An English Teen,
Circumcised in the USA

by Riley Jericho


Lucy held the door as Luke’s wheelchair was maneuvered though. As he was wheeled off to be taken to Radiology for an X-ray on his foot, she wondered if she should be going with him. She decided against it, closed the door, and brushed past Simon once more.

"So?” Simon spun to face her and Geoff now that Luke had been taken away. The police officers had already gathered up their things, too, and after promising to be in touch if they needed to be, had gone.

Lucy had no reply for Simon. Instead, she straightened the chairs, and then decided to stack them.

“Take these back where you found them, can you, sweetheart.” From somewhere she found a tone that sounded like she was asking Simon to return a bottle of pickles to some out of the way food shelf in Publix.

Moving on the from the chairs, she set about straightening out Luke’s bed, tucking in the sheets and plumping up the pillows. Clucking, she said, “Can you believe those two detectives—especially Willett! What right has he to speak to us like that? I knew we shouldn’t have let them in here—hopefully that’s the last of it!” Her eyes flicked up to where Geoff was silently brooding, staring out of the window.

The last of it? It felt like their problems were only just starting!

“Come on, Simon, help out a bit here and take these chairs away,” she repeated. “Let’s get the room sorted out while Luke is gone. Then maybe we can—”

 “I heard everything, you know,” Simon interrupted, scowling and making no attempt to pick up the chairs. His tone was antagonistic as he waited near the door.  She could almost hear his teeth grinding! Like them, she guessed he wanted some answers.

"I think Mum and I need to talk about it first," Geoff said, turning from the window at last. He looked, and sounded, as daunted as she felt herself.

A son who was gay?

The mere possibility of it came as a complete shock. How—and when—had that happened? Maybe there would be an explanation in time, but questions, ones she was unprepared for just then, clamored in her head as she stared unseeing at the bedding.

"So? He's gay! So what?” Simon flared at them with an unexpected anger. “Does it actually matter?"

She looked across quickly. "You knew?

"For God's sake, of course I knew!" The ferocity of his reply, shocked her.


"This is exactly why we didn't tell you!" Simon barked, the angry tone building close to shouting. "We knew you'd be like this! He's gay, not sick!"

"Hey, just back up there one minute, sunshine!" Geoff struck back, probably far too hard. "It's the first I heard that we kept secrets in our family, so if you've got nothing helpful to say, then just SHUT IT!"

"Hon…" She tried to find a way to calm the situation. After such a harrowing account, listening to Luke describe how they had come to just over a bullet's width of losing him, this was not the time or place to try to deal with the idea that their son was a homosexual. “Perhaps now isn—”

"You wanna know something?" Simon had clenched his jaw at Geoff's reprimand as he interrupted her. “You don’t have any—” But then he clamped his mouth shut, glaring at them as he held back words that only he knew. Without another word, he spun on his heels and marched out, slamming the door behind himself. She and Geoff stared at the closed door.

"What the hell just happened?" Geoff slumped down onto the bed and held his head in his hands. "Sorry, I didn’t handle that very well..."

Even then, Geoff couldn't let it go. "It has to be a mistake. Perhaps Luke's covering for someone?"

She said nothing. They both knew there was no mistake. Luke, their eldest son, was…gay. It was as simple—and as complicated—as that. With nervous energy that couldn't be contained, Geoff stood again and paced to the window. After a few moments he spun to face her.

"I mean, how long has this been going on? Since the start of the school year, or was it since he started at an all boy's school?"

"I don't know." She asked herself the same things. To her, however, it felt like he was trying to find someone or something to blame.

"What did we miss?" he pressed. "How did he get like this? Was he gay when he was a kid?"

"I told you, I don't know!" She couldn’t help raising her voice, though she had no answers, just as many questions as he did. "Perhaps it's all just a passing phase?"

"A phase...?"

She shrugged. Both of them were out of their depth.

"We know one thing..." Geoff turned to stare out of the window again.


