Disclaimer: This is a work of complete fiction.  It does not and will not exist outside the fantasy world.

Matt Caper

bassareusmc@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Matt-Caper/122147427866557 (A fan page, where I post links to my general gay fiction, involving guys 16 & up in romantic and/or sexual situations)

https://www.facebook.com/bassareus (A personal account, where I post gay stories that don't fit in the above category)

Chapter 10

I had been a little shaken up by my previous row with Nicholas.  But that soon dissipated when I realized there were more factors at play than just my asshattery.  Additional, smaller outbursts from Nicholas indicated he was experiencing a surge of hormones.  Yay puberty.  Once I realized that, however, it was easier not to get riled up when he did.  I learned that if I responded calmly and let it slide off my back, the better he responded in turn.  That took some work, though.  I could see how easy it was for parents to scream in frustration at their teens and preteens.

It was a good thing we settled our domestic disputes quickly, too, for it soon became vital that we stand together against outside forces.  Namely, public school.  When I first saw two boys fighting in the park, I never imagined I would be fighting to protect them from an institution that was supposed to serve them.

October had arrived, though the temperatures were still bloody scorching.  Except at night, but that didn't help me any.  Nearly every weekend there were nine boys in my house, including myself, though Sam couldn't always join us.  His parents owned a small coffee shop at which he was often put to work.  But even without him, we had a full house; full enough to inspire me to buy another bed.  I put it in the guest bedroom beside the bed where Will and Dane slept together, but no one seemed to mind.  They were glad not to have to sleep on the couch anymore.

Pete also continued to sleep in my bed, and never did we do more than cuddle.  We still had never even kissed, but I was perfectly content with that.  The only awkward bit of the household scenario was Nicholas.  He had become tight friends with TJ.  They did practically everything together whenever possible.  However, Sam and TJ had apparently become an item, and Nicholas was sometimes left out.  As a result, sometimes he slept with Sam and TJ - or with TJ alone - in the newly bought bed, sometimes he slept with me and Pete, and then sometimes he merely slept on the couch by himself.  He didn't seem to be bothered by any of it, but I often wondered how it was affecting him privately.  During the week, though, he slept with me always, for which I was grateful.

In the course of that short time, Dane's parents and TJ's mom were the only parents of the boys I had met.  Dane's parents, Jim and Linda Shiloh, were a trip!  They were liberal hippie types, preferring natural herbs over most medicines, vintage dress over modern clothes, and all the music of the sixties and seventies over anything else.  They even had beads hanging in all their doorways except the ones leading outside, in place of doors.  Really kind people, too.  Their son was more important to them than anything, and they had no qualms about him being gay.  In fact, Will spent a great deal of time at their house.

TJ lived with only his mother, Mary Mason.  She was nice, though a little wild.  She partied and drank a lot and spent a lot of time in the local bars.  She'd lived hard and looked much older than her actual age because of it.  She was also a chain smoker and coughed a lot.  Poor TJ had to breathe that in all the time, not to mention he constantly smelled of cigarettes.  But she loved her son, and she had no fear of telling people off who made snide remarks about TJ's effeminate behavior.  "I don't put up with shit from no one!" I heard her say many a time.

I had made attempts to meet the rest of the parents without results.  I was not likely to ever meet Pete's parents.  According to Pete, they cared only about themselves.  Will's mom and step-dad were apparently too busy to meet with me.  I doubted they were very interested anyway.  It was much the same with Sam's parents.  I could never catch them at their cafe, and they indicated to Sam it wouldn't make any difference to meet me.  If you ask me, apathetic parents are just as bad as abusive ones.  I only wished I had the courage to tell them that.

So all of these little details set the stage for one huge undertaking by yours truly.  I don't even remember what day of the week it was, since they were all running together by then.  Work kept me busy, with more and more responsibility being laid in my lap.  I didn't mind; it wasn't too demanding.  At least not yet.  School, however, was demanding.  The closer we came to midterms, the more work they heaped on us.  I had to stay on top of my studies, lest I get buried under an avalanche and fail.  But so far, I was doing well.

One fateful day I got a call at work.  It was Principal Patty Faulkner from the high school, the same Principal I had graduated under.

