Ezra slipped back into his new room and could not help the smug smile that crossed his face when he saw that his roommate had not yet returned with his friends. No one would suspect a thing until it was far too late. He finished unpacking before he left on his little escapade, so now he sat on his bed and pulled out a deck of cards that had been the only thing besides clothing that Maude had packed. Ezra was at least thankful for that as he began to play a hand of solitaire.

As he played and waited, Ezra’s thoughts wandered back over the events of the day. He would have been free and on his own if it had not been for the dogged persistence of that cop. Sighing, Ezra scooped up the cards and rolled over on his back as he easily shuffled the cards one-handedly, even switching from one hand to the other. He had been born left-handed but Maude’s early encouragement now had him equally proficient with both hands and his choice was usually based more on whim than anything else.

Thoughts of the cop led Ezra to the son, Chris. If he had a choice in the matter, Ezra most likely would have preferred not to cross paths with the younger Larabee. But now that he had, the southerner was not about to back down. He was aware that striking at Larabee directly would be a huge mistake. He had seen the annoyed look that flicked across Chris’ face when J.D. mentioned not to make Chris take anything personally and figured that there must be a story there somewhere. In time, Ezra was certain he would learn what that was, but he had no intention of learning it the hard way.

But if he did not dare strike at Chris, that left his groupies as prime targets. Ezra knew he could not target Vin either, because he first needed to learn exactly how Vin would handle his new assignment of keeping an eye on him. That left the other four. The youngest of them was too easy, Ezra had decided. Still, easy could often be quite funny, so he would not rule out J.D. in the long run or whenever he was truly bored. Josiah was also someone Ezra would hold off on. The senior was not an easy target, not for lack of opportunity, but because he was too genial, too good-natured as was evident in the way he laughed at Ezra’s sarcasm without ire. He seemed like someone who was aware of his own failings and had no problem laughing at himself. But he was dangerous as well, and the southerner did not doubt that when pushed he would have a quick and awful temper.

That left Nathan and Buck. Ezra had felt Nathan’s almost instant dislike for him and would have loved to make him his first target for retribution. But he needed to learn more about him first, find out which would be the best way to strike at him. And so on tonight’s errand, Ezra happily focused his attention on Buck. And the star quarterback had unwittingly given Ezra the perfect idea of how to start off his first day at his new school.

Ezra choked back his anticipatory laugh as the door opened and Vin returned. Turning on his side so that his back faced Vin, Ezra drawled, "Why, Mr. Tanner, I did not think you would return before curfew. Thought that perhaps I would have to inform on you."

Vin shot Ezra a dirty look, knowing that despite his back being turned to him, Ezra would know. Vin hoped that maybe he could talk a bit to Ezra tonight see if he could learn anything more about him. But apparently the other boy was in no mood. "Go to sleep, Ezra," he growled.

"I plan to. Would have done it sooner, but did not want to be awakened by your bumping around in the dark or your inconsiderately turning on the lights to find your way," the slow drawl mocked.

Vin looked at the sneaker he had just removed, holding it in his hands as he considered tossing it at the other boy. Deciding that it would be better to just ignore him, Vin dropped the shoe to the floor. He smiled with satisfaction as the loud noise startled Ezra and made him flinch. Obviously he had been expecting some kind of retribution for his words. Yep, Ezra, we're all full of surprises here, not just you. Vin thought as he removed his other shoe.


Buck somehow managed to get his tall frame turned around in his desk so he could retell his story to Daniel who had been out sick and missed the original telling yesterday. This meant that Nathan had the misfortune of hearing again Buck’s latest liaison with a young woman who apparently was quite athletic. Nathan was grateful for the all too brief distraction of having to respond to his name being called during role call for their first period English class. The boys long developed the habit of talking during role call, only half listening for their names so they could respond.

As both the teacher and Buck droned on and on, Nathan attempted to shut them both out. It was not until he heard Buck call his name that he looked up in surprise.

"I thought the new guy’s name was Ezra and that he was a sophomore," Buck stated.

"It is and he is," Nathan replied. He started to ask why he was asking when he heard the teacher repeat a name on his list. "Archibald."

Nathan and Buck exchanged confused looks. Neither of them knew of an Archibald in their class.

"So who’s Archibald?" Buck asked unable to hide his snicker at the name.

