Ezra looked around at his new quarters after Headmaster Lowell himself escorted him to his room. Ezra rolled his eyes again as he remembered the long litany the man gave him about how the school would not tolerate any misbehavior. The boy listened to him, nodding his head in the appropriate places and then promptly shut the door in the headmaster’s face.

He found his neatly packed bags already waiting for him on a newly made bed and his trunk sitting at the foot. Ezra sighed as he sat on the bed, falling back into it. He knew it would be futile to try and leave now. They would be watching him closely at first and he would have to wait until they grew lax before making his escape. And he did plan on escaping. His mother might be quite happy living the life of Mrs. Robert Carlisle III, but he could not stand the man or the way his mother acted around him. Ezra did not mind living a life of luxury, but it had a way of being false and empty. He wanted something more, but did not have a clue of what that could be.

Finally pushing himself up from the bed, Ezra began to inspect the belongings of his roommate. There was not much. A picture sat on the nightstand of an elderly couple who looked more like grandparents than parents. There was an old fashioned, handmade quilt folded at the foot of the bed. Ezra touched it gently, wondering at its meaning since it looked out of place in the otherwise Spartanly furnished room. On an odd whim for him, he picked up a corner of it and brought it to his face to breathe in its inviting smell of home and warmth. Just then the door opened and the longhaired boy that he had seen earlier entered. His blue eyes took in the sight of Ezra holding his quilt and they flashed angrily.

"Leave that ‘lone," he said brusquely, but Ezra easily picked up the Texas twang.

He guiltily released his hold on the quilt and then moved back to his side of the room. "My apologies," he drawled, though he suspected that his roommate had been angry before he even entered the room. And Ezra believed that it was something more than his suddenly having to share a room. Narrowing his eyes slightly, the southerner watched the other boy carefully for any clue as to what that was, though he already had his suspicions.

"I don’t like people touching my stuff," Vin added receiving an understanding nod from the other boy. Vin’s eyes swept over the rest of his belongings before turning to size up his new roommate. He was about his size, but had an immaculate polished air about him. There was a hint of superiority in his green eyes that Vin did not like, but he could also see something more, something deeper in them, that made him think that maybe the two of them had some things in common. "I’m Vin Tanner," he said.

The other boy nodded, "Ezra Standish." He looked around the room once more and then asked slyly, "You wouldn’t happen to have a computer hidden somewhere in here, would you?"

Vin caught the almost eager tone in the drawl and laughed. "No. I reckon that’s one of the reasons they wanted to put you with me."

Ezra turned unimpressed eyes on Vin and waited for a further explanation. "They told me ‘bout some of the trouble you’ve caused."

Turning away from his new roommate, the southerner sat back down on his bed as things fell into place for him. "And I suppose that you are to keep an eye on me?" he asked, his voice sharp, covering the disappointment he felt. He hated to admit it, but his roommate was interesting. Ezra had not missed the humor sparkling in those blue eyes and hoped that he might have been fortunate enough to find someone who might enjoy creating a bit of mischief. Instead he discovered that he was simply the next in a long line of watchdogs.

"I ain’t a snitch, if that’s what you mean," Vin defended himself, but Ezra eyed him doubtfully before completely dismissing him from his attention as he began to unpack his belongings. He had seen the unintentional confirmation of his words in Vin’s eyes. The other boy was not happy with the situation, that much was obvious, but he had been asked to do exactly what Ezra said. His denial merely showed how reprehensible he considered the act. A small, sly smile crossed Ezra’s face as he wondered if he could use that to his own advantage.

"If you want to delude yourself, feel free, Mr. Tanner," Ezra stated, his back turned to the Texan. "But they obviously have you under their power and you will indeed be a ‘snitch’ for them."

"Who’s they?" Vin asked angrily as he stepped up behind Ezra.

"Headmaster Lowell, Dean Parker, anyone that you will be reporting any indiscretion on my part to," Ezra answered easily. Yes, Mr. Tanner was not at all happy with the situation and would not be a willing participant. ‘Snitching’ as Vin called it, went against the boy’s nature. Ezra could definitely use this, if he played his cards right. And Maude Standish’s darling little boy had always been taught how to play his cards right.

