When Shadows Pass

Chapter 11: What Real Families Are Made Of (Part I)

 

    "I want to see my son, and I want to see him now! Why won't you let me in there?"

   The nurse stood steadfast and determined, but not without a sympathetic eye towards the petite woman. "Please Mrs. Flavell, the doctor will be here in just a moment. You should really speak to him first." 

    Natalie threw her hands in the air in exasperation, while Derek and Jason stood a short distance behind her. Just then, Simon appeared from around the corner. Rapidly approaching, he addressed the pair. "Hallo," he greeted the nurse, before turning to his wife. "What is it dear?"

    "They won't let us see Elliot until the doc-"

    Natalie stopped as an elderly man came through a set of doors just then, dressed in a long white lab coat and sporting a stethoscope around his neck. Approaching the couple, the man spoke a single word, in a softly but distinctive voice. "Flavell?" Seeing their nods, the man motioned them off to the side of the ward, releasing the thankful nurse to other duties. "I am Dr. Wooldridge, and I am the attending physician for the ultra-care unit right now. First, let me assure you, there is nothing amiss and your son is doing fine. "

    Simon sighed with relief. "Well, that's good news then for starters, right?"

    Dr. Woolridge nodded in agreement. "Before I go any further, however, could you please first tell me, what you know of what has happened, and why your son is here?"

    Simon looked at Natalie, then turned back to the doctor. "I, err, we got a call from the school, saying that Elliot was in a fight of some sort, and he was being transported here. Unless my wife, or the boys, know anything else..." Simon paused to see a chorus of shaking heads. "Then I'm afraid that's the sum of it, Doctor. It's all we really know, I think."

    The doctor nodded, reassuringly. "I understand. I'll say it again, everything is going to be fine. However, your son has taken a rather, somewhat brutal tumble, I'm afraid. A fight at school is the basics I was given, and the aftermath seems to be very consistent with that. Be assured, since the moment he arrived here, we've been attending and watching him closely. My only concern is the possibility that he may have a mild concussion-" The doctor stopped just then as he saw a look of alarm light up Natalie's features. "And I do mean MILD, madam. He may also not have any, at that. So, let me say up front, with your permission, I really would like to keep him here for a while, perhaps even overnight. Just for observation, of course, to err on the side of caution."

    While Natalie appeared stunned, Simon tried to process it. "You mean, he... did you say, concussion?"

    Dr. Wooldridge nodded slowly before he patiently explained further. "Yes, Mr. Flavell. Your son was evidently, as you observed, in a school fight of some sort. From the looks of it, with someone probably quite sizable at that, at least larger than himself. He has several cuts and bruises all over, but nothing seems to be overly severe - and certainly nothing seems to be broken. Mind you please, when you go through those doors and see him, you both should be prepared, hmm? He looks much worse for wear than he really is. His face and upper body took some serious blows, I'm afraid, creating a number of bruises and the like. If you give him a few days for healing, however, then his body will sort the most of it out."

    Natalie finally spoke up. "But, you said a concussion...?"

    The elderly man smiled. "Elliot is reporting a slight ringing in his ears, and he seems somewhat sensitive to loud sounds at the moment. Those are preliminary symptoms of neurocognitive trauma. So, as a precaution, we did a quick scan as soon as he entered the emergency room. The results turned out to be normal, so there does not appear to be anything amiss. Be that as it may, however, since his sensitivity to sounds and light is still rather high, I had him moved in here to the Ultra Care unit. This ward is generally much quieter than the rest of the facility, and we have some vacant beds available now. You understand this, correct? He is not here for serious injury, but rather for the quieter environment. That's all." The man smiled at them. "Still, the nurses here will monitor him for the next 8-10 hours. I suspect he will be just fine - but I want to take every precaution that is warranted. Do you agree?"

    Simon nodded. "Yes, and thank you, Doctor. When can we see him?"

    "Right now, if you like. I'll take the two of you back." He looked toward the younger teens. "I'm sorry boys. I have nothing against you coming along, but the space within the unit is at a premium. It really is not designed to handle more than the nurse and a visitor or two at a time. If you like, you can go back there after your parents have visited. Okay?"

    Derek nodded, speaking for the first time. "Yes sir." Jason's thoughts were obviously elsewhere, but he nodded his agreement as well.

    As the doctor escorted Simon and Natalie through the double doors, Derek crossed the ward to sit down. Jason followed him slowly and chose a seat across the aisle. The waiting area was brightly lit, but rather quiet. Even the volume of the intercom, when used, was significantly reduced. Looking about, Jason noted they were the only ones present for the moment. Neither teen spoke for a bit, each lost in their own thoughts thinking about Elliot, and the events of the morning. After several minutes, however, Derek became fidgety. The longer he reflected, he was clearly losing the battle with his patience. Finally looking up, he voiced his feelings aloud. "I don't know whom did this - but you better be ready to come get me out of jail when I find out."

    Jason, startled, looked up with an equal determination. "Count me in, too." Returning the gaze that met his, he remarked, "I just hope he's really okay."

    Derek grunted. "He will be. You really don't know anything more?"

    Shaking his head, Jason responded with a quiet air. "I had just told Crabtree I didn't do the paper she failed me on. She was just getting ready to unload on me, I think, but she never really got the chance. Mrs. Filch came to the door and pulled me out of class. She escorted me to the front of the school, where you and Natalie were waiting." He looked up. "She didn't give me any details, either. She just said you two were waiting, and that we had a little incident we'd be attending to." Jason shook his head. "I had no idea it was... THIS, though."

    Derek nodded. "We had just got there when we saw you coming down the hall."

