Eric 382 Part 1

Chapter 4

8:10am – Monday, September 19th, 2004

With the memories of the previous night's events still floating around in his head, Brent opened his eyes to see two very serious looking, nicely tanned 10 year olds starring down at him. "Hey guys?"

"Brent, what are you doing here?" Arvid spoke softly and took a step closer to Brent.

"And why is Lance here as well?" Dynal stepped next to his twin using the same soft toned voice.

"And who is the kid sleeping on his stomach?" Both twins chimed as they glanced over to the other couch where Lance was sleeping on his back with Greg still latched onto his chest.

"Good morning to you guys as well." Brent sat up and wiped the sleep out of his eyes. "There was a pretty bad fire last night at their home and all the kids got sent to different homes to spend the night. Lance and Greg came here to sleep."

Dynal nodded his understanding. "Is that why a lot of us stayed home from school today?"

"Huh?" Brent couldn't figure out what a fire would have to do with staying home from school.

"All the middle school kids went to school, but they kept all the elementary kids here." Arvid finished his twin's thought.

Before Brent had a chance to respond, a soft moan came from the other couch as Greg started showing signs of waking up. "Doug?" Greg's head shot up from Lance's chest with a shocked expression as he tried feeling around to figure out where he was. "Lance?"

"It's okay buddy, I'm right here." Lance answered sleepily as he put his arms around Greg.

"Doug? Where's Doug? I can't feel him." Greg tried to break away from Lance as if trying to find Doug, but Lance hugged him tighter as he worked on getting both himself and Greg sitting up. After a few moments of struggling, he gave up and buried his face into Lance's shoulder and started to sob. "When is Doug coming back?"

Lance rubbed Greg's back trying to comfort the small boy as he slowly rocked him back and forth.

Brent motioned for the twins to come closer so that Greg and Lance would not hear what he was saying. "Just so you guys know, Greg is blind, so please don't make fun of him. Also Doug was Greg's roommate. He was burned pretty bad in the fire last night when he risked his life to save Greg."

"Wow, that's terrible." Arvid glanced quickly toward Greg in disbelief.

"What was he talking about feeling him?" Dynal added.

Brent thought for a moment trying to decide if he should share Greg's secret with the twins. Then it hit him, they were twins, so perhaps just maybe things might work out. "If you guys promise not to tell anyone else or freak out, I can tell you a secret about Greg."

Both twins nodded their agreement.

"Don't ask me how, but somehow Greg had come up with a way that he could occasionally see things through Doug's eyes." Brent looked at each twin trying to figure out what their response would be.

Arvid was the first to speak. "Wow! That's cool! I read a comic once where these twins were able to do something like that, see out of each other's eyes whenever they wanted."

Dynal poked Arvid in the ribs. "That was just a comic dufus! This is real life."

Brent smiled, and continued in his quiet voice. "Actually, Greg did have a twin brother, and apparently he could do that vision trick a lot better with his twin than he could with Doug. But his twin was killed in a car accident about a year ago."

The twins looked at each other, and then looked back at Brent speaking at the same time. "We're twins!"

All three boys walked over to where Lance was still rocking Greg and hugging him tightly.

"Hi Greg!" Dynal tried to sound as cheerful as possible.

"Greg, this is Arvid and Dynal. They are twins, and have been my roommates here for the last three weeks." Brent said softly as he petted the back of Greg's head.

"Hi." Greg answered weakly, still keeping his head on Lance's shoulder.

"We heard about that neat trick you could do with Doug." Arvid started.

"And since we are twins, we thought maybe you could see if it worked with us." Dynal finished.

Greg lifted his head off of Lance's shoulder, and looked in the general direction of the twins. "Really, so you’re not freaked out?"

"No, it sounds cool!" Arvid answered for both twins. "What do I have to do?"

Greg started to use one of his hands to feel out in front of him. "I just need to touch your arm I think."

"Okay." Arvid held out his arm and put it close to where Greg was feeling around. As soon as Greg made contact with it, he immediately pulled his hand back with a slight gasp.

"What's wrong?" Brent asked with his voice full of concern.

"I don't know. I thought I felt something strange." Greg answered as he reached his arm out again.

It didn't take long for Greg to find Arvid's arm for a second try. This time he held onto it for about 20 seconds while he put his head down as if trying to concentrate on something. He then started to shake his head slowly before pulling his arm away. "Nothing."

"Wait! Dynal, touch my other hand, maybe you need both of us?"

Dynal did as Arvid requested, and touched his other arm. Greg reached back out for Arvid's hand again, and concentrated for another 15 to 20 seconds before shaking his head again, causing both twins to drop their hands and sigh in disappointment.

"Thanks a lot for trying guys. The fact that you even tried really means a lot." Brent tried his best to lighten the disappointed mood.

"Yea, thanks." Greg echoed weekly as he laid his head back on Lance's shoulder.

"What do you guys say we go and grab some breakfast? I'm starved." Brent decided that now would be a great time to change the subject.

"We already ate earlier, we would have woken you up, but Mr. Curtis said to let you sleep." Dynal answered.

"But I could use another glass of juice." Arvid started to smile again.

"You would drink an entire gallon of juice if they let you!" Dynal poked Arvid.

"So?" Arvid giggled causing everyone else to giggle except for Greg.

With that, all the boys got up and headed into the kitchen.

In the kitchen Brent grabbed 3 bowls and 4 large glasses from the cupboard, and placed them on the counter. He poured some Apple Jacks for himself and Lance, and some Coco Puffs for Greg. After filling the bowls and 3 of the glasses with milk, and pouring some juice for Arvid, all the boys sat at the counter to eat.

Greg was not in any hurry to get off of Lance's lap, and he was in less hurry to eat anything, so Lance ended up feeding him.

By the time the boys were half-way through with their breakfast, Mr. Curtis walked in the kitchen, and let the boys know that there were still a few donuts left if any of the boys wanted them.

"Have you heard anything from the hospital about Doug?" Lance asked knowing how impatient Greg was to get any word about his friend.

Mr. Curtis turned around slowly and frowned, "I heard from the hospital about an hour ago. Doug suffered some pretty serious burns to a large portion of his body, and it's going to take a while for him to recover. But, the good news is that he's alive and he should manage to pull through this pretty well."

Greg lifted his head up off of Lance's shoulder and looked toward Mr. Curtis. "Does that mean we can go visit him?"

Mr. Curtis walked over to Greg and ruffled his hair a little. "I'm sorry sport, but not right now. They have to keep him asleep for a few days while his body starts to heal. He would be in too much pain if he were awake, but I bet when you get to your new home in Newton, you’ll be able to go visit him when he starts getting better."

"Newton?" Several of the boys said with shocked voices.

"Me and Greg are being transferred to a home in Newton?" Lance asked

"No, just Greg. You’re going to be transferred to a different home in Boone." Mr. Curtis got up and started to head back out of the kitchen.

Brent jumped in the conversation before Mr. Curtis had a chance to leave. "But Boone and Newton are in completely different directions, you can't separate Lance and Greg now! They need each other."

"Sorry guys, but that's the way the system works. Rides will be here after lunch to pick Lance and Greg up. This is a closed subject." With a final look to let all the boys know that he was serious, and would not accept any further disagreement, Mr. Curtis left the kitchen.

