The following contains scenes of sexual activity between males. If it is illegal for you to read this in your jurisdiction or if you feel you may be offended by doing so, please read no further. The characters portrayed in this story may engage in behaviors that would today be considered unwise and unsafe. The author does not encourage such behavior: nor does he condone the violation of any laws. Please respect yourself and your partners. Please do not copy or distribute this story without the knowledge or permission of the author.
    This story contains some elements of a previous story of mine, The Secrets of Waldo. If you would like to read other works by me, go to the Nifty Home Page and click on the FreeThinker link under  Prolific Authors. I am also writing another story entitled A Curious Set of Misfits in the Nifty Young Friends section.
    Note: the Russian composers mentioned in the story, Dmitri and Alexander Koronov, as well as the playwright Alexei Koronov, are completely fictional, as are the numerous compositions alluded to, for reasons that will become apparent later in the story. There is no Austin Evening Reporter, and the city of Sheffield is completely fictional, (well, at least the American version! I ask the residents of Sheffield, England to forgive me for suggesting that their
city is fictional!) All characters in the story are fictional and any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This is fiction and a fantasy. It did not happen.
    Any use of racial epithets is not intended to be offensive in any way, but is used to show the state of mind of the character using them. The author rejects all forms of bigotry and racism, as the story will show.

    I would like to know what you think. If you have any comments or suggestions, please email them to my address: chriswriter@, (this is not a hyperlink). Thank you so much for reading my story and for the wonderful support you have given me over the last three years.

Courage and Passion
By FreeThinker

“The school-boy, above all others, is not the simple being the world imagines. In that young bosom, are often stirring passions as strong as our own, desires not less violent, a volition not less supreme. In that young bosom, what burning love, what intense ambition, what avarice, what lust of power, envy that fiends might emulate, hate that men might fear.”
Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister and novelist, Coningsby, 1844

Chapter Four
In Which Stands Are Taken and Points Are Made

    Robby awoke hard as a rock, but there wasn't time to do anything about it. He had forgotten to set his alarm and his mother was screaming obscenities from the bottom of the stairs. He didn't even have time for the shower he had delayed until morning. With a frown, he climbed from bed, still naked, and quickly dressed.
    As he gathered his notebook, however, he frowned. There was the manila envelope Mr. Osborn had given him containing the copies of the newspapers articles his father had written from Vietnam. Oh, man. In the excitement of the audition and the strengthening of his friendship with Zhenya, he had completely forgotten about them. He frowned as he slip the envelope into his notebook and slipped that into his backpack.
    After peanut butter on toast, an orange juice, and a growl from his mother, he joined the parade of kids moving down Sycamore toward Waldo. It had become cloudy overnight and a gray sky threatened rain. He was looking up at the clouds above as he tripped over the same upraised crack in the sidewalk that he had found on Monday. An eighth grader behind guffawed and muttered "Dork," as he struggled to regain his balance and composure.
    "Shove it," Robby barked angrily. The kid shoved him and he fell onto the trunk of a maple tree on the parking. Several others laughed as Robby stood up and tried to regain what little dignity he could salvage from the incident. He waited until that particular pack of “Waldos” had passed on before he continued his trek up the block to school.
    Sean Lindquist was emerging from the front door of the quaint brick house on the corner. He was carrying his book bag and flute case and gave his usual petrified look from the front porch at the crowds of pubescent piranha swarming the front of the school. Sean and Robby’s eyes met, but Robby quickly looked away. He could tell that he was already getting a reputation as a goofus at Waldo and the last thing he needed was a wet rag like Sean hanging onto him.
    When he finally collapsed into his desk in Homeroom, he saw that neither Zhenya nor Ethan had yet arrived. He felt a stab of jealousy at the thought they might be walking together. Well, Zhenya’s house was on Ethan’s way. Robby frowned. He wanted Zhenya as HIS friend and he didn’t want to share him.
    Mr. Osborn entered the class just behind the Perfect Buttfaces, giving Gavin Dietrich a huge toothy grin as the kid was about to “accidentally” run in Tim Zitisky. Gavin smiled back and proceeded on to his desk. Ethan and Zhenya entered together, leading to Robby’s mode becoming even darker. Zhenya gave him a big grin and wave. Robby faked a smile and wave, pretending not to notice Ethan’s cheerful wave.
    The teacher picked up a stack of dittos and began to walk up and down the aisles, dropping them off at each desk as the final stragglers  reluctantly entered. Just as the bell rang, he reached Robby’s desk.
    “Well, Mr. McDonnell, did you have a chance to read the material I gave you?”
    Robby blushed and looked down in shame.
    “No, sir. Um, I had a lot to do yesterday and, um, I, um, I just didn’t have time.”
    Mr. Osborn looked disappointed for a moment and then turned and continued to distribute his dittos. Robby looked down at the paper, smelling the fresh purple ink, and read the title: Issues in America Today. Uh, oh.
    Returning to his desk, Mr. Osborn called the roll and then gave a massive grin to the class.
    “Yesterday, my trapped and helpless victims, we discussed the multiple nationalities we find in America, the Melting Pot of the World. Today, we will discuss some of the issues which our country faces. I would like you to answer the questions on the dittos I handed out and when you’re finished, we will discuss them.”
    The teacher gave an evil chuckle and then sat down behind his desk to read a paperback copy of Catch 22. Robby sighed, pulled out his pencil, and proceeded to answer the questions.
