Castle Roland

Who Is He

by Eric Aune


Chapter 4

Published: 8 Apr 14

Chris, Travis and their parents exited the Grayson's SUV at the high school parking lot. Bryce and his family pulled in next to them. They all made their way to the multipurpose room where the Freshman Orientation was to take place.The room was set up with tables and chairs. They quickly found a free table and sat down to wait for the orientation to begin. Once it seemed that no more families were arriving, a man stepped up to the podium. "Could I have your attention please?"

He waited until the room quieted down. "Thank you everyone. My name is Dr. Grant Lipton, the principal of this school. Welcome to Freshman Orientation. We are here today to help your children receive the information they need to prepare for their freshman year here at our school. In just a few moments we are going to ask that our new students go to the back of the room to the tables that are marked with the first letter of their last name. There they will get the information to decide what classes they will take. If they have any questions we have several members of our faculty here to help. Once you have made your choices please return them to the tables. Thank you."

The boys got up, with their parent's urging, and went to the tables at the back. They got all the information that they needed and rejoined their parents. The boys looked at the choices and compared notes. With their parents help they were able to quickly put together schedules that allowed them to be in most of the same classes. The only differences were that Travis and Bryce liked to sing and wanted to be in the chorus and Chris loved to draw, so he chose an art class. Their schedules allowed them to share all but two classes.

Once all the students had finished, Dr. Lipton stepped up to the podium again. "Thank you for your attention everyone. I look forward to having you young men and women in my school. Good luck in your high school career. See you in a couple of weeks when school starts." The room was filled with the noise of chairs being pulled out as everyone gathered their things and left the room.

Later that night Chris was sitting on his bed watching TV, when his little brother Tyler came into his room and climbed up on the bed to sit next to him, "Whatcha watchin' Chris?" he asked.

"Incredibles on Disney," Chris answered.

Tyler smiled, "Cool, can I watch it with you?"

Chris smiled back, "Sure, Ty."

Tyler smiled and scooted over next to Chris. He snuggled up close and Chris put his arm around him. They watched the movie until the end, at least one of them did. Toward the end of the movie he felt Tyler's weight lean heavier against his side. He looked down and saw that his brother was asleep.

His mother came to the doorway, "Chris is Ty…"

Chris looked to the doorway of his room and saw his mom standing there with her hand on the door frame.

She stopped when he quickly held his hand up. She smiled and came into the room lowering her voice, "Help me get him back to his room."

"Mom, is it okay if he stays here with me tonight?" he asked her.

She looked at both of the boys and nodded after a moment. "Sure you don't mind?" she asked him.

Chris shook his head, "I don't mind at all," He replied.

"Okay, I guess its alright. Help me get him undressed at least, so that he is comfortable." She answered him.

Chris carefully lowered Tyler until he was lying down. He and his mother were able to quickly undress the younger boy until he was in just a t-shirt and briefs. They got him under the covers without waking him. Heather gave Chris a hug and kiss goodnight. He closed the door behind her and then stripped down to his underwear as well and climbed into bed. He moved close to Tyler and the younger boy seemed to sense that he was there and moved next to him. The two brothers snuggled up close to each other and quickly fell asleep.

The next morning Chris woke up early. During the night Tyler had wrapped his arms and legs around Chris like a leech. Chris carefully extracted himself so he could get to the bathroom. When he got back he stopped when he neared his bed. He looked down at Tyler sleeping, his upper body uncovered, his head turned to the left and his mouth slightly opened as he breathed in and out. Chris went over to his desk and picked his sketchbook up. He settled down on a chair and picked up a pencil. He looked at Tyler for a few moments and then started sketching. He captured the innocent look of the sleeping boy. After about ten minutes Tyler started to stir. He soon stretched his arms out and opened his eyes, rubbing the sleep from them.

He looked up and smiled when he saw his brother sitting in a chair by the bed, "Morning Chris."

Chris glanced at him and smiled, "Morning Ty."

Tyler jumped out of bed, "I'll be back, gotta pee."

Chris nodded absently and went back to his drawing, "Okay little bro."

Tyler threw the covers back and ran to the bathroom. When he came back into the room he jumped up in the bed and burrowed under the covers. He peeked out and at that point noticed Chris had his sketchbook out.

"What're ya drawin'?" he asked curiously.

Chris continued to look at the sketchbook, "You." he replied absently.

Tyler sat up quickly, "Can I see it?" he asked.

Chris got up and sat on the bed, Tyler moved over next to him and looked at the picture. It was a rough pencil sketch of Tyler sleeping. The covers were folded back from where Chris had gotten up and showed Tyler asleep on his side facing toward the viewer. His lips slightly open and one of his hands under his cheek with the other stretched out in front of him. His long eyelashes resting on his cheeks.

"That's cool, Chris. Can I have it?" Tyler said as he pointed at the drawing.

Chris smiled, "Sure bro. Here."

Chris carefully tore out the sheet. As he removed it, Tyler saw the picture that was underneath it. It was a drawing of Travis and Chris. They were both dressed in a pair of shorts and tennis shoes. Their bodies were facing the other way but their heads were turned back as if someone had called them. They were looking back toward the viewer, both of them were smiling, their heads were nearly touching as they looked back, Travis' face framed by his layered light golden hair and Chris with his black hair. It had been done in pencil and parts of the picture had been colored in with color pencils.

