ’til 3:30.”

“I know.  I thought we could go someplace and talk first.  I’ve got a surprise.”

Laurel’s eyes lit up with anticipation.  “Oh?  What kind of surprise?”

“You’ll see.”

Laurel gave a little pout and watched Pete quizzically as they both got in and the Firebird rolled out into the street. Pete ignored her dad Larry’s frown of disapproval through the front window and squealed the tires loudly on takeoff.  Larry watched them disappear from sight, then dropped the curtain and disappeared as well.


Pete seated himself on the hood of the car beside Laurel and looked out across the lake shimmering in the afternoon sunshine.  Laurel watched expectantly as he reached into a jacket pocket.  Her face fell ever so slightly when he pulled out an official-looking envelope, but she covered with a quick smile.  Pete handed her the envelope and smiled back.

“What’s this?” Laurel asked.  “Harvard?  Oh, Pete.”

“Can you believe it?  I’m in!  Goodbye Hicktown U.  I’m moving up to the real world.”

“What’s wrong with our school?  I’m just happy to be getting my nursing certificate in May.  Who cares where it comes from?”

“Well, that’s different.  I mean, it’s a good school for a two-year degree like yours.  And even for my undergraduate work.  But when I go out to swim with the big fish, it’ll be a lot easier to keep up when they see that Harvard diploma in my wake.  And maybe when I come back here to visit, your dad won’t look down on me anymore.”

“My dad doesn’t look down on you.”

Laurel fell silent for a moment, although Pete got the impression that she had something more to say.  He waited.  At last she spoke, her voice quiet and he thought, somehow oddly sad.

“What do you mean ‘when you come back to visit’? Do you mean to visit your folks or…uh…”

Her voice trailed off and he looked at her as if seeing her for the first time.

“Yes.  And to visit you, of course.”



“Nothing.  I just…I guess I always thought with you and me graduating at the same time…I mean, we’ve been going together since junior high.  I always thought that when you left for graduate school, we’d be leaving together.”

It was clear this thought had never crossed Pete’s mind.  He knew it and now Laurel knew it, too.  He felt bad as he realized he was hurting her, but this was his future.

“But, Laurel, you’ve been doing all your clinical work at County Hospital.  I thought you were going to stay on there when you graduated like all the nursing students here do.”

“They don’t have hospitals in Boston?”

“Well, yeah, I’m sure they do, but…I mean…”

“I know what you mean, Pete.”


Pete pulled into the driveway with a sideways glance at Laurel.  She’d held his hand without enthusiasm all through the movie and had barely spoken at dinner afterwards.  Now she sat white and silent beside him and he wished for some way to narrow the distance that had grown between them during the past few hours.  He had never meant to hurt her.  Even though he’d never expected they’d be together forever, he’d never thought his plans for the future would drive them this far apart.  He’d never thought she might have seen their relationship as so much more.  He’d never thought — well…he’d never thought.

“Looks like your parents are out.”

“Yeah.  They went to a party at my aunt’s house.  They won’t be back ’til late.”

“I could come in for a while.  We could watch TV or whatever…” adding with a devilish smile, “preferably whatever.”

“Not tonight, Pete.  I’m kind of tired, actually.”

Laurel had never been so dismissive of him before.  Pete knew that in wanting to go to grad school alone, he’d wanted to break away somehow, but somehow he hadn’t envisioned it happening like this.

“I’ll call you tomorrow.  Maybe we can do…something…”

“Goodnight, Pete.”

He caught her and gave her a kiss she didn’t return before she slipped out of the car and was gone.  Pete sat in the driveway staring after her for a moment before looking over at where she’d sat so close beside him, and yet so far away, and noticed she’d forgotten her sweater.  He started to get out and go to the door to give it to her, but thought better of it; he could bring it by tomorrow as an excuse to see her if she brushed him off again.

