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Brad went home that afternoon with a smile on his face. His mother couldn't help noticing it, either. She said she had told him so. She knew it wouldn't be so bad at the new school. Brad couldn't help himself, he blurted out that he had a new friend already.
"I met a kid today, and he helped me find some of my classes, cause we're in the same ones for like over half the day," he bubbled.
"Does the boy have a name?" his mother pressed.
"Oh, it's Chris," Brad blushed.
"Where does Chris attend church?" Leave it to a preacher's wife to ask that first. "Who are his parents?"
"I don't know either one," Brad told her. He wasn't lying to her exactly. He really didn't know Chris' last name or his father's name. He only knew that his father owned the theater and his aunt was a witch. Neither of those would be good to tell his mother, so he simply didn't mention them. After all, she had asked about names, not jobs.
"Well, it sounds like you should get to know him a little better," Mom said. "Invite him to church with us on Sunday. There will be a fellowship after services as a welcome party for us."
"You mean we have to eat at church?" Brad asked her.
"No we do not have to, we have been asked to," she corrected, but Brad knew there wasn't a difference. "And before you ask, yes, you will eat a little of everything there. We are in no position to insult anyone on our first day there."
"But Mom, what if they have weird stuff there?" Brad questioned. He vividly remembered eating things like snake casserole, and other wild animals.
"You will eat it with a smile on your face, just like your father and I," she told him. He thought he could see her turn a little green at the thought too, though.
"I will do my best," he promised.
"Did you meet any young people from the church today?" his father asked as he came into the kitchen to join them.
"No sir," Brad told him honestly. "I did make a friend today, though."
"Of course you did," his father said dismissively. "Did you invite this new friend to worship with us?"
"Well, not exactly," Brad confessed. He realized that was the wrong answer instantly. His father launched into the ten minute sermon on always putting God at the front of the mind. As usual, Brad tuned him out until he stopped for a moment. "He does know that you are the pastor. I had to tell my whole English class about our family for the teacher."
"You mind yourself in that class, son," the reverend suddenly told his son. "I have been told of that woman and her evil ways. We will speak of her more as the year progresses."
"She seemed a little strange, but I don't know about....." Brad began.
"She is a priestess of Satan himself," his father snapped. "You will report to me every day all the things she says and does in that class." He sat back then, obviously waiting for Brad to begin today's report.
"Well, she made me introduce myself to the whole class," Brad began. "I had to tell them your names and what you do for a living."
"You have cast the Lord's word before you, son. You have done well," his father said.
"Thanks," Brad said in a little bit of shock. His father didn't praise him very often at all, for anything. He was more used to getting into trouble.
"Continue, Bradley," his father prompted.
"Well, she also told us we were about to start a study of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet," Brad told the man.
"I don't approve of that filth being taught to my child," Elijah Daniels said firmly. "That story is rife with immorality and sin." He couldn't possibly have said anything that would make Bradley more excited about studying his homework. "I will call the school first thing in the morning to notify them of my intention to have it removed from the curriculum." If his previous statement had gotten Brad interested, this one terrified him all the more. His father was going to embarrass him in front of not just the school, but the whole town.
"Dad, what if I promise to discuss the readings with you?" he practically begged.
"You will be doing that in any case," his father said flatly as he turned and walked away from Brad.
"I remember reading that play in school as a girl," Brad's mother whispered. She didn't seem to notice that Brad was still in the room. She made a funny sighing noise as she placed one hand near her heart. "We each took a part and read aloud as if we were the actors on stage. I was Lady Capulet, and Robert Finn was Lord Capulet. He fit the role so well. I would rather he and I had been Romeo and Juliet." The woman blushed slightly as she said the last words. She suddenly seemed to notice that Brad was in the room. "What are you doing in here? Go to your room and start your work," she ordered. "Change out of those school clothes into your play clothes before you do another thing, Bradley," his mom called out.
Brad gladly headed for the small room that was his in the slightly rundown frame house the church had provided for them. He was so glad no one from school was around to hear her refer to the fact that he still had play clothes as if he were a little kid. He was thirteen now. Teenagers didn't wear play clothes, he was sure of it.
Oddly enough, he didn't mind changing clothes today. It reminded him of gym class when he had stood beside a naked Chris. Instantly another part of him remembered the experience as well. Brad had discovered by accident in the bathtub one night how good he could make himself feel. Now he did it on purpose, but in his mind, Chris was touching him and he was touching Chris. It was only a couple of minutes later that his mother was knocking desperately at his door.
