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The barbeque was fully loaded in the back of Brody's truck; through some unfathomable magic Jared had managed to talk the salesman down a full hundred dollars for the floor model. Sure it was left over from last year, but a barbecue was a barbecue--it didn't really matter that it was a year old or that it had a scratch on the hood.
It was secured using a couple of brightly-striped bungee cords that strained threateningly when wrapped around the big black monstrosity. Will stood with his hands on his hips looking down at it suspiciously from the loading dock.
"Are you sure that's going to hold?" he asked carefully.
"Sure," Brody said, already climbing into the cab. "It's just a quick ride home; so long as I avoid the potholes it should be cool."
Jared and Andrew were over by the little red Toyota talking amongst themselves and glancing over in their direction every so often. Will didn't pay them much heed as he stepped down from the loading dock and walked around the truck. "You sure?" he asked again, imagining a fiery explosion should the propane tank get dislodged and hit the road.
"It'll be fine," Brody said confidently, starting the truck with a turn of the key as he reached for his seat belt. "Just get in."
"Carter," Andrew called out, beckoning him over.
Will frowned and crossed to the Toyota. "Yeah?" he asked, resting a hand on the roof.
Andrew gave him a typically Canadian smile, "I was just talking it over with Jared; want your first driving lesson?"
"Now?" Will asked in surprise. "Don't I need a license or something?"
Brody had turned off the engine and was listening to the exchange.
"Well, we were thinking of just showing you the basics," Jared said, leaning out the window of the Toyota. "Quick turn around the school parking lot just to get you started."
Will looked a little dubious, "Shouldn't we off-load the truck first?"
Brody grinned, "It can wait, this I gotta see."
Will shook his head reluctantly, "Ok, but if I get arrested..."
"You'll be fine," Brody called out. "Just think of the men you'll meet in jail."
When Toyota designed and built the Tercel, they were trying to create a fuel-efficient, inexpensive car. It was designed with economy in mind, and it saved on everything, including space; but though it was cramped on the inside, the car was thrifty and dependable...and small.
Will was petrified sitting in the front seat of the car, his first time behind the driving wheel with the intent of driving the car. His heart was racing and his palms were sweaty; he kept rechecking his mirrors and adjusting the seat, anything but having to deal with the thought of the monumental step he was about to take that sunny Saturday afternoon.
Brody was sitting smoking on the hood of his truck, taking long puffs from his cigarette as he leisurely stretched out to watch the entertainment unfold. He had liberated Will's sunglasses and was wearing them as he lounged, a crooked smile on his face as he watched the fun.
Jared was in the backseat of the Toyota, his hands braced on the backs of both front seats leaning forward so that he could see everything that was going on and could offer his advice when it was needed. He grinned and patted Will's shoulder reassuringly as he continued to look excited.
Andrew, however, wasn't looking so thrilled. Even though it had been his idea, he was already beginning to have second thoughts sitting in the passenger seat breathing a little too heavily as he tried to steel himself to teach Will the fine art of driving. At least the Toyota was an automatic; there wouldn't be the nerve-wracking torture of a new driver on a clutch.
The route was to be simple---a couple of laps around the private road that looped the school. It provided access to the parking lots, and in the case of an emergency fire trucks could position themselves anywhere around the squat modern building to bring their hoses to bear. At least the paramedics would be able to get right up to them should they have to.
Andrew rubbed his face, obviously nervous, and that was doing nothing for Will's nerves. He fidgeted again.
"Don't do anything unless I tell you to," Andrew insisted, looking through the windshield, his voice firm. "Nothing at all."
"Yes sir," Will said, feeling his nervousness building a little more.
"Start the car," Andrew commanded.
Will reached down and tried to turn the key; it didn't turn. He tried again and looked helplessly in the rearview mirror at Jared, "It won't turn."
"Push the button," Jared said helpfully, pointing to the button just under the ignition switch. Will found it, pushed it and the car started. With a yelp it lurched forward startling everyone in the car.