Tyler's mouth was open in surprise, "Wow, that one's nice." He stated.

Chris closed the book quickly, "Now don't tell anyone about this one," He exclaimed.

"Why?" Tyler questioned.

"Because it's a surprise for Travis." Chris replied.

Tyler nodded, "Oh, like a present?"

Chris returned his nod, "Yeah, and I want you to promise me that you won't say anything to anybody. I don't want anyone to know about this. Besides it isn't done yet. I have to put more colors in it. Promise you won't tell."

Tyler did the cross my heart gesture, "I promise."

Chris hugged him, "Thanks bro."

Tyler moved back into the bed and pulled the covers up, "Chris, can we watch cartoons here for a little while."

Chris smiled at him and nodded, "Yep." Chris returned the sketchbook to his work table and scooted over next to Tyler.

Tyler snuggled up to him as soon as he was under the covers. Half an hour later, Jessie came into the room and saw them watching TV. She stood at the doorway until Chris waved his hand motioning her inside. She smiled and jumped up on the bed and crawled to the other side of Chris and got under the covers with them to watch TV.

That is how their mom found them an hour later. She smiled, "Good morning guys."

They all looked up and smiled. "Morning Mom," they said in unison.

She gestured to them, "Come on and get up, I'm making some breakfast this morning," she said.

The two younger kids raised their hands and cheered. "Yayy!"

Tyler and Jessie scrambled out of the bed. Jessie went to her room and Tyler started to go to his room, when he stopped like he remembered something. He went back to where he had set the picture down. He went to his mom and held it out to her, "Look what Chris made for me."

She took it and smiled when she saw it. She turned to her oldest son, "That's really good, honey. You've become quite an artist."

Chris blushed a little, "Well that's the only good thi…"

She shook her head to remind him. She then turned to her youngest and handed the picture back to him, "Tyler go put this away and get dressed and cleaned up."

He took it and scampered away, "Okay Mom. Thanks again Chris."

She waited until he was gone before she continued, "Forget about that," she admonished him, "I think you would have eventually found out that you had the talent anyway. Dr. Becker's idea that you draw what you felt, just brought it out earlier and all that practice has really helped you hone your talent. When your class sees what you can do, they will be blown away."

Chris smiled at her, "Thanks Mom."

"Hurry up and get cleaned up," She said as she turned away.

"Kay, be right down." He replied.

She smiled and left the room.

Chris got up and grabbed some shorts and a shirt from his dresser and quickly got dressed. When he finished cleaning up, he went downstairs to get breakfast. Everyone was at the table. His mom handed him a platter of eggs after she hugged him good morning. He placed it on the table and sat down. His dad greeted him and they started talking about how the Dodgers were doing, while his mom finished putting the food on the table. They had just lost against the Padres the night before and the Rockies had beat the Diamondbacks. The Rockies were narrowing the lead that the Dodger's had. They only had a few game lead over the Rockies, they were holding them off, but the Rockies were working hard to catch up.

They stopped when Heather sat down and everyone ate. Heather reminded them that they were going clothes shopping today for new school clothes, since there were Labor Day sales going on.

Michael spoke up right away, "That will give me time to mow the lawn, while you are all out."

Heather looked at him, "Coward."

"What? The lawn looks like it needs cutting, so I thought it would be a good idea to do it while you were gone." He replied with a hurt look.

She raised an eyebrow and nodded, "Uh huh. Okay, then we'll see you when we get back. Finish your breakfast and clean up the table, so that we can get going guys."

"Okay mom," they answered her. They finished eating and cleared the table.

Heather got them all together and into the van for the trip to the mall. Michael went out to the garage to get the mower out as they drove away.

The next day all three families gathered at Bryce's house to have an end of summer barbeque and swim party. All the younger members of the families spent most of the time in the pool.

Travis' older brother Troy was there as well and he was gently tossing Jessie and Tyler from the shallow end to the deep end. During high school he had joined the Sheriff's Explorer program and he had just started his second year at Cerritos College a couple of weeks before. His plan was to obtain an AA degree in Administration of Justice and then apply to the Sheriff's Academy.

Bryce's sister kept mooning over Troy and stayed near him most of the time. Bryce pointed this out to his two friends and they would laugh to each other when they saw the dreamy look that she would give Troy when he wasn't looking. The three boys took turns shooting hoops in the floating basketball hoop that was in the deep end. Dinner was called and they all loaded their plates with hamburgers and chips. The adults sat at the patio table while the kids and Troy sat down on the lounges and chairs near the pool.

When Travis and Chris got up to throw their paper plates in the trash, Travis looked at Chris, "Chris you want to spend the night at my house?"

Chris nodded, "I…I guess so…yeah that'd be fun."

Travis smiled, "Cool, we haven't spent the night together for awhile and I've been wanting to. We can play some games, make popcorn and watch movies."

"That sounds good. I'll ask Mom and Dad." Chris said.

"I already asked mine before we came here and they said it was cool." Travis stated.

"I'm sure mine will say yes too. I'll go ask." Chris replied.

Travis nodded, "Kay"

Chris and Travis went over to where his parents were just standing up and helping to gather all of the plates and other items to help put things away, "Mom?"

Heather turned around and smiled, "Yes, honey?"

