Hand Me Down

by Evan Carlton

Chapter 7

Mrs. Parata stopped coming to visit us at the end of March. After our first meeting, she had insisted on seeing us separately, always talking to my foster dads first, then to me alone. On her last visit, we sat out on the deck, drinking coffee.

"This is the last time I'll be visiting you, Ben. I just wanted to make sure you were still happy and comfortable here, but I think I already know the answer."

"I know you don't approve of gay men looking after boys my age, but it's really been the best thing for me. You can see that, can't you?"

She smiled and nodded, then looked thoughtful. "Did I make you think I didn't approve? Oh dear, that wasn't right of me." She looked as if she was deciding whether to tell me something or not. Finally she sighed and made a decision. "When I was just starting out in this job, I made a very bad mistake. A boy whose case I was handling was placed with a family in Hastings. His name was Paul and he was thirteen. The foster parents were very friendly and Paul was so happy in the house at first. Every time I visited, we all sat together and the father and mother told me how well Paul was doing at school and how many friends he had made. I noticed that Paul had stopped talking during our interviews, but I suppose I was just happy that the placement had worked out so well. One night I got a call that Paul had been arrested for vandalising a phone box outside a supermarket. It was so out of character for him, I couldn't quite believe it. When I went to the police station, I asked him why he'd done it and he wouldn't answer. He kept saying that I didn't care about him anyway, so why should he bother talking to me? I went to the foster parents the next day and they said they couldn't understand it either. Things got worse over the next few weeks, and then Paul was admitted to hospital. He'd taken an overdose. He survived, but it was a pretty bad situation. One of my colleagues, a much more experienced social worker, told me that I had missed all the classic signs of sexual abuse. I felt dreadful. Once I got Paul to talk to me, he told me that the father had been raping him almost daily the entire time. The mother knew all about it, but she blamed Paul for seducing her husband, and had started hitting him as well. I confronted the parents and they denied all knowledge, but the overwhelming impression I got from them was that Paul was just an object. They didn't see him as a real person, with feelings or with any rights whatsoever. They were just using him. We couldn't prove anything, but I managed to get them suspended from the caregivers list, and we placed Paul in another home a few weeks later."

I tried to imagine how the boy must have felt, knowing what was in store for him day after day. Then I thought of Charlie and Michael and their kindness, their gentleness.

"That's why you always talk to me alone when you visit. I understand now. I'm perfectly safe here, Mrs. Parata," I said. "Charlie and Michael are the nicest people I've ever met. I'd tell you if there was something wrong."

She looked through her handbag and gave me a business card. "You can call me Ngaire, Ben. This is my card. On the back I've written my private number. I give it to every client I have. I think you're the least likely person to have to call it, but I feel better knowing you have it." She stood up to go. I looked up at her as she started to walk back towards the house.

"Do you still speak to Paul?" I asked. "Is he happy now?"

She looked at me and gave a slight shake of the head.

"No, Ben," she said. I could hear the sadness in her voice. "Paul ran away from home when he was fifteen and we've lost track of him. I think about him every day."

Connor and I were sitting on his bed one evening, showing each other photos on our phones. My school, my classroom, Michael at the aquarium; his school, his friends, and lots of Ella. I felt the familiar jolt of jealousy when I saw her pulling faces into the camera

-so is she your girlfriend or not?

-I told you I don't know

-how can you not know if you have a girlfriend? You have a million pictures of her. You kiss her

-she takes most of them. Whenever she finds my phone she just starts taking pictures of herself. And you kissed her too. Is she your girlfriend?

-don't be stupid. She kissed me.

-do you like her?

-as a friend, yes

-so do I.

We sat in silence. I was about to get up and leave, but suddenly I was feeling angry.

-is it because she's deaf?

-Ben, do we have to do this?



-because I want to know

-she understands the way I feel

-because she's deaf?


-Connor we spend every free minute we have together. Are you still saying I'll never understand you just because I'm hearing?

-no. I don't know what I'm saying. Why are you so angry?

-because I don't know what I mean to you

-you're my best friend

-and Ella's your girlfriend?

-yes. No. I don't know

-I'm leaving.

The next afternoon he barged into my bedroom. I put my book down.


-what was all that about yesterday?

-I'm sorry I was just feeling down

-Ella's my girlfriend, alright?

-Alright. I'm sorry.

He sat down on the bed and stared at me.

