Shaw Island Matt Caper

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Chapter 4

Secrets, Statue & Shame

With William now sixteen years old, and Patrick fifteen, Liam felt even more distanced from them than before. He continued to hope for their affection and attention, but they seemed more concerned with their own lives, and their own secrets. Patrick was spending more time with Sonia, whom he touted as his girlfriend. William was keeping to himself, which Liam knew probably meant he was still seeing Diane.

November brought birthdays and more festivities, but Matthew warned Liam that it would likely also bring a freeze. Winds from the north were often brutal each year; walking to school wouldn't be an option, and playing in the woods would be limited. Before such an event occurred, they spent as much time outside as possible. The temperature was already in the low forties some days, but running around, playing War, kept them plenty warm.

On a day when it was only Liam and Matthew -- The Warrior and The General -- playing War, they made a startling discovery. Liam was hot on Matthew's trail, desperately reaching for his "enemy's" flag, but Matthew stayed just enough ahead. The nine year old had begun growing so quickly, his running speed was sure to improve. Liam bellowed a war cry to match Matthew's, both of them at hyper speed, when Matthew's cry suddenly spiked in pitch. Liam watched, seemingly in slow motion, as the other boy dropped in height at an alarming rate, smacking the cold ground with enormous magnitude and tumbling across the earth.

Liam saw all this in a matter of a second or less, giving him no time to prepare himself for the same fate. They'd come upon a seemingly innocent pile of leaves, but soon found out there was something large and solid underneath. Liam tripped over it, as Matthew had done, and crashed on his friend, who was already writhing in pain.

"Owwww! Owwww! Owwww!" Matthew cried out, which alarmed Liam. But Liam was in his own pain and could barely move. Half a minute felt like an eternity, during which he waited to regain his senses and mobility. Once he was off of Matthew, he rolled the boy to his back.

"Matthew? Are you okay?" he asked lamely.

"My fooooot," Matthew whined. Liam promptly got Matthew's shoe off and found a large knot and bruise under the sock.

"Oh my gosh," Liam muttered. He became aware that his own ankle was throbbing, and an investigation proved it to be in much of the same state as Matthew's. "Stupid rocks!" he said angrily, cursing whatever stone they had tripped over.

They sat there for a few minutes, each doing a fair amount of moaning and groaning, until they somewhat gathered themselves, looking at each other pitifully. "I didn't even see anything in the way," Matthew pouted.

Liam glanced at the spot where they'd gone down. "It's covered with leaves, that's why." He scooted on his butt toward the dead leaves and brushed them away. "Yeah, it's a rock," he confirmed. But then he gasped, realizing his assessment was premature.

"What?! What is it?" Matthew breathed, scooting to the spot, as well. As Liam cleared more leaves away, they stared in awe at their discovery. What they'd tripped over was made of stone, all right, but it was much more than that. "A statue!" Matthew gasped in hushed tones.

When all the leaves were cast aside, the boys found themselves looking at a life-sized statue of a male youth, lying on his back. It was hard to determine how old he was supposed to be, but Liam guessed aloud that he was a teen or preteen. He was so exquisitely detailed, both boys had the eeriest feeling that he could come alive at any second. He also looked like he indeed belonged in the woods, wearing a stone garment of vine-leaves around his mid-section, as well as wreathed in his curly hair.

"I'm sorry we kicked you," Matthew said, brushing dirt of the statue's face.

Liam rolled his eyes. "He's not real, dummy."

"So?" Matthew scowled. "He looks nice. What should we call him?"

"He looks like Peter Pan," Liam commented.

"Cool! Let's call him Peter," said Matthew.

Soon, they had to leave Peter, for their ankles were screaming for pain relief. They recovered him with leaves and pushed themselves to their feet, or at least to one foot each. "Which way is home?" Liam asked, as they held on to each other. He'd gotten completely lost during their game.

"Umm..." Matthew was uncertain of where they were, too.

"Great," mumbled Liam. They chose a direction and limped on, not recognizing any of the land. After what seemed an eternity, they happened to stumble upon Copper Hill Lane, the tiny path that would lead them home. Matthew's house was closest from that point, so that's where they hobbled.

