If you don't like stories involving male/male relationships, this isn't for you. if you're too young to read this material or if it's illegal to read it in your area, don't. Don't copy or post this story elsewhere without the author's (my) permission. Comments or questions can be sent to dluka1983@hotmail.com dluka1983@hotmail.com or posted in my forum http://www.gayauthors.org/forums/index.php?showforum=55

The Other Side of Me

Chapter One

thanks to jim for editing!

"Who is he?"

"Do you like him?"

"Sure. I mean..."

Laughter interrupted Oliver Martin's response, and he frowned across one of the two full-sized beds that occupied the room at his amused brother, who was still looking through the pile of newly developed photographs between them, specifically the one Oliver had just been admiring.

"I guess he's cute," Oliver finished, deciding it was best not to lie. David always knew when he was lying.

"You think he's hot," David said, matter-of-factly, and then nodded towards the picture. "Here. Take it. I took it for you."

Oliver smiled, lifting the photograph. The guy in it didn't look much older than himself. His hair was wavy, maybe just a tad too long, but it gave him character. It was the color of sand; not really blond, but not so brown, either. He was sitting atop a bicycle with his shirt tucked into the back pocket of his jeans, and the shot exposed broad shoulders and a smooth back that tapered down to a narrow waist. He was smiling at something, and when he smiled, everything around him looked bright. But Oliver suspected that that was only an illusion, created by the photographer.

"It's a good picture, David. Thanks."

David always took great pictures. He was a natural at it. Their father had introduced them both to photography at a young age. They were home-schooled, for the most part isolated from kids their own age, and their parents thought that a hobby would be good for them. David had just taken to it better than Oliver. When Oliver took pictures, they always developed out of focus. Off center. No amount of practice seemed capable of correcting the flaws.

"His name's Frank," David said.

"Frank?" Oliver repeated. "Like a hotdog?"

David laughed. "Yeah, sure. Like a hotdog. He don't look like one, though, huh?"

"No. He doesn't," Oliver agreed.

"He moved into the old cow's place last week."

Oliver frowned. He knew the house that David was talking about. It was across the lake from them. The last tenant who lived there had drowned just last year. Miss Odetta Grover had been a witch. She was always taking in stray cats and screaming at the crows that landed on her roof. An obese old woman with wild red hair, she'd been an intimidating creature to face, especially when she took to throwing stones at Oliver and David when she caught them picking blackberries near her property. The last time, she'd managed to hit Oliver square in the forehead. It had left a small scar. Oliver had feared her as much as David had hated her. Neither of them missed her, but Oliver was the only one who felt sympathetic over her death.

The accident occurred during a bad summer storm. The crazy old woman had been out fishing in the little rowboat she usually kept in her storage shed. It was a mystery why she'd brought it out in the first place, considering the thing was already falling apart. Her foot had fallen right through the splintering wood and she'd been trapped there when the boat tipped. Oliver hadn't been comfortable passing her house ever since. He felt like when he did, something was watching them. David thought that it was probably just the cats, since most of them had never left. Oliver thought that David was probably right. He usually was. But still, Oliver didn't like that the handsome guy in the photograph lived there now.

"You should try talking to him," David suggested. "He ain't got a lot of friends yet."

Oliver quickly shook his head. "No. No. I can't do that, David." He blushed at the very idea. The guy in the picture was one of those beautiful, unapproachable people. Frightening. "He wouldn't like me."

Oliver saw David frown at that. But, neither Oliver nor David could help that it was true. Oliver didn't have any friends. Just David. It wasn't that he hadn't tried. It was just, the people in town seemed almost afraid of him. Then, he couldn't really blame them, if he really did the things that people said he did. He knew that sometimes he had blackouts. They didn't usually last very long, but sometimes, he'd wake up doing something he didn't remember starting. More than once he'd ordered pizza twice in a row, leaving his family with an abundant amount of leftovers; and the reason why they weren't in a public school was because on Oliver's first day he was sent home after the teacher claimed he was talking to himself and frightening the other students. It wasn't the last time he'd been accused of that; only when people said it happened, it wasn't really a blackout. He simply couldn't remember doing it.

Oliver didn't like to be reminded of his personal oddities, and as he stared at his brother, he found himself doing something that he often tried to avoid.