-you don't know how hard it is to be around hearing people sometimes. When I'm reading lips, I only catch half of what people are saying, so I just have to pretend to understand sometimes. Hearing people don't think. They just all talk at the same time. Even you and your dads do it.

-I'm sorry I'll try harder

-it's not just you. He stood up, getting agitated . It happens all the time. Sometimes people just turn away in the middle of a sentence. It makes me so angry

-so you don't want to hang out with hearing people anymore?

-I like you Ben. I want to hang out with you

-but otherwise? I was getting upset as well

-it's really hard work, even with you sometimes. Don't look at me like that. Suddenly his hands were a torrent of signs . I couldn't even begin to follow them. Eventually he slowed down.

-that's how we sign at school. With you I sign at half that speed.

I looked at him, angry as well now

-Connor I live with two hearing people. I go to a hearing school. I'm trying to improve my signing but it's hard for me. I can't sit in class signing all day. I practice every night. Tamati says I'm doing fine.

-I'm just trying to explain why I hang out with Ella.

-then hang out with her. I'm sorry my signing's not good enough for you. Can you go now?

-don't be so sensitive. I'm just trying to explain

Suddenly I was dizzy with rage. I lunged at him, pinning his hands to his sides, silencing him. He stared at me in shock. My face was barely inches from his.

"I LOVE YOU," I screamed. "I'M GAY AND I'M IN LOVE WITH YOU." He was staring at my lips in astonishment. "You're so wrapped up in your self-pity. You can't even see what's right in front of your nose. I learnt to sign so I could tell you one day how I really feel about you. Now I don't even want to do that anymore."

I manoeuvred him to the top of the stairs. I was shaking as I took his right hand and put it on my chest. I wanted him to feel my words, even if he couldn't hear them.


He stared at me in shock, then turned and ran downstairs, pushing past Charlie and Michael.

"I'VE HAD ENOUGH," I yelled at them and slammed the door to my room.

Two days later, on the street outside his house:

-hi Ella. Is Connor ok? We had a fight and he's stopped talking to me

-he's fine. He just needs time to think about it

-why? It doesn't change anything

-apparently it does

-don't worry. Just be patient

A week later, in his bedroom:

-I'm sorry I threw you out. I'm sorry I fell in love with you. Just pretend I didn't say it. Please?

-why didn't you tell me earlier?

-I didn't want things to be awkward between us. You're my best friend. I never lied to you

-no but you never told me the truth

-It doesn't have to change anything

-I know it shouldn't but somehow it does

-then stay away if you want to

-I don't want to

-you make me so angry sometimes

-I know. It's fun.

We negotiated our peace slowly, our awkward conversations drifting back to normal, safe topics. We still spent two or three evenings a week at each other's houses, but we steered our signing away from anything to do with love or jealousy. It was pleasant enough, but somehow the absence of anger did not quite mean that we were fully comfortable with each other. Our conversations became more serious.

-what do you imagine music is like?

-can you imagine a universe without time? No? when the Big Bang happened, time started as well. Before that, there was no time. Can you imagine that?

-no. Time had to have been there because there was a moment before the Big Bang. Then there was a moment afterwards.

-nope. There was just the moment afterwards

-I can't imagine that

-and I can't imagine music. It's just vibrations. I feel them in my chest if the music's loud enough

-can you understand French or German sign language?

-hardly. They have some different signs and I can't read their lips, or their finger-spelling.


-what do you want to do after you leave school?

-I haven't decided yet. C and M want me to go to university. I'm thinking about joining the police force, but don't tell them that for God's sake

-you're such a daddy's boy

-don't be mean. What about you?

-Journalism isn't working out. Maybe I'll become a porn star

-your mum will be so proud of you

I was a winger in the rugby team. That meant I was the fastest, not the strongest. It was my job to be at the end of the passing line, always patrolling the side line, waiting for a chance to sprint for the goal line and score a try. It meant that I spent most of the game waiting for the ball, but once I got it I was fair game for the opposing team's defence. I had learned to take the tackles without getting hurt, but, as the opposition got older and bigger, that was getting harder. The under-fifteens were a pretty weak team, to be honest. We lost three out of our first five games heavily, and I only scored twice in all of those games.

At the start of term three, Mr. Wallace was waiting for us after practice one day.

"Collins, Carr and Carter – you'll be moving up to the under-sixteens to cover for Hammond, Ngata and McBeath, who are all down with the 'flu. The game is on Saturday at three."