"Bradley, are you alright?" she called out. "Why is your door locked? Bradley, I heard you make a noise. Are you alright? Answer me!"
"I'm fine, Mom," the boy called out as he hurriedly finished changing. He snatched open the door and found both his parents standing there.
"You look flushed, and you're all sweaty," his mother observed. "Did something happen at school that you haven't told us about? Were the other children nice to you?"
"Everyone was fine, Mom," Brad told her. "I guess it was just the excitement of the first day catching up with me. I'm alright, really."
"You will not lock this door again, son," his father ordered sternly before stalking away.
"I'm sorry, son," Mom said looking at her husband's back as he went back into his study, which had originally been a bedroom larger than the one Brad now had. "I didn't mean to cause strife between you and your father, but I was worried for you."
"It's all right, Mom, and so am I," Brad assured her. He was shocked. This was as close as she had ever gotten to disagreeing with his father. "I have to get on my homework now," he added as he turned away from her.
"Bradley, I...." his mother started but her voice trailed away.
"What, Mom?" the boy asked.
"I love you, son," she said quickly.
Brad dropped the math book he was holding. She said that she loved him. She had never said that before in his life. He couldn't remember either of his parents ever saying that.
"Are you sure you're all right, son?" she questioned. "You don't look so well, and now you're dropping things. Why don't you study in bed this afternoon? I'll bring you a snack in a few minutes."
Who was this woman and where was Brad's real mother? He hadn't had an afternoon snack since they were at the church that had the after school day care program. That had been seven years ago. He wasn't about to complain, though.
"I could just do my schoolwork at the kitchen table," he suggested. He looked up into her face and saw a smile.
"I think I would like that," she said quietly. "You used to do that when you first started school. Do you remember that?"
"Of course, I do," he told her. He also remembered that she had told him that he was getting in the way of her work. That had been when he got the desk for his room.
"We may not be able to do this every day, you know," she cautioned. "I don't yet know how busy I am going to be with the ladies of the church. You can have every afternoon that they don't, though. Is that okay with you?"
"I think it would be kind of cool," Brad smiled. "And Mom, I love you too," he added.
"I know you do, sweetie," she responded. "Oh sorry, I shouldn't call you that anymore. My little boy is growing up now. He probably doesn't want to be called pet names by his mother anymore."
"I guess I could overlook it this time," he grinned at her. "Mom, do you know anything about math?" he asked her. He wanted this closeness with his mom to last a little longer, but he also wanted to do a good job in Math for Mrs. Holstedt since she had been so nice.
"Math was my best subject in school, son," she replied warmly. "Bring that book to the kitchen and we'll have a look."
That evening as the family sat at the table eating, Brad's father complimented his wife on the food. She quickly told him that Bradley had made most of the meal with only a little assistance from her. It hadn't quite happened that way, more the other way around, but Brad smiled happily. The smile faded with his father's response, however.
"It's high time you do more around the house to help your mother," the man said shortly. He then went back to eating in silence.
Brad stayed in the kitchen to help with the dishes after they had eaten, but his father called him. He looked at his mother and she just nodded toward the door. He finished drying the dish in his hand, and then Brad went to find his father in the living room.
"Bradley, you are maturing now into a young man," his father began. "It is time that you had more responsibility around the home. Beginning this week, you will be taking over the upkeep of the lawn both here and at the church next door. You will do the mowing, trimming, and weeding. I would prefer that you do this on Saturday so that the Lord's grounds are presentable on the Lord's Day."
"But Dad, that will take the whole day," Brad protested.
"Do you have something more important to do than the Lord's work?" his father snapped angrily.
"No sir," Brad surrendered. There went any chance of seeing Chris outside of school. He knew his parents would never allow him to go out on a school night or a Sunday. "Will I be paid for this?" he asked quietly. At least if he got paid, it wouldn't be so bad to give up his one day of fun.
"You dare to ask for recompense for doing your duty to your home and church?" his father growled. "You will spend the rest of this evening in your room in prayer and Bible study, seeking the Lord's forgiveness for your greed."
"Yes sir," Brad mumbled as he left the room. Just as he got to the door, his mother asked who wanted ice cream for dessert. He was about to answer, but his father cut him off.