He dropped the sweater back onto the passenger seat and swung the Firebird out into the road, flicking on the wipers as a light rain began to fall.  He still felt oddly shaken by her mood and thought back to her face when he’d pulled the Harvard envelope from his pocket, realizing suddenly that something like disappointment had flickered there.  True, he’d taken her to “their” spot, the place they’d gone to be alone for years, the place she’d first made love to him on the night of junior prom.  Had she been expecting something else from him today…a ring, perhaps?  No. Surely not.  That had just never been part of the plan.  She had to know he’d get out of this place and go on with his life someday.  Maybe she was just tired.  Things would be better tomorrow.  They’d talk about it some more and she’d realize this was best for both of them.  He looked over again at the pale yellow sweater.  Tomorrow.  Tomorrow.


Pete woke to a loud noise outside his slightly opened window.  At first he thought it was thunder from the storms that had been moving through since he’d dropped Laurel off hours before, but when he heard his father’s voice in the hall below he realized dimly that there was someone at the door.

“Where is that punk?” the visitor railed, and he thought still half-asleep that it sounded like Laurel’s dad.  In the middle of the night?  That didn’t make sense.  Maybe he was dreaming, he thought, and drifted off once more.

“You killed her, you bastard!”

Pete threw up his arms in defense as a blow just missed his ear, and looked up to see a livid, half-drunk face staring down on him, his parents trying desperately to hold the attacker back.  Pete scrambled out of bed, suddenly very much awake.

“What…what… Mr. Thompson…,” Pete stammered.

“Larry, please calm down and tell us what’s going on,”

Pete’s mother entreated in a worried but soothing tone.

Struggling momentarily for control, Larry faced her to explain.

“Laurel…she cut her wrists…we were at my sister’s…Her mother found — …and this note.”

Pete tried to read the torn sheet of notebook paper through shaking fingers.

“No one can face the future while clinging to the past.  But I thought my past and future would be the same.  Maybe they are.  That’s why I can’t face either now…”

Pete felt like his chest was about to explode and his legs would no longer support him.  He sank to the edge of the bed.

“No…no… she’s not… she couldn’t…”

“She’s dead!”  Larry’s anger returned in a violent rush.  “And it’s your fault!  I knew you never really cared about her.  You’ve never cared about anybody but yourself!”

Suddenly Larry was on top of Pete again, pummeling him repeatedly through tears of grief and drunken rage.  Pete heard his father yelling, “Larry, stop!” as he scrambled from under the blows and fled the room, scooping up his clothes off the hamper and dressing on the run as he hurried down the stairs and out the front door.

He fished the keys from a back pocket and made a beeline through the pouring rain for the shelter of the Firebird.  His head still spinning, his heart pounding in his throat, he turned the key and the engine roared to life.  He peeled out of the driveway and sped off into the night.

“No no no no no…”  His mind repeated the word like shots being fired over and over in his brain.  This couldn’t be happening.  Laurel couldn’t be dead.  He couldn’t have killed her.

He glanced over and caught sight of the yellow sweater.  Tomorrow he’d planned to return it.  Tomorrow they were going to talk things over and everything would be all right somehow.  Tomorrow.  Tomorrow would never come.  The future.  The past.  They were one.  They were over.

He stared out over the Firebird’s hood and into the blackness of the deserted road, unable to see more than 15 yards ahead through the rain incessantly rolling down the windshield and the tears incessantly rolling down his cheeks.  He rounded a bend, the tires skidding perilously on the wet pavement as he barely touched the brakes, and glanced over at the sweater again, then at the massive trees speeding past him along the side of the road.  Tears and rain still mingling in his eyes, he sped up ever so slightly.

“You can’t face the future while clinging to the past.”  The words from the suicide note still echoed through his head.  Laurel was his past.  She’d wanted him to be her future.  Between them, they’d killed both.  Well, not quite.  Not yet.

But he could fix that.

Pete watched the tach rise as he punched the gas once more.  He reached over and grabbed the sweater, burying his face in its fragrant softness for a moment before again focusing blindly on the road.  Suddenly he jammed the wheel to the right and closed his eyes, waiting — hoping — for the night and his life to fade from varying shades of gray into a merciful solid black…


The rain was still beating a tinny refrain on the Firebird’s roof when Pete opened his eyes.  Momentarily confused, he quickly patted down his body and the car seat beside him, trying to decide if either or both could really still be intact.