"Brake!" Andrew yelled, clutching onto the dashboard, visions of a horrific death suddenly foremost in his mind.
Will leaned down a bit to see and moved his foot off of the gas. "Sorry," he apologized sheepishly, putting all his weight to keep the brake down.
"It's ok," Andrew said, calming down and looking back at Jared who shrugged, "Now always keep your foot on the brake when you start the car."
"Brake, right," Will repeated by rote; so you weren't supposed to push the gas when starting the car, right.
"Now slowly," Andrew stressed the word slowly, "take your foot off the brake and push down on the gas, slowly."
"Okay," Will said, glancing down again as he lifted the foot up and moved it onto the accelerator; he touched it again and the Toyota began to trundle forward. He pushed it a little harder and the car gave a burst of speed.
"Slowly!" Andrew bellowed again, still clutching onto the dash.
"Okay," Will said, sounding frightened as he eased off the gas a little. They were cruising at about twenty crossing the parking lot to the private road. Brody waved as they went past, highly entertained by the whole situation.
"Ok," Andrew said still sounding tense, "turn onto the road, take your time and lift your foot off the gas as you turn."
Will complied, the Toyota crawling around the corner at a pace that would make his grandmother happy. He cheered up happily as he realized he had made it through his first turn and he grinned up at Jared who was smiling goofily back at him.
"Now give it some gas," Andrew said. "And keep your eyes on the road," he snapped, realizing Will was staring into the rearview mirror."
"Relax," Jared said in his mellowest tone. "He's doing fine."
Will pressed down on the gas, giving it a little more than before, the car climbing towards thirty as it began to move down the small road. Will was clutching the wheel tightly, leaning forward into his seat and darting glances at Andrew hoping what he was doing was okay.
"Ok, we're coming up on a speed bump, slow down to..." The car slammed over the speed bump causing the two drivers to wince at the thought of what that had done to the suspension, "I said slow down!" Andrew was annoyed again.
"I'm sorry..." Will said, looking in the wing mirror at the yellow bump he was leaving behind, "I didn't react..."
"Bump!" Andrew warned, too late, as the car slammed over the next one as well. Andrew threw up his hands in disgust. "Eyes on the road!" he yelled.
"I'm trying," Will snapped back growing annoyed. "It's hard."
"I know it's hard," Andrew fired back angrily. "But this is dangerous, you need to stay focused and in control of the car at all times..." He looked up, "Drive on the right side of the road!"
"I am on the right side of the road," Will shot back with a slight snarl. He was losing his patience now; he didn't like being yelled at and for something that was supposed to be fun he was certainly having none.
"The right, right side of the road." Andrew cursed, "Come on, Will..."
Will looked up and sheepishly saw Andrew was right, and deflated his anger; he swung the car a little and brought it into the right lane. "Sorry..." he said quietly.
It was that point Andrew realized Will hadn't buckled his seat belt and threw up his hands expressively. "Seatbelt!" he exclaimed gesturing angrily.
Will looked down. "Shit," he said, grabbing for it and trying to press it into the clasp. As usual this proved tricky and he bent down to get a better look, snapping it home triumphantly...
"BRAKE!!" Andrew yelped
Will, in shock and surprise looked up at the road ending in a small turn and a high brick wall that was rushing towards them. He lifted his foot and plunged it down on the brake; missing it completely, his foot connected squarely with the gas pedal and the car screamed as it accelerated.
"BRAKE!!!" Andrew yelled loudly.
"TURN!!" Jared screeched from the back seat.
Andrew, seeing Jared was right, joined him in the frantic call for a turn. Will panicked, cutting the wheel sharply as the little red rocket hit the turn. They entered the parking lot where they had begun on two wheels, a rather startled looking Brody standing up on the hood of his truck as the small red car bounced back to its four wheels, three young men screaming for dear life inside of it.
"I'm gonna die!" Jared wailed seconds before Andrew grabbed and held onto the parking brake, the Toyota fishtailing to a stop a few feet away from hitting Brody's truck.