    Ten minutes later, Mr. Osborn stood and tapped his lectern with a pencil.
    “Well, my young charges, let’s see if those neurons and synapses have been able to supply some answers to my questions. Number One: what was the most newsworthy event of the summer?” Mr. Osborn’s eyes dramatically scanned the class until his arm shot quickly out toward the half asleep Matt Hunter.
    “You! Hunter! Respond!”
    There were scattered, muffled chuckles about the class. Mr. Osborn raised an eyebrow.
    “Matthew, please rack your addled and atrophied brain and mention, anything, absolutely anything that may have happened this summer, that was newsworthy. Anything? Any clue? Any… anything at all.”
    Matt thought for a moment and then his face brightened.
    There was applause from several people, as well as chuckles from the more academically successful. Mr. Osborn smiled.
    “Well, very good Mr. Hunter. I’m impressed. I admit that a hundred thousand people rutting in the mud and tripping on acid is not exactly what I was hoping for, but you were correct in that it was, indeed, a newsworthy event. Does anyone else have a response? Yes,” Mr. Osborn said pointing to the girl with short, dark hair in he desk sitting in the desk in front of Robby. “Miss Turner?”
    “Apollo 11 landed on the moon.”
    “Very good, Miss Turner. The first human beings  landed on the moon. How significant  is this?”
    “Well, we beat the Russians there!” Biff LaFrance gloated, giving Zhenya a sneer. Zhenya narrowed his eyes and raised his hand.
    “Yes, Mr. Koronov?”
    “We could have gone to moon if we wanted to. We helped fight imperialist invasion of peace loving people of Vietnam, instead.”
    This was not the response Mr. Osborn was expecting and his eyes widened, as did those of several members of the class.
    “Besides, we launch first man in space, Yuri Alexeivich Gagarin, and first Sputnik! We also invent rockets, airplanes, television, and radio!”
    Several members of the class were challenging Zhenya’s view of world history and several rather heated comments were being uttered, including a number of profanities by Matt Hunter.
    “Silence!” Mr.. Osborn declared with his dramatic flair. When silence had, indeed, been achieved, he smiled indulgently at Zhenya and turned to class.
    “We must remember that Mr. Koronov has spent his entire school career in institutions run by the Soviet government and not all that he has been taught might agree with the way we see history. It is true that Yuri Gagarin was the first human being to fly in space and Sputnik One was indeed the first artificial satellite of the Earth. However, Zhenya, you may learn, now that you’re in the West, that the first true modern rockets were invented by Robert Goddard here in America, that the airplane was invented by the Wright Brothers, here, that electronic television was invented by Philo Farnsworth, although Vladimir Zworykin developed a mechanical television system in Russia before the Revolution. Mr. Zworykin later immigrated to the United States after the Communists took power. And, radio was invented by the Italian Guglielmo  Marconi.”
    Zhenya looked confused and as if he wanted to debate the issues, but bit his lower lip and sat back.
    “If Russia’s so great, why don’t ya go back!” a boy yelled from beside Matt Hunter. Sean, on Matt’s other side, looked shocked and gave Zhenya a sympathetic smile. Zhenya took a deep breath.
    “Soviet people are great people and do great things, but Soviet government is evil government and does evil things. They kill my Uncle Misha, they force my father to write plays he doesn’t want to write, they force my grandfather’s uncle’s music never to be played in Soviet Union. Papa and me come to America to be free. If we go back, we go to gulag.”
    There was silence in the class. Zhenya blushed and sat down, looking at his clenched hands nervously.
    “Thank you, Zhenya. I appreciate your telling us this. We need to hear these things. You’re a very brave young man.”
    Zhenya blushed even more and, though he couldn’t look up, he softly replied, “Thank you.”
    Mr. Osborn strolled over to his desk and sat against the corner.
    “Now, this brings us to the next question on the sheet. Mr. Koronov referred to the Vietnam War, though he used a term for that war that most of us probably wouldn’t have used. In Communist countries, they refer to the Vietnam War as American Imperialism. Does anyone know what the word ‘imperialism’ means?”
    A girl near Ethan raised her hand and replied, “That means having colonies.”
    “Very good.  So, some people believe that America is trying to turn Vietnam into a colony. What do some of you think? Mr. Hunter?”
    “The gooks killed my brother. I think we oughta go over there and kick their asses.”
    The class was silent and Mr. Osborn waited a moment before replying softly, “Matt, I’m very sorry to hear about your brother. I know it has to be very painful to lose your brother and I can understand why you would be angry, but not everyone there is responsible for your brother’s death and saying ‘gook’ is very much like saying ‘nigger.’ Now, you wouldn’t say that, would you?”
    “Well, yeah, I would.”
    Mr. Osborn sighed as several students chuckled.
    “This is 1969. We don’t say things like that anymore. Now, does anyone else have an idea of why we are in Vietnam?”
    Ethan raised his hand.
    “President Kennedy and President Johnson wanted to stop the advance of Communism into Southeast Asia. But, some large American corporations that make weapons want the war so they can get rich.”
    “That’s stupid!” Robby declared without raising his hand. “We’re trying to stop Communism, not make corporations rich!”
    Ethan’s face remained passive as Mr. Orborn smiled at Robby.
