Shaw Island Matt Caper

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Chapter 5

News, Normal & Nakedness

The freeze continued into December, but it didn't dampen the islanders' Christmas spirit. Many decorated their houses with lights and various holiday scenes, and small gatherings happened continuously within the community, in different homes, since it seemed that the weather wasn't going to permit another outdoor festival. And almost everyone went about spreading their good cheer, believing in the hope of a looming new year, that it would bring them excitement and renewed life.

Liam and Matthew were simply looking forward to Christmas break, when they would be off from school for three full weeks. Liam also had the added excitement of looking forward to his twelfth birthday toward the end of the break. With the help of his mom, he designed party invitations on the computer, printed them, and sent them out a week before Christmas, nearly three weeks before his birthday. He wanted to make sure people had time to make plans to attend the celebration, which would be on his actual birthday, Saturday, January the seventh.

He included Colin on his list of invites, even though they hadn't spoken a single word to each other since Thanksgiving. As awkward as the situation was, he didn't really know what to say to Colin, when they returned to school together. He had hoped Colin would say something instead, but apparently it was too awkward for both of them. He reasoned, however, that if Colin could attend his birthday party alone, without parents, then things might go a little smoother. He could, at the very least, run interference between Colin and any of the other kids.

If things at school were awkward, they were mild compared to the lack of communication from Patrick, who also hadn't spoken to Liam since the bathroom incident. Their parents cast it as teenage angst and advised Liam not to take it personally. But he did. He took it very personally. After Patrick's tenderness toward him, when he was roughed up by Colin, his brother had become his favorite person in the world. To be outright ignored by one he loved so much was nearly unbearable.

Nevertheless, when the end of the school day rolled around on the sixteenth of December, Liam and his best friend were overjoyed. They wouldn't have to return until the ninth of January, two days after Liam's birthday. They had already been making plans on how to spend their break time. With the nasty weather making travel difficult, it was decided that the boys would spend the first four nights at the Reillys' house, and the next four nights at the Lopers'. Then it would be Christmas Eve, and they would separate for a couple of days.

Since they had clothes and things stored in each other's bedrooms already, four nights didn't take much preparation. Once settled in Liam's bedroom for the first round of vacation, they shot downstairs for a snack, where they would decide their next move.

"Don't talk with your mouth full!" Jenny had to issue that order at least twice.

"I got an idea," said Matthew, perking up.

"I have an idea," Jenny corrected.

"Oh, yeah. I have an idea," Matthew continued. "Let's make uniforms for our war game."

"Out of what?" Liam asked, spewing cookie crumbs everywhere. Jenny gave him a harsh look, and he immediately began wiping the bar clean. Matthew shrugged, stuffing his mouth again.

"Why don't you boys help Dad sprinkle the walkways with salt?" Jenny suggested.

Liam nodded. "Yeah, we'll help." He jumped off the bar stool, after grabbing one more cookie, and ran toward his room for warm clothes and boots, with Matthew right behind him. They caught Jacob as he was carrying buckets out the front door. "Dad! We wanna help!" Liam yelled, as they ran to him, covered from head to toe in winter gear.

"Well, wonders never cease," murmured Jacob. "Okay, boys, see if you can take this bucket together and salt the guest house deck and steps. And spread it evenly."

"Okay!" Liam said brightly. He took one side of the bucket handle, and Matthew took the other. They both heaved it up and waddled into the sleet.

"Be careful!" Jacob called, voicing Jenny's thoughts.

Liam hollered back, but his words were too muffled to decipher. By the time they reached the bottom of the steps to the guest house, they were already shivering.

"You do the first one, and I'll do the second one, and so on!" Liam yelled against the wind. Both were wishing they hadn't volunteered, but they were also thinking how proud Liam's dad would be when they were finished.

When they reached the deck at the top, neither could feel their toes nor their fingers, yet they continued on. The guest house deck had never seemed so large before. Liam made sure they covered every inch of it, lest one of his brothers slip and fall, and he be blamed. Their last bit to cover was in front of the door, then Liam opened the guest house door, teeth chattering loudly.