Nathan shrugged his shoulders as the name was repeated once again. Finally the teacher looked up and over her class, her eyes coming to rest on Buck. "Archibald Orville Wilmington, are you going to answer present or not?"

Buck’s mouth dropped open in shock as the classroom erupted into laughter. "That ain’t my name!" he protested.

"I believe that your mother is a writer, Mr. Wilmington, so you should be aware that ain’t is slang and does not have a place in my English class. And you are the only Wilmington in my class. It appears that the registry has been updated and your real name has been entered with Buck now in its correct position under nickname," Ms. Knight responded.

Buck shook his head, "Buck is my real name. I don’t know where you’re getting that Archibald crap from, but it ai.. isn’t my name." He glared around at the room at large as his classmates continued to laugh at him. Even Nathan was trying to cover his laughter with his hand.

"Well that is something that you will have to take up with the Registrar on your own time, Mr. Wilmington. For now, I will simply mark down that Archibald Orville Wilmington is present," Ms. Knight said, privately pleased at the opportunity to embarrass the quarterback who so often disrupted her class.

Buck’s scowl became permanently affixed to his face as he had to deal with the same thing in each of his classes. By the end of the day everyone was calling him Archie. As soon as the day’s classes ended, Buck hurried to the Registrar’s office and, after phoning his mother and having her fax over his birth certificate, finally got the situation taken care of. Of course everything had to be explained to his mother who thought it was all quite hilarious. As he sat through the entire process, Buck began to contemplate who would have done this to him and why. The answer suddenly clear to him, the quarterback stalked over to their meeting place out in the clearing.

He did not even glance at the others as he burst into the clearing. "It was that no good, juvenile delinquent Southerner, I just know it. I made fun of his name last night, and he hacked into the computers and did this to me!"

Stopping and looking around, Buck suddenly noticed that it was only Chris, Nathan, and J.D. in the clearing. "Where’s Vin and Josiah?" he asked in surprise since they were always gathered together.

"Vin had to go and make his daily report to Parker, and Josiah is keeping an eye on that no good, juvenile delinquent Southerner," Chris answered with a brief teasing grin.

Buck narrowed his eyes at him. "Well, I hope Vin tells Parker that Ezra’s responsible for my living Hell of a day."

Chris shook his head. "No, Buck, he can’t do that."

"And why not? That boy’s got to be held accountable, Chris!" Buck yelled.

Chris stood up. "And he will be, Buck. But if Vin reports on him, then Vin will also get punished. So, yeah, we’d get rid of Ezra, but we’d also get rid of Vin. And we don’t want that do we?"

Buck shook his head as the anger began to drain out of him. "No, we don’t want that. But, dammit, Chris, I’ve been teased all day long. I’ve got to get him back somehow."

Chris smiled a smile of pure evil and Buck found himself grinning along with him. "Don’t worry," Chris said in his low and dangerous voice, "he’ll get what’s coming to him."

"Now that’s what I like to hear," Buck stated as Chris strode over to him and clasped his shoulder.

"Well, let’s go get Josiah and see what we can come up with," the blond said as he led Buck out of the clearing and with a toss of his head motioned for Nathan and J.D. to follow.

Buck hung back and allowed J.D. to catch up to him. Snatching the Baltimore Ravens cap that J.D. still insisted on wearing from off his head, Buck warned, "And don’t you even think of calling me Archie."

J.D. grinned as a well-timed jump allowed him to grab his cap back. Placing it snuggly back onto his head, he moved ahead of a surprised Buck. Turning back to him, J.D. laughed, "Whatever you say, Baldy." With that the freshman began running as if his life depended on it. And with an enraged Buck hot on his heels, it most likely was. Chris and Nathan exchanged a look of "kids, what can you do with them" as they followed after them at a more respectable pace of a walk.


Ezra, engrossed in his reading, lay on his back, legs crossed as the heels of his feet rested on top of his headboard. His eyes barely flicked over the top of his new copy of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Toll’s as Chris and the others entered the room without knocking. Eyes rolling slightly at their rudeness, Ezra smoothly dropped his feet and flipped onto his side, keeping his back to them. "Vincent is not here, as you can see. And I’m afraid…" Anything else Ezra was going to say was cut off as he suddenly felt Chris’ firm grip on his shoulder sliding him from the bed onto the floor.