    Jason was worried. "Derek-" He hesitated, causing his cousin to stop musing and observe him closely. "Y-you d-don't think, maybe-"

    "I don't think anything yet, Jason," came the quick reply, cutting him off. "I won't jump to conclusions until we know what went down, and it would be best if you didn't either." Derek softened his expression. "Sorry, didn't mean that to come off so pissy. Seriously though, Dad has always taught us to make sure we know all the facts before we take off on something, no matter what. I know how you probably feel, but even right now, I have to keep my temper in check. We don't know enough, yet. So... hard as it is, just be patient."

    Jason finally nodded. It wasn't exactly what he was thinking of bringing up, but the advice made all the sense in the world. As he watched Derek, Jason was surprised, but pleased, at the wisdom the older boy exhibited.

    Derek smiled before getting up to move. Sliding in beside his cousin, he placed a comforting hand upon his shoulder. There they waited as patiently as they could.

    But each were still troubled... for very different reasons.

 

    - + - + - + - + -

   

    Natalie gasped, holding her fingers briefly to her lips as they rounded the curtain. She had steeled herself, as the doctor had recommended, but the sight that met her still took her by surprise. Elliot's face depicted a battlefield of bruises and scratches, all embedded within swollen skin. There was a cut mid-way above his left eyebrow, already taped and stitched, and his left eye was puffed and swollen. She could also see a swell in one side of Elliot's lips, but thankfully they didn't appear to be cut. Other bruises extended to his upper shoulders, merging with others visible up and down his neckline. Her son's overall appearance was far from the usual, robust likeness that had just left the house a few hours earlier that day.

    As she and Simon approached the bedside, they noted Elliot's eyes were closed. He chest was rising and falling steadily, but both parents could tell that their son was breathing raggedly. It was a painful observation, made more apparent when he would appear to involuntarily wince on occasion. Simon skillfully pinched his wife back to reality, a gesture reminding her of what the doctor had said. "Remember - he'll look much worse for wear than he actually is," Simon whispered into her ear. Natalie immediately chastised herself, calming her nerves as she slowly nodded in acknowledgement.

    Simon, however, looked on with a mixture of emotions. It appeared Elliot's clothes had been removed, and he was elevated in the bed. A blanket covered him from his mid-chest down, leaving various contusions and bruises on display - all reminiscent of the morning's events. When Simon reached out and lightly placed his hand on his sons' chest, it felt distant for some reason. It caused him to hesitate, finding he needed to steady himself before he stepped closer. When he spoke, it was in a soft voice. "Elliot? Son?"

    "It's okay Dad, I'm here," came the sleepy reply. Although his eyes remained closed, Elliot mustered a faint smile to acknowledge their presence. "How's it going?" he added, a sound that clearly caused his mother to sigh with relief. Upon hearing her, the teen opened one eye briefly. "Oh hey, hi Mum," he offered.

    Natalie grasped her sons' hand gently. "Hi, son." Her eyes moist, she gave the hand a gentle squeeze. "How do you feel?"

    "Me?" Elliot asked, then grunted. "I'm okay, just kind of messed up, that's all. How 'bout you guys?"

    Simon smiled. "Well, I think we're faring somewhat better than you seem to be right now," he replied good naturedly, trying to lighten the mood.

    Elliot smiled back ever so slightly. "Yeah, I'm kind of fucked up right now."

    Natalie ignored the language for once, and finally sighed. "You'll be okay, hun. The doctor said nothing was broken, so that's a good thing, right?" She hesitated, then asked, "Is there anything we can do or get for you?"

    "Not really," Elliot replied with effort. He closed his eyes again and just lay for a moment. So long was he in silence that both adults thought he may have drifted off to sleep. As they looked at one another and contemplated backing away, however, the teenager spoke again. "Sorry Mum, I'll try not to swear like that again."

    Natalie smiled grimly. "Shh, I didn't hear anything," she teased, squeezing his hand again.

    Elliot opened his eyes and readily observed her again, smiling back. A moment later he spoke again. "Where's Derek? and Jason? Are they here?"

    Simon leaned in close. "They're outside, waiting to come back here, if you're up to it. I think they're as worried sick as we were."

    Elliot grimaced, but then coughed, which caused his face to contort briefly in agony. When he settled, his voice was weak. "I'm fine, really. They... this medicine they gave me, it's just making me... sleepy... and slow..." Suddenly he opened both eyes, alert, and looked at both his parents squarely. "But I want to see them, okay? Promise me, don't send them away, okay? Let them come in, please?"

    Natalie nodded, then looked at her husband as Elliot closed his eyes again. They started to step back, but then paused as their son called out to them. "Mum? Honest, I'm going to be fine. Just, don't worry about me, okay? Please?"

    Natalie couldn't speak just then, a lump developing in her throat. Simon nodded and offered his assurance instead. "Okay son, we know you will. We're going to go send your brother in now."

    "No - brothers." Elliot stared at them both again. "They're both my brothers now, Dad." It was not a question, but a statement of fact. Both parents noted the implied meaning affectionately as they glanced at one another.

    Simon smiled and nodded, then steered his wife back around the curtain, and towards the doors.

   

    - + - + - + - + -

   

    "Who would do such a thing? Why? How?" she whispered.

    Natalie was perplexed at the whole situation. She and Simon were seated in the waiting room, having already ushered the boys toward the ward with appropriate instructions. Simon grunted in response.

    "We don't know dear, but try to have some patience. We'll find out soon enough. After the boys have visited, I'll take a trip down to the school and gather as much information as I can."

    There was an awkward silence before Natalie spoke again. "I wonder if this had anything to do with Elliot's detention yesterday," she mused.

    Simon nodded. "It could be, but we'll know soon enough." He looked at the doors toward the ward. "You know, I think these three have made the trio complete now."

    Natalie looked up at her husband. "Elliot made sure we understood, didn't he?" She smiled. "We did right bringing Jason here, and not just for his benefit alone. I think he's a gift - for all of us. He's certainly a part of our family now." She sighed. "We're going to have to try and help him more, when things settle down enough. You know that, right?"

