Let's face it, I'm not the best when it comes to making decisions. Like, when we first started dating, Cole tried to make me choose between two different movie options on a date and I froze for so long we ended up missing both of them. I mean, I'm better than that now! I hope I'm better at that now…
It's just tough, ya' know? There's no way to know all possible repercussions of a decision before it happens. And I've only just got to the point where I can be okay with that for something on the level of, 'where should we go for dinner?'
But shit. College, man.
Sometimes I wish I had only been accepted to one. That would make this all so much easier. But no. An eighty-two percent success rate has never been so damn infuriating. And don't try to tell me off for complaining about this, I already get judgemental looks from everyone else I know.
Nine schools. Nine possible places to spend the next four years of my life. Nine wildly different life paths after that. Nine… flitting, potential futures just waiting for me to reach out and choose.
I'm not entirely sure the human brain is capable of holding the pros and cons of nine choices at the same time.
This all would have been so easy if I had just got into Harvard. First choice, great city, great programs? Super easy decision. But, even if my Mom continued to insist that my summary rejection must have been a fluke, the fact of the matter was that door had already closed. Along with it, University of Michigan, who had put me on their waitlist; at this point, that just meant it was just one less option I had to consider.
That left, in no particular order: Amherst, Yale, BU, UMass Boston, Vanderbilt, Stanford, University of Rochester, Notre Dame, and Berkeley.
Of course, if I hadn't gotten so cocky, I might have thought about creating a ranking system for more than just my first choice while I was applying. But I didn't. So here I am.
When people suggested I apply to a bunch of schools, I honestly expected to get rejected from at least half of them. This was way more than I was prepared for.
And, of course, there's lots of different viewpoints to consider when choosing something as important as this.
First, there's what everyone has to think of, the financial side: scholarships vs. student loans; in-state tuition vs. out-of-state; and for the more 'elite' schools there was also tuition-assistance based on my parents' income.
And then there was the strength of the programs that I wanted to get into. But thinking about that only makes me start wondering just how sure I am that I want to go into an English and writing program. Like, maybe I should just give in and do something with my Math skills and make a lot of money. Maybe I have some yet-undiscovered skills for coding and I could become super rich! Maybe…
Oh god, I can't think about this right now.
But then, on top of the normal things everyone has to worry about it, I also have to think about that one issue that is wholly mine to contend with: Cole.
And there's the rub.
Because despite the fact that we'd agreed more than a year beforehand that we would at least be going to 'adjacent' schools… the fucker won't tell me where he's been accepted.
I thought it was a joke, at first. With every congratulatory email I received, he'd just get this sly smile on his face. Because my next question was always 'Do you know if you got into (insert nearby school here)?'
And his reply was always a smirk and, 'Not telling…'
And I would laugh, because surely this was all a stupid joke, and after admission season ended he'd let me know the whole lot of places he'd been accepted. But then March came and went. Then most of April along with it. And all I ever got was a smile.
So I started asking.
"I'm not telling."
I started begging.
"I'm not telling."
I started withholding sex.
"I'm not telling."
I stopped withholding sex. But I started getting legitimately angry.
"Jer. I'm not going to tell you."
So that's how I ended up sitting, cursing at my boyfriend, glaring from bed piled with papers and hopes and dreams, trying to make a life-altering decision without one of the most important pieces of information. And there he was, sitting at my desk, just as calm as could be.
"Please. Dammit, please tell me, Cole. This is… this is fucking ridiculous. We agreed we would make this decision together." I must have said those exact words a dozen times in the last weeks. I knew they wouldn't work. But I was going to keep trying anyway. Something had to work. "I can't fucking make this decision without your help!"
"I said I'll help you, Jeremy. I'll go over all your options and help you make your decision whenever you want. But I decided a long time ago, I'm not going to let you restrict yourself based on my successes and failures. You're too good for that." His face was serious, but there was a faint smile behind his words. "You got into amazing schools, Jer, and I couldn't live with myself knowing you limited your options because of me."
"Don't be cute, Cole. This isn't fair! You can't expect me to make a decision that would have such a big effect on our relationship without your input. Without all the facts! What if I end up choosing a school far away from any of your options?"
"Then at least you'd be there for the right reasons." He leaned forward in his chair.
"So what, we're just ignoring our plans to move in together during college? Are we just gonna go for a long distance relationship now? Is that what you want?"