Before he had fully arrived at a conclusion, a bolt of lightning flashed a ghostly light across the scene and made everything only too painfully clear.  He had left the road just past a grove of trees and come to rest in the tall grass of an unplowed field.  Wonderful.

How could anyone get accepted into Harvard and so completely screw up suicide?  He let out a string of frustrated expletives and quickly pounded both palms against the steering wheel. Surely all his teacher had been right in declaring him “gifted”.

Still muttering to himself about his God-awful good fortune, Pete stepped out and immediately sunk in mud almost halfway to his knees.  Leaning against the car for leverage, he pulled out his boots, creating a loud sucking sound, then made his laborious way around the vehicle.  The barest tops of the tires peeped back at him teasingly above the muck. No chance of driving back home tonight.  Not that he wanted to go home, anyway.

But, obviously, he had to go somewhere.  He’d run out of the house without even a jacket, and now began to shiver violently as the rain continued to pelt him like icy shards of steel.  He made a quick check of the car for something more to wear, but turned up only Laurel’s sweater, an object which at the moment provided very little warmth.

Deciding against climbing back in and waiting for daylight, at last Pete instead slogged his way back to the road and started walking.  Joe’s place was only about a mile away.  He could spend the rest of the night there and decide how to deal with everything else tomorrow.

Unfortunately, tomorrow would be coming after all.


The storm was just beginning to let up as Pete reached the corner of the property and sprinted across the yard and up the stairs to Joe’s garage apartment.

Suddenly hesitant in light of the late hour, Pete paused to take a couple of deep breaths before opening the screen door and knocking on the heavy wooden one beyond it.  A groggy Joe appeared moments later and sprang fully awake at the sight of his bedraggled, soaking visitor.

“Holy shit.  What happened to you?”

“Ran off the road.  Got stuck in a field.”

“Jesus… Well, come in.  Hold on, I’ll get you a towel.”

Pete pulled off his dripping T-shirt as Joe reappeared bearing a towel and some dry clothes.

“Here, you can put these on.  Good thing Laurel wasn’t with you.  Hey, she’s not waiting in the car, is she?”

Pete continued drying his hair, answering through the towel to hide his face.

“Laurel’s dead.”

“She’s…what… How?”

Joe backed mechanically into a nearby chair as he stammered into silence.

“I can’t talk about it right now, Joe.  Just don’t ask me right now, okay?”

Joe nodded silently, still trying to absorb the news.

“Can I just crash here ‘til morning?”

“Yeah, of course…I mean…sure, Pete.” A pause.  “Jesus.”


A bone-chilling wind blew forcefully across the otherwise quiet Sunday morning landscape as Pete, clad in several layers of clothes borrowed from Joe, watched the towing crew guide his mud-covered car back onto the road.

“And to think I just washed it yesterday,” he thought in idle disgust.  “ What a waste.”

He looked down suddenly as the larger implications of that last phrase prompted a panoply of images to flit quickly through his brain.  Accomplishments at school.  The Harvard acceptance letter.  The haunting sadness on Laurel’s face.

The summation of his life.  What a waste.

“She seems to be running okay, so we’re gonna take off now if that’s all right.”

Pete looked up in surprise, having been so lost in his dark reverie he’d forgot he wasn’t alone.

“Yeah…yeah.  Thanks, man.”

Pete pulled out his wallet, settled up with the towing crew and watched them pull away.  Slowly he walked back and opened his car door to again face Laurel’s sweater staring at him in silent accusation.

He climbed in, tossed the sweater over his shoulder onto the rear seat and headed for home.


The house was empty when Pete entered and made his way up to his room.  His parents were probably still at Mass, but would more than likely return within the hour.

He sat down heavily on the bed, his hands pressed hard against his temples as though trying to contain the sea of pain and confusion roiling within.