    Simon grunted again. "Damn straight, we will. It's not going to be easy though, not until we know what has happened to him before he arrived." He smiled at his wife. "Still, I'm glad there aren't any doubts now. He's worked his way into our hearts pretty deep, hasn't he?" The last was more of a statement than a question, but Natalie understood the implication.

    "Mm hmm," was her only reply.

 

    - + - + - + - + -

 

    Derek and Jason rounded the curtain and approached the bed quietly. Noting that Elliot appeared to be dozing, both looked incredulously at the bruises and cuts upon the living being beneath them. There was a steady rhythmic rise and fall of Elliot's chest, enough such that neither of the two teens had any desire to disturb him. At one point, Derek's hands balled into tight fists, the pressure great enough that his fingers left indentions within the palms of his skin. It angered him that someone would do this to another human being, regardless of purpose. He eventually took a deep breath, however, and relaxed.

    Elliot must have heard the exchange and sensed the two were nearby. Opening his eyes, he smiled weakly. "Hey," he whispered. Derek was standing nearest, but when the teen noted Jason was hanging back, he grunted and moved his fingers toward him. Understanding, Jason stepped up, and Elliot grasped the hand of his cousin, holding it for comfort. "How's it going guys?"

    "Better than you look, I think," Derek offered with a controlled smile.

    Elliot grunted. "This is nothing, seriously. I'm fine, or at least I will be. They just give me this stuff while ago... it's making me... sleepy, that's all." He sighed deeply, closing his eyes again. "Kind of messes things up for a few days, though."

    After a moment, when it seemed Elliot had gone silent again, Derek carefully spoke again. "What happened bro? Who did this?"

    Elliot grunted again, his eyes still closed. "I got fucked over," he replied sleepily. "Big guy, I think his name is Williams, like 11th year or something. Just... he caught me off guard."

    Derek was now visibly struggling to keep his temper in check. He knew the person his brother was talking about. "Eric." It was a statement of fact, but Elliot nodded ever so slightly in agreement.

    "Yeah, Eric Williams, I think..." he whispered.

    "Why?" Jason finally spoke, his voice veiled with uncertainty.

    Elliot opened his eyes and observed his cousin. "Just crap Jase. Don't worry about it, honest," he replied.

    Jason scoffed, looking incredulous. "Don't... worry about it? Elliot! Have you seen yourself in a mirror yet? Sheesh!"

    Elliot smiled meekly. "Meh, I know. I got fucked over some, but honest, I'm okay." He visibly shivered just then. "You think you guys could, like, get this blanket pulled up... on... me....?"

    Both teens reached out simultaneously and complied, using care to not interfere with the IV's or monitor clips. Derek sighed before turning to Jason. "Eric Williams is a hot head, and he's got major anger issues. I've known guys who have had run-ins with him before. And teachers, too. Thing is, the school can't do much about it, because he's on some kind of special probation or something. It's all mostly being controlled by social workers, so they have to keep dealing with him." Derek shook his head. "Knowing him, it could be anything. It doesn't take much at all to set him off."

    Elliot nodded ever so slightly. "Yeah, he's a nutcase." This time, Elliot did drift off to sleep, still holding Jason's hand, but considerably less firm than before. A nurse stuck her head around the curtain and observed the change in her patient. She whispered to the boys, "He's just groggy from the medication, boys. I suspect he'll be out, say, for the next few hours at least. Why don't you leave him be for a spell? We'll watch after him."

    Derek turned to the young, attractive lady. "Yes ma'am. Thank you." They exchanged smiles before she disappeared, and then he turned to Jason, who was already slowly slipping himself free from Elliot's grasp. Glancing at each other, they quietly walked out, leaving the teen to rest as peacefully as he could.

 

    - + - + - + - + -

 

    "Mrs. Filch, the Flavell boys' father is here, asking to see you," the woman intoned on the line.

    Simon and Derek both had entered the school and headed directly for the main office. Having heard what little Derek could offer, Simon was now on his own course, determined to uncover more details. They had left Jason to stay with Natalie, primarily so as not to leave her alone at the hospital. Jason had grudgingly accepted his mission, but not without first extracting Derek's promise to get the full story later.

    Within moments, the two were ushered across the hallway and into the faculty conference room. Once inside, they found the school's Headmistress there already seated. In addition, a rather limited group of adults were also seated in attendance, most of whom looked up as the two entered. Mrs. Filch greeted them warmly, then immediately inquired with concern. "How is Elliot doing?"

    "Fair to middling, it seems," Simon replied as they joined the group. "He will need a few days to recover, understandably, but so far there appear to be no permanent effects." Simon paused as he noted her sigh of relief. Although she still seemed to have full command of her faculties, he could not help but note a certain weariness in her eyes.

    "I am certainly relieved to hear that," Mrs. Filch replied. "We've just been discussing this amongst ourselves, trying to sort out the details regarding how this came about."

    Simon nodded. "Really? Can you tell us what happened?"

    The elderly lady paused and pulled the glasses from her face, setting them down on the table in front of her. "To be clear, we're still picking apart some of the details. We only have a rough idea at present, but it does at least appear to be shoring up. What we know, from the outside in, is that while in detention this morning, your son shared the room with another young man, who was brought in after an incident with one of our teachers."

    "Eric Williams," Derek breathed unintentionally, then blushed. "Sorry, ma'am."

    Mrs. Filch smiled before nodding. "Nevertheless, you are correct. According to the room monitor at the time, he had turned his back to put away some paperwork. Somehow, a commotion of some sort ensued. He turned in time to see a chair being thrown at Elliot, striking him from behind, almost without warning. Before the teacher could react, however, he was then attacked and clubbed. Knocked out flat, from the sounds of it."

