Bonds of Brotherhood

by Hunter Woods

Chapter 16

We were now in the first week of December only a few more weeks until Christmas and school break. The temperature's really started to drop to what is typical and normal during this time of year as we all looked forward to our upcoming holiday break. Coop had come over every day during that school week right after Thanksgiving, but there hadn't been anymore mutual sexual indulgence sessions that occurred between the both of us. I could tell that Coop sort of wanted more, but I think he also got the sense from me that what had happened between the two of us was more about the gratification end of things rather than actual affectionate feeling for another person.

From him, I got the impression that he was looking for more than just a casual sexual relationship, and I just couldn't do that with him because this type of relationship was reserved for, Ezra, my boyfriend. I could feel a smile form on my lips as the thought of Ezra being my boyfriend flittered through my mind. If I wasn't so in love with Ezra we might have come to some sort of mutual understanding regarding our relationship, but this just wasn't possible. So instead, we just enjoyed one another's company, and the subject of that first sexual encounter between the two of us never came back up; although, every once in a while Coop would get a bit frisky, and try to propel things forward a bit by wrestling around as our bodies rubbed up against one another showing both of our excitement. Our one time naughty game also seemed to have had an affect on his personality because he seemed to open up a lot more around the lunch table with all of us, and even joined in with our mischievous type of teasing.

It made me happy to see him crawl out of his shell like that with everyone as he showed off more of his true personality. In addition, we went swimming every time he had come over during that week, and ended up showering together in the nude, which usually culminated in some friendly jostling and pecker grabbing along with some good natured teasing when one or the other of us popped a boner. When all was said and done, neither one of us regretted our sexual encounter, and in the end it seemed to bring us closer in a different kind of way as if our friendship had been cemented even more.

While Coop seemed to blossom and come in to his own, Ezra on the other hand seemed to get more reserved as the days went on. It was now the first Monday of December, and both Ezra and I had a few moments before we would have to make a dash to our respective classes. Sometimes we managed to be able to steel small moments like this together, which were very special to us.

"What's wrong Ezra?" I asked the love of my life as we leaned up against my locker in the all but deserted area of the school.

Shaking his head the older boy just scrunched up his eyebrows. "I don't know Jackson." He shook his head wearily.

"How's your grandfather doing?" I asked curiously.

"He seems to be alright, but just looks tired…you know. I guess the pneumonia kind of threw him for a loop." He replied.

"Yeah, I can see how it would. It takes a while to get over something like that, and still it can hang on for a while afterwards, but he is alright isn't he?" I asked just to be sure.

The older boy just shrugged his shoulders. "Yeah, he seems to be alright, but he's been doing a lot of running around lately, and I think maybe that is making him a bit tired too. I keep telling him to not overdo things, but he just smiles and laughs it off."

"Really, why? I mean what kind of running around. Is it like chores or maybe just getting ready for Christmas?" I suggested realizing the man probably had a lot of preparing to do for three kids.

"Yeah, I'm not sure to be honest. It's like he's been going to the tribal council a lot and stuff. He's been on the phone a lot too with what sounds like a bunch of official things. It's almost as if there is some legal wrangling going on with the tribe. I'm not sure, but it seems as if someone lit a fire under my grandfather's butt because he's been all over the place as if getting these legal things squared away with the tribe and stuff. It's making him a bit distracted, and sometimes I kind of wonder how much stress his position in the tribal council puts him under." The older boy admitted his eyes kind of glazing over as if he was in deep thought.

"Yeah, I know the feeling." I remarked casually.

"What?" He snapped out of it for a moment to look at me questioningly.

"I said I know the feeling…you know about your grandfather being distracted." I chuckled at Ezra who just looked at me puzzled. "Geeze Ezra, you're just as distracted lately as your grandfather is all I'm trying to say." I laughed shaking my head.

"Oh, I'm sorry Jackson." Ezra stated as he started to chuckle as well. "I guess your right about that." He admitted as he gave me a friendly shove.

"So when are you going to come over again. Maybe next time we can plan something with your cousins along with Brendan and Marco. I think it would be kind of cool getting all of us together. This way Marco will have someone to play with too, instead of him having to hang around with us 'older' guys." I told him seriously while at the same time teasingly.

"Well, I think Marco doesn't mind one bit the way you spoil him, but yeah, it would be kind of cool for the younger boys to get to know one another. It's kind of strange that they've never really met each other considering how close Brendan and I've been over the years. I guess with Zachary and Tyler going to school on the 'rez' it makes a big difference. I'll see, and maybe we can do it before Christmas rolls around. It just depends on what the boys have going on with their sports and other tribal activities. Those guys are busier than a hive of honey bees." Ezra chuckled as we both decided we better start towards our respective classrooms.

The days just continued to slip away from us as first one week came and went, followed now by another weekend. It was Saturday today with a lot of things going on, and plans with Ezra and his cousins never seemed to have gelled together. There was a huge swim and diving tournament later on tonight that was being hosted by our school. It was the annual end of year tournament where schools came from around the region to compete. It was an exciting moment for our school to be able to host the event this year. Every year it was held at a different location, and this year was special for our school because it would mark a first in many years for having a couple of kids from our school representing them in a diving venue. Although there were two other diving competitors from our school they were still at the beginning stages so a lot was riding on me tonight, and it made me a bit nervous because the principal had mentioned that it would be a packed house tonight with practically the whole community showing up from our little town.

The entire morning had me sitting on pins and needles as the day wore on. Mom was running around trying to complete some errands, and I got the distinct feeling it was Christmas shopping, while dad and I remained at home. Of all days, the weather chose today to start catching up with the lack of rain we've had over the last several months. It started out a couple of hours ago with just a drizzle for about ten minutes before opening up and letting loose. In between the rain came bouts of hale that seemed to shower down on the house in small spurts as the little pebble like frozen rocks pounded against the house siding and rooftop creating a pretty loud racket. I hoped mom was inside somewhere during those moments and not driving around. Currently, it was like a solid sheet of water out there, and I was sure there would be a lot of flooding around in the region. It also meant out in the desert that there would be some flash floods, which could spell disaster for people if they weren't careful because the rushing water just seemed to come out of nowhere washing away everything in its path.

It was early afternoon when the doorbell rang, and I shouted out to my dad that I got it. Leaping down the stairs in my socks I slid on the hard wood floors bumping to a stop against the front door. I guess my dad hadn't heard me yelling that I had it, because he rounded the corner just as I opened up the door. A gust of cool air rushed through the front door when I opened it up along with a bit of dampness making me shiver despite the covered entryway to our front door. The weather really was looking bleak outside, and it seemed a lot later in the day because the gloomy murky angry looking clouds made it so much darker.

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust and make out what was standing in front of me. At first my mind just couldn't understand what it was seeing because standing a few feet away was a hunched over drenched figure with a large lump on his back that was covered with an oversized poncho. The face that peaked out from the covered hood looked familiar, but it was difficult to make out at first because it was a look I hadn't seen on this person before. Wet tangled hair plastered against soft features with haunted eyes gazed back at me from the shaded darkness of the hood. It was a look that would be forever more etched and burned into my mind as I gasped out in shock.

"Ezra! I…is that you. Oh Ezra, w…what happened?" I nearly cried as I stepped out onto the porch, and held him firmly to me ignoring the fact that I was getting wet in the process because I instinctively knew something was terribly wrong.

I started to pull him inside when I saw two more wretched creatures huddled together off to the side. If Ezra looked bad, his two cousins looked even more so as they each carried a small case with no protective rain gear whatsoever. They were drenched from top to bottom, and through and through. My heart nearly broke in that one moment as I shoved Ezra to the door, and latched on to his cousins pulling everyone inside the warmth and dryness of our house.

My father gasped in surprise as he stepped forward helping Ezra out of his large oversized poncho. The boy had a backpack strapped to his back along with a plastic covered carrying case. He set down the case, and wriggled out of his pack. Now that his poncho was removed he looked fairly dry for the most part, but not his cousins.

"Ezra, what is going on?" My father asked the older boy gently ushering everyone further inside the warmth and confines of our home.

The older boy's eyes started to well up as he opened up a side flap on his pack, and without saying a word handed my dad an envelope wrapped in a zip lock bag. "What's this?" My father asked as he reached out with shaking hands, and I could tell he feared the worst making my insides turn and sink.