There were just too many thoughts for any one human to bear.  Thoughts of facing Laurel’s dad again, not to mention her mom and all the friends and relatives who would surely be at the funeral.  The funeral.  That there was actually going to be a funeral.  That thought alone — the thought that Laurel was really gone — was unthinkable in itself.

How rapidly things could change.  How rapidly they had.  Yesterday at this time he was on top of the world.  Today the world was squarely on top of him.  And he was the one who’d put it there.  And somehow in the midst of the other thousand and one unthinkable thoughts tormenting his tired brain, he knew that this thought — this profoundly disturbing discovery of his own power — was the most unthinkable thought of all.


Pete forced himself to his feet and out into the hallway when he heard the front door open.  If he didn’t go down to face his parents they would only come up here.  No matter how awed he’d suddenly become at the power of his own actions, he was equally dismayed that at this stage of the game there was no way to fight Fate.

Even so, he hesitated briefly outside his room, rolling his eyes heavenward as though seeking Divine assistance.  He then took a deep breath and started down the stairs, pretty certain each step marked the descent to a slightly lower level of his own personal Hell.

“Pete, thank goodness you’re here!  Where on earth did you go in the middle of that storm?  We were worried sick.”

“For Christ’s sake, Mom.  I’m 22 years old.  Give me a break.”

“There’s no need to take the Lord’s name in vain, Peter.  Especially not at a time like this.”

Pete’s only response was an exasperated groan.  His mother’s face took on a hurt expression.

“Louise…” Pete’s dad stepped in and shook his head at her briefly before turning to his son.  He cut right to the chase.

“You and Laurel had a fight yesterday.”

“Not exactly.  It was more of a misunderstanding…”

Actually, he thought bitterly, it was the first time everything had ever been made clear.

“We basically just had differing views on the terms of our relationship – different ideas about the…permanence…of our…situation.”

“Well, there’s certainly no misunderstanding about the permanence of the situation now.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

Pete sat down near the bottom of the stairs while his parents maintained their positions in the entry.  Clearly the conversation had not yet ended to their satisfaction.

Finally, Pete’s mother spoke up once more.

“Have you at least talked to Marilyn this morning?”

Pete looked up incredulously.

“Laurel’s mom?  Have I gone to their house – after her dad tried to kill me last night?  Sure, Mom. I rushed right over there.  What, are you nuts?”

Pete’s dad responded brusquely.  “Son, I’m not about to make excuses for Larry’s behavior, but be realistic.  He came after you in the heat of the moment while three sheets to the wind.  The man lost his daughter, for God’s sake.  He may not be feeling very kindly toward you today, but I’m pretty sure he’s not sitting around plotting your murder.

“Besides, I wouldn’t be so quick to call him – or your mother – a raving lunatic considering the way you sped off like a half-naked bat out of Hell in the middle of the night.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

“Father Cornelius said a prayer for you in Mass,” Louise timidly ventured. “And he told us afterward that he’s available if you want to talk.”

“That’s great, Mom.  A lot of difference he’s gonna make.”

“Listen, son,” Pete’s dad responded. “If you don’t want to talk to us or Father Cornelius, that’s fine.  But you can’t just walk away from this.  It’s going to follow you around until you deal with it in one way or another.  Believe me.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Pete said again, and got up to leave once more.

“Where are you going now?” his mother demanded as he headed out the door.

He tossed the answer over his shoulder.

“I’m going to wash my car.”


Pete sat next to Joe on a stool at the local bar before a half-empty pitcher of beer and a host of drained shot glasses.  Joe, who was still nursing his first drink, watched with clearly deepening concern as Pete struggled to align the spout of the pitcher with a glass.

“What do you say we call it a night, man?”

Pete, too engrossed with the glass and pitcher to hear, failed to respond.  Joe gently clasped his shoulder, about to patiently try again.  Distracted by the contact, Pete lost the shred of focus he’d been fighting to maintain and the pitcher’s remaining contents spilled out all over the bar.  He threw off Joe’s hand forcefully as the bartender appeared to clean up the mess, wisely opting not to attempt a comment.