    One gentlemen from the table spoke up. "We're unsure how long he was out, Mr. Flavell. The teacher didn't regain consciousness until there were others in the room. I do know however, that I was walking down the corridor around 10 minutes or so past the class bell. I heard a spot of racket coming from up the hall, somewhere ahead, so I investigated it. When I arrived, I saw two young men on the floor. One was your son, and the other was a rather burly youth straddled on top of him, pinning him to the floor. Both were in quite a tussle, it seemed, shouting at each other." The man paused and grimaced. "Sorry, forgive me, that was actually a poor choice of words. There wasn't much of a tussle in it, now that I think about it. The boy on the floor was getting the brunt of some rather vicious blows, twisting and turning about to avoid the worst of it, I think. In any case, however, I ran in and tried to separate them. The larger student saw me approach and tried to turn. Unfortunately for him, however, I subdued him in short order. About that same time, I began shouting for help, and eventually some assistance arrived. We then removed Mr. Williams to a holding room in the gymnasium, before calling upon the local constable."

    "Your son was bleeding, and obviously he appeared to be in a bad way, Mr. Flavell. So, after conferring briefly with me, the nurse rang for the ambulance straight-away. Afterwards, we then called your wife and then you," the Headmistress picked up. "As you might imagine, the authorities have already arrived and collected Mr. Williams." She sighed, pausing briefly. When she continued, there was a troubled countenance she displayed upon the group. "We know, Eric has a rather lengthy history in our school, one which purports to an odd situation all to itself. Although he has toed out of line before, none of his previous events were near this drastic. What could have set this off, in such a dire motion, we honestly have no idea at this moment." The woman gazed upon Simon with sadness. "For Eric, it was, or is, unprecedented. Be that as it may, however, let me extend my most personal apologies here. The school will also make a more official statement, grant you, once we've garnered more details, but - until then..." She left the sentence unfinished.

    Simon, however, nodded understandingly. "I appreciate your candor madam, and we will offer any assistance we can in the matter. Although Elliot was awake for a brief spell earlier, he was sedated for the morning. We were unable to really acquire anything from him. Perhaps, this afternoon..."

    "I understand. It would be deeply appreciated if you would pass on anything you might discover," the Headmistress acknowledged. "In the meantime, we'll pursue what we can from this end, and hopefully we'll both meet somewhere in the middle straightaway." Replacing her glasses, the elderly lady smiled wearily. "If it would be alright, with both you and Mrs. Flavell, I would like to try and drop by this evening. Just for a short visit, only to check in and say hello. Mind you-" she paused, emphasizing her next words carefully. "I have no intention of querying Elliot, at least not until he has made a reasonable recovery. That is not the purpose for my visit at all. I just - you understand, don't you?"

    Simon smiled warmly. "Indeed, I do madam. I'm sure your presence would be most welcomed, too." Glancing about, he rose from the table, and Derek followed suite. "We'll let you get back to your business then, as I'm sure you have plenty to deal with right now. We'll be in touch with you later today," he offered, but was surprised as the Headmistress motioned for him to wait.

    Turning to the others, she spoke quietly, "Would the rest of you mind if I have a moment alone with Mr. Flavell? I think we're done here for the time being. I'll let you know if anything further turns up." The rest in attendance stood and, one-by-one, filed out, each offering a handshake to both Simon and Derek, expressing their sincerest wishes for a speedy recovery. Only when they had all exited and closed the door, did the Headmistress rise and approach from around the table.

    "Thank you for staying a moment longer. I'm sure you realize, of course, that this is a delicate situation. We have a young man who has, by his own accord, undertaken actions well beyond anything acceptable, by both the school and the system. In other words, he has not only broken the basic rules here, but he's also broken the law quite severely. He will, of course, be charged with assaulting a school official at a minimum, and I am assuming he will also receive a charge for the atrocity he visited upon your son." When Simon nodded in understanding, she went on.

    "What I wanted to request of you, however, is when you're speaking with Elliot about this matter, if you could try and find out 'why' it occurred. Please don't misunderstand me - I accept full responsibility for everything that goes on within these walls. As the Headmistress, however, I also have additional responsibilities as being the investigating officer for the school. In that role, I need to attempt to learn what the motive was, and your son may be the only one available, and capable, of filling in that missing piece of crucial information." Mrs. Filch glanced from one to the other. "I take it, neither of you have any knowledge right now. At least, not yet?"

    Simon slowly shook his head, but it was Derek who spoke up. "The only thing I know, ma'am, is that yesterday, Elliot and Jason both had a run-in with Mrs. Crabtree during first period. That resulted in Elliot getting detention in the first place." He offered nothing more, but Simon, upon studying his son, detected there was more to that story than what was voiced. Not knowing the full extent of the details, however, the elder Flavell decided to let the matter rest.

    Mrs. Filch reflected on that tidbit, and then nodded. "I had not made it that far yet, so that is an interesting piece of information. Thank you, Derek."

    "I assure you again, I'll do my best, Madam," Simon intoned afterwards. "Perhaps we will have some more information for you this evening." They thanked each other again, and then he and Derek made their way from the building. Neither spoke until they were safely in their vehicle, and Simon was threading their car through the parking lot.

    "Did I detect something more, son? You seemed, how do you say, 'careful' with Mrs. Filch back there. Is there anything you think I should know about?"

    Derek sat in silence for some time before replying, and when he did, his words were once again measured. "Dad, more did happen yesterday, but right now I'm not sure it's related to any of this." He turned and observed his father's puzzled expression. "I'm sorry, really. I made a promise though, and right now, honestly? Jason or Elliot need to be the ones to tell you, if it becomes important. If I thought it was important, then honestly - I'd tell you. But I just don't know that it is, not right now anyway." Derek paused, taking a deep breath. When Simon remained silent, he added, "Please Dad, I know how important this is, but ... I made a promise to my brother and Jason both. Please don't make me break that. If I thought it was pertinent, I promise, I'd tell you."

    Simon studied for a moment longer. "Does it have to do with why Elliot was in detention again this morning, even though he shouldn't have been?"