"No, that's not what I want. But it's not like that would be the end of the world, Jer. Would it really be that bad?"
I couldn't answer that. I refused to answer that. All I could do was gape silently, like an idiot, before turning away and burrowing my head into my pillow. Stupid. This was so stupid. He was so fucking stupid. I could feel the tears burning behind my eyes.
"Jer, c'mon. It's not as bad as you think."
I refused to respond to him.
I was angry. I was angry at Cole, for maybe the first time ever. Couldn't he see how much I was struggling with this? Couldn't he tell it was hurting me? Wasn't he supposed to want to stop that from happening? For the first time in two years, I began questioning why I had to fall in love with someone so goddamn headstrong.
I heard him get up from his chair, and a second later felt the corner of the bed sink under his weight.
"Jeremy, look at me."
I kept my head burrowed into my pillow, where I didn't have to think about my future, or college, or my bastard of a boyfriend for the first time in a few weeks. I didn't look at him.
My room was silent for a few seconds, a few second that felt like hours.
I heard him sigh before the bed corner lifted from under his weight, heard him gather his things, heard him zip up his bag. I could feel my ears straining to listen as he walked through my room, and finally paused in what I could only assume was my doorway.
"I'm gonna head home, Jer. Give you some space to think." He paused for a few more seconds. "I'm sorry. I know you think I'm being unfair to you, but… you've just gotta trust me."
I did trust him. I trusted him a lot. But I was too confused to tell him right at that moment. So I let the silence fall between us again.
"Love you too."
I had no idea if he could hear me through the pillow.
"I can't believe you two are fighting." It wasn't completely unusual to be eating lunch without Cole next to me; between classes, clubs, and illness, it happened about once a week. But sitting outside the library with Rachel, it felt like the whole world was off. I'd never had to avoid Cole before.
"It's his fault." I muttered into my sandwich. I'd been trying my best to avoid this conversation all day, but it seemed as if I had run out of ways to distract her. "If he wasn't such a… selfish… self-sure asshole, none of this would be happening. I'd know what college to choose, I'd be eating lunch with him, I'd be… I wouldn't be fucking miserable." Rachel gave me a sympathetic smile and leaned back against the wall.
"I mean, shit, have you considered that maybe the guy just got into everywhere? So, like, he'll be near you no matter what school you choose? The kid's family is rich AF, it wouldn't be that hard to believe that every school he applied to accepted his privileged white ass." Rachel laughed lightly and ran a finger through her hair. About a quarter of it was her natural black, the rest was a faded pink. She'd mentioned something about giving her hair a break from bleach before it started falling out in clumps.
"Even if that's the case, then what? He expects me to make this huge decision for both of us? Should add another column to my list of pros and cons 'How happy would Cole be at the nearby school he applied to?'" I groaned in frustration. "That's bullshit and we all know it. Even if it is true, it just pisses me off even more."
I checked my phone for what must have been the thirtieth time that day, hoping to see something from Cole. Preferably an apology, and a complete list of colleges he'd been accepted to. But anything would have helped. But my phone was blank, the only thing staring back at me was the lock-screen picture. Jamie had surreptitiously snapped a shot of us kissing as the ball dropped on New Year's Eve, and Cole hadn't even asked permission to save it as my background.
If only he'd keep his bullheadedness to romantic ideas instead of major fucking life choices.
I threw my phone down.
"So what do you think the chances are he'll break before your deadlines?" Rachel offered me one of her cookies which I grumpily accepted. If I'd learned anything this week, it was that being angry made me hungry.
"Pretty much zero." I reached for another cookie, but Rachel slapped my hand away.
"Well then, my dude, it seems like your only option is to do exactly what he wants."
"It's not like you have much of a choice. You can't just… not make the decision. I mean, I guess you can, but…"
"I know, I know. So, what? I just… do it? Throw caution to the wind? Pull a name out of a hat? What do I do, here?"
"The way I see it, you can either torture yourself by trying to figure out the best decision for both you and Cole all on your own. Or…" Rachel sighed and looked at the ground. I could tell she was trying to hide behind her hair.
"Or… I agree with Cole and you should make this decision just based off your own wants and needs and no one else's." The words tumbled out of her mouth faster than I'd ever heard her speak. I finally caught her eye, and she just shrugged.
"Oh, c'mon…" I groaned.
