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 The group laughed and chattered as they walked through the mall, each of them carrying bags of clothing.  Simon walked in the midst of the small crowd with a small smile, seemingly happy to have brought them so much joy.  They wandered past an HMV store, and Evan broke away from the group.

            “Hey, Mr. Lamb, are we in any kind of a rush?”

            “Not at all, Evan, why do you ask?”

            “Well, it’s just that I lost all my CDs on the plane.  I was wondering if I could check out some of the albums in the store?  I just want to see what’s come out while we were gone, and then we can get back to the limo.”

            Lamb grinned.  “Be my guest.  Perhaps you’ll be able to explain young people’s music to an old fart like me.”

            Evan smiled broadly and dashed into the store.  The rest of the group followed, willing to kill some time.  They spread out into different sections.  Dan headed to the hip hop area, while Jason peeked through the gospel music.  Genevieve wandered aimlessly, staring at the movie selection and wondering why a music store carried films.  Alex and Neal argued over whose favourite rock band was better.

            Evan was at the back, listening to song selections on headphones.  Lamb wandered close to see what the youth was enjoying.  He was startled when Evan started to sing along.  His voice was clear and melodic, and had a ripple effect.  First Simon stopped to listen, and then a pair of girls further down the same aisle.  His voice reached Neal and Alex, and they stopped their disagreement to listen.  Soon, the whole store was listening to Evan sing. 

            His eyes were closed, so when he stopped and hung the headphones back up, he was startled to find a store full of people staring at him.

            “What?  Did I fart?”

            Dan burst out laughing, but Lamb ignored the comment.

            “Evan, that was wonderful.  I may not know a lot about music, but you have real talent.  Why didn’t you tell me you were such an amazing singer?”

            Evan shrugged.  “Oh, I’m nothing special.”

            “I beg to disagree.  Do you have any other talents?”

            “Well, I used to play guitar in a band with the others.”

            “Why do you say ‘used to?’ When did you stop?”  Lamb asked.

            “Well, I didn’t stop, exactly.  I lost my guitar on the mountain, I guess.  Kind of hard to play without one.”

            “I think we’re going to have to go instrument shopping, then.”  Simon smiled, clapping an arm around the younger man’s shoulders.  “You say the others play as well?”

            “Sure.  Dan loves the drums, Alex plays guitar too.  Owen is great on bass.”

            Genevieve turned to Jason while their host discussed music with Evan.  She whispered quietly.

            “I think he’s lying.  Mr. Lamb has to know something about music.  He owns part of two major record labels, alongside his production company and oil shares.”

            “Eve, knowing music and owning a company are two very different things.”  Jason looked at their friends.  “Besides, he’s trying to be nice.  I know Evan misses his music.”

            “But why exactly does he have to buy all this stuff for us?  It’s not like we’re family.”

            “No, but he doesn’t have a family of his own, either.   Can’t he just be a rich, lonely guy who wants to help a bunch of kids who are stranded far from home?  We’re lucky to be alive, why look a gift horse in the mouth?”

            “Seriously, who even says stuff like that anymore?  ‘Gift horse.’  This isn’t Trojan, or anything.”  Genevieve glared at her friend.

            “Troy.  At least you got it half right.  I didn’t think you were paying attention in history class last year.”

            “You’re one to talk,” Eve laughed, swatting his arm.  “You slept through it!”

Main Storyline

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 Lamb took them into the city in a limousine.  Borrowed bathrobes were fine for an attention-grabbing impromptu television conference, but the group would need clothes.  He dressed them into whatever he could find in his closets that would fit.  His shirts and pants were in some cases a little baggy, but the only real problem was the bulky Daniel.  He had to make do with an unbuttoned shirt and a tropical sarong wrapped around his waist, covering his desert-stained boxers.

            “Anybody laughs, anybody, and I will personally throw you off a building,” he glared at his friends as they got into the car.

            By the time they arrived at Vancouver’s Westfield Mall, Dan had recovered some of his confidence.  He actually walked down the mall corridors flirting and grinning at young women as if he wore the sarong every day.

            “I don’t know how he does that,” Jason whispered.  Evan overheard him.

            “You should see him at school.  He walks down the hall to the bathroom wearing just a towel. Dan believes his pecs are God’s gift to women.”

            “I didn’t know God was that mean,” Genevieve observed.  This set the trio to giggling, but luckily Dan didn’t overhear them.   

            Lamb encouraged them to shop, telling them they could pick out anything they liked.  His one proviso was that they show him what they wanted to wear.  He picked a store, and the young men headed out.  Dan and Alex let out semi-loud cheers of enthusiasm, revelling in Lamb’s generosity.