The two smaller boys were shivering and huddled together as a small pool of water formed around their feet. While my father fiddled with the envelop I kneeled down next to them, and peeled off their drenched water logged coats off of them hoping they were dry beneath them. That optimism was soon scuttled, and as I had feared they were completely soaked down to the bone.

Looking up towards my father as I tossed the coats next to the front door I got up and started to walk towards him. My father had a grave look on his face when he caught my eyes. The look I saw in those eyes was something I never wanted to see him have ever again. There was complete sadness and loss in that gaze as he brought up a trembling hand to his brow and rubbed it as if he had a headache.

"Jackson, take Tyler and Zachary upstairs, and get them dried off and warmed up." He told me trying to smile reassuringly.

For a moment I hesitated because I wanted to know what was going on. The look he gave me told me he would tell me everything, but first I had to see to the needs of the smaller boys. Nodding my head, I grabbed both of the boys' cold hands, and gently pulled them upstairs. Giving one last glance back downstairs I saw my father wrap his arms around Ezra, and watched the boy, the love of my life, collapse into my father as huge sobs wracked his small frame. Ezra looked especially small and frail in my dad's arms at the moment as tears threatened to overwhelm me. Wiping them away quickly with the back of my hands I urged the boys down the hall into my room before they could see their older cousin in that state of complete breakdown.

Opening up a hallway closet just long enough to grab a couple of my large beach towels, I herded the boys inside my room with them still clinging to their small carry cases. "Just leave those sitting there guys." I ordered as they let go of their bags by my bed, and set them down. "Damn, you guys are soaked to the bone. Zachary is it alright if I help you out of your wet clothes?" I asked the smaller boy whose head hung down sadly.

The smaller boy had his long hair braided back and tied on the end, which only acted sort of like a funnel as water seemed to dribble off the end, and on to the floor. I really didn't care that he was getting the floor wet; my major concern was getting both boys out of their wet clothes. Reaching out I cupped my hand under Zachary's chin, and gently lifted it up so that his sad brown eyes looked at me.

In a soft manner I spoke up again. "Zachary, you're wet and cold. We should get you out of your wet clothes so we can dry you off, and changed into something dry. Would you like me to help you, or do you want me to leave you alone?" I asked him tenderly.

He responded by lifting up his arms so that I could pull off his drenched sweater and shirt he had on beneath it. Looking over towards Tyler who just stood there looking at us in a stunned state of shock I got his attention as well.

"Tyler, while I get Zachary out of his wet clothes you should strip out of yours too. You are both soaked to the bones, and we need to find something dry for you. So scoot already and strip." I told him making the boy flinch for a moment, but noticed him responding to the command as he started to struggle out of his wet shirt.

Focusing back on to Zachary, and ignoring Tyler for now, I peeled off the boy's wet sweater and shirt. I sat him down on the bed and removed his sturdy boots and wet socks. His feet felt cold in my hands so I put them under my shirt for a moment up against my stomach to help warm them up. The small boy watched me intently as I gasped for a second at the coldness against my abdomen, and while I wrapped the dry towel around his shoulders because he was shivering. He stood back up, and I unsnapped the button on his wet jeans and pulled them off of him. I had planned on leaving his underwear on, but they were so wet that the white fruit of the looms cartooned boy's briefs with yellow accents were pretty much transparent due to the dampness. I hooked my thumbs in the waistband and pulled them downwards.

The smaller boy didn't say a word or flinch when I pulled them down off of him. He didn't seem to be embarrassed either about it as he put his hands on my shoulders for balance while he lifted first one foot, and then the second one so that I could remove his briefs. I tossed his underwear off to the side, and he now stood in front of me completely naked as I quickly started to dry him off.

I couldn't rub the towel on his hair because it was pulled back and braided, so I took the towel, wrapped it around his braid, and like a squeegee squeezed out the excess water surprising myself at how water logged his hair had been. Working hastily now I dried off the rest of his body noticing how similar his body physique was to his older cousin. I hesitated a moment around his midsection, but just shrugged as I first toweled dry his cute dimpled tanned buttocks, and then his small little one and a half inch penis. Well actually it was only one inch long because he had a long piece of tightly pinched off foreskin that was half as long again as his penis, about half an inch, which extended past his thin glans. In a way it looked kind of strange to me because his slender piece of skin looked really snugly pinched on the end and very thin.

He had a very small tight little boy pouch that hugged snugly against his body as if seeking out warmth in the boy's body core. I wouldn't even have known it was his boy pouch other than the darker coloration, and just a little puffy beneath his small penis. The skin of his little man bag was so tight up against his body that I could just make out his two little hazel nut sized testicle. Even then it was like I could only make out the bottom half of his testicles because they seemed to be up further inside of him.

Not wanting to linger long in this area in case he got a bit embarrassed by his naked state, I continued drying him off downwards along his legs. There was nothing sexual with this entire event, rather it was done more in a nonsensical approach. I finished by drying off his feet that seemed to have warmed up a bit, along with his toes, before wrapping the oversized towel several times around his waist. He was so small, and the towel so large, that it was almost comical in a sense, and I would have laughed at the silliness of it all if the circumstances were different.

Picking him up and sitting him down on the edge of the bed I noticed the second towel still sitting there. "Tyler, I thought I told you…" I began as I turned towards the older brother holding the towel, and stopping in mid-sentence. "Oh shit, what are you doing Tyler?" I gasped as I leaned towards him, and wrapped the towel around his waist.

The older boy had stripped out of his clothes while I had dried off his brother, and then had just stood there in a small puddle of water around his feet shivering from the cold as he watched us not moving an inch. Both of his hands were in front of him trying to keep his privates covered, and he had turned several shades of crimson when I had turned towards him.

The boy mumbled something trying to answer my question, but I just couldn't make it out as he took hold of the towel trying to keep it in place. "What Tyler? I'm sorry I couldn't hear you." I told him gently noticing he wasn't so embarrassed anymore by just standing there naked in front of me now that he had a towel wrapped around his small frame.

In a very small voice he whispered forcing me to lean my head towards him so I could hear. "My grandfather told us we were to do exactly what we were told by your family." He finished with his teeth chattering as he shivered and looked away from me once more embarrassed, but not before noticing my confusion as he tried to explain in a whisper once again. "You told me to strip out of my wet clothes." He stated in a matter of fact kind of tone with his cheeks blushing.

"Oh…I…um…oh…sorry about that Tyler. I wasn't really thinking I guess. I just sort of assumed…um…and…um…wanted to get your brother dried off real quick, and I hadn't paid attention to you. If I had you wouldn't have stood there naked so long. I'm really sorry about that Tyler. But I don't think that is what your grandfather meant by what he said." I reassured the boy who just looked at me now, and shrugged his shoulders not really understanding.

Trying to be careful so as not to offend the boy at this moment I tried to explain. "Listen, I don't think he meant for you to do everything we tell you word for word. I just think he wants you to be respectful just like you would be with him. Do you understand what I mean?" I asked him softly, and tried to give him a reassuring smile.

The boy caught me off guard as all of a sudden he launched himself into my arms wrapping me up securely as his small body started to quiver as he sobbed into my neck. All I could do was just to hold him, and rock him gently.

"It's alright Tyler." I tried to sooth him as I ran my hands gently up and down his naked back.

The boy had very smooth skin, and he smelled of fresh rain. Strange, I would have thought he would have smelled differently somehow, like a wet dog kind of smell, but instead he smelled almost like a breeze of fresh spring air. He smelled of earth, water, and the freshness of a gusty wind as it blew by you. It was odd how different things seem to pop into your mind at the oddest moment.

Tyler seemed to calm down almost immediately as he just held me closely, but then I felt something else which could make things a bit awkward for the older boy. His towel had dropped from around his waist when he had reached out for me, and currently lay crumpled up around his ankles. With us being so close, and me stroking his back I guess the sensation had the affect of causing him to get an erection, which now poked into my stomach.

Just as I was going to try reaching down for his towel he sort of tensed up, and separated from me several inches as he looked down between us. I hadn't intended to look, but it just sort of happened as I looked down as well, and saw the strangest thing. I was a bit embarrassed that I had looked at his erection like that, so I hastily looked back up followed by him as he just gazed back into my eyes.