"Can I spend the night at Travis' tonight?" Chris asked.

She nodded, "Sure, that's fine."

He hugged her, "Cool, thanks."

He and Travis exchanged smiles. Everyone pitched in to pick everything up and soon they were saying goodbye.

When he got home, Chris went and grabbed some stuff to put in his backpack. He said goodnight to his brother and sister and got a hug goodnight from his mom. He waved as he left the house and ran next door to Travis' house. He knocked and opened the door. Travis was waiting and pulled him upstairs to his room. He and Travis got the Playstation and the controllers out and took turns playing Tekken 5. Once they tired of that, Travis pulled out X-Men Origins: Wolverine to watch. Chris got the movie ready while Travis went to nuke some popcorn. He put the pillows up against the headboard and sat down. While waiting for Travis to return he saw a news bulletin. It showed a house in another part of the county. A couple of men were pushing a gurney with a body bag on it, out to the coroner's van. The banner that ran along the bottom said "Body found in valley home".

"…the police have no leads on the apparent homicide of the owner of this house. They are not releasing any details other than it is an apparent homicide. The man was supposed to meet a friend of his for a flight to Asia and did not show up or answer his phone. Worried, the man went to check on his friend and found the front door partly opened. The man entered his friend's home and found the body of his friend. He immediately called 911…"

Travis returned at that moment, with a big bowl of popcorn and some cokes. He glanced at the TV, "Whatchu watchin' bro?" he asked.

Chris shrugged, "News was on. Talkin' about some guy was killed, his friend found him." He replied.

"Oh, that's sucks. Did he have family?" Travis said.

Chris shrugged, "Don't know. They didn't say."

"You ready to watch the movie?" Travis asked.

"Yeah. Bring that popcorn over and let's watch the movie," Chris replied.

He handed a coke and the bowl to Chris before he sat down next to him. Both of them leaned back against the headboard and pillows as they settled in to watch the movie. They got into the action in the movie, sometimes wrestling on the bed. They enjoyed watching the life of Wolverine before he became a part of the X-men. When the movie was over, they giggled as they cleaned the spilled popcorn from the covers and sheets of the bed and took the cans and the bowl downstairs. They said goodnight to Travis' parents and went back upstairs to get ready for bed. They brushed their teeth and went back to Travis' room. Travis turned off the overhead light, which left just the lamps on the bedside tables on. They quickly stripped down to their underwear, and got into bed.

Once they were under the covers they turned toward each other and smiled. "Thanks for staying over Chris," Travis said to him.

"Thanks for asking Trav." Chris replied.

"You nervous about school?" Travis asked.

Chris shrugged, "A little."

"Yeah, it's going to be different starting at the bottom of the ladder again." Travis stated.

"I know." Chris agreed.

Travis grinned at him then, "But hey, you, me, and Bryce will be together. So, no problem."

Chris smiled at him as he looked in Travis' hazel eyes. After a few moments he blushed and looked down.

Travis yawned and pushed on Chris' shoulder, "Night bro. See you in the morning."

Chris raised his eyes back to Travis' and the yawn caused him to yawn as well, "Yeah…night…bro."

Travis gave him one more smile and then turned around, turned off the light and made himself comfortable.

Chris twisted around and did the same with the light on his side of the bed. He turned back around and looked at Travis. He lay there for awhile listening as Travis' breathing slowed down until Chris could tell he had fallen asleep. He listened to Travis' slow breaths for a little while. He smiled remembering the many other nights that he and Travis spent the night at each others house. Sometimes Bryce joined them, but mostly it was just the two of them. The sound of Travis' breathing soon lulled Chris to sleep.

Chris slowly came awake and smiled as he remembered the dream he had been having. He sighed and gently tightened his arms around the warm body in front of him, "Morning bro," he heard from the voice of the boy in front of him.

Chris' eyes shot open and he saw that he was spooned up behind Travis and his arms were around him. He quickly let go and scooted back, and looked nervously at Travis who was slowly turning around, "Oh…ah…I didn't…I, shi…I mean…it's not what….uh…sorry Travis…I didn't mean…uh."

He stretched and reached out to place his hand on Chris' trembling arm, "Chill bro." He could feel Chris' trembling and gently tightened his grip as he smiled at his best friend, "Calm down bro. To tell the truth it felt kind of nice. She must have been pretty hot in that dream you were having."

Chris was startled, "Who?...uh, oh yeah." He smiled nervously, "uh yeah….right. Hehe…I don't exactly remember, but yeah I think she was. Sorry bro…haha."

Travis punched his shoulder, "Yeah, maybe you'll find one like her when we start school."

Chris nodded, still a bit nervous as he blushed, "Uh, yeah, maybe."

Travis realized he was still holding Chris' arm and he quickly let go and turned around to get out of bed. He grabbed some shorts and put them on before he went to brush his teeth.

Chris let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding. He got up and put his pants on while he waited for Travis to finish in the bathroom and returned to the bedroom.

"All yours," Travis said.

"Thanks." Chris replied.

Chris went to take care of his morning business. By the time he got back to the room, Travis was dressed. Travis waited for Chris to finish dressing and they both went down to grab some cereal for breakfast. While they ate, Chris glanced at Travis from time to time, as he was reading the comics in the paper while he ate breakfast. Travis' dad, Richard was reading in the front section of the paper. After reading something he turned around to where his wife was standing.

