“There’s more,” Jerry said as we ate our supper – excuse me – dinner together. A week had passed since our meeting with the chair of mathematics at the University of Nebraska, and Jerry was talking about a meeting he’d had with the superintendent of the Bellevue Public Schools. “They knew four years ago, back when he was in third grade. At that time, his achievement-test scores were all above grade level. Math, ironically was the only score that was at grade level, and reading comprehension was at a fifth-grade level. They didn’t know what to do with him, so they kept him where he was. They could have and should have at least put him in the high-ability-learner program, but he had trouble paying attention, and they feared he wouldn’t be able to keep up.”
“He had difficulty paying attention because he was bored,” I interjected.
“Now they realize that and acknowledge it,” Jerry continued, “but his third-grade teacher found Henry’s exuberance to be distracting and rarely called on him, so he languished in class. He didn’t need to pay attention because he already knew the material. In spite of his getting straight A’s in school, neither his fourth- or fifth-grade teachers questioned the concerns raised in third grade. His achievement scores leveled off, but they were still well above grade level. He’d stopped paying attention in class, and middle school didn’t change that. The only reason he made progress at all was because he enjoyed reading and he was smart.”
“So, what’s gonna happen to me?” Henry asked.
“They’re going to follow J.J.’s recommendation, although I didn’t tell them it was from J.J.,” Jerry answered. “They’re going to place you in ninth grade next year. You’ll start at East Bellevue High in the fall in all-AP classes. If you pass the math QE, you won’t need to take any math classes but can take an extra science class in its place. If you do well in the AP classes, you’ll have the opportunity to take college-level courses starting in your sophomore year for dual credit. You’ll also have the option to graduate a year early, at the end of eleventh grade, and then go to college at the age of fifteen.
“I’ll be almost sixteen,” Henry corrected his dad, even though he knew we knew his birthday was in September. College started in mid-August, so he’d still be fifteen when he started.
“I can’t believe they didn’t tell us about any of this,” Fran related. “He absolutely should’ve been in the high-ability-learner program. If J.J. hadn’t discovered what was going on, the mismatch in his schooling might have continued, and he might have killed himself before we even knew.”
“I’m just worried about how this is gonna affect my relationship with Darren,” Henry interjected.
“You’ll be in the same school and the same year now,” Fran noted.
“Not the same classes,” Henry countered. “I’ll be in all-AP classes, and he’ll be in standard classes. Not that he’s not smart, but he’s mostly a B student, and he’s in a more traditional college track. He’s lucky that way.”
“You don’t think it’s lucky to be a genius?” Jerry asked.
“Genius is a relative term,” I pointed out, “and being seen as a freak is never good for a kid, no matter what the reason. Believe me, I have experience with it. That’s why I pushed for Henry to be kept closer to his grade level in all advanced classes with the possibility of advanced placement, dual credit and early graduation.”
“Yeah, I’ll be the same grade level in the same school for the next three years,” Henry continued. “That’ll be great, but then what. I might get a full-ride scholarship to a top university, and Darren’s more likely to go to the University of Nebraska.”
“Do you know what Darren wants to do with his life?” Jerry asked.
Laughing, Henry responded, “I’m not sure Darren has any idea what he wants to do. He likes science fiction like I do, but when it comes to things you can actually get paid for, I dunno. Of course, you could say the same thing about me. I like math and I’m good at it, but I’m not sure how I’d make a career of it.”
“You don’t think you’d like to be a math professor, like Dr. Fletcher?” I asked.
“What does a math professor actually do?” Henry asked. “Mostly, teach students who are going into other fields, I think. Math professors don’t have big grants that let them spend their time doing research all day long while their TAs teach their classes, so they spend their time teaching math courses to kids who might hate math. Maybe eventually you’re promoted to the department chairmanship and spend your days dealing with departmental politics while trying to isolate your faculty from university politics. Yeah, that’d really make use of my math skills.”
“That’s not true for the best mathematicians,” I replied. “Have you seen Good Will Hunting?”
“What does hunting have to do with math?” Henry asked.
“The title’s a metaphor,” Fran interjected. “We’ll stream it, maybe even tonight. It’s on a lot of people’s lists for top movies of all time. It was nominated for best picture in 1998, but Titanic won.” With a laugh, she added, “No one would ever accuse Titanic of being one of the best pictures of all time. Matt Damon was up for best actor in Good Will Hunting but didn’t win it, but he and Ben Affleck, who co-wrote it, won for best original screenplay, and Robin Williams won best supporting actor. It’s an extraordinary movie.”
“What’s it about?” Henry asked.
“It takes place in Boston,” I replied, “in the math department at M.I.T. Every day they’d post a very difficult math problem on a blackboard in the hallway for the graduate students to try to solve. They were the kinds of problems that took years for someone to come up with a solution, not ones you’d expect even the best of the best graduate students to solve, yet every morning there was a solution written out on the blackboard, unsigned, and none of the students took credit for it. Eventually one of the professors spotted a janitor solving the problem.”
