Chapter 15: Ruffled Feathers.
**Author's Note:** Please read the disclaimer in Chapter 00 before you read this.
Things did calm down, once we got home. Jason and Colt went back to their studies and soon forgot about the altercation with Albert. I let them work for about an hour, before I went in and asked them what they wanted for lunch. Surprisingly, the boys suggested grilled cheese sandwiches, so I told them I'd start fixing them. A few minutes later, the boys came out and sat in the kitchen, as I prepared the food.
"Leo, may I ask a favor of you?" Jason asked me, causing me to wonder what this was all about.
"Sure, Jason," I responded. "What's on your mind?" Jason hesitated a second, before he replied.
"Uh, my parents are going away next month, to some kind of real estate conference or something," he began, "and I don't want to go with them. They told me I'd have to join them, unless I could find someplace else to stay, so... well... um... I was um... wondering, would you mind if I um... stayed here for that week?" He looked up at me sheepishly, awaiting my reply.
"You said this would be next month sometime?" I asked, to make certain.
"Yeah," Jason replied, "but I'll check and let you know the exact dates."
"Okay, but I don't see a problem with that," I added. "In fact, maybe I could take a week of vacation at the same time and then we could all do something together."
"You don't have to do that," Jason asserted, thinking he was forcing my hand and making me do something I didn't want to do.
"It's not a big deal," I explained. "I was planning on taking some time off and spending it with Colt anyway, so this would be just as good an opportunity as any."
"Could we go camping or something," Colt asked, excitedly. "I always wanted to do that, but my father thought it was a silly waste of time."
"What do you think, Jason?" I asked him. "Do you like that idea?"
"Sounds like it could be fun," he told me.
"Okay, you find out the dates your parents are going to be away and I'll request the time off," I told them. "I'll also ask around and see if I can discover any special places my friends and coworkers like to go camping." The boys seemed satisfied with my response and happily downed their lunch, before going back to their studies.
I made a couple of phone calls to friends of mine who I knew also enjoyed camping. The first one told me about a couple of places he liked to go, but the second guy I called was extremely excited about one particular site he had found. He told me he was willing to take me there tomorrow, so I could see it for myself, if I wanted to go. I told him that would be wonderful, so we decided to do it after lunch on Sunday.
I was impressed that the boys continued their studying, even though it was a beautiful day outside. They may have taken a few breaks from this task, but they only came out of Colt's room to get drinks or use the toilet, so I didn't bother them. I even fixed dinner and kept it warm, preferring to wait for them to let me know when they were ready to eat. Around 7:00, they did just that. Colt announced over dinner that they were going to take a break afterward, so they could watch a little television with me. After sitting through a couple of sit-coms, the boys went back to Colt's room to study some more. I only caught glimpses of them during the remainder of the night.
Sunday started off much the same way, with the boys staggering out long after I had awakened. Once they were coherent, I fixed them a rather large breakfast, which they ravenously dived into. After they ate, I explained to them that my friend would be coming over a little later; to take me out to scope out a camping site he liked to use. I asked them if they wanted to go too, but they looked at each other quickly and said they'd better not, because they had a lot more studying to do. They said it would be a long week, with all the finals they had to take, and they both wanted to make sure they did well. I told them I appreciated their dedication and said that would be fine.
When my friend arrived later, he volunteered to drive, so I just hopped in the passenger seat of his car and we took off. The campsite was only about an hour from my house and it was everything my friend said it would be. It was located on public land, had numerous locations where you could pitch a tent and it also had an area for those who'd rather use an RV. My friend took me to one particular site, quite removed from the others and located next to a hidden pond. The pond was fed by a small stream and surrounded by a cluster of trees. The entire site was quite secluded and I immediately fell in love with this location. I hoped the boys would like it too, so my friend explained how I could go about reserving it. I thanked him numerous times for all of his help and we headed back.
After I got home, I decided to tell the boys what the place was like. I knocked on Colt's door first, respecting his privacy.