“Now look what you did, you moron! You made me spill my drink.”

“I know.  I’m sorry.  Listen, man, I think we should go, okay?  Let me take you home.”

“Noooo.  No,” Pete whined.  “I told you I can’t go home.  I don’t…I don’t wanna go back there.  I don’t want another lecture from my parents.  Besides, you gotta buy me another drink, ‘cause you spilled mine.”

I’ll buy you a drink next time, all right?  And we’re gonna go to my place, not your house, so you don’t have to worry about your parents, okay?”

The pitcher of beer already forgotten, Pete started feeling his jacket pockets, nearly falling off the stool in the process.

“Where’s my keys?” he slurred.

Joe deftly swiped them from the bar while helping Pete to his feet.

“I’ve got the keys.”


It was almost noon when Pete awoke to a cruel bright ray of sunshine piercing his already pounding head, and immediately drew up the covers to block it out.  Another day.  Fabulous.

He turned away from the window without emerging from his down cocoon and willed himself back to sleep.

Moments later, he was startled as a rough hand grabbed his throat and began to apply an alarming amount of pressure.  Pete’s first thought was that Larry had found him again, although in his vain struggle to dislodge the death grip on his throat and escape the now smothering comforter, he never caught even a glimpse of the intruder’s face.  Blindly flailing his right hand over the low dresser beside the bed in search of something to use as a weapon while groping wildly for the attacker’s face with his left, Pete at last came upon Joe’s hunting knife and drove it with full force across his body and into the attacker’s side. Then, just as he became sure he would be overtaken by the dizziness brought on by both sheer terror and lack of oxygen, he felt the grip on his throat finally relax, and gulped for air.

He immediately threw off the labyrinth of blankets and scrambled out of bed, his eyes enormous with the desperation of a caged animal.  Glancing sharply about the room, he saw no attacker or other sign that anyone had entered since Joe left for work early this morning.  Gradually, Pete realized it had all just been a dream.

Calming a bit, he sat back down on the bed with a nervous laugh and reached out to draw the ball of covers onto his lap.  When his hand felt something hard among them, however, his panic returned and he quickly shoved the bundle aside. Pete shuddered involuntarily as he caught sight of Joe’s hunting knife still imbedded in the mattress.


Pete killed the engine and shut off the lights to prevent his parents from discovering he’d returned before rolling to a stop along the road in front of his house.  After showering and grabbing a bite at Joe’s, he had left to simply drive around and maybe clear his head.

Last night he’d made a second attempt at escaping reality.  Today he’d made a first attempt to face it.  Tonight he wasn’t sure there was much difference.  Either way, it seemed you just ended up with one hell of a headache.

Faced now with the classic dilemma called anxiety – not ready to go forward while certain there was no way to go back – Pete chose to just sit still and attempt to relax for a few minutes.  Tomorrow would be the funeral, by far the worst tomorrow to dawn yet.  Something told him he should go in and get some sleep.  But after the challenges even sleep had presented this morning, he somehow didn’t find that idea too appealing.

Slowly he turned and scooped up Laurel’s sweater from the back seat.  He held it to his face and smelled once more the still lingering traces of her cologne.  How could he have been so cruel?  So selfish?  Such a complete jerk.  He had always treated her with what he’d thought were kindness and respect, but now he knew he’d never even considered what those words meant.  He had merely looked at Laurel as an extension of himself. Another of the awards he had received, another reason for others to compliment him – an almost inanimate object.  Like himself.  But he’d been wrong.

Laurel had warmth, a concern for others, real emotions — and real problems.  Problems bigger than getting into Harvard, ones he couldn’t begin to see beyond the mountain of his desires.

Pete sighed audibly as he thought to himself how much fruitless mental energy he’d expended that afternoon.  For, only sitting here in the dark had the two things that really mattered at last become discomfitingly clear.

He was an idiot.  And she was gone.