Longing. There was no point in being jealous, but sometimes Oliver couldn't help wondering how things would be if he could be more like David. David's brain worked right. He was normal. Oliver wasn't stupid. He was even smarter at some things than David. But, Oliver was different. He wasn't like everyone else. He had the scar to remind him of it, too. The long, puckered stretch of skin could be felt on his scalp every time he ran his fingers through his dark hair. Some of it was from the surgery, the rest, from the fall.

Oliver didn't remember the accident. His parents said it happened when he was three. They'd been visiting his grandmother, and he'd survived a fall out of a third-story window. He hadn't been the same since. Not like David.

He still looked a lot like David, though, from the same hazel eyes to the same crooked smile and tall build. But, since they were identical, that was to be expected. There were a few differences, caused by Oliver's accident. After the surgery his nose had turned out a little shorter and broader, and his jaw a little squarer. He wished he still looked like David. The face he should have had. But, he doubted that any stranger on the street could tell them apart. He wondered if that was why David didn't have any friends, either. It made him sad for his brother. David was normal.

"He's stupid if he don't like you," David finally said. "You should talk to him. Tomorrow. I know where he's gonna be."

Oliver pouted, but didn't argue. David always got what he wanted.

"Come on," David said. "Let's get this mess cleaned up. Dinner will be ready soon."

As if on cue, the bedroom door swung open and a tall man with a receding hairline and a smile that always looked worried stepped in. Mr. Martin looked briefly around the room, and then at Oliver.

"Hey, kiddo," he said. "About ready for dinner?"

When Oliver nodded, Mr. Martin closed the door. David smiled at Oliver. "See. What did I tell ya?"


Frank Seaberg sighed irritably to himself as he wiped himself clean with a tissue and pulled up his pants. Whoever said that masturbation was a cure for boredom had been full of shit if you asked him. But then, not even that was much fun when he was forced to resort to using his twelve-year-old sister's latest issue of Teen Beat for inspiration.

"Frank? Frank! Are you back there?"

"Just a sec, Ma!" he called back, rushing to flush the toilet and wash his hands. By the time he opened the bathroom door, his mother was waiting outside of it in the dark hallway with the low ceiling and holding out a white laundry basket mixed full of books and old records.

"Can you take these up to the attic for me?" she asked, shaking a few strands of curly black hair out of her tired eyes. "I've got two boxes left and I want to get them unpacked before I take your sister to camp."

"I could drive Rudy," Frank was quick to offer.

"You have another week to go before you get your driving privileges back," his mother informed him.

Frank rolled his eyes at that, but took the basket from his mother before following her down the hall and into the kitchen, stepping over empty boxes on the way. The entire house was in disarray. Over the last week, Frank, his mom, and his sister had been struggling to find places for all of their belongings. It wasn't a simple task since their new house was half the size of their last one. Making things more difficult, was the bad plumbing, leaky roof and faulty floor boards, not to mention all the other repairs that the house needed. They'd had the windows open since they got there, trying to chase out the scent of cats. But, his mom swore that they'd be happy there. Eventually.

"Let me ask you something," Frank said. "Why is it that Rudy gets to go to a camp she doesn't even want to go to just to make friends, and I'm stuck here?"

"You can go to camp with Rudy if you want," his mom offered. "But I don't think you'll fit into one of their t-shirts."

Frank groaned. "Mom..."

"You're not trapped here," she cut him off. You've got your bike. You're free to use it--after you take that up to the attic."

"And where am I gonna go on a bike? There's, like, no one around here."

"You could always go meet our neighbors."

"The old guy who keeps inviting himself over for dinner?"

"Mr. Dron is a very nice man," his mom said defensively. "He's offered to help us out with a lot of repairs around here, so you be nice."

"Fine. But I'm not going to go hang out with that weirdo."

"I'm sure there are other people around here your own age."

"No, they're all in all the places I'd have to drive to."

"Well, you should have thought of that before you missed your curfew."

"I wasn't that late."

"Four hours is plenty late. I'm not going to argue with you, Frank. Now please, take those to the attic, and if you want me to drop you off in town when I take your sister to camp, you're welcome to come with us."

"Fine. Crush any potential social life I might have out here in bum-frick-nowhere," Frank remarked as he carried the basket into the living room and towards the front door.

"Love you, too!" his mom called. And then she screamed.

Frank dropped the basket, allowing records and books to go flying as he turned and rushed back towards the kitchen, nearly knocking over his short, red-headed sister in the process. He put an arm around her to help her catch her balance.

"Mommy?" Rudy said, looking worriedly into the kitchen, where their mother was holding a hand to her heart and the other to her mouth as she peered at an open cabinet beneath the sink.

