The days flew by for Stoney.  Every task he was given he was able to complete.  He broke a sweat on a few of them, but the majority of the tasks were routine, almost mundane.  A fortnight later Dave Taylor returned for his answer.

 

True to his word, Stoney had thought long and hard on the proposition and he spent hours discussing it with Gary.  Gary was smart enough not to suggest the outcome, but rather, he listened to Stoney and played the devil’s advocate.  Stoney knew what Gary was doing.  That’s why he answered all of Gary’s questions as completely and honestly as he could.  Stoney knew a week ago that he would accept P.A.I.N.’s offer, and Gary agreed with his decision.

 

Stoney was paged and directed to Conference Room B, a smaller conference room near his work area.  When he arrived, Dave Taylor was waiting for him.  He got up and walked over to Stoney to shake his hand.  Again he couldn’t read him.

 

“Hey Stoney!  How’s your day been so far?”

 

“It’s been great, so far, Dave.  Let’s see if we can keep it that way.  Regardless of how your day has been, I think I’m going to make it better.  After talking this over with my partner Gary, I’ve decided to accept your offer.  We both think that my power is too valuable not to share.”

 

“Whoa!  That was a lot more than I thought we’d be starting off with.  I’ll tell you what, let me tell you more about the position and I’ll give you a chance to back down on your offer, OK?”

 

“Sure, Dave, but I’m pretty sure I’ll offer the same deal.  What more do you have to say about the position?”

 

“Well, let’s start with the pay.  This is a volunteer position, although reasonable travel expenses will be reimbursed.  The position will be here in Chicago, so you don’t have to worry about moving, although you might have to travel within about a 1,000 mile radius of Chicago on occasion.  When that happens, you’ll be fully reimbursed for your travel expenses, of course.  This would include transportation as well as living expenses, and naturally, it would include meals and incidentals.  Just don’t try to break me, OK?”

 

“Nah, I wouldn’t do that to you.  That sounds reasonable, Dave.  I assume that I might have to react at a moment’s notice.  How often will the need for my specialty arise?”

 

“That depends.  What powers do you have besides super strength and telepathy?”

 

“Telepathy?  Who said I had telepathy?”

 

“You did… two weeks ago when you blocked my probe of your mind.  And then a few minutes ago when you did it again.  Only a telepath can block another telepath.  So, Stoney, do you have any other powers?”

 

“I think I’m fairly invulnerable, but I haven’t really tried any dangerous tests.  I’ve tried to intentionally cut myself with a knife, but every time it fails.  I’ve never had a broken bone, but that could just be from luck.  I really don’t know how to test my vulnerability safely, other than by trying to cut myself.”

 

“So your epidermal layer is impervious to incision.  Have you tried this with objects other than a knife?  A razor blade, for example.”

 

“No, so far I only used an extremely sharp knife.  My partner is a chef and his knives are always well honed.”

 

“OK.  We can run a test with a razor blade and with a scalpel here in Rolf and Frieda’s lab.  Frieda can also perform some bone density tests to determine your overall structural strength.  When you were younger, were you vaccinated for childhood illnesses?”

 

“I received all the normal vaccinations as I was growing up, and I still get an annual flu shot.”

 

“OK, that tells me a lot.  If you can be inoculated, then your invulnerability is probably mental rather than physical.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Stoney, if your invulnerability was physical, the needle would never pass through your skin.  On the other hand, when you sense danger, as from a knife, you tell your body to resist the intrusion.  For instance, have you ever cut yourself shaving?”

 

“Haha!  God yes!”

 

“So your skin can be cut, see?  You shave daily and don’t see the razor you use as threatening.  That’s why you can cut yourself shaving, but not intentionally with a knife.  I think we might want to perform some additional tests to see how your invulnerability kicks in.  Are you up for that?”

 

“Sure!  That would be awesome!  It’s too bad that Gary can’t be here to see it.”

 

“He could be.  When does he get off work?”

 

“Wow!  Thanks, Dave!  Today is Gary’s day off.  He’s probably at home.”

 

“That’s great.  How soon could he be here?”

 

“About twenty minutes or so.  I’ll call him now.”

 

And so it began…

 

= = =

 

We were at lunch with the guys when Jerry asked why Tim and I looked so happy.

