Mr. Woods looked at the bloody, sobbing boy in pajamas and called, “Aidan, come down here.”
Aidan hurried downstairs to the door; his mother was right behind him. When Aidan saw the boy, he exclaimed, “Oh, my God!”
“Do you know him?” Chuck asked.
“Yes. He’s Colin Carmichael. What’s happened to him?”
Without answering, Chuck gently picked Colin up and took him to the living room. He laid the boy on couch with his head propped up a little on a pillow. “Angela,” he said, “call Doc Forbes.”
After she made the call, Angela returned with a couple of warm, damp cloths. She put one on Colin’s forehead and with the other began wiping away the blood from his nose and face. Slowly, Colin opened his eyes. For just a moment, he wondered if an angel was taking care of him.
“Colin, these are my mom and dad,” Aidan said, “and this,” he went on, indicating the dog in his arms, “is Albee.”
“Can you tell us what happened?” Chuck asked.
“No,” sighed Colin.
Very gently, Angela said, “Colin, clearly someone’s beaten you, and we need to know what happened so we can help you.”
“Nobody can help me,” Colin muttered.
“Trust them,” Aidan said. “You’re safe now. They can help you and they will.”
“But I’m a sinner and I’m going to hell. I deserve what I got.”
“No boy deserves what happened to you,” Chuck said. He tried to stay calm and gentle, but inside he was seething.
Aidan repeated, “They’ll help you, Colin, and they don’t care what you’ve done. And you won’t be going to hell, either.”
Finally, Colin relented, briefly telling the Woods some of what happened. Instead of saying that he’d been jerking off, he said, “Jacob found me doing something I wasn’t supposed to do.”
When Chuck asked him where he hurt, Colin pointed to his side and then his face, saying he thought his nose was broken.
The doorbell rang. Angela and Albee went to answer it while Chuck said, “You can tell us the rest later.”
Doc Forbes walked into the living room. “My, my,” he said, “who do we have here?”
In those days, doctors still made some house calls except in the larger cities.
Chuck told the doctor who Colin was and what the boy had told them. “Mmph,” grunted the doctor. He leaned over Colin and said to him very gently, “I’m Doc Forbes. Can you tell me where you hurt?”
“My face and my side,” replied Colin.
“Well, it looks like you’ve probably got a broken nose. I can straighten that a bit and tape it. It’ll heal itself. And you’ll also have a beaut of a black eye in the morning. Where does your side hurt?”
Colin pointed to his right side, about halfway down.
Doc Forbes got a flashlight, unbuttoned Colin’s pajama shirt, and examined his side. He poked it a couple of times and Colin winced. Finally, Doc said, “You’ve got a pretty good bruise there. It’s possible a rib or two have been fractured. I don’t think, from the way you’re reacting, that you have a punctured lung, but it might be best if you had it X-rayed at the hospital.”
“I don’t want to go to the hospital,” Colin said. “Do I have to?”
“Probably not. I can just tape up your side for now, but I’ll tell Mr. and Mrs. Woods what to look out for. If they say you should go, then you should, immediately. Okay?”
Colin nodded and the doctor pulled some tape out of his bag. He helped the boy sit up, removed his pajama shirt, and then taped his side. As he worked, he looked at the boy’s back, which had some recent welts on it.
“Did someone whip you?”
Colin didn’t answer at first but finally nodded.
Again, Colin was silent.
“You need to tell me,” the doctor continued quietly. “If you don’t, you’ll have to tell the police.”
Frightened, Colin finally answered, “Father.”
“Tell me what happened.”
Reluctantly, Colin said, “Two nights ago I asked what prostitutes were and why they were sinners. Father beat me with a belt.”
“Did you say anything else that caused him to do that?”
“No, sir,” Colin replied as fresh tears formed in his eyes.
Mumbling to himself, the doctor took a tube out of his bag, squeezed some of its contents into his hand, and gently rubbed it on Colin’s back.
“I’ll give the rest of the tube to Mrs. Woods,” he said. “It should help heal your back.”
“It feels good,” Colin replied softly. “Thank you.”
When the doctor had finished taping Colin’s ribs, he helped him put his shirt back on and lie down.
To the Woods he said, “I’m going to report this. I think the police need to look into it.” Chuck and Angela agreed.