    “Mr. McDonnell’s father was a reporter for a newspaper in Austin and was killed in Vietnam last year, as many of you remember. Robby has a manila envelope in his notebook with some of his father’s articles which I copied for him. There is one in particular, Robby, I would like you to pull out. I have highlighted some passages which I would like you to read.”
    Robby felt very self-conscious as he looked around and saw all eyes on him, Gavin Dietrich’s bored, Matt Hunter’s suspicious, Sean’s… well, Sean was weird; it didn’t matter. Robby swallowed and open the manila envelope. On top was a story dated August 16, 1968, just about a week before his father died. It was headlined, “Life in Saigon  No Ordinary Day.” He looked up at Mr. Osborn, not wanting to read, but knowing he had to. The teacher smiled and nodded.
    “Life in Saigon is surreal, a Fellini film in which no one knows who is the protagonist and who the antagonist.
    Robby knew that his father was an intelligent person, but this was something he didn’t understand. He’d never read anything by his father so intellectual. He looked up at Mr. Osborn with a questioning look, but the teacher simply gestured for him to read on.
    “As one walks the streets and squares and watches the soldiers relaxing, the vendors making deals, the girls on the corner offering companionship, one could imagine this as any outpost where Americans serve and protect. And, then, a boy rides past on a battered moped and throws a brown and tattered satchel amidst the crowd of a sidewalk café. When the smoke clears, the screams of pain and the cries for help, the torn limbs and the shattered souls remind this is war.
    “And, one asks, ‘Why?’
    Robby looked up at Mr. Osborn, not knowing what to say.
    “Robby’s father,” said the teacher softly, “watched a boy your age ride past him on a motorbike and throw a bomb into a crowd and kill a dozen people. That boy was your age.”
    The class was silent. Even Gavin Dietrich was watching, shedding his usual disdainful veneer. Mr. Osborn smiled at Robby again.
    “Read the highlighted section of the next page, if you would please, Robby.”
    The boy slowly set the first sheet of paper on his desk and picked up the second. He looked confused for a moment and, then, began to read again.
    “To know the real war, one must leave the comparative safety of the city and venture forth into the countryside, to the villages and hamlets where old women sit before burned and charred remains of what had been family homes for generations, where children play among the rubble and detritus of combat, where the innocent live in fear of the Viet Cong at night and the Americans by day.
    His father wrote these words? Robby held the sheet in his trembling hands and could read no further. He looked up at Mr. Osborn with pleading eyes and the teacher nodded. He sat down.
    “Does anyone really know what we are doing there, now?” he asked. No one answered.
    "Is it possible that we wentin with good intentions, but the situation just became too complicated and more than we could handle?"
    There was still no response. After a moment, Mr. Osborn looked up and crossed his arms.
    “Can anyone tell me anything significant that might have occurred in the last few days that might affect the war?”
    For the first time, Sean raised a tentative hand.
    “Yes, Mr. Lindquist?” replied the teacher with interest.
    “Um, Ho Chi Minh died.”
    “Very good, Sean. And, who was Ho Chi Minh?”
    “He was the leader of North Vietnam.”
    “That is correct! In fact, he has fought first the French and then the Americans since the First World War! He went to Paris and petitioned President Woodrow Wilson for freedom from the French during the Versailles Treaty negotiations.”
    Robby, however, was paying no attention to the discussion. He was stunned. His father had written about the war and what he had written was not what his grandparents had told him. They had made him sound like he was all gung-ho for the war and that he hated protestors against the war. Well, maybe he was and maybe he did. But, these stories from Vietnam in the days before he died sure didn’t sound like someone who supported the war or wanted to see it continue.
    Oh, my God, Robby realized. My father was anti-war!
    It was as if one of the rock-solid foundations of his life had been crushed beneath the weight of reality. Perhaps, the visit to Vietnam and seeing everything there was what had changed his mind. Perhaps, he, too, should change is mind.
    As the class moved on in their discussion of current events, Robby read the stories his father had written from Vietnam, the last words he had written. By the end of the class, it was all he could do not to cry.
    Robby seldom cried. He kept his emotions inside, bottled, building, until bursting forth in a torrent. That is what happened as Social Studies ended. As the bell rang, as if in a trance, Robby placed the sheets of paper back in the manila envelope and placed that in his notebook. Slowly standing amidst the rush of escapees, he held his textbook and his notebook closely to his body and walked toward the door, his eyes moist, trying to maintain control.
    His father’s last words. He kept repeating that to himself, even as Mr. Osborn called out his name in concern. He heard nothing, not Zhenya’s concerned inquiry, not Ethan’s offer of help. He was in the hall. He was before his locker, looking at the dial.
    “What the fuck’s the matter with you?”
    Robby heard the words of Gavin Dietrich, but it did not seem to register that they were directed at him.
    “Leave him alone, please, Gavin,” said Ethan, standing beside him. “He just read something his father wrote before he died. Give him a break.”
    “Yeah? Crying ‘cause ya just found out your Dad was a fucking pinko? Yeah, I’d be pretty fucked up, too. My dad says all reporters and college professors and most teachers are Commies. You know Osborn’s a pinko. He’s probably a fag, too. Guess you’re gonna be like your Dad, a pussy pinko…”
    Why doesn’t he shut up? Robby thought. Please God, make him shut up.
    “Maybe your Dad was a fag, too!”
    The next thing Robby was aware of was sitting atop Gavin Dietrich as he viciously beat the kid’s face, screaming “Shut up! Shut up!”