When I told Charlie and Michael they were really thrilled and promised to come to the game. They had never seen me play before as the under-fifteens played on Wednesday afternoons. When Connor and Ella found out, of course they wanted to come too. I sighed and gave in to my fate.

Saturday came around far too quickly. We all piled into Michael's BMW and drove out to the playing fields. The July rain had mercifully relented, but there was a chill wind blowing and the pitch was soaked, which would make holding onto the ball really difficult. I noticed the curious looks on my team mates faces as my weird group of followers took their places in the small stand. Most of the other parents were staring at Charlie and Michael. For the most part, they seemed merely curious, but a few looked downright hostile. Ella and Connor were signing furiously at me so I signed back

-stop it, you're embarrassing me

-oh don't be a baby. They're just jealous that you have such handsome dads

-and cute friends

-ha-ha now behave

The game went well enough, even if I didn't see much of the ball at first. Denny managed to get the ball out to me on the wing once in the first half but I couldn't find a gap to go for the line. I hardly touched the ball for the rest of the half, and the second half wasn't much better. Towards the end of the game we were down by five points when Denny got the ball deep into the opposition's half. Suddenly I saw a gap. I cut inside and he reversed the pass and stuffed the ball right into my stomach. Next thing I knew I was directly under the posts and the scores were tied. Milligan popped the conversion over and that was the end of the game. We had won by two ponts. Charlie and Michael came storming onto the pitch at the end and hugged me as if I had just won an Olympic gold medal. Connor was slapping my back and signing like crazy. Ella kissed me very chastely on the cheek and then jumped into my arms, wrapping her legs around my waist, whooping like a maniac.

They held me up so long I was last into the showers. When I got out everyone came over to congratulate me apart from Ian Carter. Still shirtless, I was pulling on my trousers when I saw him sneering at me.

"See your "dads" came to watch," he said, wrapping the word in air quotes.

"See yours couldn't be bothered," I answered.

"And who the hell were the two mongs? More of your family?" The dressing room went silent.

"They're my friends. Two more than you have, apparently. And they're perfectly normal except for the fact that they're deaf."

"Is he your boyfriend? He seemed pretty happy when you went over for that try,"

"Shouldn't you have been happy as well? We won didn't we?"

"Honestly, Collins, between your boyfriend and those other two, your arsehole must be this big by now." He held his hands together in a giant 'O'

"There's only one arsehole that big in this room, and I'm looking at him."

There's an etiquette to school fights which is pretty much the same throughout the civilised world. Things are said. Pushes are exchanged. Each contestant throws one punch. The fighters are separated and verbal threats are issued. The fight is forgotten. No harm done. So when Carter stepped up to push me, I sighed and let him come. He landed his shove and I took a step back to brace myself for my return shove. Unfortunately my left foot landed on a shoe and my right landed perfectly in a puddle of water on the floor. Suddenly I was in mid-air, turning in a graceful half-somersault before the rules of gravity kicked in. With a sickening thud, I landed on my left shoulder, the side of my head thumping into the floor of the changing room with a sound like a watermelon hitting a wall. My head hurt horribly, but it was nothing like the white hot pain that was devouring my shoulder and my left arm. I saw Carter's face go totally pale as I felt warm liquid under my head. If the look on Carter's face wasn't enough to let me know that something was seriously wrong with Ben Collins, the fact that two of my teammates turned around and threw up definitely was.

I rolled on to my back and lay there, wondering why it felt like I was lying on top of a rugby ball. Somebody was screaming, and I realised it was probably me, but the pain was so excruciating I couldn't think about that.

And then, mercifully, I must have passed out because the next thing I know I'm in the back of an ambulance and Charlie's leaning over me with a look of terror in his eyes and he's saying "it'll be alright" and "Michael's right behind us in the car" and there's a mask on my face and why am I wearing a mask? and then I must have blacked out again because when I open my eyes I'm in a hospital room and where did my trousers go? and there are so many people there but I can't see Charlie and everyone is talking fast and loud and somebody says 'dislocated shoulder and fractured humerus, probable concussion' and now I'm really scared and then I see him behind the doctors and nurses and I yell "Dad" and it feels right so I yell it over and over again and he comes to me and takes hold of my good hand and that hurts because there is a bloody great needle sticking out of the back of it and he looks at me and he's trying not to cry and he's saying "I'm here" and I smile because he really is and I know things will be alright now and then I see Michael and Connor in the hallway outside the window and Michael looks like he's seen a ghost and Connor is signing over and over again it's ok don't be scared, it's okay don't be scared and I try to smile at him and then someone is putting a mask over my face again and saying "just breathe normally" and Charlie is stroking my hair as the pain magically disappears and the voices get quieter and then they stop.

