W H E N   S H A D O W S   P A S S
by Sean E. – EkidKy  (EKidKy@Hotmail.com) 

D I S C L A I M E R 
This fictional series contains frank discussions, imagery and scenes between young male teens with subject material that is not appropriate for all people.  Although that statement implies young adults of a certain age should refrain or be discouraged from reading, it is my honest belief that the decision should lie with the individual (I know what it was like when I was as young as 13 to 14 years old).  This story is intended to be read by all ages, both young and old at heart, who want to find encouragement, understanding and acceptance – especially in this big, busy world where we live.  I know society frowns upon what it considers to be the taboos of young people and sex, but I think there is a place – deep inside all of us, throughout life – where we need to feel accepted and wanted.

On a personal note, that’s why I write and do this – for guys who feel confused but need to believe in themselves. It is my sincere hope my writings can give a teen courage and hope.  If it helps even just one individual in some way to know that they are not alone, then it’s worth every effort I make.  There is a stigma in our society where young male emotions should always be surpassed: “Grow up!”, “Suck it up, be a man!” and other phrases are things I’ve heard all my life.  It’s as if anything to do with boys having feelings and companionship amongst one another should be dammed.  Well, it wasn’t for me; I was a teen who hid a lot from the world, but also had a lot to give on the inside, and I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized it is a reality more common than you think.  I know because I’ve been there – and surprisingly, at the time of this writing, it was NOT that long ago. 

If you find such material objectionable, then obviously you're in the wrong place - and you should move on to other sources for your reading pleasure.  Also be warned: if you want the “quickie” – sorry, that isn’t me or my style.

As with most authors, any feedback is encouraged and appreciated: EKidKy@hotmail.com


W H E N   S H A D O W S   P A S S
Chapter Three: The Road's First Curve

    Pulling his feet underneath him, Jason sat watching the two brothers go after each other in the intense fight on the screen, playing a game Jason had never heard of before. In truth it was not a surprise - Jason was not a video game junkie, unlike what appeared to engross over 70% of his American counterparts.  In fact, in all the years he was growing up at home, the closest he and his dad had come to owning any type of video game console was the original Nintendo Super NES systems - along with a few cartridges, of course. He wasn't sure why they, or rather he, never got into the craze that swept most teenagers throughout the nation.  Maybe it had to do with money not being in abundant supply, but Jason figured it had more to do with a lack of good old-fashioned interest.  He had been content spending his days reading books and magazines, watching television, riding bikes, and building and painting models.

    He wasn’t the greatest at being an outdoors person either, something that had always annoyed his father.  Although not much of a sports fan, at least he did enjoy swimming a lot - enough so he had participated in various swimming events at the local YMCA in the last few years, and volunteered to help out at various times with their swim classes.  It was the only “sport” he felt any confidence in for himself, and he didn’t have any real inhibitions about being around people in the water.  Moreover, the water was an escape into another world, a place where Jason could isolate his thoughts and feelings from everyone else and truly feel free.  He smiled as the memories returned and he closed his eyes reliving the moment.  Opening them, however, he saw an abrupt change to his reality once again, and wondered if he would ever get to enjoy that privilege again in this strange, new land.

    “AAhhhh!!! YYeeessssssssssssssss!”  The exclamation from Elliot interrupted his thoughts, causing him to focus just in time at seeing the younger brother emerge victoriously over his older sibling.  There was a great deal of enthusiasm at the moment as the youth jumped from the couch, punching his fist into the air. “Finally, I did it!  I beat your sorry arse wickedly! Now you can quit embarassing me in front of all your friends!”  The latter was delivered within inches of his older brother’s face, not menacingly, but with more exuberance than Jason had yet witnessed.  As he danced in his victorious spotlight, Elliot left the space by his brother just as quickly and moved toward Jason, a hand extended high in the air.  Amused, Jason met the boy with the customary high five slap before watching the youth collapse next to him.

    Derek laughed before tossing the newcomer the controller.  “Here, you have a go at it, I’m done.  Besides, I’ve got some homework that needs doing.”  Getting up, he disappeared through the doorway to the back of the flat, leaving the two remaining youths alone.  Both Natalie and Simon were out at the moment – exactly where, Jason was not sure, but he assumed they were just out for the evening on their own. 

    Elliot sniffed, still grinning wildly.  “He just didn’t want to have to deal with being beaten again, I tell you!” Glancing at the other boy, he explained.  “I’ve been trying to beat him at this one for over six months, and every time we start hanging out with our mates he always brags about how he beats the snot out of me on it!”

    “So now he can’t anymore,” Jason surmised, a look of amusement crossing him as the other boy nodded in reply. 

    Elliot sniffed again and then looked around.  “Be right back, I need to find a tissue.”  Like his brother, he too disappeared through the doorway, leaving Jason alone in the room and staring at the TV screen.  Although differing scenes changed and offered an interesting insight (or was it a replay?) into the match just completed, he regarded it with indifference.   Jason held the controller in his hands loosely, pondering if he should try playing or not. 

    So many things had happened in the three days Jason had been with this family now, both exciting and puzzling.  While waiting for Elliot’s return, the youth reflected back on the events from the day before.  They had left the flat and walked out into a stiff westerly wind, walking to the entrance of the alley and working through a maze around people moving between store fronts and shops lining both sides of the street.  The rain had stopped for the time being, but the dampness in the air made it feel cooler than it actually was and in the event, Jason wished he had thought to wear his jacket.  Eventually the two came upon a small shop where, upon entry, Jason had been introduced into another world he had never seen the likes of.  Role playing games existed in the States, but not to the extent that he saw here.  Warhammer, as he discovered, was a fantasy game played across tabletops, using individuals assuming various roles and the luck of the dice.  Notable for its dark and gritty background, many of the creatures, races and characterizations that were built reminded Jason of the Lord of the Rings series, a favorite of his since being introduced at an early age.  Here the forces of Chaos were unceasingly attempting to tear the mortal world asunder, leaving tragedy in its wake, and the game play was enhanced through the use of unique sets and figures.  The game itself was complicated, and although Jason did not dislike the concept, it was just new and “alien” to him in most regards.

    What wasn’t new, however, was the use of the various sets and miniatures. Each was crafted and assembled and painted, which drew his attention because of his own interests in building and painting models.  While Elliot participated with a group of fellow players in one of the many arenas, he had absent mindedly noticed one such kit in an opened box lying at the back of a nearby shelf.  Picking the pieces up one by one, he thought it looked like one of the buildings that had fallen apart.  Finding no instructions, he slowly toyed with them, studying the parts of the complex sculpture and evaluating where and when the parts should be placed.  Before he knew it, he had reassembled a structure that favored an elaborate bridge of sorts, and when he seemed satisfied he began looking around for the arena where it must have came from.  It was then an older teen walked by and took notice, whistling in surprise.

    “Hey, look guys, the Krel Bridge – someone worked it out!”  The game play had halted at that point and several boys, all of varying ages, surrounded both the teen and Jason to admire the handiwork.  Looking up at the newcomer, the boy raised an eyebrow.  “Did you do this?”

    Jason swallowed hard, suddenly fearful he may have done something he wasn’t supposed to.  “Um, yeah, sorry if, I mean…”

    “No, no – this is excellent!” the young man exclaimed.  “You see, we’ve had this for a long time I think, but there were no directions or anything about how to put it together, and none of us could work it out!” The youth extended his hand. “Ron Fulcrum,” he introduced himself.  “My Dad co-owns the place.”

    Jason sighed inwardly with relief before returning the handshake. “Um, Jason – Jason Mathews.”

    “Ah, right, I remember, the Flavell border from the States, right?” He looked around and spotted Elliot nearby, then nodded. “El was filling us in the other night.  Good to meet you though, welcome to England.”

    Jason studied the other youth and decided there was a distinct amount of sincerity in the boy. “Thanks, um, yeah, thanks,” he stammered as the boy withdrew his hand and studied the model again.