 

“Jerry, Uncle Pete is taking us to Tucson in late June!  He has to go on a business trip to Utah, but we’ll catch up with him when it’s over.  This is so great!  We get to fly there unaccompanied!”

 

“That is good news!  What’s out in Tucson?”

 

“One of Uncle Pete’s friends lives out there.  We’ve never met him, but the guy has a son our age, so that’s a plus.”

 

“Well May is here already, so June will be here before you know it.  Bring something back for us peasants, OK?  Hehe.”

 

“Yeah!  Take a lot of pictures, too!” Ed chimed in.

 

“Tim and I will be updating our Facebook pages daily.  We’re going to be there about a week,” I added.

 

“Yeah,” Tim said, “and we’ll tweet often, too.”

 

“I’m jealous!” Ed whined.  “My dad keeps threatening to take us all to Disney World in Florida, but that hasn’t happened yet.”

 

“Oh!  Ed, Disney World is the best!  We went there last year!  I think I have the pictures on my cell phone.”

 

“Jerry, you are cruel.”

 

“I’m sorry, Ed.  Look, we can still do other things here during the summer.  When’s the last time you were at the Museum of Science and Industry?  Maybe I could get my cousin to drive us there sometime this summer.”

 

“That would be awesome!  Now all I have to do is get a job so I’ll have the money.”

 

“McDonald’s is hiring.  Hehe.”

 

“Yeah, that might be my only choice.  I hope I don’t end up eating my paycheck.”

 

“I heard that after a while you stop liking fast food when you work there.”

 

“Can that really happen?”

 

As you can see, lunch progressed as usual.

 

= = =

 

“Brian, a normal bone density scan uses X-rays to measure the amount of calcium and other minerals in a segment of bone.  We will test your forearm because it is so easy to manipulate.”  Then Frieda asked Stoney to place his arm on the pad in front of him.  He was already wearing a large lead-lined apron that went from his knees to his neck.

 

Gary and Dave stood behind the protective screen and viewed the test through a CCTV monitor.  When the test was set up, Frieda joined Gary and Dave and operated the controls to take a snapshot to use as a default reference so they could judge how the density changed.

 

Once the reference was secured, Frieda returned to Stoney and had him put on a 3D viewing helmet.  She made a few adjustments so it fit more comfortably.  Next she explained that the experiment would soon begin.

 

“Brian, I will let you view some 3D movie scenes and we will take additional scans during the scenes.  This is to see if your bone density increases under perceived danger.  Mr. McGee, at no time will you be in any danger.  Do you understand?”

 

“Yes.”

 

She patted him on his hand and then returned behind the screen.  Less than a minute later, a second monitor lit up in the viewing area.  As the spectators watched, Frieda explained that we were going back to the day that Stoney saved the mother and child from the out-of-control car.  They watched the events transpire and, as Stoney raised his hand to stop the car, the X-ray scanned his forearm again.  Frieda saw the change that she expected and more.  The scene progressed to a summer day in a park with the birds chirping and children playing.  Again the X-ray scanned his forearm.

 

Several more scenes were played, some happy, some benign and some dangerous.  Frieda never showed any emotion during the tests.  Finally, the tests were completed and Frieda walked over to Stoney and calmly talked with him as she helped him remove the 3D helmet.  She also removed the apron and returned it to its proper place.

 

“Well, Brian, that went well.  Let’s go to the conference room and discuss what was found.”

 

The four of them went to Conference Room A, where Pete and Gil were already waiting.  After Gary was introduced and thanked for coming down, Frieda walked over to the large LCD screen on the wall.  She started with a split screen.  The left half was displaying the 3D images that Stoney had watched, and the right half displayed the X-ray image of his forearm.

 

“Brian, as you can see from the reference scan in the top right corner of the screen, you have a healthy forearm and your bone density is normal.  But watch what happens as the video displays.”

 

She started the movie in double speed and it stopped at the events that were recorded.

 

“Here is where you stopped the runaway automobile.  Observe the image of your forearm and compare it to the reference image.”

 

It was as different as night and day.  When he was protecting the mother and child, not only did his bone density obviously increase, but his entire arm changed to an opaque image.