"Hey Mere, remember that news story we saw last night, the one where the guy was found by his friend," he said.

She nodded absently, "Yeah a little."

Chris looked up with interest, "I think I saw that last night too?"

Richard turned back to the boys with a puzzled expression, "You guys were watching the news?" he asked.

Chris shook his head no, "Well not exactly. I was waiting for Travis to come back with the snacks before we started the movie we were going to watch and it was on. Some guy in the valley was found dead and the cops said it was a homicide."

Richard nodded, "Yeah, that was the one. Anyway, this morning's paper says that there was evidence that he may have been some kind of child molest…oops," He looked at Chris with a sheepish expression. "Oh…sorry Chris." He apologized.

Chris gave an absent wave of his hand, "Don't worry about it, Mr. Grayson. I'm over all that," he said.

Richard still had an apologetic look on his face when he replied, "Well, okay, sorry anyway. I wasn't thinking."

"It doesn't bother me anymore. What did the paper say anyway?" Chris asked.

Richard turned back to the paper before continuing, "Well, it just says that there is evidence that he had been…that kind of person. Like those guys were."

"Well at least any other kids are safe from him now," Chris said.

"Yeah, I suppose" Richard agreed.

"It also says that the friend is being investigated now, because he might be the same kind of person. They're thinking that the trip that the two men were going on was to Asia. Thailand or something, they think it might be one of those child sex trips. I think you guys have heard of those, they've been mentioned in the news enough," Richard stated.

Both boys nodded. He continued, "Yeah, I thought so. So they are looking into the reason for the trip and whether the other guy was doing the same things as the dead guy."

Chris frowned around a mouthful, "Well if he is, I hope they find out and send him to jail."

Richard agreed, "The less of those guys on the street the better it is."

They finished their breakfast and the boys also talked about what they were going to do that day and decided to get Bryce and go to the park to play some baseball or over the line or something. After they took their dishes to the dishwasher, Travis told his parents that they were going over to Bryce's house to get him so that they could go play some baseball at the park. His dad waved in acknowledgement as they ran out the door. They made a quick stop next door so Chris could put his backpack away and go get his baseball gear. He told his parents where they would be and the two boys left the house, jumped on their bikes and rode off.

When they got to Bryce's house, they laid their bikes down and knocked on the front door. His sister Robin opened the door. She motioned for them to come in. "Bryce! Travis and Chris are here!" she called out.

Bryce ran downstairs getting a yell from his mom in the kitchen, "Bryce, don't run in the house!"

He looked over her, "Kay Mom, sorry," he apologized. "Hey guys," he greeted his two friends.

"Hey, Bry you wanna go to the park and play some ball or something?" Travis asked.

"Yeah sure, let me get my stuff." Bryce replied. He turned and started running back upstairs.

"BRYCE!" his mom yelled.

He stopped quickly and glanced back at her, "Oops, sorry Mom." He instead walked back upstairs to his room.

When he got back down, his mom had come to say hello to the two boys. "Mom, we're going to the park for awhile and then is it okay to come back here and go swimming." He said to her.

She nodded, "Of course. See you boys later."

"Bye Mom" Bryce said.

"Bye Mrs. Sanders," the other two said.

They went outside and waited for Bryce to get his bike from the garage. It took them about ten minutes to get to the park. When they got there they saw some of their friends, Sam, Mike and Roger who were out skateboarding. They watched their friends at the small skate park doing some tricks. When they came out to rest for awhile, Travis talked them into playing some over the line. The other guys didn't have any of their stuff with them, but they were able to play by sharing gloves. The six boys played for a couple of hours until it just got too hot outside.

"Hey thanks for the game that was fun." Bryce said.

"Yeah it was. Where are you guys going now?" they asked.

Bryce pointed over his shoulder, "We're going back to my house to go swimming. Hey, you guys wanna come swim too?" he asked.

The other three looked at each other and shrugged, "Would that be cool?" they asked.

Bryce nodded, "Sure. My mom won't mind." He answered.


am smiled, "Okay, cool. I gotta check with my parents and get my stuff, but I think it'll be alright."

Roger and Mike nodded, "Yeah me too."

They bumped fists, "Great. See you guys then."

The two groups separated and rode off. When they got to Bryce's house they put their bikes on the side of the garage and went in through the back gate. Bryce led them inside to grab a coke on their way up to his room. His mom was in the living room so Bryce stopped.

"Hi Mom. Is it okay if three of our friends come over to swim? We were playing ball with them and I invited them." He asked.

She glanced at them and nodded.

"Thanks, they'll be here in a little while." He thanked her.

Bryce then led the other two up to his room to get changed into the suits that they kept at his house. They stripped their sweaty clothes off and dropped them on the floor. They quickly got dressed in their swim trunks and went back downstairs and outside to the pool. After half an hour, Sam, Mike and Roger arrived and joined them in the pool. They were there for a couple of hours, during that time they all talked about what they thought about starting high school. What would it be like or what to expect. All of them were a little nervous about it.

Eventually the three boys had to leave.

Sam was the first, "I've gotta leave now guys."

Roger chimed in, "Yeah we should too."

Mike nodded in agreement, "Thanks for inviting us over to swim."

