The Scars Above My Heart

by Sean English

Chapter 6

The Awesome Ride of the Midnight Rain

For the next few days, events returned to a more normal pace around both Alex and Brett. That Sunday was spent repairing the damaged shelf, and spending time with the girls playing various board games. When Alex returned home mid-afternoon, his father also informed him that their message, regarding Alex's previous bank account, had been sent and acknowledged, and that it would be investigated over the upcoming week.

Monday found both boys once again employing and honing their skills, cleaning another truck which had been promised the week before, and by Monday afternoon, Alex had taken two additional calls from other car lots in the area for continued business. Hardly believing their strokes of luck, following the disaster at Harry Spalding's the previous week. Both teens were elated, and their parents were also pleased. They saw the two co-operating and working as a team with a serious effort, and not being stuck indoors wasting their summer away. On Wednesday afternoon, the two took Gina along for a change, and gave her the task of vacuuming the vehicle, a large SUV, while they worked on other parts. She seemed to enjoy the task, even though Alex had to guide her and point out some of the areas she was missing, or not giving enough attention to. She never complained though, wanting to do as good of a job as the two older boys did - especially when Alex promised to give her a share of their earnings. When the three finished, the vehicle met approving nods from the lot's owner, and all three hopped onto their bicycles with smiles.

Once they arrived back at the Edwards' household, the three gathered and stood around the dining room table. Beneath them, Bobba Fett was running from one pair of legs to the next, trying to elicit some level of attention from someone in the group, especially after happily welcoming them home. Thus far, the day's pay was all that had been collected that week, but it was enough to settle up between them for the time being. Alex had taken on the role of the main record keeper, and thus he handled the money for himself and Brett, too. To date, each time they were paid, he promptly split their earnings in half, just as they had agreed when they started the business. Today, however, things would be a little different. He counted out half the cash and gave it directly to Brett, before splitting the remaining amount in half again. Turning, he gave both a five- and ten-dollar bill to Gina, but then she glanced up and looked at him dubiously. "That's not very fair to you, you know."

Brett agreed. "She's right. You did more work than the two of us put together, I think."

Alex shrugged. "Not really. I work a little faster only because you're still getting used to everything, but if you look at everything overall, we do about the same in the end. Besides, I'm not worried about it. We've got a fair trade going on here." He turned to Gina. "As to the money, take it Gina. I doubt we can take you along on all our jobs, because some of the lots are further away and everything. Those where you can and want to go on though, I'll pay you something for helping out, just like I promised."

Gina stared at him for several seconds before responding. "Look, I may be only 12, but I know you're not making that much. Adding me only makes the money get smaller. I'm not a dummy, guys. Besides, Brett is right - I didn't do anything near what you guys did. I mostly just went along to have something to do and watch you two do your thing." She then reached out and grasped only the five-dollar bill. "How about if I just take this much? That'll buy me some snacks and a drink sometime."

Brett clucked his tongue. "That's not much either, Gina." He then opened his wallet and found another five, which he gave to her. "Here, you can have this, too. That's not so bad, I think, and you DID help." Looking up at Alex, he nodded. "It's cool, man. She made a little, and we still come out even at least."

Alex relented, smiling. "Well, if that's how you want to do it, then I'm okay with it. I wasn't going to make you give up anything though, Brett. I'm the one who invited her to come along, and I'm the one who promised to pay her something."

"So?" Brett shrugged. "For better or worse, she's my sister." The teen then had to step aside rapidly to avoid being swatted.

"Watch out, water spout, or next time I'll grab the water hose and dunk it in your shorts!" the girl proclaimed, before leaning in and giving him a brief half-hug. "I love you, but I also hate you, bubble butt," she added, both giggling afterwards.

Alex grinned at the exchange, then accepted a hug from her as well before she disappeared toward her room. "I need a shower," they heard her exclaim as she turned the corner. "Don't steal the hot water before I'm done!"

Brett rolled his eyes and then pulled out a chair and sat down. Alex did the same, but not before pulling out his notebook, in which he kept a running log of their efforts. Quickly he entered the days efforts and looked at the records. "So, we have at least another $120 coming to us, probably by the end of the week." He stated satisfactorily before closing the book. "That's $60 for you and me both." Brett nodded in acknowledgement.

Bobba Fett, who had been sitting patiently, chose that moment to jump up into Alex's lap, so the teen adjusted his position so he could provide a more stable cushioning for the dog to stretch out on. Once settled, he remarked, "I don't know about you, but I think it's been going great so far. That's over almost $300 for roughly a week's effort, you know? That's far more than I had hoped for."

Brett nodded. "Yeah, I agree. Oh, and don't forget, Bob May called and said he might have one for us tomorrow, too."

Alex wrinkled his nose. "Yeah, but we might not get to it right away. Did you notice it clouding up outside? I think Dad said last night it's supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow, and Bob doesn't have a carport or garage or anything that we can use." He let one hand fall to gently rub his fingers through the dog's fur.

"Oh, I hadn't thought about that. Well, maybe Friday then." Brett fell silent before speaking up again. "Are you thirsty? I think we've got some more decaf tea in the fridge."

Alex nodded. "That would be nice, yeah. What's the thing with decaf though? Decaffeinated, right?"

Brett shrugged. "Yeah. Mom is trying to get us all on decaffeinated stuff now, because she keeps hearing about how bad caffeine is for you and all. At least, she's trying to." Brett rose and prepared two glasses, retrieving ice from the freezer and then filling them with the beverage. "She even buys all our sodas that way now, as long as she can find them. It's not bad, they mostly taste the same, but sometimes you can tell a little difference." He then grunted. "Except for coffee. Dad has been having rounds with her, arguing over how he likes his caffeine in the mornings when he gets up."

Alex laughed. "I can see that, yeah. He's like my Dad then. He swears he has to have his two to three cups of coffee every morning in order to get going," Alex mused as he took the offered glass. "Thanks."

"Welcome," Brett replied, sitting back down. "So, when are we going to go get our supplies and stuff?"

"I guess whenever you want to," Alex replied.

"Well, we should go to Walmart or Target, I guess, but they're both on the other side of town, and Mom doesn't like me riding out that far on my bike," Brett explained. "We'll have to get someone to take us, I think."

"We might could go this evening, if you want to. Mom has been wanting to go find me some newer blue jeans lately, and I know there's a few groceries we could use, too. I could talk her into taking us out, I think. Plus, I think Dad has to work late tonight, so that might help," Alex offered. "If you want, I'll talk to her about it when she gets in."

"That sounds cool. How is she liking her job, do you know?" Brett asked.

"She loves it, I think. She's off most Wednesdays and the weekends, other than that one day she had to cover for someone who got sick, and then today too, for some reason. Anyway, she says it's easy work, and she enjoys it a lot. She gets to meet interesting people and everything."

"That's cool. I already know your Dad is happy, especially after what they were talking about at the cookout the other night," Brett mused as he sat back.

Alex nodded. "Oh, yeah, he is. The only thing he's said to us that's making him nervous, is if he has to travel very much. I don't think he minds it in general, but he's been kind of antsy about it the last couple of years." Seeing Brett's raised eyebrow, the teen explained. "A couple of years back, he worked for a company that sent him to Brazil for a few days, with no guide or anyone to help him get around or anything. He got lost, then had to find his way around and ended up getting to some site kind of late. The people there got upset with him… you get the idea. He's just not used to having to do that very often."

"Is that normal? I mean, for companies to send people out like that?" Brett asked.

"I don't think so, but honestly, I'm not sure," Alex replied, before shrugging again. "Thing was, on that trip, Dad was supposed to go with this guy who chickened out on him or something at the last minute. Dad didn't want to go to begin with see, yet he ended up going anyway all alone. I think that annoyed him and he got nervous or something, and swore he was never going to let anyone put him in that kind of situation again. He was only supposed to be gone for three or four days, but it took him almost two weeks before he got to come back home." Alex grunted. "To top it all, two days before he was to leave and come home, he got his wallet stolen from a pick-pocket there. They didn't get his passport, but they did get his company credit card and all the cash he had on him. That really pissed him off!"

"Wow," Brett breathed, shaking his head. "Did he have a lot of trouble getting home?"

"Actually, the people he was on site for turned around and helped him out and everything, I think. Once they realized he knew what he was doing and all was right, they started to be a lot nicer. So, when it came time to come home, they took care of almost everything to get him to the airport and stuff," Alex explained while sipping on his iced tea.

Brett nodded. "That's cool then. Our Dad, he goes on trips sometimes, too, but usually for just a few days at a time. Nothing out of the country, though - mostly to Florida, or maybe Texas. I think, yeah, he maybe went to Canada once."

Alex sat back. "I want to go on a trip someday, just by myself, or with a friend. You know, just to get away and see some of the world or something. Mom has already told me that, when I get a little older, we can talk about it."

"Really? Where do you want to go? Do you know?" Brett asked.

"Oh, yeah," Alex replied with a smile. "I want to go to England, maybe France. Maybe Scotland, too. I don't know, I just think I'd like to go and spend a couple of weeks floating around, see what life is like, try the food, stuff like that. I've always wanted to see some castles, or the Eiffel Tower. You know, just … SEE things."

Brett nodded. "That does sound like fun," he admitted. "I wouldn't mind doing that either, I think."

Alex grinned. "Well, I was kind of hoping like, maybe if we're still mates and all, you might like to go with me."