All five boys sat there with stunned expressions on their faces as what they had just been told started to sink in.

After breakfast Lance and Greg went with Brent, Arvid and Dynal to their bedroom. Arvid and Dynal flopped down on their beds, but neither boy bothered pulling out their books. Greg remained glued to Lance and was now softly sobbing.

"I can't lose you Lance. I know we just met a few days ago, but before I met you I was totally lost, and I can't go back to that again." Brent's face was filled with determination and anger as he looked toward the one person who turned his life back around.

Things were starting to work out so perfectly for Brent yesterday. But now, it looked like the world decided to take a 180 degree turn and suddenly everything was starting to crash down around him. Yesterday Brent was about to be transferred to Lance's home and they would be together. Now, Lance is going to be transferred to another home in another town that is over 50 miles away Yesterday Greg was a happy little boy, and now he's hanging on to Lance as if his life depended on it.

"I don't want to loose you either Brent. You think Randy might know what we can do?" Lance's soothing voice snapped Brent out of his thoughts.

"That's a good idea!" Brent smiled and started to look around the room. "Hey, Randy? What do you say bro? You have any suggestions for us?" Moments later Brent was able to see the semi-translucent image of Randy standing before him looking very serious.

[Do you trust me Brent?]

Brent tilted his head and looked puzzled by Randy's question. "Yeah, of course I do. Why?"

[You don't know how much I really want to tell you the best thing to do. But Saint Mikey showed me what would happen if I just gave you the answer, and I even went through about 5 or 6 what-ifs with him and well... I guess this is some kind of major turning point for you and well… I have to let you make that choice on your own.]

Brent could see the pained look on his translucent friend's face. He could guess how hard it must have been for Randy not to tell him what he knew, and how it must have been something pretty serious for him to hurt himself like this. "That's okay bro. Although I don't understand how it would, you just proved to me that you’re really looking out for me, that's why I loved... umm... still love you so much."

"What's he saying?" Lance asked inquisitively while still trying to comfort Greg.

Brent looked toward Lance. "He can't tell me. Apparently some major decision is going to be made one way or the other and it would be bad if he just told me the answer."

"He can't even give you some kind of cryptic riddle or something like they do in the movies?" Lance looked as disappointed as Brent at the news.

[Oh! A cryptic message! Lance, you’re a genius! I'll be right back Brent.]

Brent smiled a little as the image of Randy turned around as if to run somewhere, and then faded away. "He said you had a great idea, and then he left and said he would be right back."

Lance looked over at the strange expressions of Arvid and Dynal. "Oh yeah, I guess Brent can see and talk to the ghost of his friend Randy or something."

Dynal smiled. "Yea, we were here a few nights ago when that angel boy with the big golden wings brought Randy to visit Brent."

"You were? Oh wow!" Lance sounded about as close to being surprised as he could, given how sad he was currently feeling.

[Okay, I'm back. I asked Saint Mikey, and he said the best thing that could be said is to follow your heart.]

"Grr! What kind of cryptic message is that?" Brent sighed. He then answered the question that he knew Lance was already getting ready to ask. "Follow your heart is the message that he gave."

[I'm sorry Brent, it would really be best for me to leave for a bit, just remember no matter what you do or decide, I'll always be right next to you, and I'll always love you.]

Lance spoke in a soft voice as he rubbed Greg's back. "I know my heart says I don't want to loose any of my friends."

Brent nodded his head in agreement. "My heart says I just found you, and I don't want to loose you. Not now and not ever."

"So what are you guys going to do? The way Mr. Curtis was talking, there is no way you are going to get them to change their mind." Arvid asked from his bed.

"Maybe they could call the Governor or something, and he could make them change their minds?" Dynal pondered only to be hit in the head by a pillow from Arvid.

"That's just stupid Dyn, although I could think of one thing you could do. But I doubt you would want to." Arvid seemed to get a small grin on his face.

"What?" Both Brent and Lance asked in unison.

"Jinx." Greg mumbled very lightly with his face buried in Lance's shoulder. This forced out small giggles from everyone else.

"You could run away." Arvid replied solemnly.

Everyone sat silently for a few moments trying to ponder the possibilities. Brent put his head down and walked over toward the door with his back turned to everyone else.

"But where would we go? How would we eat? Where would we live?" Lance asked to no-one in particular. "Brent? Are you okay?"

Brent reached out with one of his hands, and very gently put his fingers on the middle of the door. He was starting to learn the vibrations here pretty good. He could feel the washing machine running in the laundry room on the other side of the home. He could also feel someone moving chairs around in the kitchen. Probably trying to sweep under them or something.

"What's wrong Brent?" Lance asked as he took a step toward Brent.

"I got it!" Brent spun himself around with a grin on his face, and walked over to the dresser and picked up a key.

"What's that?" Lance seemed a bit puzzled and surprised by Brent's sudden change of mood.

Brent almost beamed with pride as he spoke. "The key to my old house! Ever since I moved here, they have been after me to go over to my old house and collect all the stuff I was interested in keeping, but for some reason I just couldn't do it."

Seeing the confused look on Lance's face Brent continued. "You and I can run away and go to my old house. I bet there is still a lot of stuff there we can use. Extra clothes, maybe even some money that is lying around. I remember where the old man used to stash some of it."

"What will we do after that? We can't stay there, that will be the first place they’ll go looking for us." Lance questioned, although the tone of his voice said that he was seriously pondering the idea as well.

Brent thought for a few moments before answering. "I don't know. But it will give us some time to think. If we don't leave now, after lunch they are going to be hauling you away."

Lance thought for a few moments as well and finally nodded. "Okay, but Greg has to come with us. I'm all he has left now, and I can't leave him. If he's taken to Newton, there is no way they will let him travel all the way back to see Doug."

"Okay, that works for me. Greg can come with us. You two can come with us as well if you want." Brent looked toward the twins who had remained quiet through most of the conversation.

Arvid and Dynal looked at each other as they wordlessly communicated for a few moments. Arvid then began to speak for both of them. "We've lived on the streets before, and we aren't in any hurry to go back."

"Plus, we kind of like it here." Dynal continued.

"Besides, you will need someone to stay behind to help create your cover story." Arvid finished with a smile.

Brent nodded. "Okay, so it will just be the three of us."

"Hold on, there is one more thing that I have to do before I can agree to this." Lance's smile disappeared from his face as he forced Greg to look up into his eyes. "Greg, I know you feel really sad right now, but you are a part of this too. I am not going to go if you won't. So what do you say, do you want to run away?"

Greg immediately jerked his head back and away from Lance's light hold, and then pushed it right back so that he was laying on Lance's shoulder again before speaking in a half-crying tone. "I don't want you to leave me Lance. If it means that we have to run away then I want to be with you."

Lance nodded, and started rocking Greg again. "Okay, let’s do it."

"Now to figure the best way to sneak away without anyone suspecting anything." Brent thought out loud.

"That's easy. Just say you’re going back to Lance's place to see if there is anything of his or Greg's that can be salvaged." Dynal beamed at the very cool idea he thought of.

"Thanks guys! You two are the best roomies I've ever had!" Brent walked over and hugged Arvid and then Dynal.