Bryce held up his fist, "Thanks for coming over guys, it was fun."

Travis and Chris waved, "Bye guys. See you at school."

The three boys left, leaving Bryce, Travis and Chris to continue swimming for a little while longer. By the late afternoon, it was time for Travis and Chris to leave. The three boys went back to Bryce's room to change out of their swim trunks.

"See you guys in a couple of days. My family is going to visit my grandparents tomorrow. You guys want to meet up and ride to school together?" Bryce asked.

Chris nodded, "Yeah. See ya Bryce."

They bumped fists and the two boys got their bikes from the side of the garage and rode home. They stopped in front of Chris' house.

Travis held his fist up and they touched fists for a few moments, "I'll see you tomorrow bro."

Chris replied, "Yeah see you Travis."

They each went their separate ways for the evening.

A few days later, the three boys had just locked their bikes up in front of the High School on Wednesday morning. Chris saw the painted Griffin on a wall of the school. He guessed that made him a Griffin now. Chris' nervousness was quickly subdued when he felt the companionable arm of his best friend, Travis, drop onto his shoulders from his left. He looked over at the confident smiling fourteen year old and returned the smile that he was flashing at him. There was a light punch to his right arm that told him that his other friend Bryce was there too.

"Well, here we are guys, freshmen in high school." Bryce stated.

"Yep, welcome to High School." Chris said wryly.

As they walked to the entrance, Travis dropped his arm.

Chris looked around to make sure no one was nearby before whispering to the other two, "So, are you guys as nervous about this as I am?"

When he asked that question they all stopped and the other two nodded and smiled, "Good, I thought I was the only one." Chris stated.

"Yeah me too, but we're here together, so we can handle it." Travis said.

Bryce swept his arm forward like he was guiding them in, "Yep, that's what friends are for. Shall we?"

The others nodded and they continued to the entrance of the school. During orientation they had set up their schedules and were told that they would get their finalized schedule in their first homeroom class. The three of them were in the same homeroom class, so they made their way to the classroom.

As they walked by the school office Chris' dad was just about to go in and he saw them. He smiled at them encouragingly, "Good luck on your first day boys. On your way to your homeroom?"

They nodded, "Yep we are," the boys answered.

He gave them a thumb up, "I'll see you guys later," he said.

They waved back, "Bye Mr. Hale."

"Bye Dad."

They continued to their homeroom, which was also their first class, which was Computer Applications I and the teacher was Mr. Smith. They looked around and saw some of the people that they had known from middle school, but there were others that they didn't know, including older students. The room was laid out so that there were three computers on each desk, and they were easily able to find three seats together. When the bell rang, Mr. Smith stood up in front of the class and waited until everyone was seated.

"Good morning everyone. Welcome back, to those who are returning to join us. To the freshmen here today, welcome to high school. My name is Rich Smith. I think that you will find that this is a great school to attend. There will be many opportunities for you to learn and prepare yourself for college. We also want you to have fun as well, so take the time to find clubs that interest you and take an active part in your high school life, don't just sit on the sidelines and watch. Besides, it will look good on those college apps you will be filling out in a two or three years, showing that you are active in school activities. Let's get started, at each of your seats you will find a pamphlet listing the clubs on campus, what they do and when and where they meet. Now be sure that you are where you wish to sit because when I call the roll, I will be putting your seating location on my chart and that is where I will expect you to be, unless I see a need to move you. Also, when I call your name, please come up and pick up your final class schedule and locker information, to make sure that you know what, when and where your classes are located. Any questions?

He scanned the room and smiled, "Good, then I will start the roll."

He called the roll and once the three boys had their schedules, they compared them. They knew that they would not be in all the same classes, but they hoped that they would be in as many classes as possible. They could see that, except for second and third period, they were in all the same classes. Travis and Bryce were in Chorus together since they both like to sing, Chris liked to draw, so he was in an art class by himself. The three would be together for four of the six classes anyway. Once he was finished with the roll, Mr. Smith handed out the textbooks and workbooks that they would be using and explained what the class was about, and answered the students' questions. Everyone was also setup with computer accounts for the class. When the bell rang, the three separated, Bryce and Travis to Chorus and Chris to Algebra. They met up again in fourth period for Health class.

After lunch they had PE. The coaches gathered all the guys together in the gym and told them about the PE uniform and dressing out, showers, etc. Most of the freshmen looked around a little nervous at the thought of having to take a shower where everyone could see them. The coaches also let everyone know that the first activity would be flag football. A lot of the freshman in the class, especially the smaller ones, again looked around and sized up the older students when they heard that, thinking about what could happen on the field, if they got hit by one of them. Bryce wasn't too worried as he was one of the bigger freshmen. Travis was average sized, so it didn't worry him too much. Chris was a little smaller than his friends, but he liked sports so he also wasn't too worried about it. The coaches then let them choose lockers and led them on a tour of the facilities, so everyone knew where everything was. Everyone was also told that they had to bring their gym clothes and be ready to dress out on tomorrow. They finished out the day with English and then it was time to catch the bus and go home. They talked about their day on the ride home.