    Derek nodded. "Kind of, yeah. It's not as bad as it sounds though, at least that part of it. That is, if you can trust me on that much."

    Simon nodded. "I do trust you, son. Implicitly. You should know that." He smiled. "I also trust your judgement. Okay, I won't press on this issue any more. Let's go get a sandwich and take something back to the rest of the family. I hear the food is atrocious in that hospital, at best."

    Derek was relieved, but inside he was beginning to feel uneasy.

   

    - + - + - + - + -

 

    It was late that afternoon before Elliot awakened, surprisingly refreshed compared to hours before. Many of the pains and aches he experienced earlier, seemed to have either dulled or subsided. He could move much easier now, although he was still hampered from his muscles and joints still being sore. When his eyes opened and he could focus them, Elliot saw his mother sitting nearby. As he observed the smile greeting him, he smiled back, drawing her to lean forward. "Well, hi there!" she exclaimed softly.

    "Hi mum," he replied. Neither spoke for a moment while Elliot yawned. He was still getting his bearings when his mother asked if there was anything he wanted. "C-could I get some... some water?"

    He was dismayed, however, when Natalie shook her head. "I'm sorry, but the nurses said not to give you any food or liquids for at least an hour." Seeing the sudden look of dejection on his face, she studied. "What I might can do though, is let you have some ice chips, if that will help. Do you want some?" Without waiting for a reply, Natalie addressed an unseen person beyond Elliot's view. "That is right, isn't it? He can have some ice chips, right?"

    An unseen voice responded in the affirmative, and a moment later his mother had a styrofoam cup and spoon in her hands. Natalie readily scooped the cold fragments, and then pressed the tip of the spoon to her sons' lips. Elliot hungrily accepted them, amazed at how good they felt. "More, please."

    Several minutes later, he finally lay his head back and asked if they could raise the bed any higher. It was then the curtain parted, and Derek poked his head inside. Seeing his brother awake, a huge grin crossed his face. "Hey doofus, how's it going?" he asked.

    The mood in the space improved substantially, as the two traded jibes and chatted for a bit. Eventually, Derek turned to his mother. "Dad let me come in first, so he could come back in with you afterwards."

    Nodding her understanding, Natalie stood. "Well good, that gives me time to go to the loo and stretch my legs." Her remark caused both boys to snicker, a surprisingly pleasant sound as she looked at Elliot and winked at him. "I'll be back in a few minutes," she whispered.

    "Thanks for the warning," Elliot returned, smiling all the wider. The exchange gave Natalie's morale a boost, and she quietly left her two sons to themselves.

    Elliot waved toward his brother. "Come over here, so I don't have to turn my head so much."

    Derek complied, sitting down on the bed's edge. "What, still got some loose rocks up there, little brother?"

    Elliot smiled but offered no retort. "Where's Jason? Is he here, too?"

    "We're all here little bro, no one is going home for a while yet." Derek studied his younger brother. "Why do you ask? Already tired of seeing my ugly arse?"

    "No," Elliot replied, his voice almost a whisper. "How long have I been out? When did the fight happen? What day is this?"

    "Whoa, slow down little brother," Derek replied, holding up a hand. "It's still Tuesday, it happened this morning, and you've only been out for, uh, maybe 5 or 6 hours, I think."

    Elliot thought about that, then accepted it. "Somehow it feels like a lot longer, I think. The other guy, is he...?"

    Derek lowered his voice even more. "He's in the lock-up. That's the last I heard, so he's out of the way for now. No worries on that end, mate." He fell silent and waited, but when his brother offered nothing more, Derek asked, "What's wrong Elliot? Fess up... it's just me in here right now."

    Looking deep into his brothers' eyes, Elliot motioned for him to come closer. "He just went off on me, Derek. Honest, I didn't do anything. Not really, anyway. I mean, he threw a paper at me, like a paper airplane or something, you know? He threw it at me and then... and then..."

    "Okay. Not too big a deal. Did it have something written on it?" Derek asked carefully.

    Elliot nodded. "It asked if I was the 'boy fucker'." He looked up at his brother's startled expression. "I just gave him the finger back."

    "Holy shit," Derek muttered under his breath. He leaned back and then repeated it to himself. "Holy shit!"

    Elliot was already alarmed. "Shhh! Don't Derek, don't say anything to anyone yet!"

    Derek studied his brother, but then slowly shook his head. "Why? Elliot, this is the motive, see? Everyone is wondering what the hell happened. You know, what set him off and everything in the first place!"

    "Okay, I get that, but Jason..." Elliot stopped, looking worried. "He'll worry, he'll get scared, he'll... I don't know. I hope he wouldn't do anything, but he's already... you know..."

    Derek suddenly understood. "I think I understand now," he said softly. Looking deep into those eyes, Derek saw both fear and understanding at the same time. "You two are close then, really close. Like, even physically and everything." Before Elliot could answer, Derek leaned in close. "It's okay, I promise. I love you, you know? I'm glad you two could find each other that way, especially since I'm not around as much as I used to be."

    As Derek leaned back, Elliot sighed with relief. His brother understood and got his message. He reached out and grasped Derek's hand and held it tight. "Derek, I - I love you, too. You know that, right? But Jason, he is only now beginning to trust me, and... and... He's been through hell and back, bro. I know, you don't know the whys and everything, but... but trust me, okay? It's been bad for him. And, yeah, we're close..." He shut his eyes tightly and sighed again. "Don't get me wrong, it's not like we do big stuff, just... stuff, but... we, it's just... he'll get scared, and... If he gets wind of this being over that gay crap with Mrs. Crap-Ass? Then... then..."