Will, his hands glued to the wheel and visibly shaking took a moment to catch up with what had just happened. He wasn't dead; he was very much alive... alive... yep, he was alive all right.
Jared pried his hands from the death grip on the back of the two seats, pale and white, shaking with fear. He exchanged a look with Andrew who had gone white. "Let me out of the car," Jared insisted flatly.
Andrew struggled to find the handle, getting out and walking away shaking his head and trying to calm down. Jared walked the other direction, leaving the shell-shocked Will clutching the wheel and staring straight ahead of him, the engine still running.
Brody calmly reached in through the window and turned off the engine, recovering the keys. Once the keys were safely in his hands he began to laugh. At first a slight chuckle, it rose in intensity to a full roar; he clutched his sides and collapsed to the asphalt he was laughing so hard.
Jared glanced back, flopping to a sitting position on the ground as well; laughing so hard tears were rolling down his face. He held up a hand. "I'm gonna die," he mocked himself and began to laugh again.
Andrew's shoulders were shaking as he too began to laugh, turning back to the car with an apologetic smile as he came back to kneel in the passenger side door, "Are you okay?" he asked gently.
Will looked grumpy, a scowl on his face at his three friends laughing at his expense. He narrowed his eyes and released the wheel, sitting back and crossing his arms, a dark look of anger on his face.
Brody cackled again; trying to get up, he used the passenger side door for support, coming up to see Will's scowl, snorting again as he collapsed back into his fit.
"I'm sorry," Andrew insisted, reaching out, still chuckling to touch Will's leg, "are you okay?"
"No, I'm bloody not okay!" Will snapped angrily. "First I get yelled at, screeched at and now I am getting laughed at!"
"I'm sorry," Andrew reassured, still trying to hide his own laughter. "It's just... well you're a menace behind the wheel."
"Well, you were the one to tell me to buckle my seat belt," Will complained.
"You were supposed to do it when you got into the car," Andrew said to his own defense.
"You said not to do anything you didn't tell me to do!" Will snapped, setting his jaw.
"He's got you there," Jared grinned back. "Man, I need a beer after that!"
It should have been called William Carter and the Barbeque of Doom. It had turned out that Jared had taken the liberty of inviting a few people, a few people who had taken the liberty of inviting a few more, until a small barbeque had become a full-blown house party.
Brody was in his element, spinning tracks from the stereo, demonstrating the wonders of his record collection. Surprisingly his retro flair still held appeal to everyone and after they had tucked the coffee table out of the way, the living room had become an impromptu dance floor.
Jared was managing the fire pit, sending people up the road to the LOEB on the corner for more hotdogs and burgers; fortunately it was still early enough for the store to be open, and the manager had to be making a killing off of all the high school kids suddenly descending on their meat department.
Andrew was out on the veranda with a bottle of beer talking to his old teammates, reminiscing and catching up with each of them. It was one of those rare times Will didn't feel he had a right to intrude. Hockey was distinctly Andrew's and Will respected that it was one thing he would never truly be able to share with his boyfriend.
No, Will was the poor sod left dodging snakes and Germans (who looked a lot like cheerleaders), to rescue the damsel in distress.
Will didn't know how Jared had managed it, but Lisa had come. She sat at the kitchen table looking uncomfortable as Charlene and her squad of Harridans sat around her claiming the kitchen as their domain.
Laughably, Will was the sole bastion of testosterone in that sea of estrogen. He was probably faring better than most men would. There was, of course, the common frame of reference he could fall back on to relate to them. But even that was a source of fascination for the cheerleaders.
"How did you know you were gay?" Julie asked, looking at Will who was perched on the counter top, his legs dangling, wearing what could only be described as a unique shirt. Will liked it so he wore it, yet another of Uncle Arthur's additions to his wardrobe.
"Well," Wills admitted, squinting into his cup of juice, sufficiently `manned-up' with tequila, "I kinda didn't."