"I…um…I'm sorry about that Tyler. Um…listen you shouldn't worry because things like that sort of happen." I told him as he nodded, and looked down again at his erection.

Once again I couldn't help myself as I looked at his strange looking erection. "Um…Tyler…can I…um…ask you something personal?" I requested a bit surprised at my boldness.

The boy just looked at me again, and nodded his head that it was alright. "Um…does it like…um…does that hurt?" I asked him holding him out a little so I could get a better look.

What he had between his legs sort of caught me by surprise. Of course he had an erection, but first off he looked pretty big for a nine year old. His erection was about the same size as mine. He had foreskin just like his older cousin and little brother, but I could just see the tip end of his pee slit peeking out from the covering of his warm hooded blanket. Most of his glans was covered, all except for just a small tight opening that allowed you to see the very tip end of his wet looking pinkish brown penis head. His foreskin looked very tight on him, and I wasn't sure if it would actually slip over his glans. This however isn't what had my head spinning. Rather it was the fact that at the moment his penis looked like the curved shape of a banana.

It was strange seeing his hard thin erection sticking upwards at about a forty five degree angle, and then slowly curve downward almost like the shape of a banana. In other words if you took a banana and held it in your hands like a gun, that is what Tyler's penis looked like. To me it almost appeared as if his foreskin might be too small and tight so that his head couldn't slip out forcing it to bend like that.

"No…why would it hurt?" He asked me looking down at himself curiously, and a bit baffled I would even ask him that question.

Shrugging my shoulders, and getting a bit embarrassed for putting him in this position I still couldn't help myself because my curiosity was just too much. "I…um…just that it's really bent, and I've never seen something like that before." I told him truthfully.

"Oh, then yours is like Ezra's and stays straight. Zachary's little diddle does the same thing, but he has problems with his skin." Tyler answered no longer seemingly embarrassed by being naked or now talking about his little, what was the word he used, diddle.

Without thinking I reached out, and gently pushed on his foreskin watching with fascination as it slipped over his glans, but retained its curved shape. Tyler tensed up, gasped, and I felt his penis twitch bringing me back to the moment as I immediately released his penis from my fingers.

"Oh shit…um…I mean…Oh crap." I stuttered turning several shades of red as it was my turn to be embarrassed by what I had just done. "I…um…Tyler I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have done that to you. It's…um…it's just that I thought maybe it was your skin forcing it to stay bent like that. I'm sooooo sorry for…um…you know…touching you down there." I told him seriously picking up the towel, and covering him back up.

"It's alright Jackson. It surprised me too, but I know you didn't mean anything by it." He told me taking the towel and wrapping it around his small body as he was starting to get cold again.

"Let's take a look at what you have in your belongings for dry clothes." I suggested pulling over Zachary's case and opening it up while shoving Tyler's over to him as he knelt down to unsnap the clasps.

The smaller boy had watched our exchange curiously, but hadn't interfered and even acted as if it wasn't a big deal. He looked warm enough all wrapped up in his towel, and was even swinging his legs up against my mattress letting it bounce off the end. I smiled at him tenderly as I opened up his case.

"Damn, everything is soaked in here, how about yours?" I asked Tyler as the boy just looked over at me shaking his head.

"My stuff is wet too. What now?" He asked me.

Scrunching up my eyebrows thinking for a moment I broke out in a smile as I got up and headed over to my dresser drawer. The last time Brendan and Marco had spent the night the younger boy had accidentally put his dirty baggy shorts and long sleeved shirt on my dirty clothes pile. It ended up in our wash, and I had just shoved it into my dresser drawer. I rooted around for them, and pulled them out. Marco was a little smaller than Tyler, and a little bigger than Zachary. Since his shirt and shorts had fit loosely on him I tossed them over to the older brother.

"Let's see how those fit." I told him as he dropped the towel no longer concerned about being naked in front of me.

His penis had deflated by this time looking normal now without having that curved banana type of shape to it, but even in his softened state I was still amazed at how big it was for only being nine years old. It looked to be about the same size as mine, two inches long soft, but a little thinner with his pucker of extra skin now firmly closed off past his glans about a quarter of an inch. His darker colored tight large boy pouch sort of scrunched up to the side as he slid his left leg into the opening of the gray colored gym shorts. While Tyler's tight boy pouch squished around between his legs, olive sized testicles pushed outwards against the side wall of the skin lining. I had to admit that just for the briefest of moments watching him get dressed sent thrilling shivers up my spine.

Pulling the shirt over his light brown torso, it settled around his waist. The shirt was just slightly tight on him, but hung down long enough, and fit his arms so all in all a good enough fit. I tossed him a pair of socks for his feet, and turning my attention to my closet pulled out one of my oversized sweatshirts. Walking over towards Zachary the boy watched me, and stood up on his own unwrapping the towel from around his waist letting it drop to the floor. His cute little flaccid penis stuck straight out with his longish foreskin sort of drooping in front of him and flopping around loosely.

Looking over towards Tyler the other boy just rolled his eyes and giggled. "What's so funny?" I asked him.

Shrugging his shoulders he just replied. "Other than me and Ezra, he's never allowed anyone to see him naked. He's kind of shy about his diddle because of his skin." He told me as Zachary seemed to shoot him a dirty look.

"His diddle? What's wrong with it?" I asked Tyler as the older brother just giggled, and walked over towards his younger brother grabbing the boy's small penis.

The younger boy shot his brother a dirty look, but didn't struggle as Tyler showed me what he was talking about. "You see, his skin doesn't pull all the way back like mine did, or like Ezra's does." He stated as he gently pulled back on the smaller boy's foreskin.

I noticed that his hidden glans sort of slid forward a bit, but just couldn't get passed the tip of his foreskin as the piece of skin stretched. It looked as if it was tight, but seemed as if the head of his penis could still slide out so it wasn't a problem with his foreskin being too tight. Instead, it just looked as if his skin was attached somehow to the head of his penis.

"Stop that Tyler before you hurt him or something." I told the older brother. "Is that something natural? I mean, will it loosen up later so you can pull it back?" I asked him as I smiled at poor Zachary comfortingly, and pulled my large sweatshirt over his head and naked body making it into a nightgown of sorts for the smaller boy. "Is that better Zachary?" I asked the smaller boy who nodded his head and hugged me. "I'm sorry about that, maybe your brother should ask permission the next time, just like I will ask him permission as well." I emphasized to the older boy who just rolled his eyes. "Come on Tyler, promise." I urged him as the older boy looked towards his younger brother and nodded his head.

"I'm sorry Zachary I won't do it again without asking first." He promised.

The younger boy looked down and nodded his head. "That's alright as long as it was only Jackson." He replied a bit shyly.

"So is it alright if I ask your brother about why your skin doesn't pull back Zachary?" I asked the little boy who blushed and nodded his head again indicating it was alright.

Tyler just shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not really sure about everything Jackson. I know grandfather said they were going to get something to help loosen up the skin so that it pulls back without hurting. I guess with most of us it sort of gets to the point where it does it on its own. I don't remember if I had the same problem when I was little or not. From what I heard grandfather say about it on the phone is that by a certain age it just sort of happens naturally, but with Zachary it is starting to hurt him, so he wanted to get some stuff to help it along." The older boy told me making me a bit worried.

"You said it hurts, is that true Zachary?" I asked the younger boy as he sort of blushed, but nodded his head.

"Sometimes." He admitted.

"Oh…I see. Well you let me know if it starts to hurt alright." I told him. "Let's go see what's going on downstairs." I told them as we grabbed their bags taking them down with us.

Ezra was sitting on the stairs with his bag open, and changing into dry clothing. I guess his stuff faired much better than the boys. He already had on a pair of pants, and was just slipping into his shirt when he looked up at us scrunching his face questioningly at the boy's attire.

"The stuff in their bags was completely soaked. I'm going to toss everything in the dryer right now for them. Anything you need dried too?" I asked him as he handed me the wet clothes he had been wearing.

The boys sat on the stairs just above Ezra while I tossed everything into the dryer before returning, and sitting next to my friend. "What's going on?" I asked him curiously.

He looked a bit better, but still really sad. "Grandfather got us up really early this morning, and had us pack up some of our things. He told us to take the back trails, and come over here." He answered me wiping away some tears from his eyes.