Ezra’s hip connected with the hardwood floor with a solid thud. The young man could not help the yelp of pain and shock that escaped his lips. Laughter from the other three boys who stood just within the doorframe infuriated Ezra, but through experience he learned not to react out of emotions but wait and gather information. He looked up as Chris fairly spat out, "Just what the Hell do you think you’re doing?"

Pale green eyes narrowed questioningly as Ezra cocked his head slightly to the side, as he pretended not to understand. Turning from Chris, he searched the floor for his book and finding it, held it up for the older boy to see. "I was catching up on my required reading. What do you think you’re doing?" the sarcasm was thick in the southern drawl. He knew exactly what had angered Chris, but Ezra was curious to see how far he could push the senior.

Chris eyed the younger man briefly before reaching down, grabbing a handful of his shirtfront, and pulling him to his feet. "You know what I mean, Standish. That little prank . . ."

"Ezra. My name is Ezra," the sophomore boldly interrupted. "Unlike some people, I take pride in my somewhat unique name, so please call me Ezra." Despite his best efforts to keep his face impassive, the southerner could not help the smirk that curled one side of his mouth as he heard Buck’s growl of anger at that taunt.

Chris shook Ezra roughly, wanting to shake the smile right off his face. Instead he settled for physically turning Ezra and slamming him up against the wall, pinning him to it. Chris leaned in close as the smirk quickly disappeared to be replaced by wide eyes and a sharp intake of air. The senior was too busy gloating at having gotten a reaction out of the southerner that he did not notice the blatant panic that flared up in those green orbs as the younger man desperately began pushing at Chris’ hands on his shirt.

But what Chris missed, Vin easily saw as he pushed past the others into his room. "Hey, Cowboy, what’s goin’ on?" he asked in his slow Texas drawl. The nickname was one only Vin dared to use. It had actually been a nickname first applied to Clint Larabee, as the man was considered quite the maverick on the police force. Vin had been told several stories of the policeman’s own special way of brandishing justice, most of them from Buck. Having seen some of those same tendencies in the son, Vin transferred the nickname to him, especially when he was behaving overzealously like he was now. It was always guaranteed to grab Chris’ attention.

Releasing Ezra from his grip, Chris turned to look at the other sophomore. Ezra took the opportunity to slip away from the senior though he still had nowhere to go with the other boys blocking the doorway. Sitting on his bed, he struggled to even out his breathing as he stared out the window over Vin’s bed. Chris shrugged, hands loose at his sides, as the anger drained out of him. "I was just explaining to Ezra that it wouldn’t be smart of him to try playing any games with us."

Vin nodded, "Yeah, I was just thinking about having that conversation with him myself." He paused, locking his eyes to Chris’.

The older boy’s eyes narrowed briefly as he read the message contained in the other’s blue eyes. The sophomore wanted to handle his roommate himself. Chris nodded his understanding. Despite their differences in age, Chris respected Vin a great deal. The circumstances of his life made Vin older than his years and he was a proud young man. Vin knew he had the others’ full support in anything and everything he chose to do, but the Texan was often determined to handle things on his own, in his own way. Like with the laptop Vin wanted for his studies. Chris knew that he was close enough that he could easily borrow the difference and then pay him back. But Vin wanted to do the whole thing on his own, did not want to owe anyone for anything.

That same pride applied here. Ezra might make himself a nuisance to everyone, but it was Vin who was most affected by the southerner’s actions, the one who had the most riding on the outcome. The Texan saw it more as his fight and wanted to deal with it his way. Chris ran a hand through his hair as he considered. Finally he decided to let Vin try things his way. "Alright," he said simply as he began stepping toward the door, "but we’ll be around." The senior could not help but reach out and shove Ezra hard enough that the boy’s head hit the wall. Chris did not pause, but merely continued out the door as the others quickly parted to let him pass. Buck traded a look and nod with Vin then shot a triumphant look over at Ezra who sat rubbing the back of his head.

Vin shut the door to their room then turned to face Ezra though the other boy would not meet his gaze. Vin shook his head a bit sadly as he bent down and picked up the book that had again fallen to the floor when Chris pinned Ezra against the wall. He paused before immediately returning it, taking a moment to consider what led to this moment.