No one was at home when they arrived. They would have collapsed in the livingroom recliners, but for their dirty state. Instead, they halted right in the entryway and sank to the floor.

"It hurts so bad," Liam complained.

"I know," Matthew whined. "Please don't let it be broken."

"I don't think we could've even limped here, if they were broken," said Liam. He discovered his other ankle throbbing and swelling, too, though it hadn't seemed to hurt at the beginning of their walk. "Man, I don't even wanna walk anymore."

"Me, neither," Matthew mumbled.

"I'll try to reach the phone and call my mom, so she can come get us." Liam grunted as he rose again, reached around the corner on the wall, and sank down again with the cordless phone, dialing wearily. "Mom? Can you come get us at Matthew's? We hurt our ankles... Yeah, both of us... Oh... Okay... Okay... Okay, bye."

"What did she say?"

"I called her cell, in case she wasn't home. She's at the general store with your mom. They're coming. She said we better stay at our own houses tonight, if it's bad enough we can't walk," Liam shared woefully.

The front door suddenly opened, and Matthew's dad, Charles, whom the boys rarely saw on account of his job, stepped in. "Dad!" Matthew cried, getting up slowly, so he could hug his father.

"Hey, sport," Charles returned the hug. "Hello, Liam.

"Hello, sir," Liam meekly replied. He gazed at Charles fondly; he liked it when Matthew's dad was around. Charles was young -- only twenty-six -- and handsome, and he was also kind. Liam shared Matthew's wish that Charles could be home more often.

"What are you two doing on the floor?"

"We hurt our ankles," Matthew showed him his own. "We had to walk home, and now it hurts too much to walk anymore."

Charles nodded with understanding. He checked both boys' ankles, satisfied that they weren't broken. "You're definitely my son, Matthew. I was always playing rough and getting myself hurt, when I was a kid. Take off your dirty clothes, and I'll take you to the bathtub. Liam, do I need to call your mother?"

"No, sir," said Liam, as Matthew slowly began undressing. He handed Charles the cordless phone. "I called her. She's with Mrs. Loper, and they're coming home from the general store."

Charles headed into the kitchen, returning mere moments later with some cold packs from the freezer, two of which he gave to Liam. "Keep that on your feet, until your mom arrives."

"Thank you, Mr. Loper."

When Matthew was unclothed, Charles easily scooped him up. On their way to the bath, Matthew fired rapid words from his mouth, telling his dad all about Peter, in great detail. Liam let them go without another word; he knew they didn't get to see each other often, and that they cherished the moments when they were together.

Jenny and Linda appeared only a few minutes later, and Liam apprised them of the current situation. But then Charles appeared, and he and Linda embraced and kissed. Jenny chatted with him a minute, before they decided Liam should get home. As he had done Matthew, Charles scooped up Liam in his arms, carrying him to the SUV. Liam reveled in feeling safe and warm in the arms of the strong, young man, even if only for a hot minute.

Then Liam got another nice surprise. "Your dad's not home," said his mom. "I'll get William to take you up to the bath."

"No, get Patrick!" he pleaded, remembering how Patrick had bathed him before. He desperately hoped his brother would do it again.

"Well, okay," Jenny said slowly, surprised. "I'll ask Patrick. If he can't do it, I'll ask William. Fair enough?"

"Yes," Liam smiled. He waited in the car, while Jenny visited the guest house. She returned momentarily with both brothers in tow, and Liam tried to look pitiful enough to gain their sympathy.

"Liam, you nitwit," said William, shaking his head slowly and sighing. "We'll carry him like a board," he instructed Patrick. "I'll hold under his back, and you hold under his legs. Liam, you try to stay as stiff as possible, to make it easier for us." With that method, they easily got him into the house, up the stairs, and to the bathroom. They eased him onto the toilet lid, and William left the room with a smirk.

Patrick growled and frowned at Liam. "Why does it have to be me?" he asked with frustration, obviously knowing Liam had asked for him specifically.