    Ethan and Zhenya were desperately trying to pull Robby off Gavin as a crowd gathered around to watch the spectacle of the great Gavin Dietrich being beaten.


    “I’ve never been so embarrassed and humiliated in my life! How could you get into a fight like that? That’s so common. Don’t you have any self-respect? And, with Gavin Dietrich’s son? They’re one of the richest families in Sheffield! How could you? What were you thinking? Have you completely lost your mind?”
    Robby numbly followed his mother up the street from the school.
    Oh, God. Please make her shut up. Please.
    With shock, he realized it was the same prayer he had uttered before he attacked Gavin. He had no memory of Ethan and Zhenya pulling him off the boy, or of Mr. Osborn and a couple of other teachers carrying him screaming to the office. He remembered the principal, Mr. Huber, standing over him. He remembered someone wiping blood off his hands and arms. And, his mother assuring Mr. Huber that nothing like this had ever happened before and promising that it never would again.
    And, now, she was marching him home, suspended for three days.
    Suspended. He. Robby McDonnell, who had never even been reprimanded in school before. Robby. The kid everyone thought of as “that nice McDonnell boy.”
    He was in the house. His mother was still babbling something about their social position as he mindlessly climbed the stairs to his room. He stood looking at the music stand in the corner. He had left his violin at school. He didn’t even have the comfort of his music.
    He turned to his bead, kicked off his loafers and collapsed face-down. It took only a moment before his emotions exploded from him in a torrent of tears and sobs.
    His father was dead.
    He had always known his father was dead. It was not as if this were a surprise. It’s just that in the back of his mind, he sometimes entertained fantasies that his father was actually a CIA operative sent to Vietnam on a covert mission and that being a reporter was just a cover and that one day, when the mission was over, he would come home and everything would be just the way it was, just the way it had been before.
    His father was dead and he wasn’t coming home.
    And, his mother drank.
    And, went out with men.
    And, his brother and sister were becoming the brats and delinquents of the neighborhood.
    And, his grandparents were angry and ashamed and he just couldn’t please them.
    And, the kids at school were all buttheads and now they thought he was a freak and… and… everything was… well, fucked.
    There. He said it.
    He squeezed the pillow to his face and chest and released the flood of tears and sobs. For hours, it seemed, he cried his heart into the pillow and then, exhausted, he simply lay, staring at the beige wall, thinking of… nothing.
    At one point, his mother entered the room without knocking, carrying a glass of milk and a plate with a bologna sandwich. She set them down on his desk and stood for a second watching. Slowly, Robby rolled over. Their eyes met for a second and, at first Robby thought he saw a flicker of compassion in them. He thought, for just the briefest part of a moment, that she might say something kind to him.
    She didn’t.
    Quickly, she turned and left, closing the door behind her and leaving Robby alone with his lunch.
    As he sat at his desk, slowly taking small bites of the sandwich, he watched the first drops of rain fall from the clouds above as they seemed finally to have their own release. Maybe God was crying, Robby thought. Maybe he felt sorry for him. Well, if he felt so damn sorry for him, why didn’t he do anything about it?
    The rain became a torrent and thunder roared overhead, shaking the house and rattling the window. He turned on the transistor radio, but the lightening was interfering with the AM station he had on. Besides, it was just commercials and the midday news. He tried another station. Same thing. With a sigh, he turned off the radio and set it aside.
    When he had finished his lunch, he moved the plate and glass to the side of his desk and stood. He went to the shelf beside his nightstand and looked at his books and records. On one side were albums from groups like The Beatles and Herman’s Hermits and The Monkees. On the other side was his classical collection. He pulled out the old LP Santa had brought him six years before, the New York Philharmonic playing The Ice Prince. He placed it on his record player and turned it down low. He sat on the floor, leaning back against the bed, and crossed his legs as the first mournful tones began. Even the joy and energy of the Second Movement failed to bring him comfort.
    By the time the side was finished, Robby could listen to no more of Koronov. He removed the album and replaced it with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. That was pretty depressing. It matched his mood perfectly.
    He had inherited his father’s classical music collection when he died. Robby’s mother had no appreciation for it; indeed, she couldn’t understand why her son enjoyed playing the violin. He didn’t have the energy to make a choice as he looked through the selection as the Beethoven came to an end. He randomly pulled an album out, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth. It was beautiful, haunting, moving, and depressing.
    His mother opened the door between the second and third movements.
    “The school called. You can go back tomorrow. One of your teachers took up for you. But, if you ever pull this shit again, I’ll slap the shit out of you. You understand?”
    Robby didn’t look at her. His eyes remained fixed on a scratch on the leg of his desk.
    “You hear me?” she demanded.
    “Yes,” he replied weakly.
    She closed the door and Robby sat staring numbly at the record player. As the LP ended and continued to spin, the pops and hiss of the last grooves the only sound in the room, Robby merely stared at the floor, motionless and emotionless.
    It was not long after that there was another knock on the door, light and tentative. Robby sighed. He didn’t know if he could take more of his mother at that moment.
    “Yes, ma’am?” he said wearily.
    The door slowly opened. When Robby didn’t hear his mother’s raspy and hateful voice, he looked up and was shocked to find… Sean Lindquist.
    Sean blushed and stood uncertainly in the door. Robby stood uncertainly, as well, and said, “Um, hi. Come in.”