The next couple of days went well as they settled in to high school life. They talked about their teachers during the weekend. Mr. Smith seemed okay. PE was PE. Chris liked his art teacher Ms. Stephens. Bryce and Travis were in the first tenor section of the chorus because they could still sing many of the higher notes. They were glad to see that none of their teachers were old and gray haired teachers that had been teaching for decades. Overall, they were satisfied with the teachers they had.

They spent the weekend hanging out. Monday morning it was back to school. At lunch on Monday, they were talking about stuff when they were interrupted by someone.

"Hi, do you guys mind if I sit here?" They looked up and Bryce smiled. Standing next to the table was a pretty freshman girl with short brown hair and brown eyes, holding a lunch tray.

"Hi Cheryl, sure." Bryce said.

She smiled and sat next to Bryce, "Chris, this is Cheryl Mason, she's in Algebra with Travis and me. Cheryl, this is my other best friend Chris Elkins." Bryce introduced her to his friends.

Travis held out his hand, "Hi Cheryl, nice to meet you." he said.

"Yeah me too," Chris chimed in.

Cheryl smiled at them, "Thanks for letting me sit with you guys, I couldn't see anywhere else that I wanted to sit."

"No problem Cheryl." Bryce added.

She smiled at him, "Thanks Bryce. So what do you think of high school so far?"

Travis answered her, "It's okay. The classes are good and so far the teachers are pretty cool. So, yeah, I like it so far."

"Any of you guys play sports." She asked them.

They all nodded.

"We're waiting until spring for baseball tryouts, then Bry, Chris and I are going to try out." Travis said.

She looked at Bryce, "Why didn't you go out for football Bryce? You're big enough."

He just shook his head, "None of us are interested. Besides, I like baseball a lot more. All three of us played all through little league and in middle school and we plan to play all through high school."

She nodded, digesting the information, "Cool, I'll have to come cheer you guys in the spring." She took a bite of her meal. "Are you guys going to join any clubs?" she asked.

"Haven't really thought about it yet, besides, we haven't been here that long." Travis answered her.

"I want to do something to help people." She said.

"That sounds good." Bryce agreed.

Cheryl perked up a bit, "Maybe you'd like to do it with me Bryce?" she suggested.

"I don't know if I want to join any clubs yet, Cheryl," he said.

Travis and Chris looked at each other and smiled as they rolled their eyes. Cheryl didn't see what they were doing because she was looking at Bryce. Before the end of lunch, Cheryl had to leave and said goodbye to them, although it was more to Bryce rather than his friends. After she left, Travis and Chris started busting up.

"Shut up dickheads." Bryce scowled at them.

"But it was so sweet Bry. She was almost gushing." Travis said.

Bryce raised a fist, but they could see the look in his eye, "I said shut it Travis. Besides, she's cute," he said.

"Yeah, I guess she's nice looking." Travis agreed.

"Okay then lay off." Bryce threatened.

Travis held up his hands in surrender, "Okay bro. We'll lay off…as long as she doesn't cause us to gag on all that sweetness." He said.

"Hey…" Bryce protested.

The bell rang signaling the end of lunch. "Saved by the bell Travis," scowled Bryce.

Travis clapped him on the back as he got up, "Let's get to PE."

They threw their trash away and made their way to the gym for PE. In the locker room, they stripped down and changed into their gym clothes. They lined up outside for roll call. The class was a mix of grades, ages and sizes, up to 16 or 17 years old. After roll call, the coaches started dividing the class up into teams for flag football. Each pair of teams had one of the coaches as a referee. There were enough in the class for two games. The coaches had already set up the fields that they would be playing on with cones marking the end zones. The three friends had been put on different teams. Travis and Chris were on opposite teams and Bryce was on the other field. The coaches had them warm up with some exercises for a few minutes and then the coach explained the rules so that everyone understood. He tossed a coin to see who would receive. Travis' team won the toss.

The ball was kicked and it went right to Travis. He caught it and started running. Chris smiled and got a challenging smile from Travis. He ran at Travis, dodged one of the older kids, who tripped when Chris changed direction on him. Chris caught up to Travis and although Travis tried to dodge, Chris was able to grab the end of one of his flags and rip it off. The coach blew the whistle. The teams huddled up and lined up for the play. Chris and Travis lined up, smiling at each other. The quarterback made the call and the lines started moving, Chris faked out Travis and went around him laughing as he headed toward the quarterback, he was able to rip a flag off before the quarterback could get rid of the ball. The next play, Travis blocked Chris and the quarterback got a pass off for a first down. They lined up and the next play was a handoff. Travis had blocked Chris again, but the runner came near and Chris tried to reach him by diving at him as he went by, and missed. The guy ran for several more yards before someone else got his flag. The next play was another handoff, Chris was able to get away from Travis and chased the runner down, grabbing a flag from behind, stopping the play. The game continued, with Travis' team making the first touchdown. In the next set of downs, Chris' team moved down the field and tied the score. For the next twenty minutes, neither team scored as the ball traded hands, back and forth. The quarterback on Travis' team used an older and bigger guy as the main running back who was pretty fast. Because of his speed and quickness, Chris was able to help the other team keep from scoring too much. Finally, Travis' team moved the ball near to the goal and scored on a short pass.

The quarterback for Chris' team had his team huddle up. He looked at Chris, "Chris right? You're pretty fast. Do you think you can catch the ball?"

Chris nodded, "Sure I guess," he answered.