"Um, Brent. Aren't they the only roomies you have ever had?" Lance tilted his head slightly.

"Minor detail!" Brent answered with a smile causing everyone else to giggle a little. "Okay, let's do this!"

"Just remember, make sure you guys are back before lunch, and come straight back if no adults are there." Mr. Curtis reminded Brent one last time as Brent walked out of the office.

As Brent walked down the hall toward the common room, he was somewhat pleased with himself in regards to how easily that seemed to go. Well, at first it didn't look like Mr. Curtis was going to go along with him, but when he was able to explain that Lance and Greg would be gone after lunch, he must have understood that this would have been their only chance.

"So?" Lance asked as he stood up with Arvid and Dynal and walked over to Brent.

"He said yes." Brent answered with a sigh.

What would otherwise have been seen as a major victory and something to be proud of was taken with an unusual solemn tone as all the boys headed outside. Brent left what little he had behind other than his key, ID card, and a small amount of pocket change. He couldn't risk taking anything else without it seeming a bit too suspicious. Lance and Greg didn't have anything to take, other than the borrowed clothes that they were wearing, which most likely would not be missed anyway since they were circulated around so much.

Once the boys made it to the basketball court, everyone stopped and said their goodbyes. When everyone was done with their hugs, Brent, Lance, and Greg headed on toward the burnt down building that Lance and Greg had called home for the last several months. Arvid and Dynal remained watching as the boys walked down the street, wondering if they would ever see them again.

The boys walked in silence. Brent walked with his hands in his pockets looking toward the ground, and Lance continued to carry Greg.

Once they had crossed the second street, Brent realized that Greg seemed to be getting a bit heavy for Lance, as he had been holding him since they had woken up earlier. "Can I hold him for a bit?"

"You mind?" Lance looked down asking Greg.

When Greg shook his head 'no', the hand-off was made in silence, and the boys continued walking with Brent now holding Greg, and Lance taking a much needed break.

"Holy Crap!" Lance said as the boys reached the third street and could finally see first hand the full extent of the damage that had been done.

Nearly the entire third floor had collapsed and was no longer visible. By looking through the remaining second and first floor windows, it was clear that nearly the entire building was gutted. Open sky was exposed in every second floor window, except for one. The one second floor room that still seemed to have a portion of a ceiling was Greg and Doug's room.

"It doesn't look like much of anything is going to be found in there". Brent sniffed as the smell of burnt wood was still very predominate in the air.

"Guess not." Lance was still looking at the burnt down building which had been home for the last several months. "I still don't even remember how I got outside last night."

Brent chuckled softly to himself. "Figures."

"What?" Lance looked toward Brent as his eyes filled with questions.

"You’re the reason we were able to spot the fire and get as many people out as we did. If it wasn't for you, I think a lot more people would have been hurt. Some people could have even died. " Brent rubbed Greg's back knowing that some of this discussion might upset him a little.

Lance seemed a bit shocked. "What did I have to do with anything?"

"Well, if I didn't find you sleepwalking downstairs last night, I never would have seen the flames coming from the kitchen. By the time I woke you up enough to get you to go outside for help, the flames had already spread to the dinning room. So it was really a miracle that you decided to start sleepwalking when you did." Brent figured he had said enough and decided to give Lance some time to think about what was said.

"I guess." Lance finally answered after several minutes of being lost in his thoughts.

"We can still turn back ya know." Brent quietly spoke as Lance turned his head to look at him. "We can still go back to the home. We might all get split up, but at least we will have a roof over head, and warm food."

Lance shook his head. "All of that stuff would be meaningless to me if I lost you or Greg. As long as we have each other we still have a chance to make things work."

"Don't leave me Brent. Please don't leave me." Greg sobbed in Brent's shoulder using a small voice.

Brent tightened his hug of Greg a bit more and thought about the situation that they had found themselves in. Lance and Greg both seemed determined to do this. Although logically Brent's brain told him that running away was the wrong thing to do, in his heart Brent knew that this was something that had to be done. For any of them to have any hope of a decent future, they would all need each other. Being bounced around from one children’s home to another like lost baggage was no way to live. Lance and Brent were most likely too old for anyone to want to adopt, and how many people would want to adopt a 6 year old blind kid? No, Brent had made up his mind; this was definitely the right decision.

"My house is a good ways across town, so we best get going." With a final look toward Lance, they both started to walk down the street that would eventually lead them to Brent's old house.

For the first hour, the boys walked in near silence as they slowly made their way across town. They decided to stick to the side streets and stay off the main roads since they were less likely to be patrolled by the police or those on the lookout for kids skipping school.

Both boys were somewhat surprised at the number of other people that were out on the streets, especially the side streets that they had been following. They even passed one or two other kids, but the large majority of people were adults. Fortunately, so far they had not been stopped or even questioned by anyone.

"You ready for me to hold him for a bit?" Lance broke the silence as they reached a large intersection and had to wait for the 'walk' signal.

"Sure." Brent first checked to make sure Greg was still awake and then handed him off to Lance. "I'm definitely going to have to start working out more."

"So, what do you think will happen to us? I mean, after we get to your house and all." Lance held Greg tightly as the 'walk' signal lit up on the other side of the street, and both boys started to make their way across.

That was actually a pretty good question that Brent really hadn't been able to completely figure out yet. He had just been focusing on getting to his old house, and maybe grabbing whatever supplies and money he could find laying around. But what about after that? He knew that they would not be able to stay at his house for long, as that would probably be one of the first places that would be searched after they were reported missing. So where could they go?

"I'm not really sure yet." Brent finally answered after a few more moments of thought. "We can't stick around here, so maybe get a bus or something and go to another city."

"Where would we go though? We will probably have to find work somewhere to get money for food and stuff, but who is going to hire a 12 or 13 year old kid?" Lance's face was filled with concern.

"Let's get to my house first, and figure out what we have to work with. Once we know where we stand, we can work out a plan of action." Brent tried to make their situation sound a bit more positive, but he didn't think he was doing that well.

"What if we run out of food and starve to death, or freeze?" Greg whimpered, causing both Brent and Lance to realize who else was listening to the conversation.

"Don't worry big guy, we won't starve or freeze." Lance hugged Greg tighter and looked over toward Brent.

"A few weeks ago Randy and I went to this concert that had Aaron Carter, *NSync, and Backstreet Boys, there was also this group of kids there, some kind of clan or something, and there was talk of a Safe Haven Act. We might be able to use that." Brent quickly tried to come up with some idea seeing that this was starting to upset Greg.

"What's a Safe Haven Act? I think I remember hearing about that concert, the schools only found out about it like a day ahead of time, and our school wasn't able to go." Lance's eyes dropped down filled with sadness.

Brent thought to himself for a few moments. "I'm not really sure. I think it's something that helps to get kids stuck in the system to real families where they can be safe or something like that. I wasn't paying attention all that much."

Lance sighed, "That can't be right. Otherwise they would have gotten all the kids out of the system, and we would have heard about it by now or something."

"Yea, I'll have to see if I can find it on-line or something when we are near a computer next time." Noticing that he was starting to get a bit tired from walking and seeing a small park up ahead, Brent decided this would be a perfect time to try to change the subject. "I could use a quick break and maybe some water. You want to stop for a bit at that park?"

