The Storm That Turned the Tide

Chapter 06 – The Season Is Coming

Jesse’s classes, including his homeroom, were located in a different hallway from where the action had taken place between Noah, Addison and Pete. Once his homeroom check-in was completed and he began heading to his first period class, the teen did catch on that something had happened elsewhere, but it never really grabbed his interest since the few who did speak of the event didn’t put names with those involved. It wasn’t until lunch time when that changed. Clearing the food line, the teen was looking for a place to sit when Addison sidled up beside him once again unannounced. “So, what, you don’t like sitting with us juniors and seniors or something?” she announced amusedly, although with a hint of weariness.

“Um, nope. I mean,” he replied before hesitating. “Uh, I’m not avoiding you guys at all!” he declared, which caused her to laugh. The teen grinned sheepishly as he added, “You know, that’s kind of a hard question to answer right the first time!”

“Come on, doofus,” she called out, walking toward a table already occupied by a familiar group of people Jesse had met before.

Both he and Addison were greeted warmly, as they took seats near the center of the group. “Yo, storm pup,” one of the boys spoke up. “Where ya been? We haven’t seen you in forever!”

Jesse grinned before shrugging. “Uh, nowhere really. I just figured you guys only wanted to just hear about the storm stuff and all. Honestly, I didn’t think you’d want this to be a regular thing, especially with a freshman.”

Another boy spoke up. “Well, you thought wrong. We don’t mind you sitting with us.”

“Yeah, we’re not as picky as some of the other airheads in this school,” another girl added. “Besides, you’re cute.”

Jesse blushed deeply as the others suddenly laughed and began to tease him. Giggling, however, he finally managed to reply, “Thanks… Um, I think…”

As they began to return to their meals, another in the group spoke up. “Hey, Addison, I heard you were on a warpath this morning.”

Addison grunted. “Well, I didn’t like being called a bitch,” she replied, matter-of-factly. “Or certain other references the asshole was making.”

A few others nodded in agreement. Jesse, suddenly recalling the buzz he had started to hear, honed in on what he was hearing now. “Who with?” he asked, although quietly.

When the girl didn’t respond right away, the boy next to Jesse leaned in. “Pete Haskell. He got into it with her before homeroom this morning, and word is she practically castrated him.”

Jesse frowned as he turned back to observe her closely. “Really?” he asked quietly, to which the girl nodded. Jesse hesitated, thinking about that before sighing deeply. “A lot of peeps are having problems with him lately.”

“I know,” Addison answered quietly. “Linda was telling me about it this morning on the bus. Seems he’s had a lot of issues to surface lately.”

Jesse remained quiet thereafter, slowly finishing his meal and thinking about what he had learned. It was then he made up his mind to ask Noah if he knew any more details. When he finished his lunch toward the end of the period, the teen stood and thanked the others, excusing himself.

“Hey,” called one boy before Jesse walked away. “Just so you know, we were being serious. You ever want to come around at lunch time, then just do it. I know, a lot of peeps in the different grades don’t mix very well, but that’s not us. We’re cool with you.”

“Thanks guys, that does mean a lot,” Jesse replied smiling, before picking up his tray and retreating.

Jesse stopped by his locker before proceeding toward his math class. Instead of entering the room, however, he parked himself across from the door and waited. He knew, or at least he hoped, Noah would come along soon, and before long he wasn’t disappointed. As the hallway began to crowd with more bodies, he suddenly saw his friend approaching. As he caught his attention, Noah nodded and moved to join him. “Hey, what’s up, turtle duck?”

Jesse grinned, but did not take the bait. “Hey, I just wanted to ask you about something. Did you hear about a fight that went down this morning, before homeroom?”

Noah nodded, although his expression suddenly turned cold. “Yeah, it was Pete and some girl. He evidently made an ass of himself again.”

“Yeah, I heard. Did you know it was Addison, the girl I introduced you to this morning on the bus? She supposedly kicked him in the balls, or something like that,” Jesse explained.

“Really? No, I didn’t know it was her,” Noah replied, surprised. “I mean, I heard he got hit where the sun doesn’t shine, but… that was about it, really.” He whistled as he became thoughtful. “Man, he seems to keep getting slapped, kicked, hit and everything else in between lately, doesn’t he?”

“You’re not kidding,” Jesse replied. “I was wondering though, if you might know anything else about it?”

Noah blushed and leaned back against the wall for a moment before responding. “Well, I’m not sure, but I think that Pete shoved, or rather, tripped me up at my locker this morning. I mean, I don’t know that for sure, because I never saw who did it, but… well, you know what I mean. Tripped up, books and everything go everywhere, that sort of thing. It’s not the first time he, or Jimmy or some of the others for that matter, have done that to people. They love to do it, believe me.”

Jesse’s eyes narrowed. “Really? Do you think it was him, though? Pete, I mean?”

Noah looked away and shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know. I wouldn’t put it past him, but like I said, I never saw who actually did it. I was too busy trying to make sure I didn’t go face-down on the floor and crack a nose or bust a lip. By the time I caught myself and looked up, there was no one around me looking guilty enough to be the culprit. Addison, she helped me get my stuff up and all, but… most everyone else were just laughing.”

Jesse thought for a moment, but then nodded. “Okay, I’m sorry, I was… I don’t know, just wondering, I guess.”

Noah gave his friend a look of annoyance. “Don’t sweat it. That kind of stupid stuff happens all the time, and you know it.” He nodded toward their classroom. “Ready to go get stupefied over the next chapter?”

Jesse grinned. “Meh, between the two of us, we’ll figure it out okay.” With that, both boys walked side by side until they entered the classroom.


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As the students were boarding their buses for the trip home, it began to rain. What had started as a light drizzle, rapidly escalated into a full-on rain shower before many could even get aboard. Hurrying to get under the cover of safety, some pushed and prodded others along, causing tempers to flare in places unexpectedly. Inside their bus, Noah and Jesse had just arrived at their usual seat and swung in out of the aisle, but Noah had wanted to get something from his pack before sitting down. While Jesse sat beside the window, his friend placed his bag in the seat, well out of the way from the rushing stampede of bodies going by. As he was digging through his things though, suddenly he was struck on the back of the head rather forcefully, causing him to fall over heavily where he landed on top of Jesse. Totally unprepared, Jesse was just removing a calculator from his pocket when he was hit, sending it flying out of sight.

When Noah looked up, this time he saw Pete gloating at him and giving him the finger as he moved away. Before Noah could react, however, he was then suddenly shoved from behind a second time. “Out of the way, cocksucker!” someone growled, forcing the teen totally off balance for a second time. This time, however, Jesse was better prepared as he grasped his friend. The teen happened to glance up just in time to see Jimmy moving toward the back of the bus, but not without turning and sneering at them, all but confirming he was the second perpetrator.

Another boy snickered at the two as he passed by. “Man, couldn’t you two blow-birds wait until you at least got home?”

The remark angered Noah, who was quickly trying to right his way back onto his own two feet. “Screw you, Hopkins!” He had regained his footing by then and was about to step into the aisle, ready to hit back on his own accord, when suddenly Mr. Bone’s voice boomed from his driver’s seat. “Let’s go now, all of you! Whoever it is blocking the damn aisle back there, fix it and fix it quick!”

Noah was seething with anger by then, especially at the ill-timing that it had all gone down. He was certain the others were gloating by now, as he watched the laughter erupt and exchange amongst the party in the rear. He saw an opening in the flow of people and was about to step into it, ready to give back a healthy dose of his own shoving. That is, until he felt a hand on him, gently pulling him back. When he looked down, he saw Jesse looking up at him. “Come on, Noah. We won’t let him get away with it, but for right now, sit down, okay?” The teen’s words were calm and measured, with a hint of his own annoyance. Not at Noah, but at the bullying tactics the other, older teens had employed. Noah glanced back toward the group and then sighed before nodding. All interest gone from whatever he was initially wanting to do, the teenager zipped his bag up and then sat down, turning to face forward. A younger girl reached back and handed Jesse the calculator just then, which Jesse thanked her before settling back into the seat with his friend.

“He’s an ass,” Noah whispered eventually. “A fucking, clueless dick head.”

“I know he is,” Jesse agreed. One glance at his friend and he knew he did not blame Noah one bit. “He’s bullying you a lot lately, isn’t he?”