            Genevieve looked around for Ethan before heading into the women’s section of the store.  He seemed to have vanished into the clothing racks before she could get his attention.  She hadn’t had much opportunity yet to speak with him, and she wondered if he was feeling any better since his spell of unconsciousness on the mountain.

            She took her time deciding on what to buy.  For one thing, there was so much selection.  Bright colours abounded for spring and summer.  For another, Eve was not entirely comfortable with Lamb’s generosity.  What was motivating him?

            Genevieve selected a few light dresses, a pair of jeans and a few tops.  She made her way through the underwear selection, getting what she needed quickly before heading back to where she’d seen Lamb last, near the men’s clothing.

            “Genevieve!  Pssst, hey, Eve, does this look stupid?”

She turned to see who was trying to get her attention.  Alexander was trying on a grotesquely coloured shiny shirt, which she guessed was someone’s idea of nightclub attire.  The designer was likely on drugs or thought clients were stupid, she thought.

“Alex, no!  Try something like this,” she grabbed a few t-shirts and some collared shirts with short sleeves.  Her selections were much less garish.  “I thought you had more sense than that.”

Alex grinned as she helped him tug the shirt over his arms.  “Maybe it was just my way of getting your attention.”

She blushed.  “And why would you want to do that?”

“I don’t know, maybe because…”  Whatever his reason, Genevieve didn’t get to hear it.  Neal called out to the two of them from the next aisle, interrupting Alexander’s words.

“Hey, you two, have you seen Owen come by here?  He swiped my pants while I was looking at this pair of jeans in the mirror.”

Genevieve and Alex walked over to find Neal was wearing a pair of pants that were in a zebra pattern.  Alex tried to hide his laughter behind his hand, but Eve couldn’t help but giggle into his shoulder.

“He dared me to!  It’s not like I intended to buy them.  But until I get the ones Mr. Lamb bought me back, I’m stuck wearing these!”  Neal turned red.

“Dude, just get into a change-room.  I will find you a pair of jeans or something,” Alexander said.  “Eve, see if you can find Owen.  Torture him if you have to.”

Genevieve turned to look for their friends, laughing all the way.

Main Storyline

Bonus Chapter – Music Man

 As he crested the top of the hill in front of him, Ethan detected an unmistakable odour.  It was the stench of warm rotten eggs.  It’s like that sulphur spring, when we went out west.  The one in Banff, he thought to himself.  He saw that he was right when he got to the other side.  Below him, nestled against the side of the hill, was a wide pool of steaming water, a natural hot tub.

            Ethan approached slowly, for he saw that he could not be alone.  There was an ornate stone table with two chairs beside the pool, laden with platters of rich meats, fruit, bread and jugs of liquid.  He couldn’t tell whether it was juice, water or wine from this distance, but the sight of it made his throat remember how thirsty it was.  His canteen was nearly empty and it had been a long night.

            He drew one of the sticks off his back, holding it like a sword or cudgel, just in case.  Someone else was out here, evidenced by the table and food, and he didn’t yet know if they were friend or foe.  After all, I had warned him to be careful.  It was food, and he was hungry, but he didn’t know where it had come from.  Granted, the food he received while he slept came from an unknown benefactor, but it had never come in such a lavish form.  It was unexpected, and that had his nerves on edge, every sense searching his surroundings for the owner of the table.

            “There’s no need for weapons, is there, Ethan?”  A voice said from behind him, sultry and feminine. 

            Ethan whirled, surprised that he had detected nothing until the voice had spoken.  He could spot scorpions in the sand a hundred metres away from him, hear the scuttling of their feet, yet the lady who had spoken was a bare ten feet away and he had heard nothing.

            He gazed long at the vision before him, gauging whether she was a threat or not.  I had warned him, after all, and he took an archangel’s word seriously, apparently, for he did not yet lower his stick.  She stood and patiently endured his scrutiny.  She actually seemed to enjoy the attention, resting one hand on her hip and using the other to push her long hair back over her shoulders, making sure that Ethan got a good look.

            She was beautiful, with long blond hair spilling to her waist, hair the white-blond colour that is usually only found on the heads of small children, for most people darken to deeper golds and honey-browns as they age.  She was curvaceous, with the classic hourglass figure, yet slender at the same time, and she possessed a winning, seductive smile.  Dressed in a long gown of deep scarlet, one that bared her shoulders, she was truly a vision of beauty, possessed of many charming qualities.