    “How did you do this? I mean, there must be what, forty to fifty pieces here, right?” He whistled without waiting for a reply. “I spent an afternoon after school, but rather failed at the task I’m afraid. It is NOT an easy go, that’s for sure.”  When Jason just silently shrugged his shoulders, the boy let the others looking on observe the structure up close.  “You do much of this back in the States?”

    “Not like this stuff, no – but I have put a lot of models together.”

    “What kind?”

    “I don’t know, mostly warships, planes and cars, some army stuff too, like tanks and trucks.”

    Ron suddenly got a knowing look in his eye and grinned.   “Ah, I see.  We Brits do models here sometimes too, but you won’t find it as big I think.  Mostly we stick with the games and sets.  Curious, though – how do you feel about painting? You know, are you any good at it?”

    Again Jason shrugged. “I don’t know, I guess so.  I mean, I don’t know about little details and stuff, but I paint most of my models and stuff.”

    “That’s excellent!  Maybe we could get you try your hand at some of the things we do here in the shop! Most of the guys here don’t like to paint, and the few of us who will don’t particularly care for it.  In fact, I know my Dad would take to having someone help him out sometimes.”  He grinned, finally putting the assembly back on the corner.  “Come on, we’ll show you how the games work.”

    After that point, the morning had gotten a whole lot better for Jason.  His first introduction to English school boys turned out not to be so bad after all.  Towards their gaming, he made an honest effort to understand what they were doing, working with both Elliot and Ron and others as they attempted to explain the game in turns.  In the end however he had to laugh at how complex it all seemed.  On their walk back home, his conversation with Elliot brought this out.

     “Sorry Elliot, that was…“  He paused before finally laughing.  Failing to find the words he wanted, he just shook his head. “Well, it was weird, kind of cool, but still weird.  It just seems, I don’t know, like there is so much you have to get into and remember and everything.”

     Elliot laughed with him. “It’s involved, with a lot of stuff you have to learn, I know. Once you get into it though, it’s a lot easier than it looks.  You made a hit with the guys though, putting that bridge together.”

    As they rounded a corner onto the street to the flat, Jason shrugged his shoulders. A light rain was returning, but neither hurried along.  Scrunching his nose, he tried to ignore the dampness in the air.  “I’ll be honest, it WAS pretty cool.”

    “Well, hell yeah!” the boy exclaimed, although in a subdued voice. Jason inwardly smiled as he noted how the teenager always did that when he was swearing.  Elliot glanced quickly about to make sure no one had heard other than the two of them, then laughed as he noticed the newcomers reaction. “What, you guys in the States don’t swear?”

    “Of course we do!” Jason retorted and then laughed.  “Just, umm, some more than others I guess.”

    Elliot nodded. “It’s the same here; most of the parents here just don’t like it – especially Mum, so I would watch yourself around her, if you know what I mean!”  Pausing, he glanced at the other boy as they walked along.  “So what was it like, you know, where you lived in the States?”

    Jason looked up at the surrounding area as they walked. “Um, big – at least bigger than this.”

    Elliot nodded. “Yeah, I’ve been to some places where its’ not so cramped.”

    “I- I didn’t mean like, your place, you know-“

    Elliot laughed. “Yeah you did, but it’s okay, I know you meant more than just home  – the flat, the streets here, the cars, everything. It’s not like this everywhere, you know. Portsmouth is an old, old English seaport, and there are lots of things here unchanged just because that’s the way everything was originally built.  I mean, a hundred years ago there were no cars and stuff, so streets like this were probably plenty wide enough for horses and carts and everything.”

    Jason thought about that for a moment and then nodded. “Makes perfect sense to me.”

    “As for the flat, meh, it’s the only home I’ve ever had, and it’s bigger than some of these others in here.”  He pointed to the left as they passed another entrance. “Kristen and her Mum live there, and they only have about half the space we do.” He rolled his eyes. “Watch out for her, she’s got water on the brain I think!  I mean, she’s alright sometimes, but she talks like an Italian, you know? She honestly can’t shut up! Plus, she’s a little pushy with having her way.”

    Jason giggled. “Okay, I’ll try and remember that.”

    The relationship he had been building with Elliot and his family continued to grow.  That evening they did go shopping as a family, which ended up being an adventure in itself. Simons compact could seat the four of them well, but once Jason was added, the backseat became a crowded free-for-all with the boys.  ASDA, as Jason discovered, was the British version of Wal-Mart back in the States.  Jason noted with amusement the crowds were no different, the place being packed solid for a Saturday afternoon with shoppers from everywhere.  The goods were basically the same, although named differently than those he was used to, such as potato crisps instead of chips.  Another thing he noted with indifference was that, as they traveled the aisles, almost a whole quarter of the store seemed devoted to the sale of alcohol.  He asked Simon about it, who turned and upon seeing the keen note of interest, nodded and laughed.

    “Yes, I’m afraid we Brits do have a fairly elevated sense of drinking here.  You see, there are some national chains of course, but a lot of beers come from local pubs and breweries throughout the UK.”

    Jason scrunched his nose.  “Oh,” he replied, clearly unsure what to think of that, making the older man laugh again as they continued and entered the clothing section, where Natalie took over and became picking out some basics for the youth.

    That evening the five of them entered the lobby of a high-rise building and entered the ‘lift’ – the UK version of what Americans call an ‘elevator’ – to the 4th floor.  (“Why do you call it an elevator?” asked Elliot.  “Lifts go both ways, but elevators, well, don’t they just elevate things upward?”  They all had a good laugh at that one as the boy shook his head in confusion).  The meal was different than in some American restaurants Jason had been to, but not all that odd.  Following both Derek’s and Elliot’s suggestion, he soon discovered a new love for the term ‘fish and chips’ - previously known to him as simply fish and fries.  He was amazed at how fresh everything tasted and – different.

    “Um, has this stuff got beer in the batter or something?”

    Natalie wrinkled her nose. “No, I don’t think so, but lots of places here use vinegar and salt solutions in their batter.  Why, do you like it?”

    “Like it? I love it!” he replied enthusiastically. “It’s different, but it’s great!”

    The night before had been no different than his first night.  In fact, Elliot had returned home and went straight to bed, stating he was overly stuffed.  Natalie had grinned and winked, telling Jason that happened a lot when they returned from eating out, as Elliot had a tendency to over indulge.  Jason remembered looking at the youth and then returning to stare at her incredulously.

    “Over eat? No way – he’s already thin as a pretzel!”  That made Simon laugh as he entered the door behind them.  When Jason bid the adults goodnight and went up to the bedroom, he found Elliot had already stripped and fallen onto the bed, eyes shut and obviously heading into a deep slumber – IF he wasn’t already there.  Giggling to his self, he made ready for bed and climbed over the top of the youth, pulling the sheet up over the both of them and promptly joining him.  It had been a very full day, and as he had the night before, Jason found himself feeling more comfortable settling in with the family.

     That morning Jason had awoke with a start, opening his eyes to see his new friend sitting on the bed beside him, staring down at the American.  As he began to focus, he noticed the corners of Elliot’s lips were curled upward in a smile.  “What?” Jason asked sleepily as he yawned and stretched.  When the other boy simply shook his head, his curiosity was aroused.  It took him a moment to get his bearings as he stretch out under the covers, but eventually he half laughed as the other boy’s disposition had not changed. “Okay, what are you grinning at? What, did I do something?”

    Elliot grinned but remained quiet.  Eventually he began darting his eyes and before long Jason realized and followed the gaze.  Staring at himself, he was confused at first until finally it dawned on him.  Quickly he brought his knees up beneath him and rolled over sideways, making Elliot finally laugh out loud.  Clearly embarrassed, Jason only lay there at first burying his head in his pillow, but eventually looking up at the other boy.

    Elliot leaned on to whisper in the youth’s ear.  “Hey mate, you’re not the first in the world to wake up with a hard-on you know!”