Liam frowned, too, but sadly. "I thought you would want to. I liked it when you helped me before."

"Well, I don't want to!" Patrick said sharply.

"Then don't!" Liam's countenance changed from sad to angry. "I'll do it myself!" Patrick didn't move, because he'd already been told to help. But Liam raised one of this cold packs and threw it at his brother.

"Fine!" Patrick yelled, after being hit in the arm, and he stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Liam felt utterly rejected and depressed. He struggled out of his clothes and transferred to the edge of the tub, mumbling angry words toward Patrick the whole time. After starting the water and plugging the tub, he swung his body to the toilet once more, swiped his hairbrush and the lotion from the counter, and returned to the tub. He thought he might as well enjoy himself and take his mind off his pain, if he had to do this alone.

A knock at the door startled him. "Liam, can I come in?" said his mom. "I have some pain pills for you."

"I'm not dressed, Mom, just a minute!" Once again, he had to push himself to the toilet and reach under the counter for a towel, which he'd forgotten anyway. He managed to cover himself all the way around. "Okay, you can come in, now."

Jenny entered with a glass of water and three caplets, which he swallowed gratefully. "Shall I go get William?" she asked.

"No," he said bitterly. "I wouldn't want him to be bothered, too."

She glanced at his ankles, which seemed to have swelled more since she first saw them. "I don't like how your ankles look. Put the ice packs on for a while, then put your feet in the hot water, and keep rotating. I'll get you a heating pad when you're done in here."

"Okay. I might go slow, though." He was allowing himself time for jerking off.

She left, and he threw the towel aside. When the tub was full, he shut off the water and climbed in. He took the time to wash properly, including his hair, before reaching for his hairbrush. He unplugged the tub to drain it, coated his brush handle with lotion, and remained in the tub to pleasure himself. Taking his usual stance, he got on his knees, put his ass high in the air, and pushed the brush into himself.

Before that day, he'd never had any particular sexual fantasies. He had always just enjoyed the sensations of jerking off. This time, however, the face of Charles Loper was still fresh in his mind. And he remembered how it felt to be in the man's arms, close to his body, so close that Charles' heartbeat had vibrated his chest; that memory propelled him deeper into fantasy. For the first time, he imagined his hairbrush was a person, and that person was Charles Loper. He grunted and gasped, tiny spikes gleefully stabbing his slick flesh in wonderful places, as he quickened his pace with both hands. "Mr. Loper," he groaned.

Just when he thought he was getting close to orgasm, and he accelerated his strokes to warp speed, the bathroom door opened. "Oh, God, Liam. Oh, Jesus." It was Patrick's voice.

Liam panicked, jerked upward, and slid on the tub floor, as he struggled to remove the brush from his ass and sit properly. When he stopped moving, he gazed worriedly at his brother, who stood there in a state of shock. Unbeknownst to Liam, his mom had spoken with William anyway, who reprimanded Patrick for his behavior. Patrick had changed into sweats, deciding to try to make amends and help his brother.

"Please don't tell," Liam whispered, horrified.

Patrick stood still for a minute, appearing to want to say something. But then he shook his head curtly, turned away, and left the room.

"Patrick!" Liam called, but his brother didn't return. He pushed himself out of the tub and grabbed his towel, sitting on the toilet while drying himself. He was beginning to wonder how he would make it safely to his bedroom, when William entered the room. At least, thought Liam, he was no longer hard. But he had to wonder what Patrick had told him.

"Patrick said you wanted my help instead," William stated. He didn't act like anything was out of the ordinary. Liam nodded. "Okay, let's get your naked self dressed." He picked up Liam the same way Charles had, though he couldn't do it as easily as Charles. Nevertheless, he made it to Liam's bed and dumped his brother there.

"Thanks, Will," Liam mumbled.

"You're hopeless, Li," William grinned and winked. He dressed Liam with pajama pants and a t-shirt. "Mom called Dr. Walker; she says he makes house calls, since he lives on Shaw Island, even though he teaches medicine at the university on San Juan Island. He might wrap your ankles, or something. Want me to carry you downstairs? Otherwise you'll be up here all afternoon and night, since Patrick isn't any help."