            None of which phased Ethan in the slightest, apparently.  He stood with his head cocked to one side, appraising her.  It was a stance that could have been mistaken for gawking admiration, but Ethan Pitney had never stood like that in his life.  No, this was Ethan Pitney’s calculating, considering stare, one that searched a person’s stance and body language for signs of their character and mood. 

            Ethan had developed this skill unconsciously in grade school as a defence mechanism: a boy who was going to taunt or strike Ethan gave off signals beforehand, and if Ethan could see it coming, he could avoid it.  The talent had crossed over into daily usage, because it made him an excellent judge of character and an instinctive translator of body language.  He never had to think about it, he just suddenly found himself knowing things about people before he even spoke to them for the first time.  It was part of the gift that allowed him to recognize the people who would change his life even before they were his friends.

            He was using it now to appraise the woman before him, though she perceived his stare as appreciation.  She smiled coquettishly.

            “Can’t we be friends?”  Her smile was coy and warm as she pointed at the stick still in his hand.

            Ethan slowly put the stick back in the loop on his back beside its mate, and then rested his hands on his hips.

            “Who are you?” He asked, direct and to the point.

            “What, no ‘hello’, no ‘how do you do?’  I brought food, and water, and wine, and you reward me with questions and hostility?  Ethan Keaton Pitney, I thought that you’d been raised better than that.”  She spoke in a tone that was mockingly scolding, as if she was trying more to make him smile than deliver an admonishment.

            It worked, for he put his hands down and let his head hang, releasing the tension in his neck.  He had been holding it at attention, each of his senses on full-alert.  He had been searching for signs of a trap.  Now his guard was down, despite my warnings, because he thought she was offended.  Ethan had always hated to hurt people’s feelings.

            “Forgive me, lady.  I was recently warned that I should be wary of those I meet, for there are supposed to be enemies about.”

            “Well, that’s understandable.  I take no offence.”  She said generously, “Your quest is very important, you should be careful who you place your faith in.”

            He nodded, glad that she was not offended. 

            “Come, sit at my table and rest.  You must be weary.”  She gestured gracefully.  “Then we may talk at our leisure.”

            Ethan dutifully obeyed, moving to the indicated stone chair.  He stood by it and waited politely for her to sit first.  Instead, she moved to his side, moving with the fluid grace reserved for women and perhaps cats.  She placed gentle hands on his shoulders, sitting him as if he were a lord come to feast, and smiled warmly.

            “You are my guest, good sir, let me wait upon you.”  She said in her honey-rich voice.  The lady poured a glass of red wine into his golden flagon, and then selected various meats and several fruits for his golden plate.  Only after his dish was full did she move to seat herself at the other end of the table, settling into the chair with a flowing motion that set off her curves. 

            Ethan looked at the food on his plate, his stomach growling.  There was a luscious cut of roast beef the way his father had always made it, with the pink still in the middle the way his sisters had liked it; and strawberries, and red apples, and cherries.  There were even raspberries; rich red ones, his favourite.  He looked at the wine in his cup, and then at the lady.

            “You still haven’t told me your name.”  He said.

            “I am Astarte,” she said, “But you may call me Star, if you like.  All my friends do.”

            Ethan felt a sudden jolt run through him at her words.  Star had been his private name for Hope, inspired by a hymn at church that compared hope to a star, shining in the night.  That this gorgeous creature before him was called the same could not be a coincidence.

            “Come,” she said, “Let us make a toast.”  She raised her goblet high.  “To journeys, and the friends that come along.”

            Another sudden shock raced through Ethan’s nerves, as her words echoed the sentiments of the poem he had written for Hope once upon a time, in what seemed now almost another life. Ethan could feel the powerful forces that had guided him throughout his life converging again, and it was a force he had never been able to deny.  Whenever he had felt this energy gather in the past, he had been swept away.  Something of tremendous importance was about to happen, though he knew not what.  He offered a silent prayer to God, hoping for the strength to see things through.

            To be polite, Ethan raised his glass.  When Astarte drank, he let the rich liquid within his goblet touch his lips, but no more.  For one thing, though he disliked alcohol in all its forms, he hated wine, ever since having tried it as a child on New Year’s Eve.  For another, Ethan knew exactly what Astarte was trying to do.  He was going to let her play her little game a little longer, to see if she revealed herself, but he knew that this was not the person I had wanted him to meet.

            In part, it was because I had warned him.  But it was more because he was a good English student in high school.

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 Ethan smiled to himself as he walked and reflected on that summer.  His paranoia and depression might have won that battle, destroyed his chance for happiness in his relationship with Faith, but it was losing the war.  He had withdrawn after that seemingly crippling blow, and had been quiet and sombre when he reached his university, but he wasn’t beaten.  He was healing, and eventually recognized that Faith had been right.