"William?" he called out, throat dry as a bone. "Can we come in?" They moved only into the entryway, since they were wet from the sleet, and their boots were covered with melting snow. Presently, Patrick emerged from his room, scowling at the sight at the door. "W-we i-i-iced your deck and s-s-stairs," Liam trembled. "W-where's Will?"

Patrick sighed impatiently. "Can't you go back to the house, then? Will is..." he hesitated. "Busy."

Without thinking, Liam gasped. "Is he having sex with Mrs. Aerhart right now?"

Patrick's annoyed expression instantly vanished, and he gaped at his brother, rushing to him to whisper. "How did you know about that?!"

The younger boys stood very still, save for continued shivering, and Liam nearly choked on his heart. "We, um, saw them have sex in the woods," he mumbled. "At the Fall Festival."

"God!" Patrick growled. "Why can't you just mind your own business? How many people have you told?"

"None!" Liam growled in return.

"Nobody, we promise!" Matthew added.

Patrick shook his head slowly and puffed out his cheeks as he exhaled. "You better not tell anyone. I mean it. Will could get in real trouble if you did."

"I know, Patrick," Liam sighed exasperatedly. "We've kept this secret for three months, now. We're not gonna tell."

Patrick fidgeted awkwardly for a moment before frowning. "You're getting the floor wet. Go home," and he turned away.

"Now you're the one who's being the turd," Liam spat. Patrick snapped his head around, before his body followed, and Liam wasted no time scurrying out the door, nearly slipping in the process. Matthew followed, they grabbed the bucket together, and waddled home. No sooner did they enter the house, Jenny was calling out orders.

"Wet clothes off!" she barked.

Liam unwrapped his scarf, and squeaks escaped his blue lips. "Oh my gooooosh, it's freeeeezing!" Every stitch of clothing they had on was damp, and they put it all in a basket Jenny provided. Liam smiled as his dad approached. "We got the whole thing done!"

"Thanks, boys," said Jacob. "I really do appreciate the help. I wasn't looking forward to doing all that myself." He patted both boys on their backs, as their faces beamed. "If you're up to it, get some underwear on, and you can sit in front of the fire, while the four of us watch a Christmas movie."

"Yay!" the boys exclaimed, bounding their naked bodies up the stairs, returning seconds later to dinner served in the family room. That was a rare treat for Liam, who was almost always made to eat at the bar or the table.

In bed that night, they finally got to talk about the guest house conversation. "I can't believe you told your brother that we knew about Mrs. Aerhart and Colin," Matthew whispered.

"I didn't mean to," Liam whispered back. "It just slipped out. I don't want Will to be killed by Mr. Aerhart, though. I wish he wouldn't keep having sex with her."

"You think he would kill William?" Matthew breathed.

"Probably," Liam mumbled.

They were quiet for a moment, pondering the possible horrors of the situation, until Matthew spoke again. "Why is Patrick so mean to you?"

"'Cause he's a stupid turd," Liam growled.

"I thought he was nice to you now, since he let you stay the night, in his bed and everything?"

Liam was silent and still for a long moment, then he turned to his side, away from Matthew. "I don't wanna talk about it."

Matthew sat straight up, casting a look of shock and hurt at Liam's back. "I thought I was your best friend!"

"You are," Liam muttered, not moving.

"Aren't you supposed to tell your best friend everything?"

Still Liam didn't face Matthew. "What if I tell you, and you don't want to be my best friend, anymore?"

Matthew was rendered speechless and still for a minute, then finally slid slowly back under the covers. "Is your secret bad?"

Liam nodded almost imperceptibly. "Yeah. I think it is."

"I don't want us to not be best friends," Matthew stated.

"But would you like me if..." Liam sucked in a quivering breath, staring intensely at his bookshelf. "Would you still like me if, um...if I was gay?"

Matthew didn't respond, and Liam couldn't bear it any longer. He whipped to his other side to face a confused looking Matthew. "But William said you aren't gay," he pointed out.