Vin spun him around and glared hard at him, keeping a firm grip on his shoulder, "I ain’t under their power!"

Ezra eyed him placidly. "Really? Let me guess. You are here on some type of athletic scholarship." He studied Vin’s lean frame. "Track most likely. You were called into the Dean’s office and were told that if you assisted them in keeping an eye on me, that you would then not have to be so concerned about maintaining your scholarship. Am I correct?" he prodded.

Vin released his hold on Ezra with a slight shove making him sit down on the bed. "They may have told me that, but that don’t mean I’m gonna do it."

Ezra nodded as he brushed absently at the front of his shirt, smoothing it out. "It doesn’t matter to me, Mr. Tanner. I plan on doing exactly as I please." Inwardly, Ezra could not help but laugh. Vin should never have admitted it or shown the guilt he felt over it.

Vin opened his mouth to retort, but was interrupted by a knock on their door. Striding over to it, he pulled it open with a hard jerk. Chris and the others gazed at him in surprise. Buck was the first to speak as usual. "Hey, Vin, why’d they call you over to the office?" Vin stepped back as they all filed in.

Before the Texan could answer a soft chuckle came from Ezra as he said, "Well, if it isn’t the dirty half dozen."

All eyes turned on the other occupant that they had not noticed before. Buck smiled broadly, welcomingly. "Who you calling dirty? You’re the one pulled out of a police car," he teased.

Ezra ignored him, all of them, turning back to unpack his meager belongings. Maude had only sent his clothing, no mementos or any of his personal items. He was sure it would only be the beginning of her punishment for his behavior. Fortunately she always taught her son to provide for himself so he had a few things stowed away that even she did not know about.

Undeterred, Buck turned back to Vin, "Looks like they finally gave you a roommate, Vin!"

Vin nodded. "Yeah. You still want to switch?" he asked hopefully.

Buck looked from Ezra over to Vin and noticed the dejected look on the runner’s face. "Uh, no thanks, pard. I’ll stick to Nathan." Turning back to Ezra he extended his hand in greeting, "I’m Buck Wilmington, quarterback on the football team."

Ezra took the proffered hand briefly, "Ezra Standish, reluctant alumni."

Buck laughed loudly at that, then stopped short. "Ezra? What kind of name is Ezra?"

The southerner eyed him. "It’s biblical, Mr. Wilmington, but I don’t expect you to be familiar with that." Ezra was extremely annoyed and did not care if it showed. There were too many people in the small room, none of whom he wanted to talk to, and he was feeling closed in.

The oldest boy in the group stepped forward. "Oh, yes, the Book of Ezra. A priest and a scribe, Ezra was responsible for the revival of Judaism in Palestine after the Babylonian Captivity. There are many who see Ezra’s work as an example of God restoring a heart that has fallen in to sin."

Ezra eyed the muscular boy. "Who are you? A rabbi?" he asked, his drawl thick with sarcasm.

The older boy laughed self-depreciatively, "I’m Josiah Sanchez. My father’s a missionary so I’ve learned a bit about all kinds of religions."

Ezra smiled, giving the boys a glimpse of his dimples before the smile disappeared, "Well, I can assure you that while my heart may indeed have fallen into sin, it is in no way looking for restoration. So you may put aside your Bible quotes, your homilies, and any lectures in general that you may have and leave me be."

Buck shook his head, "It’s still a funny name."

Ezra eyed him again. "Oh, yes and there is absolutely nothing humorous about the moniker Buck."

Chris shoved Buck out of his way then stood face to face with Ezra. The younger man immediately saw the authority in the black clad blond and stood so that he would not be in a weaker position. He gazed up at him, his face impassive, waiting for him to make the first move.

"I’m Chris, Ezra." He motioned to the other two boys who had remained silent, though they watched everything intently. "That’s J.D. and that’s Nathan. We’re Vin’s friends so you’ll be seeing a lot of us. Get used to it."

Ezra took a breath to retort but Chris raised a warning finger in front of his eyes. "I don’t like your mouth, Standish. It’s trouble. And I don’t like trouble. I don’t care what you get into. At least as long as it doesn’t concern any of us. Otherwise I’ll take it personally."