The bright sunshine shed little warmth on the gravesite where the Thompson family’s minister was in the midst of a brief prayer.  Pete, with Joe beside him, stood near the back of the small crowd of mourners, and allowed himself to be distracted by scanning over the group from behind the protection of dark glasses.

Laurel’s parents were seated in front, her mother appearing dazed and her father grimly sober.  On either side of them were various aunts, uncles and cousins Pete remembered vaguely from summer picnics, and two rows behind those stood Pete’s parents, Louise and Payton.  He had finally spoken civilly with them at home this morning and vowed to make an effort to at least seek something akin to resolution with Larry and Marilyn.  Even though he knew that he could never make things right, he had agreed that to avoid them any longer would only make for yet another wrong.

He felt Joe shift slightly beside him and dragged his attention back to the minister, who had finished praying and seemed to be nearing the end of the service.

“Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes, ‘There is a time to sow and a time to reap…a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to mourn and a time to dance.’

“Although we’re gathered today to mourn together Laurel’s loss, let us also remember that we do so because her life brought us much joy.  Whatever darkness may have marked her final battle, let us not remember this alone, but let us remember as well the beauty of her smile and the light that marked her life, a light which she so freely and so generously shared.

“Solomon continues in Chapter Nine, ‘The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong…’ — a theme the Apostle Paul concludes with the words, ‘The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love.’

“And it is on this note that I conclude as well.  For, if the proof of faith be love, then above all else let us remember Laurel as not merely a beautiful young woman, but let us remember her ever so much more vividly as a person of greater faith than most of us will ever know.”


Pete waited until he was sure everyone else had already arrived before he and Joe pulled up in front of Laurel’s parents’ house for the obligatory post-funeral get-together.  Time to face what Pete expected would be his last encounter with Larry and Marilyn.  He wished it were already over.

“You okay?” Joe asked as Pete hesitated by the car.

Pete resolutely nodded his response and led the way to the front door.

Marilyn answered their knock and Pete imagined he watched pity and contempt flit quickly across her features before they settled once again into a mild, tired sadness.

“Hello, Pete,” she said and extended her arms for an embrace.  He accepted gratefully, straining hard to hold back tears.

“Thanks for coming, Joe.  Both of you, come in, won’t you?”

Pete cast a nervous glance around the room and noticed his parents and Father Cornelius among the guests.  He didn’t know whether to take comfort or warning that he caught no sign of Laurel’s dad.

“What’s he doing here?”  Larry demanded as he entered from the kitchen and immediately spotted Pete.

“Just take it easy, bud,” Joe whispered as tiny spots of perspiration began to appear on Pete’s forehead.

The room fell deadly quiet as Larry crossed it in an instant.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve showing your face in this house!”  Larry roared only inches from Pete’s nose.

Pete looked down and shook his head, then began to back slowly away.

Larry thundered on as the room watched in stunned silence.

“Don’t you back away from me, boy!  I asked a question and I want an answer.  What are you doing here?”

“Larry…” Marilyn began, laying a hand lightly on her husband’s arm.

“Stay out of this, Marilyn.  I’m talking to Pete.”

“I came to pay my… respects, Mr. Thompson,” Pete spoke up.  “And to tell you that I’m really, really sorry – for whatever that may be worth.”

“That’s not worth shit to me, punk!  You’ve been nothing but sorry for years.  If you hadn’t been such a sorry excuse for a boyfriend, Laurel would still be alive right now.  And, I swear to God if you were dead, I sure as Hell wouldn’t be sorry about that!”

“Neither would I!”  Pete shouted back, his own hurt and anger exploding at last.  His heart pounded like a sledgehammer in his chest and from somewhere far away he could hear his mother’s voice.

“Peter, don’t say such things.  Father Cornelius –“

Pete ignored her and himself and the upraised hands of his dad and Father Cornelius as they tried to regain order.

“I wish to God you would kill me!  Just kill me and get it over with!  Go on!  Do it!  Please!”

Pete spread his arms wide and moved so close he was almost inside Larry’s suit.

“You think I don’t want to trade places with her?  You think I really care what happens to me?”