"Could you come to the school immediately?" she asked.  "There's been an incident with Landon.  It also involves Noah Warren.  Mrs. Warren, his grandmother, says you are responsible for his care, also?"

"That's correct," I answered.  "Are they all right?"

"I'd rather discuss this in person.  Can you come to the school now?"

"I'll be right there."  My heart was in my throat the entire way there.  I knew it had to be bad, if Mrs. Faulkner wouldn't even discuss it over the phone.

When I walked into the main office, I encountered quite a sight.  Nine boys were seated in various places.  I knew six of them; Pete, Landon, Noah, Will, Dane and Sam.  Apparently every one of them were involved in whatever happened.  And all the boys except Pete had one or both parents to represent them.

What I noticed next sent me into near panic.  Noah and Dane were bloodied and bruised!  Dane had a black eye, and Noah's lip was busted.  And those were only the wounds I could see right away.  "Oh my god!" I cried, rushing to Noah.  Dane's parents were also fussing over him.

"It's okay," Noah promptly said.  "It doesn't hurt that much, now."

"What the hell happened?!"

"They got jumped," Dane's father told me.  "By those boys over there."  He pointed to the other side of the room, where three boys were sitting together and looking miserable.  They actually looked in worse shape than my boys.

"Well good grief.  What happened to them?"

"We did," Landon spoke through gritted teeth.  "They were beating up Noah and Dane, so me, Pete, Will and Sam all kicked their asses."

I couldn't help but grin and be impressed.  "Good for you!"  All the boys looked proud.

"That's what I said," Mrs. Shiloh, Dane's mother, said.  "But I don't think the Principal agrees."

At that moment, as if on cue, the Principal called us parents into her office.  We all crowded in, and Mrs. Faulkner gave a brief statement of her intentions.

"I'm sorry I had to call you folks away from your work.  I'm very troubled by this incident."

"So what happened?" asked a parent of one of the boys I didn't know.

"Apparently, the two freshman boys, Noah and Dane, were attacked by three older boys - Bill, Greg, and Chad.  Four additional boys - Peter, William, Samuel, and Landon made matters worse by joining in the fight."

"Made matters worse?" Mrs. Shiloh mocked.

"They were trying to keep their friends from being beat up," I said.  "I applaud them for that."

Mrs. Faulkner gave us a hard stare.  "I do not condone physical violence, regardless of its intent," she spat.  "I'm expelling all seven boys involved in initiating the fight."

"Expelling?!"  Mr. Shiloh turned beet red.  "That's ridiculous!"

"Mr. Shiloh, your son isn't being expelled.  You have no reason to be argumentative," the Principal sighed.

"On the contrary, ma'am!" he responded.  "I'm thankful that my son's friends were willing to stand up and fight for him!  He might have been hurt much worse otherwise."

"Be that as it may, school policy requires that all students involved in fighting be expelled.  No exceptions."

"So were they to stand there and watch two freshman boys get their faces bashed in?" I said angrily.

"It's not an ideal situation any way you look at it," she said impatiently.  "They could have notified an adult of the situation instead of getting personally involved."

"Dane said there were no adults around," countered Mrs. Shiloh.  "They were in Theater class without a teacher present, in the auditorium far away from other classes.  What adult were they supposed to notify?"

Mrs. Faulkner nearly growled as she sighed.  "My mind is made up.  This is not open for debate."

The parents of the three instigators took their leave then, obviously seeing no reason to watch the fight.  I was seeing red by this point, and I was in just the mood to do something drastic.  "Fine," I said.  "Then I'm withdrawing Noah from school as well."

"I'm afraid you can't do that," Mrs. Faulkner replied haughtily.

"Oh, yes I can.  I'll homeschool them."

"You're still just a kid.  You'll never be able to follow through."

"Wanna bet?  I won't leave my kids in a place where their safety is compromised.  You can mail me any paperwork.  I'm taking Noah home right now."

"I second that," Mr. Shiloh said.  "We're withdrawing Dane from school, too."  Mrs. Shiloh nodded her agreement.