"Yeah. But why doesn't Patrick like me, Will? I swear, I've tried to be nice, like you said! I've really tried not to be a pain in the butt." He blushed at his own words, hoping to God William didn't know about the hairbrush.

"Don't take it personally, Li. He may be fifteen, but he acts like he's eleven. No offense."

"You should spank him. For real," Liam frowned.

But William laughed. "Yeah, maybe I will. Let's go." He grunted loudly while picking up his brother again. "I'm gonna start calling you `Lucky', `cause you aren't," he chuckled.

Liam enjoyed a fair amount of pampering from his mom, once he was settled on one of the family room sofas. She propped his feet up with pillows, brought him some juice and a cookie, fluffed up some pillows behind his head, then left him to watch the Disney Channel, while she made dinner. He'd barely gotten into some mundane sitcom, when the doorbell rang.

"That'll be Dr. Walker!" Jenny exclaimed, practically running to the door. She welcomed him in and made a big fuss about him coming on such short notice.

"It's not a bother, Mrs. Reilly," he said, and Liam's ears perked up. "Now, where is this young man?"

Liam's heart started to race, because he was sure he knew that man's voice. And when the doctor stepped out of the entryway and into his view, he wanted to go climb under a rock and die there.

"Well, I'll be," said Dr. Walker. "I've met this young man."

"You have?" Jenny asked with surprise.

Liam began praying hard for a hurricane to hit the island that very second. "Indeed!" said the doctor. "We met at the mall in Burlington. Where was it we met?" he smiled at Liam.

Please don't say the bathroom. Please don't say the bathroom," Liam pleaded silently. He'd practically jerked off in front of this man, right at the urinals, and now the man was here. In his house. And he was about to embarrass Liam more than ever before.

"Oh, must've been some shop or other," the doctor finished. Liam nodded mutely

"What a great coincidence!" Jenny said happily.

Dr. Walker sat on the edge of the sofa, with Liam. "But I never got your name."

"Liam." His voice was nothing but a croak.

"Pleased to meet you, Liam. I'm Nathan Walker. All the islanders call me Dr. Nate." He shook Liam's hand and smiled warmly, trying to put Liam at ease, though Liam looked like he'd seen a ghost. The doctor moved to the end of the couch, where Liam's bare feet were elevated. "My goodness, you did a number on these." Gingerly he began examining each one. "I paid a visit to your friend, Matthew Loper. Your best friend, he says. His right ankle took a beating. You must have wanted to outdo him."

Liam managed a smile, watching Dr. Nate intensely. "We were playing in the woods and stumbled over a statue."

Dr. Nate glanced curiously at the boy, before returning to his examination. "So I heard," he murmured. "I wasn't aware there were rogue statues in these woods."

Liam shrugged. "Me, neither. It was a boy, like us, only he had on leaves for clothes. Not real leaves, though. It was all stone. We named him Peter. Ow!"

"I'm sorry," said the doctor. "I'm going to remain updated on the condition of your ankles. If they get worse over the next few days, we'll take you in to the hospital. In the meantime, do like your mother says and rotate hot and cold on them, and keep them elevated. I don't want you walking on them until Monday, not even a little. Since next week is Thanksgiving, maybe you can convince your mom to keep you home from school. But that's not an order, just a thought," he grinned. "Realistically, you're looking at a week of taking it easy. No playing in the woods, no walking more than necessary next week. Got it?"

"Yes, sir," Liam murmured. Now that he knew Dr. Nate wasn't going to rat on him, he wished the man could stay for a while.

"And when you're better, you can show me your friend, Peter. I love a good adventure."

Liam smiled brightly and nodded. "We got a little lost, and we're not sure where it is, but we'll find it again and show you," he said excitedly.

Dr. Nate nodded and patted Liam's knee. "Very good. Listen, on Monday, have your mom wrap your ankles securely before you try to walk on them. Until then, just stay where you are and let someone carry you around." He stood and followed Jenny to the kitchen, where she immediately paid him for the visit. Before leaving, he gave Liam one last wave. "See you soon, Liam."