"What's wrong?" Frank asked as he moved past Rudy.

"Sorry," his mom said, calming herself. "Just a rat. It's already dead."

Frank sighed, and dutifully headed into the kitchen, stopping at the table to pull a few paper towels off a roll. "I'll take care of it," he said, urging his mother aside as she lovingly patted his shoulder. He knelt down in front of the cabinet, where he could see the tail of something that most definitely looked like a rat, but as he reached for it with the towels, the shining black eyes in the shadows startled him enough to set him back on his haunches.

"What is it?" his mom demanded as Rudy rushed to grab hold of her hand.

Frank sighed, smirking at himself. "Just another stupid cat," he said, and then held a hand out for the hiding animal. "Here kitty, kitty..." just as his hand reached its head, the calico feline hissed and fled the cabinet and disappeared into the house. Rudy screamed, and Frank hissed in a breath when he was given a scratch up the arm for his troubles.

"Oh, Frank!" his mom complained when she saw that their unwelcome guest had drawn blood.

Frank just frowned at her. "Did I mention I hate it here?"


Frank looked out over the murky waters, wondering if it was going to rain soon. The sky had been overcast all day, the effect made even glummer by the tall pines towering over him. They weren't like the manicured trees that he'd seen in groomed backyards. Everything about this place seemed old and wild. Nature at its best, his mother called it. Frank just called it fucked up. While he had to admit that it was kind of cool having a lake in his backyard, he'd turn in the ticks, feral cats and loud crickets for suburbia any day.

Frank walked his bike, following the rocky shoreline for a while until his new home disappeared behind the trees and he came to a makeshift bridge that crossed a creek flowing directly into the lake, and then climbed onto his bike to ride down the road that seemed to head uphill forever. It was narrow, hardly wide enough for one car, and while he'd seen tire tracks on it, he'd never seen any actual vehicles using it. It was dirt beneath his tires instead of smooth pavement, so the going was slower than he would have liked, but the bicycle seemed to move easier once he turned off onto the trail he'd discovered his first day there.

Frank didn't know why he kept going back to the same spot. It was pretty damn boring. A clearing with an empty shed missing half its roof. Maybe it was because from there he could see the town, and a dock where the real boats were. More than likely, though, it was because he figured it would be entirely too easy to get lost in the forest, and he was better off sticking to what he knew.

He'd been going to the spot every single day a few hours before dinnertime. Before he'd moved his afternoons had been reserved for hanging out with his friends at the community pool, playing baseball at the park, or frequenting the malls when he wasn't too busy at someone's party. Without any of that, he felt more or less adrift as he entertained himself by skipping rocks in mud puddles, chasing squirrels up trees, and attempting to jump his bike over natural obstacles that had resulted in some mildly scraped knees. It was still too early in the year to test the cool waters, so for the time being, he didn't even have the lake to occupy him. Frank could honestly say that he had never looked forward to going to school as much as he was now. Unfortunately, he had a good three months to go before that could happen, and in the meantime, he had an entire summer to get through with limited chances to make new friends.

He leaned his bike against the old shed, once again wondering what it was ever used for, and then circled it a few times, kicking at a few fallen boards. He thought about fixing it and showing Rudy where it was. She'd had a little clubhouse at their last home. Their father had built it for her, and Frank imagined she'd been missing it.

Frank spent some time looking longingly towards the town, wishing he could get there long enough to find out what it was all about, and then spent some time exploring the area some more. A bird's nest in one of the trees gave him a reasonable excuse to climb a tree, but when there were no eggs in it he lost interest and climbed down. His feet had just returned to the ground when the sound of movement behind him caused him to spin around, deciding that the rustling was a little too loud to be caused by an animal as small as a chipmunk. Mr. Dron had warned them about some of the local wildlife, and for a moment, Frank wondered if he should climb back up the tree to escape a rabid boar. But, curiosity kept him where he was as he looked towards a cluster of trees where the branches swayed as whatever moved through them came closer, and he took a cautious step forward when he saw what looked mysteriously like a black high-top shoe appear beneath the lower branches of a weather-beaten pine.

"Hello?" Frank called.

The shoe abruptly stopped, as did all movement from the trees. Frank stared for a few moments, slowly growing amused by the situation as he began to move closer.

"Hello?" he called again, and this time the shoe he saw took an obvious step back. Frank smiled. "You know, I can see you there... if I'm interrupting something just say so, and I'll..." Frank paused, listening. He swore he could hear whispers, but when the wind suddenly picked up they were lost to it. "Hey, who's back there? Hello."