"That Ryan would probably be alive, and we wouldn't be here if Luke wasn't like this!"


Even Geoff realized he'd been too quick and too harsh as he shook his head. "Sorry...I take that back. I know this isn't helping—I just don't know what else to think."

"Let's just get him home and get him well first," she said. "The rest can wait."

Geoff sagged and dropped onto the couch. "You're right. God, I'm really making a bloody mess of this. Maybe I should go and find Simon?"

She sighed and nodded. They both needed to stop these knee jerk reactions and start talking; in the past they’d always talked about things in their family; when had that changed? "I'll wait here for Luke to get back from Radiology. I'll try to talk to him if it feels right."

"What are you going to say?"

"Honestly...I've no idea. All I know is both our boys are still alive. Not many days ago I’d almost lost hope for that." Her tone hardened and she kicked into gear at last. Being honest with herself, she realized it was probably just another version of tidying the room—having a goal to focus on. But it would do for now, and her resolve strengthened. "Whatever else, I'm damn well not going to lose one of them over something we don't even understand yet!"

It wasn't meant to be a reprimand—or maybe it was. She crossed to the window and put her arms around Geoff. "Come on, let's face whatever this is without going off the deep end."

Geoff took a deep breath and said, "Yeah—you're right. Saying it like that puts it all into a bit of perspective, doesn't it. Okay, let me go look for Simon. I'll try Radiology first—he's probably followed Luke in that direction." He turned to the door and left.

The door didn't quite catch on the latch as he strode off down the corridor, and it swung open again. Lucy was about to cross the room to close it when, moments later, the doorframe was filled by a young lady.

"Oh, hello," the girl said. She sounded bright, and a smile slid easily across her face. "I was just looking for Luke. I'm a friend."

Late teens or maybe early twenties was what Lucy would put her, though of all of Luke's friends, she didn't recognize the girl at all. She had short-cropped blond hair over a strong, honest face, and a figure that Lucy could only have dreamed of, even at that age! In fact, she was an absolute stunner, and an unworthy thought flashed through Lucy's head.

How could he not find her attractive!

Immediately, she quashed it. Everything she thought about gay kids was in the process of review, and until she got her head around that, the rest was out of bounds. For God's sake, this was Luke...her son! She knew him almost inside out—and hell, if that didn't change a lot of preconceptions!

Gathering herself, she painted on her motherly face. "You know—" She paused, raising an eyebrow and holding out for a name.

"Mel. Mel Piper."


The girl had replied evenly and openly enough, though she didn't go on to offer any explanation as to how she knew Luke. More questions, but none of them mattered to Lucy right then.

"Thanks for coming by, Mel, but he's still pretty unwell. He's being seen by the doctors just now. Maybe it might be best to come back on another day."

"Sure," Mel replied smoothly. Her face gave away nothing that indicated she was frustrated at being sent away. Again, she smiled. "Nice to have met you, Mrs. Summers." With that, she turned and left.

Too many questions and not enough answers. Left alone in the hospital room to dwell on it, Lucy was at a loss. The police officers might have left satisfied, but she felt that their family had been left hanging off a ledge with yet more unresolved questions weighing them down.

Was there some parenting handbook that covered this?

Twenty minutes later, pacing the room and looking at her watch, she finally decided she was in completely the wrong place. What good was she actually doing here—this room wasn't where the need was. Luke was waiting—possibly all alone—in Radiology, and who the hell knew where Geoff and Simon might be!

Quickly she scribbled a note explaining she'd gone down to Radiology in case Geoff returned, then stepped out of the still open door. A dozen meters away, Luke was being pushed towards the room in his chair by a young female doctor who looked familiar, but Lucy couldn’t place her.

* * *

Inside the elevator, twenty minutes previously, Luke sat hunched in the wheelchair. Shit, was he glad to have got out of that room…if looks could kill—! 

The nurse reached for the button. “Radiology is down on the ground floor,” he said, stabbing at it.