"Thanks, Dr. Nate! For everything," Liam said, knowing the good doctor would understand.

Liam enjoyed being served dinner on the couch and being brought everything he needed or wanted, though it didn't take him long to get restless. He wanted to be out exploring with Matthew, or at the very least, playing games inside with his friend. He wondered if Matthew was getting the same pampering that he was.

"Mom," he said, after having an idea. "Me and Matthew should get cell phones for Christmas."

"Matthew and I," she said, with some exasperation. "And why should you get cell phones?"

"So we can text each other whenever we want. Then we'd know when the other was done with homework, and where to meet outside, and all that. And you could get a hold of me whenever you needed me," he added with a grin.

She nodded slowly. "We'll think about it."

"I either want that, or my own computer. Or both," he smiled sweetly.

"Good luck with that," she smirked.

While getting restless was frustrating, it was plain irritating when he had to use the restroom. "Dad," he whined. "I need to go to the bathroom." Jacob rose from his recliner with a sigh. "If you want, you can take me to the bathroom upstairs, then I can watch TV in my room."

"Yes, your majesty," Jacob replied. While he carried Liam, Jenny took up his pillows, cold packs, heating pad, and some extra juice and snacks to his room. "You're heavy," Jacob grunted. "You were just two yesterday, not eleven."

"Almost twelve," Liam reminded him.

Jacob sat his son on the edge of the tub. "Can you manage from here?" Liam nodded. "Without putting pressure on your ankles?"

"Yeeees," Liam moaned.

"Okay, then," said Jacob, and closed the door as he walked out.

Liam wrestled his pajama pants and underwear down, raised the toilet lid, and hoisted himself up on it. That was the easy part. The difficulty came when he had to wipe. He nearly fell off the toilet doing it, but he managed. But his dad had to hold him at the sink while he washed his hands. At last, he was put on his bed, and he was pleased to see all that his mom had brought up for him.

"I or one of your brothers will check on you in the morning," said his dad. "But holler if you need me, in the meantime."

"Thanks," said Liam, with a mouth full of cookie. He hoped it was William, and not Patrick, who came up in the morning.

Once his parents were back downstairs, he stripped off, so he could finish what he'd started in the bathtub. He couldn't help thinking of Dr. Nate's words, when they met in the mall bathroom, about saving his body for someone special. But he also couldn't stop thinking about the fantasy he was having, before Patrick interrupted him. He'd actually imagined Matthew's dad having sex with him; a twenty-six year old man putting a large dick in his small ass. Did that make him a fag? He had to wonder. But even as he contemplated it, he grew intensely hard again. He pumped fiercely, cumming within a couple of minutes after starting. Then he had to use his t-shirt to clean up, unable to reach any tissues.

Just as he had tossed the soiled shirt toward his laundry basket -- and missed -- his dad unexpectedly came back in the room. Liam gasped with horror, because his underwear was sitting beside him on the bed, and he instantly turned purple all over.

"At least some of your body parts are still working," Jacob remarked dryly.

"Daaad," Liam moaned, wanting to crawl under a rock for at least the third time that day.

"I brought you a sheet and blanket to put over you, so you can leave your feet where they are. Would you like to put your underwear on, or are you sleeping in the buff?" Silently, Liam donned his underwear, unable to meet his father's gaze. Afterward, Jacob put a sheet over him, then a heavy blanket. "Can I get you anything?"

"No, thanks," Liam mumbled.

"Sorry for not knocking. Don't be embarrassed. I was a boy, once, too." Jacob playfully pinched one of Liam's toes and left the room. His words made Liam feel slightly better.

Liam never knew if his dad checked on him in the morning, since he slept in, as he liked to do on the weekends. Come late morning, however, he woke with another erection, and also needing to pee. "Dad!" he called, before he thought to get rid of his boner. He heard someone coming up the stairs, and momentarily, Patrick entered the room, pushing an office chair on wheels, taken from the downstairs office. Liam watched him fearfully and silently.