"Sure!" Lance smiled at the chance to take a break. "You getting tired of being carried yet Greg?"

Greg didn't answer other than to shake his head in Lance's shoulder which created giggles from both Lance and Brent.

The boys reached the park which seemed to be little more than a small play ground, and various picnic areas. The most import thing about the park was that it had a small building which had both water fountains and restrooms.

Once both Brent and Lance had grabbed some water, Lance helped Greg get some. After that, all three boys realized that they also needed to pee, and headed for the restrooms that the park very conveniently provided. Once everyone was done, they found a nice bench under a large flowering tree to sit on for a short break.

"How much further do you think we have to go?" Lance asked as a cool breeze lightly tousled the curls in his short slate black hair.

"I think we are about half way there, so we should be able to make it by lunch time." Brent leaned back and looked up at the trees to see the sun shining through the leaves and flowers.

"Cool!" Lance glanced around the park, noticing that no one else was there except for a boy that was kneeling down by some plants on the other side of the swings who looked a little familiar. "Hey! Isn't that Jude over there by those bushes?"

"Yeah!" Brent said as he sat back up and glanced to where Lance was pointing. "Hey, Jude!"

The platinum blond haired 8 year old boy looked up as Brent shouted his name. Picking up a small bag of leaves that was sitting next to him, he stood up and walked over to where Brent, Lance, and Greg were sitting. "Hey guys, I wasn't expecting to see you two here! And who's your friend?"

"Hi Jude!" Lance smiled brightly at the chance to show off his young charge. "This cute little guy with his face buried in my shoulder is Greg. Greg was born blind, and a good friend of his got hurt really bad in a fire last night."

"Hi Greg, I'm sorry to hear about your friend, I hope he will be okay." Jude reached out to gently pat Greg on the back.

As soon as Jude's hand touched, Greg let out a small yelp, and flinched so bad that it almost knocked Lance over. As soon as he recovered, Greg looked up into Jude's eyes with a very confused expression on his face.

"Did I do something wrong?" Jude asked nervously as he took a step backward.

"I'm not sure." Brent leaned over to look at Greg as well, trying to figure out what was wrong.

"Are you a twin?" Greg finally asked a few moments later in a weak voice as he tilted his head to the side.

"Actually, I'm a triplet! But how did you know?" Jude smiled and was obviously relieved that he did not do anything wrong.

"I can see out of your eyes. And I can see really good, almost like I could with my twin." Greg was clearly happy at his new discovery, but his voice trailed away toward the end as memories of his twin brother Creg filled his head.

"Really? You can really see what I'm seeing? Like you can see me looking at you right now?" Jude was nearly as surprised as Greg.

"Whoa, Greg that's awesome!" Lance gave Greg a squeeze to show how happy he was for him.

Greg nodded. "Yeah. Could you look around a bit, I haven't been able to see a thing since yesterday."

Jude started to look around at the rest of the park as he tried to understand what it must be like not only to be blind, but then to also figure out a way to be able to see out of the eyes of others. That had to be pretty freaky to see from a point of view that wasn't yours. Finally, Jude realized a problem with Greg's last comment. "Since yesterday? Didn't Lance say that you were born blind?"

Lance smiled as he decided that a slightly more detailed explanation was required. "Actually, Greg's friend that was hurt yesterday is the one he was able to see through. But I guess he couldn't see that well, just occasional flashes of a picture every now and then. He could see a lot better through his twin's eyes, but he was killed in a car accident over a year ago."

"Aw man! That sucks." Jude looked back toward Greg and could see the obvious sadness appear on his face as Lance spoke of his twin. He didn't even want to think about how he would feel if any of his brothers were ever hurt or killed.

"So Jude, what are you doing way out here? We are a long way away from where we met yesterday." Brent tried to come up with something to quickly change the subject.

"Oh!" Jude seemed a bit surprised as he turned away from Greg, and looked over at Brent. "Actually I live about a block away. I was gathering a few different types of leaves for my biology class."

"They let you out of school to get leaves?" Lance turned away from Greg as he too was a bit surprised about Jude's answer.

"Well, me and my brothers are all home schooled, so it wasn't a problem. But what about you guys? I know you don't live anywhere near here." Jude fumbled with his bag of leaves a little as he looked back and forth between Brent and Lance.

"Um." Lance tried to think of something to say.

"Well." Brent was also having a hard time of coming up with something that would sound good.

"We're running away because they were going to split all three of us up and make us go to different homes that are far away from each other and I don't want to loose my Brent or Lance." Greg smiled at the knowledge that he knew the right answer when the two older boys didn't.

Brent and Lance looked at each other in horror as they realized what Greg had just innocently admitted to. Then they both turned toward Jude to see what his reaction would be.

Jude thought for a few moments before he started to nod slightly. "Yea, I probably would too if someone tried to split me apart from my brothers."

"So you’re not going to report us or anything?" Lance asked in an almost pleading voice.

Jude giggled. "Why would I do that? Do you know where you guys are going?"

"To the south side of town, past the tracks." Brent answered, being careful to keep his answer a bit vague just in case Jude was not being completely honest.

Jude looked behind him as if trying to see something off in the distance and then turned back toward the other boys. "It's not that safe for you guys to be heading down to the south of town. There are lots of cops that pick kids up off the streets. Why don't you come to my house for a few hours, and you can meet all my brothers and maybe have lunch with us."

"That would be cool and all, but we wouldn't want to interrupt or be a bother or anything." Brent still was not sure how much he could trust Jude, although he was starting to feel a bit torn as he knew that soon each meal might become a struggle.

"You were kind to me yesterday when everyone else wasn't, so it's really no problem at all. Plus our house is such a madhouse that I bet no one will even notice you." Jude glanced around again while he spoke, as if expecting to see something or someone that wasn't there.

Brent and Lance looked at each other for a few moments as if wordlessly communicating with each other. As soon as Lance nodded, Brent turned back toward Jude. "Okay, that would be cool. But we can only stay for a little while. I want to get to where we are going before it gets dark."

"Not a problem. As soon as the middle schools start letting out around 3, you should be fine going wherever you want to go." Jude turned around and was about to start leading the way to his house when Greg jumped off of Lance's lap and reached up to grab Jude's hand.

Lance giggled. "Looks like you found a new friend."

Jude looked down toward Greg as Greg looked up toward him. Both boys smiled at each other before Jude looked back and nodded toward Lance.

All the boys headed out of the park to head to Jude's house.

As the boys were walking toward Jude's house, they spotted two other boys walking towards them that looked almost identical to Jude. One of the new boys started running toward them as soon as he saw the group.

"Those are your brothers?" Lance asked with concern as he watched the running boy approach them with amazing speed.

"Unfortunately." Jude answered as he started to slow his pace a little.

"Jude! Jude! There you are!" the new boy quickly said as he grabbed a hold of Jude's shoulder to stop himself and rest. "Who are these guys?"

"Ty, you forgot your meds again today, didn't you?" Jude frowned as he tried to pull away from the boy that looked exactly like he did. Right down to the same sparkling blueish green eyes and fair skin tone.

"Did not!" Ty answered with a tone of disappointment as he pushed Jude away a little.