Brett returned the grin. "Are you kidding? I would LOVE for us to do something like that!" He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "And yeah, I think we'll be mates for a long, long time Alex."

"I sure hope so," Alex responded in kind with a whisper. "You know, I wouldn't mind going somewhere here in the States, either. There are a lot of places here, too, I wouldn't mind exploring and everything."

"Yeah, there is. Anywhere in particular?"

Alex thought for a moment. "Well, I've never been to Disney, or the Space Center in Florida. That would be kind of cool. New York, Niagara Falls too, or some places out west, like San Francisco, or to Alcatraz. Or just north of there, up to the Redwoods. Honestly, there's all kinds of places, really."

Brett raised an eyebrow, a look of disbelief crossing his face. In a low voice, he asked, "Seriously? You guys have never been to Disney?" Seeing the negative response, he whistled. "I know, it's not the cheapest place to visit, but it is pretty awesome! Gina and I went with our grandparents, um, I think when I was ten. Then Mom and Dad took us just last summer, too!"

"Really? That sounds pretty cool!" Alex asked.

"It was. We went to Disney World and Universal Studios mostly. We had a park pass to get into any of the Disney parks, but there were so many people, and moving around was so slow, we kind of just took our time and saw the highlights where we could. It was still fun, though," Brett replied.

"I bet. Well, maybe you and I could go sometime, if you want," Alex offered. "Then you can be my guide, or we'll try some of the other parks down there. What do you think it would take us, for just you and me, to go?"

Brett furrowed his eyebrows. "I really don't know. I think we got the air fare for around $250 each, but I don't know anything about the rest. I really have no idea." He shrugged and the brightened. "You know, though, I guess we could still look into it!"

"Yeah, you can bet I will, believe me. I mean, I'm sure our parents won't let us go for at least another couple of years, but it would be kind of nice to figure out what it would cost and all - especially if we did it together." Alex suddenly sneezed, causing Bobba Fett to look up, startled. "Argh! Uh, have you guys got any tissues nearby, or a paper towel?"

Brett rose and walked into the living room, but almost immediately returned with a couple of tissues in his hand. Handing them to Alex, he remarked. "That's the third or fourth time you've sneezed this afternoon. Don't get sick on me man, we leave for camp next week!"

Alex rolled his eyes. "It's just allergies, I think. We didn't have stuff like this in Idaho." Looking outside, he observed the now mostly cloudy sky. "Maybe I should head back home soon, though. Hey, that reminds me, what do I need to pack for camp? Anything special?"

Brett sat back and shrugged. "Mostly just t-shirts and shorts - the usual drill. You can double down on some of them for multiple days, provided they don't get too dirty. I usually take enough changes to last the whole week though – just in case. Oh, and we need one pair of long pants or jeans, and a decent shirt worthy to go into town. Like a polo, or something like that."

"Really? How come?" Alex asked.

"It's mostly for the field trip. See, one day of the week the different groups get to go into Indianapolis. Sometimes it's to the downtown museums, or to the baseball field or something. They change it every year, so we won't know what's in store for this year until we get there. Basically, it's done so that everyone gets to have a trip of some sort, away from camp and still away from home. Oh, and we're supposed to make sure we take money along, too, though it's for eating out," Brett explained. "Nothing fancy, usually $15 to $20 covers all of it. If any of the kids can't afford it, the camp usually comes up with whatever they need, so nobody gets excluded."

Alex hesitated before nodding. "I think I can handle all of that. For the other days though, just mostly shorts and t-shirts, right?"

"Well, unless you plan to wear the same underwear all week long, which I would highly advise you NOT to do," Brett smirked. "Especially since you and me have to share a bed! Oh, and some baby powders, too. Of course, I'm taking some, so we can share if you want to."

"Huh?" Alex asked, thinking that was strange. "What are the powders for?"

"Well, if it's very humid, and a lot of times it is, you'll get sticky and all, especially down there between your legs. See, some guys get chaffed a lot, where they get irritated and red and everything. I don't know a lot about what the other guys do, and some don't take anything … but I take powders. I will, like, sprinkle them in my underwear and shorts, because it helps keep them less wet and all from sweating," Brett explained, lowering his voice. "Okay, I know, that's kind of crude, but…"

Alex grunted. "No, it isn't. Mom used to make me put vaseline down there sometimes where my legs will rub together and all, I mean in the summer when I got rashes and stuff. I haven't done it for a long time, though."

"I've heard of some people doing that too, yeah. I guess its whatever tickles your pickle. I use powders, and sometimes share them with the guys in the group that don't think to bring anything else along." Brett rubbed at his nose and then sat back. "So, anyway, we can just share mine if you want, or you can bring some." Brett grinned. "Are you getting excited about going, yet?"

Alex grinned. "Yeah, kind of. What time will we leave that morning?"

"If it doesn't change, we generally have to be at the school by 9:30 or so. Usually it takes a half-hour or so to sort everybody out and load the buses. Then we'll get to camp about 1:00 or so, spend another half-hour or more getting our den assignments, and then go unpack." Before Alex could ask, Brett hastily added, "The den is our cabin assignment. We'll go unpack, everyone will kind of get introduced and paired up with a buddy, and then we go to the mess hall and grab some hot dogs, hamburgers, whatever they have fixed up to feed us."

"And after that?" Alex asked.

"It's different every year. Sometimes they have some kind of planned activity, or they'll turn the guys loose and we can all go exploring, or swimming or whatever." Brett grunted. "Last year, they let us all go swimming for the afternoon, and it turned into a big skinny-dipping event."

Alex laughed. "What? Oh wow! You do mean, like…"

Brett grinned. "Oh, yeah, most everyone sheds their clothes and they spend the next couple of hours swinging from trees, jumping off the boat docks, playing water volleyball – lots of things, naked as in the day they were born!" He shrugged, lowering his voice. "They're just guys, Alex. They don't care, as long as there are no girls or women around. Most all the adults will stay away, too. Believe me, you get an eye-full, and more than once, too. They're likely to do it two or three times throughout the week."

"Does everyone do it? Skinny dip, I mean?" the teen asked.

"No, some guys are too shy, but those that don't usually pack swimming trunks or something and put them on," Brett explained.

"Have you done it?" Alex asked quietly, after reflecting on that piece of information.

"Oh, yeah! I mean, not every time, but I've gotten out there with them a few times," Brett answered, grinning. "It's kind of fun really, most of the time anyway. Nobody makes fun of anyone, although you'll hear a lot of giggling and stuff, especially when someone gets a boner and it's swinging everywhere and all. And yes – quite a few will spring wood at different times. I mean, yeah, your stuff is hanging out there, but so is everyone else's, too. That's why no one really thinks of it as any kind of a big deal. It's all just having pure fun and everything, in a place where you can't normally do it anywhere else." His voice then lowered even more. "Listen, don't worry about it. It's not something you have to do at all, especially if you don't want to, I promise. I know you're thinking about your shoulder and all, but don't worry, okay? No one will think any lesser of you if you don't participate."

Alex shrugged. "I'm not worried about it. I… I don't know if I would do it or not, but meh, it's okay with me."

Brett sized up his friend's reaction. "Like I said - you don't have to. Besides, I'm going to be with you the whole time, and I won't leave you, ever. That's a promise."

"Thanks for the warning," Alex quipped, but then nodded in acknowledgement. "Just teasing, man. Yeah, I understand what you're saying but, you've already seen me, you know. Nobody else has."

Brett smiled. "So? I would do again and again, too, if you let me. The point is bro, you've got nothing to worry about, so don't, okay?"

Alex nodded and smiled. "I won't, I promise." Just then, they heard the bathroom door open and assumed Gina had finished her shower by then. Before either said anything more, Brett's sister suddenly appeared in the kitchen, a large pink towel wrapped around a still somewhat wet body, starting just above her breasts. She was oblivious to the two boys still there though, as she proceeded to reach for a loaf of bread and extract two slices. Alex raised one eyebrow, glancing back at Brett, who simply grinned and shook his head. "What's wrong pink stuff - couldn't wait?"

"Shush, I'm hungry!" Gina retorted, turning to the refrigerator and extracting both a jar of mayonnaise and lunch meat. "I'm surprised you two aren't eating something."

Brett looked onward, observing her briefly before he spoke up again. "Hey, Gina? Come over here a sec, will ya?"

The girl looked up and then placed her items on the countertop. Moving around the end, she approached the table. "Yeah? What's up, turtle butt?"

Alex giggled, making them both turn to him. Before either spoke, he blushed. "Never mind, its just the names thing. First, it's bubble butt, now turtle butt…"

Gina grinned at him before turning her attention back to her brother. "So, what's up?"

"I wanted to show Alex something, if you're willing to let me. Come here, please?" Brett said softly. Hesitantly at first, she finally closed the distance to Brett, who then reached out and embraced her fully, giving her a warm brotherly hug. Recognizing his intentions were not vindictive, she relaxed in his arms and returned the embrace, holding for several seconds before breaking and leaning back. Looking at him questioningly, her curiosity was obviously piqued. He smiled at her, then nodded toward Alex. "I wanted to show Alex we're not afraid of each other, that's all. Even without clothes… mostly, anyway."

