Shaw Island Matt Caper

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Chapter 6

Python, Peace & Porn

It was only out of curiosity, rather than for the sake of stimulation, that Liam and Matthew surfed a few porn sites on Liam's new computer. It didn't take them long to figure out that the position in which William and Diane had been, didn't necessarily denote anal sex. They were, in fact, shocked at the many positions available to couples. They also checked out some gay videos, learning a few things there, too. Eventually, however, they decided it was all too weird and shut it off. Both were more interested in chatting with other kids.

In mid-January, the reign of ice finally ended, and the boys resumed their reign of the woods. The cool air still nipped at their ears and fingers, but they were willing to risk small body parts for a daily romp outside. Foremost on their minds was finding Peter again, but the statue proved to be just as evasive as Liam's fort. They left no pile of leaves untouched, no matter how small. And if they ran, they were sure to clear every suspicious looking pile of leaves or brush. The very last thing they wanted was to be imprisoned by their own houses again.

On a Saturday just after the freeze ended, the island held a Winter Festival to celebrate the demise of the ice, not that they needed an excuse for a get-together. It wasn't supposed to start until one in the afternoon, but by some freak of nature, the boys were up quite early that morning. They'd passed out early the night before without meaning to, and the sun was only beginning to stretch and yawn by the time the boys were dressed and raiding the pantry for Pop-Tarts.

Jenny was still in her robe, drinking a cup of coffee at the dining room table. "What did you boys do with my son and his best friend? You look like them, but you can't fool me. They would never get up this early."

Matthew giggled. "We're new and improved models. We decided you needed better kids, so here we are."

"Ohh," Jenny smirked. "I'm very glad to hear it. Do you have a house cleaning function?"

"Nuh-uh," Matthew shook his head adamantly. "That's not `til the next model."

Jenny nearly choked on her coffee from an unexpected laugh. "Well," she said, composing herself. "I have no use for you, then."

Another giggle came from Matthew, then he was following Liam back upstairs. In moments they were bundled up and jetting outside, still munching on their breakfast. Not yet having the energy for War, or any other game that required constant running, they continued their mission to find Peter.

"Let's split up," Liam suggested. "Since we have cell phones now, we can keep in touch. And don't forget to take pictures if you find it, so we'll know what the area looks like."

"Got it," Matthew saluted, and they separated. Liam went to the right, staying near the bay, while Matthew went to the left, toward the general direction of their school.

Colin's house came into Liam's direct path, so he picked up a large stick for possible protection, even though he circled around the house. Once he was clear of the property, he was able to relax, though he kept the stick to poke into leaf piles. He searched the ground from the time he and Matthew split up, even though he knew they'd been farther out when they had stumbled upon the statue. After ten minutes, his pocket vibrated, along with the tone signaling a text message from Matthew. `Found him yet?' Liam replied with a simple `no' and continued on.

After approximately another half hour, Liam was already discouraged and ready for something new. He was about to reach for his phone, when he stumbled upon a fantastic find. It wasn't Peter, for he wasn't even looking at the ground. His face was lifted, his gaze of wonder on a fallen tree, supported by a cluster of trees. Surrounding that cluster was a familiar wall of bushes, branches and rogue leaves; he'd re-found the fort.

"I knew it was real!" he breathed aloud, as he searched for the opening through which he'd entered before. Even when he found it, he had difficulty getting through. It seemed the hiding place had been reinforced only recently. He managed to get in with only a few scratches from sharp sticks, standing and brushing himself off, while letting his eyes adjust. It was somewhat dark within the tree cluster, since the sun hadn't seen fit to order the clouds out of its path yet.

When the objects inside came into focus, he walked toward the collection of boxes and bins, deciding to see what else he could discover. He almost discovered the most important object in the fort by stepping on it, but he halted just in time. Unlike his last visit, during which he'd found a sleeping bag and blankets in a large bin, he now saw them out of their container and unraveled over the boarded floor. He realized seconds later, making his heart skip a beat or two, someone was actually in the sleeping bag and under the blankets that very moment. He held his breath and peered a little closer, as close as he dared. Whoever it was seemed to be shivering from the cold, but was also breathing deeply, as if asleep.

A sudden sound nearly scared the pants off Liam; a text message tone rang out from his pocket. The vibration alone made him jump. The sound also woke the sleeping person, and Liam watched with horror as Colin sat up abruptly. Seeing Liam, Colin got that awful, angry look of his, and he immediately sprang toward the invader. Liam took flight with a cry and dove for freedom into the brush. Colin was quick, though, and he grabbed Liam's legs, attempting to pull him back in.