The youngest of the group piped up then. "And you don’t want him to make it personal," J.D. said as he tossed a grin to Buck who grinned back at him with a wink.

Chris shot Ezra one last glare before turning dismissively and striding out of the room, the other boys filing out behind him. Ezra watched them go, his eyes hard and angry. Vin paused in the doorway and shot Ezra an almost sympathetic look. The southerner turned away from him, effectively shutting him out. Ezra had been challenged and he loved challenges. He could definitely make it personal for all of them. Chris’ father may have the authority to force him to remain here, but Ezra would be damned if he would allow the son to dictate to him. A crafty smile crept across his face as Ezra immediately began to formulate his plan for retaliation against his first victim.


As a group, the six exited the dormitory. Chris strode ahead and the others followed.

"What did the Dean want with you, Vin?" J.D. asked as he rushed to keep up.

Chris turned and frowned. "Not here, J.D.!" he ordered. J.D. looked around at the many other boys near them and nodded guiltily. He could understand why Chris did not want them to be overheard.

Chris relaxed his face slightly when he realized he was getting looks of interest. Gesturing to continue following him, he led again this time in silence. Vin watched as his friend strode determinedly ahead. He knew Chris was not going to like what he had to tell him. Hell, he did not like what just happened to him. He liked being at this school and his close friendship with Chris and the others. He did not want that jeopardized either. Especially by someone who only just arrived out of nowhere. Vin sighed. Even though Ezra had not made a very good first impression with any of them, Vin could not help but feel some kind of natural affinity with him. He did not know why. He just knew it was there.

Vin had been in too many orphanages and placed with many different foster parents in his short life. The wide range of experiences, good and bad, made the young man quiet and wary but it had also given him the ability to get a feel for people at first glance. Despite the way Ezra behaved in their room, Vin felt strongly there was so much more to the other boy. Perhaps even similarities, in spite of their obvious differences. He recognized the same ploy he himself used on many occasions. Show indifference and even insolence until you watched and waited to see whether the people in your new surroundings were worthy enough to warrant your friendship or even more rarely, your trust. He was willing to try and get closer to Ezra but he knew it would take a lot more to convince Chris of his feelings and he knew that whatever Ezra did next would play a big part in Chris' determination of him.

Chris weaved his way along the populated path until he reached the building that housed the cafeteria. Holding the door, he waited until all his friends entered before he closed the door and locked it from the inside. They passed through the empty cafeteria and kitchen, before going down a flight of stairs into the basement.

"What are we doing here?" J.D. asked, unable to keep silent any longer.

"You'll see, kid," Buck laughed.

He and Josiah moved to the right hand wall where they proceeded to move large and small objects to one side. Within a few minutes a hole was revealed in the cement wall.

"Wow!" J.D. exclaimed. "How did you find this?" he asked as he stepped up and peered inside. Buck looked at Chris and smiled.

"A couple of seniors showed it to me before they left," Chris explained.

J.D. nodded then looked back in. "It's kinda dark!" he commented.

"Not for long," Vin replied as he squeezed through the entrance and after a few seconds light flooded the basement.

Tentatively, J.D. stepped into the basement and looked around. The light was provided by a large handheld lamp attached to an extension cord that led presumably upwards towards the kitchen. The area was full of covered and uncovered furniture. A small table and some plastic chairs were set up next to an old couch.

"Stand back, kid!" Buck's voice interrupted J.D.'s perusal.

Immediately J.D. stood back and grinned as Buck struggled getting his lanky frame through the small entrance.

"Need a hand there, Buck," J.D. laughed.

"Oh funny, kid," Buck retorted as he twisted uncomfortably but managed to straighten gracefully once inside the basement.

Giving J.D. a smug look, he immediately went over to the couch and dropped himself into it. J.D. shook his head slightly then his attention was drawn to the entrance again, as Josiah attempted to make an ungainly arrival. Where Buck had struggled, Josiah had to put in extra effort to get his larger frame inside the basement and the spectacle soon had J.D. giggling.

Obviously having some practice Josiah was soon inside as well and threw J.D. a frown, which silenced the younger boy instantly. He quickly moved and sat next to Buck.

