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.  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.
    This chapter also shows characters engaged in illegal drug use. The author does not approve of chemical abuse and the story will eventually show this.

    I would like to know what you think. If you have any comments or suggestions, please email them to my new address:
(This is not a link; cut and paste into the address window and remove the space after the @).

    Thank you so much for reading my story and for the wonderful support you have given me over the last three years. Special thanks to Bill L for his special help.

    I have also resumed my weblog, which I update every three or four days. You may read it and participate at

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 Nine
Reversals and Doubts

    Sean lay in the arms of Matt and closed his eyes. The older boy held him as he laid his head on the teenager’s shoulder. He was Matt’s Little Buddy. He was in love.
    They lay together for several minutes, not moving, as Sean reveled in the strength and gentleness of his Big Buddy, feeling his heartbeat, his breathing slowing after the strenuous bout of lovemaking they had just completed.
    Matt’s left arm was wrapped around Sean, his hand resting on the younger boy’s left hip. Slowly, Matt moved the arm off Sean and laid it beside him, flat on the bed. Sean wanted the arm around him, but he expected Matt had something in mind. His right hand, which had been resting on Sean’s side, also moved, laying to Matt’s right. The teenager took a deep breath.
    Sean looked up at Matt’s face, smiling sweetly, looking to see what his Big Buddy was about to do. However, what he saw was not the tenderness he had felt before. Matt was staring straight up, his face rigid. He suddenly felt Matt’s entire body become rigid.
    “Um, get up,” Matt said quietly.
    “What?” Sean whispered.
    “Get UP,” Matt repeated, more firmly this time.
    Sean lifted himself up and looked down at Matt’s face in confusion.
    “OK. You had your fun. You can get dressed now.”
    “What?” Sean asked again. “What’s wrong?”
    “Nothin’s wrong. Just get dressed. OK?”
    Sean looked at his hero in confusion.
    “I… I don’t get it. What did I do?”
    “Nothing! Just get dressed! OK?”
    Sean jumped up and crawled across Matt to the edge of the bed. Uncertainly he stood, his erection quickly deflating. He looked down at the teenager and saw him roll away from him, facing the wall.
    “Did I do something wrong?” he asked in a plaintive voice.
    Matt quickly turned his head and barked, “Will you just fuckin’ get dressed and get the fuck outta here?”
    Sean flinched as if Matt had struck him. Fighting tears, he quickly picked up the briefs he had carefully placed atop his folded slacks on the chair. As he dressed, he watched Matt curl up on the bed, facing the wall, away from him. He could see his sides expanding and contracting with his heavy, angry-looking breathing. Sean’s hands were shaking as he fought the urge to beg Matt to be nice to him and hold him.
    When Sean pulled his cardigan on, he paused, looking down at the naked figure of the older boy. He bit his lip, wiping tears from his right eye with the sleeve of his sweater.
    “Matt, what…”
    The older boy angrily rolled over.
    “Get the fuck outta here, OK? I’m not a fuckin’ faggot! You’re trying to make me a fag like you and your fuckin’ queer friends! I’m not queer! Now, get the fuck outta here! NOW!”
    Sean looked at him in horror and as the teenager spat out the final word, the boy jumped and ran out of the room. Tears streaming down his face, he ran into a wall in the dark. In his pot-induced fog, Sean was nearly in a panic. He desperately felt along the wall until he came to a door. The lingering smell of fried meat and the faint ambient light from a curtained window beyond told him that this was the room he and Matt had entered earlier. Blindly, with his arms out before him, he struggled across the room to the door, fumbled with the knob and the lock and opened it.
    The chilled air hit him like a slap, shocking him. He slipped out onto the fire escape and closed the door behind him.
    The wind sent a chill through him and stung his face where the tears were falling. He pulled his cardigan together and stood huddling, looking fearfully about.
    What had happened? Why had Matt suddenly turned like that? Everything was so wonderful and he was so loving and then, all of a sudden, he was yelling at him to get out. He was loving him! He was loving him and then he turned. One moment, Sean had everything he had ever wanted, love and protection and security. Then, the next moment, it was snatched away and replaced with hate, anger , and rejection. What had happened?
    Sean fell to his knees on the metal grill of the platform and cried, clutching his sweater tightly around him, tears streaming down his face, snot pouring from his nose.
    After a moment, fearful of Matt coming out and becoming even angrier that he had not yet left, Sean struggled to his feet and gingerly descended the steps of the fire-escape until he reached the garbage strewn asphalt below. He stood motionless, clutching his sweater, looking about the dark alley in terror, unable to think clearly in the fog of the marijuana. He had to get home. He had to escape this Hell for the safety and warmth of his home and the love and reassurance of his granddad. It was so dark to the south. He could see nothing in the alley. What if there were muggers in the dark, or even something worse, just waiting for someone like him?
    To the north, just a few yards away, was 15th St., with its traffic and lights and people walking along the sidewalk. But, what if they saw him? Did he look like he had been smoking pot? What if he looked crazy? What if some mean college students stopped him and started messing with him? Worse, what if Matt came down and started chasing him? What if Matt wanted to beat him up?