    Jason tried to toss a pillow at his friend, but failed miserably, causing Elliot to stand up and offer the boy a hand out of the bed.  “Come on, Mum and Dad are still asleep, you can get down to the bathroom and do what you have to do before they get up.”

    Jason stared at the youth for a moment, half smiling but sincerely affected by the openness in the exchange between them.  He couldn’t help but glance down at the cotton briefs of his friend and noticed he, too, was slightly stiffened up inside as well.  Although embarrassing as it seemed, Jason realized he did have a very, very full bladder begging him for relief, so he gave a subdued sigh and slowly climbed from the covers.  Elliot grinned at him as he emerged, but out of respect didn’t appear to take notice of anything between them.   When the younger of the two brothers opened the bedroom door and started to exit, Jason hesitated.  In this room, he was comfortable being around Elliot, but he wasn’t sure he could be modest enough to walk through the flat. 

    Elliot, noticing his new friend hadn’t followed, reappeared in the doorway.  “Come on,” he whispered.  “We’ll be back before they get up, I promise!”

    Slowly Jason took a step forward, still unsure of himself, and as he reached the door Elliot gave him a look of annoyance.  “Come on,” the boy whispered again, except this time he took hold of his friend’s hand.  “Don’t be a prude, no one is going to see anything of you unless it’s me or Derek, I promise.”  Although he felt sheepish, he let the other boy gently pull him from the room and up the hallway before they descended the stairs and quietly moved to the back of the flat.  Once there Elliot didn’t hesitate, pulling Jason with him inside the bathroom and then shutting the door.

    Without a seconds’ thought the British teen separated from Jason and walked over to the toilet, where he raised the front of his shirt and began to relive himself into the bowl.  Although Elliot’s back was to the American, Jason was surprised by his friend’s actions.  Hearing the water as it hit the bowl did not help his own situation at the moment, but he was clearly too embarrassed to walk over and join the other boy.  As Elliot finished, Jason quickly averted his eyes to try and find something else to stare at when the boy turned round.

    “Your turn,” was all Elliot said as he walked to the sink and turned on the water.  A new wave of anxiety came across the American for some reason as he stepped up to the bowl and hesitated.  He could see from the corner of his eye that Elliot was watching him through the reflection of the mirror.  Once again with an expression of annoyance, Elliot rolled his eyes, muttering “Good grief!” before he started for the door.  “Don’t take too long, I won’t wait forever!” he hissed before opening and exiting through the door, closing it quietly behind him.

    Jason felt mixed emotions surge through him at that moment, mostly of guilt and confusion.  It took him a minute to be able to finally let go, but the wave of relief that he then felt was nothing to match that of his feeling he had let his new friend down in some way.  When he finished and washed his hands, he emerged from the room to find Elliot waiting for him by the doorway.  Together they silently returned to their room and plopped down on the bed.  Elliot scooted over next to the window with his pillow so he could look out into the outside world while Jason just crossed his legs and sat Indian style at the headboard, his head low as if in shame.  Elliot noticed this, and peered at the youth in puzzlement.  “What’s up? What’s wrong?”

    Jason slowly raised his eyes to meet the other and found the confusion there, making him feel even more confused in the process.  “I dunno, I just... I mean, sorry, while ago, I just…”

    Elliot grinned and again rolled his eyes.  “Froze up? Hey, no sweat, it happens.”  He said it so carefree that Jason was taken aback.

    “I don’t get it, I’m mean… You called me a prude and – heck, what does that mean anyway?”

    Elliot laughed, then laughed harder and eventually had to bury his face in his pillow to keep the noise subdued.  When he finally pulled free he looked at the American.  “You’re serious, aren’t you?”  Seeing Jason’s hurt expression, he quickly changed his tone to one of understanding.  “Hey, I meant it while ago, no sweat – that means no problem,” he told the youth while coming up to sit beside him.

    Jason momentarily mimicked the other’s rolling of his eyes.  “Uh, I kind of figured that one!”  He giggled, and was pleased to see Elliot grin in return.  He softened his voice.  “Well, you going to tell me or not?”

    Elliot thought for a second. “Uh, mostly if you’re a prude it means you’re shy and stuff around people, you know, sex and stuff.  It means you’re all proper and look down on anything that deals with nakedness. Um, it also means you don’t put out any, like – a lot of the guys will call a girl a prude sometimes if she just wears long skirts and sweaters or long blouses – you know, stuff that covers up her features.”

    Jason studied that a moment.  “You mean, like her boobs and everything?”  When Elliot nodded, Jason scrunched his nose. “So, you called me a prude because –“

    Elliot sat still. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said it, honest.”

    Jason shook his head. “No, I mean, tell me, why…?”

    Elliot shrugged his shoulders.  “I guess ‘cause you couldn’t wiz with me in there. Like I said, you froze up.  It’s like uh - you were really modest about me being in the bathroom with you.”

    Jason thought about it for a moment before he finally nodded, casting his eyes down.  “You’re right though, I did freeze up. And you were right about the other, too.”  Glancing up he met the other’s eyes direct.  “I’m the one who should be sorry, I’ve just, well, never been around other guys and stuff.”

    Elliot grinned.  “That’s what I kind of figured.  Seriously though, don’t sweat it – but um, you might want to get used to it some though.”  Seeing the other youth’s curious expression, he continued. “At school, all the bathrooms and stuff, at least for the boys, are open stalls, no walls or anything.”

    Hearing that, Jason froze and went rigid. “Y-you serious?”

    Elliot nodded.  “I mean, it’s not really bad, just – you know.  You’ve had privacy I guess in the States, and trust me over here people are modest too – but we don’t put so much value on some of those things like Americans do.  The school we go to – where you’ll probably go, too – it’s an old school, with open showers and bowls and everything.  Guys just, you know, go in and do their business and then leave – unless you want to try and sneak a cigarette or something, and some of them do.”  He observed Jason thoughtfully.  “Does it really sound that scary to you?” he asked, his voice soft with sincerity.

    Jason lowered his gaze to his feet and could not look up for a moment.  He couldn’t help but ask himself that same question.  Was it going to be that scary for him?  Eventually he shook his head no and shrugged his shoulders, but he could not bring himself to look into the other’s eyes.  “I g-guess not.”

    Elliot sat there for a minute before he asked.  “What are you afraid of?”  When Jason peered up at him with an annoyed response, he hastily continued.  “No, seriously, I’m trying to understand, that’s all.  Are you afraid of something in particular, or…?”  When Jason continued to stare at him, he tried a different track.  “Are you afraid someone is going to see your willy or something?”

    Jason continued to gaze at his friend, unsure at first what to say, but seeing the sincerity there, he sighed deeply and just looked down again at his feet.  Elliot took that as an affirmative.  “Will it hurt your feelings if I giggle at that?”

    That made Jason snort and eventually both boys were giggling together quietly.  When he calmed down, Jason spoke first.  “How do you do it?  How do you just be so open about everything and not care?  Most guys I know of, unless they’re gay or something, or you know, jocks – would never do anything like you’re describing.”

    “What? You really believe that?”  When Jason nodded his head, Elliot just smiled. “Um, I think you got a lot to learn about some stuff.”  Not wanting to hurt the other boy’s feelings he continued.  “As to how do we do it? Um, I dunno – I just never think about it or anything. As for being afraid someone will see your willy and stuff, yeah, it’s going to happen, but you know something else? You’re going to see theirs too, whether you want to or not. And it’s not like they’ll have a hard-on or anything – well, sometimes they have when they’re in the showers, but that’s different.  You understand?  I mean, does that make sense?  Guys over here, they don’t care really, it’s just natural for us, we were raised this way and everything.  It doesn’t make you gay or anything to be curious, and it happens, that’s all. You’re going to see peeps and peeps are going to see you.  It doesn’t mean they’re going to rape you or anything.  It just means neither they nor you are so modest or anything.”