He began to take small steps towards the trees again, keeping a steady eye on the high top. From the size of it, he doubted some little kid was attached to it, and that was confirmed a moment later when the shoe moved, and Frank's eyes snapped up as the lurker finally showed himself.

It seemed that not everyone Frank's age found better things to do in town, if the boy standing in front of him was any indication. Frank hadn't expected this, but it wasn't an unwelcome surprise if it meant he wasn't stuck in the woods all by himself with no ride to get out. He took another step forward, wondering if he'd just met a neighbor, all the while reminding himself that given the location, he was likely the one not keeping up with the current fashion as he took in a dusty wardrobe and honest-to-god cowboy hat that had likely seen better days. "Hi," he said, trying for another introduction. He politely held out his hand, but lowered it quickly enough when he observed the awkward behavior of his current company.

The boy's hands were clenching and unclenching at his sides, and his feet shifting in nervous gestures as he kicked the dust at his feet. Below the brim of the faded grey hat, eyes that shined almost green in color were pointedly avoiding Frank's while a normally glowing complexion flushed with stress.

Confused, but not entirely put off, Frank attempted a friendly smile. "Hi. I'm Frank. Seaberg... um..."

Frank didn't know what to say beyond that, but was rewarded for his effort when suddenly, the boy's entire mannerism changed as he removed his old hat, revealing a head of dark, short-cropped, messily combed hair and flashed one of the most genuine smiles Frank had ever seen. White teeth and a crooked curl to the full top lip made him appear oddly innocent for a seventeen-year-old.

"I know," he replied, his voice laced with the local accent. "Ya moved in last week."

"Oh, well I guess around here word gets..."

"I'm Oliver Martin," the boy interrupted, and then abruptly walked past Frank to point down the hill, across the lake. "That's my house. The one with the red roof."

"Okay," Frank replied, and when Oliver Martin continued to stare and smile at him, he made an effort to point towards his own home, although the view was mostly obstructed from where they were. "I live down there. In the dump."

"I know that, too," Oliver supplied. "A witch used to live there."

Frank's brows shot up. "Excuse me?"

"Gazoontite. Do you wanna come over to our place? We've gotta chicken that lays brown eggs. She's good luck."

"Um, sure. Maybe sometime," Frank replied awkwardly. It was beginning to occur to him that there was something... different, about Oliver Martin.

"How `bout now?" Oliver asked, still smiling brightly. Innocently. Hopefully.

Frank released a nervous chuckle, not quite sure what to make of the situation. It wasn't like the kid freaked him out or anything. He actually seemed kinda... sweet. But something about the overly outgoing personality made Frank uncomfortable. "Man. Is everyone around here as friendly as you?" he remarked.

Frank wasn't expecting the sudden pout that crawled over Oliver's face as he quickly placed the hat back on his head, giving a firm, "No." And then he turned and walked away without another word.

Confused at the dismissal, but too bored with life in general not to be curious about Oliver Martin, he quickly grabbed his bike and peddled to catch up. Frank found the other boy already headed back down the trail, and coasted towards his back. "Hey, wait up, will ya?"

Oliver didn't glance back, but he slowed his pace and moved slightly off the trail so that Frank wouldn't have any trouble riding along beside him. For several moments the only sounds around them came from the wind blowing through the trees, the wheels of the bike turning against the path worn into the forest floor, and Oliver's soft footsteps.

"I totally told my mom that there was no one out here," Frank finally said in an effort to make conversation. "I figured everyone lived in town. Didn't think I'd see anyone up here."

"I'm up here," Oliver said, glancing in Frank's direction from beneath the rim of his hat.

Frank cracked a smile. "Yeah. I see that. So, what are you doing up here? Or, what do you do around here?"

"What do I do?" Oliver repeated, and more sincere confusion over his face reminded Frank that something about him seemed off. But, it wasn't like the guy looked strange, and Frank doubted that he was some sort of serial killer trying to lure him to his lair with the promise of a lucky chicken that laid brown eggs, so he did his best to be polite.

"Yeah. What do you do for fun?"

Oliver shrugged. "Don't know. What do you do for fun?"

"Me? Around here? I don't know yet."

"Well what did you to for fun where you used to live?" Oliver asked.

Frank sighed at the question. "Lots of stuff," he said, and then added ruefully, "probably nothing I'll ever be able to do around here."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. I guess around here there's just... nothing."