“And people went to see a movie about a failed math genius?” Henry asked.
“Hardly,” I replied. “They went to see a movie about the emotional journey of a kid finding his way in life.”
“Now you have me intrigued,” Henry replied.
I suggested, “Figure out what you want to do with your special talents – how you’d like to use them – then figure out how to get someone to pay you for it, then help Darren figure out what he’s good at that’s marketable and that he could see himself doing the rest of his life. And, of course, make sure you still want to spend your lives together.”
“That’s the one thing I’m sure of,” Henry replied.
“Not to say yours won’t, but most high-school relationships don’t last,” Fran pointed out.
“Most high-school relationships are shallow,” Henry countered. “What Darren and I have is special. You hear the expression, ‘they complete me’, but it’s very true for us. I feel as if a part of me is missing when we’re apart. I love him and he loves me, and that’ll still be true eighty years from now.”
“Then the two of you should figure out what you want to do with your lives together,” I suggested, “and based on that, decide on a place to go after high school that meets both your needs. There’s no doubt that a degree from a top university opens doors, but that won’t do you any good if the doors remain closed for your life partner, your husband. There’s nothing you can learn at Stanford that you can’t learn at the University of Nebraska, and you don’t need to go to a top school to make a name for yourself.”
“That sounds like good advice,” Jerry responded.
“Yeah, it does,” Henry agreed.
<> <> <>
The sound of laughter outside the great-room front window alerted me that the middle school had let out. Lindsey, the only kid still in elementary school, had already come and gone and was out playing with her best friend. Sammy, Camilla and Celia, our high schoolers, would be home in about an hour. Henry and Hillary were easily identifiable by their combination of Henry’s deep baritone with Hillary’s high-pitched soprano. They made for an interesting pair. Next year, Lindsey would move up to middle school and would be the only middle schooler, Henry and Hillary would both move up to high school, joining Sammy and Camilla, and Celia would be off to college.
That the weather was warming up was evident when the pair of them entered to reveal that they were both in t-shirts and shorts. After waving at me, Hillary headed upstairs to her bedroom, and Henry headed downstairs to his. Today was Rob’s and my day off, and I was seated at the great-room table, working on my qualifying exam. Rob was in class at the University of Nebraska downtown. He had two back-to-back, three-hour classes on Wednesdays, which was why we always had Wednesday off from work. Personally, I couldn’t imagine spending even two, let alone three hours in any one class, but it did work out well for Rob’s schedule. I’d heard that most college classes are either one hour, three times a week or one-and-a-half hours, twice weekly. To me, the 90-minute format sounded best.
Henry came bounding up the stairs, having dispensed with his shirt, shoes and socks. I myself was only wearing shorts, having never bothered to don anything more than that on this, my day off. “How’s it coming?” Henry asked as he plopped down in the seat across from me at the table, setting his laptop and sheaf of papers down. When I barely grunted in acknowledgement, he asked. “Are you still working on that stupid JAVA VM for the HP 35-S?”
“Um, yeah,” I responded. “I’ve had to be creative. With only an 800-step programming memory, I’m limited in the number of steps per instruction, and one of those steps has to be an end of subroutine statement ’cause the steps are designed to run sequentially, so the minimum number of steps per routine is two. Alternatively, I can run the subroutines in single-step mode and specify each step, but that double’s the memory requirements, so it’s a wash.”
“Can you specify a fixed number of steps?” Henry suggested. “For example, if you can reduce every subroutine to three steps, some of which include other subroutines, you wouldn’t need to waste memory on end-of-routine instructions.”
“No, I’d waste it on null instructions, but the steps are run asynchronously,” I noted, “so null instructions would just be skipped. Hmm, that actually might work,” I thought aloud.
“Just be sure to acknowledge my contribution if you use my idea,” Henry added.
“Actually, I will, Henry,” I responded.
“Is this the only thing you’ve done in the past two weeks since we got these exams?” Henry asked.
“Of course not,” I replied, “although it’s kept me preoccupied. I long ago finished the two other comp-sci sections and one of the math sections, so I’ve already got enough to pass the exam. I’d like to do at least two more of the math sections before I turn it in, but I can’t resist the challenge of this assignment.” Then I asked, “How are you coming with the QE?
“I’m almost done,” Henry related. “I’m on the last of the six parts of the exam, so like you, I’ve finished enough to pass – much more than enough – but I’d like to test out of the entire curriculum and be ready to start my Ph.D. once I finish the non-math part of the undergrad and graduate curriculum.”
“Then let’s get back to work,” I suggested. “Maybe we can both finish up tonight.”