Luke glanced around the confined space. He already knew that he was at Northside Hospital, but only now did he know which floor as they had entered one of the familiar banks of elevators with their groaning doors. It wasn't long before he'd been dropped to the ground floor. Remembering meeting Elliott in one of those same elevators once had made him feel even more empty, not less.

The nurse spun him efficiently out of the lift once they’d reached the ground.

“It’s not too far,” the nurse said.

“Okay.” Luke’s eyes flicked to the right, towards the warm colors of the cafeteria where he and Elliott had first properly talked, but the chair began to head in the other direction, away from the familiar décor and down a wide corridor which, twenty meters along, turned sharply to the left. Ahead of them, the walls and floor became much more businesslike for a hospital. Soft carpet became hard, easy to clean flooring, and the taint of disinfectant reached down the walls and up Luke’s nose.

The thoroughfare was surprisingly wide; enough to race side-by-side four or five of the chariots like the one Luke was sitting in, and it stretched into the distance. For a Sunday afternoon, he was equally surprised at how many people trudged—or, as in his case, trundled along it.

“I’ll drop you off there, but then I’ll have to leave you I’m afraid. My shift ends soon, but someone will bring you upstairs once you’re done.”

“Mmmm.” The nurse was his usual chatty self, but Luke's reply was monosyllabic as they passed section after section, signposted to either side. From oncology to physiotherapy, he studied the names as they moved by them—places where doctors did their stuff to get people well.

“My kids will want to know how you’re doing.”

“You have kids?” It was too far to twist his head around and up, but Luke turned it as far as he could.

“Sure do. Twins. Just turned nine—a boy and girl” Luke could hear the grin in the man’s voice. “You were mentioned on the news—just in passing—and I told them I was helping get you better! You’re quite a celebrity at our house!”

A celebrity…?

Half way down the corridor, they'd turned left again, and straight into the radiology department. After stopping by the desk to hand in some notes, the nurse wheeled Luke into the waiting area.

“It might be a bit of a wait, I’m afraid, Luke.” The nurse set the parking brake. “They’re a bit short staffed, it seems and…” he didn’t have to continue for Luke to get the message as he looked around to see the numbers of people already waiting.

“Somebody will come and get you soon enough, I’m sure.” The nurse paused and smiled brightly. “I’m back on tomorrow at eight—I’m sure I’ll see you then. Hang in there!”

Luke watched him leave and settled in for what looked like a long wait. He'd been parked up past a desk and in amongst two dozen or more others, all of whom were waiting patiently. Perhaps the hospital knew that patients might have to spend lots of waiting time there as the walls were softly muted and the seats looked comfortably spaced across the warm carpet. There were also several racks holding magazines and newspapers.  A TV set was on, hanging on one wall with the volume turned just loud enough to be heard if one tried.

Casting his eyes down again, he studied the gown that covered his knees, and cast his mind over recent events.

Now what happened?

During the minutes after the interview was wrapped up, he'd stared at his foot as the doctor had briefly examined him, relieved he’d been able to answer questions that had nothing to do with guns…or being gay.  Preston and Willett had finally left. Willett just ignored him, though Preston made a point of promising that once the prosecutor signed off on his statement, Luke would get his phone back.

It hardly mattered now.

What everyone steered away from was any reference to his being gay. Maybe that was only natural with the doctor and nurse in the room, but it still felt huge to Luke. Nobody said anything, but he knew what they all thought. He could only guess at how much he’d disappointed his mum and dad.

After a while, he began to study his surroundings again. There were quite a lot of people waiting in the radiology department, most sitting in formal rows of padded chairs. He had no idea if the crowds were normal or not. Somebody came and called a name, and Luke feared that the nurse had been right. If it was this slow, and with so many people, he might be there for hours! No wonder he'd been left alone to wait it out!

A few of those waiting wore the same skimpy hospital gown. Others wore regular clothes and he assumed they were outpatients. Across from him, an older man in baggy pants seemed to be studying him intently. Even though he knew it couldn’t be the case, Luke had the feeling that he was being stared at, and he felt exposed and uncomfortable.