    Sean slowly stepped in and said, “Sorry to bother you. I know you probably don’t feel too good right now.”
    Robby took the LP off the turntable and replaced it in its dust jacket. He sat on his bed and pointed to the chair at his desk. Sean nervously walked over to it and pulled it out. As he sat, Robby replied, “I’m OK. I’m a little upset, but I’ll be OK. What’s up?”
    Sean swallowed as he looked down at the floor. He waited a moment and Robby was about to repeat his question when he looked up with a serious expression.
    “I think what you did today was really cool,” he said quickly, as if he were afraid that if he didn’t hurry, he would lose the courage to say it. “ You were really brave. Gavin Dietrich is a real jerk and he always gets away with everything he does because his family is so rich and powerful.”
    Robby looked down shyly and replied, “Thank you, though I don’t think everyone else thinks it’s so cool.”
    “Well, Gavin’s a jerk and he got what he deserved. I've known him since fourth grade and he's always been a jerk. Um, I think… I think you were really cool.”
    Robby didn’t know what too say. For the three days since school had started, he had looked at Sean as a wimp and a loser. Now Sean was sitting in his room and singing his praises, albeit a bit nervously. Robby felt like he, and not Gavin Dietrich, was the jerk.
    But, before he could say anything else, he heard tromping outside his door, footsteps climbing the stairs. He and Sean both looked at the door, he curiously, Sean fearfully, as Ethan and Zhenya appeared carrying their violins and book bags. Both of the newcomers looked at Sean with surprise. Sean blushed and stood.
    “Hey, Sean! How’s it going?” Ethan asked heartily.
    “Hi, Sean,” said Zhenya with a warm smile.
    Sean swallowed nervously, shuffled his feet, and said, quietly, “Hi. Well, I better go. I just wanted to tell you that and that I hope… um… I hope everything’ll be OK.”
    He started for the door, but Ethan said, “Hey, don’t go on our account. You can hang out with us!”
    Sean blushed yet again and looked at the floor as he wound his way around the newcomers toward the door.
    “I... uh… I need to get home to my grandfather. Um, see you.”
    Quickly, Sean disappeared out the door. Robby and Ethan both raised eyebrows at each other and Ethan shrugged.
    “Well, how are you doing?”
    Robby frowned and looked downward.
    “I feel like such a dork.”
    “Well, cheer up. The word around the school is that Mr. Osborn got into a real fight with Mr. Huber and threatened to go to the school board! Some guy in Science overheard it when he was in the office. And, Gavin’s mom was in the office, too, and she was really torqued at Gavin.”
    “Really?” Robby asked hopefully.
    “Yeah. So don’t feel bad. Gavin really egged you on and tried to get you to react. Everyone knows that, so don’t worry. Everything will be OK.”
    Robby smiled reluctantly.
    “Thanks for telling me. Say, how did you know where I live?”
    Ethan grinned.
    “I watched you and your Mom walking up Sycamore in English. The window looks out the front. Man, your mom was really giving you a hard time.”
    “Yeah,” Robby replied with a grin. “She really gave me what for.”
    Ethan grinned at the Southern colloquialism while Zhenya looked confused. He covered it by handing Robby one of the two folders he was holding.
    “I bring you music Mr. Stern assigns us. This is what we play this year.”
    “Well, its what we’ll start off with,” said Ethan, setting his backpack and violin on the floor. “A little Mozart and Vivaldi and some French military march thing. Oh,” he added with look of distate, “some Pops thing by Rogers and Hammerstein. Cinderella.”
    “What? No Koronov?” Robby asked with a grin.
    Zhenya smiled.
    “Maybe I talk to Mr. Stern.”
    The three boys grinned.
    “Thanks, Zhenya,” said Robby. The Russian boy beamed.
    “I think you do good thing. You are good friend.”
    Robby smiled.
    “Thanks. But, I still think you sound like Boris Badinov.”
    The others chuckled.
    “I brought a list of our homework,” Ethan offered as he pulled a piece of notebook paper from his backpack. “Since we have all the same classes”
    “Cool, thanks,” Robby replied. “’cept, I left my books at school.”
    “Oh, don’t worry. I got mine. I can stick around and we can do it together.”
    Forty-eight hours before, even twenty-four hours before, Robby would have rolled his eyes and tried to think of some excuse to avoid having “Hippyboy” sitting in his room doing his homework with him. Now, he was actually grateful. He smiled.
    Ethan grinned.
    “See? I’m a good guy.”
    Robby was horrified.
    “I, uh, never…”
    Ethan chuckled and held up a hand.
    “Hey, its OK. I’m a little different. Sometimes, it takes people a while to get to know me.”
    Robby was blushing fiercely, but Zhenya stepped in before the boy could be further embarrassed.
    “I must go home. Ian is waiting to practice with me.”
    “What are you going to practice?” Ethan asked with a suggestive grin. Zhenya, obviously not getting the innuendo, replied with a straight face, “I do not know. I will see you tomorrow at school, right Robby?”
    “Yeah, they shortened my suspension to one day, so I’ll be there.”
    “Good,” said the boy with a sincere smile.
    After Zhenya had left, Robby looked at his desk in confusion, not sure what to say or do now that he was alone with Ethan. The clouds outside suddenly opened and sunlight made the tree outside the window glow. Ethan was sitting in the chair by the desk, watching Robby, the glowing tree almost looking like a halo around his head with the dark golden hair and that same serene smile.