As he was returning to his room from his talk with Parker, Vin had run into Josiah. The Texan immediately saw that the older boy was troubled by something. Josiah told him about the others going to have a "talking" to Ezra and they both knew that with Chris there would not be a lot of talking done, especially with Buck being angry as well. Josiah did not want to be a party to it and left when his attempts to persuade the others to let him first try really talking to Ezra failed. Vin told Josiah that he would take care of it and then hurried to his room.

Now the young Texan was not sure if he was too late or not. Chris had been quite rough on Ezra, but Vin was sure that Ezra did quite a bit of pushing in his own way. Vin wondered if the other boy knew what a dangerous game he was playing or if he even cared. He sighed as he realized that was the key. Ezra did not care and no threats would ever make him. He had probably been threatened and bullied at every school he ever attended. No, if Vin really wanted to reach Ezra, he would have to try a different tactic.

A short laugh issued from the Texan as he read the title. "Reckon that bell was tolling for you, huh?" he asked as he held the book out to Ezra.

An annoyed sideways glance was Ezra’s only response as he snatched the book out of Vin’s hand. Standing, he moved toward the door.

"Where you going?" Vin asked as he moved just enough to block his exit.

The southerner sighed heavily. "With what little time I have left until curfew I am going elsewhere to read. Not that it’s any of your concern."

"I sorta wanted to talk to you first, is all," Vin explained.

Ezra eyed him carefully. There was no hostility in his roommate. If anything, Vin seemed openly curious. Ezra became wary at this unexpected turn of events and the sudden change from Chris’ overt violence to Vin’s friendly demeanor. "Your friend," he fairly spat out that word, "has beaten you to that little chat."

"Looks like you’re the one who got a little beaten," Vin laughed softly without mocking.

After a second’s hesitation, Ezra shook his head and released a short exhale of a laugh at the other boy’s humor. Rubbing at his hip, he agreed, "I, uh, feel your point."

Vin laughed harder then and despite himself Ezra joined him. Against his better judgment, the southerner found himself relaxing around the easygoing Texan.

Vin’s cool blue eyes caught the slight softening in the hard edges Ezra kept up and took the opportunity. "Sorry about that. Chris can get a bit carried away. He and Buck go back a long way, they’re more like brothers. He’s a might protective of him. Hell, of all his friends."

The sarcasm was thick in Ezra’s reply, "Well, how fortunate for his friends."

Vin laughed again. "He ain’t so bad once you get to know him, Ezra."

"I believe I’ve gotten to know him just about as well as I care to," Ezra stated as he started toward the door again.

"Wait, Ezra," Vin called not wanting the other boy to leave until he was sure they had come to an understanding.

Ezra turned and looked at Vin once again, wondering what the Texan wanted now. "You can’t go until you tell me how you did it?"

The southerner froze again, taken by surprise with Vin’s words. He studied his roommate carefully as he attempted to decipher his intentions. Still he found no guile in the Texan only open curiosity. "I will not admit to anything. And even if I did, I certainly would not share my methods with you," Ezra stated, stalling, slightly interested to hear Vin’s response.

"Aww, come on, Ez," Vin cajoled. "Buck deserved it. Not just for making fun of your name, but for making all the rest of us have to listen to his stories over and over again. He’s been due for somebody to get back at him for some time. If everyone found out you were the one who did that, you’d be a hero. And I already told you, that I ain’t gonna rat you out. I even told Parker that I knew it couldn’t of been you, cause you were in our room all night last night. I’m just curious how you did it."

"I am far from heroic," Ezra laughed. He looked from the book in hands to the closed door and back to Vin as he made a surprising decision. He sat back down on his bed and faced his roommate. "You lied to Dean Parker?" he asked incredulously.

Vin smiled slyly as his blue eyes twinkled mischievously. "Like I said, I figured Buck deserved to get back a little of what he dishes out all the time. And what Parker don’t know won’t kill him. And I’ll tell you what, there’s a lot that goes on that Parker don’t know about."

Pushing himself back onto the bed so that he could lean against the wall, Ezra raised his eyebrows up at Vin. "Really? So why do you want to know how I did it, if indeed I was the perpetrator of this particular prank?" The southerner could not help but be suspicious. He never had anyone take an interest in what he did unless it was to inform on him. He actually believed that was not Vin’s intent at all, but some habits were extremely hard to break.

Vin laughed as he, too, leaned back against the wall as he sat on his bed. "You ain’t the only one who likes to play a prank or two."

Ezra grinned. "And what type of pranks have you played here?"