Sweat was pouring down Pete’s brow, his eyes fairly popped out of his head, and his voice took on a flinty, ragged edge.  To the others in the room, he appeared positively rabid.  For him, the rest of the room had completely disappeared.  There was only him and Larry and pain in the entire insane world.

“Do you?” he shouted again. “Do you?”


Even Larry’s rage was no match for Pete’s present level of desperation.  Though his expression never softened Larry offered no reply, and without taking his eyes off Pete, slowly started to back away.

Gradually, Pete became aware that Joe had approached and was speaking to him softly, trying to calm the savage beast.

“Take it easy, man.  Come on.  Everything’s gonna be all right.”

“No,” Larry at last returned in a controlled voice unmistakably laced with malice.  “Nothing’s ever gonna be all right in this house again.  And I’m not going to kill you, you stupid piece of Harvard shit.  I hope you live a very, very long and very miserable life.  I hope you suffer every day the way you’ve made sure Laurel’s mother and I are going to suffer!”

Pete didn’t answer right away, pausing instead to collect himself and formulate a rational reply.  After a long moment he realized that in the midst of his foregoing, somehow liberating madness, he had experienced an epiphany — that at last everything was beginning to make sense.  When he finally spoke again, his voice still betrayed traces of strong emotion, but it was clear and steady and allowed him to express what he instinctively knew to be the first truly mature perspective he had adopted thus far in life.

“Yeah, well, if I am going to live, then I’m gonna live.  I’m not gonna waste my time sitting around here wallowing in self-pity.  Laurel’s gone. And let’s not forget that no matter who any of us holds responsible for that, Laurel herself has more to do with it than anyone in this room or anywhere else.  So, does that make you wish you could kill her again, too?  Or is it just easier to keep torturing yourself and wanting to kill me?  Listen, we all have to deal with what’s happened. That’s the reason I came here today.  And I’m not trying to walk away from it now. But I’m done worrying about what you or anybody else thinks of me or what I might have done.  From now on, I’m just gonna keep putting one foot in front of the other and doing the best I can.  The past is over.  And I’m outta here.”


Alone in his room a few hours later, Pete lit a candle on the dresser and flopped down wearily on his bed.  He lay still there with his hands crossed behind his head, staring up at the ceiling, as he pondered with mixed emotions the years that seemed to have passed in the space of just three days.  Still aware that he would never fully make peace with many aspects of his life up to this point, he nonetheless felt at last an overwhelming sense of relief.  Although the world would probably never again fully slip back off his shoulders, he felt reasonably certain things were at least – finally – moving in the right direction.

Taking advantage of the most relaxed state he’d experienced in recent memory, Pete rolled over and pulled the Harvard letter from his bedside table’s drawer.  He read again the line, “Congratulations on your acceptance…”

Acceptance.  A term he’d only today just begun to understand.

He thought once more about the discovery he’d made in this very room on Sunday morning…the fear he had felt upon realizing the power of his own choices. Only somehow the thought of that power no longer seemed quite so unthinkable.  In fact, he felt instead excited, perhaps even exhilarated by its challenge.

Pete eased himself off the bed and crossed back to his dresser. He again considered the weight of the beautifully embossed stationery and read those all-important lines yet one more time.  “Dear Mr. Andrews: Congratulations on your acceptance into Harvard Law School.”  He smiled at the memory of the care he’d put into every aspect of his application, the memory of inserting and removing the contents of the envelope four times to make sure he hadn’t left out some important bit of information.  And months later here he stood, alone in his room, holding his reward.

He repeated aloud the words.  “Dear Mr. Andrews,” then paused momentarily to gently nudge a corner of the letter into the candle’s meager flame. “Congratulations on your acceptance into the school of human existence. Dear Mr. Andrews: Congratulations on your acceptance  — of yourself.”

He switched the paper back and forth between his hands, tilting it as he did so to spread the flame.  Finally he dropped it into a small metal waste can and smiled once more as he watched it fade from clean white to a charred blackness, and finally into a myriad of ashes, all in varying shades of gray.