"It's true! Jeremy, bro, I'm not going to say you're, like, the smartest guy I've ever met. But you're up there. Far enough up there that I think the world might be better off if you go to some schools over others."
"Oh. Great. So now I should be thinking about the entire rest of the world as well. Thanks, Rachel, that really lightens up the pressure." I started hurriedly packing up my things to go.
"You know what I mean." Rachel sighed, and reached out to grab my hand.
I paused, half ready to get out and find someone else to complain to. Jamie would probably sympathize with me.
"Whatever decision you make, if you make it for the right reasons, it's going to lead to great things. And I think you're smart enough that, if you stop freaking the fuck out, you'll be able to figure out what those reasons are."
"So essentially, what," I asked, feeling a bit defeated, "You just… trust me to be smart enough not to fuck this up?"
"I think what matters more is that Cole trusts you." I felt her squeeze my wrist lightly before releasing it. I didn't give her a chance to say anything more before turning on my heel and walking to my next class.
"I always thought that was what made mature relationships… 'mature.' The fact that you made important decisions together. As a team. And you did what was best for the couple, not just the individual."
My Mom smiled at me over the table. It was nearly midnight and we both knew I wouldn't be falling asleep for a while yet. A steaming mug of hot cocoa sat warming my hands while she sipped her tea. It was thick and chocolatey as I swirled it listlessly; it was made from a special blend that sat in the back corner of my Mom's tea shelf, a blend that was only for the rarest occasions.
"That's one way of looking at it," she set down her mug and reached over to touch one of my hands. "But I think you know by now, it's never as simple as we think it is."
"So what have I got wrong? 'Cause clearly there's something you, and Cole, and everyone else knows that I'm just… missing." My mom hadn't made me late night hot cocoa like this since I was nine, and my parents had just told me we were moving to Massachusetts. I wondered silently if she would have to pull this trick out in another nine years when I was twenty-seven. Make it a tradition.
"Well, though I approve of his goals," she took another long sip of her tea, "I'm not saying Cole is fully in the right. And neither are you."
"What's that supposed to mean." I finally gave in and took a sip of my drink. As the rich chocolate coated my tongue, it was as if my whole body sighed with relief. I just wanted to lie down and relax.
"Jeremy, you and Cole are… impressively mature when it comes to your relationship. I don't know if that's his influence or yours, but I suspect you both just have that… effect on each other." My mom was choosing her words carefully, like she did when she was calming down a client, or her boss, or Ruthie. It was more obvious every day which parent I took after.
"But, that doesn't mean you two know everything. You're still teenagers. And it's inevitable, I suppose, that you're both going to act like it every once in a while."
"Okay… so what's that supposed to mean." With the tension worked out of my shoulders by the magic in my cup, I had no problem meeting my Mom's eyes. They were less harsh than usual, and she was still smiling at me over her tea.
"A 'mature'—as you put it—relationship is not, like you may believe, about compromise. Working together as a team, yes, and that's where Cole's in the wrong, but not always compromise." I saw her hesitate for a moment. "If you don't mind your mother giving her opinion."
She waited for me to nod before continuing.
"The real truth behind a successful 'adult' relationship is… well, it's balance." I could tell from the look on her face that she was examining my expression closely. I wasn't sure what she meant. I mean, I know what the word balance means, I'm not an idiot, but I couldn't see what the big difference was between that and compromise. Eventually she continued.
"There are always going to be things that you have to compromise on in a relationship, it's just a fact of sharing your life with another person. But you can't compromise on everything, Jeremy. There will be, and there should be, things in your life that are important enough to you, important enough to who you are, that compromising isn't something you're willing to do." She paused to drain the last of her tea, and I stayed silent.
"If you compromise on everything in your life with Cole, the fact of it is, you'll just never be able to be fully… happy. That's what compromise is, you each giving up a small amount of your own happiness so that you can be happier overall. And that's great, and that's honorable, but it can't be your entire life, honey. You can't compromise away your identity."
She paused again, and I felt like she was giving me time to digest what she'd said. I gave myself more time by drinking another gulp of cocoa.
"So there are some things I have to be… selfish on?"
"No, honey. There's some things you have to be you on. Not Jeremy and Cole as a unit. Just Jeremy."
"But… how do I know what those things are? Is school one of them? Isn't focusing on myself for something that big just… one step away from being selfish?"