Shaking his head, Vin answered, "Well, I really haven’t done any here. I kinda have to keep a low profile so I don’t jeopardize my scholarship. "

As he listened, it dawned on Ezra how unfair it was that the school was using Vin’s need for a scholarship to get him to do what they wanted. He could hear in the other boy’s voice just how much it meant to him. He would have to keep that in mind before he caused any problems that would give the school the excuse to pull Vin’s scholarship. Ezra justified these thoughts with his own hatred of being used or played.

"But before, like in middle school, I used to play all kinds of tricks on the other kids. I never stayed in one school for too long, what with moving from one foster home to another." Vin stopped suddenly as he realized he was saying more than he really wanted to.

Ezra caught that Vin had let something personal slip, but pretended that he did not. "So you consider yourself quite the prankster?" he asked instead.

"I bet I could teach you a thing or two," Vin teased as he laughed.

Ezra rolled his eyes as a means to show what he thought of that comment. "Oh, do tell," he scoffed.

The two boys then spent the rest of the night trading stories about their pranks and misadventures. Ezra found himself enjoying the laconic way that Vin spun his tales, the simple set ups by no means lessening the impact of the punch lines. Vin, for his part, found Ezra to be an interesting storyteller, full of details and twists that kept even him guessing at the eventual outcome. Vin could not remember laughing so hard without Buck being present. Ezra could not remember ever having such a good time. Neither boy realized how much time had passed until the call rang out from the hallway, "Lights out, boys!"

They both hurried to change into bedclothes and then lay quietly in the darkness, though neither boy was ready to go to sleep. Finally Vin broke the silence, "Hey, Ez, who’s gonna be your next victim?"

"I have admitted to nothing," Ezra said around his grin. "And even if I did select someone to focus my nefarious intentions on, why should I point them out to you?"

"Aww come on, Ez. All this talk about old pranks, has got me itchin’ to do some. And I know the boys better than you do right now. "

Ezra chuckled. "You would actually consider making your own friends the butt of your practical jokes?"

Vin laughed, "Well what are friends for?"

Ezra grew quiet as he considered Vin’s words. He actually had no idea what friends were for since he never had any himself. When Maude was not working on a new, rich husband, she always kept them on the move and it was far too hard to make friends in the short opportunities he had. He was not even really sure if Vin was offering him friendship. But Ezra decided that maybe having a cohort in crime would not be such a bad thing. It would certainly make things more interesting. And the southerner decided that it would be one sure way to piss off Chris. The senior would not like Vin having anything to do with him.

"Well then, tell me," Ezra drawled, "What ideas do you have for Nathan?"

Vin laughed out loud at the idea of pulling a prank on the oh-so-serious Nathan. "I like the way you think, Ezra."

The two boys stayed up, talking in the darkness, as they formulated a prank to pull on Nathan. And while that was the main focus of their conversation, somehow they also managed to share more of their histories as they spoke of previous plots. Both learned that they shared a few similarities, most noticeably the fact that they both never really had anything that would remotely resemble a normal home life. It gave each of the boys groundwork for understanding the

other. And somewhere in that understanding was planted the seed of friendship.


Nathan made his way up the stairs and headed for Chris and Josiah's room. He left Chris, Buck and J.D. as they made their way to the cafeteria for a snack and

drink before bed. The four of them had waited outside Vin and Ezra's room for a short time before Buck and J.D. got restless, especially when they could hear nothing except the low murmur of voices. J.D. claimed he thought he had heard laughing, which only earned him a distinctly unimpressed look from Chris.

Nathan paused slightly when he reached the right floor. He knew Josiah had not agreed with Chris' methods of trying to intimidate and control Ezra and Nathan wanted to report to his friend that it had not turned out as bad as the older boy feared. He approached the open doorway slowly before entering. Josiah was lying back on his bed reading.

Seeing movement out of the corner of his eye, Josiah sighed softly as Nathan made his way across the room.

"Hey, Josiah," Nathan said tentatively, trying to gauge if the older boy was still disturbed. He did not have to wait long.

"So did Chris "talk" with Ezra?" Josiah asked, still obviously annoyed.

"That kid had it coming!" Nathan said defensively. "He can't mess with us like that!"

Josiah put his book down and sat up. "So, you believe he deserved to be knocked around?" Josiah asked locking eyes with his friend.

