Castle Roland

The Chosen

by Andrew Todd

In Progress

Chapter 9

Posted: 9 Oct 14

The Chosen

Andrew Todd

"I thought you knew what you were doing?" Alex teased Dyson when the computer again failed to boot up.

"Do you want to try?" Dyson asked sarcastically.

Dave laughed. "Alex, there's a difference between building these things and programming them," he explained. "That's a big reason that I got a job at the store. I'm a hacker, like I suspect Dyson is." Dyson grinned and nodded. "I could program, and did, and make these things sing as long as they were turned on; but if something happened to the hardware I was lost. They teach you some of it in school, but a lot of programmers think the 'maintenance' part is beneath them. I'd rather rely on myself than someone else to keep my equipment going."

"So how did you get around this before?" Alex asked Dyson.

"Father had a basic computer set up when I started and I added bits and pieces as time went on--I never really thought much about the hardware issue; but Dave's right, I always had someone from the store install anything major."

"You really should learn more about this stuff, Dyson," Dave suggested. "I get the feeling whatever you are doing is not something you want to have to rely on outsiders and repairmen to help you with."

Alex and Dyson exchanged a glance while Dave was behind the desk checking the cables.

"Dice, did we make a mistake?"

"What do you mean?"

"What if Dave says something to someone?"

"I don't think he would, honestly he only suspects that I'm a hacker, he doesn't know the truth."

"But it could lead someone here."

"Take a breath, Alex. I've never seen you nervous. Dave's cool. In fact, we could probably use someone with his skills to help us out."

"I don't know how Dad and Pop would feel about that."

"Alex, this whole thing is bigger than just your family. We need to be careful, but we're going to eventually need allies. How good are you at doing a scan?"

"I don't think I could poke around without him knowing I was there."

"When Benji and Oliver get back, we can have Benji scan him and we can see if I'm right and we can trust him and Stevie."

"Are you guys still with me?" Dave asked. "You looked like you had both zoned out for a second."

"Just tired, I guess," Alex said. "We were running around all day yesterday and I didn't get much sleep last night."

"I know what you mean," Dave said. "I thought today was going to be a relaxing day for me and Stevie, cuz the first few weeks of the semester have been brutal."

"Sorry, man."

Dave shook his head and smiled. "No, it actually looks like it's gonna turn out good," he replied. "Stevie wasn't too pleased with me last night when I told him about the change in plans for today, but I think meeting your dad got me out of the doghouse and if he's having half the time I think he is with your brother, I'm sure I'm completely forgiven. He's been a little down the last few months. He grew up an outdoors kid and it's hard for him to be in the city all the time. He really misses riding most of all. L.A.'s got its parks and mountains and rural areas, but we just don't get much time to see them."

"Hey, Benji is always looking for people to ride with, so I'm sure Stevie and you would be welcome anytime."

"I'm sure Stevie would appreciate it, he's a real cowboy," Dave said. "But I'm lucky if I can get the horse to go in the right direction."

Alex laughed. "Then you can ride along with me. Benji's been trying to teach me for years. I'm decent, but nowhere near as good as he and Oliver are."

"What about you, Dyson?" Dave asked.

Dyson shook his head. "I've never even been on a merry-go-round."

"Well, we need to get you some practice then," Alex declared.


"Columbus Day weekend, Benji wants you and I to go with him and Oliver up the coast. He wants to camp on the beach and do some trails."

"Seriously?" Dyson asked nervously.

Alex grinned and nodded. "Don't worry. He and Oliver will take you out a time or two before we go so that you can get the hang of things and I'm sure Dale will let us borrow a couple of slow ones."

"Sounds like fun," Dave piped up.

"You guys should come too," Alex offered.

"Oh, no, I don't want to impose on your plans."

"You wouldn't be," Alex countered. "We'd probably have to borrow a second trailer, but I know we could borrow the horses--Dale thinks the sun rises and sets on my brother. It will be fun."

Dave nodded. "I'll ask Stevie. Though I'm sure he'll be all in."

"Great." Alex smiled. "Say, Dave, you keep talking about where Stevie's from and his background, what about you and your family?"