Once they were all inside, Chris watched as they all found themselves seats. He remained standing and glanced at each of them before his gaze rested on Vin. There was immediate silence.

"What did Parker want, Vin?" Chris asked. He was anxious to know what happened between his friend and the dean of the school.

"He wants me to watch the new kid," Vin replied, after an uncomfortable pause.

"Report everything he does back to him," Vin continued. There was a series of sighs and muttered swearing going around the room.

"Why you?" Chris snapped.

"Just lucky I guess," the Texan shrugged. "That and I don't have a computer!"

"Oh let me guess, he supposed to be some kind of computer guru?" Nathan said snidely.

"Apparently he's a good hacker yeah!" Vin granted.

Buck chuckled. "Oh now he could be fun!" Chris ignored Buck's outburst and studied Vin's face.

"How are they gonna force you to snitch?" he demanded.

Buck's laughter died away as everyone stared at the uncomfortable Texan, who shifted slightly in his seat under the scrutiny.

"They could pull my track scholarship," Vin replied softly.

"Bastards!" Nathan swore.

"Man, that sucks," Buck echoed.

Silence ensued again and all boys focused on the grim disposition of Chris Larabee. Dammit! Chris knew Standish would be trouble from the moment he set eyes on him. But he was not going to take Vin Tanner down with him. Larabee would see to that.

"So, if Standish causes trouble and you haven't ‘informed’ them first, they're gonna pull your scholarship. Just like that?" Chris sneered.

Vin nodded. "I gotta go and see Parker every day or immediately if I know Ezra is up to something."

"This ain't fair," Nathan said angrily. "We gotta do something. I can ask my parents to talk to Dr. Lowell? And, Buck, you know how much Dr. Lowell loves your mother. She can probably influence him."

"She’s on a book promotion tour. But I should be able to get hold of her. See if she can help, " Buck offered.

"Well I don't think I could even get my dad to return my phone calls let alone have a word with the headmaster!" J.D. offered. Like the others, he felt badly about Vin's plight and wanted to do whatever he could to help.

"It's a good idea, Nate. But Robert Carlisle is big money. I'm afraid he'd wield more influence on Lowell," Josiah said soberly.

"Hey maybe we're getting all worked up over nothing," Buck suggested. "This Ezra might do nothing. Hell, he arrived in a cop car and his parents looked mighty pissed. Maybe he'll pull his head in for a while?"

"His kind are always trouble, Buck," Nathan said sarcastically.

"Hell, I know he's got a bit of an attitude problem, but hey I thought he was funny!" Buck replied.

"Buck has a point. Attitudes like Ezra's don't just happen. They're usually a means of self-defense. If we get to know him, we might have a chance to understand him. Understand him and we might be able to get him to help us," Josiah explained.

"Gee, Josiah. You been hitting those psych books again?" Buck teased.

"I'm just saying…" Josiah began.

"We make sure he doesn't cause trouble," Chris interrupted in a low, quiet voice.

"How the hell we gonna do that?" Vin asked.

"Oh you'll watch him, Vin. But if he's up to something, you let us know, we'll put a stop to it!" Larabee said vehemently. He turned and looked at each one of the others as his eyes circled the room.

"And when Vin's not with him, one of us will be. I want Standish to know he's not pulling any games on us!" Larabee declared and the menacing tone behind the words sent the room into silence.

Vin also looked at each of his friends with a growing sense of apprehension. It just was not fair. He worked hard for this scholarship. He had his own set of morals and rules that he lived by in the many foster homes he had been sent to. It was how he survived. And all through those years, despite the consequences, he had not snitched. He loathed snitching and was not about to start now. But that did not stop him from being angry at the consequences this time. The key was Ezra. He had to find out more about Ezra. Vin smiled faintly. Somehow the thought of that was strangely intriguing.


Buck approached the open doorway that led to Chris and Josiah's shared room.

Chris was lying on his back on his bed with his hands behind his head. His radio was softly playing. Josiah was sitting at the desk in the corner, his laptop was on but the older boy was writing a letter.

"Hey, Chris, Josiah," Buck said softly.

Both boys looked up and smiled.

"What no date tonight, Buck?" Chris teased as he raised himself onto his

elbows. Josiah chuckled and threw a wink at Chris.