Noah turned to him, but did not respond right away. Thinking back to the days that led up to when that friendship had broken up, he couldn’t set aside the fact that maybe he himself might have been a part of the problem. It did not explain the sudden harsh change in attitude, however, and as each day progressed, the tactics Pete and friends were employing were definitely getting worse. “Maybe, yeah. It’s just… I never knew him to be anything like this before, you know? A loud mouth, check – and sometimes having about as much common sense as a snail, double-check. But… he’s worse than an asshole now, and he’s digging himself in deeper by the day.”

Jesse absently nodded in agreement. “We need to probably make sure someone is aware of it. I mean, we can take him on somewhere, but it’s not all that easy like this,” Jesse mused. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like tattling at all, but… this may be one of those times we need to. Especially if he keeps it up. If it gets much worse, it might be too late.”

Noah sat back and thought about it for several minutes, as the bus finally finished loading, and their driver began to make his way out of the parking lot. “Not yet, though,” he finally voiced. When he turned, he saw a questioning look meet him. “To be fair, he needs to be warned, you know? Not that I think it’ll do much good, but seriously…” He couldn’t think of anything more to add, although the idea nagged at him heavily. “I… I can’t explain it, okay? It’s just… a feeling, I guess.”

Jesse pondered on it himself before sighing. “I know you used to be friends, and… I respect that, I guess. So, yeah, this is your call, but Noah? If you ask me, they seem to be gunning for you. Don’t let them pull the trigger. Like I said, it might be too late by then. Okay?”

Noah glanced ahead, his mood becoming calmer. “Don’t worry, I’ll watch my back.” He grunted. “Besides, I’ve got you helping me watch it, too.” His half-attempt at humor worked, as he saw his friend finally smile. Neither cared about doing anything more for the rest of the trip home, other than to stare out their window at the fierce cloudburst that had come upon them.

Before getting off the bus at home, each agreed they would get together later that evening in Noah’s room, the intent being they would do their math homework together. With the rain still falling hard, they departed and, once clear of the bus, each started a hard run for their own houses. As Jesse arrived, he stopped to catch his breath, his wet clothes sticking to him awkwardly in places. Before going inside though, he paused to look off to the northwest. Even darker clouds on the horizon were approaching, but he was at least thankful he detected no lightning or sounds of thunder in the distance.

Entering the house, Jesse closed the door behind him and then stopped suddenly upon seeing his mother relaxing in the recliner, wearing her nursing uniform. “Mom! You’re home? Didn’t I hear you say this morning that you had to work tonight?”

Makalah opened one eye to see him, but then slowly shook her head. “I was supposed to, yes, but the school called and I had to go get your brother.”

Jesse stopped, puzzled. “Really? Sick again?”

“Something like that,” she replied wearily. Sitting up, however, she smiled. “Now that your home though, I guess I can go on in. Uh, listen honey,” she uttered silently, before taking hold of Jesse by the hand and pulling him closer. “You don’t by chance know of anything going on with your brother at school, do you?”

Jesse moved slowly to sit on the arm of the recliner with her. “No, not that I know of. I mean, he hasn’t told me of anything that I remember.”

Makalah searched his expression briefly, but then nodded in satisfaction. “Your brother’s okay, I think. He just seemed, I don’t know… off, I guess. Not his usual cheery, jumpy self is all. He did feel like he had a little temperature, but when we got home and I checked, it was fine.” She shook her head. “Just, keep an eye on him for me, will you? It may be nothing, but just in case…”

“I will Mom, I promise,” Jesse replied. Leaning in, he gave his mother a kiss on the cheek before standing up again. “Where’s the little booger at anyway? Playing games?”

Makalah nodded as she too, stood up. “Yes, at least he was a half-hour ago. If you need me, you know where to find the number and all, right?” She walked over to lift her coat from the rack. “And your father will be home within about 90-minutes or so, give or take a few.”

“We’ll be fine, Mom. I promise I won’t try and drown him or anything,” Jesse teased, earning a scoff from his mother.

“I know you won’t,” she replied, giving him a half hug before picking up her purse. “I’ll see you in the morning, okay?” Seeing him nod, she then quietly left.

Jesse stopped by the bathroom briefly, before heading into their bedroom. As predicted, Benji was stretched across the top bunk of their bed, focusing on playing their new racing game. What was unusual, however, was that with the TV muted, Jesse sensed an eerie silence enveloping the room. Setting down his backpack, he leaned back against the bed-frame and watched his brother briefly, before nodding in approval. “You’re getting better, runt,” he commented.

Benji shrugged, but kept on playing, causing Jesse to raise an eyebrow given the continuing silence. Kicking off his shoes, he picked up the secondary controller and climbed the ladder to join his brother. As Jesse arrived beside him, Benji paused and scooted so that they could both sit comfortably against the wall. Once settled, the older teen looked out from his high perch, toward the equally elevated TV mounted on the wall. “Wow, not bad from up here, is it? It’s a, I don’t know, a kind of different perspective and all.”

“Yeah, that’s for sure,” Benji mumbled.

Jesse sensed something was definitely wrong by now, as this was not the usual typical conversation they were used to having. “What’s wrong, buddy?”

Benji immediately shrugged. “Who says anything is wrong?” he replied quietly.

Jesse set the controller down by his side. “Hey, I’m your brother, remember? I just know,” he replied softly, placing a hand on his brother’s knee.

Benji sat for a long time, aimlessly playing as he just stared ahead blankly. When his last car in the match crashed and the game was over, he finally looked down into his lap and shrugged again. “I just… I wish I was older, like you,” he whispered.

Jesse smiled and leaned in closer. “Really? Why? I mean, if you were, then you’d miss all those birthday parties, and water balloon fights, and… and…”

Benji scoffed. “No, I wouldn’t. You and me still have the water balloon fights, even now!” he whispered with a trace of annoyance.

“Maybe, but I do them mostly because of you. If you were my age, then it wouldn’t be as much fun anymore, would it?” Jesse teased. “Then you wouldn’t get to stick the water hose down my shorts so much, would you?”

Benji looked up. Finding the eyes that met him were teasing, he smiled weakly, knowing his brother was trying to cheer him up. “I wouldn’t care, I’d still trust you, you know that.”

Jesse finally put his arm around the boy’s shoulders. “Ben, I’ll trust you all my life, even after we’re grown and leave home. I’ll always love you, always trust you, always be there for you – just as much as I can, anyway. You know that, right?”

The smaller boy nodded, and then surprisingly moved himself over into Jesse’s lap, before resting his head against his brother’s shoulder. “Yeah, I know you will, and I will too, for you. Always.” He then sighed deeply. “I just… I didn’t feel good today, you know? It was like, I got to feeling sick after lunch and… and just, I didn’t feel good. That’s when the teacher called Mom, and well… now you know.”

Jesse studied his little brother for an eternity, it seemed, holding him and trying to assess what was going on. It was unlike Benji to avoid telling him things. Why? Was something happening, and the boy was simply afraid to talk about it? The way he snuggled just then, left no doubt that a deep love and affection still existed between them, but something wasn’t right. It was as if the younger boy was seeking protection from something unknown, but was afraid to say what. Just as their mother had said, Jesse could tell something was ‘off’.

As Jesse deliberated about what to do, he also had to decide whether he should push the discussion any further. His instincts told him to be careful, but at the same time, he was beginning to worry. “Just… hold me a little, Jesse. I’ll be okay, I promise,” was the whispered plea that broke the silence, and so Jesse complied. He wrapped his little brother up in his arms, and there they sat for some time, listening to the rain patter against the roof and window. It was steadily growing darker outside, too, and with the game displaying repeats of the last race continuously in some sort of demo mode, it soon became monotonous.

Before long, Jesse felt a change in his arms as Benji quietly fell asleep. That made his immediate decision for him, regarding whether he should probe any deeper just then. Relaxed as they both were in fact, and comfortable with the surrounding sounds of nature that broke in from time to time, that Jesse also began to nod off. Before long, still holding Benji as close as ever, he drifted into a nap as well.


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Jesse suddenly awoke with a start, glancing around himself hurriedly. The room was now dark, other than the light displayed from the TV still playing Benji’s earlier loss in a continuous loop. When he realized his brother was still cuddled quietly in his lap, Jesse started to relax, but wondered what had awoken him so suddenly. Glancing at the clock, he saw it was after six, which surprised him even more as he realized they had been asleep then for a little over two hours. As he contemplated that, he heard a sound from the hallway, followed suddenly by a head that stuck its way into their open doorway. “You awake?” a familiar voice announced quietly.