"He has to learn," Nathan replied with less conviction.

"And what did you learn when you were knocked around by Baxter?" Josiah asked.

Nathan looked away uncomfortably and inwardly groaned. He had formed a close rapport with Josiah not long after coming to this school. Nathan understood and agreed with most of the older boy's interesting philosophies, goals, and outlooks on life. They often enjoyed each other's company. But on occasions, like now, Josiah had an innate and sometimes pointed way of making Nathan, and their friends, reconsider their views and ideas.

The silence lengthened and Nathan finally turned back to face Josiah.

"You seemed pretty happy today watching Buck being teased about his new name?" Josiah continued.

"We ALL were!" Nathan replied.

"True," Josiah agreed. "So if one of us managed to pull that prank on Buck…?"

"It's a little different Josiah, Vin could lose his scholarship!" Nathan countered.

"There's got to be a better way to enlist Ezra's co-operation!" Josiah insisted.

Nathan sighed and nodded. "Well maybe Vin has found one. He convinced Chris to let him handle Ezra!" Nathan reported.

"So Chris never touched Ezra?" Josiah asked.

Nathan did not reply. He never had to. Josiah saw the answer in his eyes. The older boy shook his head sadly.

"Well let's hope Vin's way is more successful."


Headmaster Jim Lowell closed the file in front of him as a knock preceded Dean Parker's entrance.

"Harry," Lowell acknowledged and gestured for the dean to sit down.

Their daily meetings usually took place in the mornings. Since they discussed the day's matters earlier, Parker admitted he was curious about the unexpected phone call summoning him to Lowell's office.

Lowell smiled at his secretary, who followed Parker as far as the doorway.

"Coffee, Harry?" he enquired and the younger man shook his head.

Lowell smiled at his secretary. "I'll have mine later, Margaret," he told her and the woman nodded and closed the door behind her.

Jim Lowell settled into his chair and leant back on it, allowing his feet to leave the floor. At 52, he had been Headmaster at Regents for nearly seven years. For the past two, he had worked with Harold Parker. For the most part, their working relationship was agreeable. The only recent problem had been when Lowell had been forced to side with Miss Dinsdale, who ran the Library. Dubbed Conan the Librarian by the students because of her regimented rules and procedures and trademark scowl, Lowell admitted he took the easy way by siding with Miss Dinsdale, against Dean Parker. Basically, he decided he would rather live with Parker's disappointment than face Miss Dinsdale's retribution. At 12 years his junior, Parker was very proficient at his job and usually Lowell had no cause to interfere in how he disciplined the students.

Parker fidgeted in his chair and cleared his throat and Lowell broke off his thoughts to concentrate on the dean. Choosing his words carefully, he spoke.

"I received a phone call from one of the parents, asking if it was true that one of Regents’ scholarship students was being coerced into playing 'watchdog' on another student," he informed the dean as he return his chair to the upright position.

Parker locked eyes with Lowell, and seeing no reason to deny or be vague, both traits Lowell disliked, replied, getting straight to the point.

"You told me to make sure that Standish remained out of trouble. I have taken measures to try and ensure your instructions are carried out."

"So you have threatened to withdraw Tanner's scholarship unless he reports to you any indiscretions on Standish's part?"

"Yes. Tanner is his roommate. He is best placed to watch Standish," Parker told him firmly.

Lowell sighed and flicked open the file on his desk. Vincent Tanner's background did not make for very pleasant reading but at Regents he had the chance to become whatever he wanted. Lowell believed he earned that right.

Standing up, he went to his window and looked outside, not really paying attention to his students as they made their way to classes.

"I have no intention of jeopardizing Tanner's scholarship. He's worked hard to come here. He's a straight A student with a promising athletic ability," Lowell said firmly.

Parker scowled at Lowell's turned back. Sometimes Lowell proved to be weak when it came to certain students. Parker made no such mistakes.

"Tanner's not going to lose his scholarship. I merely provided him with an incentive to monitor his roommate. Nothing more," Parker replied.

Lowell looked at Parker for a long minute, noticing how he had bristled at the interference. Lowell did not want to push the point too far so he compromised.

"I don't want to receive any other phone calls from parents," he told Parker fixedly.

"I'll deal with it," Parker replied and left.