"You didn't know you were gay?" Charlene asked incredulously. Over the last year since she had out-ed Andrew rather dramatically she had come to accept Will, grudgingly, at Lisa's insistence. The uneasy truce, she felt, gave her the right to join in the conversation.
Will shrugged, looking through the dining room and living room out of the patio doors to where Andrew was gesturing with his beer bottle for his friends. "Andrew kissed me first," he said after a pause.
"Is he a good kisser?" Geraldine asked, a distant look in her eye as she asked it, looking for confirmation on her own barely-hidden fantasy.
Will smiled uncomfortably, "Well, I like it."
"Doesn't it hurt?" Julie asked suddenly; she had started to pick at the chips, despite the fact that Charlene shot her a dirty look and mouthed the word `diet' to her.
"Kissing?" Will asked in confusion.
"No, when ... you know... you put it up his..." Julie blushed bright red.
Will mirrored it.
Jason Jensen, a young sophomore who had joined the Condors that year had just walked into the kitchen; his eyes went wide as he caught the conversation. Paling noticeably he spun on his heels and walked out again.
"Well, does it?" Geraldine asked, a curious light in her eyes.
Will looked to Lisa for some kind of aid when it came to her friends, but she was stiffly staring into the living room, no doubt watching Brody the way she would a poisonous snake. Will sighed and decided to answer the question as best he could.
"Well firstly, Andrew is usually the one..." he struggled, "Well you know... and I..errr.."
"He's the bottom," Charlene explained with a sigh as if explaining to a simpleton. "He's the one getting poked."
"P..poked?" Will coughed into his cup, he'd never heard it described quite like that before.
"You're the girl?" Julie asked, sitting down in a chair grasping the concept.
Will rolled his eyes, "Contrary to popular opinion, I assure you there is no such thing as a `girl' in gay sex."
Geraldine and Julie looked sheepish, Charlene just rolled her eyes, "They just want to know if it hurts because Maurice told Julie that if she let him do it up her... that way she wouldn't get pregnant." Even Charlene blushed at the directness of the conversation.
"Oh dear god," Will murmured, dragging his hands down his face; he was in hell. And typically his hell contained cheerleaders.
He swallowed trying to recover from his immense discomfort at the topic of conversation. "Well, it depends," he admitted honestly. "It hurt the first few times but Andrew is...well, he is so worried he is going to hurt me that he's very gentle."
Geraldine and Julie sighed together wistfully. Andrew was a gentle lover.
"What does it feel like?" Julie asked curiously.
"Julie!" Charlene admonished, "Let's change the subject, okay?" As usual, her suggestion was more of an order to her minions. A royal decree from the current reigning queen of the school.
Will breathed a sigh of relief, "Sounds like a good idea to me."
"How'd you know if someone else was gay?" Geraldine asked curiously. "I mean is there a sign or something?"
"No," Will replied, "we have a secret handshake."
Julie and Geraldine's eyes widened. "Really?" they asked in unison.
"He's kidding," Lisa said, snapping out of her staring and focusing on the conversation. "Will, you know better than to tease the girls."
"Yes, Mom," Will replied with a grin. He turned back to the two girls, "It's nothing I can really explain; I get a hunch and it's just that."
"Oh, who'd you get a hunch about here?" Geraldine asked, a hungry look on her face.
Will arched an eyebrow. "How about my not being responsible for the next round of homophobia?" he said dryly.
He got up. "On that note I think I should go and kiss my boyfriend," he glanced through to the veranda, "before the Condors drag him off to one of their latent homosexual initiation rituals."
Lisa stood up as well, brushing down her hip-huggers and the pretty top. Out of all of the cheerleaders Will could appreciate her beauty. Charlene had good looks with her mass of bottle-blonde curls and round soft features, Geraldine and Julie were pretty, one brunette, the other a natural blonde. But neither of them had anything on Lisa. She possessed an elflike grace about her, waify and thin, with long auburn hair that she always wore in a ponytail or just loose flowing about her face. They walked through the house together, Lisa stepping up beside him to coil a hand around his arm as they passed through the living room. The tension between her and Brody was palpable, so thick that Will could almost taste it. Finally when they emerged onto the veranda, she relaxed.