"What? Why?" I asked him a bit stunned.

"He said it was his time." The boy simply stated to me.

"I don't understand."

"Jackson, he has crossed the river to the other side, and is now with our ancestors." Ezra told me as my mind started to wrap around his words making me shiver with sadness.

"What…how…I mean how would he know, and was he still alive when you left?"

Ezra just looked at me, and nodded his head. "Yes." He whispered as the dam broke with tears pooling around the rims of his eyes, and freely running down his cheeks now. "But lately…I…I don't know Jackson. It's like he just knew. Your dad is on the phone now. My grandfather gave me an envelope to give your father, but I don't know what he had written in it. Jackson…if…if he really is…you know…what will happen to us. We have no one." He whispered quietly.

Not knowing what to tell him I just leaned in towards him, and wrapped my arms around his shoulders holding on to him. Zachary got up and squeezed himself onto my lap, while Tyler snuggled up to his older cousin. All four of us just huddled there together waiting for my dad.

A few moments later my dad came looking for us, and spotted us all clustered together. He didn't look good, and I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Zachary just clutched me even tighter with a small whimper escaping his lips as Tyler sat up straighter bracing himself for what my father had to say. Looking around my dad disappeared for a moment retrieving a chair, and sat across from us as he rubbed his temple with a shaking hand.

"Boys, I…um…I…" He just paused and shook his head trying again. "Evidently, your grandfather has made some arrangements concerning you boys if something should happen. I don't know all the details boys, but from what he has put in this letter it seems as if anything were to happen to him custody falls to, well my wife and me. I…I don't know why boys, but he seems to feel we are the right people to look after you." He stated looking at the boys who just looked back blankly at him.

"Um…dad, I don't understand. What does this mean exactly and what about Mr. Kostalini?" I asked my dad trying to absorb the information.

"Boys I'm sorry, he passed away some time today." He told us.

Zachary buried his head in my shoulder while Tyler started to cry with Ezra trying to sooth him. My father came over and wrapped us all in his arms. It took a while, but everyone seemed to calm down after a bit.

"Mr. Elborn?" Ezra sniffled, and wiped away his tears trying to regain his composure.

"Yes Ezra." My father responded softly as he stroked the older boy's cheek.

"W…what is going to happen to us? I mean…we don't have any other family other than the tribe, but they still aren't family or anything, and most of them can't take care of us. We have friends, but who will take all three of us, and I won't go anywhere without Zachary or Tyler." Ezra stated emphatically.

"Ezra, I don't have all the answers yet, just what your grandfather mentioned in the letter. From what I have read he has made all the legal arrangements. I probably won't know more until Monday. Until then you will be staying with us, and if what he says is true then we will take you into our own family. He left you in our care Ezra, all three of you. We already love you and your cousins, so if this is what he wanted then we will welcome you into our family and fight for you guys…that is if you want us." My father put in, but before they could answer him my mom came bursting through the door, and looked around before settling her gaze on my father.

"They know?" She asked.

"I just told them." He informed her.

My mom knelt down next to my father and faced us. "I'm so sorry boys about your grandfather. We loved him very much, and we love you too." She whispered as she reached out towards Zachary, but he just stiffened up against me hugging me even tighter.

The boy was very shy and just not used to women I think, but I knew my mom wasn't hurt by it any. "Don't worry Zachary, I understand." She told the younger boy gently.

Ezra leaned over and hugged my mom. "Thank you for having us Mrs. Elborn. I promise, we won't be a bother to you." He sniffled bravely for a moment or two before his emotions got the better of him, and started to cry again as my mom just hugged him firmly to her, and gently rocked him.

My father leaned over to Tyler and stroked his hair since he was sort of left out. Large teardrops welled up in the boy's eyes as he broke down and started to cry in earnest collapsing into my father's arms. Zachary, seeing both Ezra and Tyler crying cuddled up closer to me, and buried his head in my shoulders as he just sniffled in bewilderment. I don't think he fully understood what was happening, but knew it was bad since his older brother and cousin were crying so hard. I rocked him gently, and soon he was fast asleep.

Getting up with Zachary still asleep in my arms, my father followed suit with Tyler, and we made our way upstairs into the guest room. It was a simple room with a queen sized bed in it, a dresser drawer, and a television set. My dad set Tyler down to stand up on his own while he pulled back the clean bedding. I gently laid Zachary on the bed, and my father motioned for Tyler to join his sleeping brother.

Tyler looked like he was going to complain, but my dad just whispered to him quietly. "We don't want Zachary to wake up here after his nap all alone. Don't worry you don't have to go asleep, and while you keep an eye on Zachary you can watch some shows on the television." My dad told the boy as he flipped on the television set handing Tyler the remote.

This seemed to settle down the older brother. I gave Zachary a light kiss on the forehead and Tyler a hug smiling at him before walking out the room leaving the door open in case he needed something. We both walked downstairs, and into the kitchen where Ezra and my mom were putting some snacks and drinks together waiting for us. She handed me a tray filled with food and drinks, motioning me to go upstairs and give it to the boys. I nodded my head making my way to the extra bedroom. When I walked into the room Tyler was fast asleep with the remote sitting on his chest. I set the tray down in case he woke up, set aside the remote, and covered him up with the blanket.

When I got downstairs my mom had set out some plates for the rest of us as we started to snack on them. "Well?" My mom asked me when I sat down.

"Tyler's fallen asleep already, and I tucked him in." I responded feeling a bit drained.

"What's with their clothes?" My mom asked so I explained to her that they were in the dryer since they had gotten soaked from their trek over to our house in this weather.

My dad handed over the letter from Mr. Kostalini to my mom, and she read it aloud at his urging so both Ezra and I knew what was going on. Basically it stated that if anything were to happen to him that the boys were to be taken care of by our family if we would have them. There were several requests included in the letter, and information regarding contacting the attorney he had made all the arrangements through. The attorney also had further information and instructions regarding money, property, and investments among them. In addition there was information regarding the Tribal Council, and who he needs to contact.

"So Ezra, I've already contacted the tribal council, and they will take care of your grandfather for now. Evidently, he had made arrangements with them as well in preparation for this time. I do not think they were happy about you staying with us, but they aren't going to fight it either because your grandfather had made it absolutely clear to them on how he intended things to be for you boys. They will be a big part of your lives, but raising you will fall to us. Your grandfather made sure that there would be no interference in this regard, and made it all legal for not only our court system, but also the Tribal court system. He truly loved you boys Ezra if he took that much care into assuring your future. So, now you know as much as we do at this point. I've left a message with that lawyer, and I am just waiting to hear back from him." My father concluded as the boy just nodded his head sadly.

"So, that is what all the running around was about the last few weeks. He knew this was coming soon, and also knew that if he didn't get things squared away with the tribal council along with all the legal issues with the white man's laws, there could be problems." The boy sighed as he leaned back shaking his head. "Why did he choose you though? I don't mean anything by it Mr. Elborn, but we've only known you for a short while, and how would he even know if you would take us in. I mean, I would understand if you just couldn't do it, and I wouldn't hold it against you. There are three of us, which is a lot for someone to take on." He stated hanging down his head knowing it was still a possibility that it just wouldn't work out.

My mom leaned over, and patted his hand affectionately. "Ezra, we will fight for all three of you boys with everything we have. Of course we want you, never doubt this, and your grandfather knew we would. I think he knew it that first day you two were over here, and he asked Jeff and me about children. He knew we wanted a bigger family and would have adopted, but we didn't because it wouldn't have been fair at the time to any children we did adopt. If you and your cousins will have us, we will take you in, and raise you like our own. Believe that Ezra, we will love all of you with all of our hearts. There may be times when it is difficult, but we will always love you boys and be there for you. This we can promise." My mom told him as she got up, hugged him, and kissed him lightly on the top of his head.

"You really mean that, and aren't just saying it? I have to be sure because I have to know what to tell Tyler and Zachary later. If you need to think about it that is fine, but I have to be sure." Ezra sniffled as my mom hugged him all over again.

"Well I can't answer for my lug nut of a husband or my quirky only born child, but you can take it to the bank that I want you no matter what they say." She assured him teasingly.