"There will be none for Bradley," the man announced. "There is no reward for the unjust, save the righteous wrath of God."
"It's not unjust to be paid for working my butt off," Brad yelled before his brain could stop his mouth. "All of the other kids I know get paid for doing chores around the house, and get an allowance too."
That night as he lay on his stomach on his bed, still crying a little, he knew he should have kept his big mouth shut. He heard the door open and for a moment, he tensed up thinking that his father had come back. He relaxed only a little when he heard his mother's voice.
"Why do you provoke him, Bradley?" she whispered. He didn't respond. Maybe she would think he was asleep. "I know it's hard for you growing up in this house. Lord knows I understand. I love you son, but we must keep our place within the home. We must keep our place," she repeated and then she left him alone.
Brad reached back to rub his butt in an effort to soothe the pain. This worked, but not quite the way he had expected. He found himself thinking back to gym class earlier in the day, and to Chris.
Once they were both dressed for class, they had joined the rest of the boys on the basketball court for calisthenics. They had missed the upper body workout, but were just in time for the sit ups. As instructed, they chose a buddy, each other of course, and one lay on the floor while the other held his ankles.
Chris lay down first and Brad knelt down at his feet. When Brad looked toward Chris' face, he realized that he was looking up the boy's entire body to do so. Brad couldn't help himself. He started to remember Chris being naked beside him moments earlier.
"Hey, blondie!" Chris called out to Brad. "You're supposed to be counting with me here."
"Oh, sorry," Brad apologized and hoped he wasn't blushing as badly as he thought. "Should we start over?"
"Yeah, but it's your turn on the floor, now," Chris instructed. "You must have been thinking of something really nice," he added as they switched places. "You looked really happy."
"I was thinking of a friend," Brad answered without lying.
He had long ago learned that a preacher and his family had to be very creative about telling the truth at times. They were forbidden from lying, but they could twist the truth just a little to spare someone's feelings if they had the need."
"Ok, you have to do ten, so get busy," Chris said as he grabbed Brad's ankles.
Brad felt himself getting hard again the instant Chris touched him. He suddenly understood what his new friend had meant in the locker room about getting a pinch. The plastic cup thing in the front of the jockstrap wouldn't allow his erection to stretch out. It was rather painful, in fact. He grunted from the discomfort as he did his sit ups.
"Dude, are you that out of shape?" Chris asked him.
Brad's knees separated just a bit as he attempted to relieve some of the pressure he was feeling without calling too much attention to the problem. Chris suddenly got very quiet. He wasn't talking or counting, and Brad wasn't sure for a moment if he was even breathing. This only lasted a couple of seconds, before Chris suddenly jumped up.
"Was that ten?" Brad asked.
"Definitely," Chris said rather quietly. "Or at least close enough."
They finished their exercises in silence. The boys didn't talk much as they worked their way through the weight machines either. Before Brad knew it, the coach was blowing his whistle loudly.
"Hit the showers, guys. You've got ten minutes before the bell rings," the man yelled out. He was standing closer to Brad and Chris as he added more quietly, "No time for messing around. Get in, get clean, and get out."
Brad took the advice to heart. He refused to think about the naked boys around him. He focused on washing himself and hurried out of the showers. He and Chris were the first two boys dressed and sitting on the bleachers waiting for the bell to ring.
"What class do you have next, Brad?" the coach asked as he walked up to them.
"I have a study period next," the boy replied.
"Excellent," the coach smiled.
"What's so great about it?" Chris asked. "We have Ms. Phillips."
"Well, I've been thinking of getting you an assistant for your twice a week job," Coach Spencer responded. "With two of you doing the laundry, it should get done twice as fast, right boys?"
"That makes sense," Brad admitted before asking, "What laundry?"
The coach and Chris explained that two days a week Chris is excused from his study period class to stay in the gym. He helps the coach straighten and clean the building, equipment, including the towels and uniforms that the boys used in class. Coach Spencer then asked Brad if he would be interested in helping.
"Sure Coach," the boy answered quickly.
"Fine then, you boys will stay here after class on Wednesdays and Fridays," the man smiled. "I'll let Gruesome Griselda, I mean Ms. Phillips know about your schedule change." The boys giggled a bit over the coach's reference to their English teacher. "Don't tell her I said that, guys."
"Don't worry, we don't have a death wish," Chris told him just as the bell rang.