"Gotta keep ‘em wanting more, you know!" Buck responded grinning.

There was a brief silence and Buck exchanged a look with Josiah. Taking his cue, Josiah spoke. "I'm going to grab a drink before bed," the older boy announced as he stood and excused himself.

Buck walked across the room and sat on Josiah's bed facing Chris.

Chris watched his friend as he sat on the bed and rubbed his knees thoughtfully. Knowing what Buck wanted to talk about, Chris sat up and swung his legs around so that he looked directly at him.

"You OK, Chris?" Buck asked softly.

Chris paused before he answered and exhaled. "He was gonna ignore me, Buck!" Chris said allowing anger to creep into his voice.

"Yeah I saw that. Maybe he just didn't want to draw attention to you?"

"You always make excuses for him, Buck! How many times have you seen him drunk? Heard what he's said to me?" Chris replied with disdain, then shook his head to release his anger.

"I wasn't making an excuse, Chris. You know I'm on your side. Always have been!" Buck countered gently.

Chris exhaled heavily again and nodded. Buck steadfastly remained his friend despite everything Chris threw at him or what he saw and felt in the hostile and very dysfunctional Larabee household. Chris spoke to very few people about his father and only Buck knew and felt his pain. He could talk to Buck and Chris realized sometimes he needed to talk to Buck, especially when his father was so closed off.

"I know, Buck," Chris replied and stood up. He walked over to the desk and picked up a baseball, rolling it in his hand.

He turned and faced Buck again. "I just want him to talk to me instead of picking up a bottle!" Chris said softly before looking at his friend.

Buck swallowed heavily at the raw pain that enveloped Chris' eyes and once again felt the heavy loss of Sarah and Eve Larabee. The accident not only vanquished two beautiful lights from this world but left big gaping holes in the souls of Clint and Chris Larabee. Buck could see how much the two of them needed one another but sadly father and son were unable to be in each other's presence without harsh words.

Silence grew and Buck pushed aside his own feelings and forced himself to smile.

"Hey remember that fishing trip up to Syracuse? Your dad was so put out when you kept catching all the fish!" Buck reminisced.

Despite his feelings, Chris smiled faintly. "Yeah I remember!"

"He was so keen to show you how to fish and you just caught one just like that and kept doing it all weekend! The look on his face when you’d land another one!" Buck grinned.

Chris’ smile deepened and he walked back to his bed and sat down.

"Course I can never think of that weekend without remembering Angelina!" Buck chuckled.

"Why? She punched you in the nose!" Chris laughed.

Buck gave him a mock hurtful look. "That was a misunderstanding. I wasn't looking at that other girl!" Buck implored.

"Yeah right!"

"Anyway she came around at the end," Buck replied wolfishly.

"Ah huh! Isn't that when her pa found you both?" Chris laughed and Buck
laughed along with him.

"Just as well my dad talked him out of tanning your hide!" Chris continued and at the easy way in which he spoke of his father, became reflective briefly.

Buck saw the look and stood up quickly, gently punched his friend on the upper arm.

"Yeah but I've always been lucky!" he grinned and raised his eyebrows.

Chris looked up and grinned back. That last statement was not a boast. Chris had lost count of the many girls that had come and gone from Buck's path. He did not know what it was, but whatever it was, Buck had it.

"Yeah well one day your luck will run out and I want to be there when it happens!"

Buck sighed heavily as he walked out of Chris' room. One down, another to go, he thought as he strolled slowly toward the stairwell. But where he had gone in to comfort Chris, he was now going to confront J.D. The junior had been surprised to hear J.D. say that he did not think his own father would return his call, and now felt like he needed to go talk to him about it. A bemused smile crossed Buck's face as he contemplated his friendship with the freshman. He had to admit that at first he had enjoyed the near hero worship that J.D. piled on him and the others, but mostly him.

But somewhere along the way, he came to see J.D. more as a true friend than just someone he tolerated. Buck believed it was because he just had to admire the kid despite the gullibility that he occasionally displayed. J.D. was just so good-natured, but it was complimented by such drive and determination. There just seemed like there was nothing that the freshman could not accomplish once he set his mind to it; and when the kid believed it to be the right thing to do - there was just no stopping him.