"Oh." Oliver sounded disappointed rather than insulted. "So why don't you go back?"

"Go back?"

"Yeah. To where you came from. You like it there better, right?"

Despite himself, Frank laughed at the seriousness of the suggestion. "It doesn't work like that."

"David says that if you don't like where you are, you should go somewhere else."

"Who's David?"

Oliver grinned that crooked smile. "My brother. He took your picture yesterday."

Frank hit the brakes on his bike so hard he nearly went over the handlebars, and once he caught himself, he reached out and caught Oliver's shoulder to keep him from walking before he thought about it first. Luckily, Oliver didn't seem to mind as he glanced down at the hand touching him, and then regarded Frank expectantly. "What do you mean he took my picture?" Frank demanded in the least demanding tone he could muster. For some reason, the idea disturbed him.

"With a camera," Oliver explained.

"Yeah, I got that, but..."

"David takes good pictures. He said I should talk to you, `cause you're nice. And you are, Frank."

Oliver turned and continued to walk, and Frank allowed his hand to drop from the other boy's shoulder as he stared after him, frowning. When he began to pedal again, it was slowly as he stared at Oliver's hat as if he expected to see through it, right down to what was going on in the local's head.

"Hey, Oliver?" Frank said after few long moments of wondering about the childlike personality of Oliver Martin. "Is David out here with you now?" Frank had a feeling that someone should be. Ahead of him, Oliver began to hum in an odd monotone, and Frank pedaled a little faster to catch up again. "Oliver? Are you out here alone?"

Oliver looked at him sidelong with a suspicious look that would have seemed comical if Frank didn't find this meeting so strange. "I can take walks by myself," Oliver replied defensively. "I don't get lost."


"My mom doesn't like it," Oliver admitted. "But I don't get lost. I live in the house with the red roof."

"Of course you don't," Frank replied in a tone that he hoped was soothing. It was obviously the wrong thing to say, and the wrong tone to use, because Oliver suddenly stopped, more or less scowling at him.

"I'm not stupid," he said. "David says I'm not a retard."

"Really, I don't think you are..." Frank insisted.

"I just fell down," Oliver said quickly. "People think I'm slow `cause I fell down. But I'm not. I could help you with your homework," he added hopefully.

Frank smiled at that last thing. "I don't have homework yet," he replied.

"Oh." Oliver hung his head, and then he was walking again, Frank trailing slightly behind him until they reached the narrow road off the trail.

Frank was almost sorry that he didn't have any homework for Oliver to help him with. "Do you help your friends with their homework?" he tried.

"Don't have any."

"They don't give out homework here?" Frank sounded half surprised, and half hopeful.

Oliver looked at him and laughed. It was a pleasant sound. "No. we get tons of homework. Mom says it's good for us. I just don't have any friends."

That last thing was said so easily that Frank had to think on it for a moment, deciding that the whole admission made for an awkward moment. "Everyone has friends, Oliver."

"Well, I've got David," Oliver said as they came to the lake.

"But you really don't hang out with anyone else?" Frank was disappointed, and not above admitting that it was for selfish reasons. When Oliver had come upon him near the shed, Frank had hoped that he'd be someone who could ease the boredom and serve as a guide to an actual social life. Instead, Oliver was... well, Frank didn't know what he was, but he knew that he wasn't like one of the guys he'd normally occupy his time with. As it stood, he wasn't even sure if Oliver was supposed to be walking around without supervision.

"Maybe you," Oliver answered, snapping Frank out of his thoughts. "Do you wanna come to my house?"

Frank opened his mouth to respond, but hesitated when he realized how uncomfortable he was with the answer he preferred to give. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt this guy's feelings by explaining that the idea itself weirded him out. He smiled instead. "You know, I've sorta got to get home soon, Oliver. We just moved here, you know? My mom will worry if I'm late. But hey, if you want me to walk you home first, I'll hang out a little longer."

Oliver shrugged. "I'm not walking, Frank."

Frank followed Oliver's eyes to the water, where a small motorboat was docked at what Frank had originally thought to be a bridge. "That's yours?" he asked.

"It takes a long time to walk around the lake."

"Okay. So are you going home now?"

"I guess so," Oliver replied. He sounded undecided. "Do you wanna come over tomorrow, Frank?"

"Um... I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow," Frank replied. "We'll see, okay?"

Oliver smiled as if Frank had just made him a promise.

"Okay. You can come over anytime, alright?"