    Derek nodded. "Okay, okay, calm down little bro. Don't worry, we'll take care of all that part later. If nothing else, then you need to trust ME, okay? I'll take care of that part." He studied Elliot's face. "But El, you've got to realize something else, too. This is something that has to get out. It's bigger than you, or Jason, or any of us for that matter. We have to get this out, like right now. If we don't, it'll tear Mum and Dad up if they don't find out about it until later, you see? We both know it will! We have to set the record straight! And it all boils down to where it started, too. If we don't say something, then Mrs. Crap-bitch, or Crap-Apple, or whatever you want to call her - she'll get away with it. And Elliot? You can't let her do that. She needs to be held accountable, see?"

    Elliot thought about that for a moment, before agreeing. "Okay, I guess so ... But how?"

    Derek smiled. "Do you still trust me?" When his little brother smiled and nodded, Derek winked. "Then let me handle it, okay?" He stood up. "Look, I'm sure Mum will be back any second now, so heads up: Mrs. Filch said she was going to come by today, just to see you is all. Don't say anything to her about this yet, okay? I'll get with Dad here, and we'll head some of this off." Derek paused, observing his little brother in a new light. When all was said and done, he realized how much the squirt was growing up on him. "I envy you, you know?"

    "Really? Why?"

    "Because..." Derek hesitated before leaning in again. "You and Jason, you have each other. You can hug and hold onto him now, without having to worry about not having me around. That's what I always got the most out of us, you know? Sure, we had some fun and stuff, but just being together sometimes, those were the best. When you would let me hug and hold onto you."

    "But... but... you never told me. You never showed me or anything, you know? I always thought, well...." Elliot started, a tear escaping down his cheek. "I always thought you just humored me, you know? Because I figured I was just the little kid and all. I didn't think you cared that much, and... and..."

    Derek reached out to wipe the tear away with a stroke of his finger. "I know, little bro. Sometimes, you just don't know what you have or had until you lose it, okay? That's what happened to me, I think. I never treated you the best, I know that. Even when we did... stuff... it was more our hormones than anything else. At least, I think it was mine that drove me. But there was a whole lot more, too. I hope you can trust that. After you and squeaker were in my room last night? I knew it, then. I knew I missed out on something, big time. I missed out on something really special." He hesitated, then whispered, "I missed out on you."

    Elliot observed him wistfully. "You still have me, Dereck, and I still have you, don't I? You're not leaving me or anything, are you?"

    "No way, squirt. Never, nada. But - I know how you feel, I really do. When we were growing up, we had each other and everything, more so than we do now. It's all my fault, really." Derek saw Elliot about to object, but he shook his head. "No, don't try and deny it, okay? I know this one is on me. It's just the way things have been going lately, and I think... Well, I honestly don't know if it will get any better or worse. I do know things have been changing for me, though. Like getting on the team, and trying to look for a job next and everything. But Elliot? I'm still here, little brother. And after last night, you should know I still trust you and love you, okay? Just like I always have, only now maybe even more. You and squeaker both, really."

    "I know that, Derek," Elliot whispered.

    Derek smiled at him. "Just so you know, I'm truly sorry about it. I guess it took Jason being here for me to really see through it. But I am happy for you little bro, honest. I kind of see what I'm losing out on, and yeah, it makes me sad sometimes, but that's okay. Just promise me something, please? Promise me - you won't forget I still love you, no matter what."

    "I've never doubted it," was the whispered reply, reinforced by Elliot's squeezing the hand he still held.

    Derek glanced around, then knelt and kissed his brother on the forehead before standing up. "I'll do better from now on, I promise," he whispered.

    They heard footsteps approaching, followed by Natalie rounding the corner. Derek grinned at her, then started walking around the bed's end. "I'll go back out and let Dad or Jason come in, Mum. See you in a bit!" When she nodded in acknowledgement, Derek made his way back out to the waiting room with a smile on his face. Reaching his father and Jason, he nodded to his cousin. "Go on, he's asking for you again," which made Jason smile in return. As he disappeared through the doors, Derek pulled his father aside. "Dad, we have to talk, and quick." Guiding him into a corner of the room, Derek began speaking in hushed tones. "Elliot told me, Dad. He said Eric went off on him because he thought Elliot was gay."

    Simon's face went from curiosity to one of astonishment. "What? Did I hear you right?"

    "Yeah, Dad. Eric Williams thought Elliot was gay, but that's not the half of it, okay? Remember when I said more happened in Mrs. Crabtree's class yesterday?" When Simon nodded his head, he leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. Derek continued. "They didn't want you to get involved, because she's been giving them shit ever since Jason was put in the class with Elliot. I didn't even know about that part myself until a few days ago."

    When Derek paused, Simon encouraged him to continue. "Okay son, go on. And...?"

    Derek chose his next words as carefully as he could, without looking like he was being guarded. "Well, I'm not totally sure, okay? But somehow, she was getting on their case again yesterday morning. See, she failed Jason's report, the one he spent all of that last week writing before the term break. Remember? The rest of the class has been working on it for over a month, but Jason came into it when they were over halfway through it. So, Elliot says she's been giving him grief ever since, doing all sorts of crazy stuff."

    "How so?" Simon asked.

    "Well, she was making a big show to the class yesterday morning, and she was picking on Jason again because he got the lowest grade. Somewhere in all of that, she asked some sort of dumb question, as Elliot put it. Then he..." Derek paused to catch his breath. "You know how he is, Dad. Sometimes he can't keep quiet. He spoke up and gave her a dumb answer to a dumb question. So, they got into it in some way, and she ended up sending him to detention." Derek pulled back a bit, thinking again. "But here's the kicker, Dad. After he left, she also said something to the whole class, something horribly wicked. It inferred that they, meaning Elliot and Jason, were in cahoots. Like living it up, as if they were in bed together, that sort of stuff. Not like cousins or brothers, but more like-"

    "Lovers, or gay people," Simon completed, understanding crossing his face.

