“An A, baby! Did I mention that I got an A?!” I cried, pulling my history paper out of my bag and holding it up. Ian glanced at me from behind the wheel of his car and rolled his eyes. “Oh . . . and what’s this?” I said, yanking out my English midterm. “Oh, yeah! Another A!”
“Dude, if you don’t quit shoving your grades down my throat I’m going to drive this car into a tree,” Ian said.
But he smiled. He knew how important it was that I had done well on my midterms. It was a momentous day. I had aced everything and was back on the honor roll, the team was on its way to the state finals in football, and Winter and I were doing well. I was finally starting to feel like myself again.
The only black cloud hanging over me was my parents. I knew that they were still disappointed in me, and I was going to have to earn back their trust, but these grades would go a long way to help me in that pursuit. I had been working my butt off for weeks, and it was finally paying off.
Ian pulled his car up at the end of my driveway. “Okay. We’re here. Get out,” he said flatly.
“Cheer up, man,” I said. “Bs and Cs aren’t that bad.”
Ian punched me hard on the shoulder and I laughed and got out of the car. As he drove off, I made a beeline right for the mailbox. Once upon a time I would check the mail only periodically, when I knew the new Sports Illustrated was coming or if I had ordered something off the Internet. Now I checked it every single day. I was waiting for the most important letter of my life.
I held my breath and popped open the little plastic door. There, under all the junk mail and bills, was a fat, white envelope. For a second I thought it was a mirage, but after I shook my head and blinked, it was still there. I reached in and yanked it out, showering the other envelopes all over the cold ground.
There it was—the blue and white Penn State logo in the top left corner. My name and address right in the center. I quickly ripped the package open and pulled out the letter.
Dear Mr. Riley,
Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you of your acceptance to Pennsylvania State University and the guarantee of your full athletic scholarship!
There it was. Words in black and white proclaiming that my dream had come true. Even after everything. After all the mistakes I had made, all the things I had done that could have sullied my reputation and killed my chances for good, all the obstacles I had placed in my own way, I had achieved my ultimate goal. I had subsisted. And I had been accepted to one of the most prominent football programs in the country, not to mention one of the best schools. I knew I was going to be nothing but a tyro on that team full of all-stars and future NFL players, but I couldn’t wait to learn from them. I couldn’t wait to experience everything that was coming my way.
I could barely repress the shout of joy that was bubbling up in my throat. Penn State’s head coach had called me himself last week to let me know that this was coming—as he did with all his top recruits—but having this tangible proof in my hands was beyond anything I had ever felt before. I was going to retain this letter for the rest of my life. It was my ticket out of Hillside, my ticket to a new life of success and prosperity.
“I did it,” I said to myself, giddy. “I got in!”
I grabbed up all the stuff from the ground and ran into the house to call my parents. I couldn’t recall ever having felt so overjoyed and relieved and vindicated in my entire life. It was time to celebrate.