Gina rolled her eyes and giggled, before looking straight at their visitor. "Can you believe him?" she asked exasperated, then swatted her brother's hand away as he reached out to pinch her butt. Turning, she then paused. "It's okay, though. He's usually pretty good to me, just like you are." Then, in a surprise move, she stepped over and pulled up close to Alex before reaching out to him and waiting. The look of surprise and shock were plain, and he hesitated, looking up at her with uncertainty. Gina rolled her eyes again, before leaning down and grabbing him by his hands. With a gentle tug, she pulled him to his feet. Bobba Fett growled at first, not particularly happy about losing his perch, but as he jumped down, the dog trotted over to Brett and launched into his lap instead.

Gina continued to pull Alex in close, engulfing him in a full body hug just as she did with her brother, holding him close. It was obvious that she had no worries, knowing that only a towel separated herself from the teen. Although it made Alex uncomfortable at first, he saw an expression of understanding in his best friend, along with an encouraging nod. That caused the visitor to finally give in and relax as he held her, rubbing his hand up and down behind her. Though she was slightly shorter, he still leaned down and nuzzled into her neck, holding it there through her dampened hair. Closing his eyes, he could smell her fresh scent, as well as feel her warmness in his arms. He sighed deeply, squeezing ever so tenderly, but just as fully as she allowed him to do so. Gina in turn felt the change as he held her, and thus melted into his arms with a feeling of safety totally surrounding her.

When she had held him for a half-minute or so, she finally pulled back and whispered into his ear. "See? I trust you, too." To top it off, she leaned up and kissed him on his cheek, surprising him even further. "Thanks for being so good to me," she added with a smile.

Alex was still in a state of awe when she slowly began to pull away. She held his hands between them for a moment, the young girl saying nothing more but watching him with a sweet smile. Eventually, Alex finally found his voice. "Thanks, girl. That means a whole lot, honest," he whispered back.

Glancing at Brett, she smiled again and then retreated to the counter, where she quickly finished making her sandwich. Putting her ingredients away, she then waved at them both before disappearing through the doorway with her food. Alex, still awestruck, watched her leave and then turned to back his friend. There he found not amusement, but something else in the expression that met him. "Uh… what?" he finally croaked.

Brett smiled at him and whispered, "You've never hugged a girl like that before, have you?"

Alex blushed. "Are you kidding? I was afraid I would make her towel fall off!" The teen then shook his head. "Brett, outside of my Mom and Dad, and maybe my grandparents, I haven't hugged anyone, ever - until you and I hugged the other night. I mean, really hugged each other."

"Well, was it okay?" Brett asked.

"Are you serious?" Alex whispered in reply. He was at a total loss of words and surprised by the question at hand. When he stared in return without answering further, Brett slowly nodded.

"It's fine, man. Honest, I just… I wanted to prove to you what I've been telling you all along. She likes you, not in the boyfriend-kind-of-way, but… she really likes you. She's never done anything like that to anyone else that I know of, except maybe me. And believe me, she may be my sister and all, but it still feels awesome when we get to share a moment like that, and she knows it, too. It's one of those awesome feelings you can have with another person."

Alex nodded. "I do believe you. And yeah, it felt, awesome. Really awesome."

"Even though she was practically naked?" Brett whispered, teasing again.

Alex closed his eyes, but then smiled. "Well, that might have helped some things, yeah, but… she's your sister, Brett! I'm not going to spring a boner-"

Brett laughed. "Don't sweat it, man. Just accept it, okay? She was cool with it, and that's all that matters to me."

Alex stared after her at the now empty doorway. "I guess if anything, I was more nervous I might touch her in the wrong place, or squash her up front. Like, you know, her…"

Brett giggled. "Her boobs?" he asked, and then when Alex nodded, Brett lowered his voice even more. "I've wondered about that, too, sometimes. Not with her, though. I mean, I've hugged a couple of other girls before, and yeah, it felt awkward sometimes at first. But honestly? Believe it or not, Gina and I talked about it once not that long ago. She like, jumped up in my arms one night, and I had to, um, be a little creative in catching her so she didn't fall."

"Really?" Alex asked, then thought about it, trying to imagine what he was saying. "What did she tell you?"

"She said most girls in the end like to be hugged tight that way, with their tits squished and everything, as long as it isn't too hard. And she told me not to worry about other places, too. She said most boys learn about what's right and what isn't, and that it's not always the same with different girls anyway. The way I figure it, as long as you don't try and do anything cocky, they're okay with most stuff," Brett explained.

"Yeah, but how do you know what 'doing anything cocky' includes?" Alex asked, confused.

Brett giggled. "Just don't outright grab a breast, or try to pinch a girl's tit. Or even pinch their ass, if you can help it. Then you'll be fine!"

Alex look at his friend incredulously, and then grinned before shaking his head. "You guys, you're a strange bunch sometimes, you know?" Alex finally admitted. "It's okay though, that's what makes me like you two more every day." He pushed back from the table and stood up.

Brett nodded, standing up with him. "I know, but meh, we like you too, you know." He took their now empty glasses and set them into the sink. "So, are you going to check about us going out later this afternoon?"

Alex nodded. "You bet! I'll give you a call once I talk to Mom, okay?" As Brett came up close, Alex stopped and waited until he could bump shoulders with his friend. "Thanks, man," the teen whispered. "I think I owe you one, again."

For once, Brett didn't have to ask his usual 'what for'. Instead, leaning in close, he whispered back. "You're cool, Alex. No sweat, for me or for my sister, okay?"

The shopping trip that evening turned out to be uneventful. Brett, freshly showered and ready to go, joined them at the end of their driveway as Patty and Alex were pulling onto the road. Gina also tagged along, but not without first asking Patty for permission to join the group. Once done, the four made their way merrily out and into town. Once their shopping was completed, they also pulled into the local chicken shack, and spent the next half-hour or more laughing and cutting up with one another, all the while munching on a dinner of fried chicken, potato wedges and shakes.

Once the Branhams dropped off their guests, Patty turned out of their driveway and started for their own. "So, I take it you had another productive day in the business," she casually remarked, Alex now sitting beside her in the passenger seat.

The teenager nodded, holding onto the bag of supplies he and Brett had replenished during the trip. "I guess so, yeah. Gina even helped us a little today, too, so it wasn't all that bad." He turned to his mother as she turned down into their own driveway. "Why, is there something up?"

Patty turned and smiled sweetly at her son. "No, honey, I promise. I just think it's great you have such a good friendship with those two. You've been alone for so long before, and right now I see you looking happier than I've observed in a long time."

Alex grinned, but then blushed. "They're my friends, Mom. I- I am happy."

As they pulled up and parked, Patty reached out to touch Alex on the knee. "I know, son. How is it you teenagers like to say it? 'It's all cool!', I think?"

Alex laughed before making a face. "Um, teen-speak is not for you, Mom! Definitely not your generation!"

Patty laughed as they got out of the vehicle. "Spoken like a next-generation angel, for sure!" They both opened the trunk and grabbed various bags of groceries which Patty had purchased, and then started making their way toward the rear door. Walking across the lawn, however, Alex felt something hit his arm, followed by the top of his head. Looking upward, he remarked. "Here comes the rain, Mom!" No sooner than the words had escaped him when several more drops started falling in rapid succession. They had just enough time to get through the doorway before the sky opened and let loose a heavy downpour.

"Whew! It looks like you two made it just in the nick of time!" called a voice from inside. Richard suddenly appeared and relieved his wife of several bags in her hands. Between himself and Alex, they were able to deposit the bulk of their items onto the makeshift kitchen table. "Good trip?" the man asked pleasantly.

"Pretty nice, yes. By the way, one of these bags has a box of fried chicken we picked up for you while we were out," Patty replied. Richard browsed through the offerings until he found it.

"This is awesome. Uh, listen, before I sit down, I want to update you two on something." When both Patty and Alex stopped abruptly and turned to them, the man laughed and held up both hands quickly. "All is fine, no worries." Hearing a sigh of relief escape from Alex, the man crossed his arms and leaned back against the counter. "It does have something to do with Alex's account, though. Our friend sent me a message just a few moments ago, and told me that Alex's suspicions appeared to be correct. It looked like someone at the bank took it upon themselves to quietly access the account through some back-door channel or something. They confirmed it was your money that got moved initially, and was transferred somewhere out of the country."

"Seriously?" Alex blurted out. His attention focused fully, with the hint of surprise. "And…?"

"Initially, it looks like your account was the only one touched, as far as they can tell right now. It wasn't big enough of an amount to raise any immediate alarm, but there was some suspicious activity surrounding it that caused our friend to take note. If it hadn't been for you the other day, it may have gone unnoticed permanently. You were right about the other thing, too, about it not being closed. That's totally uncharacteristic, if one wants to cover their tracks. As a result, he said they might put some money back into it and setup a trace, a kind of watchdog or trap."

Alex leaned back against the table, and as Richard saw the look of concern develop, he shook his head. "I'm not finished, son. You did a nice job hiding your access that afternoon, because our friend said they couldn't even tell you had been in there, other than the date of last access. So, he had that changed, and right now everything is just fine. They'll watch it over the next few weeks and see if they can pick up any activity." Richard then slid closer and placed a hand upon his son's shoulder. "Lastly, he also said you needn't worry about the money. It would be recovered, but he asked that we be patient for a while. They didn't want to stir up any undue indications that they're on to her."

Alex suddenly started, looking up. "It was… a woman?"