    Jason peered deeply into Elliot’s eyes at that moment and found a surprising inner strength within those simple words.  He smiled. “Which I guess is why you called me a prude.”

    Elliot grinned.  “Yep.”

    Jason sighed deeply before relenting to the fact he would have to change an aspect of his life.  “Which means I better find a way to get used to it then.”

     “Or find a way to hold your pee all day while you’re in school – which isn’t going to happen, trust me!”  They both laughed as Elliot extended a hand to the other boy’s shoulder and continued.  “Seriously, man – don’t sweat.  The sooner you learn to relax, the sooner it’ll be, like, second nature to you and everything.  Besides, you got me here, and Derek, and we’ll help you out.”

     “How?” Jason asked curiously, seriously wondering what the other youth was trying to tell him.

    “Oh, I dunno – just go to the bathroom with me sometimes when Mum or Dad aren’t around, stuff like that.  I trust you, I don’t care being around you, and maybe if you just get used to being around me and stuff, at least some of the time, then it’ll help, you know?”

    Jason thought that was a little strange, but yet it still made sense in most ways, so he nodded, then studied for a moment before speaking again.  “Um, so like, your school… the guys take showers and stuff then? Like, after gym and everything?”

     Elliot scrunched his nose and pulled a pillow up into his lap. “Some of the guys do, not everyone though.  Me and Derek don’t, because gym is the last period of the day for us.  I think when Mum takes you in tomorrow she’s going to see if they can’t set you up with the same timetable as I have, at least for starters.  Who knows, maybe you’ll end up staying in a bunch of my classes, which would be really great as far as I’m concerned.  Then if you do have gym toward the end of the day, you can like, skip the showers and stuff.”

    “That would be pretty cool, I mean, getting in your classes and everything.  The gym class, too.”  He sighed.  “Can I tell you something?”  When Elliot nodded, Jason hesitated and took a deep breath.  “The shower stuff doesn’t bother me that bad, I mean, I’ve never done it, never been naked around anyone, not in school anyway, but… right now, I just, I really don’t want it to happen, you know?  It’s not being around other guys and stuff that bothers me the most.”

    “Well, okay, but… what is it then?” Elliot asked softly.

    Jason sat silent for a long time before answering.  “I just… I just don’t think I can deal with it right now, that’s all.”  He looked up and saw his friend’s confusion.  “There’s a lot of stuff going on in my head right now, and this is all still so new to me and everything.  I mean, you and your brother have been great, and don’t think I don’t like, really appreciate it and everything, but – it’s just a lot to take in and everything, and – and –“

    “And what?” Elliot whispered.

    Jason looked back down to his feet before answering.  “I don’t know, I’m just still afraid I guess, afraid this is all going to end and… and… everything.”

    Elliot sat hugging his pillow in his lap for a moment.  What he could do to make his new friend feel any better, he didn’t know.  In the three days since his arrival, he already knew the kid had some issues – even without the forewarning his Dad had given them all the week before.  Elliot always thought American teens were a shifty, hyper group of kids that snubbed and looked down on the rest of the world.  Certainly the few he had talked to before seemed that way to him.  But this one didn’t even come close to that, and it confused Elliot.

    Elliot had his own feelings to contend with, though.  As he looked at Jason, he saw the uneasiness the other boy was feeling.  Slowly he reached out and placed his hand on the teen’s shoulder.  “Jason, look – do you trust me? Will you trust me?”

    It was an odd question for Jason to consider as he returned the gaze, searching for something.  “Yeah, I guess so.” He smiled, trying to be sincere, but he could tell that Elliot was hesitating. “I mean, do I really have a choice?” 

    Elliot stared at him for a second and then responded. “Yeah, you do, you always have a choice. I’m not asking you though, if you like me or … or want to be my brother or something.  I think you do like me, ‘cause I know I like you – a lot.  But this is different: I’m asking you if you’ll trust me – at least for a little while.  Will you?”

    Jason thought it over for a moment before he remembered how, on their first night together, in this very bed, Elliot had made him feel so much better about being there.  He figured there was something about this guy kid then, something really cool, that made him feel safe.  Because of that Jason knew that deep down he really did have a level of trust for Elliot – something he had not extended to anyone for a long, long time.  “The other night, when I first got here, I was scared and worried – everything you had already guessed at and more.  Although you guys were great to me, I felt like – like crying sometimes, because it was just, ummm, overwhelming I guess.  Out of all of it though, do you know what made me feel so much better?”  When Elliot didn’t answer, he continued.  “You did. I don’t want to seem like, I don’t know, like I’m some kind of nut case I guess, but right now – it’s just like I feel my nerves are all bunched up inside and stretching every which way.  But when I’m close to you, well… it just melts, you know?  All the knots and worries just kind of melt away some. So yeah Elliot, I do – I trust you more than you think I do, honest.”

    Elliot smiled back and actually was moved to the point he couldn’t answer for a moment.  When he did however, he felt the connection tighten between them.  “I’m gonna help you, I promise.  Just hold to that – you know, trust me for a while.  There is a lot of cool stuff here in the UK, and we’re going to have fun being together.  And guess what?  I’m going to stick with you through all of it, for as long as you need me anyway.”

    “What if that’s a really long time?” Jason asked in a whisper.

    Elliot shrugged his shoulders. “Like I said Jase, I like you already, because I think we’re a lot alike.  I don’t care.”  Staring into the youth’s eyes, he lowered his voice to a whisper as well.  “If you won’t freak out on me, I’ll tell you something.”   Jason was surprised, but slowly nodded for the other boy to continue.   “I’ve got a good feeling about you, honest – and that is the kind of stuff I don’t really tell anyone, except maybe Derek sometimes.”  It was everything Elliot could do to not reach out and embrace the other boy, as much as he suddenly wanted to.  “Just stick with me for a while and trust me.  Like Mum said, everything will be fine.  Nobody here is going to hurt you or anything.”

    Jason could feel the drawing closeness between them, like something more was being unsaid.  He started to feel uncomfortable at the moment because he felt so weak and defenseless.  His eyes were already watery, and he suddenly felt ashamed that Elliot has to see them, but as he bowed his head, his friend reached out and lifted his chin back so that they could not break their contact between each other.  Elliot held him there and Elliot felt like his whole raw soul was being exposed.  But instead of the smirk or amusement he would have typically expected, the other youth simply smiled with him and silently moved his lips.  No sound was heard, but Jason could feel the sincerity.  “Okay?”

    Reaching up he wiped his eyes and then nodded, smiling back.  There were no more words he could say or express at the moment.  He wanted to just put it all behind him and take a deep breath and let it go.  He tried his best at doing just that, and although he released it haltingly, Elliot understood.  His friend raised his right hand and made a fist in the air between them, which Jason met and gently knocked knuckles.  “No sweat then!  Come on, time to see what you know about ‘Call of Duty’.”

    “Call of … what?” Jason asked perplexed as the other teen dragged him from the bed and, finding both of their new pairs of sweats purchased the evening before, tossed one to his new friend. 

    Elliot rolled his eyes.  “MMaaannnn, I think I’ve got my work cut out for me.”

    The thoughts of that conversation still played in his head as Elliot reentered the room, and for once Jason fast-forwarded to the present with a start.  Looking at the clock, he realized the younger brother must have been gone quite some time, as it was late in the afternoon.

    “Sorry about that man, I had to stink the place up a bit.”

    “Huh?” Jason responded, thoroughly confused.  Elliot laughed and just shook his head, and as Jason retraced his thoughts, he suddenly remembered that Elliot had left the room to get a tissue for his nose or something.  Although very abstractly, he suddenly got a sense of what the other boy was referring to.  “You mean, you had to see the judge, right?”

    Elliot laughed. “You’ve been talking to Mum I see! Yep – I did, guilty as charged I guess!” 

    Jason rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath, “T-M-I”.  This time it was Elliot’s turn to pause.