"I know, but...I think I am. And I think Patrick knows, too, and he hates me for it." Liam's heart pounded in his ears, and Matthew's lack of expression, other than confusion, was about to unravel him.

"Does that mean you're gonna get a boyfriend, instead of a girlfriend? And you'll marry a boy, and all that?" Matthew finally asked.

Liam sighed. "Yeah. I mean, I think so, if that's how it works. I just think I like boys and not girls."

"I don't get it, though," Matthew continued to try working it out. "Will said it wasn't normal."

"I know," said Liam sadly, rolling to his back. "I don't want to be not-normal. But I can't help it. It's all I think about, anymore."

"Do you think Will could be wrong?" Matthew asked, as if it were nearly impossible for such a thing to be. "I guess he was wrong that you're not gay, so maybe it's normal, and he doesn't know it?"

It was Liam's turn to sit up, turning to Matthew with a bright face. "You really think so? That would mean I'm not a freak, or something."

Matthew wrinkled his nose. "I don't think you're a freak. Don't tell Will I said this, `cause I really do like him, but I think he's wrong this time." He sat up again, meeting Liam's gaze. "I still want you to be my best friend. Will you?"

Relief flooded from Liam's smile. "Duh."

Matthew giggled, and Liam followed. Both collapsed on the mattress with tension-relieving sighs.

On Tuesday, they switched to Matthew's house, where they continued to struggle to find things to do. By Wednesday, Linda had to go visit Jenny for a while, before the kids made her head explode. They were left chasing each other around the house, playing knights, using empty wrapping paper cardboard rolls for swords and crudely crafted cardboard boxes for armor. In the midst of their dual, they consumed a dangerous amount of sugar, serving only to perpetuate their destruction of each other and the house.

"Evil knight, you must die for all your horrible deeds!" Sir Matthew declared, lunging at Liam.

"Never!" cried Liam, launching himself onto a sofa for leverage. "I will rule this kingdom!"

Matthew bested him by making a super jump onto the back of the couch, wavering every which way as he gallantly fought. "Over my dead body!"

"You will have a dead body, if you don't get off that sofa," said a voice from the sidelines.

The boys started, unaware until that point that they weren't alone. Then Matthew screeched. "Dad!" He ran to Charles Loper and plowed into the man, armor and all. Charles hugged his son, chuckling. "I thought you weren't coming home until Christmas Eve?" Matthew wondered aloud.

"Let me sit down. I have some good news." Charles eased himself onto the former battlefield, while the boys stripped themselves of their armor. Matthew eagerly plopped into his father's lap, while Liam looked on enviously. Liam's dad was mildly affectionate and kind, but Liam often wished for more, like Charles was lavishing on his son at that moment, holding the boy in his lap, with protective arms.

"Do you get to stay `til Christmas? Maybe even New Year's?" Matthew's eyes were wide and adoring.

As Liam sat beside the young, handsome man, Charles unexpectedly drew him close with one arm and began to address them both. "You know I had to stay gone so much because of my job, right?"

Matthew nodded rapidly. "You had to go sell things."

"Right," Charles continued. "There's been only two of us dedicated to sell our services, like software programs, and stuff like that. So we had to go to a lot of places to show other companies what we can do, so our company could grow and make money."

"You go all around the world?" Liam asked. He was never so warm and content, as he was there in Charles' half embrace.

"Oh, we went to far-away places sometimes, but mostly we stayed in the western United States. But all that has changed. Something good has happened, something that we've been hoping for, for a long time."

"What happened?!" Matthew cried, about to explode with anticipation.

Charles smiled, and Liam melted. "A big company, with lots of money, finally bought our company."

Matthew's smiled faltered. "Does that mean you don't have a job anymore?"

Charles laughed. "It means I don't have a sales job anymore. I hate sales. I'm much better at design. And now, I get to design full time. You know what that means?"

Matthew's excitement couldn't be contained. "You don't have to travel anymore?"

"I don't have to travel anymore," Charles confirmed.