Dave's face fell for a moment. "Stevie is my family," he said. "And I'm his. I have parents and brothers and sisters, but I'm dead to them."

"I'm sorry," Alex said.

Dave smiled shyly. "Don't be." He took a deep breath and exhaled. "I grew up in Utah and was raised in the Mormon church," he explained. "I'm the youngest of seven and the church is everything where I grew up. The church is very strict; it controls every aspect of your life. I knew from a very young age that I didn't 'fit'. I questioned everything. Especially when it came to the church's teachings. I wasn't trying to be contrary, like my parents and the elders were always accusing me of, I was simply curious and trying to understand why we did the things we did. The answer was always, 'because God says so', which is not much of an answer.

"By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was a complete outsider. This was also the time I discovered computers. We had always used them, but under strict control. I had been given an old laptop by my oldest brother to do my homework on. My parents, of course, put all sorts of 'safeguards' on it, but I quickly discovered I had an aptitude for disabling them. Once that was done, I started exploring the world and I learned so much. Not the least of which was that I wasn't as odd as I thought I was. I had never said anything about being attracted to boys, even without a clear understanding of what being gay meant--I knew that that was something that would not go over well. I started seeking out advice online. Soon I had a host of advisers, mentors and friends who I finally felt like I could be myself with. I even found a few who had escaped from situations similar to mine. They advised me and helped me to find myself and prepare."

"Prepare for what?" Dyson asked.

"Escape," Dave answered bluntly. "I busted my ass in high school getting the best grades I could and keeping myself out of trouble. I was never going to fit in, but I joined a few clubs: stuff like choir, National Honor Society, Science Club, things my parents couldn't object to, but that would also look good on college applications.

"A few months into my senior year, I started sending out college applications. It was difficult. I was supposed to go on my mission right after high school and defer college until after."

"Mission, what's that?" Alex queried.

"We're expected to go out into the world as volunteers. They send you to a different city in pairs and you do missionary work, and work for the church," Dave explained. "They tell you it's voluntary, but refusing to go on your mission would pretty much destroy your standing in the church.

"So, my parents and the elders were planning to ship me off right after graduation. That meant I had to be very careful in sending out my applications. One of my internet mentors lived about an hour away. He had left the church and been disowned by his family. He offered to let me use his address for all my applications so nothing would come to my house. He also taught me a good bit about hacking, so we were able to get into the school's computers and get a copy of my transcripts.

"When I sent out my applications, I was very honest in my essays about why I was applying and what my situation was. I even told them about having to steal my transcripts so I could apply. I was on tenterhooks for a couple months waiting for replies. One week in March, I started getting e-mails from my friend every night. I was accepted to five out of the six colleges I applied to. All of them offered me some kind of financial aid package, but UCLA offered me a full-ride scholarship and I could start there during their summer session. I immediately accepted and started working on 'phase two' of my escape plan."

"Almost sounds like 'Mission: Impossible.'" Alex grinned.

Dave smiled and nodded. "At times, I thought it might be. The closer it got to graduation the more nervous I got. I turned eighteen about a week before, so legally I was an adult, but still, it would be hard around there to get away if the elders and my parents got their hands on me and tried to force me to go on the mission or worse."

"Worse?" Alex asked. "What could be worse than being shipped off on a mission?"

"Aversion therapy," Dave stated. "I found out through several of my friends that there was a common practice to send suspected homosexual kids to 'camps' where they would undergo therapy until they were 'cured'."

"CURED?!?" Alex yelled. "You can't 'cure' being gay!! It's not a disease!!"

Dave nodded. "I know that and you know that," he said. "We know that people are born this way, but they believe that we are choosing to be this way or that Satan is corrupting us and the aversion therapy will heal us or save us."

"That's the biggest bunch of bullshit I've ever heard! Dice, have you ever heard of that?"

Dyson nodded. "I've read about it. Several of the 'camps' and 'programs' have been sued successfully over what they've done to the kids that have been sent to them. It's just good that Dave got away."