"The quickest way to get him off of you!" Jude smiled as he glanced toward Brent and Lance.

Just as Jude and Ty were finishing their exchange, the third boy reached them who looked identical to the other two. "Dude, mom is so worried about you! You were just supposed to go to the park and back for the leaves! And you know you can't have any friends over to play until after classes are done."

Jude smiled. "You worry way too much Phil. These are the guys who helped me yesterday. This is Lance, and that is Brent, and this little guy here is Greg." Jude noticed a hurt look on Greg's face as he was introducing him. "Are you okay little guy?"

Greg nodded. "My head just hurts a little and your vision is a little blurry."

Phil and Ty looked toward Jude with a questioning expression.

"It's a long story guys. I'll tell you when we get back to the house." Jude tried to pick Greg up but couldn't.

Seeing this, Lance quickly walked up and scooped Greg into his arms as all the boys continued walking toward the triplet's house.

"I see each of you have different colored shirts on, is that the only way to tell you apart."

"Yea, I wear red because it's the coolest and it's the color of my favorite race car driver." Ty chimed in quickly.

Jude giggled. "When you get to know us better, you will be able to tell pretty easily, but usually we do wear our favorite colors. Ty wears red, Phil likes green, and as you can probably guess, I like yellow."

"You okay Greg?" Brent's voice was filled with concern.

Greg nodded as he rested his head on Lance's shoulder. "I think so. Oh cool! Is that your house?"

Phil glanced back toward Greg and noticed he was looking in the exact opposite direction of where their house was. "Dude! He's not even looking. Is he okay?"

Jude smiled once again. "Yup, this is it. The Von Schuyler residence."

Both Brent and Lance were slightly surprised as they walked up to the slightly run down, 2 story house. Before they reached the screened porch, they saw several bikes in the front yard along with two skateboards, a scooter, a pair of roller blades, and a seriously rusting wagon.

Although the outside of the house was a bit surprising, nothing could have prepared either boy for what they saw inside. As they stepped through the screened porch and into the living room of the house, they saw several other boys running around. Two boys were sitting at a coffee table in the living room scribbling notes onto a paper as they each stole occasional glances at a book they shared, another boy ran into what seemed to be a kitchen, as another boy ran out from the kitchen and up a flight of stairs. All the boys looked almost the same.

"Dude!" Lance's expression was filled with shock and amazement. "How many of you are there?"

Ty burst out in a fit of laughter at the sight of Lance's expression as Jude giggled and Phil smiled very broadly. Finally Jude filled the boys in on their secret. "Actually there are a total of 9 of us. Three sets of triplets if you can believe it."

"Good lord, your parents were busy!" Brent said before he could stop himself, which caused even more giggles from the younger triplets. Even Phil was caught giggling a little.

"That's Max and Cory in the living room, they’re 10 and their triplet is Roe who's probably up stairs on the computer. That's Luke in the kitchen looking at us with that goofy look, he's 12, his triplet Carol you saw running up stairs when we walked in, and his other triplet Matt is at music lessons, but should be home shortly." Jude beamed with pride as he introduced everyone.

"Wow!" Brent and Lance both commented together.

Suddenly Greg let out a soft whine and grabbed his head in pain.

"What's wrong?" Lance asked as he looked down toward Greg.

"Hurts." Greg's eyes started to fill with tears as he rested his head back on Lance's shoulder, still gripping it with his hands.

Ty looked over toward Greg with concern and then started to run upstairs. "I'll go get him some Tylenol from the bathroom, and then he can probably lie down in mom's room."

Jude nodded. "From what you guys told me earlier, I bet some quiet time lying down will help the little guy out a lot."

Brent and Lance followed Jude as he led them through the kitchen and into a back room that opened up into a very nice looking bedroom. Before Lance was able to finish laying Greg down on the bed, Ty had bolted back into the room and placed two pills into Jude's hands.

"That's one advantage of having a hyper brother." Jude smiled as he turned his attention toward Greg. "Here ya go buddy, just take this."

Greg shook his head a little as he sat himself up. "I'm not good at swallowing pills."

Jude lifted one of Greg's hands with one hand, and placed one pill in it with his other. "That's okay, these are junior chewables. Just put it in your mouth and let it start to dissolve, and after a few minutes you can chew it up if you want. It has a cool grape flavor, so I think you will like it."

"Thanks." Greg put the tablet in his mouth, and lay down on the pillow.

"See, that's not so bad. Here is another one, go ahead and eat this one as soon as you finish the first one, then try to take a nap for a bit." Jude put the second tablet in Greg's hand, and then stepped away from the bed.

A faint sound of a door closing could be heard as Ty jumped up and darted out of the room. "I hear mom!"

Jude smiled. "Come on, we need to try to catch her as she runs through."

Brent and Lance looked at each other with concern, and quickly followed Jude out of the room.

The two boys made it into the living room just fast enough to see one of the older triplets, most likely Matt, come through the screen door holding a trumpet case and running upstairs. Following directly behind him was a rather tall woman at least 6' 2" that had rather short curly platinum blond hair holding a bag of groceries. She had to be at least in her mid to late 30's.

"Mommy!" Ty nearly knocked the woman down as he pounced her from one of the love seats.

"Titus Neal!" The lady's voice was a bit higher than expected, but still a voice that demanded respect, "Have you forgotten to take your Adderall again today?"

Ty looked down at his feet and said nothing.

"It's still before lunch, so go take it right now before you forget." Her voice was smooth yet forceful. The type of tone that dared you not to argue back, which only mothers seemed to know how to do.

"Yes mama." Ty answered in a small voice as he headed upstairs.

"Does anyone know if Luke ate yet?" The woman asked as she took her bag of groceries into the kitchen with Jude close behind her.

"Yes!" Max called out from the coffee table in the living room.

"Luke Cameron! Come on, we need to leave for your group soon." The woman called out in a much louder voice as she set her bag on the table.

"Hey mom?" Jude tried to find a place to interrupt while his mom was running around the kitchen. "Is it okay if Brent, Lance and Greg stay here for a few hours? Greg has a real bad headache and is resting in your room."

The woman stopped briefly to look at Jude and then started taking out stuff from the bag and putting it in the refrigerator. "Oh honey, you know your not suppose to have friends over until after 3pm. Boys! I bought a bunch of fresh cold cuts and got more pickles so you guys can make sandwiches for lunch!"

"They are not friends, well they are, but these are the guys that helped me out yesterday, and they have to go to the south side of town, but Greg needs to take a little break." Jude pleaded.

Jude's mother stopped as she seemed to notice two new boys that did not belong to her standing in the kitchen. "Oh, you two must be Brent and Lance."

Both boys nodded as Brent was the first to speak up. "Yes, mama. I'm Brent and this is Lance. We don't want to be any trouble for you here, so we can get going."

"Nonsense!" The woman knelt down to look into both Brent and Lance's eyes. "Neither of you are my sons, so I don't expect either of you to call me mama. You are both welcome to call me Mary. Also, Jude told me how you helped him out yesterday, so both of you plop yourselves down right here until your friend is feeling better."

"Thanks Mary!" Lance smiled.