Chris sat in the auditorium next to Josiah and attempted to make himself more comfortable in the hard chairs. The school was gathered for an assembly and the boys were required to sit with their grade level. Fortunately the assembly was almost over, though Chris really could not say for the life of him what the guest speaker had been going on about.

It had been nearly two weeks since Ezra's arrival to the school. Chris looked over to where the southerner sat next to Vin. The senior still was not sure how he felt about the tenuous friendship that existed between the two sophomores. The only good thing he could see about it was that it kept Ezra out of trouble. A soft chuckle and a brief smile crossed Chris’ face as he amended that thought. Kept him mostly out of trouble.

Chris still remembered the look on Nathan’s face as he recounted the horror of having his poem read aloud to his English class. His horror intensified when he realized that the mushy, lovelorn words of the poem attributed to him, were not even his own. He wanted to stand up and inform the entire class of that fact but Ms. Knight had gone on and on about how wonderful the poem was and how surprising it was coming from Nathan who was usually so clinical in his writing. Nathan had not wanted to embarrass her, so he waited until after class to let her know that someone must have switched his poem with that one. She had been angry but grateful that he was honest. Nathan settled for a C on his real poem instead of the A+ he would have received with the other. And to top that off, he had to deal with the teasing from Buck who wanted him to try and coauthor something with his mother.

Chris had to admit that it was an inspired prank. And his enjoyment of it deepened once he read the poem itself.


Her eyes gaze upon my face
But do not see who I am
For I know not how to express

The love for her that burns within my soul.
My voice too foul a noise to fall upon her ears,
My eyes too poor a vessel to hold the depth of my need,
My heart too little an offering to the greatness of her divinity.

And so silenced and stilled is
All of me that would cry out to her
Proclaiming that I would be all she would have me be

If I could only find the strength and means
To pour forth the depth of my desire
To be worthy of one such as she.

Eventually Josiah confided in Chris that Nathan himself found it pretty funny once he had time to think it over. After all, it must have taken some work to come up with a whopper of a poem like that. Chris could almost imagine Ezra sitting down and coming up with it, but there had been something he was missing, though. Some of the wording sounded like Ezra, but the raw heart of it did not seem like something the shallow southerner could manage. Most likely the sophomore copied it down from some obscure source only he would take the time to find just to pull off a prank on Nathan.

Chris had been telling Vin about Nathan’s admission to not being angry when he caught a smug look in Vin’s blue eyes and suddenly knew that the Texan had a hand in it too. After quite a bit of cajoling he got the sophomore to admit that he wrote most of the poem himself. Chris’ shock had been unimaginable. The sophomore was embarrassed a bit, but had some pride when he pointed out that it would have earned an A. The senior was not sure what he found more unbelievable, Vin writing poetry or his becoming partners with Ezra.

They argued then. Chris pointed out that if Vin got caught he could kiss his scholarship goodbye. Vin told Chris that he knew the risks, but with Ezra the chances of getting caught were practically zero. Then Vin pointed out that this way he could dissuade Ezra from the riskier ventures, especially anything that would attract Parker or Lowell’s attention. Chris knew that he could not stop Vin from doing what he wanted, so he just kept a closer eye on the two. And the senior had to admit that Ezra was not as bad as he originally thought he would be.

The southerner still pretty much kept himself separate from the others. He would greet them and be cordial to them if they attempted a conversation with him, but he never hung out with them. They did not keep such a close watch over him, and so far he had done nothing to make them think that they should tighten it again. Vin remained close with his five other friends, as he and Ezra spent time together in their classes and plotted at night before going to bed. So Chris could not really complain as long as they both did not get caught.

And while the two managed to stay just under the radar of the school faculty, they did on occasion have problems with their classmates. As the assembly ended the students began to file out slowly as it was the end of the school day and they stayed around to chat with their friends. Josiah nudged Chris so that they could head back, but the other senior shook his head as he kept watch on where Ezra and Vin were having a conversation with another sophomore who sat a few rows in front of them. Josiah sighed and sat back to watch as well. With those two, there would be no telling if an all out brawl would start, and Josiah knew he would be needed to help end it quickly.