"Hey, that's not fair." I complained to my mom. "You know I've always wanted a brother, well now not only do I get one brother, but two little ones with an older one to boot. I've made out like a bandit." I piped up as Ezra just giggled half heartedly for a moment as he untangled himself from my mom, and hugged me affectionately.

"Alright, I guess I'm in too, but since no one else will do it then I will. I agree but under protest." He stated as he gave Ezra a wink. "We have to keep up appearances you know. It would just be too weird if it was unanimous. Besides, every time Jackson does something wrong my wife always says 'you know that son of yours,' making it always me when something goes bad. When he does something good then all of a sudden he is her son. Well at least when you boys get rowdy I can finally say well you wanted them." He teased Ezra as now it was his turn to hug the boy. "No Ezra in all seriousness, I want you boys too. The good, the bad, and all the in-between." He finished off as he released the boy, and we all sat around deciding what needed to be done.

At one point I remembered something. "Oh crap." I exclaimed.

"Jackson, watch your mouth." My mom rebuked me.

"Sorry mom, but what about tonight? I mean my tournament. We can't leave the boys alone, and with everything going on I don't think it would be a good idea to bring them to the Aqua Center with us." I stated as I looked at my parents.

"Oh crap, I forgot about that Jackson." Ezra commented now getting a stern look from my mother as well. "Um…sorry." He blushed embarrassed.

"Now don't force me with having you go cut a switch from the tree so that I can give you a proper whipping the first day we welcome you into our family young man." My mom looked at Ezra sternly while all the blood drained from his face, and I tried to stifle a giggle.

"I…um…no of course not Mrs. Elborn." Ezra stammered before my dad just looked at my mom with consternation.

"Come on sweetheart you know we don't use physical punishment on the children." He reassured Ezra as he rolled his eyes at my mom, and winked at the boy who seemed to have recovered realizing it had just been some light hearted teasing to try lightening up the mood a bit.

We continued to chat some more about what this all meant, and Ezra seemed to calm down as time went on. Of course he still felt sad, but also very much relieved now that he knew there would be a home for him and his cousins. At some point my mom had gotten up, and folded all of the boys' clothing before returning back to us.

"Ezra, why don't you go upstairs, and hop in the shower. Jackson, go check on the boys. If they are up run a bath for them, and have them get changed into something that fits them." She suggested to us gently.

We both got up and checked on the boys. They were both awake now and snuggling together while they watched some kids program on the television. Their tray of food was empty, so too their glasses, which meant they had eaten something.

"Come on guys, let's get you a bath." Ezra commented as he helped the boys out of bed while I set down a large load of dried clothing next to the pile Ezra had just set down.

Zachary immediately wrapped his arms around me for a hug, and I picked him up while Ezra took Tyler's hand in his own. Grabbing a change of clothes for the boys, I carried Zachary to the bathroom, and stood by watching Ezra fill up the tub before helping Zachary out of his oversized sweater. The boy stood there unabashedly completely naked with his little penis sticking straight out while his long fleshy snugly pinched foreskin wiggled around. Tyler, who took off his shorts and shirt handing them over to me with his own little boy bits wiggling around in front of him, hesitated a moment, and then reached out and pulled me towards him for a much needed hug.

"Thank you so much Jackson." He sniffled into my ear not in the least bit concerned that he was naked.

When the boy pulled back he was sporting that curved banana erection, and Ezra noticed but didn't say a word as he helped the boys into the tub. "Why don't you go take a shower in my room Ezra, and I'll help the boys." I suggested.

"Are you sure? You boys don't mind?" He asked both me and his cousins.

The boys just shook their head letting him know it was alright. "Um…then just undo their braids and wash their hair. I'll braid it back up when you're done with them." He told me as he left the bathroom so he could take his own shower.

While the boys sat in the tub I started to wash them. There was nothing sexual with the entire episode as I started to shampoo Zachary's hair. I quickly massaged his scalp with the suds, and then carefully rinsed it out. Next I ran soap all over his body quickly running my hands between his legs and boy bits briefly. I noticed him start to bone up briefly before it settled back down. Rinsing off his body, I left him alone so that he could sit there, and play with a little action figure he had brought with him. For the life of me I couldn't even recall seeing him having it with him earlier.

Turning my attention to Tyler I proceeded to wash him down as well before pausing. "Um…do you want me to wash you or do you want to do it for yourself?" I asked him since he was older.

The boy just shrugged his shoulders and looked at me. "It's cool I guess." He told me honestly having just seen me wash his younger brother.

With permission given I quickly lathered up his hair, and rinsed it out. As I had done with his little brother I ran my soaped up hands over his body noticing him bone up almost immediately. Glancing over towards Zachary the younger boy didn't even seem to pay any attention to what was waving around in front of his face only a foot away as Tyler had gotten up on his knees.

Looking back towards Tyler the boy sort of blushed, but didn't try to hide his erection. "It happens Tyler so don't worry." I told him softly as I continued to run my soapy hands over his body. A shiver ran up my spine when I ran my hands over his small round orbs, and then another quiver when I ran my hand over his erection and boy pouch. There was nothing sexual, and I had done it quickly before rinsing him off. I did notice however the way his penis lurched and twitched when I briefly touched him, and how Tyler had gasped as if enjoying the sensation.

We finished up, and headed into my room the boys now completely clothed. Ezra was just slipping out the bathroom door completely clothed as well, and stepped into my room at the same time we did. Motioning the boys over towards the bed, Ezra pulled my computer chair over and sat Tyler in it so he could start combing and braiding it. I watched for a few moments, and started doing the same with Zachary.

"Is that alright?" I asked Ezra who looked over and smiled appreciatively.

"Yeah, perfect. Will you do mine when I'm finished with Tyler?" He requested shocking me for a moment because he usually wore his hair loosely around his shoulders.

"Um…yeah sure." I responded as I finished braiding up Zachary.

While I sat on the bed braiding Ezra's hair, Zachary had snuggled up to me on one side, and was watching while Tyler had done the same thing on my other side. Looking at each of the two younger boys I smiled warmly at them as they smiled back hesitantly. It was kind of strange being so close to these two boys who up until now I had only known casually. It felt so natural having them snuggling up closely like that to me.

"Boys, Jackson has a big diving tournament tonight, but his parents aren't sure what to do with you guys. If you want, maybe we could all go and watch Jackson compete for the championship. I know you are both sad about grandfather, and I am too, but I was planning on going to support Jackson anyway before this happened, and well since we are here maybe we can go support him together?" Ezra asked his cousins.

Zachary looked over towards his older cousin, and then to me as he patted my hand affectionately nodding his head without saying a word. Tyler on the other hand leaned in, and gave me a kiss on the cheek before giving me a hug, which caught me by surprise. Ezra didn't seem astonished at all as he smiled fondly at his younger cousin, and gave the boy's hand a kiss before he wrapped Zachary in his arms showing the smaller boy some affection as well. Tyler got up and gave his older cousin a kiss on the cheek like he had done with me before giving him a hug to boot.

"I'm so proud of you both." Ezra told them as he kissed their cheeks unabashedly.

At first my parents weren't so sure about taking the boys to the tournament, but when they saw their enthusiasm they relented. My father had just pulled into the parking lot, and we were getting out when some of the guys from my team wandered over and we started to chat. Seeing I was busy, my folks told me to be sure to lock up the car, and took the two younger boys with them leaving Ezra with me saying they were heading inside and would find a seat. I chatted for a few moments with my team mates before they left leaving me to get out my bag while Ezra watched holding open the door.

Just as I turned with my gym bag I saw something flying through the air, and I barely managed to drop my bag in time before a small bundle of arms and legs wrapped around my neck and waist. "Jackson," a small voice squeaked out excitedly as I hugged back the small bundle that was currently squeezing the air out of me.

"Hey my little snuggle bug," I whispered back into Marco's ear before he pulled back.

The smaller boy was all smiles before it changed into something more serious. "What's wrong." He whispered as he put his hands to the sides of my face, and looked into my eyes.

It was like he was boring holes into my soul, and I smiled back feebly at him. "How about if I tell you all about it later, alright?" I asked him as he held my gaze for a moment before nodding, and then reaching over towards Ezra giving the other boy a hug as well as I handed him over to the older boy.