 

“Brian, this indicates that your entire arm was becoming stronger and virtually invulnerable.”

 

“That’s awesome!”  It was Gary who commented.

 

“Yes, Mr. Klein, it is.  Let’s see what happens as we progress through the test.”

 

The movie now jumped to the next scan that was recorded.

 

“Here we see that a scant five seconds later, your physical makeup has returned to normal.  So when the emergency was over, you relaxed.”

 

The movie jumped again to a tense image and again its companion photo showed the onset of Brian’s invulnerability.  Time and again it demonstrated that Stoney could mentally control his power.  It seemed to be automatic, but more tests would be required to prove that.  The bottom line was that Stoney’s strength and invulnerability seemed to be one and the same power.

 

“So, Brian, as you demonstrated, your power appears at will when the correct situation is encountered.  There are other tests that can be conducted if you would like, but for now it appears that your strength and invulnerability are intertwined.”

 

“Thanks, Frieda.  I’ve always wondered why I had those two powers, and I’ve done my best to keep them a secret.  I guess I lucked out when I saved Rachel and Robbie.  To tell you the truth, I thought I might have to move because of it.”

 

“That would have been most unfortunate if you had.”

 

“Why is that?”

 

“Mr. Taylor would have lost out on the ability to assist you in assisting others,” Frieda responded.

 

= = =

 

The day was Thursday, so we had another GSA meeting that afternoon.  We were winding down for the school year and getting ready for summer vacation.  Mostly we talked about what we hoped to do and whom we hoped to meet.  As it turned out, we all wanted the same things: to meet someone awesome, go to a lot of concerts, spend every day swimming, either at Lake Michigan or the Wisconsin Dells, and to have a lot of fun.

 

Because of the weird schedule that Lombard High has for finals, next week was going to be the last two meetings for the school year.  I knew that we’d see Jerry, Ed, Megan and Amber, but the rest of the people would be out of the picture for the two months of summer, other than a chance meeting at the mall or something.  The meeting was fun, but kinda sad as well.  You know what I mean?

 

When we got home, Tim and I Skyped with Matt Spencer.  We talked about our upcoming exams and the hours of studying that we’d have to do for them… although Matt insisted on calling it ‘revising’.  Hehe.  How can people who speak the same language have such different ways to say the same thing?  Eventually we had to say goodbye to Matt so we could get supper started.

 

Tonight we were having roasted pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes and peas.  Tim was getting fancy and I helped him get everything ready, starting with peeling the potatoes while he got the pork tenderloin ready.  When the roast was in the oven, Tim got the potatoes ready to boil and I prepared the salad.  The frozen peas only needed fifteen minutes to cook, so they were placed in a pan of water on the back of the stove.  I think Tim is actually teaching me to cook, God forbid!  Hehe.  When the salad was ready, I set the table and took out a can of mushroom gravy for the potatoes.  I poured it into a clear glass coffee cup and set it near the microwave.  It would take less than three minutes to heat up and could be done after Uncle Pete got home.

 

Just after 6:00 PM, Uncle Pete pulled up in the driveway and came in.

 

“Something smells great!  I love pork!  I’ll be right back.”

 

And with that he was off to wash up.  By the time he got back, Tim had the pork tenderloin on the table and ready to carve.  I had the salads out and was heating up the gravy, and while Tim was putting the potatoes in a bowl, I drained the water from the peas and put them in a serving dish.  We were seated by the time Uncle Pete got back to cut the pork.  Then Tim jumped up and went to the fridge and got out the apple sauce.  Pork is always better with apple sauce.

 

The supper conversation was about the day’s events.  As usual, Tim and I started, but Uncle Pete’s was more interesting to us… well, to Tim anyway.

 

“Stoney’s partner Gary stopped by the office today.  I think you’d like him, Tim.  He’s a chef at a restaurant in Boystown.  We should stop by Saturday and you guys could trade recipes.”

 

“Oh wow!  Really?  That’s excellent!  What time?  I want to be ready to go!”

 

“Haha!  Don’t wet yourself, Tim!”

 

“Kiss off, Mike.  Hehe.”

 

“Ummm… if you boys are going to fight, can we at least finish eating first?  It’d be a shame to waste all this great food.”