    “What’s that mean?”

    “Too – Much – Information!”  They both cracked up before Elliot plopped down on the couch.

    “So, what do you want to do now? I take it not play the game,” he remarked, nodding toward the TV.  “It’s still replaying my grand victory lap.”  Jason noted the implication, then handed back the controller, clearly embarrassed.

    “Um, I don’t know.  Do you guys ever play cards or anything?”

    Elliot’s face lit up.  “Yeah! Like Rook, Rummy, and we got some new ones not too long ago, called Uno I think! You like playing cards? Seriously?”  When Jason nodded, he broke into a grin. “That’s great! I can’t get anyone around here to play much!”  With that he jumped from the couch and rushed over to the cabinets behind the dining table and produced a new box of Uno cards.  “Ever played this one?”

    Jason grinned.

    - + - + - + -

    “You two sure talked a long time this morning,” Derek told his brother later.

    Elliot looked up from the table, a look of suspicion crossing his face.  “What do you mean? How the heck would you know?”

    “Whoa little brother, ease off!  I didn’t eavesdrop or anything.  I got up to take a pee though and saw your door part of the way open.  When I looked through the crack it looked like you two were having some deep stuff, so I left you alone.  It was a while before you got up and went downstairs, that’s all.”

    Elliot thought about that a second, then nodded, returning to his homework. “Well, yeah, you were right.” He scrunched his nose before he pushed back the book and stretched.  Derek sat down next to his little brother as he let out a deep sigh.  Saying nothing, Elliot collected his thoughts.  “Don’t say anything to Mum or Dad, okay?  I think he’ll be okay, but…”

    “But you’re worried, right?”  When Elliot nodded, Derek took a long draw on his glass.  When Elliot peered over the rim and saw the grape juice, he looked at his brother who grimaced and offered him the glass.  “Don’t drink it all, okay?”  Elliot was careful and only sipped about half of the contents before returning it to his brother.  Derek didn’t say anything more at first, but was curious.  “Was it bad stuff?”

    Elliot shook his head. “Nah, just nerves mostly. But it’s hard to get him to relax with me, you know? It’s like, he’s afraid I’m going to bite his head off or something.”

    His older brother nodded. “Remember what Dad told us? He said that no one knows a lot about what happened to him after his Dad died, that he’s refused to open up.  That man and woman caring for him disappeared and no one knows how long he was on the streets altogether.”  He looked down at his brother and leaned in.  “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but Dad told me later when they found him, he was almost near dead.”  Seeing his little brother’s eyes bug out, he nodded to reassure him it was true.  “So no one knows, and right now, he may be hanging onto us because he’s afraid, or because he’s not – I don’t know.  It’s weird to figure guys out like that sometimes, when they clam up inside and everything.  I do know this - he’s not going to trust any of us overnight El, and who knows, it might be weeks or even months before he really settles in, you know?”

    “Yeah, I know.  I don’t know though, honest, I think he’ll be okay.  I like him, you know?”

    Derek nodded.  “I like him, too.  He really does seem like a decent sort.”  He eyed his brother closely though.  “Just don’t expect too much all at once.  Remember what Mum warned us about – he’s not going to just open up and be one of us. There’s too much difference in all of us and him. We have to make sure he gets to keep that side of him, you know, not change him.”

    Elliot nodded.  “Yeah, I know . It’s hard though, you know? I think he’s hurting inside – no, I KNOW he’s hurting inside, somehow.”  He sighed.  “I just hate seeing anyone have to live that way.”

    “Who wouldn’t?” Derek scoffed. “Look El, just … give him a chance, that’s all.  We’ll have to watch him real close this week at school.”

    Rolling his eyes, Elliot agreed. “You’ll help – right?”

    “Of course, but he’ll have mostly your classes.  I can only help maybe before and after school, maybe during lunch.”

    “That’s all I need, I think.”

    “Good.  Now – where is the little pipsqueak?”

    “He went out for a walk – said he just wanted to look around some.”  Elliot laughed.  “I was going to go with him, but he asked if he could just go alone for once, and see how much trouble it would be to find his way back.”  Glancing up at his brother, he saw the look of concern.  “Don’t worry, I gave him my mobile, so he has a way to call if he gets lost.”

    “And the number?”

    “I programmed it in.  He’ll be okay for a while, I think anyway.”

    “Good,” Derek replied with a smile.  He leaned in and whispered something in his brother’s ear which made the other giggle, then got up and left the room.  Elliot stared at his open textbook and then sighed before pulling it back and finishing the assignment.

    Moments later the front door opened and Jason strolled through with a wide smile.  “Hi,” he said cheerily.

    “Hey.  Have a good walk?”

    “Not bad, I went down to the other end of the street.  Sheesh, it goes a long way, doesn’t it?”

    “Yep, I think about 2 miles. You went all that way? I mean - all the way to the end?” Elliot saw the affirmative nod and then whistled before laughing.  “Sheesh, you got more guts than me then.”

    “Huh? How come?” Jason asked as he hung his jacket on the coat rack.

    “I dunno, just a long ways out on your own I guess.  I don’t like going places where there aren’t a lot of people.  I mean, the streets pretty decent up on this end, I just don’t know a lot about people down on that end I guess.” 

    Jason studied for a moment, and then looked as if someone had let the air out of his tires.  “Sheesh, I guess I never thought about it that way.”

    Elliot grinned. “It’s cool though, it’s not dark outside yet, although it’s starting to get that way.  Just walking and stuff is generally okay.  No one bothers you much.”

    Jason sighed with relief as walked over to the table.  “Good, you had me worried for a sec.” Glancing at the textbook, he wrinkled his nose. “Ugh, Algebra – and to think I thought I could escape that stuff from home!”

    Elliot laughed.  “It’s not so bad, but it IS boring.”  He closed the book.  “Bah, I’m done anyway.  Listen: are you hungry yet?”  When the other boy nodded Elliot rose to his feet.  “I think we’re supposed to order some pizza, but Derek and I thought you might like to go up and visit the pub on the corner.  They make great calzones there.”

    Jason’s eyes went wide.  “You mean, like go inside and eat?”  When Elliot nodded it was Jason’s turn to whistle.  “Man, they let you do that here?  I mean teens can go in a bar on their own and everything?”

    Derek suddenly appeared in the doorway and interrupted before his brother could reply.  “It’s not a bar see, not like in the States – it’s a pub.”  He paused, trying to find the words to explain.  “See, over here there aren’t a lot of real, ummm, what you call restaurants – but there are a lot of pubs, because they’re owned and run by local people and they sort of combine everything together.  They have bars and places for people to drink, but a lot of them have good food and stuff too, and yeah - generally anyone can come in most of the time.  These people down on the corner know us pretty decent, too – we’ve been in there with Dad a few times, so that helps.” 

    “You just don’t ask for any of the potent stuff to drink – because everyone will laugh at you for even trying,” Elliot added, grinning widely.  He nodded to Derek, who immediately picked up the pillow from the end of the couch and threw it at his brother.

    Jason grinned as he reached to put his jacket back on.  “Have you guys, like uh… tried to get beer and stuff?”

    Elliot shook his head. “I haven’t, and I really don’t care if I never try it.  Most of it smells too nasty to me anyway.  I won’t say anything about HIM though,” he added playfully, indicating his brother who walked up and grabbed for his jacket as well.

    “And right you shouldn’t.  The less you know the less Mum and Dad can drag out of you when you least expect it.”  All three laughed as they left, with Derek turning out the lights and locking the door behind them.

    - + - + - + -

   Later that evening both Simon and Natalie returned to find the boys playing a board game where, once again, Elliot was triumphantly celebrating as he raked in his winnings.  Amused, Natalie walked over to stand beside them and run her hand through her youngest son’s hair.  “Are you taking unfair advantage AGAIN?”  She laughed at the look of indignation that met her and then headed off before she could damage his ego.  “Watch him Jason, Elliot has a knack for winning at most of these board games.  Personally, I don’t see how he does it, but he somehow gets the luck in his court most of the time.  Boys, don’t stay up too late, you all three have school tomorrow.”