"No! Let me go!" Liam cried fearfully.

"You're dead, Reilly!" Colin threatened, increasing Liam's fear level ten-fold.

Liam kicked and squirmed, even as Colin pulled him back into the fort, climbing up his body. He felt Colin's ice cold arms circle around his throat, and he clawed at them and cried out for help. Colin was stronger than he realized, and soon his air passage was being cut off, making him squirm even more desperately. Tighter and tighter Colin squeezed, like a python, and Liam grew weaker and weaker. His head swam, and his thoughts jumbled, as his vision began to disintegrate. Finally, he had no choice but to succumb to total darkness.

When he awoke, his first thought was that he must not be dead, because his head hurt so badly. He groaned and sat up, feeling sick to his stomach. A glance at his surroundings told him he was still in the fort. Alarmed, he jerked around, causing his head to throb in doing so, and saw Colin sitting a few feet away. Like the last time they'd had an altercation in the woods, Colin was wearing only underwear. He was covering his head with his arms, peering at Liam under his elbows, rocking back and forth with his knees to his chest, and shivering violently.

"Oh my god," Colin whispered with a raspy voice. "You're not dead." He sounded more scared than Liam had ever imagined he could be.

"You tried to kill me!" Liam shouted, though it hurt to do so. Colin continued to rock, ducking his head down, as sobs began to wrack his body. This wasn't the reaction Liam had expected. He crawled toward the blubbering mess of a boy and tentatively touched his arm. It felt completely frozen. Quickly he yanked his own coat off and tried to get Colin to unwrap himself and put it on. "Here," said Liam.

Colin looked up and drew a deep breath. "Get away from meeeee!" he yelled in a furious rage.

But now that he'd seen Colin in such a pitiful state, Liam wasn't quite so afraid anymore. His anger didn't match Colin's, but it was enough. "Quit being such a prick!" he yelled back. He ripped off his sweatshirt, too, leaving himself in only a t-shirt, and shoved it into Colin. "Put this on, and the coat." He had a pretty good guess why Colin was unclothed, so he didn't bother to ask.

Colin was so surprised at Liam's outburst, his sobs actually ceased, even if his tears didn't. He followed Liam's orders and donned the sweatshirt and coat, seeming confused as he watched the younger boy. "Why are you b-being n-nice to me?" he shivered, voice much calmer now.

Liam shrugged. "I don't know. Part of me doesn't want to."

Colin's eyes narrowed. "If you tell anyone-"

"I know," Liam interrupted. "You'll beat me up, or you'll kill me. I haven't told anyone about what happened before, have I?" Colin merely shrugged. "Nope," said Liam. "Not even my best friend, which was hard, because I like telling him things."

Colin stared, seeming unsure about Liam's honesty. "Okay," was all he could think of to say.

"Maybe I should've told anyway. Then maybe you wouldn't get beat up anymore," he said softly.

Colin hung his head. "No one would believe us."

Liam sighed. He was starting to shiver himself, with only a t-shirt on top. "We should go home."

"I can't go home," Colin mumbled. "Not until Dad leaves for the festival."

"Then come to my house," said Liam, standing. "I'm freaking cold." He pulled his phone out of his jeans pocket, relieved to see it wasn't broken. He read Matthew's text first: `Going home. Gotta poop.' Liam laughed aloud, startling Colin. "Sorry, was reading a text from Matthew." Then he found another one from Matthew: `Helping dad rake leaves and stuff. Wanna come help?' When he looked at the time of the texts, then the current time, he gaped at the phone. "Geez! I've been out for, like, two hours!"

"Sorry," Colin mumbled, and Liam thought, when he looked at him, that Colin actually seemed sorry this time.

He sent Matthew a reply text: `Gotta go home. Meet you at the fest.' "So," he said, putting away his phone. "You built this?" Colin nodded slightly. "This is possibly the coolest thing I've ever seen."

Colin did something, even if only briefly, that Liam had never seen him do before; he smiled. "Really?"

"Yep. I've seen it once before, but I didn't know whose it was. But I promise I didn't bother anything." He led the way out of the fort and toward home.

"I would've noticed," said Colin. "I've never shown it to anyone."

"I won't tell, don't worry. Oh, except I told Matthew and Abby about it. I was gonna show it to `em, but we could never find it. I only found it by accident today, when we were looking for Peter."

Colin frowned. "Who's Peter?"