Because the kid was so open and honest, Buck was surprised to learn that he might have hidden pain or secrets. Normally the junior would not press anyone into saying anything more than what they wanted. But he was curious about the relationship between J.D. and the father he never mentioned. They all knew that the kid recently lost his mother to cancer and that he spent the summer at an aunt's house. The junior knew he had to tread lightly, after all the subject of fathers was a rather touchy one with all of them.

Buck ran a hand through the unruly locks of his curly, dark hair as he made his way down the second flight of stairs. Chris and Clint were a prime example of that. But as he just reminded Chris, it had not always been that way. As a matter of fact, Buck often looked at the father-son relationship with envy. He had never known his father, though his mother had always made it clear that if Buck wanted to know who he was or try to meet him she would support him wholeheartedly. But he never had; he simply did not have the desire to meet a man who would not be responsible to the woman he claimed to love.

Beatrice Wilmington had gotten pregnant at seventeen. She told her boyfriend only to have him dump her and tell her that he did not want to see her again or have anything to do with the baby. She told her parents only to be thrown out of their house. Beatrice found a place to stay with a friend's family until Buck was born. And to hear her tell it, it was love at first sight when her eyes fell on her big, gorgeous baby boy. He became her entire life, anything and everything she did was to ensure that he had the best and most loving, life possible. She worked several jobs as a waitress or dancer and soon found some measure of independence by moving in with a couple of roommates. Together the three young women raised Buck, each one working a different shift so that Buck was never alone or with a stranger. The young boy blossomed under the attention he received from all their friends and just seemed to soak in all their stories about men, both what they looked for in one and what they despised. They were his family, taking him to sporting events and amusement parks, or anywhere else his heart desired. He never lacked for attention and so never missed having a father.

His mother was his life. His love and respect for her was immeasurable. Many men came and went out of Beatrice's life as young Buck grew up, but he made no connection to any of them. He cared only that they treat his mother well and with the respect she was due. If any of them stepped over the line, Buck and all his "aunts" were there to push him back over and out of their lives. And Beatrice was always the first to defend any of her "sisters" who may have entered into an abusive relationship. And she was always the first that any of them, even the older ones, would come to with a problem. Many a crying woman was soothed with Buck stroking a hand or hair and Beatrice cradling her in her arms. It was during those times that Beatrice first started telling her stories, making up characters and situations that mirrored those of the grieving girl but twisting them so that they became romantic with happy endings. After a while, the girls started pressing her to write the stories down, but she always came up with one excuse or another. So one birthday, they presented her with a computer and took away any excuse she could come up with. Buck would stand guard over her room, and she would tease that she never knew if he was guarding against anyone interrupting her or guarding that she did not escape.

Slowly but surely, her first novel was written for the enjoyment of her "family". But they had other plans. Organized and determined they sent out her novel to publishers and hid the countless rejection letters they received on behalf of Montana Fontaine. Possessors of several creative, and created, names, they believed that Beatrice Wilmington was not inspired enough for a romance writer to be taken seriously, and so they provided her with her very own non-de plume. Meanwhile, Beatrice continued taking care of her son and "sisters" unaware that they had started her down a path far brighter than one she would have ever imagined. The first she ever learned of it was when her story was accepted by a publisher willing to take a gamble on a new writer and assigned her an editor to help polish it up. And that heralded the birth of Montana Fontaine, world-renowned romance writer.

She never planned on moving away from her friends, her true family, but they insisted. They wanted her to do it, not just for Buck, but for herself as well. To give herself the opportunity to live the kind of life the rest of them could only dream of. And so, she and twelve-year-old Buck packed up and somehow found their way to Seven Springs, Indiana. She had no idea what drew her to the town, but any trepidation she may have felt melted away when Buck found himself a best friend in Chris Larabee. And the family of his newfound friend somehow accepted Buck, and her as well, so that they again felt like they were truly part of a family.

Clint Larabee was everything Buck had ever dreamed for his father to be. Stern and hard when he had to be, but with a wicked sense of humor, Clint was the father figure Buck never realized was missing in his life. But he never regretted not making any attempt to talk to his father because he knew that he could not possibly be half the man that Clint was.