Jesse grinned. “Yeah, Dad. Although, I have to admit, Benji and I were taking a nap. Did you just now get home?” he asked sheepishly. James nodded as he entered the room and approached the bed.

“Sorry about that. I got stuck with a last-minute inventory problem I needed to fix. Your mother called me earlier and told me about your brother. She said she had to get him from school after lunch. Is everything okay?” their father asked with a tinge of concern.

“I… I think so, Dad. He told me he just felt sick for a while. Maybe he ate something that didn’t agree with him,” Jesse explained.

“That sounds like it might have been the case,” James replied. “Listen, I’ve got some homemade beef-vegetable soup in the kitchen, if you like. One of the ladies down at the store brought it in for us. It seems she had some left over after the benefit Saturday night, and wanted to offer it to us. I can warm it up, and then fix some grilled cheese sandwiches to go with it, if you like.”

“Yeah, that sounds super!” Jesse replied.

They were then both startled to hear another, smaller voice when it spoke up. “Me, too, Dad. I want some, too.”

Looking down, James saw that although Benji had yet to open his eyes, a sudden yawn further announced him as awake and returning to the living world. His father then chuckled. “Okay then, give me just a few minutes. I’ll have them ready in a jiff once I wash up.”

Twenty minutes later, the boys sat down with their father around the kitchen table. Outside, the wind had picked up considerably, and Jesse noted that the rain continued to hammer down across the valley. “Wow, isn’t it raining a lot?” Jesse asked, picking up his spoon.

James nodded. “It is, yes. As I understand it, it’s supposed to keep this up most of the night, according to the forecasters. There are all kinds of flash-flood watches out state-wide.”

“Are we, uh, in any kind of danger Dad? Like, from before?” Benji asked, his senses rapidly sharpening.

“We shouldn’t be,” James replied, understanding what his younger son was asking. “We’re on top of a rise here, with all the water draining down the hill. I don’t think we’ll have any problems. I can’t say that much for down the road though, in the lower-lying areas.”

“What do you mean?” Benji asked curiously.

“He means like where there’s bridges and stuff, or where there’s dips in the road, or fields,” Jesse explained. James nodded his agreement, and thus the trio began to eat, listening to everything around them. Each of the two boys also gave their father reports of their adventures for that day at school. As they were finishing, Jesse looked up. “Hey, Dad, are you going to be here tonight for a little while at least, or…?”

James nodded. “I’m planning on it, why?”

“Well, Noah and I thought we might get together for a while and work on some of our math problems. They’re getting harder and trickier to figure out as we go along,” the teenager explained. “If it’s alright with you, that is.”

“I guess it’s alright. How long do you think you’ll be?”

Jesse shrugged. “I don’t know, an hour maybe, give or take a little?”

“Okay, that’ll work.” Their father then turned and grinned at Benji. “How about it? You want to babysit the old man for a little while?” he teased, making Benji laugh. Jesse noted with some relief that it sounded just then so much more like the brother he was used to hearing.

“Just don’t forget to wash behind your ears, and put on clean underwear,” the boy shot back, making James laugh heartily.

Following supper, Jesse retrieved his backpack and pulled on his overcoat. As he started for the back door, he slowed when he found Benji waiting for him. “Tell Noah I said ‘Hi’, okay? And don’t you two do anything I wouldn’t do,” he imparted, making Jesse laugh.

Leaning down, Jesse whispered into the younger boy’s ear, “Go easy on Dad, okay? Remember, he’s only 38 years old!” Benji suddenly broke out into another round of laughter.

“Me? Be easy on him?” he whispered, before turning and retracing his steps back to the kitchen, where their father was washing the dishes and putting them away. Jesse grinned and then grabbed an umbrella, before leaving.

Crossing the lawn, he quickly reached the back door and rang the bell of the Cooks’ residence. Almost immediately, Noah was there to let his friend inside. “I started to think you weren’t coming!” he exclaimed, as Jesse shrugged out of his coat and hung it nearby.

“Dad didn’t get home until late, and then we had to eat and all,” the teen explained, just as Jennifer joined them.

“Kind of nasty out there, isn’t it?” she commented, before glancing at the coat rack. “Oh, good, I was wondering if you guys had any umbrellas.”

“Yes, ma’am. We actually were given two of them at the benefit the other night,” Jesse replied.

“That’s good, then. Okay, you two go on and do your homework thing then. If you need anything, let me know,” she told Noah before disappearing.

Moments later, both boys were situated atop Noah’s bed again, with the bean bags supporting them as usual. Their math books were opened to the practice problems currently assigned. In contrast to what they had feared, both considered the steps easier than they had expected, and the assignment ended up being finished in about half the time. “Ah, that wasn’t so bad,” Noah commented, as he closed his book and returned it to his sports bag.

“Yeah, easier than some we’ve had,” Jesse agreed. When they had set everything aside, he turned to observe his friend. An eerie silence developed between them, as they each stared at the other for moments. When it seemed that Noah wasn’t going to make a move, Jesse closed half the distance between them, causing his friend to breathe a sigh of relief and do the same until they sat side-by-side. “I’m glad,” Jesse finally whispered.


“This. I was afraid you might not want to, you know, do this anymore…”

Noah grunted. “I was thinking the same thing about you, really. I’m glad to do it, honest, and probably for the same reason that you are.” He sighed deeply. “It helps me, you know? Of all the screwy things in this world, even this… just sitting close, it helps, Jess. Today, well, it hasn’t been the best, not for me anyway.”

“I know, I saw it,” Jesse replied, before reaching out and grasping Noah’s hand, taking hold of it between them. Noah was hesitant at first, but then he relaxed and turned his hand palm up. It further surprised Jesse when the teen inserted his fingers between the others.

“I’m glad you were there to calm me down this afternoon, you know?” Noah remarked quietly. “It would have gotten ugly.”

Jesse nodded. “I know. I was mad, too, but… if we both had laid in on those guys, it would not have been good for any of us. Especially with the others on the bus.”

Noah nodded. “I know. But… Pete has got something coming to him. You know that, right?” he remarked, oddly cold.

Jesse picked up on it immediately. “I know he does, and we’ll deal with him soon enough. Okay?”

Noah nodded. “Deal, but… you need to let me deal with him, Jess. There’s no sense in us both getting in trouble. Besides, I’m the one he’s bullying, anyway.”

“Are you kidding?” Jesse scoffed. “It’ll take us both, probably. It’s like your Mom told us, you know? He and Jimmy are both heavier, taller, and a whole hell of a lot meaner, too!”

Noah laughed. “I can be pretty mean too, you know? Or, rather, maybe you don’t know…” He grunted. “Maybe I just need to kick him in his gonads again. If enough people do it, maybe he’ll learn his lesson!”

“Yeah, maybe…” Jesse replied, before lifting the hand between them and holding it firm. “Noah?”


“You’re my best friend. I mean it,” Jesse whispered. “I’ll stick by you bro, I promise.”

Noah was moved. “I know you will, and you already know you’re mine,” he whispered back, squeezing the fingers gently.

Jesse smiled. “Please, don’t do anything with that creep without me being around though, okay?”

Noah hesitated, but then relented. “I promise, I’ll try. I can’t guarantee it, but I will try.”

Jesse sadly seemed to understand the sentiment, and accepted that as being the best answer he was going to get for the moment.


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Early Tuesday morning, the alarm went off next to Jesse, jarring him awake. As was his custom, the teen lay there for a moment before stirring, listening to the continued sound of rain outside their window. It wasn’t long before he heard a low rumble of thunder in the distance, signaling perhaps that the weather front was far from pushing itself out of the valley. As he lay there, however, their bedroom door quietly opened, and Makalah slipped through it, crossing the floor and coming up next to him. When she saw he was already awake, she sat down on the side of his bed and ran her fingers through his hair. “Morning, sleepy-head,” she spoke softly, breaking the silence.

“Morning, Mom,” Jesse replied. “What’s up?”

“I was trying to get in here before your alarm went off. I just talked to Jennifer, and she just heard that school has been called off for today. Apparently, there is some significant flooding in parts of the county this morning,” his mother explained.