Patty herself scoffed, breaking the silence in the room. "Surely you don't think men are the only ones who can get into vile things, do you?" she chastised him, but with a merry lilt.

Richard laughed. "Yes, he mentioned that there may be a woman involved. We'll probably know more in a couple of weeks, maybe by the time you get back from camp. Which, by the way, is that still on? It's next week, isn't it?"

Alex nodded. "Next Friday, yeah."

"Good, it'll be good for you to get out for a while. Even if it is with Brett," he teased, then laughed at Alex's dumbfounded expression. "I'm only teasing, son. He's a good friend, isn't he?"

"Seriously? Dad, he's the best," Alex remarked, smiling before leaning against his father. It was another unusual action between them, but Alex had no reservations of showing his affection in times where it was due. The man encased his shoulders with an arm and squeezed, before they separated.

Patty then stepped up and shooed the teen away. "Okay, go on and get out of here. I'll take care of these. If you need anything, just let us know."

"Thanks, Mom. Love you both," the teen quipped, and then headed upstairs to his bedroom. As he approached, he could plainly hear the rain pelting onto the rooftop, a sound he had come to appreciate since their arrival. Stepping inside, he stopped and sat down momentarily on one of his bean bags to listen. It was unusual for most teens to give such things attention, Alex knew, but he had already learned long before that there was a power the rain had over him, especially in times like now. Its constant pattering upon the shingles and gutters created a musical overture in the otherwise silence of the night, one that was unmatched anywhere else in nature. It provided a serene orchestra that soothed his senses.

After listening for mere minutes, however, Alex became aware of how stuffy it felt in the room. Rising, he closed the bedroom door and moved into both dormers before opening the windows wide. Although the rain did blow sporadically in one direction, he noted its occasional splatter in one of the window's sill. Turning, he retreated into the bathroom and returned with a towel, which he laid upon the window's ledge to protect the woodwork. There he paused, looking out across the landscape and up the road toward Brett's house. He could not help but smile just then, his heart feeling especially happy at not just his best friend's actions that day, but those of his sister too. The last few weeks had awakened a lot of feelings and emotions he had missed out on in his life, but having them now made everything all the sweeter to him. Each day that passed, he felt more and more like the three of them were becoming their own little family within their world. It showed, too. Why else would both of his parents make the casual remarks they did, if they didn't see the effect it was having on him?

Alex eyed the sky for several minutes, but did not see any signs of the weather being more than just a typical summer rain. It gave him an idea of something he had not done for a long, long time. Noting the late hour, he quickly came to a decision and, standing again, the teen shucked his clothing completely, dropping the garments neatly upon the corner of his bed. He looked down and saw his shoes and grunted, before pushing them into the nearby corner. Finding a set of loose shorts, he quickly donned them and silently made his way out the door and onto the steps leading down. The lower level was by then draped in darkness, and as he quietly arrived at the bottom, he looked to the far wall and saw that his mother and father had already retired into their own inner sanctum. As silently as he could, he slipped through the rooms until he arrived at the back door, and then soundlessly made his way outside.

Standing in the rain, Alex slowly stepped out into the yard, moving away from the house and the bright nightlight beaming from the garage. Choosing his steps carefully, he entered the darkness beyond until he was roughly in the center of the lawn, where he stopped and sat down. He spread a towel he had brought along for his head, and then lay back, letting his body face the night sky and the steady rain that dropped from above. Closing his eyes, he sighed with a strange contentment. This was something he had only done a few times earlier in life, either because of the time of day, or having to endure stormier weather. Sometimes, admittedly, it was just a cold rain he faced, one that prevented him from enjoying his moments like he wanted. This night, however, the rain was of a comfortable temperature, and as he lay there, he felt the drops fall all across his body and soak him completely. If he could have gotten away with it, he would have even stripped off the shorts he wore now, and lain totally naked in the night, facing nature with pure simplicity. He loved the feel the rain gave him, and the silence in which it was delivered. Sure, he heard the drops along the rooftops and all, but to him that was all just a part of nature in itself.

Perhaps the biggest reason of all that he loved this night, was that he knew he had nothing to fear out here. His body was its own temple, and his shoulder and side - with all their blemishes - could be completely free from observation or ridicule. In almost all other instances, his scars were hidden well from prying eyes. But out here, at least tonight, he felt both humbled and happy. Alex smiled to himself, enjoying the massage the heavens were giving him, with an orchestral tune from nature that few ever took the time to experience.

Lying in the rain also signaled something more, as he felt it wash away a lot of his worries and cares in the world. It also cleansed him of his uncertainties and feelings of guilt, at least for a little while. Even though he and Brett had done things maybe most boys would avoid, he had no reservations about it. Their playful 'messing around', as his friend called it, had been a new experience into a wilder side of living. Alex smiled though, at the fact that not only had he already had similar thoughts and curiosities before, but so did his new friend. Even now, he relived, for perhaps the hundredth time it seemed, how it all went down that night in Brett's bedroom. Like his friend, he also wished they could have another repeat performance, just like that night one again. If not for the sex, then for the moments of holding one another, in the most intimate of ways possible. He had loved it, his body reacting to the warmth and feeling that engulfed it, despite his initial reactions and concerns. He was glad they had shared it all though, as it opened something else in Alex's heart. The experience taught him that when you felt loved, you couldn't help but give it back. It was something that warmed him from the inside, and he knew it. He was also proud of one other fact, too. Since that night and the next morning, nothing seemed to be changed between him and Brett. That thought brought yet another wider smile to his lips as the teen lay there in the wet grass. They had both promised each other their friendship would stay intact, and thus far it was holding true.

No, Alex corrected himself. There had been one change at least - they had tightened their bond together even more than before. The little signals, the jokes, the sexual innuendo was still there, but they each could now look at the other with a new understanding. That day's encounter with Gina in the kitchen proved it. The trust was still there - and that was all Alex needed for the time being. He recalled easily enough what Brett had told him the first time, explaining what trust really meant: "It means I'm totally open with you, and that I have no reservations about telling you things, or letting you even see me near naked or even naked for that matter. Understand? I'm not afraid of you." Each passing day, Alex saw his own fear seep away, never to return. It was more than just seeing it, too, Alex thought. It was something he also felt on the inside.

Alex lay for quite some time, having slipped into a light doze. When he awoke at one point, he wasn't sure how much time had passed. When he sat up, he noted the light was out in his parent's window, leaving the house now in total darkness. Glancing skyward, he also noted the rain had yet to let up, which made the night all that more special. It had continued, giving the magic of the moment all to himself. He smiled then and whispered a thank you, before standing and pulling the towel up with him. Walking back to the door, he was pleased to find it was still unlocked. Quietly letting himself inside, he closed and locked the door before crossing to the utility room. He knew he was dripping wet, so in the silence he found one of his previously used bath towels, one that had made its way down from his room. Hastily drying himself, he then walked back toward the rear door of the house, wiping up what remaining water he had trailed inside. Then he mounted his staircase, stealthily moving until he returned to his room. There, in the darkness, he shucked his wet shorts and carried them into the bathroom before hanging them over the bathtub's side. Grabbing his current towel, he finished drying his midsection again before returning to his room, where he found his briefs and t-shirt from earlier. Donning them, he stretched out and lay down in the bed, but not before looking at the clock and whistling softly to himself in surprise. He had been outside almost five hours! Pulling his comforter up and over him, he then lay back.

Alex lay for some time, unable to really fall back to sleep even with the steady thrum of the rain outside. Instead, his mind began wandering again to events of that day, and more than once he thought of both Brett and Gina. Before long, he noticed something had stirred in his groin, and was fervently demanding some of his attention below. When he stuck his hand down into his briefs, he grabbed hold of what was now a rock-hard boner eagerly awaiting him. Closing his eyes, he couldn't deny himself, having already built up an incredible amount of sexual tension that day. Pushing the spread back, he shoved his briefs down onto his thighs, exposing his crotch freely for whatever he desired. At first, he started to jerk off slowly, feeling the skin as it retracted and exposed his glans to the cool, night air before getting repeatedly covered again. At first, he thought of Gina and how he had felt while holding her, but then his imagination quickly turned to him and Brett. He fantasized taking a trip into the backyard with his friend, much like he had done just that night. In the darkness with the rain, Alex fantasized about them stripping each other of their clothes completely, and lying there grinding into one another. He imagined Brett being fascinated with his extra skin again, and at jerking him off, and that Alex got to reciprocate those actions back. When they reached a certain point, Alex even pushed his friend back and leaned down, taking the massive boner he found between his lips, and while jacking furiously, he would get the sweet nectar of hot cum blasted into his mouth. Those thoughts pushed Alex over the edge quickly, and as he opened his eyes, he felt several thick gobs of cum jump from the end of his dick up onto his shirt. He rode that climax as hard and far as he could until the flow subsided and began dribbling onto his hand, making a notable, sticky mess. Enough leaked that once he stopped, he brought it up to his face and sniffed it. He could detect trace amounts of an unusual, intoxicating odor, but it was nothing unwanted. What was it that Brett had told him? "It isn't the first time I've tasted cum. I've eaten my own before, lots of times." Lots of times? Was there something to it, then? If not, why did he just dream and fantasize over it, Alex wondered?