    His paranoia and anxiety spiraling out of control, Sean screamed and jumped when a passing car on 15th honked. In terror, he ran into the dark, crying loudly until he came to the alley behind the building. Madly, he ran to the east, the cold air burning his throat and lungs, his moist face stinging in the chilled night air.
    At the end of the alley, he turned onto the sidewalk paralleling Sycamore Avenue, at the end of which, three long blocks away, was his house, his home, his sanctuary. He kept running down the street until he came to the corner of 16th St. Panting, his chest burning, he staggered to a stop and leaned against the wooden pole of the street lamp, panting, choking, crying in the icy silver-blue glow of the light. He wiped his face with his sleeve again and looked about him. A car passed by a block away up 16th. He stared at it warily, fearful it might be carrying teenagers who would harass him on this dark and scary night. He peered into the darkness down the street, terrified at the prospect of walking such a long distance in such fearful darkness. It was Halloween night, when pranksters would think it great fun to spook him, to maybe do even worse to him, to beat him up.
    Why did Matt treat him so nicely, make him feel so good and so loved, call him Little Buddy and hold him as he did, only to instantly turn and throw him out so viciously? What did he do to make Matt hate him? He was such a loser. He hated himself.
    In his misery, he staggered away from the light pole and crossed the street, gazing fearfully about him as he once again entered the darkness of the night. He could hear music and laughter emanating from a house with lights shining through a curtained window. Quickly, he hurried past it, tripping on a crack in the sidewalk where the root of a large maple tree had pushed up one of the concrete squares. The crunching of the fallen leaves under his feet seemed to echo loudly through the night as Sean looked about him.
    He was freezing. His jaw was shaking uncontrollably and he sniffed loudly and repeatedly, glancing nervously about him as he hurried along the sidewalk.
    He crossed 17th St. He was only a block from home. It was taking so long. He was walking so quickly, yet it was taking so much longer to walk down Sycamore from 15th than ever before.
    Headlights turned onto Sycamore ahead of him. He watched in fear as the car swerved across the street and stopped pointing the wrong way along the curb beside him. Fearfully, he looked to the side and saw he was passing Robby’s house. Perhaps, he could run up to the door if he needed to escape.
    The driver’s door opened and a man stepped out just as a lady emerged from the passenger’s side. Sean took off running  and then shot across the street toward his house. He didn’t stop until he had run around the side and past the privacy fence. He ran into the yard and stopped as he reached the concrete steps leading up to the small back porch.
    It was almost midnight. Would his Granddad still be up? Probably. He would be waiting up for him, probably in his robe and slippers, sitting in the living room, reading one of his old books, drinking a sherry, and listening to something soft and pretty. Sean’s heart broke as he thought of his kind and good grandfather. He huddled in the dark on the steps, clutching his sweater, sniffing, wiping his tears with his sleeve,  panting from running and from his fear}. He felt so dirty, so gross, so nasty, so evil. He had done drugs! Him! Sean Lindquist. He had smoked pot and he had tried to make Matt gay! He was disgusting. He didn’t deserve his grandfather.
    Slowly, almost as if in a trance, he stood and pulled his key from his pocket, and slowly unlocked the backdoor. Slipping in and quietly closing the door behind him, he listened for his grandfather’s music. There was no light coming from the living room. He could hear nothing. Quietly, he tiptoed into the dining room. Faintly,  {from upstairs} he heard the sound of Billy Holiday singing from upstairs. His Granddad was in bed, listening to his radio, undoubtedly waiting for him. The thought of the sweet man made Sean want to cry out with despair over his depravity.
    Painfully, he crept up the stairs. At the top, he saw the light from his grandfather’s partially open door. He bit his lip and slipped into the bathroom.
    He was shocked to see how red his eyes were in the mirror. He splashed water on his face and brushed his teeth. He desperately wanted to shower, to wash the sin from his body; but he first had to face his Granddad.
    He turned out the light and slowly opened the door. He stepped into the hallway and crept toward his grandfather’s door. He tried to raise his hand, to knock, but he couldn’t. He wasn’t worthy of the good and decent man. He was too depraved, too disgusting.
    Before his eyes could well up with more tears, he forced himself to knock.
    “Come in.”
    Sean pushed the door open and saw his grandfather sitting up in bed, in his blue pajamas, reading glasses on, holding an old, thick book in his lap, a glass of water on the bedside table, a warm and excited smile on his face.
    “Sean! Come in. Come in. Please. Sit here and tell me about your evening! How was your party?”
    Sean forced a smile and slowly made his way forward. He sat on the edge of his grandfather’s bed, his hands folded in his lap.
    “It was fun, Granddad. Everyone loved the onion dip.”
    “Oh, good. I’m so glad! Who was there?”
    Sean could feel the tears starting again, but he forced himself to smile cheerfully.
    “Well, Ethan of course, and Robby and Zhenya and Zhenya’s friends, Ian and Thad, and Matt.”
    “What did you do? Did you play games? Did you scare the trick-or-treaters?”
    “Oh, yes. Robby and Zhenya dressed as mummies and jumped out of the bushes and Ethan dressed up as Dracula and hid on the porch. It was great.”
