"Hi Jeremy. How are you?", Mr. Jacobson asked.
"I'm doing fine.", Jeremy curtly replied. That answer had become like a reflex after all the times people had asked him.
"Well I'm calling because a professor of yours called me very concerned about you."
"That bitch. She has no business calling people behind my back.", Jeremy thought. "Well I assure, despite what you may have heard, I'm fine.", he said.
"It's okay if you need help and it's okay if you take some time off from school. I didn't receive my bachelor's until I was 26 and look at where I am now."
Jeremy had to agree that he made a good point there. Isaac Jacobson was a highly accomplished chemist with multiple degrees and chemical patents. He and Jeremy's father had actually met while he was earning his PhD in chemical engineering. He was only 52 and had already retired in relative luxury. Jeremy's family had spent many summers at his expansive lakeside mansion on Lake Michigan.
"Jeremy, you're an adult and you're allowed to make your own choices, but I'm just going to throw out the idea that maybe you could spend the summer with me. I promised your father that I would take care of you and I just don't like the idea of you spending all that time by yourself in that apartment."
"Look, Mr. Jacobson, I really appreciate the concern and all the help you've given, but I can take care of myself."
"Really, because your professor tells me you never attend class and that you're barely scraping by. I've spoken with the administration and they told me that you're close to expulsion if you don't shape up." How could Mr. Jacobson call the administration? Why would the office even share that kind of information with someone who wasn't a family member?
"Look, I know it doesn't look good right now, but I can turn this around. I swear."
"Okay. There's only a month and a half left of this semester. If you can turn it around and pass all your courses, you can have it your way. However, if you slip up or fall back into this rut you're in, then you're coming to stay with me. Do we have a deal?" Jeremy figured he could turn this semester around, especially if it meant getting Mr. Jacobson and the administration off his back.
"Okay, we have a deal."
"Great, talk to you soon, Jer (pronounced JAIR)"
"It's Jeremy, and talk to you soon."
2 Months Later
Jeremy stacked another box on top of the pile. His apartment was nearly empty. All that was left were the large furnishings like the couch and bed frame. Mr. Jacobson was outside organizing all the boxes inside the moving van. Jeremy felt numb. After his phone call with Mr. Jacobson, he had started to attend class regularly and had even started practicing on the basketball court a few days of the week. He was sure that the slump he'd been in was finally over, but then he got back a quiz with a failing grade plastered on the front. He wasn't used to this. This was worse than when he had avoided going to class, because at least it made sense that he failed a test that he never took or never learned the material for, but he had actually studied for this test. He had given it his best effort and failed anyway.
After that, he fell back into his old ways. Nothing seemed to matter. Why bother trying if he was going to fail? He was so upset about the failed test that he forgot about the conditions of the deal he'd made with Mr. Jacobson. When the Spring semester grades were posted he'd just barely managed to pass three of the five courses he'd taken this semester. That meant that he'd get to stay in school, but it also meant that he'd failed to fulfill his end of the bargain with Mr. Jacobson. Sure enough, the day after the grades were posted, he received another call from Mr. Jacobson.
"Hey Jer, the records office just sent over a copy of your semester grades. I know you're disappointed, but I see that you really made an effort. I'm really proud of you. You gave it your best shot and it really shows. Maybe now, you'd be open to staying with me?"
"Well I guess that was the deal we made.", Jeremy said. "So when should I come over?"
"Actually, I thought that I'd come down there and help you pack up. We could have a little road trip."
"What!? I agreed to stay with you this summer, but I'm not giving up my apartment."
"Jeremy, be reasonable. There's no reason that you should pay 3 months rent for an empty apartment. I promise that I will help you find an even better apartment when the next semester starts."
Jeremy sighed. "Fine."
Two weeks later, Mr. Jacobson was outside his apartment with a moving van. When Jeremy greeted him at the door he had to admit Mr. Jacobson was a welcome sight. He was a dashing man at his age. Standing at 6'4", he had salt and pepper hair and a neatly trimmed beard. As a retiree, he had plenty of time to work out, and it showed. His figure was lean and well-muscled with long legs and a V-shaped torso. Despite his age, he dressed himself well. On that day, he had dressed himself in dark, straight-cut jeans, an expensive tailored polo, and dark aviator shades. If he dyed his hair, he could've easily passed for a man ten years younger. Jeremy had just started to get in touch with his sexuality during his freshman year. He felt that he was most likely bisexual. However, ever since his parents' accident he hadn't really been thinking about sex and other people in that sense. Mr. Jacobson was like an uncle to him, and he could never feel for him in that way, but that didn't mean he couldn't appreciate a handsome man for what he was.
Jeremy sheepishly showed Mr. Jacobson around his home for the past year. It was an absolute pig's sty. Garbage had piled up in every room, laundry was strewn over every surface, and the bathroom was an absolute nightmare. Mr. Jacobson was completely aghast.
"If I had known you were living like this, I would have brought you home much sooner." With a smile he said, "And I don't think we'll be getting that security deposit back.
They spent the entire morning and afternoon packing up Jeremy's things. After they had boxed up the last of Jeremy's belongings, they had a lunch of Subway sandwiches while sitting on boxes. Jeremy bit into his sub and was immediately squirted in the face with dressing. Mr. Jacobson reached over with a napkin and wiped Jeremy's face. Jeremy's face became instantly red. He hadn't really been touched by another person in a long time, and no one had touched him so thoughtfully or so intimately in quite a while. He was too embarrassed to say anything and continued to eat his sandwich.
Jeremy stood up and looked across his empty apartment. He was suddenly overcome with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. Tears trickled down his cheeks and onto the floor. He had cried when his parents passed away, but this was a different kind of pain. He felt like a failure. His grades this semester were a joke. He didn't even recognize the carpet without a layer of clothing and garbage over it. He didn't know the room could look this bright and inviting. The curtains had never been pulled back the entire time he'd lived here. He hadn't realized just how low he'd gotten until just now. Despite his best efforts, he began to sob. Strong, warm arms wrapped themselves around Jeremy and pulled him in tight. Instinctively, he tried to pull away, but that just made them grip even harder.
"It's okay Jer. I promise everything's going to be okay.", Mr. Jacobson said. He sat down and pulled Jeremy down onto his lap and started rocking him. "Shhh... I know things seem dark right now, but we're going to get through this together."
Jeremy continued to cry for another half-hour. After he pulled himself together, he helped Mr. Jacobson pack up the rest of the boxes. At 8 o'clock they started their journey back to Michigan. Completely drained by the heavy lifting and emotions of the day, Jeremy quickly dozed off. Seated in the passenger side of the moving van, his head found its way onto Mr. Jacobson's muscular shoulder. Without taking his eyes off the road, Isaac Jacobson wrapped his arm around the boy and brought his head down to rest on his lap. They had a long road ahead of them.