Tentatively he brought the cup of his hand closer and let his tongue extend out. Before he lost his nerve, he then sampled the creamy texture onto the end of his tongue and sucked it inside. In the dark, his eyebrows rose in surprise. It wasn't anywhere as bad as he had initially feared it would be. He licked a little more from his hand, sampling the concoction that was all his in the making. Creamy and slick, with a nutty kind of after-taste was his first impression, until it hit him he was also detecting another essence in it. Studying for only seconds, he found it was something reminiscent of himself, his intoxicating 'smell' for lack of a better description. He wondered what Brett had thought of that when he tasted his jizz, and then just as quickly he wondered if Brett's jizz would taste the same way? The initial barriers in his mind of what he was now doing gone, the teen ended up licking more of it from his hand until it was practically cleaned. 'Not bad,' he thought to himself, lying back and relaxing again with a grin. Alex felt very happy inside, though he was uncertain as to why. Jacking off didn't bother him at all, but to suck his own cum was kind of a wicked thing, to his way of thinking. Yet, he did it and found he didn't mind it at all. He moved his hand down and massaged himself lightly around his softening member and the testicles underneath, before finally pulling his briefs back up into place. As he rolled over, he brought the comforter back up again and felt contented. Maybe he was kind of a normal kid after all. At least in the eyes of his friend.

Slowly he closed his eyes, and then fell asleep peacefully.

As the weekend approached, Friday afternoon found Alex and Brett completing yet another job hired for one of the local lots. This time the job included not one, but two vehicles to be cleaned that day, which gave them both a feeling of elation that the week was finishing so strongly. When the owner, once again impressed with their work, gave them their standard fare and added another $20 tip on top, they were all smiles. Heading home, Brett pulled up to the stop sign at the top of the hill and waited for his friend to catch up.

"Oh man, that was pretty awesome!" Brett exclaimed as Alex approached. The other teen nodded, but then sneezed suddenly. Stopping, he reached and extracted a paper towel from their supply pack. Brett looked onward, shaking his head. "Are you sure you're not getting sick on me? You've been coughing and sneezing all afternoon. You were sneezing the other day, too."

Alex observed the other boy wearily. "I admit, I feel really tired again, and my chest is being to ache some this time," he admitted weakly.

"Then we need to get you home. No stopping for tacos today," Brett announced, moving closer and taking the pack from his friend. "Here, let me take this so it isn't so heavy on you."

"I can-"

"Yeah, yeah, I know, but I'm not helpless. Quit trying to be so proper, okay? It's cool, I promise." Brett interrupted, swinging the pack across his back. "Come on, let's get you home," he prodded gently.

Alex was actually grateful for the relief, for once. As both made their way again, the teen began to struggle at times to keep up. Twenty minutes later they finally arrived at the foot of the Edwards' driveway. Alex turned to his friend one last time. "Thanks, Brett. Honestly, I do think I want to go on home, though. Okay?"

"Sure. Is your Mom home yet?" Brett asked, pausing.

Alex shrugged. "I have no idea, but even if she isn't, it won't be long before she comes in. I think I'm just gonna get some medicine and take a warm bath, something so I can soak my muscles for a while, maybe even warm up a little. I'll probably be okay afterwards."

Brett still hesitated. "I don't like leaving you alone if you're getting sick, Alex. Tell you what, I'm gonna go change clothes and then I'll come down for a while. Is that alright?"

Alex nodded. "If you want to, yeah, but I may not be much good for company," he admitted. He then sneezed again. As he held his head up afterwards, Brett could see a pair of watery eyes greeting him.

"It's okay Alex, just go. I'll gonna come down in a little bit, so make sure to leave your back door unlocked for me, okay?" the teen voiced softly.

Alex nodded and then slowly started toward home. Being that their driveway descended from the level of the road itself, he mostly coasted the entire distance until he arrived in his back yard and stopped. Propping the bike against the side of the garage, he made it to the back door and entered the house. "Mom? Are you home?" he croaked, but discovered only silence in return. Grunting, he made sure the porch door was unlocked, and then trekked slowly toward and climbed the steps to the second level. Once he was in his room, he moved straight to the adjacent bathroom and started drawing a tub of warm water, adding a mixture of bubble bath and seltzer into the stream. His muscles did ache heavily, including his shoulder. Although the discomfort had slowly been building up, now with the adrenalin subsiding it was making him feel awful. To top it all, the teen felt a breath of chill come over him that was definitely not normal. There was no doubt the teenager was coming down with something then, as he peeled his clothes off one-by-one and stepped inside the tub, and the eventual warmth that awaited him.

One of the few, distinct blessings that had been bestowed upon him in this move, was that the tub in his bathroom was overly large, larger than the common size of a garden tub. It was an antique, fashioned in old-white porcelain, which had high, smooth walls. When he stepped in and lowered himself, lying back against the slanted curve to relax, the water easily rose to envelop and cover his upper chest and shoulders. Involuntarily he shuddered, but before long he could feel his body beginning to absorb the heat from the liquid around him. It gave him a temporary respite, although he continued to cough and sneeze on occasion.

Alex closed his eyes, his mind in a state of flux as he tried to relax. How long he lay there, he did not know, but eventually he felt a presence beside him in the quietness. Opening his eyes, he saw Brett had silently entered and sat down on the floor beside the tub. The teen had taken his position with his arms propped up on the side, observing Alex closely. When he noted that he had Alex's attention, Brett spoke quietly. "Hey… feeling any better?"

Alex grunted. "I'm n-not as cold a-as I w-was…"

"Really? I didn't know you were even having chills, man," Brett asked, surprised. A knowing look then crossed his expression. "That sounds like you have a fever then." Sitting up straighter, the teen reached out to feel Alex's forehead before asking, "Have you taken anything yet?" When Alex shook his head, Brett then stood up. "Where do you keep the stuff? You know, like Tylenol, or Ibuprofen?"

"Downstairs, above the k-kitchen sink," Alex replied weakly. Brett was then out the door in a flash, quickly moving toward the stairs. Alex closed his eyes again, relishing the warmth of the water. He had almost dozed off when Brett suddenly reappeared.

"Here. It took me a minute because I was trying to find you something to drink. All I found was this Sprite in the back of your refrigerator. It's okay, isn't it? It was the only one I found," the teen added sheepishly. He then held two tablets of some sort to Alex's lips, who then took them in his mouth. Then, popping the top to the soda can, Brett handed the Sprite to his friend. When Alex had finished, he lay back and stared at the ceiling, handing the can back to Brett. "Don't drink from t-that, o-okay? I d-don't w-want you catching s-something."

"I won't," Brett assured him quietly. He set the can aside as Alex shivered yet again before turning his attention back to his friend.

"D-do you t-think you could get me some f-fresh c-clothes and b-bring them in here?" Alex asked.

Brett nodded. "Sure thing. Be right back!" Again, he left quickly, but returned much sooner holding underwear, a t-shirt and a pair of thick sweats. "I found these in your drawer. I figure if you're having chills, then…"

"Th-that's perfect, th-thanks…" Alex replied, before laying back. "C-can you j-just let me in stay here a few m-more minutes? I-it really does f-feel good." Looking up, he added, "Just s-stay with me a little longer, if you w-want to, I mean." Glancing up, he added, "I'd r-really like y-you to."

Brett smiled. "Sure, I'll stay for a bit," he replied softly, and he returned to sitting in the floor next to the tub. As he watched his friend sitting among the suds, he reached out and gently caressed his chest under the water. Alex closed his eyes and just lay still, feeling the warmth, but also the touch of his friend. Brett sat in silence for the next ten minutes, floating his fingers all along Alex's sides and chest, including the scars his friend was so timid about. Before long, Alex stirred and then grabbed the hand, holding it to his chest as he turned his head away and started a fit of loose coughing. When he regained control, he announced. "Okay, I need to get out now. I can't stay in hot water like this for very long, it's not good for me."

Brett was surprised. "Are you sure? I mean, I know the water is pretty warm and all, but… we could add some cold water if you want. You know, to cool it down so you can stay longer."

Alex, however, shook his head. "I'm s-sure," he explained in a surprisingly stronger voice. "If we cool it d-down any, it'll j-just feel cold to m-me." He reached out and pulled the plug, and both boys heard the water begin to drain. Sitting up, Alex sighed deeply, as if gathering his strength together. "So, you w-want to help the n-naked boy get out, or what?"

Brett hesitated, then started to get up. "That's up to you, man. I can go in yonder and wait if you want," he offered, but Alex quickly reached out and grasped him.

"I'm only k-kidding, Brett. You've already b-been around me, so don't get s-shy now, okay? Come on, just, help me g-get up and out, okay?" Alex pleaded. Brett nodded in understanding and then shifted to his knees. Just then Alex began another coughing fit, and both had to wait until it subsided before they could continue. Grabbing a towel, Brett held it and assisted as his best friend slowly rose from the water and stepped outside, before sitting on the tub's edge. Alex started to take the towel, but Brett swatted his hand away. Instead, he quickly began drying both Alex's feet and legs, and then moved upward. He avoided the whole middle section for the moment and instead stood up, toweling his friend's back and shoulders. When he finished, he draped the towel over Alex's shoulders before grabbing another one from the shelf.