    He could feel his grandfather looking carefully at him. His grandfather knew him well and he knew that he couldn’t hide his feelings from him.
    “Sean, my son. You’re eyes are so red.”
    “It’s cold outside, Granddad.”
    “Did you not get a ride home?”
    “Matt walked me home. Ian and Thad had to leave early, so Matt walked me home.”
    His grandfather watched him. He saw his forehead furrow, but before he could ask anything further, Sean quickly stood and said, “I’m awfully tired. I think I’m going to take a shower and go to bed.”
    He leaned over and kissed his grandfather on the cheek and the man gave the boy an affectionate squeeze on the arm.
    “Good night, my Sean,” he said as the boy paused at the door. “I am so glad you had fun at your party. So glad.”
    “Thank you, Granddad,” the boy replied, his heart breaking with remorse. “Good night.”


    Ethan stood on the front porch of his house and looked across at the unusual number of people in the park across the street. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and pleasantly warm after several weeks of cool autumn weather. Walkers were taking advantage of the unseasonable weather to stroll around the lake or to picnic in the park. A couple of teenagers were tossing a Frisbee between them. A GTO was parked along the curb. A couple of guys were sitting in the front seat listening to Jimi Hendrix and drinking Buds.
    Ethan was not happy. Robby was spending the day with his grandparents. Zhenya’s father had dragged him to another social event. His mother was schmoozing for clients at some party, (maybe the same place Zhenya was), and he had just spoken to his crazy father on the phone and learned he was going to have to spend Thanksgiving in the City. In itself, that wasn’t a problem. He loved New York. But, he was going to take Amtrak rather than fly, which was so boring, and with Allison! Hours on a train with his older sister. He needed to meditate and release the negative energy.
    He trudged down the steps to the sidewalk and crossed the street. The Frisbee caught a strange updraft and drifted toward him. He caught it and sent it back to one of the teenagers. He strolled across the grass, looking for some solitude. At the far west side of the park was a huge European beech, its limbs spreading wide across the lawn. He strolled around to the far side, away from the distractions of the park, and sat down in the grass. With the afternoon sun in his face, and the tree to block him from the breeze, he felt warm enough to pull his sweatshirt over his head and lay it beside him. He closed his eyes and placed his hands on his knees, feeling the warmth of the sun on his bare arms and concentrating on that sensation.
    When, eventually, he opened his eyes, he was surprised to see Thad sitting in front of him with a smug smile on his face. He was wearing a faded red pullover sweater, the sleeves of which were too short for his long, lanky arms; and faded jeans with giant Converse hightops on his huge feet.
    “Can you teach me to do that?” he asked.
    Ethan chuckled. “It’s not hard. Of course, no matter how long you do it, you still learn new things about it.”
    Thad nodded and leaned his head to the side as he looked at the twelve year-old.
    “Listen, I wanted to thank you for letting me come Friday night. I had fun.”
    Ethan smiled warmly. There was something about Thad that relaxed him, an easygoing quality and a gentleness that made him feel good.
    “I’m glad you came. I’m glad you had a good time. You’re welcome to come over anytime. I’m just sorry you had to leave so early.”
    Thad looked down at the grass. Ethan decided to pursue the issue.
    “So, what did you and Ian do after you left? Did you really go over to the Huffnagles’?”
    Thad blushed; he didn’t look up.
    “We, um, we didn’t go the party. We kinda, well, just hung out and stuff. You know.”
    Ethan grinned, guessing how they “hung out.”
    “So, can I ask you a question?”
    Thad looked up and smiled, his big hands folded over his ankles.
    “So, are you and Ian, you know, getting it on with each other?”
    Thad’s eyes grew wide with shock. Ethan grinned reassuringly.
    “Hey, don’t worry. Robby and I do it all the time. It’s OK. I’m just wondering.”
    Thad shrugged sheepishly and smiled.
    “OK. Well, yeah, we do.”
    Ethan smiled. He looked off toward the west,  thoughtful and quiet, before he spoke again.
    “You know, Thad, you seem like a really nice guy and I think you’re really cool and stuff, but…”
    He stopped, unable to think of a way to phrase his question without being rude. Thad understood.
    “I think I know what you’re going to say,” he offered softly. He smiled when Ethan looked at him.
    “Ian can come across as a little, oh, I don’t know, bossy, stuck up, maybe selfish sometimes. But, he’s a really nice guy when you get to know him.”
    Ethan looked at Thad’s eyes.
    “Is he?”
    Thad frowned and looked down.
    “Ian’s been my best friend since kindergarten. He’s always been there for me. Gavin’s side of the family always treated my side of the family like we were from the wrong side of the tracks. Ian always took up for me. I mean, we like did everything together. He got me into music. We used to go to Skate World all the time. We were in Cub Scouts and Webeloes  together. I mean, we did everything. He’s my best friend.”
    Ethan saw the wistful look on Thad’s face as he described his childhood with Ian, the way he looked off toward the beech tree and seemed to be watching a film of his childhood as he spoke. After a moment, Ethan spoke.