    Derek nodded, then finished his tale. "From what we heard, Jason got back at her-" Derek hurriedly continued when he saw the stern look cross his father's features. "No Dad, wait! Hear me out, it was all cool and everything! See, she inferred to the whole class that Elliot was a girl, and some kids took the whole thing into their other classes and everything. I mean, you know what it's like to get a teacher at her own game? Jason did it somehow, but that's not important. The thing is, I'll bet it created a whole tidal wave of gossip, so of course, everyone is going to know about it before the next hour is up!"

    Simon started putting it together then. "So, this Eric Williams, somehow hears a version of this, no matter how foul rooted it might have become, and..." The man nodded. "He hears this story, somehow gets it that someone was sent to detention. Gets in there this morning, and finds another boy, probably fitting a generalized description. And then..." Simon's jaw was set firm now, and anger began creeping into his features. "This whole thing was started by... by a teacher, then?"

    Derek nodded. "I think so, Dad. Everything fits, don't you think?

    Simon slowly nodded. He looked at his son. "Is this all? Is there anything else you think I should know?"

    Derek smiled at him. "Dad, I'm breaking my promise enough as it is, but I think this is worth it. This is everything."

    Simon hesitated. "Why was your brother in detention this morning? Do you know that one?"

    Derek grunted, but nodded. "Yeah, mostly because he had to deal with Mrs. Crabtree again. Supposedly, she came by afterwards and everything, and started giving him a bunch of grief again. She asked if he had learned his lesson about giving smart-arse answers. Well, you know him... he responded with some cheek again." He grinned. "I think he asked if she had learned anything about asking dumb-arse questions." Even Simon had to smile grimly upon hearing that, and eventually joined Derek in some brief laughter. "So, she gave him another couple of days detention."

    "Okay, okay. I think we'll let that one pass," Simon finally offered after digesting the details for a moment. His own mood was now more upbeat. He lowered his voice to a whisper however, "Let's not let your mother in on that one unless it is absolutely necessary, hmm? We have enough to deal with otherwise, and right now we don't need that as a distraction, hmm?" The twinkle in his eye was all Derek needed.

    "Dad? Can I ask, what are you going to do?" the teen inquired.

    Simon stood, thinking briefly. "I need to study this for a bit, to be honest. I think first off, we need to have a chat with Mrs. Filch - preferably before she gets here and inside to see your brother. Then, you and I are going to have to sit down with Jason and figure out a way to tell him what we now know. And somehow, we need to find a way to do it without alarming him, don't you think?" He glanced at his son. "They aren't really, ah, as you say..."

    Derek had already been working that one out. "Gay? No Dad, honest. I think they just, kind of, each found out they can trust and talk to one another, you know? And Jason, he's eating it up because he's been alone for so long and everything. And Elliot, he... well, you know."

    Indeed, Simon did empathize with that point. "He wears his heart on his sleeves at times. Yes. I know, son."

     Derek was relieved to see the understanding in his father's eyes. "There is one more thing, Dad. Elliot hinted to me that Jason told him some things. You know, about what happened before he came over. I don't any details, yet." He saw the surprise in his father's eyes again. "Dad, honest - neither one has said anything to me about what happened. Not yet, anyway. I just know, according to Elliot, that he said it was really bad. I think Jason's working a lot of it out, though. I mean, look at him! He's a part of us now, more than ever, right? He seems happier, a lot surer of himself, too. He's not just someone on the outside anymore, is he?"

    "Damn straight he isn't," Simon replied, using the term for the second time that day. He straightened up. "I believe you, son. And yes, I think that's a very good thing. Just be patient, it will all come out I'm sure." Simon smiled at Derek, placing a hand upon the boy's shoulder. "You did good son. You did very, very good. I'm very proud of you, too. I want you to know that."

    Derek's chest swelled with pride as he watched his father walk away towards the parking lot.

   

    - + - + - + - + -

 

    When Jason approached the bedside again, Natalie glanced up and smiled at him. "Just in time, I think," she remarked.

    Jason stopped uncertainly, raising an eyebrow. "Uh... Wha-?"

    Natalie nodded toward Elliot. "He's been asking about you, and I think... he uh, wants to get a little help with something. Tell you what boys, I'll go down to the coffee shop while you two get together for a bit and visit." There was an amused expression on her face, but Natalie said nothing more as Jason stepped aside, giving her room to pass.

    As Jason gazed upon his cousin, it appeared he was much more alert now. Although his physical appearance had not altered significantly since Jason last saw him, there was certainly more vibrancy than before. "Hey," Jason offered in way of greeting.

    Elliot grinned at him. "Hey," followed a few seconds later by "How is you?"

    Jason grinned back, acknowledging the little exchange. "I is good. How is you?"

    "Uh, not that bad, I think. Right now, though, I kind of need to get to the loo," Elliot replied, sheepishly.

    Within seconds his remark registered, causing Jason's expression to change to one of amusement. "So, that's what that was all about? All you wanted me in here for, you know, was to get you to the bathroom?"

    "Uh, no!" Elliot hissed, then blushed. "I mean... okay, maybe a little, but-" Elliot's voice lowered to a whisper. "Jase, I'm naked under here, okay?" In lieu of explanation, he shifted the blanket enough so that Jason could see the entire length of his side and, indeed, that he had nothing on underneath. Jason understood and, looking about, saw a nearby door that he assumed would lead to a bathroom. Just then a nurse walked by their curtain, and he called out. "Uh, ma'am?"  She turned toward him. "Can we get, like, a gown or something? Just for a few minutes?"

    "Sure, just a pip," came a sweet reply before she disappeared. True to her word, within a minute she returned with a thin, simple garment. She opened it quickly, displaying the holes where the arms were supposed to go, and was about to turn and leave, but paused. Observing the nearby IV that was attached to Elliot, she stepped over and unclipped the tube from his arm. "I think we can stop this long enough for you to take care of business, young man. But - do be careful and not bother that insertion in your wrist, okay?" Elliot nodded, and then she exited, closing the curtain behind her.