“Really?” Jesse asked, rubbing his eyes briefly before rising up on his elbows. “So, there’s no school at all then?”

“Nope. It means you and your brother can sleep in today. My shift doesn’t start until 1:00 this afternoon, so I’ll be around to fix you guys some breakfast when you get up. I’m afraid it’s going to be like it was yesterday though, honey. I mean, with your Dad not getting in until at least six tonight, that’ll be about five- or six-hours you guys will be by yourselves,” Makalah remarked. “Think you can handle and take care of your brother that long, through the afternoon?”

Jesse gave her a wary look before grabbing his quilt and pulling it back up over him. “Does a zebra have stripes?” he quipped good naturedly, to which his mother smiled. Nothing more was said as she rose and briefly checked in on Benji, and then just as quietly left the room.

Sometime later, Jesse awoke to hushed sounds coming from the TV, and rolling over, he saw a cartoon broadcast in the display. Glancing up, he saw nothing of his brother, but he assumed he had to be up there and awake. Yawning heavily, he finally rolled over and glanced at the clock before grunting at the display, which showed the hour to be just past nine. He groaned to himself, wondering why it was he couldn’t sleep longer up into the mornings like he used to do years before. Shaking his head, however, he rolled out and was on his feet before heading to the bathroom.

Upon returning, Jesse glanced up and saw that Benji was lying on his stomach, with the TV remote in hand. The boy was still torn, it seemed, between watching the cartoon and reading one of his comic books currently spread in front of him. Jesse reached behind himself to scratch a spot itching on his back, but failing to reach it, chose to turn around and used the edge of the bedpost. He gained some relief at least, before spotting a pair of sweats nearby, which he grasped and pulled on. It was then the teen sat down and gazed at the landscape outside their window. The rain seemed to have stopped for the moment, but the cloudy, overcast skies were still quite low. He grunted as he looked across their yard and onward toward the Cooks’, spotting several stand-alone puddles pocketed about. He also noted a small moving stream now separated themselves from their neighbor, apparently carrying run-off from somewhere farther up the hill.

It wasn’t long until they the boys heard a knock at their door, and it was Benji who uttered his first words of the day telling their mother to come in. Poking her head just inside the door, she smiled. “Hey, kiddos, how about some breakfast? Interested in some blueberry pancakes?”

“Oh yeah!” the younger brother announced quickly, while Jesse smiled and nodded in response. She withdrew then, closing the door behind her. As Jesse returned his gaze to the window, he suddenly wondered what Noah was doing right then. Still sleeping, maybe? Or had he already gotten up? Jesse knew that Jennifer was probably home, as she only worked part-time at the nearby college, teaching a couple of classes per semester. It seemed that Allen, whose position was higher up at the local bank, was the one who afforded his family the opportunity of a more generally comfortable lifestyle. It was unlike his and Benji’s parents, Jesse thought, who both had worked hard to acquire what luxuries the four of them enjoyed. Neither of the brothers were envious though, having been taught long and hard to be thankful for what life provided. With their father’s management at the hardware store, and their mother’s position at the hospital, at least the family did well enough to make it on its own. The only thing was, Jesse felt guilty sometimes because he knew his mother was not one who handled the long shifts, as well as she pretended. He thought that if it were not for him and his brother, she too could have switched to a part-time role at least, or perhaps even stayed home altogether. Instead, she worked so they could all make it on the best of terms possible, financially at least.

Jesse had been foolish enough to bring that up with her once in a discussion. He had told her it would not be long before he could go to work, and then he could bring some extra money home to help out, perhaps even enough that would let her quit her job. Surprisingly, she rounded on him emphatically and told him, in no uncertain terms, that she loved her career, and that she never, ever expected the boys or anyone else to contribute to the family in that way. She was more than just annoyed, perhaps more so than the teen had ever seen her before. “Never look at it that way, Jesse – never! You have your role in this family, like your brother, and just like your father and I. We’re responsible for raising you boys and keeping us together as a family, okay? You’ll see, when you have your own things to get into, a car to buy, saving for college, and who knows what else – that it will keep you busy enough. You don’t need to worry about us, or about your brother, either!” she had told him rather forcefully. It had been delivered so vehemently, that it had left him with rare tears welling up in his eyes, before she sighed and pulled him into a fierce embrace. “Oh honey, I’m so sorry, but… I will be fine, you’ll see. That is something you boys should never, ever worry about, sweetie.”

Still, he watched her. Although she had made her position clear that day, he could still see and practically feel her exhaustion at times.

Before long, the boys heard a voice calling them from the kitchen. Benji started down the ladder, but then jumped the rest of the way to the floor as Jesse rose to follow. Jesse stopped at the door, however, to rub his back against the edge of the frame one more time. ‘Sheesh!’ he thought to himself. ‘Am I turning into a bear or something? Maybe I need to take a shower …’

At the kitchen table, the trio indulged themselves with a breakfast of bacon and pancakes, topped with both blueberries and blueberry syrup, and follow by whipped cream. “Wow, Mom, these look great!” Benji announced whole-heartedly, using his fork and fashioning a rather large portion of food into his mouth. Almost immediately after though, he was reaching for his glass of milk.

“Why, thank you, Sir Knight!” she responded gracefully. It was one of the games the two often played, regarding the knights of the round table and her being the damsel in distress. Only this morning, she was far from being distressed. “So, have you two got any idea what you’re going to do with your day, today?”

Jesse shrugged. “There’s not much we can do, is there? I’ll probably read some, maybe watch some TV. I mean, everything outside is soaked and cold, isn’t it?” Giggling, he added, “Can you imagine if any of this had been snow?”

Makalah laughed as well. “Hold your tongue and don’t you dare jinx us! Winter isn’t even here yet!” she exclaimed, but laughed again as she glanced out the kitchen window. “It would be a lot, I know. Who knows, maybe the snow will come before long and give us a white Christmas.”

“Yeah! I sure hope so!” Benji interjected.

Makalah leaned forward. “Speaking of that, have either of you thought about what you want for Christmas this year? I know we usually start gathering ideas before now, but we’ve kind of been side-tracked for a bit.”

“Really? I wonder why?” Jesse teased, giggling, but then turned quiet for a moment. Eventually, he shrugged. “Maybe, I don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff that would be nice, or needed, but…”

“Well, your father and I will take care of some of the needed things, but… you both should have a wish-list or something, too,” she explained. She turned to Benji. “I know you lost a lot of toys and games, and honey, there is no way we can replace all of them, but…”

“It’s okay, Mom, I understand,” Benji responded with a quiet voice.

Makalah smiled at him sweetly. “Well, just be thinking about it, okay? Christmas will be here before you know it, as well as Thanksgiving even sooner than that.”

“Are we gonna have a turkey this year?” Benji asked, suddenly pushing his plate back. He had consumed all but a small portion of his food.

“I think so,” Makalah acknowledged. “In fact, if your father and I can both get free on Thanksgiving Day, or on the Sunday following, we thought about trying to pay some kindness back to the Cooks, and maybe have them join us for dinner this year.”

“That would be cool, I think,” Jesse commented. Benji nodded in agreement as well.

“Well, we thought so, too. I don’t know, they may have other family to get together with, so we’ll just have to wait and see.” Makalah suddenly sat back and sighed. “Good grief, do you realize that’s only two weeks away! Time seems to be flying by so fast right now!”

“Well, if we do have a turkey dinner, Benji and I promise to help, Mom,” Jesse stated, before scooting his chair back from the table. He, too, had finished eating by then. He picked up both his plate and his brother’s, and carried them over to the sink. Before Jesse could run water, however, Makalah was by his side.

“Go on and play, or whatever it is you’re going to do, boys. I’ll take care of these this morning. I’ll also fix you some chicken salad or something for sandwiches before I leave for work, too, and put it in the refrigerator. Oh, and Jess, go through it later and see what we’re missing, okay? I know we need some more dill pickle spears, as we’re down to our last jar.” Their mother suddenly gave Benji a sharp look. “Someone has been on another pickle binge lately, I think.”

Benji blushed, but then shrugged. “What can I say, Mom? I like them!” he replied, causing the other two to laugh.

“I know you do,” replied his mother, giving the boy a quick hug around his shoulders. “There are far worse things you could be snacking on though, so I guess I really don’t mind.”