"Oh, I forgot you didn't know. See, me and Matthew I mean, Matthew and I found a statue in the woods, last month before it got cold. It's a boy made of stone, and we named him Peter. But we haven't been able to find him again, either." Liam stopped walking, suddenly, and untied his shoes, pulling them off. Then he pulled off his socks.

"What are you doing?" Colin asked incredulously.

"Put my socks on," suggested Liam. "I know they're dirty by now, but you can take `em off at the house. I know my shoes won't fit you, but I can wear them without socks." He was already putting his shoes back on.

To Liam's surprise, Colin looked angry again. "I don't like you being nice to me," he said darkly. He began wiggling out of Liam's coat and shirt. "Just go home and leave me alone. I don't need your help." He threw the clothes back at Liam and stormed off toward the fort.

"You'll freeze out here!" Liam cried, running after Colin.

"I don't care!"

Liam ran in front of Colin and blocked every way the thirteen year old tried to go. "You're gonna have to beat me up to get by," Liam stated.

Colin stood still and drew back his arm, ready to throw a punch. Liam closed his eyes, but remained steadfast. He opened them wide when Colin growled in frustration. "I don't deserve your help! Can't you understand that?"

Liam exhaled, unaware until then that he'd been holding his breath. "So? Who says you have to deserve it to have a friend? I didn't wanna be Matthew's friend at first, because he was so young, but he was nice to me, anyway."

"What if I don't want any friends?" Colin challenged.

"What if I don't believe you?" said Liam, and he stuck his tongue out. "Now put my clothes back on. It's not like we're getting married or anything. This is just our first date." Colin looked up sharply, and Liam recoiled. "Sorry, bad joke."

Nevertheless, Colin put the shirt, coat, and socks on, and they continued walking. This time they actually made it to Liam's house, via a careful detour around Colin's. "Good, no one's home," muttered Liam, leading the way to his bedroom. There, Colin immediately shed Liam's clothing, although he couldn't stop shivering.

"Wanna take a hot bath?" Liam suggested. "I hope you don't have hypothermia, or anything." Colin nodded and followed his persistent friend to the bathroom. "I don't have to share this bathroom with anyone, which is cool. No one usually even comes upstairs. There's an extra bedroom up here, but no one ever visits. My brothers get their own guest house, but it's not so bad, since I get the whole upstairs to myself." He had the water going and was pulling out a towel as he babbled on.

"You talk a lot," Colin muttered.

Liam snorted. "You should hear Matthew. He's twice as bad." He stood facing Colin, coming to an awkward point. "Um, should I give you some privacy for a while? I mean, I guess I can wait in my bedroom for you." He really wanted to stay, but he knew how unlikely that was.

"Yeah, you can wait in there," said Colin, and Liam reluctantly left.

In his bedroom, he tried to read a book to pass the time, but he was too anxious for Colin to return. Suddenly, he had an idea, and he raced downstairs, hoping to return before Colin was finished. He sprinted to the guest house and quietly slipped inside. Being a festival day, he figured his brothers weren't likely to be home. However, only a few steps into the place, he heard unmistakable sounds of ecstasy. Inching closer to the hallway, he determined the sounds were coming from William's room, and with horror, he realized Colin's mom was with his brother.

Walking on tiptoes, he crept into Patrick's room, thanking God Patrick wasn't in there. He stole some sweatpants, sweatshirts, t-shirts, jeans, socks, an old pair of tennis shoes, underwear, and a coat. Luckily, Patrick had several of everything, because he rarely got rid of stuff. And with the messy state of his room, he wasn't likely to miss any of it.

Liam's departure didn't seem to disturb the couple, and he made it back to the house without incident. And Colin was still bathing, when he returned. He dumped everything he'd gathered on his bed and flew downstairs for a trash bag, into which he stuffed it all. He also threw in one of his scarves, some earmuffs, and a beanie cap.

He had just finished his task when Colin reappeared, holding his wet towel, and wearing his old underwear. "What should I do with this?" he asked, holding up the towel.

"Put it in that laundry basket," Liam directed. "And you don't have to wear your old underwear. Here, wear these." He pulled out a fresh pair of Patrick's briefs. "I stole a bunch of Patrick's old clothes in case you, um, get kicked out without clothes again." He wasn't sure that was what had happened, but it was the most logical explanation. "Don't worry, he'll never know they're gone."

Colin frowned, like he was going to get angry again. Instead, he slipped off his underwear and received the clean pair. Liam told himself not to look at Colin, but he couldn't resist. He glanced down at a small bush of hair over a thick, circumcised piece of manhood, and he wondered just how big it was when erect. His own piece of manhood came alive with his imagination. He was disappointed when Colin covered his up with the cotton material.