    It was not until Ethan's smile grew and he asked, "What are you thinking?" that Robby realized, with horror, that he had been staring.
    "Um, nothing," he quickly replied. "Nothing. Um. Maybe we should get to work."
    "Sure," Ethan replied, opening his backpack and pulling out the French and Math books. Together, the two practiced their French on each other and worked their Math problems for an hour, sitting on Robby's bed, sharing text books, side-by-side. Gradually, as they worked together on their homework, Robby began to relax and feel more comfortable until, finally, the two were sharing jokes about teachers and classmates and chuckling at each other's comments.
    As they completed the last problem in their Math homework, Robby looked up. He examined Ethan quizzically for a second as his new friend waited patiently for the question.
    "Can I ask you something?"
    Ethan smiled and nodded.
    "What were you doing in the park Monday?
    It was Ethan's turn to look quizzically.
    "You mean when I was meditating?"
    Robby nodded.
    "Well, I was meditating."
    "Hmm," Robby replied. "You do that a lot?"
    "So, are you, like, a Buddist?"
    "So what are you?"
    Once again, Ethan grinned and held his arms out dramatically.
    "I am nothing. I am everything. I am Ethan."
    Robby raised an eyebrow and slid to the side a few inches away from his friend.
    "So, how can you be nothing and everything?"
    Ethan gave his trademark serene smile.
    "That's a good question."
    Robby waited a moment for the answer. When Ethan merely sat looking serenly at him, he became exasperated.
    "Well, what?"
    "Well, what's the answer to the question?"
    Ethan continued to smile.
    "I don't know."
    Robby dropped his pencil down on the bed in frustration. Ethan grinned.
    "Maybe, someday, if I meditate enough, I'll know the answer."
    Robby gave him a sideways look.
    "You are weird."
    "I am Ethan."
    Robby heard steps coming up the stairs. He looked up at the open door and a moment later, his mother's head appeared. She looked suspiciously at Ethan before her eyes rested on the textbooks and the sheets of homework.
    "Robby, it's almost dinner time."
    "OK," he replied, handing the books to Ethan and scooting off the bed.
    "Mrs. McDonnell? Can Robby spend the night over at my place tomorrow night?" Ethan asked.
    This was the last question Robby was expecting to come out of Ethan's mouth, but he tried to contain his surprise. His mother looked at the boy with greater suspicion.
    "You don't do drugs, do you?"
    "Mom!" Robby said indignantly.
    "No, I don't. It's safe. My family's responsible."
    She pursed her lips for a moment in thought.
    "Mom, you're going out again tomorrow night," Robby said, disapproval evident in his voice, surprised he was actually trying to persuade her as Ethan had never even mentioned the possibility of a sleepover to him. "What difference will it make."
    "OK," she replied curtly before turning and disappearing from view.
    He waited for the sound of her footsteps descending the stairs to disappear before asking, "You don't do drugs, do you?"
    Ethan gave the same serene smile, but remained silent. After a moment, Robby looked down and asked, "So, what was all that about? How come you invited me to spend the night?"
    "Because you're my friend and I thought we could have fun."
    "How come you didn't ask me first?"
    "Because I knew you'ld need some prodding. I know you aren't sure you want to be my friend yet."
    Robby started to protest again, but Ethan raised his hand.
    "Look, its OK. you don't have to be polite all the time. Just be Robby. You can relax. I'm cool. You don't hurt my feelings. Listen, you really need to let go and unwind and just be yourself. Let go of all that anger and trying to be good and perfect and all that."
    Ethan gathered his things and stood.
    "I'll show you some stuff tomorrow that will really help you."
    "I don't want to do any weird meditating stuff or anything. I don't want to turn into a hippy or anything."
    Ethan simply smiled and picked up his violin.
    "See you in the morning."
    As he was walking out the door, Robby said, "Ethan?"
    The boy stopped and looked back.
    Ethan gave a big grin.
    "See you in the morning," he repeated before he was off.


    Friday morning was clear and sunny as Robby joined the pilgramage in front of his house down Sycamore and he was almost in a good mood as he crossed 18th St. and joined the crowd in front of the school. He was tripped only once on his way to his locker and called "Ronald McDonald" only twice by the time he was seated for First Period Social Studies. Gavin Dietrich gave him a murderous look, a bruise around his left eye and a cut beneath his nose reminders of the thrashing Robby had given him the day before. Yet, he said nothing. Biff LaFrance, oddly, didn't even look toward Robby, seeming to act as if he didn't exist. Mr. Osborn, however, was quite aware of Robby's presense and quickly walked toward the boy after depositing his brief case on his desk.
    "Robby, son, I am so sorry. I should never had forced you to read those articles of your father's before the class like that. I should have known that would hurt you. I am so sorry."
    Robby was embarrassed and looked down at his desk.
    "It's OK, Mr. Osborn. I... I'm glad I read them. I needed to read them."
    It looked as if the teacher had more he wanted to say, but the bell rang for the start of school. Mr. Osborn sighed and smiled before turning and walking up to the front of the class.
    Second Period French was notable only in that Sean actually spoke to the other boys first, without being prompted. He was still hesitant and nervous, still stuttering and blushing fiercely.