The hospital room is dark. I can only open one eye but it's enough to make out Michael sitting next to me, a book open on his lap.

"Dad," I say and start coughing because my throat feels like I've been gargling broken glass.

Michael jumps up and drops his book and then I feel his cheek on mine as he kisses me.

"Hey, welcome back. How do you feel?"


"Then sleep. We'll be here when you wake up."

Waking again, the room bathed in daylight, I make out a form sleeping on a bed next to my mine. I'm so tired I can't even speak. I sleep again.

The room is dark again. Charlie's reading a book in the chair next to me. My shoulder's on fire. He sees the distress on my face and presses the call button for a nurse. I can't talk. The pain is like a roaring beast. The nurse holds up a syringe and I feel the back of my hand go icy cold and the pain retreats and I sleep again.


When I finally woke up properly, Michael was there in the chair next to the bed, his eyes closed. Charlie was standing by the window, a cup of coffee in his hand.

"Michael?" I said as loud as I could. It hurt. "Dad?"

He came awake with a silly smile on his face and stood up to stretch. Charlie came rushing over, looking relieved.

"Morning, sleeping beauty."

"What happened?"

"Well you fell over in the dressing room and smashed yourself up pretty bad. You dislocated your shoulder and broke your arm here," Charlie said, pointing to a spot about three inches below his shoulder. I looked down and saw that my entire arm was bandaged up and the whole thing was strapped to my chest, which was almost completely covered in bandages and tape.

"You hit your head quite badly which caused a concussion and a really nasty cut. So, all in all, not one of your better days."

I reached up and felt the thick bandage around my head. I realised my head was throbbing. I heard someone coming into the room and looked at Michael in confusion when I saw it was Connor's mum, Sandra.

"Good morning, Ben," she said cheerfully.

"I don't understand."

"I'm in post-op. I'm your nurse."

I smiled. "That's weird. But I like it." Suddenly my head started to swim and I felt sick. I groaned and threw up into a bowl Sandra had miraculously placed under my chin. I moaned as pain shot through my shoulder.

"That'll be the after-effects of the anaesthetic and the concussion. You'll probably be a bit woozy for a few days yet."

"How's Connor?" I said as the pain subsided. My head was still spinning but not as badly.

"He's fine. He said he'd come by after school to say hello."

"Why school? It's Sunday."

"Ah, yes," Michael said. "The doctors wanted to stabilise your arm and shoulder. They had to operate to mend all the ligament damage and the first few hours are really important for the healing process. They were worried about your concussion as well. So you've been heavily sedated since the operation. Sort of in a light coma. Well more of a deep sleep really." He looked at Charlie for support.

"It's Tuesday." Charlie said with an apologetic look.

"Three days," I said stupidly.

"Yes," said Sandra, "which means we've got lots of work to do later on. Just rest for now and we'll get you sorted out after lunch." I wondered what work she was talking about. Charlie and Michael suddenly seemed very interested in each other, avoiding my inquiring eyes. I didn't like the sound of this.

Connor arrived at three o'clock in a flurry of signs. His hands slowed down when he saw me struggling to keep up.

-you look like you got hit by a bus, Ben. Is there any part of you that isn't smashed up?

-it hurts to sign, I managed. My dominant signing hand was my right, but my neck and head hurt so badly it was hard to make the signs properly.

-It's ok just relax and get better

"Sorry I slept so long."

-I watched you a couple of times. You were sweet when you weren't drooling

"I drooled? Yuck. Wait, you came here to check on me?"

-yeah I didn't have anything better to do and it was kind of nice watching you sleep

-that sounds weird

-when you look up weird in the dictionary, there's a picture of me

"Ow don't make me laugh. It hurts too much"

-just stop signing for now. Please?

Sandra and my two dads swept into the room looking terribly efficient. They were holding all sorts of tubes and weirdly shaped bowls.

"This is going to hurt, isn't it?" I said forlornly

"Probably, Ben," said Sandra with a sympathetic smile. Connor was signing something to his mother that I couldn't quite catch.

