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The More Things Change

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Dormitory 3, Room 306.

Boots O'Neal glanced back down at the slip of paper in his hand and then up at the number on the door, double-checking that this was the right place. Yup, this was definitely it.

He knocked twice before turning the knob, but the door swung open to reveal an empty room. His roommate wasn't here yet, whoever he was. Boots shrugged, dragged his suitcase over to the bed nearest the door, and started unpacking.

Twenty minutes later, all his clothes were in the drawers, all his toiletries were in the bathroom, and there was nothing left to do in the room but wait until his mystery roommate showed up. Boots flopped back on the bed with a sigh and looked around at his new home. The walls were a dull beige, the sheets were plain white, and the neatly tucked blankets were just a shade darker than the walls. The only splash of color in the room was the two movie posters he had taped up beside his bed, but they looked like a feeble attempt at cheerfulness that was almost overwhelmed by the total blankness of the rest of the room. Boots could hardly imagine spending the next year living here. The room was totally unlike his own cozy room at home, and who knew what his roommate would be like! Possibilities swam through his head, mostly ranging into the downright depressing, as he stared at the empty bed across from him.

His speculations were interrupted when the door opened and a boy struggled into the room backwards, hauling a bulging suitcase in from the hallway. Boots sat up, trying to get a look at his new roommate. As soon as the other boy had gotten his suitcase through the door, he looked around and spotted Boots. Immediately, his face lit up with such a blinding grin that Boots couldn't help smiling back.

"Hi! You must be my roommate. I'm Bruno Walton, nice to meet you!" He held out his hand with a flourish, and Boots shook it firmly.

"Boots O'Neal. --Melvin, actually, but nobody calls me that."

Bruno glanced around the room, then spotted Boots's posters. "Hey! Star Wars! Awesome! I have exact the same poster--just a second--" He heaved his suitcase up onto the other bed and began scooping clothes out and tossing them carelessly to one side.

By the time Bruno had found his poster and triumphantly stuck it to the wall opposite Boots's, the room looked comfortably messy and lived-in, the boys were both laughing, and Boots had decided that he liked this room after all.

----------

Bruno and Boots lasted only a month before they were summoned to Mr. Sturgeon's office for the first time. Boots was pale with fear as they stared up at the gold HEADMASTER adorning the heavy oak door. Bruno was trying to look calm and unconcerned, but he was fidgeting nervously, and he'd been dead quiet since the note arrived, which scared Boots even more.

Finally, Boots took a deep breath and pushed the door open. He and Bruno shuffled in and stood awkwardly in front of the Headmaster's desk in silence, until Mr. Sturgeon waved them towards a wooden bench. As the boys sat down, he fixed them both with a cold, piercing stare.

"Walton and O'Neal. I am extremely disappointed in the both of you for your actions last night." The two boys quailed backward from his glare. "Sneaking onto the grounds of Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School for Girls is clearly against Macdonald Hall rules. You should feel lucky that I have decided not to let your parents hear about this. As it is, all privileges are suspended for the next two weeks." There was a heavy, uncomfortable silence, before Mr. Sturgeon added, "You are dismissed."

"Thank you, sir!" The boys chorused, retreating hastily. They were halfway back to Dormitory 3 before they finally slowed down to a normal walk.

"Oh, Bruno, that was really dumb," Boots lamented. "Why'd you have to talk me into it?"

"It was fun, though, wasn't it?" Bruno replied, a hint of his normal bounce returning.

"All right, yes, it was fun," Boots admitted. "But still really dumb!"

The night before, Bruno had convinced Boots to accompany him across the road and onto the grounds of Scrimmage's. Once there, he had further convinced Boots that they should shimmy up a drainpipe on the nearest dormitory and see if they could sneak a peek inside. They got up to a second-floor window and were peering into the darkened room when there was a sudden bloodcurdling shriek from within. The window slammed open and a pair of lightning punches knocked the boys off the drainpipe. They hit the ground hard and had the wind knocked out of them, so they could only stare up at the window in shock. The light snapped on and a girl leaned out of the window, still shrieking unintelligibly down at them. She was joined by a second girl, and the rest of the windows started lighting up as well. As soon as they could breathe again, the boys scrambled to their feet and made a run for it, but clearly they had been identified somehow and reported to the Hall.