"Congratulations, Principal Faulkner," I said.  "You've successfully lost some of your best students today.  Well done."  I stormed out, followed by the Shilohs.  The others made their way out slower.  "Landon, Noah, let's go home.  Pete, you come, too."  I turned to the Shilohs, and to Will's mom and Sam's parents when they emerged from the Principal's office.  "Dane, Sam and Will are welcome at my place.  I'm sure we can find a good homeschool curriculum.  If we work together, we can probably teach them more than this place could."

"Sam is intelligent enough to get his GED right now.  That's what he'll do.  He can work for us full time now," Sam's father spoke dryly.  He motioned for Sam to get up and leave.

"Well, come over when you can, Sam.  Thank you for protecting these boys today."  Sam offered half a wave and a small smile as he followed his parents out.

"I'm all for it," boomed Mr. Shiloh.  "We'll make these boys into important men!  This school will be sorry they ever let 'em go."

"Bravo, Jim!" I said heartily.

As we all made our way to the guest parking lot, Will's mom spoke quietly to her son.  She was a mousy woman, not too keen on social gatherings apparently.  Finally they separated, she left, and Will joined the rest of us.  "Mom said I should do the homeschool program with the others," he said.  "Joe, my step-dad, wouldn't allow me to stay at home all day.  She said it would be easier if I go to one of your houses every day."

"I'll probably just take my GED, too," Pete said quietly.  "But I'll supervise the boys' studies while y'all are working, if you want.  I'll be eighteen in a few days.  I'll have to get a job, but I can find something at night maybe."

"And," Mrs. Shiloh added, "they can convene at our house on the days I'm not doing Reiki or Yoga."

"What are you guys talking about?" Landon asked.

"We've been expelled," Will explained.

"All of us?!" Noah cried.

"No," I said.  "You and Dane weren't.  But since the others were, we decided you're not coming back here.  You'll be homeschooled instead."  Despite their wounds, Noah and Dane jumped around excitedly.

"What will you do with Nicholas?" Linda Shiloh asked.

"Gosh, I didn't even think about it.  He may not want to leave school because of TJ.  I suppose I'll leave it up to him."

"We better get some ice on Dane's eye," said Jim.  "Will, come with us and comfort your boyfriend."

We all separated and left the school.  Pete followed us home, then I beckoned him into my car.

"Where're we going?" Landon queried.

"Some things that I've been meaning to do but haven't gotten around to.  Since I've taken off work, I'm gonna take advantage of it."  As I backed the Caddy out of our driveway, I asked for the whole story.  "Tell me what happened from the beginning."

Noah was the one with the most information, so he began.  "We were all in Theater class.  Our teacher, Mr. Sorrells, went to the teacher's lounge to make copies of a play.  While he was gone, we worked on our props that we're making for the Christmas play.  But then me and Dane had to leave the classroom and go to the stage."

"Where is the classroom?"

"It's behind the stage.  Like, there's backstage and a wall behind that, then the classroom on the other side of the wall.  Anyway, we needed more materials, so we went in the auditorium and looked around for stuff.  Those other three boys showed up while we were doing that, even though they weren't supposed to be in there.  They started calling us fagots and fudgepackers and sissy boys, and I don't remember what else.  Oh yeah, and they were calling Dane fatso and dough boy.  Dane ignored them, so one of them started pushing him.  I told him to fuck off, and he pushed me, too.  I pushed back, and that's when he hit my lip.  Dane yelled and jumped him, and all three of them were all, like, pounding on us and kicking us."

"Yeah," Landon interjected.  "We all heard Dane yelling first, then we heard Noah scream.  Me and Pete and Will and Sam ran in there, along with the girls in our class.  We saw Noah and Dane getting the shit beat out of 'em, so we came to their rescue."  He paused, narrowing his eyes and breathing heavily.  "I've never been so pissed off in all my life.  Nobody hurts my Noah and gets away with it.  You shoulda seen Will, though.  He went all Kung Fu on the two that were kicking Dane.  Ole' Pete helped him.  It was awesome!  And once I put the fucker on the floor who was attacking Noah, Sam gave him a few kicks to keep him down.  Of course, by that time some other teachers were running in to stop it.  Sure took 'em long enough to get there."

I could only shake my head in amazement.  I reached out and took Pete's hand, surprising him.  "Thanks for helping," I sad warmly.  "I'm sorry you got expelled."