“Hey there, Sunshine!”

Luke looked to the left at the familiar voice and spotted his dad, who approached the way he’d come

“Did Simon come this way?” Geoff asked, carefully lowering himself into the vacant chair alongside Luke's wheelchair. He appeared even more awkward than Luke felt himself. It just made Luke feel worse, and he kept his head down, feeling the back of his neck flush—reminded of and unable to get past the shame of being who he was

Looking for Simon? It stung Luke that his dad seemed more concerned about his brother than him, but maybe Luke deserved it? Keeping his gaze averted, he shook his head.

Maybe his dad felt he needed to say something, and his crusty voice was lowered, just for their ears. “Look, I don’t really get where this is all coming from, but maybe when you get back upstairs, we can talk about some of it.”

Still looking to his gown-covered knees, Luke kept his mouth shut, though he was under no illusions as to what ‘this’ was. Even if they wanted to talk, it would be to condemn him. It seemed inevitable that they were going to see him as some kind of unpleasant family stain that should be kept hidden. The only solace was to block it out.

After waiting for an answer that wasn't there, Geoff said, “Okay...well, I need to go and try to find Simon, but I’ll be back.” He got to his feet, and put what was meant to be a reassuring hand on Luke's shoulder before turning to leave.

No sooner had he passed around the corner than another familiar face appeared from the same place. A face that brought memories that threatened to break Luke's tenuous control, though he couldn't help calling her name.

"Mel!" He ignored the gazes of patients who turned his way to study him

"Hey there, English boy!" Mel grinned in a way that felt like a dose of healing medicine. “That was your dad, then?”

"Oh...ummm...yes." He assumed she’d seen him talking to Geoff. "He was looking for Simon. But how did you know I was here?"

"Oh...that..." She grinned, cheekily. "I got me a little songbird that's been keeping an eye on you all week. And I dropped by your room a few minutes ago and somebody happened to mention Radiology!"

Luke hardly knew her, yet she’d made quite an impression on him when they’d all been at the movies that night, months ago, to watch Iron Man. Despite that brief encounter, he was so glad she was there. She was someone who seemed to know Ryan almost as well as he did.

"Ry..." He couldn't help himself, and even as he said it, he realized she would already know Ryan had been killed as he blurted his name. Even then, it caught in his throat.

"Yes…I…I know." Her own eyes glistened as she settled next to him. She took his good hand in hers as they leaned together for comfort. There was no need to say anything, and the surrounding patients drifted away as he shut his eyes and tried not to shake.

"Come on, you two. I pulled a few strings. We can go into a side room while we wait." That voice was familiar, too, and Luke wiped his eyes, looking up to find Ella Tiberius in a white doctor’s coat and sporting an official staff badge.

"Ella?" He scrubbed at his face, embarrassed. It was almost too much to bear. "What are you doing here?"

"Songbird to the rescue, it seems." A gleam of satisfaction spread across Mel's face. She stood and took control of the wheelchair, knocking off the parking brake. "Lead on, MacTiberius, or whatever the saying is!"

Quite confused, Luke found himself being steered towards a small staff room that seemed not much bigger than a cupboard. Mel brought him to a halt alongside a table and snapped on the parking brake once more. Getting his bearings, Luke studied the two, eyes flicking from one to the other wondering which was more likely—that Mel had a job at the hospital, or that Ella was moonlighting as an army cadet.

"You two know each other?" he muttered finally. Neither of the immediate options seemed likely.

“Oh…we've been friends for ages," Ella said. She waved her hand in such a perfunctory way that Luke decided to plump for the more likely explanation that they'd been friends during and since school.

"I do a few shifts at the hospital to keep me from going stir crazy up at Dad’s clinic. I’m in the ER today, but I got you pushed to the front of the line as a bit of a favor—it shouldn't be long. I had a quick look at your notes…metatarsals!”

Mel snickered. “How come doctors can say the rudest of things and get away with it?”