“I’ll take care of it as soon as I get home. Give Colin two aspirin every six hours as long as he’s in pain. As for his side, look for increased pain in his chest for the next few hours and days. Also check for shortness of breath, abnormal breathing, or a rapid heartbeat. If you see any of those symptoms, call me or take him to the hospital right away.”
After the doctor left, Angela asked, “Colin, do you think you can make it upstairs with help? If you can, we’ll put you in Aidan’s room where you’ll be more comfortable for the rest of the night.”
Colin thought before replying, “I walked over here, so I guess I can. I can try it, anyway.”
Mr. Woods helped Colin sit up and slowly turn so that his feet were on the floor. Then, with his arm around Colin’s shoulders, he supported the boy as he stood. Colin winced and Chuck asked if he was okay. Colin nodded and when he had rested a moment, they walked slowly to the stairs, where Colin held the railing while Chuck supported him as well as he could. When they arrived on the second floor, Chuck directed Colin to Aidan’s room and helped him lie on the bed. Angela, Aidan, and Albee followed. Albee tried to jump on the bed, but Aidan stopped him and told him to sit.
Angela brought a glass of water from the bathroom and helped Colin take the aspirin and drink some water. Then she put the glass on the bedside table.
“If you need to go to the bathroom, or if anything happens and you need help, tell Aidan and he’ll get us. Don’t try to get up by yourself.”
Aidan arranged some blankets and a pillow on the floor near the bed. His parents departed, turning off the lights but leaving the door open so the glow from the night light in the hall dimly lit the bedroom. Albee settled beside Aidan on the blankets. Before trying to sleep Aidan reminded Colin, “Call me if you need anything.”
“Okay,” came the reply from the bed.
Colin didn’t get much, if any, sleep that night. He lay listening to Aidan’s breathing grow more regular and assumed he was asleep. He was extremely uncomfortable, and he lay worrying about what might happen when his family discovered that he was gone.
About seven in the morning, they heard someone banging on the front door. Mr. Woods called to everyone to stay where they were and went downstairs to the door, Albee following right behind, barking and growling. When Chuck opened the door, Luke Carmichael confronted him.
“Where’s Colin?” Luke demanded, loudly enough so that he could be heard from the upstairs bedrooms.
“Safe,” Chuck answered.
“I want him, now!”
“That’s not going to happen,” Chuck replied calmly.
Luke attempted to force his way through the doorway. Albee growled and snapped at Luke’s trouser leg. Chuck was a strong man and shoved Luke back onto the porch. Then, still talking calmly, he said, “Albee, sit.” The dog obeyed. Chuck continued, “I suggest you go home, Luke. The police have been called and I’m pretty sure they’ll be visiting you. Oh yes, and I’ll send you the doctor’s bill when it comes.” Then he closed the door and locked it.
“You bastard!” Luke yelled through the closed door. He banged on it a few more times as Albee growled and barked before the man left.
Mr. Woods and Albee went back upstairs to Aidan’s room, where Colin sat trembling as Aidan and Angela tried to comfort him. “I…I…th...think he would have killed me,” whispered Colin.
“I doubt it,” Chuck said, laying his hand on Colin’s arm. “At any rate, he’s not going to be able to get his hands on you for a long time, I hope.”
“But if I don’t go home, what’ll happen to me?”
“At least for the short term, you can stay here,” Angela answered. “Let’s just take it a little at a time. Okay? You’re going to be all right, Colin.”
Tearfully, Colin nodded.
“Do you want to sleep anymore?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“All right. Mr. Woods and Aidan will help you to the bathroom to clean up while I go down and fix breakfast.” Turning to Aidan, she said, “He can have two more aspirin, and lend him some of your clothes to wear.” He nodded and she went downstairs.
Aidan and his father helped Colin into the bathroom, where Aidan steadied him while he peed. Colin was very embarrassed, but Aidan didn’t say a word. He gave Colin a clean toothbrush. As he brushed, Colin looked in the mirror. The doctor was right. He was already sporting a black and purple shiner.
Back in the bedroom, Aidan gave him some clothes to wear including a shirt that buttoned so Colin didn’t need to put anything over his head that was tight on his back.