"It was worth it.  Dad's gonna be pissed, but he already thinks I'm a loser, so."  He shrugged and turned away quickly.  I didn't know why until I saw him wipe away tears.  "I'd do it again," he murmured softly.

"We woulda been hurt bad if y'all hadn't been there," Noah noted.  "Y'all are my heroes."

I was parking in front of the Verizon store.  Pete was sniffing every few seconds, staring out his window.  I put the car in park, leaned toward him, and turned his head toward me.  His eyes were full of tears.  Without shame, I kissed him tenderly on the lips for just a few seconds.  "You're my hero, too," I whispered.  "We'll be right back, okay?"  He nodded.  "Boys, come with me."

Inside, I noticed how swelled up Noah's lip was.  I wished I had gotten an ice pack already.  "Remind me to buy an ice pack when we leave here," I told him.

"What are we getting here?" Landon asked.

"Let's not spend too much time here.  But I want you to pick out a phone, Noah."  Noah, of course, squealed with delight.

"I want one just like Landon's!" he announced immediately.

"Well that was easy," I grinned.  We got the phone, added him to my family plan, and we were out of there.  It had to be charged before it could be used, or they would have been texting each other already.

Pete was dry eyed when we returned but still looked very solemn.  I wished with all my heart I could do or say something to make everything better.  Except I wasn't entirely sure why he was sad.  I guessed he was worried about his parents' reaction to him getting expelled.

"Ice pack!" Noah called out as we drove off.

"Thank you!  Shit, I'd forgotten already."  A quick trip to the convenience store and a few slushies later, and we were on our way again.  "One more stop to go, guys.  This might take a little longer."  Both boys in the back seat asked where we were going, but I merely smiled and drove in silence.  Pete looked over at me questioningly, too, and I grinned and winked at him.  He smiled, then, and I was glad.  He obviously knew I was up to something good.

When I drove into the same car lot where I'd bought my Caddy, everyone seemed to suck in their breath.  I parked and looked to the back seat, unable to keep from grinning.  "It has to be from the used section," was all I said, looking directly at Landon.

There was such an outburst of excitement inside that car, I thought the windows might just shatter.  Landon and Noah tore out of there and ran to find a treasure.  Pete grinned once we were alone.  "You're such a good parent, or brother, or whatever you are."

I reached for his hand again.  "And you're a good friend.  Are you okay?  What can I do?"

"Nothing," he immediately shook his head.  "It's my thing to deal with."

"That's crap," I retorted.  "Whatever you deal with, I want to deal with, too."

"But why?  It's not your problem."

"Because you're my friend, Pete!  I care about you.  How can you not know that?"

"Just don't worry about me, okay?  Worry about the boys.  They need you more than I do."

"Ugh!" I growled.  "You're so frustrating sometimes.  I wish I knew how to raise your self-esteem.  I'm going to worry about you whether you like it or not."

He lifted my hand and pressed it to his lips gently.  "We should go see what they're looking at."

I sighed and climbed out.  We found the boys running from car to car, excitedly talking about the benefits of each one.  "Pick something fuel-efficient.  No trucks or SUVs," I instructed.  "The last thing you need is a shaggin' wagon, anyway."

Though the process of buying a car is entirely irritating to me, I was pleased by the end of it.  Landon and Noah drove off in a very clean and cute Honda Accord, mid-90s model.  Landon was over the moon.  Nicholas was home when we arrived, and all three boys fawned over it a while before riding around a bit.  And that gave them the chance to tell Nicholas the whole story of the day.

"You want to stay over tonight?" I asked Pete, when the others were gone.

He shook his head.  "No.  Thanks.  I have to go."

I sighed sadly.  "See you later then?"

He merely waved, got in his car, and drove away.  I did nothing but worry about him all night, even while in class.  And when I was in bed that night, I still couldn't stop thinking about him and worrying.  I did, however, make time to talk to Nicholas about the possibility of home schooling.  He had difficulty making up his mind, so we talked out the pros and cons.

"If you stay in school, you can still do Art and Theater.  And you get to be with TJ.  At least this year.  If you homeschool, you'll still have a study schedule, but with a lot more freedom.  And you'd get to be with Noah and Landon and Will and Dane and Pete."