It brought a smile to Luke at last. Even he knew what metatarsals were—at least he did since the doctor explained what the X-ray would be checking for when he’d examined Luke back in his room.

The smile didn’t last long, and Luke slumped. Ella eyed him speculatively as though weighing up a new patient. "Tough week, eh."

"Ignore her," chuckled Mel. "If you didn’t already know, she's completely heartless." The two girls exchanged an easy grin and then Mel became serious.

"We've all been pulling for you..." Mel paused and then added, "I miss Ryan too. There's been Military Police and CID all over dad at the base, and the usual fights with the police over jurisdiction...none of it can bring him back...or his mom." Her eyes flashed in anger. "I hope the bastard rots in hell!" She kicked at a chair. "Damn him! If I'd have been there I would have—"

"Mel..." Ella's tone was soft, but it cut across the outburst.

Mel pulled a face and Luke's heart ached with her as he remembered the journey back from the movie theatre in her truck. He wasn't the only person who had cared deeply for Ryan, and the easy, yet close friendship she and Ryan had seemed to exist on a level Luke knew nothing about. Realizing that he wasn't the only one hurting helped a lot.

"Sorry," Mel continued, scrunching up her face. "I didn't come here to vent. Ryan was really fond of you, so I just wanted to check you were okay."

She seemed about to go on, when there was a tap at the door and a small, pretty nurse put her head around the door. "They can take him in three now, Ella," she said. "Rosie is all set up."

"Thanks, Erin. I owe you one!" Ella came across, took hold of the handles and slipped the brakes again. "Come on then—you do the hand signals and I'll drive."

Mel followed them out and settled into a chair in the waiting area. "I'll wait here, Ella. There’s something I just want to see you about when you've dropped him off to be nuked."

"Yep," Ella replied. "Won't be a minute."

With that, Luke found himself being deftly maneuvered towards what was bay three. With a little help he shifted up onto a medical couch and they started to get him correctly positioned for an X-ray of his ankle.

"Rosie, this is Luke.” Ella winked at Luke. “And you'll be glad to know, no injections this time, young man!"

After that, she disappeared as Rosie got on with her job of taking snapshots of his ankle. It was done quite quickly, and soon he was being wheeled out again. They headed back towards the waiting area, where Mel and Ella were talking quietly in a corner. Luke had no idea what it was about, but they seemed earnest. The conversation came to end as he drew up.

"Pretty painless, eh," Ella smiled knowingly.

"I've had worse." He even managed a smile at the shared joke.

“Okay than…we’re out of here! Thanks again, Erin!” Ella took the chair from the nurse, and they started on their way back to the lifts.

Walking alongside them riding shotgun as they progressed back down the long thoroughfare, Mel said, “I don't know if anyone told you, but it’s the funeral this Thursday—for Ryan and his mom.” She glanced at Luke cautiously to see how he would take the news. “Andrew and Alice—his grandparents—are arranging it. It’s taken a while because of the investigation.”

Luke stared into the distance, taken aback by glimpses of the future.

Funeral? He hadn’t even thought about that!

His stomach churned at the prospect of sitting in a bleak, empty church, staring at coffins. On the other hand, how must the old brigadier and his wife be feeling? Again it struck him; many were hurt, and a terrible feeling of anger began to grow out of the churning pit of his insides. Rotting in hell was far too good for Alexis!

He swallowed and tried to come back to the present. "I'll try. Where is it?"

"At the church—the one they used to go to."

"St Barnabus?" He'd ribbed Ry about his church-going habits on many an occasion.

"That's the one. Father Kenny is taking the service. I'm sure the Bufords will be in contact soon, and I know they want you to be there if you can. It's at eleven."

They reached the elevators and Ella stabbed a button. Luke stared at the lights as they made slow progress down the board, yet it wasn't getting to the fourth floor that he cared about just then. "Brigadier and Mrs. Buford…how are they?"

Mel looked sad again, and shook her head. Even she had no words.