    “Did you notice that you were talking about the way it used to be. You mentioned all the things you used to do with him. You didn’t mention anything you do with him now, except messing around.”
    Thad looked at Ethan with surprise and then looked away. After a moment, he replied, softly, “Well, things are a little different now, I guess.”
    “Well, we really don’t do an awful lot of stuff together now, I guess. Except messing around. He likes that.”
    He paused and then added, bitterly, “Of course, it’s only when he wants to, though.”
    Ethan felt so sorry for Thad. He heard the emptiness in the teenager’s voice, the loneliness, and he fought an urge to lean over and hug him.
    “Um, can I ask you something, Ethan?”
    The boy nodded.
    “Friday night, we left a lot earlier than we were planning. I noticed that Ian didn’t look too happy when he came out of the kitchen. Robby looked kind of upset when he came out and he went upstairs without saying anything.”
    Ethan nodded.
    “Did Ian do something in the kitchen?” Thad asked softly, afraid to look Ethan in the eye.
    “Yeah. I guess he thought it was going to be some big sex party or something. He tried to mess around with me and I told him that Robby’s my boyfriend and… he, like, wouldn’t take no for an answer. And, then Robby walked in and saw us. But, he’s OK now. He knows what happened. But, yeah, Ian tried to do something with me, but I wouldn’t let him.”
    Thad looked down at his legs crossed before him.
    “I figured.”
    The two boys were silent for a moment as a cloud moved in front of the sun and a shadow fell over them. Some kids were shouting on the other side of the beech tree and an ambulance passed by on Providence on its way to St. Luke’s. Ethan looked up.
    “Is he doing anything with Zhenya?”
    Thad shook his head.
    “No. Not yet.”
    “What do you mean?” Ethan asked with alarm.
    “Well, he’s Zhenya’s hero. Their dads work together at the college and he spends like all his time with Zhenya. He’s taking his time with Zhenya. He wants him. Bad.”
    Ethan’s face clouded with concern.
    “Zhenya is like this really innocent guy. He doesn’t know a lot about this kind of stuff.”
    “I know. But Ian told me about this book that Zhenya and his dad have that they’re like real secretive about. It’s Dmitri Koronov’s memoirs and…”
    “Dmitri Koronov’s memoirs? You gotta be kidding!”
    Thad shrugged.
    “That’s what he says. Anyway, Zhenya’s been reading him these passages about how Dmitri was a kid and he was in love with Prince Tony or someone. Anyway,  there’re these really romantic stories about fancy balls at the palaces and sitting in the garden reading love poems to each other and stuff like that and Ian says Zhenya gets all gooey when he reads it and Ian really plays along with it and encourages him. He even hugs Zhenya and calls him this really weird Russian name, Zhenyechka. It’s like the romantic version of ‘Zhenya.’ And, Zhenya really eats it up.”
    Thad bit his lower lip and looked away.
    “It’s disgusting,” he added with bitterness.
    Ethan’s jaw became firm.
    “We have to do something. We can’t let Zhenya get hurt.”
    “You can’t tell anyone I told you this,” said Thad with urgency. “No one is supposed to know about the book. It’s a secret.”
    “Well, we can still warn Zhenya about Ian.”
    “What are we going to say? Zhenya blushes every time you say the word ‘fuck.’ I don’t think he knows a thing about sex.”
    Despite his anger, Ethan smiled.
    “After gym class once, Zhenya asked me if everyone in America was Jewish.”
    Thad chuckled.
    “See what I mean?”
    Ethan stood up and Thad followed suit.
    “I’ll talk to him tomorrow at school. I’ll be real careful and delicate, but I’ll try to warn him to be careful.”
    “Listen, Ian can’t know that I said a thing to you. Please.”
    Ethan looked at the teenager.
    “He’s a jerk, Thad. You can do a lot better than him.”
    Thad looked down and Ethan immediately regretted saying anything.
    “Look, I’m sorry,” he added. “It’s just that you’re such a nice guy that I just hate to see you hooked up with someone like Ian.”
    Thad smiled.
    “You’re sweet. You just don’t understand. He was always there for me and… there’s just something about Ian. I… well.”
    He shrugged and Ethan smiled.
    “I understand.”
    Thad turned and took a few steps away before turning back.
    “You know, if I were 12, Robby would have some competition.”
    Ethan grinned. “What’s being 12 got to do with it?”
    But, as he was walking back to the house, he suddenly realized what he said and wondered, what the heck did he mean, saying that?


    Robby could hear Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea on the television in the living room as he entered the front door after being dropped off by his grandfather. He peeked in the living room and saw Brian sitting on the floor in front of the TV while Frank sat in one of the easy chairs reading the Sunday paper. He looked up and gave a falsely hearty wave and grin at Robby.
    “Hey, Sport. Have a good time with the old fogies?”
    Robby was carrying his overnight bag in one hand and his violin case and music in the other. He nodded and gave a perfunctory smile as he started up the stairs. His mother emerged from the kitchen.
    “Where’s your grandfather?” she asked in an almost sarcastic tone.
    Robby struggled for a diplomatic answer other than that he didn’t want to talk to his lush and whore of a daughter-in-law.