            So long as he looked to someone else to make him happy, to give him purpose and define who he was, he wasn’t really himself.  He was merely a smaller part of someone else.  Ethan had to be himself for his own sake, or it didn’t count.  She taught him that.  It had been a hard lesson to learn, and he was sure that it had been just as hard on her to have to teach it, but it was the one weapon he needed to begin fighting back against the darkness in his mind.  He had set his sights on believing in himself, and his indomitable will, which refused to give up on him even during the worst of times, meant that he could do it if he tried hard enough.

            That’s why he couldn’t mourn losing her, because breaking up with him had quite possibly been the best thing anyone ever did for him.  He had been living in a prison for years, a prison of fear and doubt and self-hatred, and she had given him what could quite possibly be the key to freedom.

            That was why Ethan was so happy despite being stranded in the middle of an endless wasteland, because here he was free of his fears and doubts.  For the first time in his life since he had begun school, his mind was free of those paranoid voices, those dark demons of his soul.  He wanted to thank Faith for that.

            He had the strangest feeling that, somewhere on this journey, he was going to be able to.

***

 

I sat casually on a boulder and waited for Ethan to arrive.  I could see him, a figure on the horizon trotting along, and I suspected that he could see me.  His senses had been sharpening as he journeyed, and his body had been strengthening.  His training was going very well.

            Ethan was jogging now, headed directly for my boulder seat.  If I had wondered whether he had seen me before, I knew it now.  He covered the last hundred metres between us quickly, at a pace that would have had him breathing hard once upon a time.  Now, he looked ready to go another thousand miles before needing to rest.

            “Greetings, Ethan.”  I said warmly.

            “Greetings, Archangel.”  He said, smiling through his thick beard wryly.  Ethan’s smile had always pulled a little to the left when he was thinking, and it did so now.  I wondered if he was amused by something.

            “Why do you smile so, pilgrim?”  I asked.

            “Like what?”  He said, the smile curving even further left.  Yes, he was laughing inwardly about something. 

            “You only smile like that when you’re amused, Ethan.  I should know, I’ve been watching you your whole life.”

            He laughed.  “I suspected that, sooner or later, you’d show up again, and I was right.  I never understand my intuitions, but they always make me smile when they prove true.”

            I nodded, understanding.  “Does your intuition tell you why I’m here?”

            “No, sir.  But I suspect that it’s probably to tell me more about my journey.”

            “An angel isn’t allowed to just stop by and say hello?”  I asked jokingly.

            “In my experience, sir, no.”  He said in all seriousness.

            “Well, unfortunately, you’re right.  I wish that I did have time to make such friendly visits, but I have too many responsibilities for that.  No, I’m here to tell you about the next phase of your journey.”

            “Go ahead.”  Ethan prompted.

            “Actually, before I can, I’m supposed to find out if you’re ready to.”  I said.  “Are you ready to go on?”

            “Of course I am.”  He said.  “I’ve come this far, haven’t I?”

            “Yes, Ethan, but why?  Why have you come this far, and why should you go on?  Why are you on this quest?  Surely not just because we’ve told you to?”

            This question was the real reason I was out here.  I had to learn if he truly believed in his quest, if he felt it as his cause in his heart and soul and mind.  If he was doing it simply because it was duty, because he had been asked, he would fail.  It had to be as much for himself as it was for God, his heart had to be in it, or he would never survive.

            He began to speak, low and solemn, and I realized how much time he had to think out here, and how much he had grown up on the journey.

            “I have had a lot of time to think, out here.  I’ve finally noticed that the driving force in my life is this need to find….  Someone.  I used to think I knew who it was.  Who she was, rather.  But now I see that I was wrong.  Not about the search, just about the perceived goal.  I was always looking for the right thing, just in all the wrong places.” 

            He looked around at the desert, still grinning.

            ” I want to give up this empty life as an isolated island, and join the rest of the world and be a part of the greater whole.  It took being alone in a desert to make me realize that sometimes you need other people, but I learned it. 

            “So, that is the force driving me on my journey, that is my quest…  Not just to find this cross because I’ve been told to.  I’m here to find myself, and to find her, and, hopefully, to find God.  I went on this journey because there was no other way to go, at first.  But now, I’ll see it through because of what I hope to find at the journey’s end.”

As he finished speaking, Ethan stared directly into my eyes with his cool, icy blue gaze.  He smiled again.