When he pulled away from Ezra he had looked at him a bit strangely as well before glancing back towards me. I could tell the younger boy knew something was wrong, and he seemed worried about it. At that point Brendan came walking up to me, and all of us bumped knuckles. We chatted for a while before making our way into the building.

As we approached our folks I noticed all of the parents were sitting together in a group. Kneeling down next to Marco I whispered in his ear. "There are a couple of very special boys around your age that I want to introduce you to, alright?" I asked him as he looked at me, and then up to the two smaller boys sitting next to my mom.

Nodding his head he smiled reassuringly at me. "I'll treat them nice." He responded as if he knew how important it was to me.

"Zachary and Tyler, this is Marco. Brendan's little brother. I'm sure Ezra has talked to you about him." I introduced the boys to one another, and watched Marco as he scooted between people forcing them out of his way with some of them grumbling a bit before plunking himself down between the two Kostalini brothers. He amazed me when he reached over and gave Zachary a big hug. I watched anxiously knowing that Zachary was a bit on the shy side, but smiled when the younger boy seemed to respond and hug Marco back. Then Marco greeted Tyler by giving him a knuckle bump before starting to chat away a million miles an hour. The conversation seemed to bounce from one topic to another as only Marco could manage to do with complete strangers.

"Hello Mr. Cuconato." I greeted the man who got up and gave me a hug before doing the same with Ezra, which kind of told me my parents had filled him in quickly on the situation.

The man whispered into Ezra's ear encouragingly while I listened to the conversation Marco was having with his two new buddies. "You sure don't talk a lot do you Zachary?" He asked the boy who just shook his head no, and not in the least bit offended. "That's alright because I like that about you. I'm sure you only say something when it is important. Besides, I talk enough as it is so I don't mind telling people what you want to say. How about you Tyler? I bet you talk a lot just like me." The smaller boy mentioned casually. Just when it looked like Tyler was going to respond he was cut off by Marco. "Yeah, that's what I thought. You talk a lot like me." He told Tyler as he kept on talking launching off into another topic making me smile as I watched the three boys hitting it off.

My mom had been listening to the exchange, and had chuckled when Marco had cut off Tyler and kept rambling on. "Hey, Mr. Cuconato do you think it would be alright if Brendan and Marco spent the night with us? It would be so helpful." I pointed out to him as I nodded in Marco's direction.

The man looked over noticing what was going on between the three boys, and just shook his head at his youngest. "That boy just has a sixth sense about him doesn't he?" The man chuckled, and looked towards my parents. "If you don't think it would be too much trouble then I think it would be alright, what do you think?" He asked my parents who looked over at the boys and agreed. "Besides, I think Ezra might enjoy having his two best friends close by tonight." The man continued as he wrapped his arm around the boy, and gave him a gentle squeeze before taking his seat.

Since the swim competition was up first Brendan had already gone into the locker room to prepare so wasn't aware of what was going on. I was glad in a way so that he could concentrate on his race without having to worry. The diving venue was last on the agenda so I still had plenty of time, and wanted to watch Brendan race in his category. I just hoped I would be able to concentrate today as I sat down next to Ezra, and we sort of leaned into one another with him wrapping his arm around my shoulder. I didn't care who saw the display of affection because there wasn't anything sexual about it, just the two of us being supportive during this difficult time.

A few moments later Coop came walking by with his mom and sisters. They joined our small group, and he took a seat next to me while his mom and sisters settled in close to my parents and Mr. Cuconato. Coop could sense that something was wrong, but didn't say anything figuring we would say something about it later if it was necessary. We enjoyed having him sit with us as we watched the races, but he also seemed to be distracted as if on pins and needles about something. I could tell he was itching to say something as he kept glancing up at his mom who tried valiantly to smile back at her son encouragingly while she seemed to struggle herself with things on her mind.

"What's gotten into you Coop?" I asked him as he fidgeted around, and looked back at his mom for the thousandth time.

"Nothing…I mean, we heard back from my dad's lawyer, and he decided to take on the appeals for my dad's case. He thinks he has a good chance of overturning the conviction with some new evidence, but…," Coop shook his head sadly.

"Well, that's great news." Ezra piped up encouragingly for Coop who seemed a bit worried about the matter.

"Yeah, it is, but…," he sighed for a moment looking at his mom once more before leaning in closer to us. "It's just that I don't think my mom can afford it, and none of the banks will loan her any money. She's begged them, but they are unwilling to do it because we are so far in debt as it is. She was so upset with them that in the end they did say they would loan us the money but only if we can get someone to co-sign the loan that has a good credit rating. I don't know what we are going to do guys because we just don't have anyone." He told us quietly as he bit his lower lip knowing they were so close to freeing his father, yet so far away.

Just as Coop finished explaining it to us, he flinched when my father reached down and patted the boy's shoulder comfortingly. He looked over his shoulders up into my father's eyes as tears started to well up. I watched as my father pulled the boy into his arms, and whispered in his ears to comfort him before holding him out and smiling at him. Coop seemed to nod his head and once more hugged my father, but this time without the tears. Coop's mom had witnessed the exchange, and leaned over to comfort her son as she gently stroked his back while she somehow managed to hold back her own tears from spilling over. I settled back in next to Ezra letting my dad take care of Coop for the moment, sighing as this day just seemed so emotional for so many people.

After a few moments Coop settled back in next to us as he gave me a quick hug while I looked back at him questioningly. "You're dad just told my mom he was willing to co-sign the loan for our lawyer." He smiled at me. "I can't believe he would actually do that for us, and I can't believe it is actually going to happen. Our lawyer told us if everything went according to plan my father could be coming home in the next six months. With the new evidence he is almost positive about getting my dad's conviction overturned and out of prison."

"That's great news." I assured Coop as I smiled happily for him, which even got Ezra's spirits up a bit as we settled back down to watch the match. I noticed Ezra wrapping his arm around the smaller boy's shoulders who in turned leaned back in towards the older boy, and snuggled up to him happily. I couldn't help but smile at the love of my life as I watched him give such loving support to the other boy when he himself was hurting. It made my heart swell with pride to witness such a display of unselfishness and heartfelt warmth.

Brendan ended up winning second place in the individual Freestyle event, and first place with his team mates in the relay, which set the tone on a good note for the evening for our group of friends. All three of the smaller boys really seemed to get into the mood of things as they asked about the different races, and some of the nuances of the water sport. It seemed as if they had really gotten bit by the bug regarding the whole water sport scene.

About an hour into the competition it was time for me to go get ready and start warming up. There were a lot of teams here so the swimming competition was taking some time, but at least I got to watch Brendan in his two matches that he had competed in. By the time I got to the locker room most of my teammates were already finding a spot to get changed. I joined them, and before long we all headed out into the warm up area so we could start preparing for our match.

The diving competition had been a tight one all night as I watched my top rival complete a near flawless dive. The crowd erupted into applause, and even I got up and cheered on the boy as his head popped out of the water. Our eyes connected for a brief moment, and he smiled at me knowing I was genuinely happy for his performance, despite the fact both of us had been battling it out all night long. As he pulled himself out of the water he nodded his head in my direction appreciatively. I was competing with the twelve to thirteen year olds, and I noticed he had been keeping a close eye on me legitimately cheering me on as well. Of course he knew I was only eleven, everyone knew at the competition because I had to have special permission to compete in the older category. Some of the kids took offense to it since I was doing so well, but this guy actually seemed impressed and truly happy for me at how I was performing.

The boy walked over to me and shook my hand, which caught me by surprise. "I just want you to know no matter how this ends I have really enjoyed watching you compete out here today." The older boy told me sincerely before heading over towards the hot tub so he could warm up.

My coach approached, and smiled at the other diver appreciatively shaking his hand and thanking him. I had one more dive to go so we waited for the score cards to come up indicating the last diver's performance. The crowd erupted in a wave of cheers as the numbers were flashed up on the large score board. It was a very high score, and I knew it was bad for me if I wanted to win. My coach looked over at me encouragingly as I waited for her to consult with our other two coaching assistants trying to come up with a game plan because I had no idea what I would need to do in order to win. Competitive diving is a complicated scoring process, and kind of difficult to explain as well. Even seasoned veterans have problems figuring it out.