"Hey, Will," Andrew called out, lifting his beer.
Will smiled back, "Just going to see what damage our resident grill master has done to the barbeque."
Andrew nodded, giving him a reassuring smile as he turned back to his conversation, but his eyes lingered a moment longer, softening as they conveyed to him all the warmth they could.
Jared was fighting with the barbeque; covered in grease and charcoal smudges, he looked like he was enjoying himself greatly. Cynthia was helping him by passing him whatever supplies he needed to feed the army of high schoolers that had turned up for the impromptu party.
They stopped by the back fence, and Will turned to his best friend. "Are you okay?" he asked sincerely.
Lisa tried to smile, but it was forced and one look at the young Brit in front of her who stared at her with such concern caused her to abandon the act. She looked down at the ground a moment and took a deep, ragged breath. "I'll get over it," she said softly.
"You know I love you, right?" Will pressed, reaching up to brush a strand of her hair from her eyes.
"I'm fine," she said unconvincingly. "It's just, well, you know."
"Yeah," Will said, "I get it."
Lisa nodded, taking Will's cup of juice from him and downing it, wincing at the taste. "Ok, you really are gay," she said, screwing up her face at the sweet fruity taste.
"Hey!" Will said defensively. "What do I have to do to prove my masculinity here? First Jared, then the cheerleaders and now you. I'm not a girl!" He shook his head with a loud sigh, "Oh for flip sakes!" he exclaimed, giving up.
"We love you anyway," Lisa said, resting a hand on the fence. "But as for Brody, honestly Will, I'm going to be fine."
"You're sure?" Will asked again, looking over to the bay windows where Brody was sitting talking to the rather pretty young woman who had been getting into her car that morning. How Brody managed it was anyone's guess, he just seemed to have the golden touch; but like Midas that gold came with such a heavy price.
Lisa sighed. "So," she said deliberately changing the subject, "how's teaching?"
Will watched a couple of the hockey players tussling on the veranda, Andrew sitting on the rail watching over them. He looked so comfortable and natural; even though he had moved on, they still looked up to him. "It's going...well." he said, suddenly looking back at her. "That's not quite true," he admitted. "I don't know what's going on."
"How so?" Lisa asked curiously.
"Mrs. Casey; she's been out all week and no one's said anything to me about it. I've been teaching the kids by myself." He sounded troubled.
"Are you allowed to do that?" Lisa asked in concern.
"No," Will replied. "I'm supposed to be supervised; I don't know if anyone else knows."
"Well," Lisa said thoughtfully, "Mrs. Casey only lives up the street from me; if you come over we can go see if she's all right." She smiled, "Plus, my mom will be happy to see you, she always thinks you're too thin."
Will couldn't argue with good old-fashioned home cooking, Lisa's mom was one of the best cooks in the area. Her daily batches of muffins were the envy of everyone around. Plus, it gave him a chance to talk to someone a little more experienced than he was about Peter McCormick and his mother.
He nodded, "Sounds like a plan." He said finally, "I need another drink, are you coming?"
"Back into the snakes' den?" she commented, and Will wasn't sure if she meant Brody or Charlene and her girlfriends. Either way, his glass was empty and he had the rare inclination to get pleasantly inebriated that evening.
They entered the house again, squeezing through the mass of people, finally entering the kitchen that was steadily being overrun by more people. Word of the party was spreading and that meant more houseguests. Will shrugged, it was no big deal; the house was relatively large, and there was nothing exceptionally valuable in it that wasn't safely locked up in one of the bedrooms.
Will was jostled as he opened up the fridge and dug out the pitcher of spiked punch; pouring himself another glass he turned to offer one to Lisa. But to his shock she was standing, hands on hips, glaring at Brody who was heading to the fridge at the same time. Finally the showdown that everyone had hoped would never happen.