After surviving their trip to the Headmaster's office, Boots resolved to stay out of trouble, possibly by never listening to Bruno ever again. However, just after lights-out, there was a soft tapping at the window of Room 306. Bruno glanced at the window, puzzled, then opened it and peered outside. Two female faces smiled sweetly at him from the bushes outside.

"Ack! Girls!" Boots dashed over and slammed the window shut. They had gotten into enough girl-related trouble already!

The tapping resumed, getting louder and eventually escalating into a loud banging when the boys ignored it. Finally, Bruno gave up and opened the window.

"All right, all right, what is it? Just don't break the window, please!"

"Hi," one of the girls said. "I'm Diane, and this is Cathy."

"We're sorry about last night," said the other one, "Well, not sorry for punching you; you deserved that. But we didn't mean to get you in trouble with the school."

Bruno blinked in astonishment and Boots tried to come up with some kind of apology in return, but before either could speak, Mr. Fudge the House Master knocked on the door and everyone froze. After a moment, he could be heard walking away, and the boys sighed in relief. Cathy put a finger to her lips and dropped a package on the windowsill, and both girls retreated into the bushes, waving goodbye and melting into the night.

Still stunned, Bruno fumbled at the paper napkin wrappings of the package and uncovered a large piece of slightly squashed chocolate cake.

"Wow."

"Wow," echoed Boots. "Those girls are very, very strange...but I think I could get to like them."

----------

The last time Bruno and Boots were summoned to The Fish's office was three days before graduation. They were fairly surprised; they hadn't done anything worthy of a Fish lecture in weeks.

"...except for creating the Committee for Graduation Ceremony Planning and the Committee for Graduation Party Planning," Boots pointed out.

"But he doesn't know about those," argued Bruno, "and what The Fish doesn't know can't hurt him, and can't get us in trouble."

"Sometimes I think The Fish has developed a sixth sense for our committees, Bruno."

They pushed open the familiar oak door that led to the Headmaster's office, and immediately gravitated to the wooden bench from years of habit.

"Walton. O'Neal." The Headmaster's stare was as cold and fishy as ever. "I've called you here today to attempt to do some pre-emptive damage control. Do not think that just because there are only three days to graduation, you cannot be punished. I can withdraw your diplomas at any time, including during the actual graduation ceremony, and will not hesitate to do so if there are any 'mishaps' during the ceremony, including but not limited to inappropriate flags, music, speeches, guests..."--Bruno was mentally crossing off the CGCP's planned activities one by one--"...placards, or actions of the student body of Macdonald Hall or Miss Scrimmage's. Is that understood?"

Boots jabbed Bruno in the ribs with his elbow, and with a sigh, Bruno mentally disbanded the CGCP.

"Yes, sir," the two chorused.

"Very good," Mr. Sturgeon said. His voice softened. "And since this, I hope, is the last time I will have you in this office...I would like to congratulate you for what you have accomplished, by fair means or foul, in your years here at Macdonald Hall."

Bruno and Boots felt their mouths drop open.

Mr. Sturgeon smiled at the pair with genuine warmth. Their jaws dropped even further, and they began to make strangled noises. "You are dismissed, boys."

Boots pulled himself together long enough to stutter a thank-you, and both boys stumbled backwards out of the office, bewildered by the impossibility of what just happened.

Halfway back to Dormitory 3, Boots was still repeating "I don't believe it!" under his breath. "The Fish. Smiled. At us."

Bruno shook his head as if to clear it, and his old grin reappeared. "Well, it's too bad that the CGCP has to go, but I think the CGPP is still in business."