Basically how things work is that prior to competition, divers must submit a dive list, also called dive sheet to the meet director. These lists typically consist of five to eleven dives, depending on the competition. In this particular competition we have to perform both voluntary and optional dives, but some events only require optional routines. Once the dive sheet is submitted, divers aren't allowed to make changes to their list, unless otherwise specified by the meet director.

Divers have to perform a set number of dives according to established requirements, including somersaults and twists. Divers are judged on how well they complete all aspects of the dive, the conformance of their body to the requirements of the dive, and the amount of splash created by their entry to the water. A possible score out of ten is broken down into three points for the takeoff, three for the flight, and three for the entry, with one more available to give the judges flexibility.

The raw score is multiplied by a difficulty factor, derived from the number and combination of movements attempted. The diver with the highest total score after a sequence of dives is declared the winner.

There are rules governing the scoring of a dive. Usually a score considers three elements of the dive: the approach, the flight, and the entry. The judges use primary factors affecting the scoring. If a hand-stand is required then it is the length of time and quality of the hold. Next is the height of the diver at the apex of the dive with extra height resulting in a higher score. Another consideration is the distance of the diver from the diving apparatus throughout the dive. A diver must not be dangerously close, should not be too far away, but should ideally be within 2 feet of the platform. There is also the issue concerning the properly defined body position of the diver according to the dive being performed, including pointed toes and feet touching at all times. In addition there are the proper amounts of rotation and revolution upon completion of the dive and entry into the water. The final thing a judge looks at is angle of entry. A diver should enter the water straight, without any angle. Many judges award divers for the amount of splash created by the diver on entry, with less splash resulting in a higher score. An entry with no splash is known as a "rip entry," because of the sound it makes when a diver enters the water.

To reduce the subjectivity of scoring in major meets, panels of five or seven judges are assembled. In our particular competition there are seven judges, so the highest and lowest scores are discarded and the middle five scores are summed. This number is then multiplied by three fifths, and that resulting number multiplied again by the degree of difficulty (DD), so as to provide consistent comparison with 5-judge events. Accordingly, it is extremely difficult for one judge to manipulate scores.

There is a general misconception about scoring and judging. In serious meets, the absolute score is somewhat meaningless. It is the relative score, not the absolute score that wins meets. Accordingly, good judging implies consistent scoring across the dives. Specifically, if a judge consistently gives low scores for all divers, or consistently gives high scores for the same divers, the judging will yield fair relative results and will cause divers to place in the correct order. However, absolute scores have significance to the individual divers. Besides the obvious instances of setting records, absolute scores are also used for rankings and qualifications for higher level meets.

Of course there is a lot more involved, but it is so complicated it tends to boggle the mind, and as a diver I didn't even want to think about it as I concentrated off to the side of the pool working through mentally my various moves on my more difficult dives. Now I waited patiently while my coach consulted with some of the other people around her. Whatever the decision, I knew if I was going to go for the gold it would have to be a near flawless dive on my part. After a brief consultation while a few of the other divers went through their rotation, my coach waved me over to consult with me.

"So the way I see it we have two choices. We go with an optional dive that is on the safe side, and take away the gold in overall team with you either taking bronze or possibly nothing at all in the individual category with the twelve to thirteen year old age group, or we opt for your most difficult optional dive, and go for it all with you possibly not only taking gold in your overall age category but also gold in overall team. However, if you miss then the overall team will be silver with you possibly not medaling depending how bad it was, and on the score of the dive. The scores are that close Jackson." She told me honestly.

My team mates had milled around as I just shook my head. "Listen coach I think I'm cool with an individual Bronze or nothing at all for that matter if we get overall team gold." I told her honestly not wanting to screw things up for my team.

Braxton spoke up at that point. "No, he needs to go for it all. No matter what happens with your final dive Jackson, we all know it was you who carried us this far as a team. Besides, I can't stand the idea of Mikah, coach Konnikov's son, beating us out of anything." He pointed out to us.

Although the coach had been bared from coaching he had put his son on a different team, and they were competing here. Due to his age and where his birthday fell, he had the choice of competed in either my age group bracket or one level higher in Braxton's age group. Since Braxton slaughtered him in the previous competition they had decided to leave him in my age group trying to show me up and prove a point. He had done well enough to be a thorn in my side at this competition, but his dives just weren't as strong. Yet somehow he had lucked out on several of his scores. If I took the easier dive he might just edge me out of the Bronze medal depending on the score. If I did the more difficult dive even if I did bad on it I could still score high enough to edge out Mikah from getting a medal at all, but the tradeoff would be settling for a Silver medal in the overall team category.

"I don't know guys." I pointed out when Larry the boy who always pops a boner in the shower, and used to get teased by the other guys, just looked at me and shook his head.

"No…Braxton's right. We go for it all or nothing at all. Besides, no one in our region has ever taken gold as an eleven year old. I for one want to remember this moment forever." He piped up with the rest of the team agreeing.

"Good, then it's settled. You will perform your dive that you have perfected over all these months." My coach stated, which when I thought about it was really ironic since it was the same dive that got us all started as a team so many months ago.

If I nailed it this would also be the last nail in coach Konnikov's casket because it was the one he had so easily dismissed me on. These thoughts settled on my mind as I climbed up the stairs to the seven and a half meter platform. Wiping myself off with my small shammy, I stepped out to the edge, and making sure it was dry, wiped it down just to be on the safe side. Dropping my small towel to the ground below, I stood towards the back for a moment collecting my thoughts.

Taking a deep breath I tried to clear my mind and let the noise in the building fade off to the background. Everything up to this point of the season culminated with this one moment. The boy I was trying to edge out the gold medal had performed the same exact dive not all that long ago, and I thought he had done a brilliant job with the routine. It was the same boy who had come over to shake my hand. This would be a big hurdle to overcome as I approached the end of the platform allowing my mind to settle into a deep concentrating manner. Stepping towards the edge I turned around with my back facing outwards, and basically only standing there on the platform with the tip of my toes trying to remain balanced.

At that moment I heard a big banging noise off somewhere in the arena, but it didn't seem to affect me as it was just a small noise now in the back of my mind. At this point I had zoned everything out of my mind. All noise seemed to fade away as I bent over at the waist, and let my arms lift me up slightly as my legs rotated out over the water until they finally stopped above my head in a hand stand position with my face and body now facing out towards the water. There was another clanging like noise in the back of my mind, but once again I didn't let it annoy me. I knew something was going on down below in the audience, but I was too committed at this point, and had to maintain my focus. My body paused for several seconds in the hand position, more than enough time for the judges to recognize I was in my set position showing off my strength of balance, before my arms flexed, my legs kicked out, and I began my rotation for the armstand back two somersaults, half twists in the pike position. Just before I had launched into my dive there had been a last ditch effort at ruining my concentration, but it was too late now.

It was a very difficult dive with a high DD, and the same one I had performed for coach Konnikov when I had initially tried out for the diving team. My coach in Ramstein had taught it to me, and had set me on a solid foundation before I had to move. My current coach had helped me strengthen the finer points of the dive, and refined it until I could perform it almost flawlessly over the last several months. I instinctively knew as soon as I launched my body into the rotation that I was spot on as my reflexes from several hours, days, weeks, and months of repetitive practice sessions on just this one dive kicked in automatically.

The entire rotations lasted only moments as I unfolded my body, stretched out, and slithered past the concrete like water barrier without any resistance. Never before had I slid past with so little resistance. People in the diving world called it a "rip entry," for good reason, which I discovered for the very first time ever. I've nailed dives before, and have had very clean entry into the water, but this was completely different from anything I've ever experienced before. The water made a ripping sound in my ears as my sleek body sliced through the water with flawless perfection. I had just nailed the biggest dive in my young career, and I knew it as my head resurfaced and I gasped for air.

The world all around me erupted in an explosive uproar as people in the entire arena were on their feet cheering loudly. I looked over towards the stands were my parents were, and they were yelling and clapping loudly while the smaller boys were all jumping up and down. I also noticed another small commotion off to the side where security guards were escorting a red face Mr. Konnikov from the venue. I found out later he was the one making all the noise trying to distract me. It earned him the privilege of being banned for life from all sporting events in the region, period.