At the breakfast table, Colin sat with his hands folded and his eyes closed. After a few moments he looked up and asked, “Don’t you say grace?”
“No,” Angela replied, “but we’ll be happy to wait while you do.”
Self-consciously, Colin bowed his head and quietly mumbled a few words. When he finished, they all dug into their scrambled eggs and sweet rolls.
As they were finishing breakfast, the doorbell rang. Chuck and Albee went to the door and returned with a police officer. Because the town was small, it only had four police officers, two on the desk, morning and night, and two on patrol. If more help was needed, they could summon police from the nearby city.
Mr. Woods introduced Officer Webster to Colin and everyone sat at the table while Albee lay beside Colin’s feet, perhaps sensing that the boy needed support.
“Am I in trouble?” Colin asked.
“I don’t think so,” the officer replied, “but I need to hear what happened.”
“Will my family get into trouble?”
“That’s possible, but again, I won’t know until you tell me your story.”
Hesitantly, Colin repeated his story until he got to the part where he’d decided he needed to leave the house.
“What then?” the officer asked quietly.
Colin told him about removing the screws from the window, climbing out, and making his way slowly to the Woods’ house.
“The last thing I remember is falling into Mr. Woods’ arms. A little later I woke up on the couch. Mrs. Woods was cleaning the blood off my face.”
“Thank you,” said officer Webster. “You’re a brave boy.” Turning to Chuck, he said, “The next thing I’ll do is obtain a warrant to search the Carmichaels’ house. I’ll also talk to the family and hear their story.”
“Am I in trouble?” Colin asked again.
“Not if you’re telling me the truth, and I believe you are.” With that the officer left and they sat silently at the table.
“What’ll happen now?” Colin finally asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Chuck. “It’s possible that your family will be arrested. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
“I don’t want them to be arrested.”
“I know,” Chuck answered quietly, “but you did nothing wrong, so it’s all their responsibility. We want you to be safe.”
“But I did do something wrong. I never told you what made Jacob angry.”
“You were in bed in the middle of the night,” Aidan said. “We all probably know what you were doing. You think it’s a sin. If it is, every teenage boy is a sinner. It’s okay to do what you were doing. Just remember you’re safe here and nobody’s gonna hurt you.”
Two hours later, Officer Webster returned and told them what had happened when he went to the Carmichaels’ house.
“When I knocked on the door,” he said, “Mr. Carmichael opened it abruptly, looked at me and my partner, and asked angrily, ‘What do you want?’
“I told him I had a warrant to search his house.
“He said we couldn’t go into his house, and I told him that if he wouldn’t let us in, I’d have to arrest him.
“He thought a moment and then angrily opened the door and demanded to know what we were looking for.
“I told him we were looking for evidence of child abuse. Then I asked him what had happened. He told me that Colin had fallen in the night and they helped him back to bed. In the morning he was gone.
“Officer Maxwell and I walked carefully through the living room and dining room, our eyes on the floor. In the kitchen we examined things closely, even sorting through the trash. Officer Maxwell found a couple of rags with blood on them. I asked where the blood had come from.
“Mr. Carmichael said that Colin had gotten a bloody nose when he fell.
“I just nodded. We put the cloths in a bag and then went into the three bedrooms, checking Colin’s room last. It was clear to us that parts of the floor in his room had been newly cleaned, perhaps with the rags we found. We couldn’t see any blood on the floor but found a little on the windowsill. When we went outside and around the house, we found more blood under Colin’s window in the grass. After we took specimens, we followed the drops of blood all the way here. Returning to the Carmichaels’ house, I told Luke that he’d be hearing from us or the court. When we left, he slammed the front door.”
Looking at Chuck, he said, “Don’t let Luke in. He might be dangerous.” Then he asked, “Can you keep Colin here for now?”
Chuck agreed and the officer left.
As they continued to talk, Angela said, “Colin, I’ll clean out my sewing room and you can have it for your bedroom.”
“Am I staying?”
“At least for now,” said Chuck. “We’ll have to see how things play out with the police and the court.”
Colin thought a moment and then asked quietly, “Would it be possible for me to sleep in Aidan’s room? I’m sort of afraid of being alone right now.”
Before the adults could say anything, Aidan replied, “Sure. My room’s big enough for two beds and two dressers. I just need to clean out some of my closet so you’ll have room to hang things.”