The guy nodded, "Good, you and I are going to be here in the backfield. If you catch it, I will block for you. If I catch it I'm going do a lateral to you and then block for you. Are you game?" he asked.

Chris nodded again, "Sure, I'll try," he agreed.

Their quarterback clapped his hands, "Great, everyone else, block for Chris. With as fast as he goes, I think he can run it back for a touchdown."

The other players nodded. They lined up for the kickoff. The ball was kicked and the quarterback, David, caught it. He started moving toward Chris and when he was nearby, he tossed it back to Chris, who caught the easy toss as he moved in front of Chris to block. They ran down the sideline. David blocked a couple of people trying to get to Chris. One of the older player's block took David out of bounds and Chris had to dodge around them. He was nearing the goal line when he felt a hard blow to his hip and it knocked him off balance tangling his legs up and he tripped. The ball went flying from his hands when he hit the ground and out of bounds. The coach signaled the end of the play. Chris turned over and saw the running back from the other team was standing nearby holding his flag and grinning at him. He dropped the flag contemptuously at Chris' feet and went over to his team where his friend, the quarterback, congratulated him on getting the flag. Chris got up rubbing the spot on his hip where he had felt the blow.

Travis looked over at Chris and mouthed 'You okay'.

Chris nodded and rejoined his team.

David clapped him on the back, "Good run. You almost made it."

He gave his team the play. When the ball was hiked, he faked a handoff and threw the ball in for a touchdown. The score was tied. They kicked off and the running back got the ball and started running. Chris ran after him, dodging Travis who was trying to block and ran toward the guy. The guy suddenly changed direction and ran right at Chris who was able to dodge to the side and reach out. Chris felt the flag flutter in his hand as the guy's hip clipped his side. He instinctively closed his hand and as he flew to the side, he pulled the flag off of the running back stopping the play. The running back had continued to run, not realizing the Chris had ripped his flag off until he heard the whistle. He stopped and turned back to see the flag in Chris' hand and you could see the irritation on his face as he looked at Chris. Travis came over and gave Chris a hand up. Chris handed him the flag to give to the running back.

"You okay Bro." Travis asked.

"Yeah." Chris answered.

Travis nodded and went to join his team. They lined up, another run and a couple of passes and they won. The coach ended the game. He had them do some stretching to warm down and then everyone hit the showers. Most of the freshman quickly stripped off and toweled the sweat off, put deodorant on and left. The three boys, stripped and went to shower, they had decided they would just get it over with and get used to showering at school, the sooner the better.

When they were in the shower, Bryce poked Chris on the shoulder. "What happened to your leg?"

Chris was puzzled by the question, "Huh?"

He pointed to Chris' leg where he had received that hard blow during the kickoff return. He looked down and could see a dark red mark the size of a fist on his left hip. He shrugged, "I felt that when that older kid's hand hit my leg when he grabbed my flag. I guess he misjudged his reach and hit me at the same time," he answered.

Travis moved around so he could see it and he frowned, "Yeah, like when he ran into you too."

Chris just shrugged, "He zigged and I zagged, we collided. No prob."

"I don't know Chris. I'd keep an eye on him. I thought I saw him look pissed a couple of times when you caught him and grabbed his flag." Travis said.

"Nah, just part of the game. I'd be pissed too, if some smaller kid kept getting my flag." Chris shrugged again.

Bryce scowled, "Yeah, who was it anyway?" he asked.

"I think his name is Jerry." Travis replied.

"Yeah, he and our quarterback Mark are friends. He is pretty fast, but you were a little faster. You did good Chris."

They slapped palms, "Thanks."

They finished cleaning up and got dressed. They headed to their next class. They all settled into the high school routine. The chorus was preparing for a fall concert. In the art class, the teacher was having them make pencil drawings of objects that she had set up before the class began each day, still life type of things. Cheryl had become a regular lunch companion and Travis and Chris stopped giving Bryce grief about her. It was plain that she liked Bryce and Bryce liked the attention. They were all becoming friends. At the end of that first full week when Cheryl joined them, she had two other girls with her. One had chestnut hair with hazel eyes and the other was blond and blue eyed.

"Hi guys. A couple of my friends wanted to sit with us, if you don't mind," she said.

"No problem, have a seat." Bryce replied.

They both smiled and sat down one either side of Travis and Chris who were sitting next to each other. Cheryl pointed at the blond girl sitting next to Travis, "This is Wendy Mitchell and this is Jeannie Morris. We've been friends since grade school. These guys are Bryce Sanders, Travis Grayson, and Chris Elkins."

They all exchanged words of greeting. The girls were all cute. Wendy was funny and had the same kind of sense of humor that Travis had. Jeannie wasn't as outspoken as Wendy, but she joined in as well and soon all of them were having a good time at lunch.

For the next few weeks the girls became regulars at lunch with the guys. It was apparent that Bryce and Cheryl were becoming closer. Wendy obviously enjoyed Travis' company and both were outgoing and had the same positive outlook. Jeannie was friendly to Chris and that made him a little nervous around her. He was friendly with her. All six of them went to the movies a couple of times as a group and had a good time. There was a fall dance coming up and they all made plans to attend. In PE, they were still playing flag football and Jerry still seemed to be a little rougher on Chris, when he got a chance when they were on opposite teams. It was never anything serious, but Chris could tell. He was faster and a bit more agile, so he avoided most of Jerry's attempts.