When Brett circled in front of the teen, he paused. "Okay, do you think you can stand for a minute?" Alex glanced up and then complied, reaching out and holding onto his friend's shoulder to help steady himself. Brett quickly continued and dried the chest and stomach, before reaching around and drying his butt. Lastly, the teen loosely ran the towel in front along the groin, albeit more gently. He took his time around the uncircumcised penis and testicles, drying them tenderly as Alex looked on in amusement. "If I wasn't feeling so bad, I'd think you really enjoyed doing that," he whispered, but then shuddered again. The way he felt just then, he honestly didn't care.

Brett looked up at him and grinned. "Of course, I like doing it!" the teen fired back, but then turned and reached out, finding the briefs and sweats nearby. "But, believe me or not… I don't like it when you're feeling bad." Holding the briefs out for his friend, Alex stepped into each hole, and as he pulled them up into place, he observed the teen shuddered yet once again. Quickly he pulled the t-shirt over the head, and then grasped his friend and guided him back into the bedroom. Climbing into his bed, Alex motioned to the closet. "G-Get me a blanket, too. They're in … in there…"

Brett complied, then sat on the corner of the bed watching his friend as he curled up into a fetal position. In the silence that followed, the teen knew there was little more he could do at that point, but he determined he wasn't going to leave until one of Alex's parents arrived. Seeing one of the bean bags nearby, he grasped it and placed it upon the other half of the bed, before climbing in and settling himself next to his best friend. Before long, Alex detected his presence and decided to curl in somewhat closer, and then the systematic rising and falling of his chest told Brett all he needed to know that his friend had drifted off to sleep.

Not long after, Brett heard a door open downstairs, and someone entering from the kitchen. As quietly as he could, he extracted himself from the bed and exited the room, descending the steps until he arrived and met Patty. "Oh! Sorry, you startled me," the woman exclaimed, before smiling. "And how are you doing this fine afternoon?"

Brett nodded back. "I'm fine Mrs. Branham, but Alex isn't doing so great. We pulled a double job today, and we made it through that without any trouble, but he has been coughing and sneezing all day long. Coming home, I think it started catching up with him."

Patty furrowed her brow in concern. "He was doing that somewhat last night, too. Is he up in his room?"

"Yes, ma'am," Brett nodded. "I came down to check on him. He seemed to have a fever, so I gave him some of your ibuprofen. I hope that's alright."

Patty grunted, slipping her shoes off by the front door. "Of course, it is. Let's go up and check on him," she replied, heading for the stairs, Brett following close behind.

When they entered the room, Patty quickly noted the extra covers he lay underneath. Approaching, she sat down beside her son, who sensed her presence. Stretching out, the teen rolled over to greet her. "Hey, Mom…" he said weakly.

"Hi honey. Brett says you're not feeling too well," she replied sweetly, before reaching a hand to his forehead and frowning. "He's right, you're burning up!"

Alex shuddered just then. "G-Guilty. It's p-probably why I f-feel so cold."

Patty looked beyond the opened bathroom door and saw the towels in the floor. "He had a bath, too? And that didn't warm him up?" When Brett shook his head, the woman clucked her tongue. "In the same cabinet where you found the ibuprofen, there should be a bottle of aspirin, too. Go fetch that, and pour him about a half glass of orange juice while you're at it, would you please?" Brett nodded and turned, exiting the room quickly. Turning back to her son, Patty's face softened. "You poor thing, you must be feeling pretty miserable." She reached out and ran her fingers through his hair. "The ibuprofen will help your muscle aches and headaches, but the aspirin will fight the fever better. Unless you have an infection, all you can really do is just try to sleep it out, sweetheart."

Alex slowly nodded. "I k-know, Mom. If I c-could just not feel like I'm f-freezing so m-much, I think I would feel a l-lot better."

Patty rose and went to his closet, where she extracted a comforter. "This isn't very heavy," she said, returning to the bedside, "but I know it will help, regardless." She arranged it over him, tucking it along his sides before sitting back down. They remained quiet until Brett returned with the requested items, which Patty accepted and administered accordingly. At last, she leaned in and kissed his forehead. "Try to sleep a little, okay? I'll be back up and check on you soon." Looking up to Brett, she smiled at their visitor. "He probably just needs some rest and pampering, so don't stay too long, okay?"

"I won't ma'am," Brett replied, watching her as she then left the room. Sitting down beside Alex, he observed his friend for a few moments before speaking in a low tone. "Alex? I'm going to go now. Call me when you're feeling better, alright?"

Alex opened his eyes then and grunted. "Thanks, Brett. I p-promise, I will. M-Maybe you c-can find another excuse t-to come s-see me naked a-again," he whispered, but then grinned weakly. "Sorry, m-man, I'm just t-teasing!"

Brett grinned back. "I know you are. You know, I guess that's two I owe you, now."

Alex shook his head, however. "You don't o-owe me anything. I k-knew what I was d-doing. J-just take care of yourself, okay? D-Don't catch t-this c-crap!"

"I won't. Just make sure you recover, okay? We have camp to go to in a week, remember?" Brett replied. Alex nodded and then closed his eyes, then before long Brett detected a slower gait in the teen's raspy breathing. Standing quietly, he then left the room. In the kitchen he met Patty. "If there's anything I can do, just let me know, okay Mrs. Branham? And I do mean it, anything."

Patty glanced at him curiously, but then nodded. "I know you do, and trust me, I'll let you know if there is. He'll be fine, but he may need a couple of days to recuperate. If he gets worse though, I'll let you know and we can both take him to a doctor if you like," she reassured him.

It was late Sunday evening before Alex sat up in bed with a bean bag propped behind him. Since Brett's departure, the teenager had lived through a rough spell, alternating between states of feeling cold and sweating profusely. His mother had commented at one point that he must have caught something pretty horrible for it to hang around that long, but secretly the teen chastised himself. He felt he already knew what had spawned his illness this time, at least to the state it achieved. He should have not fallen asleep that night in the rain, nor certainly remained outside for such an extended length of time. Although he hadn't felt any ill effects right away, it obviously had weakened his body's immune system. Then over the next few days the bug blossomed into full force and entrapped him. He knew he would have to be much more careful, if he ever repeated the routine again.

Alex turned the page in the book he was holding and read the final paragraphs. He had always been interested in most of the Tom Clancy novels, but this one being an earlier effort, The Hunt for Red October, he thought was one of the best he had read yet. Suspense thrillers of this type fascinated him, and as he set the finished book aside, he made a mental note to find more like it.

Looking across the room, the teenager stared out the window as the sun was finally setting, casting shadows from the tree lines and hills across the landscape. Sleep was an annoying byproduct right now, as he had already spent many hours dozing away while his body's defenses rebuilt. Right now, he felt restless. The host of puzzle books and magazines no longer interested him as he pushed them aside. Picking up his cell phone, he started to call Brett, then thought better of it in favor of first seeing if the teen was online. Getting up, he retrieved the laptop and started the process of booting it up, before heading for a much-needed bathroom break.

When he re-entered the room, he heard a knock at the door and turning, he saw his mother there with a tray of food. "Hi, honey. How's it going?" she asked, entering the room.

Alex continued to his bed and climbed back in, though sitting up as before. "Better, I think. No big chills today, at least."

Patty set the tray down, then felt her son's forehead before nodding with approval. "It seems you've finally broken your fever, so that's good. Are you hungry any at all?"

"Actually, yeah – what's on the menu?" he answered, smiling at her.

"Well, I wasn't sure what you'd want, so I fixed some homemade chicken soup and Dixie-loaf sandwiches. There's also some banana pudding here, if you want," she replied, picking up the tray and setting it into his lap.

Alex beamed at her happily. "Wow! Full meal deal, then! This is awesome!"

Patty grunted. "You haven't eaten a lot for the last couple of days, I know. I figured you might be getting hungrier as you got better." She saw the laptop's screen come alive. "Planning to get online again?" she asked.

"I thought I might see if Brett was online, yeah," Alex replied.

Patty nodded. "He came by yesterday afternoon, but you were sleeping so we didn't disturb you. I think he has some money to turn in, something about one of your clients paid up."

Alex raised an eyebrow. "Hmm, maybe. I thought we collected every- Oh, wait…" The teen paused and then nodded. "We did have one that was outstanding, yeah. That must be it."

"He said when he left here Friday, he met the guy on the road going home," Patty explained. "Is there anything you need? More books, or …?"

"No!" Alex exclaimed, and then laughed. "I'm starting to get bored out of my mind now as it is. Thanks for supper though, I'll bring the tray down after a while and visit the rest of you natives."

Patty laughed, then nodded. "Well, let me know if you need anything else." She leaned in and kissed his cheek, but then paused before coming back up. "Oh, and as soon as you feel like it, you really should get a shower or something. That will do wonders for making you feel better, too. All that sweating has started to sour your hair, I think."

"Will do, Mom," he replied, blushing. He had already noted the stickiness he was feeling all over and had planned something for the near future. As she left, he took a bite of his sandwich before turning the laptop to face him. Finally reaching the desktop screen, he went through the process of once again attaching to their neighbor's WiFi and linking himself into the internet. He quickly found his way to the chat rooms, and immediately saw ThatDamnedTeen in the list. Almost just as quickly, Brett pinged him into a private room. "Hey, hey! Welcome back to the world of the living!" was flashed to the screen.

Alex popped a smiley-faced emoticon in reply with its tongue stuck out, then activated his video. Brett did the same almost instantaneously from his end. "Hey, suppertime! What's on the menu?" he asked, his eyebrows arched high as he craned his neck up, as if he could peer over the bottom of the video window to see underneath.

