"Get over it," Gil says.
"Name me one doctor who knows what a tenterhook is," Charlie says.
Before either of us can answer, a rustling sound comes from inside the bedroom I share with Paul. Suddenly, standing before us at the door, wearing only boxers and a T-shirt, is Paul himself.
"Just one?" he asks, rubbing his eyes. "Tobias Smollett. He was a surgeon."
Charlie glances back at the magnets. "Figures."
Gil chuckles, but says nothing.
"We thought you went to Ivy," Charlie says, when the pause becomes noticeable.
Paul shakes his head, backtracking into his room to pick up his notebook. His straw-colored hair is pressed flat on one side, and there are pillow creases on his face. "Not enough privacy," he says. "I've been working in my bunk again. Fell asleep."
He's hardly gotten a wink in two nights, maybe more. Paul's advisor, Dr. Vincent Taft, has pressed him to produce more and more documentation every week--and unlike most advisors, who are happy to let seniors hang by the rope of their own expectations, Taft has kept a hand at Paul's back from the start.
"So, what about it, Tom?" Gil asks, filling the silence. "What's your decision?"
I glance up at the table. He's talking about the letters in front of me, which I've been eyeing between each sentence in my book. The first letter is from the University of Chicago, offering me admission to a doctoral program in English. Books are in my blood, the same way medical school is in Charlie's, and a Ph.D. from Chicago would suit me just fine. I did have to scrape for the acceptance letter a little more than I wanted to, partly because my grades at Princeton have been middling, but mainly because I don't know exactly what I want to do with myself, and a good graduate program can smell indecision like a dog can smell fear.
"Take the money," Gil says, never taking his eyes off Audrey Hepburn.
Gil is a banker's son from Manhattan. Princeton has never been a destination for him, just a window seat with a view, a stopover on the way to Wall Street. He is a caricature of himself in that respect, and he manages a smile whenever we give him a hard time about it. He'll be smiling all the way to the bank, we know: even Charlie, who's sure to make a small fortune as a doctor, won't hold a candle to the kind of paychecks Gil will see.
"Don't listen to him," Paul says from the other side of the room. "Follow your heart."
I look up, surprised that he's aware of anything but his thesis.
"Follow the money," Gil says, standing up to get a bottle of water from the refrigerator.
"What'd they offer?" Charlie asks, ignoring the magnets for a second.
"Forty-one," Gil guesses, and a few Elizabethan words tumble from the fridge as he closes it. "Bonus of five. Plus options."
Spring semester is job season, and 1999 is a buyer's market. Forty-one thousand dollars a year is roughly double what I expected to be earning with my lowly English degree, but compared to some of the deals I've seen classmates make, you'd think it was barely getting by.
I pick up the letter from Daedalus, an Internet firm in Austin that claims to have developed the world's most advanced software for streamlining the corporate back office. I know almost nothing about the company, let alone what a back office is, but a friend down the hall suggested I interview with them, and as rumors circulated about high starting salaries at this unknown Texas start-up, I went. Daedalus, following the general trend, didn't care that I knew nothing about them or their business. If I could just solve a few brainteasers at an interview, and seem reasonably articulate and friendly in the process, the job was mine. Thus, in good Caesarian fashion, I could, I did, and it was.
Excerpted from The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason Copyright© 2004 by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. Excerpted by permission of Dial Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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