    “Never mind,” she said. “I know why he didn’t come in. Put your stuff away and come down to the kitchen. I have something to tell you.”
    Robby sighed, hoping he could spend the evening in his room writing another “Brooks of Sheffield” story, but fearing his hopes were about to be dashed. He took his time climbing the stairs and walking to his room. He set his load at the foot of the bed and turned on the desk lamp. He stood for a moment looking out the dark window wondering how long he could delay returning downstairs when his mother called .
    “Robby! Hurry up!”
    He turned and left the room.
    His mother was folding clothes at the table as he walked into the kitchen. She had a smug look on her face as he entered. He stood wordlessly in the doorway. She held her hand out. On her ring finger was a new ring with a small diamond in the center.
    “What do you think?” she asked proudly, almost boastfully.
    Not understanding the significance,  Robby shrugged and said, “It’s nice. It must have coast a lot of money, though.”
    “I didn’t buy it. Frank did,” she replied triumphantly. Robby still didn’t get it. Frustrated, his mother put the hand on her hip and said, irritably, as if he were dense, “He asked me to marry him!”
    Robby stood for a moment, not quite understanding.
    “You’re… getting married?”
    “Yes. Frank loves me and he loves you kids and he wants to have a family.”
    “Oh. When?”
    “January 17th. It’s a Saturday. Isn’t it wonderful?”
    Robby nodded. He didn’t trust himself to say anything. He looked down at the table for a moment. He knew he should do something, react some way, but he couldn’t think of what he should do when you learn your mother is getting married again. After a moment, he looked up and saw her watching him.
    “Don’t ruin this for me,” she said softly. “Please.”
    It was seldom she ever added the word “please” to any request or demand. He swallowed and walked around the table to her. He put an arm around her and gave her a quick hug.
    “Honey,” she said with uncharacteristic tenderness, “I know you miss your father. God knows I do.”
    Robby tried not to snort.
    “But, I want you to be happy and Frank is a good man and he’s going to be a good father to you kids.”
    “Do we have to change our names?”
    She looked at him and smiled sadly.
    “Not if you don’t want to.”
    Robby looked at the table and nodded.
    “Why don’t you go in and say something to him?”
    “OK,” Robby said, giving his mother a forced smile. He slowly turned and painfully walked into the hallway. Once he was alone, he bit his lip and clenched him fists. He stood for a moment and then walked on to the living room.
    Frank was still reading the paper, the sports section, Robby noted. The man lowered the paper as he approached and gave him the same fake smile as before.
    “Well, I guess you heard the good news,” he said heartily.
    Robby nodded and put out his hand. Frank shook it and Robby said, “Welcome to the family.”
    “Thanks. That’s really big of you. I know you miss your dad and I know I can’t take his place, but I hope we can be good friends. I’m sure gonna try.”
    Robby could think of nothing else to say, so he replied with, “Well, I gotta do my homework.”
    He turned and walked toward the hallway.
    “Robby,” Frank said in a serious voice. He turned.
    “We need to make this work for your mother. I’m gonna make sure it works.”
    Robby wasn’t sure how to take this remark. He simply smiled weakly and nodded before turning and leaving the room.
    When he entered his dimly lit bedroom, he stood in the center for a moment, his shoulders slumped, staring at the yellow shade of the desk lamp. He heard the wind blow outside. A cold front had moved in late in the afternoon, obscuring the sun with clouds and now, as night had settled in, he could her raindrops against the window. He sighed and walked to the desk, pulling out the straight-back chair and sitting. He looked at the model of HMS Bounty atop the shelves beside the desk. He thought of the Sunday evenings he and his father had spent at his father’s workbench in the garage, putting the model together. He couldn’t imagine doing that with any other man, especially not Frank.
    Numbly, he pulled his Math book from his backpack.


    It was gray, cold, and wet as Robby trudged to school Monday morning. His eyes watched his feet kick the wet matted leaves along the sidewalk as he ignored the conversations of kids in front and behind him while he walked the half block. He glanced over at Sean’s house as he reached the corner and briefly considered knocking on the door to see if he could accompany him across the street, needing to see a friendly face that morning. He just didn’t have the energy, however. He just wanted to get to Homeroom and turn into a vegetable during one of Mr. Osborn’s lectures. He didn’t want to think; he didn’t want to talk. In fact, he briefly considered forcing himself to throw up his breakfast so he could stay home, but the thought of his mother force-feeding him Kaopectate all day squelched that idea.
    The walk to the locker was surprisingly free of harassment and he soon found himself in his desk, clutching his hands together and looking down. He paid no attention to any of the other kids as they entered, though he did occasionally look up to see if Zhenya, Ethan, or Sean had arrived. Just before the bell rang, Zhenya and Ethan walked in, laughing. They both waved and smiled at him. He faked a sickly smile and nodded. Ethan raised an eyebrow as he made his way to his desk.
    Robby looked to his left. Neither Matt nor Sean had shown up. That seemed strange. Sean was never absent, or even tardy. Matt’s attendance was more problematic, but it did seem strange.