All of my teammates had gathered around me giving me hugs and jumping up and down. They finally released me so that I could warm up in one of the hot tubs that were set off to the back side of the arena. I stepped inside the swirling pool, and closing my eyes settled into the steamy water breathing a sigh of relief as the warm water bubbled all around my body. It had been a stressful day, not only because of the competition, but also because of Ezra and the boys. I felt some movement off to my side, and opened up my eyes surprised to find the older boy who had shook my hands earlier settling in next to me.

"Wow that was totally awesome dude. I hope you don't mind me joining you, but I just had to tell you how impressed I've been today with how well you did. If I'm going to loose out I'm glad it is to you." He told me sincerely, which made me smile impishly. "That was really a crappy thing that other guy did trying to distract you like that." He continued.

"Thanks it means a lot. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to pull it off. I thought about taking the easier dive, but in the end it was because of the very same jerk who was making all the racket that I went with the other dive." I told him honestly, and then explained briefly the situation with coach Konnikov.

After I finished, the boy just shook his head and smiled at me. "Well, I for one am glad it forced you to do the difficult dive. That was something else to see, and something I won't forget. Oh, there are the scores." He said looking up as we watched the screen, and the entire auditorium sprang to their feet roaring loudly as their cheering thundered around the confines of the arena. Smiling at me he got up and held out his hand to me. "Congratulations to both you and your team. You earned it." He yelled out to me loudly over the din of wild fans while I stood up as well, shook the boy's hand, and thanked him for being a really great sport about it all.

The awards ceremony soon followed, and the crowd stood up and applauded approvingly when the announcer called out my name. It was a wonderful feeling standing on that podium as the gold medal settled around my neck. It felt even better when I stood up on that platform for a second time with my entire team. For me that was the most important achievement because we were the newest team in the region, and all of my team mates had worked hard for this moment. People kept telling me it was because of me that our team stood on the podium, but I had to remind them that it really was a group effort, not just one individual.

The locker room was crowded today with a lot of strange new faces, but I didn't want to head out before rinsing out all of the chlorine from my skin. Standing under the warm water shooting out from the shower head, I leaned my hand up against the wall enjoying the heat of the spray up against my skin. I hadn't been paying attention, and all of a sudden I felt my body slamming up against the wall. The force was so vicious that it had me bouncing off the wall, and landing on my back sending my mind reeling while complete shock took hold of my small body as I gazed upwards.

Mikah was staring down at me with his fist pulled back. In that one instant I saw sheer hatred in his eyes as a large sized fist came looming into my field of vision. I knew this was going to hurt, and braced myself for the onslaught, but all of a sudden I saw another figure in the periphery of my vision as it collided with Mikah sending the boy spinning off of me to smash up against the wall.

Mikah started to get up and squared off with the new boy, but the next thing I knew there were a whole slew of people standing in front of me pulling me up surrounding me protectively, and facing off against the older boy.

"This is none of your fucking business." I heard Mikah screaming.

"I don't know what your problem is, but the kid won fair and square. He can't help it if he so much fucking better than you, so just go fuck yourself." I heard a familiar voice say as several of the other boys grumbled their agreement. By this time practically the whole locker room full of swimmers and divers had come over to see what all the commotion was about.

Some of Mikah's team mates came over as well and urged him to forget about it, while other members of my team including Braxton shoved their way past the crowd. "Shit, Jackson are you alright?" My friend asked me as I nodded my head that I was just fine.

"What the fuck is your problem?" Braxton walked over towards Mikah who took a step back nervously now.

"This doesn't concern you Braxton; especially, since you're a traitor." The boy tried to square off with Braxton, but he wasn't having any of it.

"That's fucking it. We've all put up with you and your father's crap long enough. It's bad enough he's been such an asshole, but come hell and high water, if I ever see you again at an event I'm going to kick your balls so far up your body that you'll be singing soprano for the next eighty years until you are too old to have any kids of your own." He threatened the little tyrant making everyone cringe with the verbal visualization.

"You and what army is going…," was all that he managed to get out when I heard a sickening cracking sound as Braxton had reared back and punched the other boy squarely in the face knocking the asshole on his back as blood splattered all over the place.

The boy moaned and rolled around on the ground as everyone sort of backed off in shock before dispersing into separate directions chattering away and laughing at the jerk writhing around on the wet tiled shower room. There would be no more showers going on tonight as Braxton flexed his now sore hand, and wrapped his arm around my shoulders. Looking over I saw the kid who had congratulated me as he looked down on the other boy disgustedly.

"Thanks," I told my competitor and savior as I wrapped a towel around my waist.

"Nah, no worries…the asshole deserved it." The other boy responded as I introduced him to Braxton, and some of my other team mates. In return, my competitor Matthew, I finally found out his name even though I should have known it earlier, introduced some of his team members to us.

"Hey listen, we reserved the entire place at the Pizza Shack, and we would love it if you guys come and join us. Bring everyone on your team with you guys for some pizza on our team, and don't worry about a thing because we already have a huge order in place to get us started. We will call ahead and have them prepare more. I take it you guys are probably staying at some hotel or other, so at least we can treat you to the best pizza around." I told them as we headed towards our locker.

Most of their team members were milling around the lockers close to us as we stopped for a moment. "Yeah, sounds great if you don't think it will be too much. I mean for the most part it's just us and our folks, but still it's a pretty big group. You don't think it will cost too much for you guys? We can all chip in as well you know because we were going to try finding someplace anyway in town where we could grab a bit to eat. I'll talk to everyone on the team, and we can talk to our parents." Matthew stated as several of his buddies nodded in agreement.

Thirty minutes later two competitive teams and all our families were chatting away, and having a blast at this little hole in the wall family run dive which was currently packed to the gills. We had called ahead asking the owner to increase the pizza order, and he gladly obliged us saying all the pizza was on the house tonight for such a great performance and representation of our small community. It shocked us all to no end, but we made sure to at least give all his staff members a hefty tip for the extra work.

Like I said it was a family owned and run business, but they also sponsored several different kinds of sports teams along with a lot of charity work. They were a small business, but an integral part of the community. Since the owner wouldn't accept money tonight from any of us we got together collectively as a group and donated money in the family's charity jar. The owner and his wife thanked us profusely, and told us that every dime would go towards either a local charity cause or a team that needed extra help. In the end it all worked out and all of us had a great time. Our two teams seemed to jell together nicely as parents and kids alike got to know one another.

Next year there were several venues going to be held in their town and several in our area. Our coaches and parents got together, and they thought it would be a great experience if our families would host one another when in town since we had to travel so far. This would save on a lot of the expenses, and also provide the kids with some good sportsmanship among competitors. That day a tradition was set in place that would last for many years to come, and form some close friendships along the way.

We had brought Coop with us, and promised his mom we would drop him off at his house afterwards. At first his mom was reluctant, but Coop was dying to get out for a while so she had relented thanking us for keeping an eye out for him. Coop seemed to be having a good time as well, and I noticed him, and our little shower boy Larry, kind of hitting it off. They even disappeared into the bathroom together for a bit. I knew they were just going to take an innocent piss, but it still made me giggle wondering if maybe there might just be more going on between the two of them. I continued to watch them discretely throughout the rest of the evening, and was glad to notice they seemed to be hitting it off together like real friends. I was glad Coop was finally starting to become more outgoing, and able to make new friends.

It was getting late, and had been a long day and evening for some of us when we finally said our goodbye's to everyone. Zachary and Tyler were just about done in, but despite their heartrending day concerning their grandfather's death had joined in with the celebration. It was also a good thing that Ezra's cousins had taken a nap earlier, or they just wouldn't have been able to hold out so long. In a way I sort of felt guilty celebrating like this because of the circumstances, but then again for just a little while the Kostalini boys were able to forget all about tragedy that had gripped their lives earlier in the day. Even Ezra enjoyed himself on my behalf, and couldn't believe how good I really was on that platform. He also was very proud of his dearest and oldest friend in the world as he congratulated Brendan for bringing in the silver on his individual swim, and gold for his team relay.

Since the Cuconato brothers were going to spend the night with us, they left at the same time. However, before coming over they took a quick detour to their home first so the boys could pick up some of their stuff. When they came back over Brendan just rushed over to Ezra and hugged him closely as his eyes welled up briefly while he fought away the tears. Marco came rushing over to me dropping his small bag, and just hugged me sadly finally understanding why I had been so upset earlier.

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