It follows the story of Tim Macbeth, a seventeen-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is “Enter here to be and find a friend.” A friend is the last thing Tim expects or wants—he just hopes to get through his senior year unnoticed. Yet, despite his efforts to blend into the background, he finds himself falling for the quintessential “It” girl, Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of Irving’s most popular boy. To Tim's surprise, Vanessa is into him, too, but she can kiss her social status goodbye if anyone ever finds out. Tim and Vanessa begin a clandestine romance, but looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving’s version of a senior year thesis, assigned by the school’s least forgiving teacher.
Jumping between viewpoints of the love-struck Tim and Duncan, a current senior about to uncover the truth of Tim and Vanessa, The Tragedy Paper is a compelling tale of forbidden love and the lengths people will go to keep their secrets.
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Enter Here to Be and Find a Friend
As Duncan walked through the stone archway leading into the senior dorm, he had two things on his mind: what “treasure” had been left behind for him and his Tragedy Paper. Well, maybe three things: he was also worried about which room he was going to get.
If it wasn’t for the middle item, though, he tried to convince himself, he would be almost one hundred percent happy. Almost. But that paper—the Irving School’s equivalent of a thesis project—was sucking at least thirty percent of his happiness away, which was a shame on such an important day. Basically, he was going to spend a good portion of the next nine months trying to define a tragedy in the literary sense, like what made King Lear a tragedy? Who cared? He could do that right now—a tragedy was when something bad happened. Bad things happened all the time. But the senior English teacher, Mr. Simon—who just happened to be the adult overseer of his hall this year—cared. He cared a lot, and he loved to throw around words like magnitude and hubris. Duncan would much rather work with numbers than words, and he had heard of the occasional Irving senior getting by without doing too much. Maybe all he had to do, really, was get a C on the paper. He would not let this ruin his senior year. Not after the mistakes he made last year. But when he thought about it, he realized it might be good to have a distraction; it was certainly better than dwelling on the past.
Duncan forced himself to walk smoothly under the arch—the pull to stop and read the message etched in the stone was strong. But he had been going to this school for three years already—he certainly knew what it said. He would look silly if he paused and read it, so instead he said it to himself, under his breath: “Enter here to be and find a friend.” He had walked under this pronouncement many times; he had to when he went to the dining hall or the headmaster’s office. And he had never paid much attention before. But now, well, now he hoped there was actually something to it, that these people were really his true friends, whatever that meant. After what he had been through, he was going to need their support more than ever.
Seniors got to live right on the quad—the beautiful courtyard that was surrounded by the school’s main buildings. And the rooms that were the equivalent of the doubles he had lived in the last three years with Tad were all cut in half so seniors could live alone. It would be his first time ever at school not sharing a room with another person. Of course, the rooms were tiny. But he would have happily lived in a closet to be on the quad and alone.
He walked into the building, taking in the familiar smell of food from the dining hall and, he always thought, paper, ink, and brains thinking hard, and walked toward the stairs. He hesitated, knowing that his entire summer’s worth of wondering and hoping for the room he wanted was now going to be answered—for better or worse. He knew what would make him happy: one of the rooms facing the quad, in the middle of the hall, next to Tad if he could have everything his way.
A hand touched his shoulder and he flipped around.
“Come on, man, what are you waiting for?” Tad asked, a huge grin on his face.
Duncan leaned in to shake his hand, but Tad pulled back at the last minute, challenging Duncan to chase him, and ran two steps at a time up the stairs. Duncan made a move to follow him but stopped. This was it and he almost didn’t want to know. The only people who were told which senior would get which room were last year’s seniors, and they were sworn—literally, they took an oath that involved dropping a few notches in their grade point averages (with the promise of their colleges being notified) if they broke it—to never tell. The last day of school, they each wrote the incoming senior’s name and posted it on the door, leaving behind a “treasure” for that student to find on the first day of school the next year. After that the halls were sealed until the following August. Many a new senior had tried to wend his or her way onto that floor, even trying to bribe the cleaning crew that came in the week before school started to take the musk and dust out of the air. As far as he knew, nobody had ever succeeded.
And the treasure awaiting him could be anything.
“Hey, Dunc,” Tad called down. “If you don’t come up here, I’m going to steal your treasure.”
Duncan had the urge to yell up to ask which room he got, but he couldn’t. What was wrong with him? This wasn’t that big a deal. No matter which room he lived in or what was left for him, how much of a difference could it really make in his life? But he would love to have a good story to tell at dinner tonight. At the very least that would help him steer the conversation away from what he worried everyone would really want to talk about.
Treasures in the past had ranged from an almost three-month-old rotting pizza to a check for five hundred dollars. There was a rumor that different lucky seniors were left two tickets to a Yankees game, a share in some famous company, and a gift certificate to one of the fanciest restaurants in Westchester County. And once, legend had it, years ago a senior was left an English bulldog puppy (the school’s mascot). Apparently, the administration wanted him to find a new home for it, but ended up letting the dog stay and they named him Irving. There’s a picture of him in the library, but every time Duncan asked a teacher if it was really true, he or she refused to tell. There were also plenty of stories of lame treasures: bags of M&M’s and random books. Duncan slowly made it up the stairs. Other seniors flew by him, slapping him on the back. This was the staircase used for both boys and girls, but the senior girls went around the corner to their long hallway, which looked out over the wooded area behind the school. He heard a girl squeal that there was a bunny in her room—could that even be possible? Someone must have gotten through to the cleaning crew and they agreed to bring it in recently, which is what must have happened with the mysterious bulldog. He hoped he didn’t get an animal. That was the last thing he wanted.
He was almost to the top. If he looked, he would be able to see the doors that were still closed; he might be able to begin to guess which was his. But it was a long hall. Most of the doors at this end were open, so their occupants had already found them. He could see doors at the other end of the hallway pulled shut—some with construction paper taped to the front, others with the letters of people’s names cut out and arranged across the door. His name did not pop out at him. He was halfway down the hall when he got the sinking feeling. Tad ran out of a door just then.
“I have Hopkins’s old room from last year,” he said. “And guess what he left me.”
“What?” Duncan asked, not really caring. He wanted to snap out of this funk. Tad was acting normal enough; maybe nobody was even thinking about what happened last year. Whatever room Duncan lived in, whatever treasure he got, it would all be forgotten in a day or two anyway. Only the really great treasures were talked about any longer than that. And as for his room, he’d get used to anything. There was really only one room that nobody wanted. “Come in,” Tad said, bringing Duncan back to the moment.
Reluctantly, Duncan walked into Tad’s room and looked around. It wasn’t as small as he expected it to be. In fact, it seemed pretty big. There was a bed—smaller than a twin, if that was possible—and a tiny desk, though nobody really worked in their rooms, they all went to the Hall to study. Tad pulled open the closet door and gestured inside. Duncan could see a bottle—it looked like some sort of liquor, with a huge gold bow, pushed to the back of one of the shelves. Tad reached for it.
“Bourbon,” Tad said proudly. “The good stuff. It says it’s from a family reserve. It’s twenty years old!”
“Huh,” Duncan said.
“Want to have some?”
“No, not now. I want to find my room,” he said. But then he added, “Maybe later.”
“You haven’t found your room yet?” Tad asked incredulously. “Go, man, find it.”