"Wait, wait, Bruno--"

"Mr. Sturgeon said we could be punished up to and during the ceremony, but if the party is after the ceremony and everyone has their diplomas..."

Boots looked at Bruno's grinning face and the irrepressible mischief in his eyes, and sighed in resignation. "All right, let's tell the guys, then," he smiled reluctantly.

----------

Boots O'Neal--now known simply as "Mr. O'Neal" to his acquaintances, since "Boots" was no longer appropriate and "Melvin" was still forbidden--sighed as he sifted through the newest pile of paper on his desk. There never seemed to be an end to the things that needed his attention. The murmur of early morning traffic on the street hummed faintly in the background, muffled by the glass windows of his office.

An envelope caught his eye, and he picked it up for closer inspection. The return address stated that it was from Bruno Walton, and Boots frowned in puzzlement. Why would Bruno be sending him a letter? Out of some strange quirk, Bruno still mailed him a Christmas card every year, but a letter...?

Boots opened the envelope, and saw that it contained a mass-produced computer printout.

My dear friends and classmates, (the letter went)

As you know, next November we celebrate our 20th anniversary reunion at Macdonald Hall. However, what you may not know is that Macdonald Hall is in grave danger! Our beloved Hall is underfunded and tuition fees are failing to keep it afloat. If this continues, the Hall may be forced to close.

I call on you, the finest graduates that this venerable institution has produced, to aid our school in its darkest hour. I call on you to make this not only a reunion, but the founding of a committee to save Macdonald Hall! We saved our school before, and we can save it again!

Sincerely, Bruno Walton

Boots read the letter twice, his chuckles starting out low and progressing into full-throated laughter. "Oh, Bruno!" He had missed this--it had been years since he had been in a joint riot with Scrimmage's or heard Bruno declaring that Macdonald Hall was once again in its darkest hour.

His laughter was dying down again when a dark head popped around the corner of his door.

"Boots, you'd better come down. There's a mob of reporters out there, they must have followed him all the way from his house!"

Boots glanced out the window, and sure enough there were news vans parked all along the front of the building. From his fifth-floor office he could make out the CBC, CTV, CityTV and TVO vans, along with about two dozen reporters and their attached film crews. The early morning hum had turned into a yelling riot.

He picked up his suit jacket and shrugged into it, then held out the letter as he tried to button the jacket with one hand. "Here, Cathy, you've got to read this. It's classic Bruno. Where does he even find the time?"

Cathy started giggling as she skimmed the letter. "I don't know!" she said. "You'll have to ask him later, but first I think he needs some rescuing!"

"What's all this about, anyway?" Boots asked as they got into the elevator and it began to descend.

"I have no idea," Cathy replied, "he just called a few minutes ago, then showed up with that circus in tow." When they stepped out of the elevator, they saw that the reporters had already managed to get into the lobby and were milling around inside.

"The only thing he needs rescuing from is his own incorrigible mouth!" Boots muttered when he saw his friend. Ever the orator, Bruno was already up on a coffee table, using it as an impromptu podium as he was clearly preparing to give one of his soul-searing speeches about God-knew-what. The reporters crowded eagerly around, microphones at the ready--Bruno Walton had only been an MP for two months and already the press adored him for the amazing soundbites he gave them.

Bruno had just opened his mouth when Boots smoothly interposed himself between his friend and the reporters. "I'm very sorry, but as his lawyer, I have advised Mr. Walton to make no comment on the matter at this time. I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but we have no comment on the matter at this time." He pulled Bruno down off the table and began herding him towards the elevator while Cathy kept the reporters at bay.

"But Boots!" Bruno protested.

"No buts. As your lawyer and your friend I am going to give you legal counsel whether you like it or not; now get into my office!"

Just as they got into the elevator, Diane arrived with several very large security guards who began very politely asking the reporters to leave. Boots watched the scene as the elevator doors began to close, and he began to chuckle once again. When the doors had fully shut, he turned to grin widely at his best friend. "Never change, Bruno. Never change."