Mary stood back up and quickly rushed into the living room where she picked up the sheets of paper that Max and Cory were working on. "Nice job boys. Max, when you get done remember you have math from yesterday to finish up. Cory, you have that book report to finish, and you need to get that poster done before I pick you up at 4pm to go to the booster club."

"Ready!" Luke said as he ran down the stairs with a small folder in his hands.

Mary grabbed the folder and quickly looked inside. After a few moments, her face became very stern. "You did not get 8 hours of sleep last night!"

"Close enough." Luke argued back.

"Carol told me you had another nightmare last night, and I don't see that in here either. Luke Cameron Von Schuyler! How do you expect group to help you at all if you don't write down what really happens?" Mary glared intensely toward Luke, who only looked down at his feet. "Okay, we don't have time for this now, let's go."

Mary quickly gave the folder back to Luke, and then briskly walked out the door. Luke seemed to have a lost expression on his face for a few moments, but soon followed after his mom.

After the door to the house was closed, Brent looked over toward Jude. "Dude, is it always like that around here?"

"Pretty much." Jude smiled as he started to walk back into the kitchen. "Come on, I'll show you what I am going to do with those leaves!"

Brent and Lance watched intensely as a series of colors slowly started to appear on a white piece of filter paper that had its bottom portion submerged in a small tray of alcohol.

"Wow, that's amazing!" Lance continued to look at the paper. "So how exactly did you get all these colors from a green leaf?"

"It was simple, watch as I do another." Jude beamed as he took the filter paper out of the tray and laid it over on another table to dry. "Here, we will do one of these bigger leaves this time. First we take a sheet of filter paper. Then we take a coin and start rubbing the leaf onto the paper like this. You have to rub pretty hard sometimes. We are trying to get a line of rubbed off leaf just like that. And now all we have to do is stick the bottom part of the paper into the tray of alcohol like this, and wait about 15 to 20 minutes and the paper will start to suck up the alcohol and will carry the leaf colors up."

Brent nodded his head in understanding. "I don't think we have done anything like this in science class at school. You do all this stuff because your home-schooled?"

"Uh-huh. Mom says we are really smart or something, so we are able to go a lot faster than normal kids. If I went to public school I would be in the second grade right now, but here I'm doing forth grade work." Jude adjusted the paper slightly to make it more level with the tray.

"That's really cool! I wish I could do that." Lance seemed a bit lost in his thoughts as he watched the alcohol slowly start to get sucked up the paper.

"You guys can watch that for a bit if you want. I'm going to go check in on Greg, and then it will be lunch time. You two could try doing these after lunch if you want." Jude headed out of the room after failing to get an immediate response from either of the boys.

"Um, yeah, sure." Brent said as the filter paper continued to hypnotize him.

Jude quietly walked into the bedroom where Greg was resting. As soon as he got half-way between the door and the bed, Greg rolled over on his back and opened his eyes slightly.

"Hey little guy, how’s your head feeling?" Jude sat down on the side of the bed next to Greg.

Greg sat up holding onto his head. "It feels a little better. Everything is really cloudy and confusing."

Jude put one of his hands on Greg's head to see if he had a temperature. As soon as he touched his head, Greg flinched a little, and opened his eyes up wider, which caused Jude to pull his hand away quickly.

"When you touched my head, I could see clearer, I could just see myself." Greg started to feel around to see if he could find Jude's hand.

Jude nodded. "I bet I know the problem. It's probably the same problem I have. All of my other brothers are able to do this mind thing where they can talk to each other in their heads. They call it the triplet network, but I can never seem to be able to get it to work."

"That sounds pretty cool." Greg stopped feeling around and looked in Jude's general direction.

"Yeah, it would be if I could ever get it to work. But maybe you’re just getting overloaded from everyone, and you need to focus on just one person." Jude grabbed Greg's hand which caused the small boy to visibly relax as he was able to see again.

"That feels a lot better. But could you look at something other than me?" Greg smiled.

Jude quickly tried to find something else in the room to look at, and decided to settle on the window. "Okay. Sorry. Now just concentrate on me in your head. Only let yourself see out of my eyes, and ignore all the background noise."

"How?" Greg asked as his voice was heavy with concentration.

"I'm not really sure, since this is the part I could never get." Jude's voice clearly showed a tone of discouragement at his own problem, but he quickly recovered. "Just block everything else out, and just focus on me. Focus... there ya go... perfect! You’re doing it."

"No I'm not, you’re still touching me." Greg let out a little giggle.

Jude looked back toward Greg to show that he was no longer touching him. "See, you’re doing this completely on your own now!"

"Wow... cool... thanks!" Greg was so excited he almost missed Jude turning his head to show Lance entering the bedroom.

"Hey sport, how ya feeling?" Lance walked over to the side of the bed where Greg and Jude were sitting.

"Great!" Greg beamed with pride. "My head doesn't hurt anymore, and Jude just taught me how to concentrate just on him so I don't get overloaded by everyone else."

"Hey, that's really great! Maybe you would like to concentrate on coming out to the kitchen for some lunch before Jude's brothers eat everything up." Lance helped Greg off the bed, and all three boys headed to the kitchen to see if any food had been left for them.

As soon as Brent saw Lance enter the kitchen, he quickly waved him over. "If you guys want anything for lunch, you best get over here fast! The way these guys are eating, there isn’t going to be much left for long!"

Lance could already smell the fresh meats and bread that Mary had brought the boys earlier that day, so he didn't need any additional convincing. Within moments he was at Brent's side grabbing for the various supplies needed to make his ham, turkey and cheese sandwich complete with pickles, mustard, mayo and jelly. Jude made Greg a ham and cheese sandwich with just butter and then made a turkey sandwich for himself complete with all the trimmings.

By the time lunch was over, there was not a piece of meat or bread to be found in the entire kitchen, other than the crumbs that had fallen to the floor. A few of the boys grudgingly stayed behind after lunch to start cleaning up the kitchen as the rest of the boys went off to do other things. Apparently there was a small clipboard hanging on the side of the refrigerator that no-one dared not follow when it came to seeing who was assigned to what chores.

After Brent, Lance and Greg finished helping Jude with his science lab, Brent asked if he could use the computer to do a little online research of his own. Carol, one of the 12 year old triplets, was more than happy to help Brent get setup on the computer while Lance and Greg went with Jude to start on some math work.

About 30 minutes later, Lance entered the bedroom where Brent was using the computer.

"What are you looking for?" Lance asked as he walked up behind Brent and draped his arms around his shoulders.

Brent leaned back and sighed at the feeling of his friend's presence. "Hi. Umm… I was just trying to do a bit of research on that Safe Haven act you were talking about earlier."

"Find anything cool?" Lance rested his chin on the top of Brent's head.

"Well, you were a little off on your description of Safe Haven earlier. It looks like it is something that Starfleet created a few years ago to be able to quickly get kids out of dangerous or abusive situations when local governments are not able to move fast enough. So it doesn't look like that would apply to us." Brent tried to figure out what Lance was doing to the top of his head with his chin.

"Yea, I might have been wrong on that, it was just what I heard from some other kids." Lance started to rub his chin around in circles on the top of Brent's head. "Did you know your hair smells REALLY good?"

Brent rolled his eyes. "Um, I've also been reading a little about the group of kids I saw at that concert. They are called Clan Short and I guess they help out a lot of kids and stuff. They use to live right here in Des Moines, but I think they have moved or are planning on moving somewhere else."