"Um, here," Liam's voice was shaky. "Here's sweat pants, a shirt, even socks and shoes. I put everything I could think of in this bag, so you can hide it somewhere." He looked up, mind racing. "You know what? You can come over here whenever you need to, or just when you want, instead of going to your fort. I mean, if it's cold or raining, or something. I'll even show you where we keep the key. You can come up to my room, I don't mind."

Colin's perpetual frown remained, as he slowly dressed. "No way. I don't want your parents knowing."

"They don't have to know," insisted Liam. "You can wait until they're in bed. They wouldn't hear you come through the front door. Their room is in the back of the house, by the den, where the back door is."

Now fully dressed, Colin stood awkwardly, unsure how to respond. "I guess," he mumbled.

Liam smiled. "Does that mean I get to be your friend?"

Colin curled his lip, and Liam's smile faded. But slowly, painfully, Colin relaxed his face. "You really want to? Even after all I did?" Liam nodded in response. "'Cause I don't want you to, if you're only doing it `cause you feel sorry for me."

"I don't!" Liam insisted, then sighed. "Okay, I do feel a little sorry for you. I can't help it! But I wanted to be your friend on the first day of school, until you tripped me."

"Sorry about that," Colin hung his head.

"Doesn't matter," Liam shrugged. "All is forgiven, if you'll be my friend, now."

Colin nodded slightly. "I'll try."

"Yay!" Liam exclaimed, to Colin's surprise. "Um. Anyway. We're on our own for lunch. Hungry?"

"Starving," Colin admitted.

They burned a line to the kitchen, making a mess as they pulled out not only leftover lasagna, but also chips, pastries, fruit cups, and sodas. The food was ravaged there at the bar, and both boys started to feel a little more relaxed with each other.

"I still can't believe your mom bought me a computer for my birthday," said Liam, with a mouth full of chips. Colin made a huffing sound, and Liam looked up from his plate. "What?"

Colin seemed to just realize he'd reacted aloud. He blushed and shook his head rapidly. "Nothing."

Liam peered at him, knowing he'd missed something, somehow. "Your dad didn't pick it out for me, did he?" Colin shook his head again, not meeting Liam's gaze. "There's something you're not telling me. I wanna know what it is."

When Colin looked up, Liam saw hurt in his eyes. "It's no big deal," he mumbled. "It's just...Mom bought it for me, for Christmas. Dad said I didn't deserve it, with my behavior, and he took it away. He made Mom wrap it and give it to you, instead." He was looking down again at his food, but had stopped eating.

Liam had stopped eating, too. He was horrified. He felt so bad for Colin, unexpected tears sprang to his eyes. "You think he'd let me give it back to you?" he asked, using the back of his arm to wipe away tears.

"No way," said Colin. When he noticed that Liam was crying, even if only a little, his expression changed from apathetic to worried. "Don't worry about it. Like I said, it's no big deal. I don't even care."

"Well, I do!" Liam cried, literally. "That's so not fair. I don't even wanna use it, now."

Colin frowned, almost scowled, breathing heavily for a minute, not knowing what to say. He'd look at Liam for a brief second, then quickly look away. And every time he looked, he became a little more unsettled. Finally, after a long silence between them, Colin jumped off his barstool. "STOP BEING SO NICE!" he screamed, trembling as tears poured out of him. He simply stood there, clenching his fists, crying and shaking terribly.

Liam jumped to his feet, too, the scene only making him cry more. "You want me to be mean, like your dad?!" he yelled, standing up to Colin's slightly taller frame.

"YES!" Colin screamed again, placing his palms on Liam's chest and pushing hard.

Liam stumbled backward, but promptly returned. "WELL, I CAN'T!" He pushed Colin in the same manner. That was all it took for Colin to let loose. He ran with a scream and plowed into Liam, who also screamed. Both went flying to the tile floor, except Colin was lucky enough to have Liam break his fall. They wrestled around, trying to pin each other down. Liam had a brief advantage, when he was able to push Colin off, but he was on his back again in mere seconds. He thought about kneeing Colin in the groin, like William had suggested, except he didn't want to hurt Colin. So he had to concede to whatever punishment Colin was about to give.

There was an unexpected interruption, however. Liam heard someone running up and shouting. "Hey! Get off my brother!" As Colin was yanked to his feet, Liam was flabbergasted to see it was Patrick, instead of William. Patrick pushed Colin against the wall, holding up his fist threateningly. "You ever touch him again, I'll bash your face in!"