His parents looked at each other, a little nod passed between them, and it was decided. “If you change your mind later and want more privacy,” Angela said, “we can certainly move you into the other room.”
The Woods knew that Colin had no clothes except his bloody pajamas and the clothes Aidan had loaned him. Although he was still hurting some, he said he was able to go with the Woods to the city. On Friday they rode to the city, where Aidan helped him select a few clothes.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to choose my own clothes,” Colin remarked.
Chuck and Angela also bought him a bed and a dresser which were to be delivered in the morning. Then they all went to an Italian restaurant for dinner.
Colin had never been in a restaurant before. He was embarrassed, but said, “I’ve no idea what to do.”
“Order anything you want,” Angela replied.
“But I’ve never heard of most of these foods on the menu.”
“I’m getting the lasagna,” Aidan suggested. “It’s really good here.” Colin shrugged and ordered it.
The family waited a few moments while Colin quietly said grace. Then Aidan and his parents talked as Colin listened silently, munching on garlic bread while they waited for their orders to arrive. Although Colin had never tasted garlic bread before, he quickly decided he liked it.
When their orders came, Colin looked at the lasagna and then used his knife and fork to examine the different layers.
“Go ahead, try it.” said Chuck. “If you don’t like it, we’ll order you something else.”
Colin took a small bite, rolling the food around in his mouth. Then, nodding, he took more, and soon, his plate was empty.
Gazing at Colin’s plate, Aidan laughed, “I’m sorry you didn’t like the lasagna.”
Colin smiled a little. “That was delicious.”
That’s the first time I’ve ever seen him smile, Aidan thought to himself.
After dinner they all went to see Old Yeller at a local theater.
What the Woods didn’t know until they were all seated in the theater was that Colin had never seen a movie before.
When the big screen suddenly came alive and the sound began, Aidan could see Colin watching in awe. First there was a news clip which showed an update on the war in Korea. After that came a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Colin’s eyes were glued to the screen. At one point he tried to laugh but he grimaced from the pain in his side, so he just giggled a little. The three Woods watched him out of the corners of their eyes.
When Old Yeller began, Colin sat back and watched with rapt attention. He physically reacted to what he was seeing, tensing and relaxing even though that hurt his side. By the end of the movie, he was in tears.
As the lights came back on, Colin sat back, tears still in his eyes. Looking at Aidan he said, “I had no idea.” He didn’t say what he had no idea of, but it was clear to everyone what he meant.
On the ride home, Colin and Aidan talked about the movie. Colin kept saying how much he’d liked it. Aidan had never heard him talk so much, and he realized that Colin was more animated than he’d ever seen him before.
Good, Aidan thought, he’s growing more comfortable.
That night, the boys argued a bit about who should sleep in the bed and who should be on the floor. Aidan felt that Colin should have the bed as his side was still sore. Finally, he won out. He got a few more blankets to cushion the floor a bit more and they both dropped off to sleep. Albee, as always, was at Aidan’s side.
In the middle of the night, Colin heard a very quiet sound. He watched as the bedroom door slowly opened. With the dim light from the hallway he saw a large form creep in. First, the form paused at Aidan, seeming to look down on him. Then it silently moved toward where Colin lay in the bed and he realized the form was his father. The man had something in his hand. When he raised it, Colin could see that it was a pistol. Colin wanted to move but couldn’t. His father put the barrel of the pistol on Colin’s forehead and pulled the trigger.
Colin screamed and awoke. Aidan went to him and found him trembling and crying. He was sweating and his pajamas were soaked. Angela came into the room and they sat, one on either side of Colin. Albee jumped onto the bed and tried to snuggle next to Colin. Nobody told him to get down.
“I’m s…s…sorry I w…woke you up. I was having a t…t…t…terrible dream,” Colin stammered. Haltingly he told them what he had dreamt.
Angela and Aidan talked with him quietly, assuring him that what he dreamt wasn’t going to happen. Slowly, Colin calmed down. Again he apologized for waking them, and they both assured him it was not a problem.
At Angela’s suggestion, Aidan took Colin into the bathroom and turned on the shower. From a cupboard he pulled out a towel and a washcloth. “Just let the warm water run over you for a few minutes,” he said. “I’ll get you a clean pair of pajamas.”