Chris sighed as he saw that Ezra was attempting to defuse the situation with his words. Of course, he could not use just any old words but had to dig some out of his thesaurus-like mind. That tended to infuriate people more than anything else, which was probably Ezra’s intention in the first place. The other sophomore, whose name Chris could not place at the moment, tossed something off to Ezra and then laughing, turned back to his friends. Chris could see Ezra tense in anger even from this distance and the senior sighed, knowing that there would be a confrontation. He started to stand when he noticed a slight movement from Vin as the Texan directed Ezra’s attention to something in his hands. Chris could see the flash of Ezra’s dimples as the two sophomores found a new form of retribution. Rising quickly to his feet, Chris leaned forward enough to see the straw that Vin was holding. Knowing Vin’s deadly accuracy, Chris nudged Josiah.

The other senior looked at him curiously as Chris spoke, "Come on, Josiah, we gotta go stop Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn before they go and get themselves into more trouble."

A loud "Owww" filled the auditorium. Josiah could not help the wide grin that crossed his features. "It appears we’re too late."

Chris shook his head as he turned back around to watch Vin and Ezra as they made a quick exit out of one of the auditorium’s side doors. He had to hand it to them. They timed everything so that the press of students leaving blocked their victim from immediately going after them. Rubbing his hand across his forehead and then through his hair, Chris exhaled loudly.

Josiah’s chuckle made him spin around and focus his glare on him. "What’s so funny?"

The other senior quickly attempted a serious face. "You called them Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn."

Chris continued to glare at him. "I do come to this school for an education, Josiah. And I do actually do my reading. I can make a literary reference."

Josiah nodded as the grin crept back across his face. "I know, Chris, I know. It’s just that it never dawned on me how apt that is." He began to chuckle again, though it threatened to become a full-fledged belly laugh. He did not dare mention that the long-suffering look that covered Chris’ face also added to the hilarity of the situation.

Chris groaned at him. "Well come on, they ain’t gonna be able to escape down the ol’ Mississippi this time. Those boys’ll catch up to them soon enough."

That was too much for Josiah and he began to laugh in earnest. Rolling his eyes, Chris left him and hurried out of the auditorium, following the other pair of sophomores. Catching up to them, he tossed them a dangerous smirk. "Where are you guys going?"

Both boys immediately recognized Chris and all traces of anger fled from their faces. "Uh, actually," the one that had been talking to Ezra and who was currently rubbing vigorously at the back of his neck said, "we were gonna head back that way over to the gym." He pointed in the opposite direction of where they had originally been traveling.

Chris nodded and said simply, "Good idea." He watched as the two boys beat a hasty retreat. Shaking his head, Chris started back to the auditorium then, deciding to leave Josiah there, he turned and walked over to the dormitory to get some much needed seclusion.

Later that evening, Vin was actually the last to arrive at their clearing meeting place. He was greeted with laughter from everyone except Chris. Buck strode over and clapping him on the shoulder steered him in closer and said, "Well, lookie here boys, if it ain’t Huckleberry Finn himself."

Vin shrugged off Buck’s arm and looked around at the others, confusion and a touch of anger gliding across his face as he waited for an explanation. Finally it was Josiah who spoke, though his words were occasionally halted by his own chuckles. "Earlier Chris compared Ezra and you to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn."

Vin turned and shot Chris a glare. His stance shifted so that his feet were spread shoulder length apart and balanced as he dropped his hands to his sides, loose over an imaginary gunbelt. "I’ll be your Huckleberry," his drawl was thick, almost a match for Ezra’s.

Buck, Nathan, and Josiah howled with laughter at that and even Chris managed a chuckle of amusement. J.D. looked from one to the other until he finally leaned close to Buck, "I don’t get it."

Buck shook his head, as he laughed, "Ain’t you ever seen Tombstone?"

J.D. thought about it for a moment and then laughed half-heartedly. He did not really remember what they were talking about but did not want the others to know. He made a mental note to rent that movie as soon as he could so he could watch it again and find out what was so funny.

The boys settled down a bit after that and the conversation turned to the long weekend they had ahead of them, since school was out on Monday. Most of the other students were going home for the weekend, but all of them and Ezra were staying at the school with a skeleton crew of faculty and staff. The boys would be free to do as they pleased, even leave school grounds. Well except for Ezra who was practically on permanent probation due to his stepfather’s request. Chris and the others, though, suspected that did not hinder the southerner in the least.

Buck was the only one with definite plans and those were the same he made every weekend; go prowling for girls. So the boys spent their time discussing what they would like to do and what they would probably end up doing. It was close to curfew when they began making their way back to the dormitory and sleep.


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