"Sure, Oliver."

"Okay. See you later, Frank!"

Frank gave a small wave as Oliver headed towards his boat and hopped in with no trouble. Starting the engine was another story, but eventually, Frank was watching the top of Oliver's cowboy hat disappear across the water before he finally turned to head home, wondering what the hell made a chicken that laid brown eggs lucky.


Oliver held his hat in his hands, tracing the wide brim with his thumbs as he moved slowly up the wooden stairs of his front porch, ducking under the windchimes that rang softly against the wind. The sun had sunk lower in the sky, leaving it with a warm hue behind the hills, and the trees cast long shadows over the murky waters of the lake. The front door of his home had been left open, the screen closed, and through it he could feel the warm air from the kitchen as he took in the aroma of fried chicken, his father's favorite meal.

Oliver paused before going inside, taking a moment to look across the lake at a light coming from the window of what used to be old Ms. Grover's place. It was still creepy, he thought. He didn't like that Frank lived there. He smiled at the thought of Frank coming over tomorrow. Maybe, if Frank came over, Oliver could warn him about the mean cats that used to live in his house. Maybe they could watch a video. Oliver's parents rented one from the grocery store every weekend. Maybe Frank would like it if Oliver gave him some brown eggs from the chicken. Maybe, Frank would like coming to Oliver's house.

As he moved inside, Oliver was sure to be quiet. He smothered the squeak of the screen door as much as possible, and he made sure to step on the floor boards that made less of a fuss under his weight. He passed the low-sitting sofas in the living room, the colorful rug padding his footsteps, and as he came under the deer antlers hanging over the hallway below the stairs to his parents' loft, he ran into exactly what he wanted to avoid.

Voices carried in the Martin house. Even when they were whispered. Oliver could hear his mother and father in the kitchen. They weren't happy with him. He knew he probably should have told them where he was going. It's not like they didn't let him go out. But, they always had to know everything, and then sometimes his dad would follow him. David said that that was supposed to be a secret. He said it was better if Oliver didn't tell his dad he knew about it. Just like he said that Oliver should just leave to go see Frank. Don't tell Mom and Dad. They won't like it. Now, Oliver wondered how much trouble he was in.

His parents knew he was back, and when he heard their footsteps approaching he was quick to continue down the hall until he reached his bedroom. Everything was just like he left it. As always, David's bed was made, but Oliver's wasn't. Oliver closed the door, and wasn't startled at all when he found that David was behind it, waiting for him.

"I don't think Mom and Dad are happy I left, David," Oliver said.

"So? Who cares if they're happy about it. They treat you like a baby, Oliver. Don't you get sick of it?"

"I guess so," Oliver admitted.

"Did you at least have fun with Frank? He's nice, ain't he?"

Oliver grinned at that. "Yeah. He might come over tomorrow."

"Good," David said. "Mom and Dad will be gone most of the day. What're you gonna do if he comes?"

Oliver shrugged. "Don't know. I told him about the chicken."

David rolled his eyes. "He don't care about a stupid chicken, Oliver. You should take him out in the boat."

Oliver bit at his bottom lip. "It's supposed to rain tomorrow, David."

"Not hard. Besides, if you take him in the boat you'll be able to sit close. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

Oliver blushed, and moved to sit on his bed. "Don't know if he'd wanna sit close. Maybe he doesn't even like boats."

"Everyone likes boats," David insisted. "Trust me, Oliver."

"Okay, David."

There was a soft tap on the door, and Oliver looked to David worriedly. David sighed. "Don't worry, Oliver. They can't get mad at you for having fun. I'll talk to `em."

Oliver frowned. "You know they don't like it when you talk for me, David. You get too angry."

"Look," David said. "Just don't say anything, okay? I'll talk."

The door opened. Their father adjusted his glasses as he peered into the room. Their mother, a pretty blonde who looked hardly past her prime, took the lead and stepped past him.

"Oliver," she started.

"He won't talk to you right now," David interrupted. "Go cook dinner. We're hungry."

Mrs. Martin exchanged a worried glance with her husband, and didn't object when he gently pulled her back to his side.

"David," he said firmly, "we need to talk to Oliver. Right now. We just want to know where he was today."

"He didn't get in any trouble," David said, raising his voice. "Just leave him alone. You never let him do anything!"

"David, let us talk to Oliver," Mr. Martin said again. "If you don't go now, you know what we'll have to do."

The threat was a meaningful one, and David scowled. He knew. And for the time being, he left.