Nicholas frowned.  "What about Sam?"

"Ah, well, I think his parents want him to take the GED and work in their coffee shop.  Hopefully he'll still come over on the weekends.  Until he gets his driver's license, that's the only way he'll get to spend time with TJ.  Unless someone will drive him to TJ's house, I guess.  But I think his parents would like that even less than him spending time over here."

"His parents are stupid," he scowled.

"Well, maybe they're just trying to keep Sam protected."

"So if I homeschool, TJ can still come over?"

"Of course, and you can stay over at his place, too.  It would be even cooler if we could convince Mary to let TJ homeschool, too.  But that's a small hope."

"Yeah!" cried Nicholas.  "Ask her!  Please!"

I laughed.  "I'll present the idea to her, see how she reacts.  Don't expect anything, though.  It's a big change to homeschool.  I might not have done it if I hadn't reacted in the moment.  Not that I regret it, I just may not have convinced myself to go through with it."

"Well if I homeschool, do I get a phone like Noah?"

"You get a phone regardless.  Don't worry, I wasn't going to leave you out."

"Awesome!  I think I want to do homeschool anyway.  I just hope TJ can, too."

"All right.  I'll withdraw you tomorrow on my lunch hour."

"So I don't have to go tomorrow?"

"You don't have to go tomorrow, correct."

"Woohoo!  Can I call TJ now and tell him everything?!"

"Sure.  I think my phone's on my bed."

"No it's not.  I put it on your nightstand," he said, running down the hall.  He was always taking care of me in little ways like that.

After Nicholas gabbed to TJ about everything under the sun, I tried to get hold of Pete.  It was late, but I knew he often had trouble sleeping.  No answer.  I left a voicemail.  Then I also sent a short text: 'Thinking about you.  Call me whenever.'  I'd heard nothing by the time I was asleep.

I was on my way to work the next morning before I thought about checking my phone for messages.  None.  I was starting to feel a little frustrated, on top of worrying.  Why wouldn't Pete let me be there for him?  I sent another text when I got to work: 'Please call me when you can.'

I'd heard nothing from him by lunch time.  I didn't know whether to be angry or to panic.  I drove to the junior high school to take care of things for Nicholas.  My mom was somewhat alarmed; I'd not yet had a chance to tell them what had happened.  Granny either, for that matter.  I'd just have to do that later.  Once I left the school, my mind was solely on Pete.

I decided to give him one more call.  But this time, I got an error message saying the number was disconnected.  Now I was panicking.  I drove straight to his house.  I'd never actually been inside it, but I knew where it was.  And dammit, I was going to give him the what for.  His car was parked in front, which gave me some relief.  I promptly knocked on the front door.  And knocked.  And knocked some more.  I was so exasperated at this point, I emitted a long growl, clenching my fists.

Right as I was about to walk away, I heard the heavy wooden door pop open.  A woman opened the glass storm door and peered out.  "Yes?"  She was glassy-eyed and disheveled, apparently having been asleep.  Though for all I could tell, she might've simply been inebriated.

"Hi.  I've come to see Pete."

"He's not here," she said flatly.

I furrowed my brow and jerked my thumb toward the street.  "His car is here."

"That ain't his car.  We paid for that with our hard-earned money."

"Well..."  I was not impressed with her attitude toward what I assumed was her son.  "When will he be back?"

"Kid, why are you bothering me?  The little shit went and got himself expelled.  He don't live here no more.  We're through supporting his lazy ass.  If you want to know where he is, ask his sister."

"Where does she live?"

"How the hell should I know?!" she barked.  "Now go away, before I call the police!"

"You're a poor excuse for a mother," I jabbed and walked away, seething.  Unfortunately, it didn't make me feel any better to tell her what I thought.  Not that she gave a shit.

Pete's eighteenth birthday came and went, and still we saw and heard nothing of him.  I was angry, worried, hurt, and a ton of other emotions I couldn't identify.  And though I had plenty to keep me busy, what with homeschooling the kids, working full time, and studying my ass off for school, Pete would not fade from my mind.  To tell the truth, after a while I didn't want to think about him.  It was too painful.  I wanted to forget about him all together.   Or so I thought.  Either way, it seemed I had no choice but to let him go.