Colin, still crying, was plainly frightened. Liam, also still crying, went to his friend's rescue. He pushed Patrick away from Colin. "Don't you ever hit him!" he yelled, taking Colin by the hand and pulling him toward the stairs.

Patrick was beside himself with confusion. "What?! I was helping you!"

Liam stopped only long enough to scream at his brother. "I don't need your help! GO AWAY!" He took Colin, who followed willingly, to the bedroom and slammed the door. Colin collapsed on the bed, face down into a pillow. He screamed and punched the bed, sobbing tears and snot onto the pillow, and letting his rage spill out with them.

Liam left him alone for a few minutes, while he blew his own nose and wiped his face. Then, very gently, he crawled on the bed, sitting up against the headboard, and placed a hand on the weeping boy who had once terrorized him. Colin looked up, all his animosity gone. "Why doesn't anybody love meeeee?" he sobbed, and dropped his head onto Liam's lap. Liam immediately began caressing his hair and back, trying to think of the right thing to say.

"You're a great kid, even I can see that. If your parents can't see it, then they're blind and dumb," Liam stated bitterly. Colin shook his head, but he couldn't say anything more. They stayed in that same position for what seemed like forever, until Colin finally rose and sat beside Liam. He wiped his heavily swollen eyes, and Liam reached for the tissue box, letting Colin blow his nose.

"I hate my life so much," Colin's voice was nothing more than a whisper, as it had grown hoarse.

"Please let me be your friend," Liam pleaded. "You deserve someone to be nice to you."

"What if I don't deserve that?" Colin asked. Liam could see that was an honest question.

"What if you do? I think you do. Every kid deserves it. Just because your dad beats on you doesn't mean it's your fault."

"What makes you so sure?"

Liam shrugged. "I don't know. It's just what I believe."

"You must think I'm a pussy for crying like that," Colin murmured. Liam blushed, looking away awkwardly, and Colin's eyes widened. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said that word."

"My brothers and I say `wuss'. Anyway, I don't think you're being one. Crying's better than beating someone up."

"I can't believe you yelled at your brother like that, even after I attacked you," said Colin.

Liam puffed out his chest. "I may be younger and smaller, but I'll fight anyone who threatens my friends."

Colin chuckled, and Liam gasped. "What?" asked Colin, suddenly alarmed.

"I've never heard you laugh before. I mean, that wasn't exactly a laugh, but almost!" Liam exclaimed. Colin smiled warmly and let it remain for a few seconds, this time. Liam, overwhelmed with emotion, turned his body and embraced Colin, who embraced him tightly in return. When they let go, Liam saw Colin's bottom lip trembling, as he tried desperately to hold back more tears.

"You're the first friend I ever had," Colin's voice quivered like his lip.

"Then you better be nice to me," said Liam with a smile, making Colin laugh a little. "Do you wanna go to the festival?"

Colin sighed thoughtfully. "Um, I don't really want to be seen like this. I'll just go home."

"No way," Liam shook his head adamantly. "If you're not going, neither am I. We'll stay here. If you don't mind, I'll text Matthew and Abby, to see if they want to come over, too."

"Will that be okay?" Colin asked. "They might not want to be around me."

"They will, if you apologize for being mean. Then they'll see what a good friend you can be." Liam dug his phone out once again. "I can't believe this thing isn't broken, with all the fighting we did today." He whipped out a quick message to Matthew: `U and abby wanna come here? Im staying here w colin instead of going to fest.'

In a moment, Matthew replied: `Abbys mad at me. U really w colin? Coming now.'

"Okay, only Matthew is coming over," Liam related.

"Must be neat to have cell phones," Colin said, eyeing the phone enviously.

"We got `em for Christmas. My brothers won't allow me to text them, so I only talk to Matthew. But it's fun. Hey, wanna spend the night here tonight, with me and Matthew?" Liam saw the regular frown creasing Colin's forehead. "You're not gonna scream at me again, are you?"

"No, it's just..." Colin faltered. "I kind of thought you'd let me go home and forget about all this, like you really didn't mean it."

"I did mean it," said Liam, matter-of-fact. "Besides, now that you're my friend, if anyone ever picks on me, I'll just let you beat them up." He started laughing at his own comment, and Colin couldn't help joining in. Liam couldn't have been more delighted to hear Colin laugh. "So, you wanna?"

"I have to ask my mom, but I'd really like to stay over. Your mom and dad won't mind?"

"Heck, no," said Liam. "Mom will be thrilled. She always said I should try harder to be your friend. Besides, she thinks she and your mom are great friends."