"Just a second," Colt responded, and then I heard some scrambling around before the door opened. "Sorry, we must have dozed off," Colt told me in greeting, but he and Jason both looked a bit flush. I thought it might be because I'd startled them awake and then they had rushed to greet me.
"That's okay," I told him, "I just wanted to tell you a little about this place I just looked at, to see if it meets with your approval." I explained what I had seen and the boys agreed it sounded nice. We decided to reserve that location, as soon as Jason gave us the exact dates.
Jason ended up staying for dinner and then he rode his bike home, but not before thanking me at least a dozen more times for allowing him to spend the weekend with us. I told him he was always welcome and that seemed to please him. Once he was gone, I went about cleaning up, while Colt went back to studying. Colt fell asleep in his room that night, so I just covered him and left him where he was. I, on the other hand, went to my room alone.
I only saw Colt very briefly Monday morning, before he went off to face his first day of exams. However, when I saw him after I got home that evening, I could tell he was upset.
"Hey, sport. What's up? Tough time with the exam?" I asked him, hoping he'd tell me straight out.
"No, the exam went fine," he answered, tersely, but didn't offer me any more details about what might be bothering him.
"Then why do you look so down right now?" I pressed. "Is it tomorrow's exam that's got you worried?"
"Nah, I think I'll do okay on that too," he replied.
"Then what's troubling you?" I asked, somewhat forcefully.
"It's Albert again," he informed me, as he started to let down his guard.
"Did he do something else?" I asked, not quite understanding.
"Yeah. Not enough guys wanted to play today, so I decided to come straight home after school," he explained. "Oh, yeah. Jason said he'd come over after dinner to study, because he had a dentist appointment after school." I was totally confused by his response.
"Wait, that doesn't tell me anything about Albert," I countered, still waiting to discover what had upset him. Colt studied me for a moment before he continued.
"Bert ran up to me as I was getting on my bike and told me I'd better find a new friend, because Jason was his friend, not mine." Colt still looked visibly upset as he relayed his story to me.
"So all of this is about jealousy?" I asked, rhetorically.
"I'm not jealous," Colt responded, right away.
"I didn't mean you," I clarified. "I meant it seems that was the reason Bert fouled you so hard during the basketball games and issued you the warning today."
"But I don't see what I did," Colt explained. "I didn't try to stop Jason from being friends with Bert too."
"I think it's just that Jason is spending so much time with you," I informed him, hoping he'd begin to see the big picture.
"But why doesn't he want me to be friends with Jason?" Colt asked, still not understanding.
"I believe he wants Jason's friendship all to himself," I told him.
"That's dumb," Colt offered. "No one has just one friend."
"I agree, but obviously there's more to this," I replied. "Maybe Jason can shed some light on the situation when he comes over later." Colt looked panicked.
"I don't want to tell Jason about this," Colt shrieked. "He might not want to come over any more, just to keep from making the problem worse."
"I don't think Jason would do that," I responded, "and I don't think that would end Bert's problem anyway. I don't think he wants you to have any contact with Jason at all, and that includes playing on the basketball team too."
"Why do you think that?" Colt asked, confused.
"I think that's why he fouled you so hard and then elbowed you," I told him. "I believe he hoped it would convince you not to try out for the team."
"I still don't understand," Colt stated, "but I'm not sure I want Jason to know either." He appeared to be thinking about this situation.
"Give Jason some credit here," I reasoned. "He already knows some of what's going on and he's probably confused as to why it's happening as well. I'm sure he might be able to help us decide what to do next, if we tell him about this." I didn't wait for Colt to respond and went out to start dinner.
Colt went to his room while I worked on the meal. When it was ready, we ate in silence, hardly saying a word to each other. We were just about finished eating when the doorbell rang, which caused Colt to leap out of his seat and race to answer it. As I suspected, it was Jason.
"Hi, Leo," he greeted me, as he came into the house.
"Hi, Jason," I responded. "How do you think you did on your test today?"
"Oh, I think I did great on it," he gushed. "Everything on the test was exactly what Colt and I had studied," he announced, beaming from ear to ear.
"It sounds like you two did a great job preparing then," I compliment them. "Jason, maybe you can help us solve another mystery," I added.