With that, he left the bathroom, keeping the door ajar in case Colin called him. From Colin’s dresser he took a pair of pajamas, and when he heard the shower door close and the water run, he went into the bathroom and left the clothes on the counter.
A few minutes later, he heard Colin call. He returned to the bathroom and found Colin standing with a towel wrapped around his waist.
“Could you dry my back? I tried to but it hurt too much.”
“Sure,” Aidan replied. He took another towel and gently patted Colin’s back dry. Then he put some more cream on the damaged skin. Colin thanked him and Aidan returned to the bedroom.
In about five minutes, Colin returned to the bedroom, where Albee was lying on the bed.
Sitting beside Albee and gently stroking the dog’s back, Colin asked Aidan, “Why are you so kind?”
Aidan thought for a moment before answering, “Am I? I guess I was raised that way.”
“Well, you’re the first person I can remember who’s ever been kind to me. Your parents are too, but I knew you first. When you came to my house that first time and knocked on the door, I didn’t know why you were there, but after you came in and we talked a little, I could feel your kindness. Then, when you got ready to leave and saw Mother in the dining room, I could tell you knew she’d been listening, and I thought, oh no. That’s the end. He’ll never come back. But you did. You kept coming back. Thank you so much.”
Aidan nodded. He said, “You’re welcome,” and returned to his blankets. They talked quietly for a little, while Albee remained with Colin for the first time. Colin stroked the dog, who snuggled next to him. Soon they were all asleep.
Saturday morning, two things happened. First, the new furniture for the bedroom arrived. The boys spent some time arranging it so there was still room for them to move about. Colin hung a couple of pairs of pants in the closet and put the rest of his clothes in his new dresser.
Second, Officer Webster returned. As they all sat at the kitchen table, the officer asked, “Colin, your family seems to have disappeared. Have you heard from them?”
Colin shook his head.
“The door to the house was unlocked, so we went in,” the officer continued. “They seem to have cleared out their clothes and a few other things and just vanished. We’ve put out an alert for other police departments to keep an eye out for them, but for now, at least, they’re gone.”
Colin thought for a moment before quietly but vehemently saying, “Good!” Then, looking at everyone at the table, he asked, “Can I live here?”
“Sure,” Aidan said. Then, looking at his parents he asked, “That’s what we all want, isn’t it?” They looked at Officer Webster.
“Well,” he said, “at least for now you certainly can. There may be some legalities to sort out later if we never find your parents, but let’s plan on you staying here until then.”
“What if my parents come back and want me?” Colin asked.
“First of all, they’ll be arrested for child abuse and desertion. I think probably, we’ll never see them again, but if they do show up,” he turned to Chuck, “don’t let them in and call me right away.”
Since Colin’s house was unlocked, they drove there in the afternoon and gathered his clothing and his few other belongings, mostly books.
On Sunday, they went to church. “Shouldn’t I go to my own church?” Colin asked.
“Why don’t you come to our church for today and then maybe we can talk about what you want to do,” Chuck replied.
The service lasted just under an hour. As usual, Aidan timed the sermon, which ran about 20 minutes.
Colin was amazed. The sermon was short enough that he listened to all of it. “It sounded reasonable to me,” he said later, “unlike much of what I’ve heard at my own church.”
When the service was over, Aidan took Colin to meet the youth minister, Mr. Hartwell, explaining to the minister who Colin was. In their small town, news traveled fast, so Mr. Hartwell already knew much of what had happened to Colin.
“I’m glad you came today,” he said to Colin. “What did you think of the service?”
“It’s a lot different from what I’m used to,” Colin replied, “but I want to come back again.”
Mr. Hartwell nodded. Turning to Aidan he asked, “Will you both be coming to the youth group tonight?”
“I haven’t discussed it with Colin yet, and I don’t know whether he’s ready for that. If not, I hope we can get to it sometime soon.”
The minister smiled, turned back to Colin and said, “You can talk with me anytime. Aidan knows how to reach me.”
“Thank you,” Colin answered. They left the church together, taking time at the door to shake hands with the senior minister before leaving the building and walking to the car.