"What do you mean, she `thinks' they're great friends?" Colin asked curiously.

Liam suddenly knew the taste of foot. His eyes grew wide, and he had never wished more for a rewind button. "Ummmm. Crap." He couldn't think of a lie fast enough.

"Do you know something I don't?" asked Colin, frowning deeply.

"You promise not to beat anybody up, if I tell you? Including me?"

Colin sighed. "I promise. I'll never beat you up again, okay? Cross my heart and hope to die."

"Good," said Liam. "'Cause you're probably gonna be mad."

Colin scowled. "Tell me."

After a deep breath, Liam began, not knowing how it was going to come out. "Um, Matthew and I found out by accident. We weren't supposed to know. But, um. Ohmygosh. Your mom's having an affair with William," he rushed out the words, wincing and waiting for Colin's backlash.

Instead, Colin gasped first, then sat back against the headboard in shock. "Holy shit," he muttered. After a long moment, he turned to Liam, who was watching him intently. "I hope she doesn't get pregnant. Dad would probably kill her. I don't think I'm even his biological son."

Liam nodded, eyes popping out of his head. "I think he would kill William, too. They were up there having sex, when I went to get clothes for you. I worry all the time that they'll be caught."

Colin was silent for several long seconds, until he finally sighed deeply. "Can we finish our lunch now? I'm still hungry."

Liam grinned. "Okay, but no more fighting, young man."

Colin chuckled. "Yes, sir."

They were back at the bar, when Matthew showed up. He stopped when he saw Colin, apparently not having expected him to really be there. Matthew looked at Liam, Liam looked at Colin, and Colin slowly got up. He stepped toward Matthew, and Matthew took a step back, so Colin stood still.

"So...I'm sorry for always being mean, and for being a bully. I wanna be friends now. If...you'll forgive me," Colin managed.

"We're friends, now," Liam added.

Matthew gaped with his jaw on the floor. "You mean it? Is this for real?"

Colin nodded resolutely. "I mean it. Liam's my friend, and I want you to be my friend, too."

"Goooosh, I can't believe it," Matthew cooed.

"I know," Colin answered. "But Liam was nice to me, even though I was mean to him. I kinda realized it would be nice to have some friends." He approached Matthew, who still looked a bit apprehensive, and stuck out his hand. "Friends?"

Matthew grinned and shook Colin's hand. "Friends!"

"You know that fort I told you about, Matthew?" said Liam. "It's Colin's. So we can't tell anybody about it."

Matthew was visibly impressed. "Neat! Liam said someone smart had to make it. I never thought it could be you." He realized too late how his words came out. "I mean! Not that you're dumb! I just...yikes! I didn't mean it like that!"

Colin only smiled and sat down again. "It's okay."

As Matthew tentatively took the barstool next to Colin, Liam fetched a Coke for him. "So, why is Abby mad at you?"

"Oh. Well, she says I spend all my time with you, now, and we leave her out of everything. I told her she can't do everything we do, `cause we're boys and she's not. Plus, she lives all the way across the island. But she told me she's moving to the mainland, which made me feel bad. They're moving to Oregon, I think. Anyway, I tried to be nice to her, after she told me that, but she was still mad. She said I didn't even care that she was leaving. I tried to tell her that I did, but she walked off."

"Man, Liam was right. You do talk a lot. Fast, too," Colin remarked. Matthew immediately scowled at both older boys. "I don't mind!" Colin insisted.

"It's not a bad thing," Liam assured him. "He said earlier that I talk a lot, and I said, wait `til he hears you," Liam giggled.

"Turds," Matthew muttered, and the others laughed.

"That's sad, that Abby's moving," Liam mused. "I mean, yeah, we kinda have more fun without her, but I like her, too. She was the first kid to talk to me here. I guess it would've been better if she were a boy, like us."

"See, that's what I thought, too, but I wouldn't tell her that," said Matthew.

"Me, neither," agreed Liam, shaking his head. "Definitely not."

"Can I use your bathroom?" Colin asked shyly.

"Shoot, Colin, you don't have to ask," Liam replied. Colin smiled and headed upstairs. "I asked Colin to spend the night with us tonight," he told Matthew, once he'd heard the bathroom door shut. "Is that okay?"

"Yeah, I guess so," Matthew shrugged. "Is he gonna sleep with us?"

"Yeah, why not?" Liam grinned. "We'll have to squeeze in my bed, but it'll be fun."

"You're not scared of him anymore?"

"Nope," Liam answered without hesitation. "We worked it all out. It only happened because he was in the fort this morning, when I found it. He was mad at first, but I guess I surprised him by being nice. Oh, and I told him about his mom and Will, too."