    Mr. Osborn was calling the roll as Matt entered. His hair was damp and he was sniffing. His flannel shirt was untucked and he looked angrier than usual. He looked away as he passed Robby, who was about to smile. Robby saw him look at Sean’s empty desk for a moment before he collapsed into his own.
    “I’m so pleased you were able to join us today, Mr. Hunter,” said the teacher as he looked up from his lectern.
    “Kiss my ass,” Matt muttered under his breath.
    Mr. Osborn’s eyes widened and the class expected the teacher to call him up to the front. However, as Matt looked up, their eyes met, and Mr. Osborn’s face softened.
    “We’ll talk after class, Matt,” he said softly.
    The boy’s face seemed to soften, as well.
    Robby wanted to talk with Matt after class, but didn’t want to embarrass him if he was getting chewed out by Mr. Osborn. He would have a chance in Third Period English, so he let it go. Zhenya and Ethan joined him as he walked to his locker.
    “Where is Sean?” Zhenya asked. “He is not ill?”
    Robby shrugged.
    “I was going to ask Matt, but I figured I’d better wait until later.
    Ethan nodded.
    “Yeah, this might not be the best time. So what’s up with you? You look like someone just shot your dog.”
    Robby opened his locker and threw his Social Studies book haphazardly in. As he pulled out his French book, he sighed.
    “Mom and Frank are getting married.”
    “Oh, man,” said Ethan as he stopped working the dial on his locker. He looked at Robby in the eyes.
    Zhenya frowned as he closed his locker. He came up to Robby and put a hand on his shoulder.
    “This hurts you because you still miss your father?”
    Robby shrugged as he closed the door.
    “That’s one reason. Another is that Frank’s a jerk.”
    Ethan put a hand on his shoulder.
    “Try to give the guy a chance.”
    Robby gave him a withering look and replied, “I’ll meditate about it.”
    He walked away leaving Ethan looking hurt and Zhenya looking sympathetic.
    Robby was unusually taciturn during French class. As Sean was absent, Zhenya had to double up with Ethan and Robby, for which Robby was grateful as it spared him any more prying questions or unwelcome advice from Ethan.
    When he entered Third Period English and walked to his seat next to Matt, Robby dropped down and scowled at the scratched and stained desktop.
    “What’s the matter with you?” Matt asked sullenly. “You look like shit.”
    “I feel like shit. My life is shit.”
    Matt snorted and nodded sympathetically.
    “How ‘bout you?” Robby asked. “You don’t look too happy with the world.”
    Matt just shook his head and stared ahead.
    “Hey, you know what’s up with Sean?” Robby asked.
    “Why? D’ee say anything?” Matt barked, to Robby’s surprise.
    “No, no. I haven’t seen him since you two left the party,” Robby replied. With a slight grin, his first the entire morning,  he added, “Did you have fun after you left?”
    Matt scowled and looked away.
    “Hey,” Robby said with concern. “Is something wrong? Did something happen?”
    “Nothing happened, OK? Leave me alone,” the teenager snapped.
    Robby looked down at the desktop again and folded his hands. Quietly, he replied, “Sorry,” and said nothing else for the remainder of the class.
    At lunch, however, before Zhenya joined them at the table, Robby spoke quickly to Ethan.
    “I think something happened between Matt and Sean Friday night.”
    Ethan looked suspiciously at him, but said nothing. Robby continued.
    “Matt looked really upset in English and when I asked him if something was wrong or if something happened with him and Sean, he almost bit my head off. You think, maybe, he got a little too, I don’t know, pushy or something with Sean and maybe Sean got scared or hurt or something?”
    Ethan was thoughtful for a moment and then said, “I’ll talk to him in Gym. Maybe I can get something out of him. I think he trusts me. Maybe we should go see Sean after school, see if he’s sick or afraid or what.”
    A freezing drizzle was falling that afternoon and after calisthenics, Coach had the boys work on the trampolines. Ethan maneuvered so that he could spot on one of the trampolines beside Matt, who seemed to show no enthusiasm for the sport whatsoever.
    “What’s up?” Ethan asked as he watched a seventh grader jumping. Matt shrugged and looked away.
    “Hunter!” Coach yelled from across the gym. “Pay attention!”
    “Fuck yourself,” Matt muttered as he looked back at the jumper. Ethan grinned.
    “I’m glad you made it to the party,” Ethan resumed.
    “Yeah, it was OK,” Matt replied noncommittally.
    After a pause, Ethan asked, “So, did you and Sean have a good time after you left?”
    “What is this?” Matt scowled. “You talk to Ronald MacDonald or somethin’?”
    Ethan shrugged innocently.
    “Naw. Just trying to be a friend. That’s all. Sorry.”
    He watched as the boy jumping landed on his butt and crawled off the trampoline. It was Ethan’s turn to jump and he was unable to say anything further to Matt for the rest of the hour. But, after school, as they met at their lockers following Orchestra, it was decided that Ethan and Robby would check on Sean. Zhenya, still unaware of the nature of Matt and Sean’s relationship, assumed it was simply concern for the boy’s health.