Alex laughed. "That's exactly what I asked my Mom when she brought it up here!" He tilted the screen so that his friend could then see the platter better. "Basically, just soup and sandwich, although she made me an extra sandwich for some reason. Oh, and some pudding."

Brett shrugged. "Sounds tasty enough for me. So, are you finally feeling better?"

"I'm doing tons better now, thanks to you," Alex replied.

"Me? I didn't do anything," Brett declared in mock surprise. "You're the one who was wheezing like an old, gray-haired man with asthma!"

Alex grunted. "Yeah, I know. It got worse before it got better, though."

"That's what your Mom told me yesterday," Brett replied, making a face. "I like you a lot, Alex, but I'm personally glad I didn't stick around for any of that!" The teen then shifted around until he was sitting up in bed and had placed his laptop upon his thighs. "So, if you had to gauge it, how much better are you?" he asked.

Alex shrugged. "I'm holding together a lot better now, though I'm really kind of antsy. I've been holed up all weekend, and I'm starting to get bored out of my mind, you know?"

"Yeah, I understand. Do you think your parents would mind if I come down for a little while?" Brett asked.

"Uh… are you sure you want to? I mean, I might be doing better, but I wouldn't want you catching the crud," Alex explained. "But… honestly? I really wouldn't mind having some company right now, even if it was for just a little while."

Brett nodded. "I know how you feel. Just give the word, I can be there in like 15 to 20 minutes or so."

"Okay, uh, hold on a minute." Alex then found his cell phone and sent a text to his mother. While he waited for a reply, he took another bite of his sandwich. A moment later the phone buzzed, signaling a reply, and when Alex read the response, he smiled. "She said it was okay with her, as long as I was up for it."

"Cool! Uh, that is, you ARE up for it… right?" Brett asked, teasingly.

Alex stared at the monitor before lowering his voice. "Get your ass down here, Edwards!" Brett laughed and then saluted him before closing the video window, and subsequently logging out of the site. Alex did the same and shutdown the laptop, pushing it aside. For the next few minutes he attacked his dinner, surprising even himself at how hungry he was. When it came to his second sandwich, however, he wrapped it in the paper towel and set it aside, choosing instead to dig into the banana pudding.

Finishing, Alex then stacked everything into the tray and rose from the bed, before walking down the steps and into the kitchen. Surprisingly, he found his mother there filling another bowl with more pudding. She looked up and then grunted. "This is for Brett, since I'm assuming he'll be here any minute now," she announced. She had barely finished her sentence when there came a knock at the back door. Grinning, Alex went and opened it, letting his friend inside. Carrying a backpack, he shifted it to his other shoulder as he closed the door behind him.

"Yo! So, you're up and about at least!" he observed, just as Patty approached.

"He thinks he is, anyway. I say he needs to stay down until at least morning, though. And he doesn't need to clean any more cars for another day or two at least. You two could probably use the break, anyway," Patty mused before handing Brett the bowl. "Here, I figured you might like some of this."

Brett's face split into a wide grin. "Oh, yeah! Thanks Mrs. B!" With that, both boys made their way to the staircase and back up to the second level. Upon arriving, Alex crossed to where he had laid the sandwich. "Here, I saved this for you, too, if you want it," he explained, handing the wrapped food over.

Brett eagerly took the proffered wrapping and then nodded enthusiastically. "Oh boy, absolutely, positively yes!" He looked up as he set the backpack down. "Mom has been on one of her health food thingies this weekend. You know, celery this, asparagus that, carrots, watercress, rice… Some of it's okay, but some of it is … ugh!" He plopped down into the bean bag and unwrapped the sandwich before proceeding to devour it. His first bite in, he paused long enough to close his eyes and savor the flavor. "MMMmmmm……. I don't know, what is this meat though? It's good, but I don't recognize it."

Alex laughed, then returned to his bed, climbing under what now only consisted of a sheet, before settling in. "Dixie loaf. It's kind of like spiced lunch meat, but without the spice." He stretched out again before continuing. "Everything going okay? Anything new hit us this weekend?"

Between mouthfuls, Brett shook his head and then explained about meeting their client on his way home Friday. "He paid us $60, said he was impressed and all. It's in the outside pocket of my bag, there. I don't know man, if everyone is going to give us the $60, we might as well raise our price, shouldn't we?"

Alex, however, shook his head. "They do that because they like giving us the extra, I think. If we raise it to match, then they won't feel that way anymore. Understand? And besides, it's not a bad wage for two to three hours, right? For the both of us?"

"Yeah, I guess you're right." Brett then looked about. "Got anything to drink up here?"

Alex hesitated. "Just my soda, but… I've drank from it already."

"So?" Brett shrugged, then saw the bottle and took it from the nightstand. "You don't have the plague, do you?" Before Alex could answer, he removed the top and took a long drink. "Ah, that hit the spot!"

Alex shook his head. "Please don't blame me if you catch this stuff, okay?"

"I'm not going to catch anything," Brett admonished. "I mean, if I were, I would already have it, I think, as we've been together so much and everything."

"True, but, well…" Alex finally relented. He lay back into the bean bag. "It's like you said though, we leave for camp in only a few days, right?"

Brett nodded. "You bet!" The teen then paused to pull his beanbag up onto the bed and place it next to Alex's. Plopping down, he then grabbed the bowl of pudding. "Oh, good, she used vanilla wafers!" Looking over, he explained. "Mom has this habit of just using Graham crackers in ours, which is okay, but I honestly like wafers better. More of a cookie crunch, you know?"

"Then, there you go... Have at it," Alex replied, nodding. He waited patiently, as Brett practically inhaled the bowl's contents before setting it down. "Thanks man," the teen offered, smacking his lips. "That hit the spot, believe me!"

Alex laughed. "The way you wolfed it all down, I can believe it."

Brett glanced at him, but then shrugged off the comment good-naturedly. Instead, now that the bed was mostly cleared, the teenager suddenly rolled over and captured his friend in his arms, locking him up underneath. Before Alex could react, Brett began poking and tickling him underneath his armpits, as well as along his ribs. The two then pursued a subdued, but continuous match of resolve, rough-housing each other as Alex tried desperately to escape. Eventually he understood he was not up to par for this and, while lying on his stomach laughing hard, he finally relented. "Okay, o-okay! I g-give, I give!" he hissed.

Brett paused, loosening his hold to give his friend some reprieve, but kept him trapped underneath. "That's for teasing me the other night, about trying to get you naked again," he whispered. "I don't need to try, you know. Right? I mean, we both already know it's cool."

Alex relaxed in the arms holding him. "Did I say that? I don't remember it, really…" Becoming thoughtful, however, he nodded. "Wait, yeah I do. You helped get me out of the tub or something, didn't you? And… I think you dried me off too, right?"

"Yeah," Brett whispered. "And then I said something about coming back if you needed anything, and you accused me of…"

"Okay, I remember, yeah. I accused you of finding another excuse to come catch me naked again, or something like that, yeah." Alex then rolled over to look up into the face of his best friend, grinning. "Sorry man, I was probably just trying to be cute, but didn't have all my marbles together. I was feeling like crap then, remember?"

Brett nodded. "I know, that's why you only got a first-grade half-tickling."

"Huh?" Alex asked, confused.

"When Gina and I wrestle around some, we put grades on how bad we get. Grade one is like a little tickling until the other gives, and then it goes up to grade four where it's an all-out wrestling match, with no holds barred - as long as you don't punch someone in their nuts or anything," Brett explained, grinning. "You are allowed to grab though, as long as you're careful! No holds barred!" the teen added, his voice low.

Alex scoffed. "You guys…" he started, but then shook his head. "I'll never learn all these things," he mused.

Brett laughed. "Yeah, you will. You just have to be around us enough, or around me, anyway."

"Brett, other than for getting sick or something, I'm around you almost every day!" Alex told him in a low voice. "Of course, I'm not complaining any, just…"

"I know, bro," Brett replied, nodding. "But seriously, you already know a lot of stuff. You'll learn even more in the months to come, so don't sweat it."

Alex nodded, and then watched his companion as the seconds extended into minutes, the silence between them punctuated only by their breathing. "I am sorry, though," Alex finally stated. "About what I said - especially if it made you feel weird or anything."

Brett nodded. "About catching you naked? Nah, it didn't, I promise. That's all I wanted to hear. We each know we trust the other, right? That's why I stayed the other day, not because I was waiting or wanting to see you naked again, but just so I could help. Remember? I did sort of help you get out of the tub and all. Honestly, I didn't care about your plumbing."

Alex giggled. "But you did take your time around it, didn't you?" Seeing Brett blush, he shook his head. "I know, Brett, don't worry about it," Alex whispered. "I'm just being dumb. Kind of a weak moment, I guess. You know, trying to be funny, but… well, I failed."

Brett pulled up and grinned widely. "No, you didn't fail, because you were actually right. I did like drying you off, especially when I got around to your downstairs department at the end."

Alex laughed before turning his head, blushing deeply. "You screwball…" When Brett laughed, Alex reached up and pulled his friend into a full body hug once again. "I'll say it again, Brett, I love you, bro. You're my best friend."

"What? Oh wow… Really? Honestly?" Brett asked in amusement, nuzzling his neck.

"Oh yeah, definitely. Besides, you told me not to forget it, right?" Alex replied in a softer tone.