Yet, he did make the effort and it was rewarded with Zhenya, Ethan, and Robby including him in their practice and conversations. The four also sat together at lunch, which was notable in that Jack Purvis did not feel it necessary to invoke the wrath of Mr. Osborn again. Robby noticed, however, that other kids seemed to be avoiding them, or, at least, him. Some guys, and even some girls, who had, over the last few days, nodded or asked, "How's it going," were now pretending not to notice him or were turning to look in other directions. But, it was not until Sixth Period Gym class that it became apparent that the four were being lumped together by the school in general and that they were looked upon as "strange," or, at least, different.
    Robby was changing into his gym clothes as he noticed Jason Huffnagle beside him, pretending not to notice him.
    "How's it going, Jason?" he asked in a cheerful voice as the two sat tying their gym shoes. Jason quickly turned, as if just noticing him, and smiled.
    "OK," he replied before quickly standing and walking away.
    Robby frowned. Yeah, he thought, they think I'm a freak.
    After calisthenics, when coach sent the class outside for football, all four of them were the last to be chosen. Robby blushed and looked at Ethan, who didn't seem to care. Sean, accustomed to being the last chosen in any athletic competition, seemed unaware that anything was different. So, too, was Zhenya, whose experience in American schools was rather limited. But, Robby knew they had been singled out. He could see the signs, after six years of American school, and it was as unpleasant a sensation to him as it was unfamiliar. It had been the Gavin Dietrich episode. He knew it and as he lined up for the scrimage, along with the others, he bitterly excoriated himself for his weakness. How could he have appeared so emotional reading his father's writing in class like that? Heck, he had almost looked like a girl! Then, going crazy over Gavin Dietrich's taunting. Making such a fool of himself in front of everyone. He hated himself.
    As the first play ended in the other side losing a few yards, a whistle sounded and coach appeared at the door to the locker room.
    "Spencer!" he shouted. "Get your butt over here. Now!"
    Ethan looked at Robby for a moment and fir the first time, Robby saw a look of actual irritation come across his new friend's face. He turned and looked at the coach with disbelief as he said to Ethan, "He's not gonna give you swats again, is he?"
    Coach couldn't have heard him from that distance, but he could see clearly.
    "You got a problem, McDonnell? You wanna join your friend? Maybe your other freaky friends?"
    Ethan gave Robby a slight shake of the head to tell him not to get involved and then strode over to the coach. Robby watched during the next play and as Zhenya came up to him after the other side gained back the yards they had lost on the first play, he asked, "The Coach does not like Ethan, does he?"
    "I don't know what his problem is," Robby replied. "But, I think he's a jerk."
    Just as he said that, however, as Coach seemed to be speaking to Ethan with great asperity, the boy suddenly sat down on the asphalt and crossed his legs. Robby watched as Coach seemed to look at the boy in amazement. he was waiving his arms and yelling incoherently at him. Yet, Ethan seemed to be, well, serene. He was sitting quietly, calmly, his legs crossed, his hands resting on his knees.
    "McDonnell! Line up!"
    Robby was startled as Jason yelled at him. For several more plays, the two sides fought over a few yards of ground as a stalemate seemed to develop. Robby kept a watch on Ethan. Soon, the Principal, Mr. Huber appeared at the door of the locker room with Coach. He seemed to have a conversation with Ethan, but the boy remained seated on the ground, unmoving. Eventually, Mr. Huber turned and re-entered the building, followed by Coach. Ethan remained seated.
    For the rest of the game, boys battled over turf, gaining and losing, straining and struggling, with one eye on the game, the other on the weird boy seated by the door to the locker room. When finally coach appeared again and blew his whistle for the boys to return to the locker room, he appeared to say something to Ethan, yet the boy still sat unmoving.
    "What are you doing?" Robby asked as he came up to Ethan.
    "Civil disobedience," he replied.
    Robby was about to inquire further when an eighth grader shoved him from behind through the door, muttering, "Freak." Robby started to responded, but the flood of sweaty, energetic boys pouring into the locker room prevented him from stopping and responding. He sighed as he went on to his locker and stripped off his gym clothes. Why did Ethan have to be such a freak, he asked himself, unconciously echoing the words of the bully earlier. Yet, deep inside, Robby felt a twinge of admiration and fascination with the boy.
    As he entered the shower, however, these thoughts all ended. He found himself next to Zhenya, soaping his body.
    "What is Ethan doing?" he asked.
    "I think he's protesting," Robby replied, struggling not to look down at Zhenya's dick. "I think Coach probably wanted to give him swats again for not getting a haircut and he's protesting."
    "You can do that in American schools?" Zhenya asked in wonder as he bent over to soap his legs.
    "Well, yes and no."
    "In Soviet Union, protestors are arrested. Sometimes they go to gulag like my Uncle Misha."
    Robby was about to ask about Uncle Misha when his eyes, despite his best efforts, focused on Zhenya's privates. He froze. This was not at all what he was expecting.
    Zhenya's dick looked unlike anything he had ever seen. It didn't look like a dick at all, in fact. It was a little thick and long and hung down, but it didn't have a cone at the end. What it had was, well, lots of skin sticking down like a tube. It was weird, almost like it was deformed. But, before it became obvious Robby was looking in surprise at the Russian boy's privates, more laughs and hoots erupted from behind him.
    "Hey, Zac!" one kid called out as Zac Melville stood erect in the corner of the shower again. "I think you got competition!"