Matthew screeched again and hugged his dad tighter than ever before. "You get to come home every day after work?!" Matthew practically screamed.

Charles hugged and kissed the nine year old, laughing joyfully. "That's right, champ! Every day!"

After many more hugs and kisses, Matthew got up and danced around the room, hollering and chanting. "No more traveling! No more traveling!"

As Matthew danced, Charles took Liam in his arms, and hugged and kissed him, so great was his joy. "Where's your mom?" Charles asked his son. "She doesn't know about it, yet."

"She's at Liam's! Can we go see her? She'll be so happy!"

They all bundled up and drove to Liam's. Matthew was the first to burst through the front door, alarming the two women, who were sipping apple cider and chatting. Good grief, Mat-" Linda began, before being interrupted.

"Momma, Momma, Momma! Guess what?! I have a surprise for you!" Matthew was literally bouncing, sparks of energy lighting his whole body.

"Did you walk here, son? Do you know how cold it is?" Linda looked up when a figure appeared in the doorway just behind Liam. It wasn't until he unwrapped his scarf and removed his snow cap, that she recognized him. Her scream sounded just like Matthew's had, as she shot to her feet and ran to her husband. After a long, tight hug, she asked the inevitable. "What are you doing here so early?"

Matthew couldn't stand the suspense any longer. "His company got bought! He gets to stay here and design, and come home every day!"

Linda screamed again, and all three of them hugged and bounced in place.

"That's wonderful, Charles!" Jenny added. "Jacob will be glad to have you around more often, too."

After Charles finished giving all the details that had led up to their celebration, he took his wife in his arms, but turned his attention to Jenny. "Would you mind if I left the boys here for a while and picked them up later? I'm taking my wife away from you for a few."

"Better be more than a few," Linda said in a low voice. Liam and Matthew giggled.

"Go, get out of here. Take all the time you need," Jenny shooed them out the door. The boys resigned themselves to watching TV for a while.

When they were back at Matthew's place, the atmosphere was still light and happy; Linda hummed as she wrapped Christmas presents, and Charles engaged the kids at his relatively new pool table, in the den. Neither of the boys knew what they were doing, but Charles took the time to teach them the necessary skills, at least he tried. There wasn't any real improvement in the boys' game, but they didn't care. They simply reveled in the attention.

Liam would've been happy doing that forever. The first time Charles guided him in a particular shot, pressing against him from behind and reaching around him, while speaking him through it, his nerve endings became ablaze, and his dick swelled in response. He remained in that state the entire time they played, though no one seemed to notice, including himself.

He was disappointed when Linda interrupted. "You boys go wash up for dinner," she directed. Much to his delight, Charles joined them in the bathroom to wash along with them. After a mini water fight at the sink, Charles popped both boys on their rears simultaneously.

"Let's go eat!" he declared. Liam was intensely aware of his reaction to Charles' hand on his butt, and he fondled himself briefly. Sitting still through dinner, being erect the whole time, was almost torturous.

After dinner, Linda instructed the kids to bathe before receiving dessert. "I've made two different kinds of cobblers, and you can have ice cream, too."

"Can we all watch a Christmas movie tonight?" Liam suggested. He'd enjoyed doing the same with his own parents.

"Good idea!" Linda agreed. "But get your baths first. And wash everything!"

The boys raced to the bathroom, where Liam started the water, while Matthew began shedding clothes. As usual, they planned to bathe together. No sooner had Liam plugged the tub and turned around, Charles came in, setting Liam's heart to pumping overtime.

"Are you going to get in together?" Charles asked.

"Yep!" Matthew answered brightly.

"Good idea, that saves time and water. I'm going to take your clothes and wash them with mine, after your tub is full." Liam realized, with a jolt, Charles was waiting for them to undress.

Liam removed his sweatshirt and t-shirt first, then his shoes and socks. Finally, he had no choice but to take down his jeans and underwear, blushing furiously at the state of his arousal. Though a part of him wanted Charles to see it. He was already imagining how the young man would compliment him on it, that it was a nice looking piece of equipment, and that the rest of his body was great looking, too. He was even sure to turn fully around, bending over at the tub to shut off the water, so Charles could see everything he had to offer.

