It was the fourth Thursday in May 1989—the last Crier newspaper deadline night that seventeen-year-old Alan Yoder would ever attend. 

Alan’s senior year had been his more satisfying at Zimmerman High. His braces had been removed, and his parents had bought his first pair of gas-permeable contact lenses. Gone were his heavy, thick-framed eyeglasses. He’d found a girlfriend: pug-nosed and brunette-bobbed Roxanne Zielinski, who’d sat behind him in psychology class during the first semester of junior year. This was in spite of the fact that, at nearly 250 pounds, Alan hadn’t yet shed the chubbiness that had been his foe since early childhood.

Like Alan, Roxanne had been raised in a Christian household. While Alan’s family was General Conference Mennonite, the Zielinskis belonged to the Charismatic church in Babcock, Illinois. Neither Alan nor Roxanne had ever dated anyone before, and they shared a fondness for languages. She’d taught herself a little Polish, her dead grandfather’s first language, and instructed Alan to say “ja cię kocham” (“I love you”) after she’d invited him to the Turnabout Dance on Valentine’s Day. Having cultivated a driving phobia after learning in driver’s ed that a car is a three-thousand-pound gun, Alan had refused to take his licensing test, so Roxanne handled all the vehicular duties. The pinnacle of the evening occurred when Alan spotted Tony Trimarco with his date across the school gym. While not close buddies, Alan had known Tony since elementary school and had harbored well-concealed, perplexing feelings for him. As Alan slow-danced with Roxanne, he watched Tony and his girlfriend, imagining what it’d be like to be held against his chest. 

In addition to his emerging love life and the grueling schedule of honors and advanced placement classes his parents had urged him to take, Alan had also joined the workforce, earning $3.35 per hour as a part-time young people’s department page at Babcock-Plum Community Library. Then phlegm-voiced Mr. Cade, the faculty adviser of the Crier, who’d been Alan’s English teacher the previous year, had selected him to be the newspaper’s new opinion page editor. Alan couldn’t have been happier. The staff included a couple of his crushes, and now Mr. Cade had given him the chance to get to know them better. The Crier team was notoriously close-knit, spending colossal stretches of time together at editorial meetings and deadline sessions that ran long past midnight every other Thursday. 

Over the course of the school year, whenever he was away from Zimmerman (and the boys who fascinated him), Alan fidgeted through withdrawal, like an addict without a fix. He picked arguments with his parents about politics, about his mom’s cooking, and even about his dad’s rural Indiana pronunciations, snarling that that there’s no “r” in “wash.”   

On that final deadline night, Alan sat in the computer lab, retyping his piece condemning the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Across the block of Macintoshes, frizzy-haired Stephanie Stavros and Vicki Justiniano, with her oversized plastic Claire’s Boutique earrings bobbing back and forth, were battling a petulant printer. Out of the corner of his eye, Alan watched Barry Chavez scrunch his face scrumptiously while piecing together an article about lunchroom budget cuts. As he pounded away on the QWERTY keyboard, Alan spat out advice to Barry, who lapped it up. Clomping at that moment across the tiles in her clogs, Julie Hipolito asked to borrow a pen and remarked, “Alan, whenever I see you, you’re always talking to Barry. You guys are totally like brothers.” Alan blushed, having never heard anything more beautiful. 

He looked the computer lab over and gulped. He’d finally located his tribe, and now it was being ripped away from him. Blinking back tears, Alan returned to the tiny staff room, then buzzing with eleventh-hour activity. Mr. Cade was revising Alan’s column with a red pen when Rob Stahl arrived with greasy dinner orders from Cruisers. Munching on his cheeseburger and onion rings, Alan spied Barry dining and chatting with editor-in-chief Jana Scott. Meanwhile, Gaurav Rana tripped over Stephanie’s foot, nearly dropping a sheet of copy, and Dan Beier sneakily purged the L from the word “public” in a page-three headline. Alan shook his head and thought, Damn. Any more of this, and he’d have to rush to a stall in a boys’ room on another floor to bawl in seclusion. 

At five to eleven, Alan rolled his eyes and discreetly flipped off the round analog clock above the door. The curfew set by his parents was approaching like a masked murderer from one of those slasher films. Loathing sentimental goodbyes that made him feel even emptier than usual, he stammered “see you later” to those present in the staff room. Alan then hustled past the orange lockers that lined the silent corridor and down the stairs to the payphone to call his dad for a ride. As he started to tap the buttons, he heard “Yo, Alan Yoder” booming from the entrance to the math wing. He turned and saw Tony in a navy-blue polo shirt and jeans striding toward him. 

