Freedom From the Good Life -- Prologue

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Prologue


"So you just broke into the school's computer and gave them all failing grades!" Bushing's chest heaved and dropped at a frightening rate, and his face was as red as the smear on the collar of his shirt. Whatever he had been doing before he rushed back to the university, yanked Derek out of bed, and practically dragged him all the way to the dean's office, obviously it had nothing to do with the school. He closed his eyes and held his breath for a really long minute. When he opened them again, all he could say was, "Unbelievable."

"There's lipstick on your shirt," Derek pointed out.

Collin Bushing lived in what had to be the cleanest, most well-organized house in the city, but there was so much clutter on his desk that it was impossible to believe he was as much a clean freak as Derek himself. In the midst of all the scattered papers, writing tools, CDs, the computer, and a pencil sharpener shaped like an apple with a bite taken out of it, was a bottle of antacid tablets. He opened it, shook out a handful, and popped them all into his mouth.

"Uh ... sir?" Derek leaned forward in his chair, alarmed by the idea of his father's childhood best friend overdosing on a stomach neutralizer. "You're only supposed to take one or two of those. And you have a history of kidney stones--"

"Never mind that. My God, Stillman, what were you thinking?"

"That I didn't like a bunch of people and wanted to give them failing grades." Derek answered, although it was a lie--not to mention wonderfully sarcastic, and judging from the wide-eyed expression on Collin's face, totally unexpected. For the time being at least, he wanted out of here. Away from the university, the students, the professors, the dorms, overrated coffee shops, this decidedly boring life, and the decidedly boring future that was sure to follow. He was seventeen years old, and he wanted to have fun. What better way to start than to get himself expelled for an actual crime and pretend he was James for the rest of the year? Yeah, his brother had some really nasty habits and always got grounded. And no, he wouldn't be convincing unless he dressed like an absolute slob and did everything James did. There was, of course, the possibility that his brother would refuse to make the switch, but Derek had thought of that. "It's not like I hurt anybody,"

"Not like you--" Collin laughed, humphed, ran a hand over his rapidly balding head, and then laughed again. "Derek, this isn't a minor infraction. You hacked into the school's computer! You could go to jail!"

"I could ... but I won't."

"Now look--"

"Come on, Collin. So I changed a few grades--"

"One hundred and twenty-six, to be exact."

Derek pretended to choke. "A hundred and twenty-six? Seriously? Wow, Frazier really did his homework! I knew I should have popped a sleeping pill in his tea. Hot tea. I mean what kid drinks hot tea? It's not like he's from England or anything. You should see him, sir." he went on as if he were already playing the role of James, because even now he had to be convincing, and changing the subject in the middle of a reprimand was exactly what James would do. "He drinks that's stuff like water, and it's so not good for him. Oh, and you shouldn't be giving your phone number to the students, especially not people like Frazier."

"I did not give Frazier my number. As a matter of fact," Collin tilted his head to one side, frowning in sudden confusion, "I have no idea where he got it ...."

Perhaps on the left-hand page of the address book that was sitting open on Derek's desk? Martin Frazier was a genius in every way, but he lacked enough common sense to take into consideration that a student wouldn't have the dean's personal phone numbers unless he was a relative or a very close friend of the family. If Derek were female, there was at least one other possibility, but Frazier wouldn't have thought of that either.

"Well, I guess a kid like him finds a way around everything, huh?" Derek remarked. "As for the grades, all you have to do is change them back. I saved a file--just in case."

Collin stared at him for what seemed like an hour. No, not stared, glared. Glared, scowled, sneered, narrowed his eyes until the teenager swore he was going to leap over the desk and strangle him, which he probably would, considering that he was very good friends with Derek's father and Derek was taking advantage of him.

"Change them back .... You think I'm gonna let you get away with this, don't you?" he finally asked, and then reached for the bottle of antacids. One disapproving frown on the part of Derek was all it took to for him to suddenly grab a pack of cigarettes. As if that was any better.

Meanwhile, the teenager shifted in his chair. "A--aren't you?"

"No."

"Wait. No. I ... I can't seriously go to jail,"

"Perhaps not. But I can seriously call your parents and tell them you've been expelled."

"Ex--expelled?" he leaped to his feet, deliberately increasing his breaths until it appeared that he was gasping for air. "But that's ... that's gonna look really bad on my .... No way. Collin, you can't! I mean this is my career were talking about, not some stupid high school diploma!"

The adult lit a cigarette.

And the kid couldn't help but continue to play with him. "There's no smoking on campus, sir. You might want to put that out. It's bad for your health anyway. Did you know it causes hair loss? No wonder you're half bald."

"Knock it off, Derek. And I told you not to call me Collin."

"I've been calling you that since I was five. So have my brother and sister."

"Your brother and sister aren't students at the university."

Collin yanked open a drawer, pulled out an ashtray and smashed out the cigarette before folding his arms across his chest and leaning back in his big leather chair. For the next thirty or forty seconds, he just looked at Derek. He appeared to be considering the idea of not expelling him, but the teenager wasn't worried. At least not for the most part. There were a lot of things Derek could do in order to get kicked out of school without endangering or permanently damaging his medical career. If worse came to worst, all he had to do was design another plan and ensure that his roommate fell for it again. The latter was no problem, because sixteen year-old Frazier had a reputation for being jealous of every other so-called prodigy on the planet, and Derek was no exception.

"Derek, look. You've put me in a real bind here. I don't want to see you lose everything you've worked for, but this has to be reported."

"If you report it I'll get arrested. And Dad will kill you."

"Well, guess what? If I don't, it'll be all over the campus that you committed a crime and I let you get away with it. Not only will I lose my job, but it's a sure bet the university will press charges and there won't be anything I can do to stop them."

Derek nearly laughed out loud. The entire conversation was almost exactly as he had expected. Collin Bushing was just as predictable as Frazier, except that he didn't always do what he really wanted, and what he really wanted was to slap Derek on the hand and tell him not to do it again.

"So ... what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that the only way I can keep you out of trouble is if I take full responsibility for your actions and send you home."

"What? No." Derek nearly peed in his pants. He jumped out of his seat again, but this time he wasn't faking. It was definitely not part of the plan for Collin to lose his job, and that could very well happen if this went any further. Derek couldn't let it. The idea wasn't to ruin Collin's life, it was to be a kid for a few months and enjoy life while he still could. "You didn't make me break the law. I did it myself! Can't you just tell them I screwed up and it won't happen again?"

He was frowning. "I am going to tell them that, Derek--in addition to calling your parents and sending you home. What did you think I meant?"

Relief had never felt so good, although Derek was a little confused as to what Collin meant by taking full responsibility. "Oh. Uh, well ... I guess I was just afraid they'd think you were playing favorites and fire you or something. So, does that mean I can come back in August? And why do you have to call my parents?"

"Because you're seventeen years old, that's why. And I don't know about next year, but I will try to work something out." He paused as he came to his feet. "As for you parents, it's only four-fifteen on the west coast and it's Sunday, so I'll wait a few hours before I call them. In the meantime, you're to go back to your dorm, pack whatever you came with, and then sit tight until I tell you to leave. In other words, stay in your room and don't talk to Frazier. Are we clear on that?"

"Perfectly."
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