"I was lucky," Dave agreed. "After graduation, there was a small gathering at my house. Just some family and close friends. I made the rounds and most of the guest handed me envelopes which I was hoping would contain at least some cash, because that was part of the plan. When the party was in full swing and I had greeted everyone, I slipped away for a few minutes. I tore through the envelopes and extracted all the cash that was there. Luckily, thinking that my parents would get their hands on it and most of it would go to the church, people were quite generous. There was enough for my needs. I stacked the envelopes neatly on my dresser, so they looked like I had simply set them aside if anyone looked.

"After the party, when everyone had left but my family, we were all gathered in the living room. My father was about to start in on one of his family speeches, when I stopped him and asked if I could say something. He nodded and there was silence. I stood in front of my parents and my brothers and sisters and told them that I was gay and that I wasn't going to go on my mission.

"That got the reaction I was expecting. All hell broke loose. My father started screaming and yelling, my mother was crying. My three brothers charged at me and my sisters circled my mother to 'comfort' her. My father ordered my brothers to lock me in my room while he called the elders to deal with me. I was not to be let out of my room.

"My oldest brother led the way, while the other two each held an arm and practically dragged me up the stairs. When we were outside of my room, my oldest brother, Isaiah, grabbed me roughly and practically threw me into the room. I landed hard on the floor and by the time I turned he had slammed and locked the door. I knew they would be keeping watch outside the door, but that was the plan. I quickly and quietly changed into the clothes that I had left out behind my door. A black pair of jeans, t-shirt, black hoodie and sneakers. I quietly opened my window and looked down. Earlier that afternoon, when everyone had been out and getting things ready, I had removed the screen from this window. There was a trellis that I was hoping would hold my weight--luckily it did. I slipped down the trellis and grabbed the bag that I had left behind the bushes with some clothes and my computer in it.

"I had to move quickly; if anyone who knew me saw me before I made it to my first stop, I was screwed. Luckily, someone was looking out for me. I made it to the bus station and bought a ticket to the town my friend lived in. Later that night, he picked me up at the bus station and I stayed with him for a few days. I was reported as a runaway in the local papers, so I laid low for a bit.

"I knew they weren't too concerned with finding me, they just had to look like they cared. After a week with my friend, I took a bus to L.A. and started life at UCLA. I completed the summer session and then in the fall I met Stevie. It wasn't exactly love at first sight, but by Christmas we were a couple and by the end of freshman year we wanted to move in together which is what we did."

"Wow…" Alex muttered. "You've really been through the wringer."

"I don't look at it that way," Dave answered. "I knew my whole life I was in the wrong place and I did what I had to and now I'm in a really good place."

"I can't believe that it's that bad. Are all Mormons like that?"

Dave shook his head. "No. Of course, growing up, I thought so. But, after I left and had a chance to get out into the world and meet people I found out it's like a lot of other religions and groups: there are zealots who believe what they believe, facts and science be damned, and then there are those who let their faith and the realities of the world come together. I've met a lot of those people. I've even gone to some of their churches to see if I could find my faith again. But, I'm too far gone. I believe in God, but not the God I was raised to believe in and I don't believe in any type of organized religion. I don't need a special building to pray. I can do it in my apartment next to the man I love."

Charlie dug in and sprinted the last twenty yards to the wall and touched. He pushed himself back from the wall and lazily kicked as he floated on his back. He was startled to hear the sound of two hands clapping. He righted himself and scanned the sides of the pool until his eyes fell where the sound was coming from.

Hunter Langston stood on the side of the pool watching him and slowly clapping.

"Pretty good, Charlie!" Hunter called, a leering smile on his lips.

Charlie dove under the rope next to him and rolled his eyes behind his goggles.

When he came up standing in the next lane, Hunter was standing there watching him.

Hunter was a senior and the captain of the aquatics team. He was 6'2" with a classic swimmer's body, lean muscles, tight pecs topped with a light dusting of hair, washboard abs and strong calves and thighs. He had short brown hair, which had been lightened by a summer in the sun and dark green eyes. His skin was richly tanned from spending most of the holiday lying by his parents' pool.