“Yeah, but you guys aren’t around so much for the aftermath when he farts. Pickles make him stink up the whole house!” Jesse teased. He fended off a good-natured attack from his brother before promising he would make a grocery list, which seemed to appease their mother. Afterwards, both brothers headed for their room

Makalah stopped by the boys’ room again later before she headed out, this time dressed in her uniform. Both boys were on the floor playing a game with cards, with the TV on the background. “Okay you two, I’m about to go. Behave, no burning down the house, no drowning each other, or playing bone surgeon with the saw. Alright?” It was another ongoing tease she had had with them both for years, one she announced often while giving them both hugs goodbye.

“Um, can I put him up for sale on Craigslist, then? We might make a few dollars,” Jesse teased, earning a thump on the back of his head from his mother before they both laughed. Benji just gave him a wary look, before turning back to the cards in his hand.

Makalah loved how well the two got along. “Food is in the refrigerator. If you need something, call me!”

“We will, Mom,” Jesse answered. He honestly could not recall ever having to call her or their father before, but that did not keep them from being prepared. The unattended gaps were few between both parents, as usually one or the other, if not both, were home with them within a couple of hours at most. The boys had been left alone during school days or other breaks without any problems for as long as Jesse could remember – something that both parents were especially proud of.

As both boys heard her leave, they continued playing until Benji suddenly cried out, “Rummy!” Sure enough, he had beaten his brother now four hands in a row, causing Jesse to give an exasperated sigh.

“Good grief! Again? How the heck are you doing it, you little bugger?” he exclaimed, before shaking his head. He tossed his cards into the middle between them and sat back, stretching. Benji just laughed, collecting the cards and readying to shuffle them again. Jesse, however, suddenly launched himself, tackling the boy outright and wrapping him up, before beginning a serious session of tickling and wrestling that neither had enjoyed in quite some time.

Benji squealed and tried his best to fight back. They were both all over the floor and on Jesse’s bed, digging fingers under various armpits and into ribs, tickling feet, popping toes and more, each trying to outperform the other while flipping and turning to get away, only to come right back in and go at it all out again. Each had the upper hand at different times, before the other would sneakily find and take some sort of revenge. It was something they did not do often, but when they did, it was usually employed with no-holds barred from the other. Especially when Jesse, at one opportune moment, yanked his brothers sweats and briefs down off his butt, and started to pinch the flesh there playfully.

“Oh, crap!” Benji hissed, laughing hard yet again as he tried to squirm away. Jesse held tightly though, eventually pulling them completely off before rolling his brother over to face him, stripped from the waist down. Benji shrieked and initially moved his hands to cover his groin, but ended up laughing so much he used them to defend himself further as Jesse leaned in an started blowing raspberries on his belly. In all that followed, the youngster surprisingly did not resist as Jesse grinned at him and completed another maneuver which trapped the boy in his grasp. Benji offered little resistance then as Jesse looked down and observed a boner sported at full mast and pointing directly at him. The younger brother flinched when Jesse brought his hand up and reached in, initially afraid his brother was planning to tickle him again. Instead, it was his brother’s gentle touch that stilled Benji, as he watched his foreskin get pulled back from the end of his three-inch, uncircumcised shaft. Jesse held it briefly and then gently reversed direction, letting the skin come back up and over, before doing it again. The sensation was invigorating to Benji, especially since he was being touched by someone who was doing it with so much care. When his brother did it for a third time, the boy actually moaned. “That… feels good… Jess…”

Jesse smiled before he sat up and pulled his brother into his lap. Reaching down, he took hold of the smaller shaft again, but this time with a more encompassing grip as he continued to slowly massage it back and forth. “This is jerking off, bro. It’s also called jacking off, and masturbating, too,” he spoke low and quietly, even though he knew the two of them were the only ones in the house. “Most all guys do this, a lot, especially when they get a little older than you are right now.”

“Ye-Yeah?” was the only immediate reply. Jesse watched as his brother’s face changed from one of surprise to immeasurable satisfaction. “Like I said, it… it feels g-good,” he finally whispered before opening his eyes to see his brother staring at him. “So, that’s what it’s all about then?”

“No, there’s more,” Jesse whispered, trying to decide the best way to explain it. “When you’re old enough, doing this makes you, like, have this big, super fantastic feeling inside and all. Like, the best feeling your willy will ever have, and then some, and the best part of it all is that you get to feel it from then on, for the rest of your life.”

“Really? What happens? What’s it like?” Benji asked, curious as he looked down and watched his brother continue to stroke him slowly.

“Well, the first time it happens, maybe even the second, it’s kind of uncomfortable. I mean, for me, it wasn’t a bad kind of hurt or anything, but it was just, like, really intense and everything. It felt like my dick was ready to shoot off like a rocket or something,” Jesse explained, but then grinned. “But you see, after the first couple of times, it’s like, something else completely. It like, connects inside between your balls…” He paused to lightly touch the scrotum, “and your belly, and your toes and… and just about everywhere, and when it does that, it feels great! It’s one of the most awesome things boys can feel, I think.”

“Wow,” Benji whispered, relaxing into his brother’s lap. “So, then what?”

“Well, then… you know, guys and girls can make babies, right? When they have sex? Mom has told you a little about it, right?” Jesse asked. When his brother nodded, the teen continued. “Well, the way it happens is because guys shoot sperm, or cum, out of the end of their willy, and when it’s inside a girl, then she has a chance to become pregnant. Not always, though, but like, when the time is right for both the guy and the girl, it can happen.”

Benji’s eyes grew wide. “Are you kidding me? Up, inside her?” he whispered in disbelief, but Jesse giggled.

“No, it’s the truth, I swear, and yeah, up inside her. That’s why girls don’t have what guys do, down here I mean,” he whispered. “Mom showed you the pic, I’m sure, or at least showed you what makes boys and girls different from each other, right? Girls don’t have willies and balls like we do.”

Benji scoffed. “Yeah, kind of. The cartoon version anyway, and I’ve still never seen a boobie.”

Jesse laughed. “Yeah, well, a girl’s breasts are different than what we have, too. But, you see, this stuff like jacking off, until you have sex with a girl, this is how guys do it while we’re growing up. Understand? We do this until that big feeling happens inside, and then we end up spooging, or cumming. It bursts out, like, in our hand and everything while we jack off. It’s… it’s really nothing anyone can describe, though. It’s just, like I said, something kind of awesome.”

“So, let me get this straight: you’re saying we can make the same stuff that gets girls pregnant, without doing anything to them – like having sex, all by doing… this?” When Jesse nodded, Benji contemplated that piece of news before turning and looking deeper into his brother’s eyes. “So, is this what I saw you doing?” he whispered.

Jesse nodded. “This is what you’ve caught me doing, yeah,” he whispered back.

“And… do you, like, make stuff come out?” Benji asked. When his brother nodded again, he added, “How old do I have to be before I can do it?”

“You can jack off anytime you want to, I guess, but to get the feeling and squirt cum?” Jesse thought about it for a moment. “I’m not sure. I think it starts happening at different times for guys. I mean, for me it started a little before my twelfth birthday. At least the feeling and everything did. I was creaming, that is, I was producing cum, I don’t know, a few months after that, I think, but it didn’t start turning really white until a while after that. It happens with some guys sooner, and with others later. You see, at first it’s kind of like this clear liquid stuff, but it’s nothing like pee. Later, it gets to be all milky and white.” He shook his head and then smiled. “Honestly though, I don’t know when it happens to guys for sure, okay? It’s just what I’ve heard or read about is all, so I’m kind of guessing. I at least know when and how it all started for me, so that you can take for whatever it’s worth.”

“That’s okay,” Benji replied softly. He then giggled. “You want to know something? It’s kind of fun, actually. You holding me, and doing this and…”

Jesse laughed. “I do it because you’re my brother, and we’ve never been afraid of each other, remember?” Then he lowered his voice to a whisper. “And, I do it because I want to. I promised I would, because I wanted you to know and understand.”

Benji giggled, but then scoffed. “So, it really does have nothing to do with pumping up muscles and all that shit? I thought as much…”

Jesse laughed. “Petey only got a part of it right, yeah. The only muscle it pumps up though, is your willy,” he replied quietly. “You know, you can do this as much as you want, too, whenever you feel like it and all. Just… don’t let Mom or Dad catch you, alright? It’s considered a kind of private thing, really. Just remember, you probably won’t get that super feeling thingy I described until you’re a little bit older and can cream.”