But the man said nothing. If he was shocked or surprised by Liam's erection, he didn't say so, or even show it. It was like everything was normal. The boys gave Charles their clothes, and he smiled. "Thanks, guys. Don't take long, the cobbler's waiting." He exited and shut the door behind him.

Matthew gawked at Liam's boner, as they stepped into the water. "Your penis looks bigger than before!"

Liam grinned. "Really?" He looked down, stroking himself slowly, trying to decide if Matthew was right. "Your dad didn't even care that I had a stiffie. He didn't say anything at all."

Matthew shrugged. "Then it must be okay."

Liam wished he could engage his hairbrush in a jerking session, but he still hadn't told Matthew about his new addiction, not to mention either of the adults could walk in at any moment. Once they were clean, he dressed in pajamas, knowing he'd surely get hard again in Charles' presence. With Linda there, too, he'd be too embarrassed to be in briefs only. Matthew abstained from pajamas, opting to go around in his briefs. After dessert, when they were in front of the TV, Liam was glad to have worn pajamas. On the sofa, Linda and Charles sat cuddled with each other, while Matthew planted himself in his dad's lap. Liam leaned against Charles' unoccupied side, and it didn't take him long to bone up.

Still Charles never seemed to notice. After the movie, he carried his son on his shoulders to the bedroom, and Liam turned green as he followed. "I'm turning in," Charles said, leaving Matthew on his own bed. "It's been a long day. But I will see you tomorrow evening," he said happily. He kissed his son chastely on the lips, and Liam marveled at the show of affection. "Goodnight, boys."

"Night, Dad!"

"Night, Mr. Loper."

Liam undressed and plopped down on the mattress. "I like your dad," he said wistfully.

"I love my dad," Matthew sighed with a smile.

"I wish my dad was like him. I mean, I love my dad, but I wish he played with us and carried me on his shoulders." Matthew was silent, apparently not knowing what to say. "I'm glad you get to see him every day, now," Liam added, so he didn't seem so pitiful.

Matthew grinned. "Me, too! I miss him so much, when he's gone!"

They slipped under the covers, and Liam, feeling particularly lonely, snuggled up to Matthew, who gladly returned the embrace. They tried making idle conversation after that, but it didn't last. Both were asleep in minutes.

Liam squealed with glee, when he opened his last gift on Christmas morning and found a cell phone. Further investigation found it to be already charged and activated. "Ohmygosh, thank you!" he cried, then gasped as he searched through already added contacts. "Matthew got one, too?!" He immediately dialed the number entered for Matthew Loper.

"Hello?!" answered the spirited nine year old.

"Ohmygosh, we have cell phones!" Liam yelled. They packed into two minutes what others would take fifteen minutes to say. Later, they conversed via text, right up to the minute Liam arrived at Matthew's house, where he would be for the next week.

Liam began to get used to being around Charles Loper, so that he wasn't erect every time the man was near. That didn't lessen his affection for Charles, but at least it was more comfortable for him. That is, until he saw Charles in his underwear.

The boys had just come out of their bath and were goofing off instead of drying themselves. Charles' entrance caused Liam to halt all movement and stare. The man was wearing white briefs, just like he and Matthew wore. Since his own dad wore boxer shorts, he'd never seen an adult in tighty whities before. And he'd certainly never seen Charles without clothes.

"Hey, boys, Mom is going to bed early. She has a headache, so can you keep it down, please?"

"Yes, sir," replied the boys in unison.

Charles' eyes darted down Liam's body, and that's when Liam realized he was erect and still naked. But Charles said nothing, merely nodded and left the room. Liam's face burned, as they cleaned up their mess in the bathroom and retired to the bedroom.

"It's really cool that your dad wears underwear like ours," Liam remarked.

Matthew took Liam's erections with a grain of salt and paid no attention to it. "Yours doesn't?"