    “I have to go to Symphony practice,” he said at the front door. “But, tell him for me to get well.”
    He, then, made a mad dash through the drizzle to his father’s Volkswagen, idling in front of the school as Ethan and Robby huddled under Ethan’s umbrella. Once they had crossed the street and were standing safely under the roof above the front porch of Sean’s house, they relaxed.
    It was Marvela who opened the door in response the bell. Robby smiled politely.
    “Can we please see Sean?”
    “Well, poor Sean’s in bed sick. I don’t know if he can have visitors,” she replied. “But, why don’t you boys come in and get warm.”
    Sean’s grandfather was descending the stairs as they entered the living room. The fireplace was lit and a soft piano piece was playing on the hi-fi. Mr. Lindquist smiled warmly.
    “Boys! I am so pleased to see you. Please, please, sit,” he enthused as he lay gentle hands on their shoulders. “Marvela, could we have hot cocoa?”
    “I’m already on my way, Mr. Lindquist!” she replied with a smile.
    Sean and Ethan sat on the couch and Mr. Lindquist took his usual chair by the fire. Robby spoke first.
    “Mr. Lindquist, what’s wrong with Sean? Is he sick?”
    “He is not feeling well today. It’s very curious. He doesn’t have a fever, but he complains of headache and weakness.”
    “Can we see him?” Ethan asked.
    “Perhaps, I will ask him in a moment. First, you must have cocoa. I hear that you had a very successful party, Friday night.”
    Ethan smiled.
    “Yeah, we had blast. And, Sean’s onion dip was great!”
    Robby smiled when he saw how much pleasure Ethan’s comment gave Sean’s grandfather.
    “I am so pleased. Sean was so looking forward to it. Since he lost his parents, he doesn’t have much of a life here with me, I’m afraid, and I am so happy that you are his friends.”
    Ethan and Robby were embarrassed by the gentleman’s candor, which he noticed. Immediately, he changed the subject.
    “I was wondering about something,” he started with a slight hesitance. Robby felt a sense of caution as he looked at the suddenly serious face of the man.
    “Sean tells me that his friend, Matt, walked him home after the party.”
    Robby and Ethan both looked at each other.
    “Um, yeah, he did,” Ethan replied.
    “I don’t know this Matt. Is he a good boy? Is he a good friend of Sean’s?”
    Once again, the two boys hesitated until Robby replied, “Yeah, I think Matt’s a good guy.”
    “Yeah,” Ethan added. “He’s sort of Sean’s bodyguard at school.”
    “Good,” Mr. Lindquist replied, apparently relieved with the news.
    “Um, why?” Robby asked. “Did something happen?”
    “Oh, no. Not that I know of. I was just concerned. It’s just that Sean was very quiet Saturday and took to the bed Sunday evening.”
    Marvela entered with a tray bearing the cocoa, a welcome interruption for the boys. As they drank, they discussed school with Sean’s grandfather until their cups were empty, at which point, Mr. Lindquist, stood and said, “Well, boys, I have intruded on your patience long enough. Why don’t you go see Sean?”
    The boys thanked him for his hospitality and scampered up the stairs.
    The door to Sean’s room was closed as they approached. When Robby gave Ethan an inquisitive look, Ethan nodded, and Robby knocked softly on the door.
    “Yes?” came the muffled voice.
    “Sean, its Robby and Ethan.”
    There was no response.
    “Can we come in?”
    “Go away.”
    The two boys gave each other confirming looks.
    “Sean, we need to talk to you,” said Ethan.
    “Go away!”
    Robby sighed and frowned.
    “Sean, please! It’s important!”
    There was no response, but the boys could hear a rustling sound and then footsteps approaching the door. The knob turned and the door opened a crack. Sean peaked through in his blue pajamas, his hair ruffled and his eyes red and swollen.
    “Sean…” Ethan began, but he was cut-off.
    “Quiet, please. I don’t want my granddad to hear.”
    “Sean, what’s the matter?” Robby asked. “We need to talk to you.”
    “Just leave me alone, please. I’ll be OK. I just need to be alone. Maybe we can talk later. But, I just need for you guys to go. Please.”
    “Does this have something to do with Matt?” Robby demanded.
    “Shhh!” Sean motioned furiously with his hand and looked with fear toward the stairs. “Please! I don’t want Granddad to worry about me. Please. Just go. Please.”
    Ethan reached in and gripped Sean’s arm above the wrist. It wasn’t angrily , but it was firm enough to let Sean know he was serious.
    “Sean, we’re worried about you. You’re our friend. We need to know if you’re OK.”
    Tears formed in Sean’s eyes and he sniffed hard.
    “Yeah. I’ll be fine. I just need some time. OK?”
    Ethan held his wrist a moment longer and held his eyes, as well. Finally, he nodded and stepped back.
    Robby leaned forward and whispered, “Sean, you know if you ever need anything, you just ask. You’re our buddy. OK?”
    At the word “buddy,” Sean closed his eyes and flinched slightly. He nodded and smiled wanly at the two.
    “Thanks. Look, I gotta get back in bed. I might go to school tomorrow. OK?”
    Ethan and Robby nodded.