“How will I know?” Benji asked, frowning.

Jesse smiled. “Because, you just will, trust me. Like, when you start to feel it, it’ll kind of be like you want to go pee, but don’t stop. That’s when this feeling starts to take over and everything. It’s called an orgasm, but guys hardly ever have a name for it other than like, oh, cumming, or spooging.”

“Like you?” Benji whispered, before slowly sitting up. “Can I ask you something else?” When Jesse nodded, he hesitated before plunging ahead. “Um, just how big do you get, you know, when you get stiff and all? I know you’ve got a bigger willy, and hair down there and stuff, but…”

Surprisingly, Jesse giggled. “Do you really want to know?” he whispered, and when his brother nodded, he sat back and pushed Benji out of his lap, before stretching out length-wise on the bed. “Why don’t you find out?” In his mind, he knew he should be careful, but it wasn’t as if they had never been naked around each other before. It just so happened that, because of the sex talk and all, he was in a more aroused state than he thought he would be. With his crotch tenting out, pushing the fabric up and off to one side, he saw his brother’s look of surprise. Still, Jesse had no desire to hide his state; in fact, it was quite the opposite.

Benji was surprised at the offer. “Are… are you sure?” he whispered, but when Jesse grinned at him and nodded, his uncertainty faltered. Without any further hesitation, the boy scooted closer to the middle of the bed and reached out, grasping hold of the elastic bands on both sides of his brother’s hips. Glancing one last time and still finding the smile encouraging him, Benji then pulled the garments out and down in front with a single and quick effort, one which in turn caused the much larger erection inside to initially pull with his effort, but then spring free and flap back up against Jesse’s belly. “Whoa!” Benji cried in astonishment. “You… you’re huge!”

“Not really,” Jesse whispered. “I think there are guys who are bigger than me.”

“No way! No – fucking – way!” Benji hissed before reaching out. He hesitated though, again looking to his brother one more time for confirmation.

“Go ahead, I don’t care,” Jesse whispered. He even reached down and pushed, moving his sweats and underwear off underneath his butt and down to his thighs, before bringing both hands to tuck behind his head. “Go on,” he encouraged. “Anything you want to touch or do, just… go on, go for it.”

Benji reached and wrapped his hand around Jesse’s penis, surprised at the feel and texture. “Wow! It’s… hard, but… kind of spongy, too, and it feels really hot!” He grinned. “I can hardly wrap my hand around it, see?”

Jesse struggled to keep his face straight. Once the smaller hand had grasped hold, its sensitive touch was rapidly pushing him into another world. Never had anyone seen or touched him like that before, and it was mesmerizing to feel it. He silently gulped, sighing deeply to stifle the moan that wanted to escape. “Yeah,” he finally whispered. “I can… can see.”

Benji studied, observing closely for a moment. His brother was a couple of inches longer it seemed, and although uncircumcised like himself, the skin did not seem to cover the end as completely as his own did when it was hard like this. Benji could not get over how much fatter and thicker the hardened member was, though, as well as its heavier weight when he lifted and pointing it upward toward the ceiling. “Whoa!” he whispered again in fascination, especially when it involuntarily throbbed in his grasp. “Wow!” he repeated, feeling the pulse vibrate throughout his palm. As he lay it back down upon his brother’s belly, he then threaded his fingertips through the pubic bush at the base. “You know, you have a lot of hairs down here, too.” He glanced up. “I mean, I know, I’ve seen them a lot of times before, but… not up close. Not like this. Not like where you’ve, you know, let me play,” he whispered.

Jesse nodded, still fighting to keep some measure of control in his groin. While Benji kept examining, he continued to play about, picking up and dropping the bigger boner, as well as the testicles underneath. He was fascinated, and it showed in his continual prodding, pushing and more. “Do you… uh, really think I’m gonna get this big?” the boy asked, curiously.

“I guarantee it,” Jesse replied hoarsely. “I bet there’ll even come a day that you let me do this same thing to you, and you know what? When that happens, I’ll ask you how you got to be so much bigger than I am!” Benji grinned, but continued feeling around, lifting and checking things out multiple times. When the silence between them continued, Jesse finally asked, “So? What else do you want to know about? Anything?”

Benji hesitated before tearing his eyes away and gazing into the sparkling ones that met him. “Seriously? Anything?” When Jesse nodded, he sat back and stared for a moment before going on. “Can I, like, watch you do it sometime? You know…” To emphasize the point, he grasped his own smaller version and pumped it with his hand a couple of times.

Jesse had assumed that was coming at some point, although he was uncertain if it would come that day. He studied his brother, and what he saw in him was what had already been confirmed long before that moment. It was a curiosity that drove the youth, one which Jesse knew could only be satisfied by a brother, or at least a really close and trusting friend. For a brief moment, he wondered if this might be happening all too soon, but one look at the fascination that met him, led his earlier thinking to prevail: he didn’t want Benji to grow up wondering about things, at least not like what he had to go through. Jesse had had no one to talk to or guide him along this way. Even their father was shy and doubtful when it came to talking with him about sex. Everything Jesse had learned was pretty much on his own, but at least with a few books, and an open ear in the locker rooms. He recalled his frustration, too, and it was that which led him to the here and now. This wasn’t some show off or grand gesture of any kind. He didn’t need to do it for that. He had his little brother, and their relationship to thank for that.

Jesse took hold of himself with a firm grip before he started. In no time, however, he immediately realized it was not going to take long at all before he ended up creaming. He didn’t have to fantasize, as being there with Benji sparked something on the inside deep down. Caught in the moment with someone interested and watching him, of all people, was all Jesse seemed to need. He did stop long enough to pull his t-shirt up as high as it would extend over his belly, which caused Benji to reach out and poke the belly button that was there. Both giggled, before Jesse picked up the pace. “I’m close, buddy… getting close…” he whispered. The excitement, the naughtiness, even the spiel of wonder and enchantment drove the moment as Benji leaned in even closer. If Jesse had felt Benji wasn’t ready to handle it, he would have never agreed to do it in the first place, or set about the mischievousness that was mixed in while they started wrestling. It was Jesse’s first ever real-kind of sex, of any sort, outside of his own dreamland, and although what they were doing was limited between them, he didn’t find himself minding it at all.

Benji continued to watch in fascination, which caused Jesse to pause at one heightened point and pull his brother’s hand back in so that it wrapped in its former place. “Here, you do it a few times,” he encouraged with a husky voice. Benji grinned and complied, trying to mimic what his brother had been doing. Although awkward at first, he quickly created a steady rhythm before squeezing harder.

Jesse was gone at that point, as a sudden lightning bolt of inner power struck behind his navel, running deep into his testicles. Benji gasped as he suddenly felt the already massive five-inch, hardened shaft expanding even further in his grasp. That was then followed by big globs of white cream spurting out of the end, the reward he had been waiting for. “Oh, shit! Wow!!” he hissed again. He stopped in mid-motion to watch, but then felt his brother’s hand wrap around his on.

“No bro… don’t stop… not until it’s… you keep going until it’s over…” Jesse gasped. He finished off, producing more spurts of cum until they tapered off. A moment later the feeling subsided, and he was left breathless, gasping for air but with a huge grin on his face.

Benji looked onward for a moment, looking at the blobs that had settled onto his brother’s belly and then subsided in intensity, leaking down on his hand. There he saw some of the thick, gooey concoction had dripped, too, before noticing a much larger amount had settled and made it onto his brother’s fist, too. He was worried for a moment. “Y-you’re… okay, r-right?”

Jesse laughed. “Oh, you’d better believe it!” He looked up and then pulled his t-shirt down, using it to wipe his hand clean before taking hold of his brother’s hand and doing the same. Once completed, he cleaned his belly up and then pulled his brother down on top before smothering him in an embrace. “So, did that answer everything for now?”

Benji grinned, raising his head enough to see his brother’s face. “You have got to be the best brother in the whole world, Jess, you know that?” He laughed. “No wonder you hide this from everyone!”

Jesse nodded. “From Mom and Dad, yeah, just about everybody. But I didn’t hide it from you, did I?”