    "Naw, he's got an admirer!" yelled another. Robby looked in the direction everyone was looking and his heart sank, (and sped up). In the doorway to the showers stood Sean, a look of horror and utter humiliation on his face and, in plain sight for all to see, a very obvious... boner.
    "Lindquist, you fag!"
    "Fuck, what a fucking fag!"
    Sean hurried to an empty shower head, but not before accidentally bumping into a hostile seventh grader, one of the boys showering him with derision.
    "Get the fuck off of me, you queer!" he barked as Sean seemed to withdraw inside himself, both emotionally and physically. His shoulders and arms scrunched together as he looked down at the tile floor, rinsing his body as his penis stood stiffly before him. Robby felt a surge of excitement within his own dick as he looked at Sean's, even as his heart went out to the boy. Suddenly, the contempt he had felt for Sean before, the feeling that the boy was a loser and, basically, deserved whatever was happening to him, dissipated. He wanted to come to the boy's defense. However, it was, surprisingly, Zac Melville who did so.
    As he was walking out of the shower, his own boner rigidly leading the way, Zac put a hand on Sean's shoulder and said,  "Hey, don't worry about it. It happens to the best of us."
    Louder, he said to the boys at large, "Hey, don't blame him. Everyone tries to out do Superdick. But, nobody can beat Superdick!"
    As Zac prodeeded to the towel bin, one of the older boys retorted, "We couldn't beat Superdick if we wanted to! You're too busy beating it yourself!"
    The laughs as Zac grinned and churned his hips for everyone seemed to direct attention away from Sean, who quickly followed Zac to the towel bin. Robby, feeling a little pressure, himself, in a sensitive area, also followed.
    As he stood waiting to pull a towel from the bin, he glanced back and saw Zhenya looking about in shock and disapproval at the other boys, and covering his private area with his hands.
    Ethan still hadn't entered the locker room by the time Robby had finished dressing. He was holding his gym bag before him, ostensibly to carry it to his outside locker to take home after school for laundering, but actually to hide the rise in his pants, when Mr. Huber and the Assistant Principal, Mr. Barker, appeared in the locker room. They marched solemnly to the door leading outside, disappeared, and then, moments later, reappeared, carrying the limp and unresisting form of Ethan under both arms. They marched through the locker room again, to catcalls from the other boys directed at Ethan, and out to the hall. As he passed, Ethan's eyes met Robby's and he winked. Robby looked at him with both conern and disbelief.
    Ethan did not appear in Orchestra as Mr. Stern introduced the class to the Rogers and Hammerstein overture from Cinderella. For the entire hour, as they practiced and the teacher worked with each section, Robby and Zhenya both looked toward the door numerous times. Robby saw Sean sitting in the middle of the flute section, the sole boy, withdrawn, almost autistic, in his continuing humiliation. He felt the sudden urge to run over and hug him.
    When the bell rang and they all began to put their instruments away, Zhenya said, "I hope they will not arrest Ethan."
    "Oh, they don't do that here. He won't get arrested, but I bet he gets suspended like I did, or something."
    "Why won't he get a haircut? In Soviet Union..."
    "Zhenya, this is America. You can be yourself here. You're free here."
    Robby suddenly found himself, in his mind, defending the very qualities in Ethan that, only a day before, angered him. Robby stopped and, amazed at himself, sat back in his chair. Zhenya noticed.
    "You are Ethan's friend now?"
    Robby grinned self-consciously.
    "Yeah, I guess I am. He's pretty weird, but he's OK."
    Zhenya smiled and stood to leave.
    "Hey, Zhenya," Robby asked as they left the Orchestra room, "you have to practice this afternoon?"
    "No, but I must go to College to meet friends of my papa."
    "Oh, I was gonna see if you wanted to come over. I'm gonna spend the night over at Ethan's and I thought..."
    Zhenya frowned.
    "I wish I could."
    An eighth grader from their gym class ran past them as they descended the stairs to the first floor. He turned and sneered, "Man, your friend is a freak. We don't need freaks at Waldo!"
    Robby and Zhenya both were about to respond angrily when Zhenya saw Ethan approaching from the school's offices. He hurried forward, followed by Robby.
    "What has happened?" he asked with concern. Ethan grinned.
    "I moved a mountain."
    "What?" Robby was looking at him with confusion.
    "Coach can't swat me anymore without permission from Mr. Huber and I don't have to get a haircut."
    Robby looked agast.
    "How did you do that?"
    Ethan smiled.
    "Civil disobedience. And, my mother."
    Robby rolled his eyes as Ethan grinned and continued.
    "They called my mom and she was really torqued. She had to leave a meeting with a client. At first, Coach didn't believe she was a lawyer and was all stuck up and stuff. But, Mom really went after him and when she was through, Mr. Huber was all apologetic and Coach was just sitting there fuming. Anyway, if you don't get mad, but don't take it, you can move a mountain when you have justice on your side. That's what my Dad taught me."
    "Wow," said Robby with awe. "I just don't believe it. That is wild."
    Ethan smiled.
    "See? I'm really not crazy afterall."

And, so, ends Chapter Four. I hope you have enjoyed it. For those wondering if there will ever be a love a scene in this story, your hopes will be fulfilled in Chapter Five and, I hope, beyond your satisfaction! In the mean time, please let me know what you think at chriswriter@operamail. com. I appreciate the email and support and thank you for reading my story!!