"Liam!" Matthew cried, alarmed.

"He has a right to know!" Liam insisted. "Besides, she was up there with Will, when Colin came over. I didn't want him to see her and go postal."

"I still can't believe you got him to be nice."

"As it turns out," said Liam, "my mom was right. All he needed was a friend."

"You can tell him, if you want to, Liam." The boys at the bar jerked their heads toward Colin's voice, not realizing he had come down already.

"You sure?" asked Liam. "Maybe you should."

"Tell me what?" asked Matthew curiously.

"I...can't," Colin said quietly.

Liam fidgeted nervously, as he turned to Matthew. "There's something I didn't tell you before. I would've, except I promised Colin I wouldn't. Actually, he threatened me, so I was afraid to tell. But, um, remember that night Patrick let me sleep over there?"

"Yeah..." Matthew was literally on the edge of his seat.

"Well, here's the story. I was playing in the woods by myself, `cause you were busy. I didn't mean to, but I ended up right by Colin's house. I was diving for cover from bombs, right? And I dove right onto his property, or almost. And right when I did, Colin and his dad came outside. I thought they would see me, but they didn't. I was kinda hiding in the leaves. Um..." He glanced at Colin for permission to keep going.

"My dad beat me up," Colin finished. "And Liam saw the whole thing."

Matthew gasped, hand covering his mouth.

"It went on forever, and I wanted to stop it so bad," said Liam. "But Mr. Aerhart scares the crap out of me, so I didn't move. Finally he went inside Mr. Aerhart did. I had to pee really badly, but I didn't want Colin to see me. He did, anyway, and he chased me down and beat me up."

Matthew gasped again, hand still over his mouth, wide eyes watching the other boys.

"I'm really sorry about that," Colin seemed deeply ashamed.

Liam dismissed him with a wave of the hand. "I know. Anyway, I kinda peed my pants when he threatened to throw me off a cliff. When I got home, I didn't want my parents to see me like that, so I went to see Will and Patrick. Will got me new clothes without Mom and Dad knowing, and Patrick and I got in the shower. He even cleaned me and everything. It was pretty nice. All three of us horsed around a little, and then Patrick said I could sleep over. I guess he was feeling sorry for me, even though I wouldn't tell them who beat me up."

"Oh my gosh," Matthew breathed, only then bringing his hand down.

Liam continued. "Today, when we split up to find Peter, I found Colin's fort instead. He was in there, sleeping in a sleeping bag."

"My dad kicked me out last night," Colin interjected. "Not for good, just for the night. He was mad, because my bathroom cleaning didn't pass inspection. I was already in bed when he decided that, that's why I wasn't wearing clothes."

Another gasp from Matthew. "You slept outside the whole night without clothes?! You could've froze!"

Colin nodded. "I nearly did. Liam woke me up, and-" His voice broke, and he teared up quickly.

"No, Col, don't think about it," Liam soothed. "It doesn't matter anymore."

"I thought I'd killed you," Colin whispered hoarsely.

"But you didn't. It ended up good, right? I gave him some of my clothes to wear," he told Matthew, "and we walked here. Then I stole some of Patrick's old clothes, which is what he's wearing now."

Matthew was gawking at the other two, still amazed that the whole situation ended up with a friendship. Colin fixed his gaze on the youngest one. "You won't tell anyone about this, will you, Matt?"

Liam shook his head and answered for his friend. "Matthew's the best secret-keeper in the world. He's kept all of my secrets."

Matthew beamed proudly at the praise. "Yeah, I'll never tell."

"Ohh, wait. You have to explain one more thing, Colin," Liam's frown put worry on Colin's face. When Colin didn't answer, Liam spoke again. "Guess who set our tent on fire, Matthew?"

When Matthew gasped this time, he looked deathly afraid. He jumped from his stool and squared off against Colin. "You nearly KILLED us!" he shrieked. "I've never been so scared in all my life!"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Colin cried desperately. "That's probably the worst thing I've ever done, and I wish I could take it back. I was really only trying to mess up your tent. I was gonna melt the corners off, so you couldn't stake it down. I thought it would just collapse on you. It caught fire instead, and I panicked. I ran away, and I'm really, really sorry."

No one said anything for a few moments. Matthew's anger took its time to subside, and Liam was forced to work through an emotional hit, too. Colin stared from one boy to the other repeatedly. Finally, he couldn't take the silence any longer. "Can you still forgive me? I understand if you can't."