"She's going to change what?" I said worriedly.

"Your catheter," Sandra said holding up a long thin tube. I looked down at my shoulder. I couldn't work it out.

-you have one of those stuck up your penis, Connor signed. My heart missed a beat.

"Tell me you're joking," I said desperately.

-take a look for yourself he signed, lifting up my duvet. I was wearing a pair of boxer shorts. That was okay. What was not okay was the thin tube disappearing into flap in the front. Connor jiggled the tube and I saw it really did disappear into the tip of my penis. I felt dizzy.

"You've been asleep for three days, Ben. Your bladder would burst if they didn't do that. It's perfectly normal," said Charlie with a reassuring smile.

"How did you know that was there?" I asked Connor suspiciously.

-I was watching the bag fill up with yellow stuff the whole time and I got curious so I sort of followed the tube back up. Does it hurt?

"No I didn't even know it was there."

"Well it has to be changed," Sandra said. "We don't want you catching an infection"

Michael waved the weirdly shaped metal bowl at me. "There's no catheter for this unfortunately. You're going to have to use this for the other thing. Poo," he said helpfully. I felt myself starting to go insane.

"There is absolutely no way I am going to do it in a bowl in front of everyone," I said firmly.

"I hate to call you a liar, Benjamin, but you bloody well are," said Michael firmly.

"I'll wait until I can get out of bed."

"Three days?" he said, raising his eyebrows.

The sensation of horror grew as I realised that not only wouldn't I be able to hold out three days, I probably wouldn't even manage ten minutes. I actually had to go quite badly. Right then.

"Okay let's get this over with," I muttered, closing my eyes. "But Connor has to go. I'm not ready to share some things, even with him."

-spoilsport he signed as he left the room.

"So here's the plan," said Sandra in a very business-like tone. "Catheter out, boxers off, bedpan, sponge bath, boxers on, catheter in."

I looked at Charlie intently as Sandra threw back the duvet.

"You know it's not too late for me to change my OH MY GOD SHE PULLED IT OUT."

Suddenly Charlie had his hands under the back of my knees and was lifting my bum off the bed. I yelled as I felt a bolt of pain in my shoulder and a cold draft around my lower regions. Michael grinned and waved my boxers at me. The cold touch of steel told me the bedpan was in place and I pretended the room was empty as I did my business. Everyone politely ignored the smell as Sandra whisked the pan out of the room and then all three of them had a sponge in their hands. I closed my eyes again and tried to think ugly, nasty thoughts as they went to work cleaning me up. I wasn't used to anyone but me touching any of the stuff below my waist, and I was quite keen not to put on a show of any kind. I had to admit it felt pretty damn good when they were done and Michael slipped a fresh pair of boxers on me. I sighed with pleasure as I slumped back on my freshly plumped pillow, exhausted by the sheer indignity of it all. Maybe it was the feeling of relief, or maybe I just let my concentration slip, but I suddenly noticed the familiar tingle of an impending hard-on.

"Cover me up," I hissed at Charlie desperately.

He glanced down and quickly grabbed for the duvet but it was too late.

"Ooh, lovely. An erection. That'll make it so much easier to get this in," said Sandra with a cheerful smile. I felt a crimson wave cover my chest and throat as she grabbed hold of my penis and deftly inserted the tube into the tip.

"Kill me now, Dad. Either of you. Just kill me, I beg you."

Michael and Charlie manoeuvred me up into a comfortable position, trying not to hurt me any more than they absolutely had to, and suddenly it was over. I was clean, catheterised and utterly humiliated.

"We kind of like the 'Dad' thing," Charlie said. "What brought it on?"

"I needed you both so badly and you were just there," I said, remembering searching for and finding their faces in the emergency room, knowing that as long as they were there nothing could possibly go wrong. "I was so scared and it hurt so much, but you made everything better, just like a Dad should, but times two." Michael smiled, trying to wipe his eyes without me seeing.

"You were so brave in the emergency room," he said. "I was falling apart, but I knew if I did, then you probably would too. Connor was a wreck as well. He wanted to be here when you woke up, but Sandra made him go home. She practically had to call security."

"I'm kind of sleepy. Can I say goodbye to him and have a nap?"

The adults left the room to be replaced by a grinning Connor.

-how was it?

"I just took a shit in front of three people and your mother shoved a plastic tube into my erect penis. Other than that, it was fine. Stop laughing, Connor. Really, I mean it. Stop laughing. That really hurts."