Hunter had been the hero of the team until Charlie had arrived last year. He always acted like he was Charlie's best friend, head cheerleader and mentor, but Charlie always saw him for the phony he was.

"Hey, Hunter. I thought you were gone for the weekend."

Hunter smiled showing his dazzling white teeth. "I was, but things were boring so I decided to come back early. I thought I'd get some practice in. Didn't think you'd be here on such a beautiful day."

Charlie laughed to himself. Hunter knew damn good and well that he would be in the pool. One of the reasons he stayed at school on long weekends like this was the privacy he had at the pool.

"I was just getting some practice in before I meet my roommate and some friends for dinner," he explained.

Hunter slipped into the pool. "Let me warm up and we can race a little," he offered. "Get some real practice."

Charlie shrugged. "Sure. I've got a little bit of time."

He pulled himself out of the pool and sat on the side with his feet dangling in the pool while Hunter swam a few laps to warm up. Hunter finally stopped and pulled himself out of the pool and walked around to one of the starting blocks.

"Why don't we start with a 400 IM?" he suggested. "Since we both have to race it at the next meet."

Charlie laughed to himself. He knew this was Hunter's way of giving himself an ego-boost at Charlie's expense. The IM or individual medley was not Charlie's best event. It was a race that required the participants to swim equal lengths of butterfly, backstroke, breast stroke, and freestyle. Charlie was not the fastest swimmer when it came to breast stroke and everyone knew that. Since he was the fastest person on the team when it came to freestyle and butterfly and one of the two fastest at backstroke he usually swam an IM event to challenge himself even though it was usually the one event he didn't win.

"Sure," he nodded as he slipped into the pool and did a few strokes to work out the kinks.

"Great." Hunter smiled smugly and he dropped into his lane next to Charlie's.

Charlie pulled himself out of the pool and took his spot on the block. He looked over at Hunter. "Do you want to call it?"

"You can."

Charlie shrugged. In a meet race, there would be a starter who would give them direction and start them; since they were alone, Charlie would give the direction and then start them. Charlie knew good and well that Hunter would try for an early start since there would be no judges to call him for a false start.

"Swimmers take your blocks." Both boys stepped onto the starting blocks. "Swimmers take your marks." Both got into position. Charlie took a breath and glanced over at Hunter. The older boy's body was a coiled spring. Charlie could see when he was going to let go. "GO!!" he shouted a second after Hunter had launched his body from the block.

Charlie dove cleanly and came up about half a length behind Hunter. He started in with his butterfly stroke. He was ahead of Hunter when they finished the butterfly and Hunter started to catch up through the backstroke. Charlie knew what the senior was waiting for. When he finished his second length of backstroke he turned and flipped his body and started in on the breast stroke.

He saw Hunter turn at almost the same time.

Charlie put all his focus and strength on his swimming and blocked the older boy out of his mind. As his arms moved through the water it felt as if he was actually flying through the pool. He hit the wall and turned and was shocked to see that Hunter was almost a full length behind him. He could feel himself going faster than he ever had at this stroke. It almost felt like the water was helping him along. When he turned at the wall and started his freestyle he was half the pool ahead of Hunter.

He felt Hunter turn and knew the captain was pouring it on. Charlie dug in with all his strength; he flipped at the wall and headed for home. His arms churned and his legs kicked as he propelled himself to the finish. He touched the wall and flipped around to see Hunter still about three lengths behind him.

Hunter hit the wall about three seconds behind Charlie.

The older boy glared at Charlie. "What the hell have you been doing?" he asked.

Charlie shrugged. "I practice just like you do," he replied.

Hunter shook his head. "Kid, I've been watching you for the last year and I've never seen you do a length of breaststroke that fast. You were faster on those lengths than you were for the 'fly."

"I was better than I usually am, but I don't think I was that fast," Charlie objected.

Hunter eyed him suspiciously as he pulled himself out of the pool and grabbed his towel. Something was up with this kid. He should have been able to beat him in this race or at least tie. He was probably taking something.