“No, you didn’t,” the boy replied. With a knowing look, Benji added, “I won’t tell, Jess. Ever. I promise, cross my heart.”

“I know you won’t. It’ll just be between us.” Jesse smiled, figuring there might be other times between them down the road. This being a first, however, and consisting of no more than what it amounted to, it left him feeling relieved. He could see something different in the expression that met his own, like an appreciation, but something more. Benji confirmed it, too, when he spoke again.

“I think that’s all bro, honest. Now I can argue with Petey if I have to,” the younger brother whispered.

Jesse laughed. “Well, if you do, um, try and leave me out of it, okay?” He sat up, pushing his brother back into his lap again. “Listen, understand something, okay? This was a first for me, too. I’ve never done anything like this with anyone, either, so… it’s kind of special. Does that make any sense?”

Benji grinned and nodded. “Yeah, I understand. It’s like I said, you’re the best ever, ever, ever! And I mean it… ever!” He turned and straddled his brother, one leg to each side, so he could pull up close for another big embrace. “I owe you, big time!” he whispered.

“No, you don’t. Just… unless you have to, don’t bring me into anything when you’re talking with others, okay? Trust me, it’s kind of funky to have to explain something that is so personal like this, to someone else – no matter who they are. People probably wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh, believe me, I get it.” Benji made a face. “Is this, like, something really that bad, though? I mean, we always hear stuff about parents going berserk and everything, when it comes to anything like sex and all.”

Jesse shook his head. “No, it’s not that bad for us. I don’t think so, anyway. Parents watch out for us, yeah, because… there are some bad people in the world, that’s all. This? It’s not bad at all between someone you trust and everything, like we do. But… if someone forces you to do something, or tries something with you that doesn’t feel right on the inside, then, yeah… it can be bad.”

“But not us, right?” Benji asked, but grinned. “It’s because I love ya, bro.”

“I know you do, and I love you, too.” He hugged him one last time, and then began untangling his brother from around him. “Now, I need to go grab a quick shower or something and clean up.”

Benji frowned. “Do you think I need to take one, too?”

Jesse laughed. “When you get older, definitely. But right now, nah. I’m the one who just made all the gooey stuff, remember?” He ran his fingers through Benji’s hair. “Wash your hands, maybe, and get your clothes back on, definitely.” He paused, pulling Benji’s chin up so their eyes met. “If you want to know something, ever… you know I’m not afraid to tell you, right? I mean it little buddy, don’t be afraid, please? Just talk with me. I might not show you everything, like what we just did now, but I promise I’ll always try to answer you. Okay?”

Benji gave him a sweet smile. “I will, Jess. I promise, too.”


«««««««««« _ »»»»»»»»»»


Both Jesse and Benji were playing video games when they heard a sudden knock coming from their window, followed by watching a fleeting figure head toward the back of the house. Quickly, Jesse jumped to his feet and ran, opening the back door to find Noah standing outside, shivering. “Come on, let me in!” he begged as Jesse unlocked the screen and stepped back. “BBrrrr!” the teen mumbled as Jesse reached and closed the door behind him.

“Not cold out there, is it?” Jesse asked, knowing his attempt at humor was somewhat weak. Noah gave him the eye however, before reaching out and taking hold of his friend’s shirt tail. Pulling it up, he placed his hands inside on Jesse’s belly and side, causing the other teen to yelp. “Whoa, they’re like ice! Sheesh!” he exclaimed, hurriedly pulling away.

Just then Benji walked into the room. “Yo, the Ice Man! I think I kind of like that!” he exclaimed, finding the new nickname humorous.

Noah rolled his eyes. “Never mind! Listen you two, I’ve been trying to call for an hour, but nobody is answering the phone! You two are okay, right? Nothing wrong?”

“Yeah, we’re fine,” Jesse replied before frowning. Turning, he quickly made his way past the other two. As they followed, both boys watched as the teen moved on into the living room, and eventually stopped at one of the end tables. “Here’s why,” he announced, turning around and showing the cable that was separated from the phone. “Mom must have pulled the cord loose. See, the end-clip thingy is kind of broken, so if it isn’t pushed in all the way, then…”

Noah glanced at it and nodded. “That will do it. Do you guys only have the one phone?”

“Yeah, for right now. They gave us another one at the benefit the other night, but it doesn’t work. Dad said he was going to take it back and exchange it,” Benji interjected. “He was going to put it in our room, I think.”

Jesse sat down on the arm of the recliner. “So, what’s up?”

Noah grinned. “I was calling to ask if you two would like to go with me over to Campbellsville this afternoon, and watch a movie? Mom is willing to drive us over, see, and then pick us up afterwards so we can get something to eat.”

Benji’s eyes grew wide. “Seriously? Me too?”

“Yes, you too, runt,” Noah growled, but then laughed. “Seriously, yeah. We were going to wait until Thursday night and all, but since we’re out of school today, and possibly tomorrow too, Mom thought it might be a good idea to get us out of the house for a while.”

“Well, sure, I guess!” Jesse replied. “We need to ask Mom or Dad first, though.”

Surprisingly, Noah shook his head. “Not really. My Mom has already called yours and filled her in, and she said it was okay, and that she’d send your Dad a text. So, the only thing is that now, we have to leave, and like really soon, in order to catch the next showing.” He went on to explain the Disney movie he was interested in, which whetted Benji’s excitement even more.

“Well, what are we waiting for!” the boy squealed, before running into the hall. His brother was barely able to reach out and stop him before he disappeared.

“Hold up! We can’t go in these sweat bottoms, bro! We need to change first!” He laughed as he watched his brother halt and then do an about face. “Go on, get us some jeans out of the drawer and I’ll be right there.”

“Alright! Say, do you think we can keep our sweatshirts on?” Benji asked as he started to leave.

“Yeah, they’re probably good to have, since it’s so cold out and everything,” Jesse responded, watching his brother disappear. Glancing up at Noah, he grinned. “Give us, I don’t know, maybe five or so, and then we’ll be over.”

Noah nodded. “Good deal. I’ll wait though, if it’s okay.”

“Sure,” Jesse replied. “Come on back if you want to.” Noah smiled as he was led back into the brothers’ bedroom, where Benji had already stripped and was trying to hurriedly pull on a pair of stiff-looking jeans. Glancing up, he spied Noah trailing behind and then asked, “Why Thursday night? You said you were waiting for Thursday night, I think, didn’t you? How come?” Before he could get an answer however, the boy suddenly fell to the floor, his foot getting caught in one of the legs and causing him to lose his balance.

Both of the older teens then laughed, as Noah turned and squatted down, helping the boy back to his feet and balancing him while he finished pushing his foot through to the end. “It’s a surprise, really, so don’t you two go and make any special plans, okay?”

Jesse giggled as he, too, had shucked his own sweats and began donning their replacement. “Sounds like a secret or something,” he remarked, at which Noah shrugged.

“It is, but that’s not the point. The point is-”

“Yeah, yeah, we know!” Benji interjected, standing up and buttoning his jeans. “Get dressed and get moving, right?”

Minutes later, Jesse made a quick round to ensure all the doors were locked, and then the trio headed back across the lawn. Benji had a blast when it came to the still-running stream between their lots, now about two-feet wide. He took a running jump to get over it, and succeeded without issue. Both of the older teens had no problem either, and soon they were in the back porch of the Cooks’ residence. Before stepping inside, however, Jennifer met them at the door, carrying a coat for Noah to pull on. “How can you just leave without a coat, when it’s this cold!” she fussed at her son, who just shrugged as he donned it. Clicking her tongue, the woman then turned to address them all. “Okay you Three Musketeers, into the van – pronto! I think we have just enough time to make it!”


«««««««««« _ »»»»»»»»»»


Early that evening, the trio of boys walked out of the movie theater, laughing and playfully bumping against each other. The adventurous movie had them hopping, speculating on what had happened in places, but reasoning it out in others. “I thought she was gone for good there at one point, before it was over,” Benji remarked excitedly.

“Yeah, but she came back, didn’t she? I think it was pretty cool,” Noah remarked. He had wondered briefly if the movie might be a little too intense for the younger boy, given its PG rating and theme, but Jesse had convinced him it would be alright. He turned to the teen and commented about it. “He really gets into this stuff, doesn’t he?”