 

We laughed and continued eating while Uncle Pete finished telling us about his day.  He said we’d get to Gary’s restaurant at about 1:00 PM on Saturday.

 

“That’s only a day and a half away!  I have to make something to bring with me!”

 

“Tim,” Uncle Pete interrupted, “this isn’t a job interview.”

 

“Well I have to give a good impression, don’t I?  This guy’s a CHEF!

 

I had to hold my laugh in so he wouldn’t try to kill me again.  I couldn’t say a word.  I knew I’d start laughing.  As I gained control, I decided to change the subject.

 

“What’s for dessert?”

 

“Oh crap!  I didn’t make any.  Please don’t tell Gary.  Please!”

 

“Darn it, Tim.  There are cookies in the cabinet.  I’ll get them.”

 

Uncle Pete was having a coronary from holding back his laughter.  He decided to go without dessert and he retired to his room and closed the door.

 

It took another fifteen minutes for Tim to get back to what could generously be called ‘normal’.  Then we cleared the table, loaded the dishwasher and wiped the table so we could do our homework.  Once the dishwasher was running, I wiped down the stove top while Tim wiped the counters.  It was my week to sweep the floor.  Once that was finished, we sat at the kitchen table and did our homework.  By shower time, Tim and I were friends again.

 

Actually, we were never not friends; we were just pushing each other’s buttons.  Hehe.

 

When we retired for the night, we said goodnight to Uncle Pete and went to our room to undress and wrap our towels around us.  We shared the sink while we brushed our teeth, and then, after setting the water temperature, we climbed into the shower together.  As usual, we started by shampooing each other’s hair and then rinsing it before we soaped up our washcloths and started washing each other.  Soon we were clean and we decided to have play time in bed.

 

We exited the shower and, after drying each other off, we wrapped our towels around us and retreated to our room.  The towels were hung on the towel racks and we got under the covers together.  I told Tim I was sorry for teasing him at supper and he hugged me and said he knew I was only kidding.  Then I kissed him as I let my hands fall to his waist and grab his rapidly engorging penis.

 

“You’re really hard tonight,” I told him.

 

“You do that to me, Mike,” he replied, and then we hugged.  Before we knew it, we were both sound asleep.

 

= = =

 

We woke up the next morning and I was still holding Tim’s hardon.

 

“Tim, have you been sampling Uncle Pete’s little blue pills?”

 

“No, I think it’s a subliminal tool to keep the bed dry.  Get out of the way… I have to pee.”  And he was off to the john.  He must really have had to go; he didn’t even grab a towel on the way out.  I hope Uncle Pete isn’t in the hallway.  Hehe.

 

I put on my boxer briefs, grabbed Tim’s and joined him in the bathroom.  The bum didn’t even thank me.  That’s OK, I love him anyway.  We finished our morning rituals, got dressed and went to the kitchen for breakfast.  Uncle Pete was finishing his coffee when we got there.

 

“Morning, boys.”

 

“Hi, Uncle Pete.”

 

“Hi Uncle Pete.  Uncle Pete, Tim is still being mean to me.  Is it OK if I smack him a couple of times?”

 

“Well, Mike, for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.  Are you ready for that?”

 

“Let’s see…”

 

*SMACK*  *SMACK*

 

“OK, it’s time for me to get to work.  If you break anything, it’s coming out of your allowances.”

 

Tim released the headlock he had on me and we both gave Uncle Pete a hug.

 

“Tim started it!  He hit me back first!”

 

“Mike, you both will pay if you break anything.  Now eat and get to school.”

 

Uncle Pete left, but we could hear him chuckling as he walked to his car.

 

“Mike, what are we going to do for our birthdays this year?  They’re only a week apart.  Should we see if Uncle Pete will host a party for us at WhirlyBall?”

 

“Wow!  That would be perfect!”

 

“Yeah, and their coming up soon, too.  We should plant the seed tonight.  We only have four weeks to get the reservation.”

 

“Tim, I don’t think we should send invitations until Uncle Pete OKs it.  Do you think he’ll go along with it?  It’s kind of expensive.  I think that since you’re older, you should talk him into it.”

 

“That’s no fair!  I had to ask for the roller skating party last year!”