"Nuh-uh, he wears boxers. Don't make fun of me, but I like looking at your dad. I think he's real good-looking."

Matthew giggled. "That's weird. He's my dad."

"I know," Liam sighed. "But I can't help it. Don't tell him I said that, though. Please?"

"I won't," Matthew promised.

Liam's body seemed to come out of constant arousal mode, once the boys switched to Liam's house on New Year's Day. Now he was focused on his upcoming birthday, and the icy weather didn't seem to be letting up. He didn't want any reason for people to miss his birthday party.

On Friday, the day before his birthday, the doorbell rang when it was just the two boys in the house. They were delighted to find Dr. Nate at the door, carrying a wrapped gift that Liam hoped was for him. "Morning, boys!" he greeted, as they showed him in.

"You're a day early!" Liam exclaimed.

The doctor chuckled. "I want to thank you for the birthday party invitation, but I regretfully won't be able to make it tomorrow. Therefore, I brought your gift today."

"Thanks!" Liam beamed, as he accepted the package.

"You have to wait until tomorrow to open it, though," Dr. Nate winked.

"Aww, man."

"May I camp out for a few minutes, so we can catch up?"

"Sure!" both boys declared.

"Would you like something to drink?" asked Liam, copying his mother's good manners. "We have apple cider, hot chocolate, water, pop, orange juice, iced tea and hot tea."

"I would gratefully accept some apple cider," said the doctor. He and Matthew sat at the dining room table, while Liam fetched the beverage.

"How's your ankle, Mr. Loper?"

"Fine!" Matthew replied. "But we can't go in the woods yet, `cause of the ice and snow. It gets boring inside sometimes."

"So, you haven't seen Peter again," the doctor concluded.

Matthew was thrilled Dr. Nate had remembered the statue's name. "Nope. I can't wait `til we can find him again."

"I can't wait to see him, when you do." Dr. Nate accepted his apple cider from Liam, then, with a hearty thanks. "This is wonderful," he breathed, after a taste.

"My mom made it!" Liam bragged.

The boys silently watched as Dr. Nate enjoyed his drink for a minute. "You know what I find interesting?" he finally said.

"What?" answered the boys in stereo.

"Liam is a common Irish name, isn't it?"

"Uh-huh," nodded Liam. "My dad is Irish. My great-grandpa lives in Ireland."

Dr. Nate nodded thoughtfully. "The part I find interesting is that the name `Liam' is a short version of `William'. But you also have a brother named William."

Liam sighed. He'd been asked this at least a dozen times in his life. "It's a long story," he said, but then continued into the story, anyway. "Mom's side of the family is English, and William was named after her dad and my dad, `cause his middle name is Jacob. When Patrick was born, Dad wanted an Irish name. He wasn't named after anybody, but his middle name is James. Since my parents have names that start with J, they decided to name us all with `J' middle names. Mine is John. But, see, when I was born, my great-grandpa, the one that lives in Ireland, wanted me named after him. His name is Liam Angus, and my parents definitely didn't want me to be named Angus. So they went with Liam."

Dr. Nate seemed amused with the whole explanation. "That's quite a story. I think it's good that you know some of your heritage. Where we came from is nearly as important as where we're going." He turned to Matthew, so as to not leave him out of the conversation. "What's your middle name?"

"Charles," Matthew said proudly. "My dad's name is Charles."

The doctor nodded once more. "Yes, I know your dad. I think he's a wonderful man. You're lucky to be named after him." Matthew's countenance couldn't have been brighter. "Boys, I should get going," he said abruptly, much to the boys' dismay. "I have to get to San Juan Island, but I couldn't miss this chance to tell you `happy birthday', Liam."

"Thanks, Dr. Nate. I'm really glad you came to see me."

Dr. Nate stood and stretched, then led the boys to the door. "Thank you, again, for the apple cider." He stopped before opening the door and faced the kids. "Do you boys know where I live?"

"I do," Matthew proclaimed. Liam shook his head.