When Colin and Aidan were alone together in their bedroom, Albee sitting between them, Colin asked, “What’s the youth group? Is it like Sunday school, teaching lessons from the Bible?”
Aidan described to him what the group’s programs were like. Colin asked, “Do I have to go?”
“No, in fact, you don’t have to do much of anything except go to school. We’ll talk about the group again, and if you think you’re ready, we’ll go together.”
“School!” said Colin. “I haven’t even thought about school. I assumed that I’d go to The Christian Academy, but I’m not so sure I want to go back there. What do you think?”
“I think we should talk about that with my parents.”
At supper that night, Aidan said, “Colin’s concerned about school, whether he’ll be going to The Academy or to the public school with me.”
“Well, Colin,” Angela replied, “Chuck and I felt The Academy might not be safe for you until we know where your parents are. We thought maybe you’d go to school with Aidan for a few days. Then you can compare the two schools and decide what you want to do.”
“But I don’t know anybody at that school.”
“You know me,” Aidan said.
Colin shook his head for a moment before remarking, “Sometimes my head’s spinning so fast I can’t keep up with all the changes.”
“Any time you feel that way,” said Chuck, “just remind us to slow down.”
That night, Aidan knew that Colin was lying awake worrying about school. He knew Colin was a worrier. They had talked a little about that before. Aidan had said that in the past, Colin probably had good reason to worry and that he hoped, with time, Colin would get over it. He had tried to assure his friend that he never needed to worry when they were together.
In the morning, Mrs. Woods drove the boys to school. Usually in good weather, Aidan rode his bike to school, but Colin had no bike, so they agreed to take the bus home in the afternoon. Entering the school, the three of them went into the office. The secretary asked if she could help them and Angela replied, “This is Colin Carmichael. He’s been attending The Christian Academy, but we’re thinking of having him transfer here. We wondered if he could shadow Aidan for a few days so he could compare the two schools before he decides what he wants to do.”
“It’s unusual,” she replied, “but I doubt there will be a problem. Let me talk with the principal for a minute.” She went into an inner office and quickly returned saying, “It’s fine. We hope he’ll be able to decide within a week. I’ll type a note for Aidan to show his teachers what’s happening.”
When she gave Aidan the note, the boys thanked her and went to class while Angela drove home.
In most of the classes, the teachers arranged for the two boys to sit together. All the teachers welcomed Colin and explained to the class what he would be doing before telling him that if he had any questions at the end of the class, they’d be happy to answer them.
The students had been reading Huckleberry Finn in English class. Aidan knew the book was forbidden to Colin and wondered how he would react. He watched as Colin listened intently. When they were leaving the class, Colin asked, “Aidan, could I borrow your book and read it so I know what everyone’s talking about?”
“Of course,” Aidan agreed.
At lunch, they sat with some of Aidan’s classmates. As everyone chatted, Colin again sat listening. He didn’t say anything except when he was asked a direct question, one of which was, “Where do you go to school?” When he told the boys at the table that he went to The Christian Academy, there was an audible gasp. He wondered if the school had a bad reputation. Then the boy who had asked him continued, “What’s it like?”
Colin described it as well as he could. When he got to the religion classes, all the boys looked at each other, some of them shaking their heads.
Finally, one of them asked, “Why are you here? Are you thinking of transferring?” Colin nodded and the boy asked, “So what do you think of this school?”
Colin thought a moment before replying. “It’s very friendly here. People have been nice to me all morning, but I guess the biggest difference between the schools is that here the teachers expect students to think independently. You aren’t just told what to think.”
“Do you like that?”
“I do, but if I come here, it’ll take me some time to adjust.”
After lunch, the boys went to gym class. Aidan introduced Colin to the coach before leading him into the locker room, where boys were changing into their gym clothes. Without thinking about it, Aidan stripped and then reached into the locker for his gym clothes. He looked up and saw Colin watching him, agog.
“What’s wrong?” Aidan asked.
“Do all the boys have to get naked in the locker room?”
“Sure, and also in the showers.”
“You shower here, naked?”
“Yup. I’ll show you the showers before we go out on the field.”
Colin looked quickly away. Aidan noticed but didn’t say anything. What’s wrong? he wondered. Hasn’t he ever seen a naked boy before?