"Well, I've got to get showered, I have plans," Hunter said abruptly as he walked off towards the locker room.

Charlie rolled his eyes. He should have known that Hunter would have an excuse for losing to him. Sure he'd been faster, but he practiced more than any other member of the team.

He swam over to where he'd left his towel and pulled himself out of the pool. He figured he would work on some dives since he still had a couple of hours to kill.

Dylan pulled his truck up into a space in front of the arena.

"Here it is," he said with a smile. "If you're ever looking for Jesse, this is the first place you check." He laughed.

"Charlie said that went for both of you," Kris replied.

"Last year it did," Dylan agreed. "But I don't get out here as much now that we're working. Jess gets to ride and play every day, but I'm lucky if I get a couple hours a week," he lamented as they exited the truck.

"The barn is over there." Dylan gestured to a large white building about 500 yards away. "The school has ten horses that are used for lessons and shows and then there are some students that have their own here as well. The barn has room for forty."


"Yeah, but we don't have anywhere near that many. This is only the third year of the program. It's grown, but it takes time. There are the school's ten horses, which were all donations and then I think there are probably five horses that belong to students."

"And yours," Kris said with a smirk.

Dylan grinned. "You have been talking to Charlie. Yeah, there are four that belong to me and Jesse as well. Those four will be coming with us when we leave next year. Actually, two will probably go back home and two will stay with us."

"Are you going to compete in college?"

"I know Jesse is. I haven't decided yet. That's another reason for taking the year off. See, Jesse's dad, his bio dad, Trevor, owns a big farm in Wellington, Florida; he's an Olympic rider and he breeds and trains down there. He's the one who got us in here and gave us two of the horses we have. Well, he wants Jesse to join him there and then there's the ranch we consider home that's owned by Jesse's foster dads, plus we may want to just strike out on our own. Jesse's good enough to ride in the Olympics and he could be a great trainer. I think we'll both go for Equine Management degrees and go from there."

"At least you have options."

"We all have options, Kris, sometimes we just haven't found them yet," Dylan said as he led Kris into the arena.

"Shit!!" Kris exclaimed when he saw Jesse riding a huge horse around the covered arena.

Jesse brought the horse to a stop and looked over to where Dylan and Kris stood.

Dylan laughed. "Big, isn't he?"

Jesse rode over to the where the two stood.

Kris nodded. "I thought Charlie was exaggerating," he blurted. "I figured, you know, he's short, so he thought the horse was bigger than he actually was."

Jesse shook his head as he hopped down.

"Nope, Jupiter's a big one," he said with a smile. "Just shy of eighteen hands."

Kris' eyes widened as he walked up to the big horse. He tentatively reached out his hand and gently stroked the horse's muzzle. "And you got Charlie to ride this guy?"

Dylan chuckled. "Actually, Jupe's a good horse for a beginner. He's really easygoing. "When Jesse's dad first gave him to us he was a still a little green, but the guy who trained him, Tony, did an awesome job with him. Actually, Tony was the assistant coach and instructor here for the last two years. He did such a great job, he got an offer to start a new program at a school in Colorado, that's how Jesse got the job this year."

"Hey, boy," Kris said quietly as he continued to stroke the gelding's nose.

Jesse and Dylan looked at each other and grinned. Dylan nodded and Jesse turned back to Kris.

"So, Kris, are you ready for your evaluation?"

Kris's jaw dropped as he looked between Dylan and Jesse who were both flashing him wide smiles. "Evaluation?"

Jesse nodded. "Yup. If you're gonna ride in my program or even take lessons, I need to do an evaluation on you to see where you're at. Jupe's all ready to go and we've got the arena to ourselves, so there's no time like the present."

Kris looked around and then looked down at himself. "I-I-I'm not dressed for it," he stammered.

"You're fine," Dylan countered. "This isn't a competition, we just want to see where your skill level is. Before we start you on formal lessons, we can get you riding clothes."

Kris tried to think of a new excuse. "I don't have a helmet," Kris said triumphantly.

Jesse reached behind the arena wall and came back with a helmet which he handed to Kris.