I went back to the HP 35-S problem and did a quick analysis to see if I could use a fixed number of programming steps per instruction. At first, I came up with a minimum of four steps, but by combining some instructions, I got it down to three for all but five JAVA commands, but those required recursion. Recursion required an added step to test for completion. However, if I calculated the number of recursions in advance, I could use a countdown register or a null element in the register stack to end the recursion. That was all it took to get the code to fit in the 800-step program stack plus the memory registers and still have room for calculations. I tested it out using an HP 35-S simulator on my laptop, and it worked for everything I threw at it. I did indeed add an acknowledgement for Henry’s contribution.
“Finally, I can get back to the math exams!” I exclaimed.
“And I’m done,” Henry said as he gathered up the pages from his exam, which were scattered all over the table, and closed his laptop. “Now I just hafta scan all these in and send them off to Dr. Fletcher.”
“I’ll be right behind you in a few more days,” I responded. “Probably by this weekend.”
“Speaking of which, are you gonna be around Friday night?” Henry asked.
“Yeah, for sure,” I answered. “Why?”
“Darren’s gonna be staying the night,” Henry explained. “Sammy’s gonna be stayin’ the night with his girlfriend, and Rob’s agreed to room with you. I was kinda hopin’ you could maybe help us out. Rob’s agreed to buy us lube, and I thought maybe you could give us some pointers.”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied. “I’d be happy to give you the incredible wisdom from my vast experience in the realm of gay love. Well, my experience, such as it is, anyway. Is Rob getting you the condoms, too?” I asked.
“No need,” Henry answered. “Don’t need ’em.”
“What do you mean, you don’t need them?” I asked.
“Just that,” Henry explained. “Darren’s never done anything with anyone else before, and the only one I’ve done stuff with is Sammy, and that was never more than oral. Besides which, outside of what we’ve done together, Sammy’s a virgin, so there’s no way I could get an STD from Darren or give him one, and I seriously doubt either of us can get the other pregnant.”
“But what if Darren’s not telling you everything,” I asked. “I mean, I know he’s your boyfriend and you love each other, but what if he experimented with someone and didn’t want you to know. Maybe he didn’t even think of it as sex or cheating on you.”
“J.J., I can tell if Darren’s lyin’,” Henry answered. “Same with Sammy. I’ve known them both for years, and neither can hide it. Besides which, they wouldn’t lie to me about something like that. I trust both of them with my life.”
“I guess I’ll have to take your word for it,” I replied.
“You’d better, J.J.,” Sammy concurred.
In the meantime, the smells emanating from the kitchen were beginning to make my mouth water. We all took turns helping to prepare dinner, a.k.a. supper, so it would be mostly ready by the time Fran and Jerry got home. Usually, I’d help out on my day off, but I was getting a reprieve while I worked on my qualifying exam. Tonight, it was Sammy, Hillary, Camilla and Celia in the kitchen putting together the ingredients for chicken fajitas with refried beans and guacamole. There were chicken breasts with seasonings broiling over an electric grill while the beans were simmering in a skillet, with cheese on top. Celia was mashing cooked avocados for the guacamole, and Hillary was making homemade flour tortillas in a skillet. Camilla was busy slicing up onions and bell peppers for the fajitas, and Sammy was making homemade salsa. It was gonna be a feast.
However, seeing Sammy working in the kitchen, shirtless and barefoot like me, sexy as always in his cutoff shorts, it dawned on me what Henry had just said. Sammy was gonna have a sleepover at his girlfriend’s house on Friday. A sleepover with a girl. Playin’ Devil’s advocate, there wasn’t really much difference between Sammy and his girl having sex and Henry and Darren having sex – or me and Sammy havin’ sex, for that matter. However, Sammy’s girlfriend could get pregnant, and that added a whole other dimension.
Walking up to the island, where Sammy was making the salsa, I asked him, “I hear you have a hot date with your girlfriend this Friday – and then a sleepover?”
“Get your mind outta the gutter, J.J. It’s not like that,” Sammy answered. “I’ll be stayin’ in the guest room, and Lori’s parents’ bedroom will be between us. Nothin’s gonna happen. Lori wouldn’t allow it anyway. She’s dead set on waiting until marriage. It’s just a chance for us to spend some quality time together. Dinner and a movie, time with her parents and then the whole day together on Saturday.
“And it’s a chance for Henry to have some quality time with his boyfriend, too.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said. “Sorry I raised the issue. First, Henry said he didn’t need condoms, then he said you were having a sleepover with your girlfriend. I guess I was just acting like a big brother.” The irony was that Sammy was actually older than me.
“Henry and Darren are doin’ it bareback?” Sammy asked in a whisper, but with surprise.
“I don’t know if they’re even doing anything like that, yet,” I explained. “But the fact that they asked Rob to get them some lube suggests they’re getting ready for it.”
“That’s TMI. But do you think Rob could get some extra tubes of lube for us, too?” Sammy asked, causing me to laugh. “Oh shit, the chicken’s done. It’s gonna burn. Please keep the salsa at a low boil and stir it occasionally,” he admonished me as he handed me the spoon and ran for the grill. Looked like I’d been recruited to help with dinner.
Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.