    All three of the teenagers wished the adults good night and continued to play for another twenty minutes or so, until Derek finally threw his hands up.  “Okay, you got me, I’m bankrupt.”  He stood up and stretched before putting his pieces away.  “I’ve never liked Monopoly that great anyway.  Anyway, I got to hit the shower.”  He strode from the room leaving the two younger boys staring at each other.

    Jason sighed and then relented.  “Okay, you got me, too: you win.” He laughed as Elliot pumped his fist in the air, then helped as they collected and returned the pieces in place and then stored the game away.  Elliot stood up and began standing on first one leg and then the other as he collected glasses and began wiping the table off. 

    “You okay, there?” Jason asked.

    Elliot laughed.  “Nope, gotta pee!”

    Jason giggled as he got to his feet.  “Oh - I should’ve guessed.  You should have went before your brother got the bathroom, though.  I think I should have too,” he added as he suddenly felt a growing need to answer mother nature’s call.

    Elliot gave his friend a look.  “What are you talking about? Come on!” he exclaimed, and before Jason could object Elliot grabbed his hand and dragged him into the hallway.  As they approached the back room, they heard the water running from the other side of the wall and Jason stopped, hesitating while looking at Elliot.  Rolling his eyes, Elliot turned back and leaned in close to whisper in his ear.  “You said you trust me, right? Remember?”  When Jason nodded, he felt Elliot’s tug on his arm.  “Then come on, he won’t mind us, I promise.”

    Hesitantly, he let himself be guided into the bathroom where, sure enough Derek was in the middle of a hot and rather steamy shower.  Jason noted the glass walls encasing the youth were fogged over heavily, and all that could be seen of the older brother was just the outline of a lithe form inside moving about.  Elliot let go of his hand and walked over to the toilet, where he proceeded to unzip and relieve himself into the bowl.  Jason still hesitated, standing behind the boy quietly until Elliot looked over his shoulder and, reaching back, grabbed hold of Jason‘s hand and slowly pulled the youth up beside him just as he finished.

    Jason felt guilty as he stood there, trying not to be as inconspicuous as possible.  Why, he didn’t know; he felt like he was invading into something he shouldn’t - if nothing else - have a right to do.  He heard Elliot giggle, causing him to turn in time to see the boy roll his eyes yet again.  Elliot had already zipped himself up by then and, before walking to the sink, he cupped both hands around Jason’s ear.  Speaking in a hushed voice, yet still loud enough to be heard over the rushing water from the shower, he hissed. “Man, just do it! Pee!”   With that he left Jason standing alone and headed for the sink.

    Jason slowly unzipped and with shaky hands freed himself, but found it incredibly hard to relax.  His thoughts of the brothers in the room, one behind him and the other showering less than 6 feet away, were hard for him to overcome.  As he stood there he couldn’t help it, and his anxiety grew.  He was bathroom shy and try as he might, he could not let go of the much needed relief.  He closed his eyes and tried to will it to happen, but he failed.

    At least until he felt Elliot standing beside him, and before he could even open his eyes, he felt Elliot cup his ear again.  “Hey, you got nothing we don’t have, so relax.  Hell, Derek’s even having a wank in there, see?”  He was giggling, and for once Jason let his guard down enough to glance sideways.  Again he could see nothing but the faded form of the other boy behind the glass, but there had been a change of sorts; Derek was definitely facing the wall and… well, the motions sure did resemble that of someone having some fun!  The sight was almost comical, and at that moment it made Jason giggle for some reason.  Maybe it was just the change of the tension, or because he heard Elliot giggling as well and it became infectious in its own way, but that change surprisingly did it.  Jason felt himself suddenly let go and begin to urinate.  He was stunned yet relieved at the same time, so much so he glanced quickly at the other youth still by his side.

    “Way to go mate!” Elliot hissed before turning away and backing off until Jason finished.  Sheepishly, Jason zipped up and walked over to the sink where he rinsed his hands before following the boy out of the room.  Neither of them spoke until they got up to their room and Elliot closed the door and locked it.  “Shit! He really was doing it, you know?  Damned - and right in front of us, too!” he grinned as he sprawled on top of the bed.

    Jason grinned as he plopped down beside the boy. “You think he knew we were there?”

    “Think? Oh yeah – it’s probably what was making him get off if you ask me,” was the unexpected reply.  Jason was shocked.

    “Y-you really think he knew we were in there?”

    Elliot nodded, a matter-of-fact expression crossing his face.  “He knew, yeah.  I’ve caught him plenty of times.”

    Jason stretched out on the bed beside him.  “You’re serious.”  Elliot nodded, and that left Jason feeling confused again.  Elliot let him stew on that for a moment before reaching out and tossing a pillow at his friend.

    “Lighten up, will you? It’s no big deal.”

    Jason laughed, surprising the British youth.  “Easy for you to say, I just – in front of us and, and…”

    Elliot rolled onto his side.  “What? Are you gonna say you don’t ever wank any, or…?”

    Jason rolled his eyes. “Of course I do, sheesh, I’m not a – what was the word you used? A prude?”

    Elliot giggled.  “I’m glad.” Seeing the look of curiosity, he explained. “I mean, I’m glad you’re at least as normal as every other guy I know.”

    Jason used the pillow to pop him on the head before stretching out and rolling beside him.  “I promise, I’m 100% all-natural boy,” he replied, grinning.

    “Um, I kind of figured that one out,” Elliot replied laughing.  “So, tell me, did it help any?”

    At first Jason was unsure, but it quickly dawned on him what his friend was referring to.  Sheepishly, he nodded. “It was crazy, but yeah, for some weird reason I think it sort of did.”  He shook his head. 

    “What?” Elliot asked, but when his friend did not answer, he let it go. “I told you – just trust me, it’ll all work out.”

    Jason closed his eyes for a moment.  “Tell me something though - just HOW do you know? I mean, how do you really know it’ll all work out Elliot?  What is it you see in me? Don’t you guys think I’m some kind of wimp or screw-up or something? How can you be so sure about someone you’ve known now for only three days or so?”

    “Because I just know.  I told you, I have a good feeling about you.”

    Jason rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.  “I wish I did.”  Before he could react, Elliot had turned loose and pinned the youth to the bed.  What followed was an intense tickling session where Jason was pinned under the youth and having his ribs and underarms attacked to the full hilt.  They wrestled for a bit until, totally helpless and laughing so hard Jason was almost crying, Elliot finally backed away grinning at him.

    “You should – because if you don’t, I’m going to tackle your sorry arse and make you laugh till you cry every time I hear that kind of stuff.”  A serious expression crossed his face as he drew close again until their faces were only inches apart.  “I’m serious Jase - don’t talk like that.  I’ll talk anything you want, do anything you want, answer anything you want, help you, hold you, kick your arse, laugh with you, cry with you, hold my breath till I’m blue in the face, fart – all of it.  Just don’t put yourself down, okay? You’re cool, you just need to kind of get your act back together, that’s all. And you will, I promise.”

    Jason looked deep into the eyes meeting his own and sighed with relief.  He really was warming up to this guy.  “You’re the best, you know that?” he whispered.  When Elliot smiled, Jason hesitated before asking.  “Um, you think it would be alright, like, maybe – just once…” 

    It was Elliot’s turn to be confused for a change - that is until the American that lay beneath him slowly reached up and threaded his arms around the kid and pulled him close.  Elliot closed his eyes as he was enveloped in one of the warmest embraces he had ever felt.  It started out feeling a little awkward, but Elliot rolled onto his side and pulled Jason with him in such a way they could embrace each other.  Once there, they lay for a good two to three minutes sharing an intimate moment that surprised them both.