Will took a heavy pull on his glass and decided he should keep the pitcher.
Lisa had said something, in that low biting way of hers that she only ever used when she was pissed. Brody gave her a calm look and spoke back.
"Just because a girl from school called me doesn't mean I was sleeping with her," he said it in a calm level tone, but quiet was falling over the crowded kitchen as people moved to give them space.
"That's not what you said when I asked you about it," she said angrily.
"No," Brody said, "you were asking me if I was monogamous, which is a completely separate conversation."
She looked at him in some confusion, "You mean you never...?"
"Never," Brody replied flatly, squaring his shoulders. "Now if you would..." he sighed and reached out, picked her up by the hips, set her out of the way of the refrigerator and helped himself to a drink.
"But what about all the girls since," she demanded, obviously trying to find something to bring to bear on him.
He turned, straightening up as he twisted the cap off of his bottle, "We were on a break..." He snorted with laughter, "Ok, not even I can pull that one off. What I do when we're not together is up to me." And with that he strode off returning to his record player and his classic tunes.
Lisa scowled darkly as she turned back to Will and snatched the glass out of his hand, downing it in a single fluid motion. Will, in surprise, lifted the pitcher. "More?" he asked innocently.
Sunday was a day Will would never forget.
It had started out simply; he had gone through his customary morning ritual, leaving Andrew to sleep soundly in the bed as he showered and got dressed. As much as he wanted to just crawl back into bed with his boyfriend and be smothered with love, he had too much to accomplish that day. So instead he paused in the doorway of the bedroom, hand on the brass doorknob, just watching Andrew sleep off the effects of his drinking the night before.
He shook his head as he went downstairs, picking his way across the carnage that had once been the living room. The furniture was still pushed back against the walls, and empty cans, glasses and pizza boxes were littered everywhere. He contemplated just slapping a biohazard sign on the door and moving.
Much to his dismay, when he went to make himself a cup of coffee he discovered all the coffee cups had been used the night before, and he didn't relish the thought of cleaning one out after he had looked into one to see the cigarette butt floating there. He sighed and set it down; he could grab a cup of coffee from the gas station when he walked over to Lisa's place. It was probably safest for him that way.
He paused as he heard a sound, frowning to himself as he walked over to the small laundry room that adjoined the kitchen and throwing open the door.
Jared blinked up at Will from where he sat on the laundry basket, Cynthia's hand in his as she sat on the washer; both of them smiled at him.
"Hey," Jared said with a dopey smile.
"Hey?" Will said, puzzled.
"We were just talking," Jared explained. "What time is it?"
Will glanced at his watch, "Almost ten."
Jared blinked, "Oh crap, I'm late for church, my parents are gonna kill me..." He got up rather hurriedly, "Great party Will; thanks," he looked over at Cynthia, "for everything."
"All part of the service," Will said with a meaningful look as he stood aside to let the pair of them out.
* * *
It was raining when Will finally got his coffee--large, fat droplets that were coldly refreshing on that quiet Sunday morning. He was glad he was wearing his leather jacket; even though it was early summer, when it rained it was cold. He had his hands wrapped around the paper coffee cup, enjoying the rain plastering his hair to his head and soaking slowly through his clothes.
He was English, a creature born in the dampest, wettest place on earth. He smirked and started to murmur aloud the lines to a poem his father had taught him when he was small:
"There's an isolated, desolate place I'd like to mention, Where all you hear is "Stand at ease!", "Slope arms!", and then "Attention!" It's miles away from anywhere, by jove it is a Rum-un, A man lived there for forty years and never saw a woman".
He grinned as he crossed the street, feeling himself stepping to the march rhythm of the poem.
"There's lots of tiny wooden huts dotted here and there, For those who live inside them, please offer up a prayer, It's mud up to your elbows, you get it in your eyes, But you've got to go, no matter what your size".