Liam looked to Matthew for confirmation. "I can," he said. "It's up to you, Matty."

Matthew sighed dramatically. "I guess." He poked his index finger toward Colin. "But you better not ever try to kill me again!"

"I won't, I promise!" Colin exclaimed. "I was just..." He shrugged, looking away. "I was jealous."

"You don't have to be jealous anymore, `cause we're too scared to ever sleep in a tent again," Matthew declared. Liam began cleaning up their lunch mess, and Colin finally came to the bar, grabbing a last minute handful of chips.

"Matthew, I figured out how to use the webcam function on the computer," said Liam, changing the subject intentionally. "We should all get on and chat."

"I should call my mom first," said Colin. "So I can ask her about tonight."

Liam pointed to one end of the bar. "There's the house phone."

Colin dialed, and the other two waited, though not for long. He hung up not thirty seconds later with a smile. "Permission granted."

"Awesome!" Liam exclaimed, taking out his cell phone. "I'll call my mom, too." As expected, Jenny was more than pleased by Liam's request.

They spent the rest of the afternoon inside, but it didn't seem so mundane and outrageously boring with three of them. They goofed off in front of the webcam for a long time, until they started to get hungry again. They contented themselves with munching on chips and dip, until Jenny arrived, just when they thought lasagna was on their menu again. She made something new, making three boys very happy.

"Did you see William?" Colin asked after dinner, when they were safely upstairs. "He kept looking at me funny."

"Yeah," said Liam. "I think he's scared you're gonna find out about him and your mom, then tell your dad."

"Fat chance," Colin huffed. "I'm not tellin' my dad shit."

"Ooh, you said a bad word," Matthew sang.

Colin scowled, getting angry suddenly, and Liam hurried to diffuse it. "Don't get mad, Col, we're just not used to words like that."

Colin's emotions deflated, and he plopped down on the bed. "I get it from my dad. I'll try to do better."

"It's not even a big deal," said Liam gently.

"Liam, let's have our bath, now," Matthew suggested. Liam glanced worriedly at Colin. What would he think about them bathing together? "Don't you wanna?" Matthew added.

Colin watched them curiously, as Liam's face burned. "We have a big tub," Liam explained quickly. "I hope you don't think that's weird."

Colin shrugged, but lacked any expression, so Liam couldn't tell what he was thinking. "Whatever," he said.

Matthew was already shedding his clothes, and Liam resigned himself to following through with their ritual. "Come talk to us, while we wash," Matthew told Colin. He was completely naked and waiting for Liam to join him, though Liam was undressing much slower than usual.

"Um. Okay," Colin mumbled. When Liam was unclothed, Colin followed them to the bathroom, where he sat on the closed toilet lid. He and Liam seemed to be the only ones who felt awkward. But when the tub was full, and the boys were submerged, Colin stared thoughtfully at the water. "You think I could...get in, too?" he asked shyly.

Liam smiled and nodded, while Matthew answered, "Sure!"

"I'll be in the middle," said Liam, moving through the water. The large oval tub was wide enough in the middle for him sit comfortably facing the door, across the width of the tub, though he had to sit bow-legged, with his knees resting on the others' legs. He was a little tense, as Colin's legs slid under his. But once they got used to being close, they slowly relaxed and goofed off, making a great mess, just as kids would.

When they returned to the bedroom, no one felt a bit awkward about being naked. But when Matthew and Liam began putting on underwear, Colin looked confused. "You don't sleep like this? Like, in the nude?" he asked.

"No," Liam answered. "Why?"

Colin shrugged, as a blush slithered up his neck. "I saw you that one time, in the tent," he mumbled. "You were both naked."

"That's `cause we swim naked, when we're over here," Matthew answered. "And it was hot, so we didn't put clothes on."

Colin smiled. "Your parents let you go skinny dipping? That's so cool."

"Yeah, it's a lot of fun," Liam grinned.

They all climbed in bed, Liam in the middle, and played a little more on the laptop. Before long, they agreed to simply watching TV. With the three of them, touching and sleeping against each other was inevitable. But they were comfortable and fell asleep quickly.

Liam awoke sometime in the night, and the TV was still on, pumping out an irritating infomercial. He was on his side, facing Matthew, who was flat on his stomach. He then became aware that Colin was pressed up against his back, with an arm over his torso. He had to turn over toward Colin, in order to reach the remote. After putting them in complete darkness and silence, he settled comfortably against Colin. He could hear his new friend's heavy breathing, indicating sleep; they were chest to chest, hearts communicating with each other. Liam had never felt more peaceful, as he let himself glide back into slumber.