"Sounds cool." Lance was clearly not paying much attention to what Brent was talking about.

Brent was about to continue to share some of the other information he had found when he felt something move in his pants which caused him to blush a little. "Dude, stop that!"

Lance let go of Brent and sat down on the bed next to where he was sitting with a hurt expression on his face.

Brent looked over at his friend and sighed. "I'm sorry Lance. It's just, I didn't know what you were doing and it was making me feel kinda weird inside and I was trying to find stuff that might help us stay together and I'm sorry."

Lance looked up toward Brent. "That's okay. I guess I shouldn't have been doing that when you were trying to concentrate. It's just we really haven't had much time alone together and I don't know."

"I don't think right here is the best place for us to have alone time together, but I promise when we get to my old house tonight we will have some alone time just you and me." Brent reached over and gave Lance a loving hug.

Brent finished explaining about some of the other information he found out about Clan Short, as well as a new Starfleet department called FYS (Federation Youth Services), and about the director of this new division, Terri Short, who was also somehow connected to Clan Short. Both boys agreed that they should probably try calling her at some point.

Before Brent had a chance to continue his research, Max came in and had to use the computer to finish an assignment before his mom returned home, so Brent and Lance headed back downstairs to check on Greg. Within a few minutes, they found Greg securely attached to Jude, who was trying to explain to him what fractions were.

Over the next few hours, Brent and Lance watched some TV, and also helped Ty and Phil when they went to the back to do the same science lab that Jude had done before lunch. Greg remained glued to Jude regardless of what he was working on, and Jude seemed to take extra care to try to explain all of the subjects he was working on in terms that Greg could understand.

Around 3pm, Brent and Lance decided that it was probably best that they continued on their journey before it started to get too late.

"Aw! Can't I stay with Jude a little longer?" Greg whined as he hugged Jude, who was showing him some pictures of a shuttle craft in his science book.

"I'm sorry squirt, but we really need to get going or it will be dark before we get to Brent's house." Lance felt a bit sad as he knew that this would mean Greg would be loosing his vision again.

All four boys jumped as Jude's mom went running through the living room shouting on her way to the kitchen. "Roe Patterson! Get yourself changed for gymnastics and drag your butt to the car! We are going to be late!"

"Wait here, I have an idea." Jude said as he broke free of Greg and headed toward the kitchen.

Roe, one of the 10 year old triplets, came running down in a pair of gym shorts and a very tight elastic shirt. "I'm already changed!" Roe called out as he headed out the door.

"Hey mom, is it okay if I walk Brent, Lance, and Greg home since they are not that familiar with this part of town?" Jude asked as he watched his mother grabbing a bag of cookies and heading out of the kitchen.

Mary stopped briefly to look at Jude, before continuing to walk back through the living room. "Sure, just make sure you’re back by dinner."

Before Jude could agree, Mary was already out of the door and running to her car where Roe was already sitting pulling a looser shirt on over his elastic shirt.

Jude walked back over to take Greg's hand as he noticed the shocked expressions on Brent and Lance's faces. "You guys don't mind if I tag along, do you?"

Brent shook his head. "I don't."

Lance shook his head as well. "Me neither, and I'm sure you won't get any arguments from Greg."

Greg started nodding his head up and down enthusiastically which caused the other boys to giggle. Shortly thereafter, all four boys headed out of the house, and down the street toward the south side of town.

The boys walked the first 10 minutes in silence. Brent and Lance were walking next to each other in front, with Jude and Greg following behind. Greg had a very tight grip on Jude's arm as he worked on orienting himself from Jude's point of view.

"So, where in the south part of town are we heading to?" Jude asked as he helped Greg step back up on the sidewalk after crossing a street.

"To Brent's old house." Lance answered as he glanced toward Brent.

"Why ya guys need to go there?" Jude noticed that all the answers he was getting were rather vague so far.

Lance squeezed Brent's hand. "If he's going to be coming with us, he really needs to know."

Brent nodded. "I guess you should probably know Jude, since we are not far from your house in case you want to turn back or something. You remember back when we met in the park, Greg mentioned we were running away? "

Jude thought to himself for a few moments before answering. "Yea, I was a bit curious as to why, but I didn’t say anything because you guys didn’t seem to want to talk about it much then. I just figured it had to be something pretty important for you to be bringing Greg with you."

Brent waited for Lance’s reassuring nod before he continued. "I was just about to be transferred to the home that Lance and Greg were staying at and we were all going to be together. But last night there was a big fire and the place burnt down. Then this morning we found out that without asking any of us, they were going to transfer Greg to a home in Newton and Lance to a home in Boone."

Lance continued where Brent left off. "I just met Brent last week, and I don't really know why, but I have this feeling that I really need to be with him, and he needs to be with me. And I couldn't stand being so far from Brent or from Greg."

"Me either." Greg added.

"So that's why you all left, but why Brent's old house? You have to know that will be one of the first places they will look for you guys." Jude seemed a bit concerned that he might have found a serious flaw in the other boy's plans.

"I use to live there a few weeks ago before my dad died." Brent paused for a few seconds to gather his thoughts as Lance embraced him in a supporting hug. "After that night I was placed in a group home while the state tried to decide what to do with me. They kept trying to get me to go back to the house to get some of my stuff, but a week after my dad died, my best friend was killed, and well, I didn't feel like doing much of anything after that until I met Lance."

"So we are going to see if any of Brent's stuff is still there that we might be able to take with us. We probably won't be staying there long, maybe just overnight." Lance added as he gave Brent another caring squeeze.

"That would really suck to have your best friend killed. Not that I've ever had one before." Jude was lost in thought as both Brent's and Lance's words started to sink in. He almost missed the next street corner which caused Greg to nearly cause both of the boys to trip.

Brent giggled a little as he looked back to see Jude and Greg recovering. "Yeah, so just be glad you have parents, because life can really suck when you loose them."

Jude frowned. "Trust me, having parents isn't always all that it's cracked up to be either. Especially when you have so many brothers and your parents are so busy they forget that you’re alive."

Neither Brent nor Lance seemed to have a reply to Jude's revelation, so all the boys continued to walk in silence for a while longer.

The silence was broken after they crossed a large intersection, and found that they had reached the South-East corner of a large mall.

"Wow! You lived near South Ridge Mall?" Jude's excitement was clearly beginning to rise.

Brent giggled at Jude's excitement. "Well, not too far away, my house is a bit further down past the ball park, on Villa Drive if you know where that is."

Jude smiled. "No, but it has to be cool if you are near the mall!"

The boys continued past the mall until the road they were walking on ended in a parking lot that was right across the street from several baseball fields. After walking through the ball park, and walking through a small field on the other side of the park, they soon reached Villa Drive. By 4pm, they had reached the front door of Brent's old house.

The driveway to the house was empty. The grass in the yard was starting to show signs of being a bit overgrown. What the boys saw, including Brent's old bike lying in the yard, told them that no one had been living here for awhile.

However, the windows to the house still had blinds up, the same blinds that Brent remembered being there, so they had no easy way to peak in and see if anyone was in there.