He sipped his coffee and continued to grin,
"There are soldiers living in these huts, and it fills my heart with sorrow, With tear-dimmed eyes they said to me, "It's Catterick Bridge tomorrow", Inside these huts they say there's rats as big as any goat, Last night a soldier saw one trying on his overcoat."
He nodded to an old woman pushing carrying her shopping bags, as he lively stepped to one side to let her past, continuing the poem again,
"To breakfast every morning is just like Mother Hubbard, You double round the hut three times, then dive into the cupboard. Sometimes they give you bacon, sometimes they give you cheese, Which marchesjup and down your place, `Slope arm!' and `Stand at ease!'".
He neared the top of Lisa's street, thoroughly enjoying the rain and his memories of home,
"At night you sleep on boards and straw, just like a herd of cattle, And if perchance you turn yourself, your bones begin to rattle. And when you hear Reveille blow, it makes you feel unwell, You knock the icebergs off your head, and wish the buglerówell!"
He climbed the steps to Lisa's porch and leaned in to ring the bell,
"Now when the war is over, and we've captured Little Willie, To shoot him would be merciful, but absolutely silly. Just send him down to Catterick, among the rats and clay, I bet it won't be very long before he fades away."
"Who fades away?" Lisa asked, puzzled, as she opened the door on him.
"Kaiser Wilhelm," Will said with a shrug. "Never mind..."
"Is that William?" Mrs Highbury asked, coming into the hall from the kitchen, her apron smeared and a touch of flour on her blouse. No doubt she was baking again. The smells of fresh muffins baking caused Will's mouth to salivate at the thought of her infamous chocolate chip muffins.
"Well, don't just stand there," Mrs. Highbury admonished. "You're soaked; come in and dry yourself off..."
Will shrugged as he came into the house and stepped out of his shoes, "A little rain never hurt anyone."
Mrs. Highbury ignored him, as she often did when he tried to protest against her mothering nature. She, like Jared's mother, had developed a tendency to fuss over him. After all, they figured, no one else did so why not? It was in their nature to take care of wounded birds, lost kittens and the occasional single man.
She handed him a towel and had him scrub his hair dry, and Lisa giggled when he emerged from the toweling with hair sticking up in all directions. He gave her one of his looks and calmly requested a comb.
Satisfied that he no longer resembled a golliwog he joined Lisa in the kitchen, her mother already pouring him a cup of her famous coffee and setting a fresh muffin onto a plate for him. He enjoyed coming over to the Highbury's, he was always spoiled bloody rotten.
"So how was the party last night?" Lisa's mother asked, returning to her baking.
"Pretty good," Will replied, tearing into the muffin and watching a trail of steam rise from its insides. It was so fresh that it was still piping hot; he grinned across the table happily at Lisa who shook her head, no doubt thinking what a big kid he could be at times.
"How'd Jared do with Cynthia?" Lisa asked, a mad glint in her eye. Yet another weakness of women everywhere, the constant need to play matchmaker. A single person just wasn't happy unless they were pared off with someone. Lisa was exceptionally bad; even though she herself was single, she went out of her way to set people up.
"Well," Will said with a shrug, "they spent the night talking in my laundry room."
"That's so romantic..."
"Huh?" Will blinked in confusion. "I'd hardly call being squeezed into a laundry room all night with Brody's dirty underwear romantic..." Mrs. Highbury was looking at Will disapprovingly, "Not that they were doing anything," Will hurried to explain, his cheeks flushing. "They were both fully clothed."
"I certainly hope so," Mrs. Highbury said with a sniff, pouring muffin batter into the baking tins.
"Nothing untowards went on at all last night..." Will blushed again, remembering Andrew taking him upstairs... "Well, certainly not in the laundry room..."
"William Carter!" Mrs. Highbury admonished in a scandalized tone. "This is the Lord's Day, don't make me drag you down to Father Fitzpatrick for confessional!"
Will grinned at her, "I don't know what I'd have to confess over, I'm pure and innocent I assure you..."