"Well, that's a decision you have to make for yourself, but I would hope I raised you to know you should never compromise on your future." She raised her eyebrow as if to dare me to disagree. I took another sip of chocolate.
"As for being selfish... well, that's where the balancing act comes in. If you want your relationship to last, honey, you and Cole have to balance each other as individuals along with your desires as a couple. You need to be understanding when Cole has to make decisions on his own, just like he needs to understand when you need to be who you are. And you both need to be able to live and be happy as individuals, outside of your relationship. In the end, you both have to trust each other." She reached over and cupped both my hands between hers. "You have to trust that you will both be true to yourselves, and true to your relationship. And that's a very difficult thing to do. Especially at your age."
"I do trust him." I said, my voice suddenly weak in my throat.
"And I think this is him trying to show you, he trusts you. So now…" She held my gaze for a second, and I was never so thankful that this was my mother. "You need to trust yourself."
We stayed like that for a few minutes, silent and comfortable, until the peace of the night was broken by my phone vibrating on the table next to me.
Cole Adams, one new message.
"I'll leave you to it," My mom squeezed my hand and pushed away from the table. Without thinking, I rushed over to give her a hug before she disappeared up the stairs.
"I hate you, you know that?" My head was buried in the crook of Cole's neck and he was holding me so tight I could barely breathe. I'm not even sure if he could understand me. "I hate you."
"I love you too, Jer." I could feel his lips moving against my hair and it felt so good to be in his arms again.
"Never do this to me again, Cole." I pulled back slightly just enough to make sure my words weren't being muffled by his neck.
"No, promise me, Cole. I may understand better why you decided to do this, but that doesn't mean I automatically forgive you. So, promise me. Promise me that you'll never force this much onto my shoulders, against my will, and then leave me in the cold, freaking out and scared and hurt. I don't care how pure your intentions are. We talk about it, and we discuss it, and my voice gets heard. Okay? Promise me you'll never do that again, and then we can talk."
I pulled away a little bit more, desperate not to be released from the hug, but also needing Cole to know I was serious.
The look in Cole's eyes was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was sad, and regretful, yes. Loving too, but none of that was completely unusual. But there was a fear there, one I hadn't seen in his face before. One that I never wanted to see again.
"I am so sorry, Jeremy. I promise. I promise that no matter how sure I am of myself, I'll never stop listening to you. Never again. You're so important to me. I don't know what got into me. I'm so sorry. I love you. I love you so much."
He was babbling, and his arms were tightening back around me again, and that's what I wanted to hear. I don't know what he had been through the past few days but clearly it had left a mark on him. I nodded, and the next thing I knew, I was pulled back into his shoulder as he kept talking.
"I'm sorry. I'll tell you anything you want to know. I'll tell you all the colleges. I'm so sorry. I got into Smi—"
"No." He froze, stopping like I had given him an indisputable command. I sighed.
"I already made my decision." It came out closer to a whisper than I would have wanted, but the words were out there.
Both of us fell silent for a few seconds as I swallowed the lump in my throat. We both understood the true meaning behind what I had said.
I had a future. One that I was going to make my own. And while I planned to do everything I could to make sure Cole was part of that future, it wasn't going to be dependent on my relationship with him.
I didn't know if we'd be living together in a year, or in a long distance relationship, or what, but I had made my decision anyway.
"You have?" Cole asked quietly, gently squeezing me closer. I nodded.
"Have you?" I asked. A weak smile spread across his face
"I've, uh… I've narrowed it down to a few choices. They're all about equal in my head."
"Do you want me to tell you? Or do you want me to keep that a secret until you decide?" I was mostly teasing, but if he'd asked me to keep it a secret I would have. Luckily, he didn't.
"I would really, really like you to tell me, Jeremy."
I was scared, to be honest. My answer was going to be a dividing line, between what could be and what would be. But I also felt like the words were bubbling out of my mouth, barely able to stay inside.
"Stanford." I was happy. I was happy I made my choice, even if I knew it might be bittersweet in the end.
"I chose Stanford, Cole. I'm going to California." I couldn't keep the smile off my face, and then I could barely keep from crying.
Because Cole wasn't just smiling. He was jumping up and down with joy.
"We're going to California! We're going to California! You and me, Jer, we're going to fucking California."
And nothing was going to tear us apart.