    Jason offered an arm for support, then waited patiently as Elliot moved, ever so slowly, into a sitting position. When the teen swung his legs over the side, Jason stepped in and helped his cousin don the gown as instructed. Elliot grunted. "Still don't understand why they had to skin me..." he muttered quietly, so that only his cousin could hear. When he saw Jason reach out again, Elliot shook his head. "I need a minute, Jase. Everything is kind of dizzy just now." He sat that way for a short while, but not without first grasping the rail to steady himself.

    Before long, Elliot made his first tentative step off and onto the floor. Gingerly he tried standing up, but his dizziness increased substantially. Leaning heavily against Jason, he hugged him closely while forcing himself to continue until he made it to his full height. Once there he simply stood, but surprisingly the dizziness gradually evaporated. Jason waited patiently, until Elliot made his first step away from the bed. This time the effort was less dramatic, and thus Jason guided his cousin towards the bathroom, one small step at a time. As they made their way, he pulled the gown together in the back, covering up the nakedness exposed underneath. "Thanks," Elliot whispered, but was clearly concentrating on other matters.

    Getting to the bathroom, Jason hesitated inside the door. "Are you going to stand up or sit down?" he whispered.

    "I honestly don't think I can stand on my own yet, so you better help me sit me down," Elliot replied. Jason nodded before turning and partially closing the door. As he made to help Elliot pull the gown away, he stopped and gapped in astonishment at what he saw revealed underneath.

    "Crap! What the...!" Jason hissed. Elliot's legs were much more discolored than the rest of his body, with a multitude of bruises extending from just below his crotch down to his knees.

    Elliot grunted as he realized what his cousin was now seeing for the first time. "Yeah. That's why I didn't really want Mum to see me, you know? She would have had a cow, for sure," he offered weakly.

    Jason could just hear his cousin begin to urinate then, so he tore his eyes away and looked off to the side. "How...?" he started to ask, but Elliot shook his head.

    "He tried his best to de-ball me, I think. You know, kicking and jamming his knee at me all the time. But ... I had on those loose jeans you always tease me about, remember? So, he kept, you know, missing the 'spot'. My crotch was sagging pretty low then." Elliot looked up and caught Jason's eye. "Honest, Jase, it's not as bad as it looks. I can feel everything fine! My legs, well, they're just - sore. He did knock my nuts a little, but for the most part he never even got close to them, see? They hurt, yeah, but that's all. Doc already examined me down there and said nothing was broken or damaged, so don't worry about it."

    Jason fell back, leaning against the doorframe. "Elliot, how can you tell me not to worry?" he hissed. "Look at you, you got hurt - really, really hurt! And... and... That creep did all of this to you, and you're not even mad about it or anything? If he had hit you like this just a couple of inches higher, you... you..." He frowned as he dropped his gaze to the floor. "It should have been me, Elliot. Not you."

    Elliot squared his jaw, his eyes becoming narrow. "No! Shut up Jase! That's stupid and you know it! Why the crap would you say something like that?" he hissed.

    Jason shrugged. "I don't know, Elliot. I mean, I'm the new kid, not you. It just feels like, if I hadn't come here, none of this would be happening to you now, you know?"

    Elliot's face softened. "Jase, forget it. This had nothing to do with you. You know that!" He sighed. "And as for me getting mad - I don't have to, see? Because I got you, and Derek, and Dad taking care of everything, you know? Yeah, I'm pissed with the creep, but what good is that going to do me right now? Huh? Nothing. Besides, Derek told me they locked him up anyway. So, in a way, he's going to get it in the end, right?"

    Jason stood motionless for a long time, still unconvinced, but letting the matter slip. Now was not the time to settle this out, and he knew it. While thinking, however, a certain familiar odor reached him, causing the teen to screw up his nose. "Ugh, so that's why your farts always smell so nasty..." He was giggling now, and Elliot was happy to see the moment had passed.

    Grinning sheepishly, Elliot shrugged. "What? I didn't know you ever noticed," he offered lamely, which made Jason grunt. As the odor grew in intensity, he stepped outside the door and closed it completely, but not before turning the exhaust fan on.

    A few minutes later, a voice from inside announced, "All clear!" When Jason entered, he found Elliot had already gotten to his feet. At the sink the teen was still wobbling, but he was wetting his hands by the time his cousin reached him. After helping him finish, Jason then skillfully steered Elliot out and back to his bed. The return trip was made with a much steadier gait than before, but not without some trepidation.

    They had just made it to the curtain's edge when Derek entered the ward. "Ah, there you are!" Seeing his brother's unsteady steps, however, Derek quickly moved to Elliot's other side. Being somewhat stronger, he helped guide his younger brother back to the bed in short order, before helping him climb back in. Exhausted, Elliot lay motionless for a time until he caught his breath. In the meantime, the nurse who had originally helped remove his IV, returned and reattached the tubing. Satisfied everything was in order, she left the three boys alone.

    Elliot glanced between the two as they stood next to the bed. "Thanks guys," he offered. Derek grinned, but Jason was lost in his thoughts, only nodding in acknowledgement. Elliot saw this and grunted. "Hey, what's the deal now? I told you, I'm okay! You don't have to look like it's my funeral or something!" he proclaimed, trying to lighten the mood.

    Jason, however, wasn't buying the bait today. To alleviate his mood, however, he smiled. "Nah, I'm okay too, just dealing with the after effects of your poop."

    Derek snorted and then pivoted to sit down beside his brother. "And that's just when he isn't eating the healthy grub!" Seeing Jason's confusion, he explained. "Mum goes on these health food kicks every so often, and we all, uh, kind of get these horrible gaseous anomalies. Especially Dad!" All three were then caught up in laughter. For the moment, everything seemed to be a bit brighter. They kidded around for a while, exchanging banter back and forth until, eventually, Natalie returned to quiet them down.

    Inwardly, she was relieved to hear her son laughing again.