    “See Jason?” he whispered after the longest time had passed.  “I’m no different than you are.  I’m not some weirdo or alien or creep or anything; I’m just another kid who happens to live in a different country, that’s all.  We’re still the same, you and me, and you know something? I’m really really glad you’re here.”  He felt Jason hold him tighter, so he returned it for a moment longer before pulling away enough to see a set of red eyes looking back at him. There was something more though, in that moment, as he also observed the smile that met him, and it made Elliot feel good inside. “You can hug me all you want, I promise – so long as I can hug you too.”

    “It- it’s okay?”  It was such a soft whisper Elliot almost didn’t hear it.  In answer however, he pulled the boy in close again and held him tightly.

    “Yeah Jase, it’s more than okay, I like hugs too.”  Elliot closed his eyes and they remained there for a time.  How long had passed neither really knew when there was a sudden knock at the door.  Pulling apart, Elliot rose from the bed altogether and crossed the short space to find his brother on the other side.  By that time Jason had pulled himself together and was sitting up when Derek poked his head around the doorway.

    “Um, message from Mum: We’re all to go to school with her in the morning.  She plans to get you,” he indicated Jason, “enrolled with El, so we’ll have to get up a little earlier, umm, half an hour or so.”  Glancing between the two, he raised an eyebrow.  “Everything okay in here?”

    Elliot, unable to resist, needled his brother.  “As much or better as you nickering.”  Seeing Derek’s confusion, Elliot leaned in closer to his brother and whispered, but still loud enough Jason could hear,  “Have a good wank while ago?”

    Derek’s eyes went wide before he shook his head laughing.  In fact, he was still laughing when he left the room without another word, so much so that as Elliot closed and locked the door again, he gave his friend that knowing-look again.  “See? I told ya - he knew.”

    Jason just laughed and shook his head.

    - + - + - + -

    The next morning a loud knock at the door jarred both boys from their sleep.  It took a few seconds but Elliot finally called out, “Alright, we’re up!”  Reaching over, he turned on the lamp beside the bed before groaning as his eyes adjusted to the change.  Eventually he stretched out his arm and poked Jason in the side.  “You are alive, right?”

    “Barely,” was the reply.  Jason rolled over, and then did it again until he literally rolled himself on top of his British cousin and continued until he reached the floor.  Elliot grunted and then sat up.  “Today’s the big day then for you.  I hope Mum get’s you setup in most of my classes.”  He yawned and then stretched as Jason moved to the closet and pulled out a set of new jeans and polo shirt.  He decidedly sat there and watched the other boy as he quickly stripped and changed clothes, making no move to avoid his gaze.

    Jason was amused.  “Like what you see or something?” he teased.

    Elliot grinned.  “What if I do?” he asked, shocking the other youth so much he froze for a second, and then laughed it off.  Shaking his head he continued while Elliot finally rose from the bed and followed suit.  When they were ready to leave, Elliot turned to his friend.  “Remember what I told you, I’m going to stay with you as tight as I can, but I can’t be everywhere all the time. You’ll do great, I know it.”

    “T’is okay, I’m understand,” Jason replied as they both stooped to pick up their shoes.  Leaving the room they passed Derek’s room but noted there was no light or activity inside.  Descending the stairs, Jason was surprised to find everyone already seating around the table.  Natalie was just finishing pouring several glasses of juice. 

    “Be right there Mum,” Elliot stated as they both set their shoes down and disappeared to the bathroom.  Although still groggy, Jason had the sense to know this was not a time to double as they had before, and while taking turns waiting, Natalie appeared to retrieve a plate of toast.  She smiled at the boy and cautioned him to be sure they didn’t take too long as the food would get cold.

    Considering the morning’s activities, everything went surprisingly smooth for the group.  Simon had left for work with a friend, leaving the family car for the rest of the family.  When they arrived at the school Derek headed in one direction while the two remaining youths followed Natalie inside.  Inside the main hallway, both boys punch knuckles in mid-air.

    “See ya later. If we don’t meet up before, look for me during lunch, it’s a 35-minute period with two overlaps, so I know we’ll at least find each other then.”

    Jason smiled nervously and replied, “You got it!”

    After separating, he and Natalie headed for the far corner of the open area to what seemed to obviously be the office. A host of students were both entering and leaving, causing them to have to halt and thread their way into the stream in order to get inside.  Once they arrived at the inner counter, they both stood for almost five minutes before an older woman, whom Jason judged to be in her 60’s at least, lifted her chin from a stack of papers she was sorting at her desk.  “Can I help you?” she offered, but with a voice so gravely and cold that Jason felt no sincerity or warmth at all.

    Natalie, however, was not undaunted.  “Yes, I am here to get this young man enrolled into the school.”

    The woman behind the desk stopped what she was doing and shrewdly observed the both of them.  “This school session is already 7 weeks into the Term,” she stated morosely.  If her attitude was meant to intimidate, Jason thought she was making excellent progress in that area.  He noticed that Natalie cocked her head to one side, however, and decidedly stood a little straighter.  When she spoke, her voice was even, but it was clear a message was being conveyed.

    “I think you’ll find that seven days, seven weeks or seven months matters little for the moment.  You have a new student who needs to enroll, and I – “ she emphasize to the lady, “- am here to make sure it gets done.  Properly.”

    The older woman suddenly dropped her files on the desk, making an audible “pop” above the noise of other activity within the office, and climbed to her feet.  Coming to the counter using measured steps, Jason noted both women eyed the other directly, breaking no contact between them.  As the lady arrived to stand across from them, Natalie placed a sweet smile upon her features, although questionably fake – or so Jason thought – and added pleasantly.  “Can you tell me dear, what the proper procedures are to go about the task at hand?” 

    ‘Whoa!’ Jason thought as he backed away, but Natalie immediately put an arm around him and held him steady.  Both women continued to stare at each other for a full minute before the older woman finally snorted and reached for a clipboard that was hanging nearby.  Placing it on the counter, she spoke in a barely cordially tone.  “The young man will need his medical records, current identification, proof of immunization and a medical examination result placed on file, as well as his contact information and his prior school records as proof of authorization.”  The woman glanced up and in an equally wide smile added, with her voice as sardonic and dripping with as much sarcasm as she could inflict.  “Did you get all that, dearie?”

    Undaunted, Natalie responded, “You made it SO clear, thank you so much!”  She picked up the clip board and looked at the first page.  “Um, one more thing, you think you could point us to the Administration department, where I could meet with Mrs. Fitch?”

    The woman behind the counter frowned.  “Do you have an appointment with the headmistress?”

    Natalie smile in returned.  “Indeed we do.”  They once again stared at one another before the old lady sighed and motioned, pointing across the hall.  “Fourth door on the right down that corridor.”

     “Why, thank you ssoooo much!”  Natalie, her arm still around Jason’s shoulders, guided him through the crowd of teenagers out of the office, where they walked down the hallway indicated.  Instead of entering the fourth door however, Natalie suddenly pulled the boy to the side and started laughing hysterically.  Jason was bewildered as he watched the woman, who after a moment suddenly put her hand to her mouth and steadily quieted down.

    “Are- are you all right, Natalie?” he asked, half amused but still totally confused.

    The young woman nodded vigorously.  “That old hag! She was just as hateful and full of herself as the day I left school here! Only difference now though is I am much older and wiser – and fully in tune with her sensibilities – or lack thereof!”

    Jason’s eyes grew wide.  “You mean, you went to school here and she was…”

    Natalie nodded, trying to keep from launching into another round of mirth.  “She was, and be careful – I’m not THAT old!”  Seeing his expression, she burst out laughing yet again.  “I mean, it was, maybe 16 or 17 years ago I think she was here, doing the same job as ever.  She was always spiteful, always looking down at everyone.  I remember when we brought Derek up here to enroll, both Simon and I had a round with her then!”  She shook her head.  “Some things never change,” she concluded, then once again guided the youth until they entered the office.  Inside they were met by a pleasant middle-aged lady.