One time Jerry tripped Chris as he grabbed his flag and Bryce saw it. He walked over to Jerry at the end of class. He kept his voice low as they walked back to the lockers, "You know this is flag football, not tackle."

"Yeah, so." Jerry sneered.

"So, cool it. I saw you trip my friend when you took his flag. You could have easily taken the flag without tripping him," Bryce said.

"It was an accident, I misjudged where my feet were." Jerry said with mock sincerity.

"Yeah sure you did. Just cool it, I can misjudge where my feet are too and my elbows and knees. You know how clumsy we freshmen can be when we're having a growth spurt." Bryce threatened.

"Yeah right. You threatening me?" Jerry asked.

Bryce smiled, "No of course not. I'm just telling you that sometimes I'm clumsy since I'm bigger than Chris. He's hasn't really started his growth spurt so he's a lot less clumsy than I am. I just don't want you to misinterpret any 'accidents' I might have."

Jerry placed his hand on Bryce's chest and gave him a small push, "Well thanks for the warning, I'll watch out for your clumsy feet."

"Good. I'll do my best, but I just wanted you to know about my clumsy feet." Bryce said.

Bryce hurried to catch up with Chris and Travis. The three of them were still some of the few freshmen who showered after PE. Many of the other freshmen decided that since they only had one class after PE, they would just clean up when they got home. The older students made remarks about the strong lingering smell of deodorant and body sprays like Axe permeating the air making it hard to breath, but those that used that method didn't care. Showering with a bunch of other naked guys was still embarrassing to them.

The three of them were in shower talking about an assignment when there was a snap and Chris jumped and yelled, "Owwww, shit!"

Travis and Bryce looked at him. He was rubbing his butt and looking around. They followed his gaze and no one was looking at them. A group of students had just left the shower and they could hear some laughter from some older boys. They couldn't see who, or make out the voices, but they could tell they were older. There was a red mark on his butt, where the towel had hit him. Bryce started leaving the showers to find out who it was, but Chris stopped him.

"Let it go. It was just a prank." Chris said.

"Yeah, maybe. I think I know who it was, that Jerry asshole." Bryce said as he looked toward where the older guys had gone.

"So what." Chris answered.

"So, I've seen what he's been doing. He's rougher on you than on the others, especially the bigger guys. He probably thinks he can bully you since you're smaller. Besides, you make him look bad by outrunning him or catching him most of the time," Bryce replied.

Chris shrugged, "It doesn't bother me. I know I'm better than him, he's just jealous. We won't be playing football much longer, I think we start soccer soon."

Bryce turned off the shower and started drying off, "Well I'm going to be watching him anyway. There's ways to act the same way in soccer too. He'll try to sneak fouls in when the coaches can't see," he warned Chris.

"I'll keep an eye out for him, so don't worry. It's nothing I can't handle." Chris said. By that time they had gotten back to their lockers, got dressed and left for the next class.

The next day while he was at his locker, before his art class, Chris had to put his sketchbook and his art box down while he put his math book and computer books inside. He had leaned the sketchbook against the back of his leg. He had just closed his locker, and he felt the sketchbook suddenly shoot away from where it was leaning against his leg. He looked around and saw it several feet away partially opened. He ran over to pick it up and looked around. As it was at the morning break there were a lot of people walking around and he didn't see anyone who was paying any particular attention. He shrugged as he picked it, figuring someone must have been hurrying by. He went back to the locker and picked up his backpack and art box. He went to meet his friends during the break. Cheryl was with Bryce as usual. Wendy and Jeannie weren't there. When Chris walked up, he heard Bryce telling Cheryl about Jerry in PE.

"So he's a jerk. I told you not to worry about him Bryce. I'm not." Chris interrupted.

Bryce stopped, "Oh hi Chris. Well you are one of my two best friends and besides, I know he does it on purpose, he outweighs you by fifty pounds," he said.

Chris looked offended, "I'll have you know that I'm 115 pounds."

They all laughed, "Okay, forty five pounds then." Bryce said.

They all laughed. The break ended and they went off to their next classes. Chris went to art class.

After roll call, Ms. Stephens gave her instructions for today's class.

"Good morning class. Today I want all of you to draw your hand, as we will eventually begin drawing people. A hand is a good place to start. I also have an assignment for you. You have about four weeks to complete it. What I would like, is to see what you can come up with on your own within the parameters that I give you. I want each of you to draw something that is from your life. It could be of your family or friends, your home, something you like to do, something from your past, something that says something about you, but it has to be something that is about you. It must be in pencil. You may use color pencils if you wish. Any questions? Okay, get to work on today's assignment and enjoy yourself."

As the class worked on the sketches of their hands, the teacher, Mrs. Stephens gave pointers and advice as she moved around the room. Chris knew that drawing his hand would not be a difficult thing to do, so while he drew he thought about what he wanted to do for the assignment. He thought of some of the drawings he had at home. He knew he had made drawings of his friends, family. He had also thought about maybe making a drawing of his house or somewhere in the house like his room. Then another idea came to him and he mulled the thought over. It was something he had not thought about for a long time. The more he thought about it, the better it sounded. By the time the class was over he had decided that his last idea was the one he would use.

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