Brent took the key out of his pocket and stood in front of the door for a few minutes, while the other boys stood behind him. With a final glance back toward Lance as if to draw on his courage, he placed the key into the door and twisted.

CLICK! The door opened.

Brent gasped at the sight he saw as he entered the house. Many of the larger pieces of furniture like the sofa and the recliners were missing. There were also several boxes that were laying around all over the floor. It was pretty clear that someone had been in here and was in the process of packing everything up.

"Wow, your house is cool!" Greg said in wonder as Jude diverted him from tripping over one of the smaller boxes.

"It was okay." Brent answered, as he walked into the kitchen and found two large plastic glasses still sitting in the sink. He held up one of the glasses to inspect it more closely. "These are the glasses that Randy and I used the day... the day my dad died. They are still here."

Lance walked over and hugged Brent. "You okay?"

Brent nodded and returned Lance's hug. "With you next to me, I will be." Brent then leaned his head closer to Lance so that he could whisper in his ear. "But please don't leave me."

Lance nodded and looked up just in time to see Jude about to open the refrigerator. "Dude, no! If power has been off for the last 3 weeks, and there is still food in that, then trust me, you DON'T want to open that!"

Jude let go of the refrigerator door handle as he looked toward Lance and saw the serious look on his face. "Okay."

"Come on guys, my room was upstairs." Brent led the rest of the boys through the kitchen, into the hallway area where his dad's desk still sat with several smaller boxes piled on it, and then up the stairs.

Brent entered his room to find that it too had several boxes in it, but that all the boxes were for the most part empty, except for two larger boxes which the clothes that were hanging in his closet had been placed in.

All the boys started to glance around the room in wonder as they saw all the small trinkets and toys that were sitting on shelves and the dressers in the room. On one of the walls hung a picture of a younger Brent in a soccer uniform with one of his feet on a soccer ball. Another picture showed a younger Brent standing on one side of a giant stuffed mouse, and another boy with long brown hair, and dark blue eyes standing on the other.

"Was that Randy?" Lance asked softly as he noticed Brent starring at it.

Brent nodded. "Yeah."

On the other side of the wall, there was another picture of Brent along with about 7 other boys all dressed in Boy Scout uniforms standing in front of a wooden rope bridge. Lance noticed that one of the boys standing next to Brent in the picture looked like Randy, but his long front bangs must have been hidden up in the hat he was wearing.

Brent walked over to the dresser that was under the picture, and picked up a scout utility knife. "We might need this."

All the other boys watched Brent intently as he slowly looked around the room.

Brent looked out the window, and then back toward everyone else. "Guys, it’s going to be dark outside soon, so we don't have a lot of time. Jude, if you and Greg could start looking through the bottom of the closet to see if there is anything that might be useful, I promise nothing will jump out at you. Lance, if you can start looking in the dresser drawers to see what clothes we might want to bring, I'm going to see what I can find in my desk."

Everyone started to go to work. Greg mostly sat next to Jude pointing out things that Jude might have missed as he was looking through stuff. They found two flashlights, some spare change and a broken glow stick. Lance was busy picking out clothes that were somewhat light, but that he thought he and Brent would like wearing.

After Brent had gone through his desk, and discreetly took out a few folded pieces of paper and put them in his pocket, he got up and left the room. A few minutes later he returned with a large backpack that Lance could use to start putting the clothes he had found in. He left the room a second time and returned holding several twenty-dollar bills in his hand.

Lance and Jude both looked at Brent curiously.

"My dad loved to hide money under his mattress." Brent explained as he counted how many twenties he found, and came up with 8. "There is $160 dollars here. Tomorrow we can go back to the mall and get any other supplies we need, and the rest will have to last us for a while."

Lance nodded and noticed that it was starting to get more difficult to see in the room as the light from outside the window was quickly fading. "I think we found about as much as we are going to find tonight. Any idea what we can do for dinner?"

Brent shrugged as he put the newly found money into his pocket. "The fridge is definitely out. I don't even want to think about what will jump out at us if we open that thing. Maybe we could order take out or something."

All the boys froze as the sound of a police siren could be heard in the distance.

After the siren faded away, Jude was the first to speak up. "You guys could always come back to my house. I'm sure mom wouldn't mind if you spent the night. And she is making spaghetti tonight. Since she usually makes enough to save for lunch, I'm sure there will be plenty for you guys."

Brent nodded. "That sounds real cool and all, but we better not. It was nice of your mom to let us hang out there today, but if we stay any longer, I'm sure she's going to start getting suspicious, even if it's during her brief run through the living room."

Jude giggled. "Yeah, that's a point..."

Jude was cut off and froze in his tracks along with the rest of the boys as a loud click could be heard from downstairs. A few moments later, the sound of the front door opening could be heard.

Brent quickly and quietly made his way over to the bedroom door, and gently closed it.

"This isn't good." Lance whispered as all the boys huddled next to each other as sounds of boxes moving around could be heard downstairs.

"The window?" Jude whispered as he glanced toward the only source of light for the room.

"Locked." Brent shook his head. "But if we can get across the hall to my dad's room, that window is never locked.

All the boys nodded in agreement to Brent's plan. However, before Brent was able to start walking toward the door, the sound of the stairs creaking could be heard.

"Sorry guys." Brent whispered as the door handle to Brent's bedroom started to turn, and a bright light shone into the room as the door swung open.

Author's Notes:

Sorry guys! I didn't go into chapter 4 planning on ending it with a cliff hanger. I was really hoping to get through the entire day, but there are still a lot of events that happen over the next several hours, and it took a bit longer to get to this point than I had planned. I hope I'm not drawing things out too long.

Anyway, the good news is that the story has made it to its new home here on the Annex, and I'm finally starting to get the entire process of writing, editing, approving, formatting, and posting chapters down. So hopefully I'll be able to start getting into a good pattern with getting chapters posted. Since chapter 4 ended sooner than I planned, there is a good chance that chapter 5 might not reach a really critical point to the story. Well at least a critical point for me, which I'm going to have to take a lot of extra care to make sure I don't mess up. So either Chapter 5 or Chapter 6 may have a very small extra delay as I work with some of the other CSU authors to make sure everything in this critical part works out exactly as CSU readers would expect. I'm sure most of you can guess what that is, if you have been paying attention to the hints that have been dropping over the last few chapters.

Also, Since this is my first official 'author notes', I just wanted to take a moment to thank Bill6131 and Dibs for their exceptional help at editing, The Story Lover for helping with the final editing along with HTML formatting and posting on the Annex, and most importantly for ACFan. Eric382 would not exist if it was not for his support, encouragement, and all the hard work he's put into writing memories over the last 5 years. From my very first post here in the community, ACFan fan has made me feel like I'm a real brother to all the others that are part of the real life Clan Short.

Anyway, I best jump out of here and start working on chapter 5 before my author notes become larger than the chapter. Until the next time, thanks for reading guys!

- Zacky

Editor’s Notes

So does this mean that we editors can now make notes? Hope so. When first I started editing this story, I had no idea it would be moving quite this fast. The last two chapters have been cram packed with excitement. And your description of the Von Schuyler household was like something out of Dahl’s books. Great job, really. I cannot wait till for the next installment. An honor to edit for you. Till next you take us on this fantastic voyage.

- Some weird Editor Guy