    “Can I help you?”

    “How do you do? We’re here to see Mrs. Fitch, is she available?”

    The lady smiled in return.  “Why yes, if you don’t mind waiting a few moments, I believe she just finished the morning announcements.  Can I give her your name?”

    “Yes, I’m Natalie Flavell and this is our new student, Mr. Jason Mathews.”  Unlike the previous encounter, Jason noted these two women seemed to get along just fine as the other lady smiled and welcomed Jason.  They chatted for a moment and then were ushered into an empty office and invited to take a seat.

    They did not have to wait long, as soon another lady entered the room.  “Why hello Natalie!  It’s been a while, how are you?”  Both women greeted each other, and Natalie introduced Jason.

    Mrs. Fitch sat down and smiled at the youth.  “Well, I must say, I’ve heard a lot about you Mr. Mathews! How do you do?”

    Nervously, Jason spoke up. “I-I’m fine, thank you.”  He glanced at Natalie, then asked cautiously.  Um, you’ve heard about me? How, if I may ask?”

    Mrs. Fitch sat back and smiled.  “Well, Natalie approached me last week to let me know about your arrival, and then some young lady in the States had most of your records sent over electronically.”

    “Was it all in order?” Natalie asked.  The elder lady nodded.

    “I believe we can make do with it.  I would suggest you get a couple of items taken care of, but don’t be in any hurry over them, we can give you some time if you like.”

    "Of course,” Natallie replied.  “What kind of things do we need?”

    “Mostly I think it would be wise to get the health department to check his immunization records and get any updates as needed, and he does need a medical at some point. I noted he had one earlier in the summer, but American physicians don't quite use the same set of standards as we do here, so it would be a precaution well worth your benefit, I believe.  As to the rest, I’m pleased to say he’ll meet fairly evenly, even though his is a foreign transfer case.  That is surprising, I must say, because we've had other students come through here with much less to work with.”  The lady smiled and leaned forward.  “I also received your request regarding his school timetable, and I do agree – it would be wise, at least from now until the first of next Term, if we could keep him with some familiar faces to help with the adjustment.  Your youngest son,” she paused, searching for some paperwork on the desk and finding, after a moment, what she sought.  “Elliot, I believe, he has an agreeable timetable to meet most of the minimal requirements, and it looks as if they are the same age, so that should make it work out splendidly.  Although it is a strict requirement in most cases, I believe we could make an exception for the last period, at least for now, as I would suggest perhaps we forgo the gym class and substitute perhaps an English history course.  Beginning next term we'll look to put him back into the regular regime, and if it can be done, I'll see to it the two boys are merged into the identical classes.”

    Looking at Jason, the woman spoke kindly in an attempt to explain.  “Please understand, I do not wish to even remotely enroll you into English doctrine per se.  You have a heritage that we do not wish to try to impose over in the slightest, but there are some things I think – if you’re going to be with us for a while – that would just help you in the long run.  One of those is English history, or rather European history.  I am somewhat familiar with history courses in the States, and I know they generally stress little emphasis on subjects outside their borders.  This is not a fault, mind you, just a simple fact I believe we could all agree on.  I was thinking though that I could put you in with an 8th level introductory course, something to sort of get your feet wet with and, perhaps later if you take an interest, we could find another course of similar standing.  That level is a little below your your school age, but we wouldn't leave you there permanently, just for a while.  What do you think of that? Want to learn a little English history?”

    Jason thought about it for a few seconds and then smiled sheepishly.  “I’d like that I think, but – to be honest – I wasn’t very good at history back home.”

    Mrs. Fitch laughed.  “I could see that from your records.  Not to worry though, you will find that this particular course does not evaluate students just by exams, but more by their participation than anything else.  I think you would enjoy it, but if there are any problems, just come and talk to me about it.  As to your other courses, other than a dip in your grades toward the end, I daresay it appears you were a fine student in the states, with many of your teachers making very positive reflections in their notes.  I believe you will be fine here with us,” Mrs. Fitch concluded.  Jason had to admit to himself: the woman seemed very sincere, unlike many of the stoic personailites he had experienced in the States. He dicided he liked the elderly woman.

    She turned back to Natalie.  “Otherwise, I am agreeable to let him run side by side with Elliot at least through the end of the year.”

    Natalie smiled in return.  “I don’t know how to thank you,” she replied, extending her hand across the desk.

    “Oh, think nothing of it, I know we have a rather unique case here, and personally I think he would have ended up in the same courses all along.  Just matching them up with your son seems the most logical thing to do.”  Mrs. Fitch addressed Jason once more.  “Um, dear, would you mind waiting for us in the outer office for a moment, I would like to discuss something with Mrs. Flavell here if I may.”

    Jason nodded and left the office, leaving the two women alone.  For a moment, the elderly lady formed a steeple with her fingertips as she regarded Natalie thoughtfully. “I wanted to just say, I think it is excellent what you and your husband are doing taking in the child.  How has he been since his arrival, if I may ask?”

    “So far he has been great, although it’s been very plain to see he’s been hurt.  He gets along with the boys just fine,” she responded.  Mrs. Fitch nodded.

    “I saw the case history.  It suggested he would be a very modest and quiet individual with his teachers and peers.  I wanted you to know something, however, just in case you were not aware of it.”  At that, she pulled a sheet from the folder on her desk and handed it across, which Natalie took and studied for a moment.

    When Natalie looked up, she was alarmed.  “How…? I mean, as far as I know, nothing of this has been shown to me or my husband!  Are you sure?”

    The elderly woman shook her head.  “I can only go by what was sent over.  Personally, I don’t think you’ll have any problems – but it is my belief parents have the right to know these things.”  She pointed to the paper.  “Mind you, that only suggests some observations that were made, not that they hold any merit.  It’s because of that, however, I made the decision regarding the history exchange for gym.  He may not be physically or mentally able to deal with that yet.”

    Natalie nodded approvingly.  “You’re as wise as you ever were Mrs. Filch.”  Looking up, she smiled.  “And thank you for letting us know this.  We’ll definitely keep an eye on him just in case.”

    The headmistress nodded kindly.  “It may be nothing to worry with, but I must tell you – I’ve seen many children from all walks of life.  Sometimes they surprise us, and other times, well – we just have to exercise faith in the system.”  She stood.  “I’ll see to young Jason from here and get him oriented in his first class.  I’m sure your son can help him the rest of the day.”

    “Thank you ssooo much.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this,” Natalie replied as she stood, handing back the paper.  Her eyes were moist as she considered the implications, so much so the elderly lady shook her head. 

    “No, you can keep that.  Don’t you worry Natalie, and you’re welcome.  He will be fine – I will see to it everything works out on this end.”

    Natalie left the office and smiled at Jason on her way out.  “I guess we’ll see you tonight then, right?”

    Jason nervously smiled and nodded his head without saying a word, so she walked up to him and leaned over to whisper.  “Don’t worry, I will try not to embarrass you here with one of those motherly shows of affection. BUT – I do want to hear all about it tonight, okay?  This lady is kind Jason, she’ll take care of you, all right?”  When the response was warmer, she felt the boy was more sure of himself, so she quietly walked from the office and out of the school without turning back.  Reaching the car though, she turned and stared as if she could see through the walls, through the barriers that separated them.

    And for the longest time, her face held a look of worry.


Comments to: EKidKy@hotmail.com
Other series by me:

   - The Bully and The Bullied (A novel)
     (www.Nifty.org, Gay – High School section, Early-Mid 2009)

   - One Autumn Weekend (A Short Story)
     (www.Nifty.org, Gay – High School section, February 2010)

   - Life’s Road of Discoveries
     (www.Nifty.org, Gay-Young Friends section, Early 2008)

   - Terry and Sam - Short Story, Holiday Christmas Collaboration w/Ruwen
     (www.Nifty.org, Gay-No Sex section, Late 2008)