After Aidan showed Colin the shower room, which had no privacy, they went out to the field and at Aidan’s suggestion, Colin sat on a bench at the side of the field.
Colin watched the class. Aidan could see Colin’s expression change from awe to envy as the boys played. Colin didn’t really understand the game they were playing, but he began to figure out the aims and rules as he watched. He saw the structures at each end of the field with two vertical poles and a crossbar and he assumed they were goals. He observed that the boys were all enjoying themselves, something he’d rarely seen anywhere at The Academy.
As he watched, a boy on Aidan’s team kicked the ball through the goal and all the boys on his team congratulated him before they went back to the center of the field, where the game continued. So Colin knew that the object of the game was to kick the ball through the opposing team’s goal. As he continued to watch, he figured out that the boys couldn’t touch the ball with their hands except for the boys who were guarding the nets.
Walking back to the building, Colin joined Aidan and asked what the game was called. “Soccer,” Aidan answered, “but in most countries it’s called football.”
In the locker room, Colin stood, trying to avert his eyes when Aidan and the other boys stripped and went into the showers. Colin didn’t watch the showers or the boys as they returned, toweling themselves and then dressing. When the others had left the locker room, Colin and Aidan walked to history, the last period of the day.
The class was studying the ancient Romans, and Colin listened while there was a lively discussion of the Roman gods and how most of them were like the Greek gods but renamed. At one point, the teacher used an overhead projector to display pictures of statues on a screen. Not for the first time that day, Colin was shocked. All the statues were either naked or scantily clad. He blushed but couldn’t help staring.
At dismissal time, the boys went to Aidan’s locker to retrieve books he needed for homework before going to the bus. Colin mentioned that he’d never ridden on a school bus. As they rode he asked, “Do the kids always make this much noise?” Aidan laughed and assured him they did.
They got off the bus at a stop near the Woods’ house and walked the rest of the way. Entering the house, Aidan called, “We’re home.”
Angela came downstairs and after hugging them both, asked if they’d like snacks. They both said yes so she produced sandwiches and milk. Then the three sat at the kitchen table talking while Albee sat on the floor beside Aidan, hoping for food to drop.
“Colin, what did you think of the school?” Angela asked.
He gave the same answer he’d given at the lunch table, not mentioning anything about the locker room or the pictures in the history class.
She asked him if he’d enjoyed himself, and he nodded. “Do you think you’d like to go to school there?”
Before answering he thought for a moment. “I’m not sure yet. There’s a lot I need to think about and get used to before I decide.”
“Fair enough,” she said.
The boys finished their snacks and went up to their bedroom. In the mornings, they had taken turns going into the bathroom to dress. Thinking that it was too inconvenient to always be dressing in the bathroom, Aidan decided to change out of his school clothes in the bedroom. He removed them down to his boxers before hanging them in the closet for school the next day and dressing in some older ones. Colin sat on his bed, trying to look away but appearing to be in deep thought.
When he finished, Aidan sat beside him and asked, “What are you thinking that you didn’t want to talk about with Mom?”
Colin sighed before replying, “Well, some of the things I saw and heard today were against my church’s teachings. Those pictures of statues that we saw in history for example. Nude statues? I never knew such things existed. And the locker room? My church teaches that nudity is wrong because it leads to lust and the Bible has a lot to say about lust.”
“Did you have any reaction to the statues other than your religious one?”
Colin was embarrassed but said, “I thought some of them were beautiful, even though I had to look away.”
“They are beautiful. Colin, if God created our bodies, why are they shameful to you?”
“Because looking at naked bodies leads to lust.”
“Was lust your reaction when you saw the statues?”
“Well, no. Like I said, I thought they were beautiful, but I was really embarrassed by that thought.”
“Hmmm. Maybe it’s time you and I had a talk with Mr. Hartwell.”
“I couldn’t ever talk with him about it. I’m embarrassed even talking with you.”
“Okay. We’ll table the idea for a while. Do you think you could be happy at my school?”
“I think so, but I could never get naked in the locker room or showers.”
“Keep thinking about it, and we’ll talk again later in the week.”
On Wednesday, Chuck was standing on his front porch drinking a final cup of coffee when the Carmichaels’ car pulled into the driveway. Luke got out of the car and retrieved a shotgun from the trunk.