Brett smirked. "That was for me loving you, numb-nuts - not the other way around!"

"So?" Alex scoffed, but held on tightly.

"Alex?" Brett sighed before whispering again. "Thanks, man. You… I don't know, you just do a lot for me sometimes, like that stuff."

"What, letting you see my bare ass?" Alex asked, but when Brett didn't answer, he shrugged. "I know it makes you feel good. To be honest, it kind of makes me feel good, too."

"Really? How so?" Brett whispered, pulling back to stare at the other teen.

Alex shrugged. "I don't know. It's like, it helps me have more confidence in myself, I guess. Around you I don't feel like I'm some kind of a weirdo or anything."

Brett shook his head. "You? A weirdo? No way! Alex, if you think you're a weirdo, then count me in, too. I'm the one who started this whole being-naked-and-trust-thing between us, remember?" he remarked, blushing.

"You may have started it, but I'm the one who is kind of just now catching on. Anyway, before we met, I didn't know much about any of this stuff as it was. I mean, I knew what it meant to be straight and gay and all that, but uh, neither Mom nor Dad ever really talked to me about stuff like that," Alex admitted.

"Really? How did you learn it then? From TV?" Brett asked.

"Sometimes, but you'll probably laugh. I learned what little I know mostly from books. I found something called The Joy of Sex in the library a couple of years ago. It showed all this stuff between men and women," Alex replied quietly. "I didn't get to look all the way through it, though. It wasn't like I could check it out and bring it home or anything. I had to find, like, a corner or somewhere out of the way where I could thumb through it and stuff."

Brett grinned. "Wow! I've heard of it, but if the library here has it then it's in a restricted section or something." A look of new-found respect appeared. "Wow, so I guess you have seen, or at least know about a lot of stuff then."

Alex shrugged. "Maybe, I don't know. Some stuff, I guess. But, Brett," The teen paused, carefully searching for the right words. "You know there's a lot I don't know about, too."

Brett nodded. "Yeah, same here Alex." His expression changed. "I- I hope you don't think I'm some kind of sex-freak or something," he stated worriedly.

Alex laughed. "No, Brett, I don't. I think we're both fine." To emphasize that fact, he raised his hips and thrust their groins together. "I'm not afraid of you, remember? We're just two friends finding stuff out, only we're kind of doing it together, remember? I'm just glad it's you and me."

Brett crossed his arms upon Alex's chest and stared down into the eyes that met his. "You don't know how glad that makes me feel."

Alex nodded. "Actually, I think I do." They lay there for a moment before he spoke again. "These last couple of days have been bad, Brett, but you know what? Your being here tonight is really awesome. I missed you - a lot."

Brett sighed. "I missed you a lot, too. So, don't get sick on me again, okay?"

"Okay," Alex whispered. After a moment, he asked, "So? How long have you got tonight? Are you going to stay, or…?"

Brett pulled back, looking apologetic. "Sorry man. I asked if I could, in case you would let me, but Mom wouldn't let me stay, especially knowing how sick you've been. I promised I would be back by ten at the latest." Glancing at the clock, he grunted. "That gives me maybe 40 more minutes or so before I have to leave."

"That's okay, I understand. Some night though, I'm going to get you to stay with me all night. Maybe when it's raining, too."

"Why is that?" Brett asked.

Alex looked at him in surprise. "You've never listened to rain under a roof and all? I mean, there's some metal sheathing and vents and stuff right above us here, too, and when I open the windows, you can hear a lot when it falls."

Brett shrugged. "Nope, I don't think so. I mean, my bedroom is downstairs, remember?"

Alex grinned at him. "Then you're in for a treat, and soon, I promise." He became passive again, thinking aloud. "Did you say 40 minutes?" Brett nodded, so Alex lowered his voice again. "So, um, do want to help me in and out of the shower again?"

Brett started giggling. "Alex, if you're trying to make me feel good again, I-"

"No, no!" Alex cut him off before explaining. "Mom was up here a bit ago, and she told me I needed to go through the wringer. She's actually right about that - I've sweated so much the last couple of days, I probably do smell somewhat. You know, as in stink. Even if I don't, I sort of feel sticky and everything. So, before you said you were coming down and all, I really was going to take a shower."

"You don't stink, Alex, not to me anyway." Brett hesitated for a long moment. "You were serious though, weren't you?"

Alex laughed. "You don't have to get in with me, Brett, if that's what you're thinking. Even if you did, it wouldn't do either of us much good. You know, to do anything."

Brett blushed deeply. "I… uh…"

Alex grinned at him. "See? You're not the only one thinking about that stuff." He then rolled away to the edge of the bed, crawling out from under his friend. Leaning out, he grasped Brett's hand and pulled, guiding him around until the teen stood in front of him. Raising his arms, he sat there waiting. Brett glanced at the doorway, his eyebrows arcing with an unspoken question.

"They won't come up, Brett, I promise. Besides, you don't have to do a lot, if you don't want to," Alex relented. "I'm just, like, giving you the chance if you want."

"I will do anything you want to and let me, bro. Just… I don't want us to get caught, that's all," the teen whispered.

Alex nodded thoughtfully. "Your sister isn't here, and I don't have a dog or cat. If I'm lucky, Mom and Dad are probably already in bed anyway, especially now since they know you're up here." He smiled. "You're more than welcome to strip me if you like, but only if you want to, though."

Brett smiled, then reached out and pulled Alex's t-shirt up and over his head. In the light from the bedroom lamp, he paused once again and ran his fingers gently over the scars there, something that Alex found soothing. "You really shouldn't worry about these, Alex. They don't make you freakish or anything," Brett whispered after a moment. "But, it's like you said, they are definitely a part of you." He smiled, then helped pull Alex to his feet. Stepping closer, Alex placed his hand upon Brett's shoulder.

"I don't worry, Brett. Not anymore," the teen murmured softly. Brett then nodded, before trailing his fingers down to Alex's navel. He lingered there only seconds, however, before reaching down into the waistband of the sweats Alex was wearing. Separating the outer band from the inner briefs, he pulled the waist out and loose before dropping them to the floor. Alex quietly stepped out of them and then stood, waiting.

Brett glanced between them and smiled. "Something like this, I would probably have a steel boner right now," he whispered.

Alex glanced down too, but then shrugged. "Meh, it's not a sexy enough moment, I guess. But… it IS something I'll try to remember… just for you."

"I'm glad," Brett replied, to Alex's surprise. Brett then poked both hands into the remaining briefs before pulling the waistband out and stooping over, lowering them to the floor directly. Standing back, he admired his friend. "This is what I love the most about us, Alex. I could forget all about the sex, just the … you know, how willing you are to do all of this, even for me." As a last gesture, Brett reached out and lifted Alex's uncircumcised member once, observing it again before gently letting it go.

"Hey now, you do it for me, too," Alex acknowledged, stepping out of his underwear. While he was at it, he also tapped one foot onto the other to remove his sock, then repeated the performance again until he was standing there totally in the buff. "This is what, four times now, right?" he smirked.

Brett rolled his eyes before replying, his voice a guttural growl. "If you make one more quip about me trying to get you this way-" He stopped in surprise as Alex leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.

"No way, I don't have to, remember?" the teen teased, then started toward the bathroom. "You don't need to leave yet, okay? I'll be out and back pretty quick."

Brett watched Alex as he moved away until he was gone. When he heard the water for the shower engage, he plopped down on the corner of the bed, smiling but shaking his head at himself. Now, in just over a week's time, his best friend had proven to him time and again that nothing had changed between them, except this ever-increasing empowerment they were giving to each other. 'No', Brett thought to himself - it was Alex giving it to him. Brett wanted to respect it, but somehow give it back, too. He knew he would, and soon enough.

Some ten minutes later the teenager returned, this time with a towel loosely wrapped around his waist. Seeing Brett still there made Alex smile as proceeded to his dresser, where he extracted the usual garments. Turning around, he tossed them over to Brett before moving to stand directly in front of him. "Want to make it five times now?" he whispered.

Brett grinned at him, and then in silence stood and unfolded the t-shirt. Reaching out, he slipped it over the outstretched arms and pulled it down. As he grasped the briefs, Alex let loose the towel and dropped it upon the bed. Brett glanced up at first, but then stooped over and let the teen step through the leggings, before pulling the garment up into place. "All comfy now?" he smirked, teasing Alex.

"Oh, yes," Alex replied. "How about you? Get another good bird's-eye view?" When Brett started to blush again, Alex stepped closer and put his arms around him. "You know something? I think I'm gonna have to stop some of these hugs. You can't keep from blushing, and yet it was me, all those weeks leading up to last weekend, that was blushing at this stuff."

Brett laughed. "Don't stop, though. I like hugs, remember? Besides, you… you've taught me something else, though."

"What's that?"

Brett cocked his head to one side. "Do you really have to ask that one?"

Alex shook his head. "Nope, not really. Do you really have to wonder why I do this, though?"

Brett smiled. "No, I don't," he whispered. "The only thing I'm worried about is how we're going to make it thru camp, because I can't help but want to hold you, and cuddle, and feel you all over, and… You get the idea, right? I might not be able to keep my hands off of you, especially at night!"

Alex smiled. "You said we'd be alone, right? At night, in our room?"

"Yeah, so?"

Alex acquired a knowing look. "Then don't worry about it." Leaning in, he added in a whisper. "You're not the only one going to do those things, bro."

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