He was glad when the elevator arrived, but a lot less so when Mel said she needed to go. "It's probably for the best," she said with a wry grin. "Your mom told me no visitors. She might get mad if I swan in now."

"To hell with Mum!"

"Hey there...they're just worried for you, that’s all. It’s a lot to deal with—just give them time to come round.” Mel ruffled his hair gently and smirked. “Don't take any crap from Ella, though!"

She winked as the lift doors opened, this time towards Ella. "Later, babe!" She left leaving Luke wondering what she had meant by 'Time to come round?’ What did that mean?

"Just me and you then, kiddo!" Ella chuckled, wheeling the chair inside. She punched floor four, and the doors started to rattle close. "I'll pop you up to your room, then I need to get back down to the ER before they fire me!"

Babe? Mel's parting word only just began to register for Luke.

He stared at the doors as they came together. He was about to ask Ella a bit more about how she actually knew Mel, when the doors abruptly halted and reopened. A man and a lady entered. The four of them waited, and it looked as though the doors were about ready to close again, when yet two more people squeezed in.

At last they got away, but the last couple wanted to get out at the first floor—lazy bastards—and then they stopped on the third floor, too! Finally, he and Ella reached floor four, exited, and made their way down the corridor and through the communal area until they approached his room.

"It’s just up here," he said, pointing towards a door that started to open.

* * *

As soon as Lucy stepped outside the hospital room, she spotted Luke in his wheelchair being pushed by a young lady doctor.

"That was quick!" she said, putting on her bright voice, though thinking the exact opposite. Looking past him, she saw the far ward doors swing open, and Geoff came through. Simon wasn't far behind.

Them, too…at last!

She hovered, then moved forward wanting to take hold of the chair so she could feel she was doing something, but the young doctor seemed content to keep driving, and Lucy stood out of the way as the girl steered Luke into the room.

"Hey there, Hon!" A few moments later, Geoff bustled through the door. "That was quick!"

"I’m just returning one of your waifs and strays," Ella said brightly as the three parties converged. She added, "Hello there, Simon! And how are you doing?"

Under the circumstances, with so much happening at once, it took Lucy longer than usual to figure out how incongruous that simple question was. On the one hand, the girl was a doctor…and for some reason that kind of made it okay…on the other hand, she was a stranger on first name terns with her son, and that—

"Oh - hi..." A look of recognition actually crossed Simon's face which quickly became awkward. His reply was just as awkward. "I'm fine thank you,"

Lucy frowned, not put at ease. "I'm not sure we've—" she began, but got no further as, from his wheelchair, Luke interrupted.

"Mum, this is Ella."

She peered at the name tag, even more bewildered. "You’re…Dr. Tiberius?" She remembered now where she’d seen the girl. It had been at the clinic the first time she’d visited with Luke—the young lady had been manning the reception desk!

Ella took it in her stride and grinned. "I think you probably know my father better, Mrs. Summers. As you can see, doctoring runs in the family!"

"You're Ella?" Geoff began to out the pieces together. “So… Jonathan Tiberius is—”

“Is my dad…you got it!” Her eyes twinkled. "I was working at the clinic when Simon came in for an appointment a couple of months ago." She was professional enough not to go into any more details and pushed the chair next to the bed and set the brake. "Maybe we can just get Luke into bed again?"

"Oh...right...of course..." Lucy said, gathering herself.

She wondered if Luke might want to stay in the chair, but he looked tired and didn’t object. With a little help, he levered himself back onto the bed. Before Ella could leave, he said to the room in general, "It's the funeral on Thursday. I want to go."

Lucy studied him with mixed feelings. "I don't know where you heard that sweetheart, but—"

"Mel told me. I saw her in Radiology."

"Mel?" Lucy’s eyes narrowed. "Is that the same Mel that came to find you up here? Mel Piper?"

"Mel's a friend of mine, Mrs. Summers," Ella explained, slipping back into the conversation. "She came down to see me in Radiology where I've been working. I managed to get Luke bumped to the front of the queue."