    “Bye,” said Sean as the started to close the door. “And, thanks.”
    The two friends stood for a moment outside the now closed door and looked at each other. Ethan frowned and led Robby back to the stairs. When they reached the downstairs hallway and entered the living room, Sean’s grandfather looked up with hope.
    “How is he?”
    “He’s OK,” said Ethan with a sad smile. “He just needs to sleep some more. Hopefully, he’ll be in school tomorrow.”
    Mr. Lindquist nodded and looked down at the book in his lap. After a moment, he sighed, placed the book on the table beside his chair and stood.
    “I’m grateful Sean has such good friends. Thank you, boys.”
    The drizzle had turned to snow while the boys were inside and as they stood on the front porch after Mr. Lindquist had closed the door, Robby looked out at the thin layer of white forming on the front lawn.
    “You know,” he said forlornly, “I’ve been looking forward to the snow ever since we moved here. It almost never snows in Austin and I thought it would be so great. But, I just don’t feel excited.”
    Ethan remained silent, but he nodded with understanding. He dropped his violin case, shifted his backpack, and placed an understanding hand on Robby’s shoulder.
    “What do you suppose happened?” Robby asked Ethan. His friend shrugged and shook his head.
    “I think one of them freaked out when things went farther than they thought they would.”
    “You think it was Sean or Matt?”
    “Maybe they both freaked.”
    Robby stared at the falling snow. Ethan squeezed his shoulder.
    “Give them some time. You want to come over?”
    Robby shook his head.
    “Naw. I think I’ll stay home and work on one of my stories.”
    Robby got the impression that for some reason Ethan wasn’t too disappointed with this decision. With a quick, “See ya tomorrow,” he took off toward his house, leaving Ethan on the porch with an empty look on his face.
    As Robby walked across the street, Ethan sighed and stepped down off the porch. He looked to the right as he approached the street and saw another figure a block away in jeans and a ratty winter coat walking up the street toward 15th St. He looked cold to Ethan, even from a block away. He frowned as he watched the retreating figure.
    Trudging up 18th St., Ethan shivered as the snow seemed to pick up. The usual sounds of the city seemed muffled and the white covering on the grass and sidewalk seemed to make the surroundings boringly sterile. Ethan did not like snow or winter.
    He passed Zhenya’s empty house and stopped as a car turned in front of him onto Richmond, splattering slush on his pants and violin case. His serenity was failing him as he silently cursed the driver.
    He stood for several minutes shivering as he awaited an opening in the traffic on Providence. When it finally came, he started out at a trot and fell in the slush in the center of the street. When he was able to stand again, several cars had to slow down to give him the chance to cross.
    Many of the ducks in Lake Windermere were huddled together under bushes along the banks as he walked through the park. He kept his eyes down, ignoring the beauty of the snow decorating the stately houses across the street. There seemed to be no one outside; he felt alone, until he came to the west end of the lake. He had turned south toward his house when his face was suddenly stung with a snowball.
    Angrily, he turned in the direction from which it came and saw a tall, lanky teenager with a goofy grin on his face, waving. He took a deep breath and released his anger.
    “Hey, Thad.”
    The teenager loped over to him and grinned.
    “Hope I didn’t make ya mad,” he said, seeing how restrained Ethan seemed.
    “No, I’m OK,” he replied with a reluctant smile, unable to remain angry with the good-natured guy. Thad looked at him carefully.
    “I don’t think so. Something’s bothering you.”
    Ethan looked toward his house and slowly shook his head.
    “I’ll be OK. Say, why aren’t you at Symphony practice?”
    Now it was Thad’s turn to dissemble. He shrugged and scraped his foot through the accumulating snow on the walkway. Ethan watched him and then said, “Why don’t you come over. I’m cold and we can have some hot chocolate or something and warm up.”
    Thad smiled and followed the boy. Ethan led him across the street and up the driveway, around the back of the house and into the mudroom. Soon they were seated in the living room, drinking Cokes  with an old rerun of Gilligan’s Island on the television.
    “So, why aren’t you at Symphony practice?” Ethan asked again.
    Thad looked down at his lap.
    “I’m quitting.”
    “Why?” Ethan asked with surprise. Thad took a deep breath.
    “Well, our talk yesterday. I started thinking after I got home. I don’t really like playing in the symphony. In fact, I don’t really like playing the clarinet. The only reason I do it is because, well, because Ian thought I should.”
    Ethan bit his lip and then asked, “Ian runs your life?”
    It was Thad’s turn to bite his lip.
    “I, well, no. Not anymore.”
    “Does he know?”
    Thad grinned.
    “Not yet.”
    The boys were silent, watching the TV, though not really paying attention to the program. Soon, though, as Chad and Allison drove up, Thad stood.
    “I gotta go,” he declared as he grabbed his coat. After Ethan let him out the front door, he stood at the window and watched the tall figure of the teenager walk across the park in the snow. Even after he entered a house across the park, Ethan remained motionless, watching, and biting his lip.

And, so, you have Chapter Nine. I hope you enjoyed it. Please let me know what you think at my new email address: fthinker@ Thank you for reading my story and for your support!