Doctor Hawkins was about seven feet tall. He towered over me as he read through my charts and checked my bandages and shone a bright light in each of my eyes. He nodded in satisfaction.

"Well it all looks super, Ben. I think we'll have you out of here by Monday and then you'll be looking at six to eight weeks for the convalescence."

"That long?" I said in dismay.

"'I'm afraid so," he said. "With injuries like this, it's the ligaments that are the main problem. In your case, the dislocation was straightforward and the break was clean, but the ligaments and tendons were all completely torn. Your arm was basically only being held on by one muscle and your skin. I'm afraid your rugby playing days are over. "

"Forever?" I asked, horrified.

"Forever. You're going to have to look after that shoulder for the rest of your life. Any contact sport will be far too dangerous. We all love having you here, but that doesn't mean we want you to be coming back every week, do we?"

"Bloody hell," I said.

"I've arranged for a physio to come and start working with you on Friday. We need to get you out of bed and walking as soon as possible. No rest for the wicked."

Charlie looked at me sadly once the doctor had left.

"Sorry, mate."

"I can't believe that's it. No more rugby."

"Talking of rugby, one of your team mates wanted to come by this afternoon and say hello. Ian Carter." I looked up at Charlie sharply. "I know, I know. He's the one who pushed you. He went straight to Mr. Hembrey and confessed to everything. He's been suspended for a week. You told us it was an accident, Ben."

"It was just a harmless shove. He didn't want to hurt me like this. And I provoked him as well. I called him an arsehole. He was saying stupid things about you both and Connor and Ella. I lost my cool."

"Well it's up to you. He sounded pretty sorry on the phone."

"It's okay. I don't want it to turn into anything when I go back to school."

I woke up from a nap to see Charlie and Michael facing Ian, who was sitting in the hallway with his back to me. Behind all three of them, the lift doors opened and I saw Connor getting out. He recognised Ian immediately and starting signing like a madman, waving his hands like he was conjuring a storm. I recognised the signs for thousand and dog. Worst of all was the sound coming out of his mouth. It was somewhere between a roar and a wail, a tortured sound like someone being strangled. Charlie put his arm around his shoulders and gently placed a hand over Connor's hands, stopping his frantic signing, shaking his head all the while . Connor marched over to the nurse's station and, without asking, grabbed a pen and some paper. I saw him writing furiously, then he shoved the paper at Ian and stomped off to the waiting room. Ian unfolded the paper and read it, then folded it quickly back up, stuffing it in his pocket. Standing up, he offered Michael and Charlie his hand and then walked slowly into my room, his face pale.

"Jesus Christ, Ben. I am so fucking sorry," he said as he took in the swathes of bandages and my taped up arm. "I had no idea it was this bad."

"You should see the other guy," I joked.

"Kelvin Ngata's mum works here. She told him you were in a coma. I thought I'd killed you." There were tears in his eyes. "I never meant to…"

"I know, Ian. I wasn't in a coma, I was just sedated. I kept waking up but always just for a few seconds. It was weird. . I told my dads it was an accident and I would have told the school as well if you hadn't said anything."

He smiled and wiped the corner of his eye. "No, I'm fine the way it turned out. I was acting like a stupid arse and now I'm being punished. It's really okay."

He stood in silence for a while.

"I know it's no excuse, but my Mum and Dad are getting a divorce. All they do is shout and scream at each other the whole time. They don't care what happens to me as long as they can make each other's lives hell. When I saw how happy you were with your dads, I was so jealous. By the way, you do know you have the coolest parents in the whole of Napier?"

"Of course I do. I keep trying to tell people that, but all they see is the gay thing. It's kind of infuriating."

"And your boyfriend is pretty ferocious, by the way," he said with a smile. I rolled my eyes.

"He's really not my boyfriend, Ian," I said.

"Well someone needs to tell him that," he said, unfolding the piece of paper Connor had given him.

I stared at the angry handwriting, trying to stop myself grinning.


"I wouldn't worry too much, Ian. He doesn't have a dog."

"He's probably out buying one now."

When he left, he offered me a handshake. I waved my good hand at him sadly, showing him the massive needle sticking out of the back of it. Instead of a handshake, he just touched his fingertips to mine. I wondered at the fact that, at least in a teenage boy's world, a simple gesture like that could end a war.

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