Greg Rafferty pulled his door closed, heaved his giant backpack over his slim shoulders and walked down the unadorned pistachio-green hall without looking back. He strode down to the second floor and reached Isaac Craft’s room just as his friend pulled his own door shut. The two lanky boys nodded at each other—the final yin yang nod of Greg’s black hair and tanned face to Isaac’s bleach-blond hair and too pale complexion, both in matching tan slacks and white collared shirts buttoned all the way up—and headed along the corridor to the main stairs. For the last time, they descended the curved staircase into the lobby, quiet in the pre-dawn darkness, and exited out the front doors. All around the Piazza, students emerged from dormitories, the subdued crowd proceeding across the dewed lawn to the gate they would all pass through, heading to colleges far and wide, each of them ready and eager to pave their way in the large world.
Greg and the others, who had all said their goodbyes to the teachers, dorm leaders, and Dr. Bornstern at the graduation ceremony the day before, had spent the entirety of their lives in the idyllic gated town of Grafton, wandering the picturesque campus with its grand Georgian buildings with large columns, flowering tree-lined streets, and lush green lawns, even grazing on the beach on days when the classrooms grew too hot. Greg wondered in what ways his life would be affected by residing in a location without a beach or the perfect temperate climate of Grafton. Not that he was particularly sentimental or anxious, but he was feeling—just as Dr. Bornstern had warned—a touch of sentimentality. And as he approached the main gate, he felt that if it hadn’t been for Sera’s letters, he may not have possessed the mental fortitude to enable him to depart. Knowing she was waiting for him, ready to guide him through his first year in the greater world, helped calm his sudden surge of nervousness. He reached into the right front pocket of his black slacks and confirmed that her last letter was still in there, as well as the index card containing the name and address of the Grafton boy with whom he would correspond over the next year, a custom he now understood and appreciated. Even still, Greg’s palms moistened and heart palpitated loudly as Isaac opened the gate and sauntered through. Again, Greg reminded himself, he was merely experiencing expected physical reactions to his imminent departure. Greg looked from side to side, secretly hoping someone else would shove his or her way through, but of course no Grafton boy or girl would ever do that, and sure enough, the others had formed a single line behind him and waited patiently for him to advance, undoubtedly sharing some of his perturbation. Greg took a deep breath and stepped forward.
A large asphalt parking lot sprawled out before him lined with black buses with darkened windows. He scanned the digital screens on the front to find the one he would ride up north to Portage University, the only place he had applied, knowing Serafina would be there. There was, after all, little need to experience the unnecessary anxiety of choice when a perfectly acceptable option was available.
The driver, a burly man with a handlebar mustache under small green eyes and a bulbous nose, took Greg’s backpack and tossed it in the storage underneath the bus as Greg stepped inside. The bus was empty, so he made his way to the middle and sat down. Belatedly he realized that Isaac would not be riding the same bus, as his friend would be heading northeast instead of due north. Greg stood up to disembark, to bid farewell to his closest friend, but just then the bus driver entered and closed the door. Greg shrugged and returned to his seat, and as the bus pulled away, he gazed back at Grafton, absently fingering the letter in his pocket as he dozed off.
When Greg awoke, the bus had stopped moving. The sky was just starting to lighten, so he had clearly not slept for long. A jagged skyline of treetops glowed in the distance, long strands of telephone wires stretching like fallen parentheses from pole to pole, the long, flat highway a giant asphalt triangle. He stood up and stretched, then stepped forward to ask the driver where they were. Only, the driver wasn't on board. Greg padded toward the front to exit the bus and heard voices just outside. Up ahead, just outside the bus to his right was a single-story, white-brick building with a flat roof and a faded royal blue sign standing in front beckoning passers-by to “Dine at Dinah’s Diner.” He stopped and settled into a first row seat and waited.
"But I told you, I do have a ticket; I just lost it," said a female voice that sounded surprisingly familiar.
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