 

Suddenly we went silent.  We were both remembering the party last year in Raccoon City… before it was destroyed.

 

I took a deep breath and said, “It was a great time and we have fantastic memories from it.  Don’t go into Survivors’ Remorse; that won’t help anything.  Don’t hate that we’re still here, be thankful that we had the good times.”

 

“Mike, this is the first time in a long time that we thought about it, at least together like this.  It actually feels kinda good to remember the good times.  I’ll ask Uncle Pete tonight.”

 

We finished eating breakfast and then we made our lunches.  By the time we left for school, we were feeling a lot better and much more positive.

 

Editor’s Note:

WhirlyBall seems to be unique to the Chicago area.  It combines the best features of Bumper Cars, Basketball, Hockey and Lacrosse.  You can see more here:

https://www.whirlyball.com/what/

 

= = =

 

Everything was going great… and then we entered the school building.  The signs were up all over the place.  Final Exams were coming.  Each of the four years was scheduled for their exams on a specific day.  Seniors would be on Monday, May 20th, juniors on May 21st, sophomores on May 22nd and freshmen on May 23rd.

 

On each of those days, only the grades being tested would be in school.  The remainder of the students would be at home, ostensibly studying for their test day.  Everyone was off on May 24th… everyone but the teachers, that is.  That was the day that the grades were recorded.  Makeup tests would be given on May 28th through the 31st.  Graduation day for seniors was June 1st.  Final report cards were given out on June 6th.

 

Today was May 3rd.  Not many of us were looking forward to finals.  Tim and I would do all right, but just not knowing what questions would be asked on the test meant that we had to study and drill each other (Hehe… I said drill each other) on our subjects.  We had everything but Biology and Geometry together, so most of it would be a breeze.  We made arrangements today to join study groups with our classmates.

 

At lunch, Ed was visibly worried about how he would do.  I know from being in classes with him that Ed knew the material, but he was scared to death that he’d miss too many of the answers and fail.  I wish I could find a way to remove his doubts.

 

Tim and I invited Ed over to our place after school to study.  Jerry wanted to come, too.  At the end of the day, we got our books and the list of areas on which we would be tested and went to our house.  Tim setup a card table in the living room and I arranged four folding chairs around it.  Tim, Jerry and I each peppered Ed with questions from earlier tests that we had.  Ed was nervous, but he actually did pretty well.  Each of us kept a score on how Ed answered our questions.  At the end of the first round, we showed Ed his score – 92, 93 and 95.  He couldn’t believe it

 

“Ed, that was taken cold.  Imagine what you could have done if you had a chance to study!” Jerry told him.  Ed was incredulous.

 

“But I’ve never done that well on a test in my life,” he protested.

 

“Look, Ed, I don’t care what shit your dad keeps feeding you, you are not stupid.  You just proved it.”  That was Tim.  We gave Ed a new notebook and told him to write down all the insults that his dad had used on him recently.  While Ed was writing them down, Tim and I got some snacks and Cokes for the guys.  We ate the snacks as Ed was finishing his assignment.

 

Twenty minutes later, Ed had a page and an half of the insults that he could remember.  We had Ed read each entry out loud.  Each new insult was worse than the last.  As Ed read each one off, we asked him to give us an example of what he had done to be called that or told that.  As Ed thought back, he realized that he really hadn’t done anything to deserve the insults that his dad cast at him.  I gave Ed a black Sharpie and told him to cross out the insult and write ‘BULLSHIT’ over it.  Thirty minutes later Ed had a page and a half of ‘BULLSHIT’, and a huge smile on his face.

 

Jerry, Tim and I went to round two and again asked Ed questions from earlier tests.  At the end of round two, Ed’s scores were 98, 98 and 100.

 

“Ed, you can do anything as long as the ‘BULLSHIT’ doesn’t get in the way.”

 

We were finishing up when we heard Mrs. LeBlanc pull up and honk her horn.  Ed was feeling great about himself and hugged us all.  I gave him a kiss and he left with Jerry and his mom.  Tim and I waved as they drove off.  Closing the door, Tim said what I was thinking.

 

“Mike, I’m glad we have Uncle Pete.”

 

“So am I, Tim… so am I.”

Published May 1, 2013

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