"Dad's not here," Patrick murmured. "Need the bathroom?"

Liam shook his head no, even though he was about to burst. "No. Thanks, anyway." He was afraid of being berated by his brother, for being abnormal.

"Then what'd you call for?" Patrick frowned.

"I just..." he shrugged, while trying to think of an excuse. "I wanted to talk to Dad."

Patrick sighed and attempted to remove Liam's covers. "Come on."

Liam grabbed for the blanket in a panic. "No!" But he was too slow. Patrick soon saw what Liam was trying to cover up, in his briefs.

Angry, Patrick threw the blanket and sheet to the floor. "Just get in the Goddamn chair, Liam."

Now Liam was frightened. He'd never heard Patrick talk like that before. He obeyed, sliding to the edge of the bed and pushing himself onto the chair. Patrick pushed him to the bathroom, placed him by the toilet, and exited. He no longer had an erection, which was a small comfort. He was pretty sure Patrick hated him, now, all because he liked something that wasn't normal, and was probably gay, to boot.

After he finished in the bathroom, Patrick pushed him back to his bedroom and left him there without another word. Liam sluggishly resumed his position on the bed, feet elevated. He couldn't even cry, he was so depressed. He was also hungry, but he dared not call out for more help. He'd stay in his room and starve, if he had to, in order not to bother Patrick again.

A short while later, however, William showed up. "Okay, what did you do to Patrick? Because he says he's not helping you anymore."

Liam screwed up his face in a rage. "I didn't do ANYTHING!" he screamed.

"Okay, okay! Take it easy!" William helped his crippled brother into fresh, comfortable clothes, then onto the chair. He rolled him to the edge of the stairs, but had to carry him from there, returning him to the sofa. "I'll bring you some lunch in a little bit."

"I do hope you're all better by Thursday," said Jenny, as she waltzed into the room. "We're hosting a multi-family Thanksgiving lunch here, since ours is the biggest house of the group. I'm going to need all the help I can get."

"Cool!" said Liam. "Who's all coming?"

"Well, the Lopers, of course, and the Philpotts. Even Abby has volunteered to help. The Wrights are coming, which means Jeremiah will be here to play with you, and his little brother, Josiah, can play with Abby's little brother."

"Benjamin," said Liam, as if she didn't know.

"Yes, Benjamin. The Pierces and the Richies are coming, too. Both their sweet girls are first graders with Jeremiah. And the Aerharts will be here. I believe that's all."

Liam was immediately stricken with despair. "Mom! Why'd you invite them?" Colin Aerhart coming to his house for Thanksgiving? And William, Diane and Mr. Aerhart all in the same house together? This spelled nothing less than disaster.

"Now, Liam, I'm telling you right now, you better behave when they're here. You'll be nice to Colin and his family, is that clear?"

"Yes, ma'am," he mumbled sullenly.

"Diane is my friend, and I want them here for Thanksgiving."

If you only knew," Liam thought. But he said nothing more, waiting, instead, for lunch to be served to him.

All was quiet Thanksgiving morning, and Liam and Matthew slept peacefully in Liam's bed. Abby was already downstairs, helping her mother and Jenny. Not even the rising smell of food woke the boys. The irritating energy and noise of six year old Jeremiah, however, did. He plowed through the door screaming and sailed onto the bed, jumping up and down at their feet.

"Wake UP! Time to wake UUUUUP!" he sang, bouncing as hard as he could. The boys jolted out of their slumber, hearts in their throats. Liam immediately grew angry and sat up, swiping across Jeremiah's ankles, while he happened to be in mid-air. Instantly the jumping boy toppled over, bounced off the end of the bed, and hit the floor.

Liam and Matthew both gasped and rushed to the edge of the bed, peering over. "You okay?" Liam asked fearfully.

"That wasn't nice," Jeremiah pouted. He didn't seem to be hurt, only a little shaken.

"Sorry, Jer," said Liam. "You kinda scared me. I almost peed myself."

Jeremiah giggled and got to his feet. "Ms. Jenny said to wake you up. She said I could be as loud as I wanted."