So, having lived through his father’s own indifference to his existence, Buck was sensitive to the fact that J.D. might be hurting. The older boy respected the possibility that the kid might want to keep things to himself, but felt that he could at least make an offer to listen. Still, he paused a moment outside of J.D.’s room before making his decision and loudly knocking on the door.

J.D.’s roommate, Jeremy swung the door open with an irritated scowl on his face. Buck’s eyebrows shot up in surprise and he could not contain his chortle at the younger boy’s attempt at intimidation. Fighting the smile that struggled to burst across his face, Buck forced his lips into a harsh frown as he stared down at Jeremy. The freshman paled and nearly slammed the door in Buck’s face, but the junior threw his hand out and stopped the swinging door. Jeremy smiled weakly before turning his head and calling, "J.D., it’s for you!" And with that he slipped under Buck’s arm and out of the room. Buck watched him go and with a huge grin, yelled after him, "I’ll catch you later, Jeremy!" The freshman waved a hand over his shoulder but did not turn as he increased his pace down the hallway.

"Hey Buck," J.D. greeted as the older boy stepped into his room. "What's going on?" The freshman was lying on his bed a textbook and notebook spread open beside him as he studied.

"Nothing much, kid," he answered as he sat across from J.D. on Jeremy’s bed.

"Just thought I’d come by and see how you’re doing?"

J.D.’s eyebrows knit together as he considered Buck’s words. "How I’m doing?" he repeated. A teasing smile lit his face, "You checking up on me now, Buck?"

The junior’s temper flared briefly as he started, "I ain’t…" but he pulled himself up short with a chuckle as he realized the truth in J.D.’s words. "I guess I am. But you said something earlier about your dad, and, well, I just wanted to let you know that if you need someone to talk to about it, that I’m here." J.D. sat up quickly on his bed, his dark eyes wide with surprise. Buck hastily continued, "Well, you said something about him not returning your calls and I just wanted to let you know that I kinda know how that feels. I’ve never even met my father."

"Really?" J.D. asked, his expression one of sympathy, but there was hope in his voice; hope that someone else might be in the same situation he was and truly understand it.

Buck did his best to maintain a nonchalant attitude, but some of the hurt seeped into his dark blue eyes. "Yep. When he found out my mom was pregnant, he told her he didn’t want to have nothing to do with her or me. Mom’s always told me she’d help me if I wanted to try and get in contact with him. But I’ve never seen the point. Maybe one day."

"My dad left me and my mom, too," came the quiet admission from J.D. as he dropped his head, letting the long bangs hide his eyes. "I was ten. He just told my mom one day that he had fallen in love with someone else and that he couldn’t be part of our lives anymore. Mom was never the same." The words came fast, a confession of hurt he had to rush out while he was brave enough to admit it. "My dad’s name is Jonathan, so Mom started calling me J.D. cause she couldn’t bear to call me John anymore. And she became so fragile. I tried to take care of her as best I could. But then she got sick," his voice trailed off in a choked whisper.

Buck moved to sit next to J.D. and threw an arm over his shoulder, giving it a quick, reassuring squeeze. "I’m sure you did your best and that she sure appreciated it."

"She just loved him so much and couldn’t understand how he could do that to her!" J.D. stated, his own anger and hurt coming to the surface.

"Some people just don’t see the value in what they have," Buck said wishing there was more that he could offer the younger boy than just words.

"I never saw him much and when Mom died," his voice broke and he cleared his throat, blinking his eyes rapidly to stop the tears, "when Mom died, I went to live with my aunt, even though I should have gone to my dad’s. He said that he thought it would be for the best, easier on me. But I think it’s cause his wife doesn’t like me and would rather my dad focus on his new family, you know."

Buck sighed heavily as his shoulders drooped. "I know, kid, I know." They sat in silence for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts. Then Buck got to his feet with a playful slap to J.D.’s leg. "Well, you got us now, kid."

J.D.’s eyes were still watery, but his smile was wide and genuine. "I know, Buck. And it means a lot."

Buck grinned and nodded as he stepped over to the door. "Wouldn’t be the same without ya," he tossed off as he slipped out of the room and there was no doubting that he meant it.


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