Lisa couldn't contain her own fits of giggles as she slid off her chair; even Mrs. Highbury had to pause her baking because she was laughing so hard. Will simply crossed his arms and looked unimpressed, "What--I have a reputation now?"
* * *
Fed, Will and Lisa made their way up the road to the small cottage at the end of Lisa's road. A pretty little bungalow with a well-cared-for garden, brightly painted siding and a porch swing. It was a beautiful house, and Will was impressed with how a building reflected the occupant. Mrs. Casey was one of those women who seemed to just care about everyone.
It was still raining, and Will was glad to dash up the steps to the shelter of the porch, shaking himself off as he looked down at Lisa running a few steps behind him. They chuckled at each other's bedraggled state as Will reached out to pull the bell cord.
"Do you think she's in?" Lisa asked curiously.
Will shrugged as he leaned around the porch a little to get a view of the small red Honda parked on the white gravel driveway. "Her car's still here."
Lisa frowned as she went and sat down on the bench swing, "So what do we do, wait?"
"She could be at church," Will offered, pausing as he noticed the mailbox hanging beside the door with envelopes sticking out of it. There was no mail delivery on a Sunday; they had to have been sitting there a couple of days.
"But it's the afternoon," Lisa said, dismissing his thought.
Will nodded. "Stay here," he warned, as he hopped down to the garden and set off for the driveway.
"Where are you going, Will?" Lisa asked, standing up.
"I'm going to check the back, stay there," he said, turning the collar of his jacket up against the rain as his shoes crunched on the loose gravel. He was feeling uneasy, and he looked back at Lisa who was watching him intently.
He rounded the back of the house, looking at the sodden washing on the line, his brow furrowing; that was odd. Nothing else seemed amiss, the tomato plants in the garden hung with ripe fruit. A cat sitting on the back step mewed at him indignantly.
His unease was growing as he stepped up the steps to the back door, trying the handle as he let himself into the house. The cat shot past him, causing him to jump, and he shook himself off; he was just being paranoid.
The inside of Mrs. Casey's house was just as well cared for as the outside. Her kitchen was meticulous; the only thing out of place was half a sandwich on the side that was going moldy, as if it had been sitting for a few days. Wherever Mrs. Casey had gone, she had left in a hurry. The smell from the rotten sandwich was terrible.
He drew up short as he entered the living room, his shoulders falling as he saw her. Lisa's sharp gasp dragged him out of his shock. She must have followed him around to the back and into the house. He caught her, quickly turning her head away.
* * *
"And what relation are you to the deceased?" the police officer asked.
Will sat stone still, his arm wrapped around Lisa, sitting on the porch of the house. She had a warm thermal blanket around her to keep her warm despite the fact she was soaked to the skin.
Will digested the question a second and blinked to look up, "I'm... well, I was assisting her up at the school."
The police officer nodded, reaching out to hold the door open for the coroner to wheel out the stretcher, Mrs. Casey covered respectfully. Lisa gasped again, and began to sob into his shoulder, Will rubbing her back comfortingly as he rubbed his own face with his other hand.
"What made you suspect something was wrong?" the police officer pressed, squinting at his little black notebook.
"I, well she hadn't been to work for a few days," Will said. "I was concerned and stopped by to see if everything was okay."
The policeman nodded compassionately. "I understand, from the looks of things she's been... Well, it looks like it happened some time a week ago," he said hesitantly. "Should I call your parents?"
Will pointed up the street, "Lisa lives just over there; I can help her home."
"Very well, Mister Carter," the officer nodded. "I may have some more questions for you."
Will nodded and gave him his phone number, helping Lisa up and walking her across the road past the small crowd of neighbours attracted to the flashing lights and commotion at the end of their street. Mrs. Highbury was waiting to take Lisa from him, looking at him in concern. Will shook his head, refusing her silent offer of comforting, turning up the collar of his coat again and walking back for home, suddenly very aware of mortality.