"This should fit you," he offered. "We can get you one of your own later, but it will do for now."

Kris took the helmet and put it on. He walked alongside the big horse and stroked his neck. "Ok, big guy, I guess it's you and me," he finally said as he led Jupiter into the arena.

Dylan clapped. "There you go!" he cheered as he leaned against the arena wall to watch.

Jesse walked alongside Kris as he led Jupiter to the center of the arena.

"Ok, so I've already done the grooming, tacking and I've warmed him up," Jesse said. "I'm assuming you know all that stuff, but when you have your first lesson, we'll go over it all anyways."

Kris nodded nervously.

Jesse reached up and put his hand on Kris's shoulder. Kris had a good four or five inches of height on him, but he could see the fear and uneasiness in the boy's eyes.

"Kris, it's going to be fine," Jesse said. "Jupiter's the best. He'll take really good care of you. We're not going to do anything tough, I just want to see the basics to get an idea of what I'm working with, alright?"

Kris nodded. "'K."

He led Jupiter next to the mounting block. He checked the girth to make sure it was tight enough and then he stepped onto the block, placed his left foot in the stirrup, took a deep breath and swung into the saddle.

He exhaled slowly as he settled into the seat.

"Here, let me adjust the stirrups," Jesse offered. "You're just a bit taller than me."

Jesse quickly fixed the stirrups so they were comfortable for Kris.

"There you go," Jesse said as he lightly patted Kris's calf. "Just take him around and get used to him. This isn't a test, I just want to see where you're at."

Kris nodded and gave the big horse a slight nudge with his heels. Jupiter moved out at an easy walk and Kris used his left calf to guide him towards the wall.

Jesse nodded as he watched Kris's subtle use of his aids. He suspected that Kris was probably a better rider than he was letting on.

"Do a lap in each direction at a walk to get used to him," Jesse instructed. "And then just do what feels right. It's not a test and you don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with."

Kris nodded and let himself get used to the rhythm of the big horse.

Jesse walked over to where Dylan was waiting at the wall.

"He's relaxing," Dylan said as they watched Kris's shoulders roll and his posture become more natural.

"Did you see him use his calf to move Jupe over to the wall?" Jesse asked.

"Instead of the reins, like most people would. Yeah, I caught that," Dylan replied with a grin.

"I'm betting he's got dressage training."

Dylan nodded as they continued to watch Kris work the big horse. After circling the arena in each direction, Kris moved Jupiter into a collected trot and circled the arena. On his second trip around, tightened his calves and encouraged the big horse widen his stride into a working trot.

Both boys watched as Kris finished his third trip around the arena at the trot. He sat back and slowed the gelding to a walk and he brought him to a halt. The horse stood stock still and then pivoted his rear so that he was facing the other direction and Kris then cued him back into a walk and repeated the course he had done earlier.

Dylan laughed. "I think you have something to work with."

Jesse grinned. "That's the best turn on the forehand I've seen in forever."

"He's got to have at least some dressage training."

"I know."

Kris rode for another twenty minutes of so. Dylan and Jesse were impressed by the younger teen's light hands and his subtle use of aids. By the time Kris finally brought Jupiter to a stop in front of Jesse and Dylan he was grinning ear to ear.

"He's awesome," he said as he stroked the gelding's neck. "He's got so much power, but he's so graceful."

"And you've been holding out on us," Jesse said.

"Wh-wh-what do you mean?" Kris asked nervously as he slipped down off the horse.

"You didn't tell me you were a dressage rider," Jesse said with a grin.

"I'm not," Kris protested. "I, uh…"

"Kris, you did two perfect turns on the forehand and a turn on the haunches. You did side passes over there and there," he pointed to opposite sides of the arena. "You use your legs and heels way more than an average rider would. Most riders would rely more on their reins. You've definitely been dressage trained. Based on what you did today, you could easily win a competition at a training level."

Kris shrugged. "My last trainer was one of the few teachers I had who didn't treat me like shit," he explained. "He was supposed to be teaching basic riding, some jumping to the students. But since I didn't have any friends there and didn't really fit in, he gave me extra private lessons in dressage and he let me practice and ride whenever I wanted. I was only there for one school year, so my stuff is pretty basic."