The doctor retrieved two business cards from his pocket, giving one each to the boys. "There's my home address and phone number."

"Cool! We just got cell phones for Christmas!" Matthew interrupted.

The doctor merely smiled. "Keep in mind that I'm awful busy most of the time, so I can't chat on the phone, like you can. However, should you ever need to talk about anything I'll do my best to be there for you." He fixed his gaze pointedly on Liam. "And I do mean anything. If you're ever in trouble, or if you need a friend to talk to, you can always come by my house. If, for some reason, you can't talk to your parents, I'm a good listener. I'm home most evenings, except when rowdy boys sprain their ankles."

The boys giggled and cast looks of adoration on the doctor. "Thanks, Dr. Nate," Liam said again.

"Farewell, boys," said Dr. Nate, and braved the icy wind.

"He's so cool!" Matthew exclaimed.

"I know," Liam said with a smile. "Most grown-ups I know don't want kids showing up at their house just at any time."

"Yeah," Matthew agreed.

Liam already knew he would pay the good doctor a visit, first chance he got.

The next day, no one could keep Liam from bouncing off the walls. The exorbitant amount of sugar in his system was a key factor in that, but the mere act of turning twelve was prime. People started arriving late morning, since Jenny was serving a Mexican lunch, with ground beef, chicken bits, taco shells, tortillas, and accessories of all kinds, complete with corn chips. Cake and ice cream, of course, would top everything off.

All of the younger elementary school kids were there, along with their families. That would've annoyed Liam, having so many five and six year olds at his party, except they all brought him gifts, at least their mothers did. But he still planned on doing his own thing apart from them, along with Matthew, Abby and even Jeremiah.

They all got a surprise when Colin rang the doorbell. Liam answered, finding Colin alone, and Colin handed him a large, wrapped gift before coming inside, saying nothing.

"Thanks," said Liam. "Come in. We're about to have lunch." The only others who greeted Colin were the adults. The kids all kept their distance.

They made it through dinner without incident. While they had cake and ice cream, Liam insisted on opening presents, easily gaining permission. He tore through them at warp speed, stopping only to thank the appropriate people after each opening. None were particularly remarkable, except for Colin's gift. After ripping off the paper and opening the box, Liam gasped and froze for a moment. Of course, everyone wanted to know, then, what it was. Out of the box he pulled a personal laptop computer, causing everyone else to gasp, too, including Liam's mother.

"My word, Colin, that's a generous gift," said Jenny. "Your parents really shouldn't have."

"My mom picked it out," Colin mumbled. He clenched his jaw repeatedly, not looking at anyone, breathing somewhat heavily.

"Wow," Liam breathed. "Thanks, Colin. Tell your mom thanks, too."

"You'll tell her yourself, young man," said Jenny forcefully. "She spent way too much money on you. Colin, I thought your mom was coming today. Is she still?"

"Yes, ma'am," Colin nearly whispered. "She said she had something to do, first."

Liam looked around, noticing that William was no longer there, and his anger burned. Matthew noticed, too, and began to look worried.

"Thanks again, Colin," said Liam, attempting to hide his anger toward his brother. "I really love it."

"You're welcome," Colin replied, though it seemed to pain him to do so.

After presents, the older kids watched a movie, with Jeremiah allowed to be with them, while the others played games in the den. Afterward, Liam found Diane in the kitchen with his mom, where he profusely thanked her for the gift.

"Oh, you're quite welcome," said Diane sweetly. "A little birdie told me your brothers had their own computer, but you didn't have one. And now you do."

Diane soon left with Colin, and everyone else went home, as well, save for Matthew. The two boys offered to help Jenny clean up, which pleased her immensely. "Thanks for a great party, Mom," Liam said, when they met in the kitchen to dump trash.

"You're mighty welcome," Jenny smiled. "Now, if you please, do stop getting older. I want my baby to stay with me always," she gushed, giving him a wet kiss on the cheek.

"Mooom," he growled, but couldn't help grinning, too.