"Oh, yeah?" Liam scowled mockingly. "You're gonna get it, now." He grabbed Jeremiah and pulled him onto the bed, tickling him all over. Matthew immediately joined in.

"No! Nooooo!" Jeremiah screamed in laughter, even as he protested.

Liam only stopped when he turned his tender ankle the wrong way. "Ow. You're lucky, I have to stop now, so I don't hurt my ankle again." He and Matthew still had to go easy on them, though they could finally walk again.

Jeremiah waited while the boys went to pee and came back to dress, taking their time. "How come you're not outside playing with Benjamin and Josiah?" Matthew asked their young friend.

"There's ice outside!" Jeremiah said excitedly. "Momma said to play in the den. But I wanted you and Liam to come play with me."

Liam opened his curtains and peeked outside. Everything was frozen indeed. "Oh, man!" he suddenly whined.

"Is it bad out there?" Matthew asked.

"No," Liam groaned. "Colin's here."

Matthew and Jeremiah echoed with their own groans. They heard the doorbell, as they hurried to finish dressing.

"What should we do?" Matthew asked.

Liam was conflicted. He wished Colin would stay far, far away from them. Nevertheless, he couldn't forget about the pain he'd seen Colin experience. He took a deep breath and rounded on the two young boys. "Okay, I'm issuing an executive order here. Today, for the whole day, we're all going to be nice to Colin, no matter what." Jeremiah gawked and started to protest, but Liam interrupted him. "No, I mean it. All day long. Got it?"

Matthew rolled his eyes and sighed. "Yeah."

"I can't hear you!" Liam said loudly.

"Yeah!" Matthew hollered.

"What?!" Liam challenged again.

"YES SIR!" Matthew screamed, and giggled.

Liam turned to Jeremiah. "What?!"

"YES SIR!" Jeremiah echoed.

Liam smiled. "Okay, troops. You can do this! You can hate him tomorrow. Today, he's your friend!"

"YES SIR!" the other boys said in stereo, making Liam jump, which made them all laugh.

They filed downstairs and found the kitchen looking like a madhouse, people going every which way. But somehow Jenny had made it an organized madhouse. "How long until lunch, Mom?" Liam asked.

"Not for another couple of hours," Jenny replied, not even looking at him as she continued her work. "You stay inside, Liam," she ordered. "Your ankles are still healing."

"I know, Mom," he sighed.

He led his entourage away from the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, to the laid back, slow pace of the livingroom. Two of the families slated to participate in the group Thanksgiving hadn't yet arrived. Jacob Reilly and Charles Loper occupied recliners, while Jeremiah's dad, John Wright, and Abby's dad, Ben Philpott, claimed one of the couches. Mr. Aerhart (Liam still didn't know his first name, but didn't care, either) sat on the other couch, near Jacob's chair. They were all watching TV, some football game, and chatting idly. Everyone seemed pleasant and relaxed; everyone except Colin. He was on the other end of the same couch as his father, staring intently at the television and saying nothing. He looked anything but relaxed.

Liam glanced at the other two boys, nodded, and headed Colin's way. Matthew and Jeremiah followed timidly, hiding behind Liam as much as possible. They stopped in front of Colin, who was obviously surprised to see them.

"Hi," said Liam.

"Hi," Colin replied. With his father sitting right there, he was forced to be polite.

No one said anything for a few seconds. Liam glanced at Mr. Aerhart out of the corner of his eye; he was too frightened to look at him directly. "Um," Liam began, finding this much harder than he'd hoped. "Benji and, um, Josiah are playing in the den, so we thought, maybe, you might, um, wanna come upstairs to my room. I have a Playstation." His heart was mercilessly pounding against his chest.

"That's very nice of you, young man," Mr. Aerhart answered for his son.

"Thank you, sir," Liam replied, still not looking the man in the eye. Colin stood slowly, and Liam took the opportunity to leave the room. "This way," he said hurriedly, and all the boys followed him. He wasted no time returning to his room, setting up two controllers on his game console. "You and me first, Colin," he stated.

