Toby wasn't like the other students arriving at Harvard on a sweltering Saturday afternoon to find their dorm rooms, meet their roommates and kiss their moms goodbye. He certainly felt different. He was probably the only 20 year-old freshman in his class. And his background was definitely different from most of those on campus. Not to mention his path to Harvard. Oh, and then there was the money. His family (the Beechers of Manhattan and the Hamptons) were possessed of enough "old money" to make even the Rockefellers look nouveau riche. And because of the money, because of the family, Toby had always felt different. He had never really known how to fit in with others.
But it was all that money, and time spent at the best prep schools, that conspired to put Toby on the path to Harvard from the time he was 6. His father, himself a Harvard man, had been priming Toby for attending his alma mater since he could remember, talking about the importance of getting the right degree, meeting the best people, starting his future with the solid credentials of a Harvard degree. And Toby had always wanted to please his father.
Toby always wanted to please everyone. But more often he managed to be more of a disappointment than a success.
Like high school. Oh, he was smart, no doubt about it, but somehow he had always managed to undermine his success. Until now. Now he was finally here: the promised land. An extra year of schooling at Choate had propped up those disappointing grades and given his dad the chance to make a sizeable donation with a small string attached to his alma mater. And last spring, he finally earned the scores on the entrance exam that the admissions office had insisted he have before he could enroll as a freshman.
This was Toby's chance to show that he deserved to be here, that his dad was right about him, that he COULD make it. And it was a chance to start something new, where no one knew how badly he'd done in high school, how hard he'd had to work to just get in, even with all of his father's money paving the road for him.
So for Toby, it was different. Everything mattered. And when it all came crashing down, it made it that much worse.
Toby walked into the hallway, his chauffeur following with the first of the bags from the car. A tall, thin man walked out of an open door on the right, startling Toby when he looked up from the scrap of paper with his room number on it. The man was a little older and looked a little less confused than the others, and Toby thought he might be in charge of the hall.
"Toby Beecher, I'm a freshman here. I think this is my hallway..." he trailed off, unsure of himself as he smiled at the taller man and noted something unexpected in the steady gaze. Something slightly disgusted in the back of his eyes at the sight of the black-clad chauffeur. With an effort, Toby shook off the impression as the other man smiled and introduced himself.
"Hi, Toby. I'm Tim. Tim McManus. I'm your RA and this is my room. You have any problems, you need any help, I'm your man." Toby offered his hand, and the men shook, sizing each up other up covertly before Tim turned Toby toward a room up the hallway and on their left.
Tim steered him to a doorway just two away from his own, and leaned against the heavy wooden door to open it. "I don't think your roommate is here yet. He's coming in from overseas. Simon Adebisi. I think he's a prince of some little country in central Africa. Should be an interesting addition to our little home away from home."
Again, Toby caught a hint of something in McManus's voice, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He didn't respond, and Tim moved to the side as the chauffeur entered the room, dropping the bags on the bed and heading back out to the car for the rest.
"So," McManus said eyeing the retreat of the uniformed servant, "where are your folks? Didn't they come to help you move in?"
Toby shook his head. "My folks are in the South Pacific. My dad's serving as diplomatic liaison in Japan for the President, and they couldn't get away because HE's over there right now."
"The President. And when he's there, my dad has to be there to keep him happy."
"Tough job." Again, Toby thought he detected something mocking in the other man's voice, but again, the moment had passed before he could be sure. "The son of a friend of the President, and an African prince. We should have fun this year."
A pained smile flashed in Toby's direction before the other man turned away. "Anyway, I've gotta go wait in my room for the other students to arrive; if you need any help, just let me know. There's a mandatory meeting at 4:30 with the Rector, Vern, and the first dorm party is at 7:00. Oh, and I'm going to a thing at one of the sororities after. Plenty of hot ass, if you know what I mean. Let me know if you wanna go." With that McManus trailed leisurely out the door, whistling as he made his way back up the hall to his room.
What strange man, Toby thought, as he turned to the small beds placed under each of the windows, and chose the one on the left. Knowing that his dad would find just that small choice (to sleep left of center) annoying made it a little sweeter. Well, if it wasn't exactly rebellion, it still made him grin.
He dropped his bag on the unmade bed, and after checking to be sure Reginald was still outside unloading the car, he took out the small bottle of vodka, swilling down a quick gulp, feeling the fire burn its way into his stomach. The alcohol worked its magic immediately, and Toby felt himself begin to relax for the first time since arriving in his new home-away-from-home. This might not be all bad. Maybe it had been worth all the humiliation of re-taking classes at Choate, busting his ass to improve his GPA and his test scores. Tim seemed a little odd, but nice enough. And a party would be fun, he decided. Hearing footsteps coming down the hall, he stowed the vodka back in his bag and began to unpack.
At 4:30, Tim stopped by room 252, where Adebisi was just starting to hang up his clothes. The man was dark as night, and had the whitest eyes Toby had ever seen. His lyrical voice had been entertaining Toby for the past half hour as he shared tales of rebellion and violence in his home country. He wasn't actually a prince, although his dad was the general of the army and the de facto president of the country. They both looked up when Tim knocked on the door.
"Simon, Toby, leave that for later. We've got a section meeting with the house manager, Vern Schillinger. Can't be late." And then Tim was gone, continuing down the hall to knock on the other rooms. Simon and Toby stepped out of their room, greeting the others waiting as Tim rounded up the last few freshman. There was a Russian named Stanislovsky - Toby had met him earlier coming in from running. His parents were immigrants from the Soviet Union - political refugees because of his father's support of Israel and Judaism when the Soviets weren't tolerating religion of any kind.
Nik turned and introduced Toby to his roommate, Ryan O'Reily, who sported a crucifix around his neck and a visible tattoo of a bleeding shamrock on his hand. A good Irish boy, Toby mused to himself and had to hide his grin. The Jew and the Catholic, rooming together. Like the son of an African dictator and the son of Republican political appointee rooming together. Only at Harvard, Toby thought as the small group began to make their way down the hall.
Had he known what this meeting would begin, he would have run back into his room or all the way back to New York. But that's the problem with life, you usually don't know when you're in danger until it's too late. And by the time Tobias Beecher realized he was in danger, there was almost nothing he could have done to save himself.
Continued in Part 2