When their cleanup was complete, the boys left the kitchen, with Liam's new computer in mind. They passed William on the way to the stairs.

"Hey, happy birthday, bro," said William. Liam merely gave him the look of death and bounded up the stairs, followed by Matthew. William raced after them, stopping at Liam's bedroom doorway. The younger ones ignored him, as they gathered at Liam's desk.

"Yo!" said William sharply. "Now what did I do?" Getting no response, he entered the room and stood directly in front of Liam. "Helloooo?"

Liam's scowl was frightening, as he lifted his head to glare at his brother. "I can't believe you left my birthday party to go screw Mrs. Aerhart!" he spat.

All the color drained from William's face. He turned away, and Liam thought he was leaving. Instead, he closed the door and faced the boys. "Patrick told you, didn't he?" he murmured, with a simmering anger.

"He most certainly did not," Liam replied, his anger boiling over. "Don't blame Patrick for this. This is your fault. You suck. You weren't even there when I opened my presents!"

William's shoulders drooped. "I didn't think you'd notice."

"Well, I did!"

"Please, don't yell," William whispered. "I don't want anyone else to know. You haven't told anyone, have you?"

Liam screwed up his face so tightly, it was likely to spin out of control when released. "Matthew and I knew before anybody else, `cause we saw you in the woods. And we haven't told a soul, have we, Matthew?"

"Nope," Matthew answered tersely.

William was just beside himself, a crimson blush rising up his neck and covering his entire face. "Are you serious? You saw us in the woods? When?"

"The night of the Fall Festival," said Liam, crossing his arms over his chest. "And we saw everything."

William sank down on Liam's bed, defeated. "Oh my god. I'm really sorry, Li."

Liam stood before his brother, lips pursed tightly, until he spoke. "Can't you stop having sex with her?"

"I would, but it's not just sex," William said emphatically. "I really like her. A lot."

"She's married, you idiot! Mr. Aerhart could kill you!"

William nodded weakly. "I know. I just can't seem to stop." Liam continued to glare, reducing his brother in size, in his head. "Will you forgive me for leaving your party?"

"Maybe."

"How can I make it up to you?"

William looked so pitiful, Liam's anger began to dissolve. He sighed and pondered, until a wicked grin crept on his face. "You have to let me give you swats."

William was both amused and embarrassed, evidenced by his grin and deepening blush. "And then you'll forgive me?"

"And then I'll forgive you," Liam agreed. "Pants and underwear off, young man, and bend over the bed."

Matthew giggled incessantly as William stood, pulled his jeans and briefs to his ankles, and bent over. Liam positioned himself appropriately and began swatting William as hard as he could. After twenty-five or thirty rapid hits, his hand was as red as William's ass, but he didn't mind a bit. He was happy with the results.

"Man, you're harsh," William mumbled, as he dressed. "That actually hurt."

"Believe me, it hurt you more than it hurt me," said Liam, and he and Matthew broke into fits of laughter.

"Are we good?" William asked.

"Yes. You're forgiven. Just...be careful, okay, Will?" Liam said, worry creasing his forehead.

"I will. Don't worry about me."

Liam rolled his eyes. He couldn't stop worrying, if he wanted to. "Hey, tell Mrs. Aerhart I really love my new computer."

William's gaze was drawn to the desk, and his jaw dropped. "She gave you that?"

"Yep, for my birthday."

"Dang!" Will exclaimed, staring with unbelief. "You want help setting up the firewall and security and stuff?"

"Yes, please!"

William sat at the desk and did all sorts of things on the laptop that Liam didn't understand. "Just try not to click on any ads," William advised. "And don't look at too much porn. It'll make you go blind." Liam playfully punched his brother's shoulder, as Matthew laughed. "But seriously, use headphones if you watch any dirty videos. You don't want someone overhearing."

"Got it," Liam nodded. "Thanks."

William gave his seat over to Liam, and made for the door, pausing before exiting. "Liam?"

"Yeah, Will?"

"Thanks for having my back."

They gazed fondly at each other for a silent moment, then William disappeared.