“He gets along better with some movies than even I do!” Jesse replied. “I saw that movie last summer, the one where you can’t make a sound or anything without these things attacking you, remember? There was some scary shit in that one, enough to make me almost pee in my pants!” he added in a low voice.

Noah grunted. “I’ve done that before, too. That’s what makes them so cool to go see though, you know?” Jesse grinned and agreed, just as they recognized the Cooks’ van pulling up to the curb. All three greeted Jennifer and climbed aboard, and spent the next few minutes telling her all about their excursion. She slowly navigated out of the parking lot, and when she had a break, looked up. “So, are you fellas okay with Mexican? There’s a place over here that Noah likes to go to. I’m afraid it’s either that or fast food somewhere, because there’s not a lot to choose from otherwise – unless you want some good, old-fashioned home-like cooking.”

“Anywhere is fine, Mrs. Cook. We can even go on home, if you wanted to,” Jesse replied. Benji suddenly stopped and frowned, but nevertheless listened quietly.

“Well, it’s after seven, and I believe I made a promise we’d go find food, didn’t I? Wasn’t that part of the deal?” she asked, staring pointedly at her son, who suddenly blushed. When the others agreed that Mexican was fine, she pulled in moments later to a brightly decorated restaurant, where they all then got out and went inside.

Once their food orders had been taken, Jennifer excused herself to go to the restroom. When she was out of earshot, Jesse turned on Noah. “Okay, confession time! What are you hiding?”

With a look of innocence, the teen shot back at him. “Who? Me? You’re not my priest, doofus!” He laughed. “What makes you think I’m hiding something, anyway?” he asked sweetly, then broke into giggles when his best friend gave him a disdainful look in response. “Alright, alright!” he exclaimed, throwing his hands up in front of him.

Glancing around, Noah blushed slightly as other diners turned to glance at the trio, his outburst being louder than he had intended. “Thursday is my birthday, see, and instead of a party, I wanted to just, you know, spend it with you guys. So, I made a deal with Mom and Dad for us to go to the movies, get it?”

Jesse sat back with his arms crossed. “I do now, you creep!” He, too, grinned as he said it, immediately undermining any implication of the term. “And just how long were you going to keep this from me?”

Noah shrugged. “I wasn’t planning to keep it from you at all; I just wanted to surprise you with getting out for a while.”

As Jesse shook his head, Benji sat forward and placed his elbows on the table. “So, your birthday is in two days? The, uh, 11th?”

Noah nodded. “Yeah.” He wrinkled his nose. “Don’t tell anyone though, okay?”

Jesse frowned. “What is this secrecy thing about? You should be happy, like celebrating it and everything, right? You’ll be what, 15?”

“Yeah, I’ll be 15,” Noah replied, before shrugging. “I don’t know, Jess, I just… I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, that’s all.” He smiled. “That’s why we got to go to the movies, see? My treat, but really, it’s my birthday treat.”

Jesse leaned in and finally bumped shoulders with his friend. “Okay, okay… I’ll forgive you – this time!”

“Thanks!” Noah replied, rolling his eyes but not pursuing the matter. “So, that makes me think, when is your birthday, anyway? I don’t think you’ve ever told me, have you?”

“Probably not,” Jesse replied. “Mine is January 20th, Benji’s is April 10th.”

“January? Hey, that’s not bad at all! That makes me, uh, 3 months older maybe?” Noah remarked.

“Um, a little over two I think,” Jesse replied. Just then Jennifer returned, along with their waitress who brought their drinks. Accepting his, he took a long pull on his straw before letting go with a big sigh. “Man, that sure is good!” He looked up to find Jennifer eyeing him amusedly. “What? I was thirsty!” he remarked innocently before smiling again.

“Popcorn has a tendency to make you that way,” Noah interjected, causing them all to giggle.

Jennifer changed the subject. “It looks like you boys will be out of school again tomorrow. Right before I picked you up, they were announcing on the radio that several counties across the state were still quite flooded, including Adair County. So, your school is going to be closed again.”

Benji cheered just then, pumping a fist in the air and dancing in his seat. “Yes! Woo hoo!”

The group laughed and then started discussing other things until their food arrived. It was, as expected, quite good – especially when they neared completion and the restaurant servers all gathered around. One placed a sombrero on top of Noah’s head, then doused him with whipped cream on both cheeks, all the while singing an uncanny version of ‘Happy Birthday’ in Spanish. He laughed and blushed, although he gave his mother a wary look. He understood then that she had done more than just go to the restroom. When all was done, a platter of sopapillas was brought out covered with syrup and ice cream, which the four of them heartily dug into and finished off in no time.

On the way home, with Benji riding in the passenger seat next to Jennifer, Noah leaned over next to his friend and spoke quietly. “You know, I wish you could just come and spend the night with me again tonight.”

Jesse smiled, but then shook his head. “I have to be home for Ben. If it wasn’t for that, then I probably could.” He hesitated, and then turned it around. “But… you could come over with us, if you wanted to.”

Noah raised an eyebrow, as the idea had not occurred to him. “Is there enough room? I mean…”

Jesse grinned. “You’d have to sleep with me, and it wouldn’t be anywhere as roomy as your bed is. But… yeah, we’d make it work out fine, I think.”

“If you don’t care, then I don’t either,” Noah smiled, accepting the invite. “I’ll ask Mom about it when we get home.”

Once they arrived, Benji headed for the house while Noah cornered his mother after she stepped from the vehicle. At first, with eyebrows raised, she wasn’t sure about the proposal, until her son reminded her that school was called off the next day, and that he and the brothers would probably spend half the morning or more sleeping anyway. She warmed to the idea before turning to Jesse. “You’re alright with him coming over?” she asked, who nodded.

“I’m sure Mom and Dad won’t mind, either, Mrs. Cook,” the teenager added to the exchange, entering their back porch with them before she gave her consent. She made Noah go along and grab some clothes to sleep in, while Jesse waited for him, standing with her.

Quick as a flash, the teen disappeared, which caused Jennifer to lean back against the wall. “You know, he is a totally different teenager now,” she commented.

Jesse nodded. “He’s becoming my best friend, I can tell you that much,” he mused quietly, to which the woman smiled. A moment later, Noah reappeared, breathless, carrying his sports bag. He gave his mother a quick kiss and hug, and then both boys left, heading quickly across the lawn.

When they arrived, James met them at the back door. “I saw you coming,” he mused, holding it open for them. “I take it you’re packing it in for the night?” he asked.

“If it’s alright with you, sir. There’s no school tomorrow, and, well…”

“Yep, so I heard. It’s fine with me, if it’s fine with your mother,” the man replied, before turning to Jesse. “Your mother will be here in a bit, but if I understood her right, she has a day shift scheduled for tomorrow, so that means she’ll leave early in the morning. You might have to fix you guys some breakfast for a change.”

“That’s okay Dad, I can take care of us,” Jesse replied. They chatted for a few minutes about the movie and their dinner, laughing heartily at the story of the whipped cream and hat. Though the hour was not that late, both boys eventually bade the man goodnight and headed to the bedroom. When they slipped through the door, Benji’s head suddenly perked up. “What? Are you staying here tonight, too? With us?”

Noah straightened up while approaching the bed and the youth, who was stretched out on top. “Yeah, as long as you don’t snore too loud,” he teased, before reaching in and poking the youth in his side, tickling him in his ribs. “Or stink me out with your smelly farts!” Benji squirmed and laughed for a bit before Noah finally stopped. When he turned, he noticed Jesse had left the room.

“He probably went to pee,” Benji remarked, before pointing out where one of the controllers sat nearby. “I double dare you take me on tonight, then!”

“Oh yeah? Well, let me go pee, too, and then you’re on!” The teen kicked off his shoes and placed them by the door, before heading into the hallway. Just as he reached the bathroom, he met Jesse coming out. “I think I’m in trouble,” he whispered, nodding toward their bedroom.

Jesse grinned. “Nah, he’ll settle down in a little while. If he doesn’t, we’ll put a sleeper hold on him.” When he saw Noah’s look of confusion, however, he rolled his eyes. “Like, in wrestling? Haven’t you seen it on the WWF, where they put sleeper moves and-” The blank look his friend returned to him said it all, as if he had already lost out. “Never mind, I’ll show you sometime…” He stepped aside and walked away, leaving Noah literally scratching his head as he entered.

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