“Alan. Fuck. It’s been a hell of a while.” Tony extended his hand and shook Alan’s firmly.

“Hi Tony. What are you doing here? It’s almost midnight.”

“Yeah, no shit. Forgot my damn geometry book. Got a fucking test tomorrow. Can’t afford to fuck it up if I want to stay on the wrestling team. Coach Fairbairn is already on my ass about that.” 

“Yeah. Well, good luck.” 

“Thanks, man. Not that you’d ever know about that crap. You probably never got anything below an A.” 

“Not quite, Tony.” Alan forced a laugh while his body quivered. 

“Hey man, you want a ride home? I got my car outside.” It struck Alan that Tony was now sixteen and a licensed driver, although it shouldn’t have been surprising. Tony, with his flat-top, thick mustache, and fully-developed torso, could’ve passed for eighteen or even twenty. 

Would Alan turn down a ride with Tony? That’d be like asking a starving man whether he’d say no to the Malibu chicken at Sizzler.  

Tony opened the passenger door of his Ford Fiesta and warned, “Yeah, I’m sorry. The car’s a fucking mess and smells like shit. I got my workout gear in the back seat. It hasn’t been washed. Just hold your nose, man.”

Wishing he could bury his nose in the pheromone-laden fabrics, Alan ignored Tony’s tip.  

Alan sat down and fastened his seat belt, and Tony took his position next to him behind the wheel, immediately blasting thrash metal that stabbed Alan’s eardrums. After starting the car, Tony dropped his meaty right hand just a few inches away from Alan’s fingers. Alan wanted to grab that hand. Should he do it? His fingers trembled. He hated this. He thought about raking his nails across Tony’s right thigh, wondering whether he’d like that, before curbing any curiosity with NO! STOP IT! YOU’RE A CHRISTIAN! IF YOU EVEN THINK OF TRYING ANYTHING, YOU’RE A SINNER AND A FREAK!

Guided somehow by Alan’s haphazard directions, Tony parked in the Yoders’ driveway. As Alan unbuckled his seat belt, Tony turned down the music and asked, “Hey man, where are you going to college?”

“University of Chicago. Not Circle. The U of C in Hyde Park.”

“Cool. You’ll kick ass.”

“Thanks. And you’ll kick ass too. Especially at wrestling.”

“I always do.” 

“I hope we meet up again, Tony.”

“Look me up when you’re back for weekends or vacations or whatever. You know my number?”

“I can look it up.”

“Shit, I’d write it down but don’t see a fucking pen. Yeah, look me up. We’re in the book. Trimarco on Prairie.” 

“Thanks, Tony. I’ll do that. Well thanks for the ride. I appreciate it.” 

“What are buds for, man? No prob. Take it easy.”

Having been encouraged to call Tony sometime and designated as his “bud,” Alan practically floated out the door and up the stairs into the house, ignoring his fear—which proved to be correct—that the two schoolmates would never meet again.

Alan stepped onto the kitchen floor and was greeted by a stern reprimand from his mother, seated at the table. “Alan, it’s 11:42. You’re late by 42 minutes.”

“Mom, don’t even. You know it was the last deadline night. We had a lot of work, and I got a ride home from one of the guys. You’ll never have to deal with deadline nights again. Okay?”

She sipped her Diet Rite and sighed. “Okay I guess it really is the last time.”

“Yep. All good things come to an end. Goodnight, Mom.” 

“Sleep well, honey.” 

Alan locked his door, kicked off his sneakers and socks, and peeled off his denim jacket, aquamarine T-shirt, and charcoal Dockers. He flopped onto the twin trundle bed he’d slept in since he was four, his right hand resting on his belly. He closed his eyes and exhaled. The previous week, the oldies station DJ Don Battavio had played a plaintive “lost classic” from 1958 called “Your Graduation Means Goodbye” by the Cardigans. Alan had recorded it on a cassette that lay on his night stand. He stood up, inserted the tape into his stereo, and pressed play.

“Your graduation means goodbye. When I see you leave, I’ll cry. Your graduation makes me sad when I think of the fun we’ve had. If you leave me now, I’ll be part of your past, though my love will last…”  

Alan’s murky reflection in the turntable cover melted into a teary, sniffling mess. No more Babcock. No more Zimmerman High. No more Crier. No more Barry. No more Tony.  

There were no thoughts of Roxanne as he sobbed into the pale-blue pillow he was hugging. Not a single one.