“Mel was a really close friend of Ryan,” Luke said. "I think she came to tell me about the funeral," he added. "She said the Bufords are arranging it and they really want us to be there."

"Mel? Ryan? The Bufords?" Even his dad looked uncertain now. "Did she say how they are?"

Luke shook his head and they descended into silence.

Ella broke the silence, though the eerier playfulness had left her tone. “Mel knew Ryan and his mom probably better than most—and the Buford’s, too. It’s been really tough on them.” She took a breath and added. “Dad wanted to pass on his thoughts to you all. It's been a terrible ordeal for you as well."

“Thank you,” Lucy replied. She moved protectively closer to Luke. “We’re just glad that we still…” Not wanting to be too melodramatic, even if Ella was a doctor, she didn’t complete the sentence.

Ella became thoughtful. "Maybe it's not until you lose someone—or nearly lose them—that you suddenly realize how important they are?

"Anyway," she added, not giving anyone time to reply. "I'd better be off." She pointed to the empty chair. "I would hang on to that for a bit…it's good for Luke to be up and around, and those are like gold dust!"

"Give our regards to your father, Ella," Geoff said as she moved to the door.

"Sure will," she said, and then she was gone.

* * *

Luke kept his eyes down. He wondered which of them would bring it up first now that it was just the four of them left to make something of that day’s developments. Who would crack the silence first and say 'gay'.

"So how was the X-ray, sweetheart? Did they tell you anything?" His mum plumped up the pillows behind his head and straightened out his bed sheets before settling next to him onto the bed. His dad and Simon seemed happy to remain in the background.

Luke shook his head. "There were a lot of people waiting, but Ella got me to the front of the queue. It was done pretty quick. Other than that..." He shrugged as best as his shoulder would let him.

"That was really kind of her," his dad murmured. "Nice girl. They've been good to us."

Luke assumed he meant Tiberius—father and daughter.

"I'm sure the doctors will let us know about your foot as soon as they have something," Lucy said. He knew her well enough to recognize her 'trying hard to sound bright and positive' voice. She looked at her watch. "Time’s getting on. What about something to eat?"

“You go if you want. I’m really tired.” Luke laid his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes so they would get the message. “I think I’ll sleep awhile.”

He guessed they would be exchanging questioning glances and trying to decide whether to stay and possibly make him talk to leave him to sleep if he wanted.

“We could just go a quick sandwich,” Geoff said. “And you could probably do with something to drink, Hon.”

“Maybe.” Lucy sounded less convinced. Luke turned onto his good side and pushed his face into the pillow. It wasn’t hard to look tired when actually he was.

“Come on then, you two,” she said at last. “We could probably all do with a bite. Maybe after a snooze, you’ll feel like something, too, sweetheart.”

Luke didn’t answer, though he didn’t think she expected one.

“I’m really not hungry,” Simon said, unexpectedly. “I’ll stay up here.”

“Mmmm…maybe we should just leave Luke to—” Lucy began, but Luke opened his eyes and interrupted.

“It’s fine. If he wants to stay, it doesn’t bother me.” In retrospect, it wasn’t that unexpected that Simon would grab at a chance to talk without their parents there. However, it was still awkward when he’d already said to them that he wanted to be left alone…yet the truth was, he wasn’t ready to talk about certain things, even if his mum and dad were.

“Come on then, Hon,” Geoff murmured, taking charge before Lucy back-pedaled. Luke wondered if his dad just couldn't face that conversation, either.

At the door, Geoff turned. “Can we bring you something back, Simon?”

“No, thank you.” Simon’s tone was stiffly formal, and Luke wondered what was behind it.

After they had left, Simon came and settled onto the bed. Tired though he was, Luke opened his eyes. If Simon wanted to talk, then he deserved some attention. Silently, they watched each other for a while. Unspoken messages, which probably only they had any chance of understanding, passed between them in between blinks and quiet breaths.

“What are we going to do?” Simon said at last.