Colin's gaze darkened. "Bet your mom told you to ask me up here."

Liam shook his head. "Nuh-uh. It was my idea." He handed a controller to Colin. "You don't hafta play, if you don't wanna. But it's better than watching football."

Colin shrugged and gave in to playing, and they sat on the edge of the bed, while the younger boys lingered nearby. Liam easily beat his opponent, and Colin angrily tossed the controller aside.

"My turn!" Jeremiah claimed, and he launched himself toward the controller, elbowing Colin in the mouth, in the process.

Liam could see, with utter horror, what was about to happen only milliseconds before it did; he saw the expression on Colin's face show pain, then rage. Then before Liam could prevent it, Colin reared back and smacked Jeremiah hard across the head.

Jeremiah was on the floor before he or Matthew realized what had happened, and he was screaming in pain. Liam went toward him, but he got up and ran out of the room, intending to run to his mom. Liam ran quickly after him and stopped him at the top of the stairs.

"Jer! Shh! It's okay, he didn't mean to. Come back in there, please?" he whispered desperately. He saw a huge disaster about to unfold, and he wanted to diffuse it before any of the adults became aware of the situation.

Jeremiah's voice was too loud, however. Jess Wright rushed up the stairs, recognizing her son's cry. Then, as Liam had feared, Mr. Aerhart also appeared, marching up the steps slowly.

"Jeremiah, what happened?" Jess knelt before him, checking him over.

"C-Colin hit meeeee!"

"He didn't mean to," Liam said quickly, hoping to ease the tension. But it was no use. As Colin stood behind them in the hallway, Mr. Aerhart went to him, grabbed his arm with a vice grip, and shoved him toward the stairs.

"Go home, Colin. Now," he commanded, with an air of finality, and a simmering anger. Liam knew, without a doubt, that anger would boil over later.

Before Colin turned away, Liam saw his eyes fill with tears. He hurried down the steps and out of the house, before anyone could object to the punishment he'd been given.

Jess took Jeremiah downstairs, and everyone dispersed, leaving Liam and Matthew alone in the hallway. Liam was so upset and angry, for he knew that Colin only reacted like he did because of his dad. In fact, Liam realized with a sickening feeling, Mr. Aerhart was probably the reason for every time Colin was mean to someone, including to Liam himself.

"I'm glad he's gone," Matthew breathed. "Now we can have more fun."

Liam startled Matthew by storming off into the bathroom and slamming the door shut. He hated knowing a secret this big and not being able to tell. He had enough secrets of his own that were weighing him down, like the fact he might be gay, and that he probably wasn't a normal kid, because of what he liked to do and fantasize about while jerking off. But now he had Colin's secret to keep safe, not to mention William and Diane's. All these secrets piled on his chest, and he felt he'd collapse at any moment from heart failure.

He didn't exit the bathroom for ten or fifteen minutes; he was struggling to breathe, let alone think clearly. When he finally did, no one else was upstairs. All the kids were in the den, and everyone else had gone back to their previous tasks. Feeling like he needed to do something -- anything -- positive, he stole into the kitchen and whispered in his mother's ear. Ten minutes later, he was secretly leaving the house, braving the wind and ice toward Colin's house.

When he reached Colin's front door, he rang the bell, already visibly shivering. The wind was brutally and fiercely cold. When Colin answered, it was clear he'd been crying. He glanced around for signs of anyone else.

"What do you want?" asked Colin sharply.

"Let me in," said Liam forcefully, and pushed his way inside. He turned and presented Colin with a large, plastic container. "I had Mom fix a Thanksgiving lunch for you. Your mom and dad don't know about it." He shoved it into Colin, who could only stare as he received it. "And I'm sorry about what happened with Jeremiah. He's only six, you know."

Colin appeared baffled, distrusting, and bitter, all at once. He wouldn't -- or couldn't -- speak, and the silence between them was deafening, much more than the angry wind outside. Finally, Liam decided to leave, since he'd done what he came to do. He strode past Colin once more. "See ya," he mumbled, and left the house.