"Leo, don't," Colt shrieked, startling Jason and causing him to jump.
"What's up?" Jason asked Colt directly, putting him on the spot. Colt hemmed and hawed for a few seconds, trying to find a way out of the situation gracefully. Obviously, he couldn't come up with anything quickly enough, so he resorted to the truth.
"It's just something about Albert is all," he told Jason, which immediately piqued Jason's interest.
"What about Bert?" he pressed, wanting to find out more.
"It's just something he said to me after school," Colt replied, trying to brush it off. However, Jason was not going to be put off so easily.
"What did he say to you?" Jason persisted. Colt looked worried about having to answer his question and shifted his weight nervously, from one leg to the other. "Spill it!" Jason demanded.
Colt took a deep breath before he replied. "Bert told me to stop hanging around you and find another friend," he responded, in a barely audible voice.
"He said what?" Jason screamed. "What the hell does he think he's doing? He doesn't pick my friends." Jason looked really pissed.
"I think he's just afraid he's losing you as a friend," I explained. "I'd be willing to bet he feels you're growing closer to Colt and further away from him, and that scares him."
"Could be," Jason agreed, "but that doesn't give him the right to tell Colt that shit." Jason's face was beet red and it looked as if his head might explode at any second.
"Jason, don't take it so hard," I told him, in an effort to calm him down. "I think Albert was just afraid of losing you as a friend. Are you close?" Jason looked at me and I could begin to see the anger drain from his body.
"Yeah, I used to spend most of my time with him," he explained. "Like I said before, I don't do much with my parents, so I'd hang out at Bert's house instead."
"Have you known him for long?" I asked, in an attempt to get a better picture of what was going on.
"Since like fourth grade," Jason informed me.
"And since you've met Colt, you've been spending most of your time with him, instead of Albert, right?" Jason looked at me and nodded. "So you can see why he might be more than a little upset?"
"Yeah, but he should have come to me about it and not taken it out on Colt," Jason shot back, and he had a good point.
"True," I agreed, "but sometimes you don't think clearly when you feel you're losing your best friend." The boys both looked as if a light bulb had gone off in their heads and I think they were finally able to grasp what Albert was going through.
"Okay, I'll square this away with him, but now we have to study," Jason announced. "I'm not as confident about tomorrow's exam as Colt is, so I need to study." I nodded and the boys went off to Colt's room. I was glad they figured things out before they hit the books though.
By the time they finished studying, it was getting dark out. Jason was going to ride his bike home, but I didn't like that idea. "Let's put your bike on the bike rack on my car and I'll take you home tonight," I told him.
"You don't have to do that," he protested. "I'll be fine."
"Maybe so, but I think Colt and I will feel better knowing you got home safely," I told him, with Colt's full support. Jason relented.
"You'll have to give me directions though," I announced, "because I'm not sure where you live."
"No problem," he responded. "I can do that."
Jason was very good about telling me how to get to his house, which would have been a pretty lengthy ride on his bike. As I suspected, he lived in arguably the best part of town, in a huge house. I think Colt's mouth hit the car floor when he saw where Jason lived and it was still hanging open when Jason turned to him to say good-bye. Jason noticed Colt's expression immediately.
"Yeah, it looks impressive," Jason agreed, "but I'd much rather be at your place. At least when I'm there, someone knows I'm around."
That comment nearly broke my heart, because I understood what he meant. I just wasn't sure if Colt had caught on. I got out of the car and removed his bike. He took it from me and started toward his house. Before he had gone very far, he turned around again.
"Mind if I come over tomorrow, after school?" he asked. "Colt and I can play a little one-on-one and then study for the next test."
"Jason, you know you're welcome any time," I reminded him, "and nothing has changed."
"Thanks, Leo," he said, giving me a huge grin, and then he wheeled about and headed toward his house. I got back in the car and backed out of the driveway.
"Uh, I knew his parents had money, but not that much!" Colt exclaimed, in awe, as we left Jason's house. I didn't reply...I didn't need to. We drove the rest of the way home in silence.
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