"But you remembered it all," Dylan said. "And it was flawless."

Jesse nodded. "I told you Jupe was a good horse for a beginner and that's true cuz he's pretty mellow, but for him to do those moves for you and hit those strides on that working trot, you had to be cueing him just right. I doubt he'd do that well for anyone else other than me or Dylan."

"Actually, just Jesse," Dylan laughed. "Dressage isn't my strong suit."

Jesse just shook his head. "Look, Kris, riding is supposed to be fun. Some people never compete because they don't like competition or they don't feel the need; you may be one of those people, but I definitely want you to get riding on your schedule. I'll get you down for lessons with me and you can also come down in your free time and ride."

"Really?" Kris lit up.

"Sure. Jupe already loves you and we've got a couple other horses that you can work with too."


Charlie was lazily floating near the deep end of the pool. He had practiced all the dives he wanted to have ready for the first meet and he was satisfied with them and was relaxing for a few minutes before he headed to the showers and then to meet Kris, Dylan and Jesse.

He heard the locker room door slam and righted himself in the water.

"Charlie!" he heard Hunter call. "You still here?"

Charlie ducked under the water, hoping if Hunter didn't see him he'd just go away.

From his spot under the water, he could see Hunter and two other figures circling the pool. It looked like Riley and Kent two other senior swimmers who hung with Hunter.

Charlie quietly fluttered his hands to push himself deeper into the water. He knew he could only hold his breath for so long and hoped they'd go away.

"Where did the little shit go?"

Charlie looked back up from his spot against the wall at the bottom of the pool. How did he hear that? Underwater you only hear muddled sounds--he heard that perfectly.

"Maybe he left."

"Go check the locker room to see if we missed him," Hunter ordered. "I wanna know what kind of juice that kid is on."

Charlie clung to the wall and hoped they would all go away. The last thing he needed to deal with was Hunter and his crazy accusations.

Charlie didn't hear any more talking. He was starting to wonder if it was safe. He was going to need to get a breath of air quick. He looked up towards the surface. He could clearly see Hunter and Kent standing right on the edge of the pool directly across from him.

"How can they not see me?" he thought. "And how can I see them?"

It was like he was looking through a clear glass, not water. He was starting to realize that he had been submerged longer than he ever had before and his lungs weren't burning. If anything he was feeling more energized than he had been when he ducked under the water. He went to move along the wall and realized that he had been so still because his hands were actually adhering to the wall. He gently rolled one of his palms off the wall and looked at his hand. Between the fingers, there was skin up to the second knuckle.

"What the hell?" he thought. "My hands are webbed?!"

He was trying not to panic, because he still had the problem of Hunter and his boys on the deck.

He listened from his spot on the wall.

"No one in the locker room," Riley said as he walked up to the other boys.

"The little bastard must have slipped out," Hunter complained. "We'll figure out what he's up to later. I gotta figure out a way to get the coach to drug test him, cuz I know he's on something."

"Be careful with that, Dude," Kent said. "Coach loves that kid and if you get him to test all of us, we're screwed."

Hunter nodded. "I know, can't ask him to test for performance drugs and not pot. Come on, let's get out of here."

Charlie watched as the boys walked away from the edge of the pool. When they were out of sight, he listened carefully. When he heard the door to the pool close, he waited a few more minutes and then launched himself upwards.

When his head broke the surface, he didn't feel the need to take in a big gulp of air. He was breathing normally and he felt strong and refreshed.

He swam to the side of the pool and pulled himself out. He looked at his hands and again noticed the webbing between his fingers. He looked down at his feet and saw that there was webbing between his toes.

"What the hell is happening to me?" he asked himself. He quickly walked over to his towel and picked it up and walked to the locker room,

He dropped his towel in front of his locker and went to open it.

"What?!" He exclaimed when he saw that his hands had returned to normal. "What the hell is going on?"

He peeled off his Speedo and ran to the showers. He wanted to get out of there before anything else happened.

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