            “Is that reason enough, Raphael?  Is that what you wanted to hear?  Because I’d like to get going.  Say whatever you have to say, I’d like you to get it over with so I can get a move on.”

            I nodded.  “It’s reason enough.  We had to be sure that you believed in your quest, you understand?  It’s not a question of faith in you, you were chosen for a reason, but we had to be sure that you were ready.  There’s too much riding on this for you to fail because you weren’t prepared.”

            “I’m ready.”  He said simply.

            “Good.  The next leg of the journey begins now.  Soon, you will meet someone.  Someone who will answer some of your questions, and tell you some of what comes next.  But be on your guard, Ethan,” I admonished, “for the Adversary has His minions, too, and they may try to stop you, or deceive you.  Be on your guard.”

            He nodded, and then walked on.

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 During the day they sometimes worked on different sites, so they made sure that they spent the evenings together.  They went for quiet walks under the summer stars, or watched movies in the local theatre, went out for ice cream in town, and talked until they were too tired to think.

            Ethan found that he could talk to Faith about things in a way he couldn’t with his other friends, revealing to her that he didn’t think they knew him at all.  In his need to serve the people he cared about, he had surrendered his own identity.  Sometimes he himself wasn’t sure of who he was, so how could his friends know?

            He allowed himself to be vulnerable for the first time in his life, slowly bringing down the walls he had built between himself and the world after years of being unable to fully trust anyone.  She was patient with everything, and found ways to remind him that she wasn’t like his friends, and that he could trust her.  Faith seemed to devote herself to finding subtle ways to build his confidence without expressly saying that she was doing so.  Part of it was how much time she spent with him, which implied devotion and loyalty.  After seeing so many friends turn their back on him, this touched Ethan deeply.

            Ethan had never known someone that wanted to be so much a part of his life.  He seemed to come first in all things.  She would forgo trips into town with their other friends in favour of spending a quiet evening with him, and only went anywhere with the others if he suggested that they both go.  It was like she never wanted to be away from him, and he found that endearing.  Everyone else he knew always had other places to go, or people to be with.  He had never come first with them.  Not even Hope had been so devoted, and she had been his best friend.

            He knew that she was helping him to fill the hole inside himself, that pit of self-loathing that said he didn’t matter.  Ethan had begun to fight that battle himself in the last year of high school, and had found it a daunting task.  He never gave up, but it had always been difficult.  Faith made it easy, because she believed in him.

            The summer drifted by without Ethan noticing, he was so caught up in his feelings.  When he finally realized that they were approaching the end of the season, it hit him like a physical blow and panic set in.  A powerful sense of dread overcame him, and paranoid thoughts kept surfacing.  What if she decides to leave me?  What if we break up because I have to go to school?  Why should she stay, if no one else ever has?

            He didn’t realize it until months later, but until this moment of doubt, the voices in his head had been silent.  His time with Faith had brought him peace and happiness for the first time in years, and he failed to notice or appreciate it until it was gone.  It was as if the instant he doubted her, he allowed a doorway in his mind to open.  One that released all his worst fears and nightmares.  And once the door to Hell was opened, he couldn’t get it closed again.

            He withdrew from her, and she noticed.  She would sit beside him, and he would almost imperceptibly flinch away.  It was distressing, because Faith knew that he was shutting her out, and she wasn’t sure that he knew, himself.  It was an instinctive thing for him to do that with almost everyone else.  Their friend Laura had taken to calling him “Bubble Boy” because he was very sensitive about his personal space and rarely allowed people into it.  Faith was the only person always welcome, because she was who he trusted most.

            Now she was shut out, and she knew that it was unintentional.  It was a trained reflex, one of his defence mechanisms from school, something he never thought about.  She knew they were there and had aided him in taking a lot of his barriers down, but now they were all back in place, and she thought she knew why.

            “This isn’t working,” She told him one night, when they could be alone together. 

            Ethan had felt his stomach drop and a horrifying chill grip him at those simple words.  His paranoia had been growing, and to his increasingly depressed mind those words leapt out like they were on fire.  His paranoia told him that she would leave, that these words meant that she was ready to, that now she would turn on him like everyone else.

            “What?”  He asked, fear creeping into his voice.

            “You’re pulling away from me all the time, and you hardly talk to me.  It’s been getting worse all week.  Unless something changes, this isn’t going to work out.  You’re falling apart on me, and I can’t help you unless you talk to me.”

            It seemed like a white-hot knife had been thrust into Ethan’s guts and then twisted, for his fear felt almost like physical pain.  Certainty came to him that things were over, and that there was no way to stop it from happening.  He saw the joys of the past few months falling away from him into a chasm of darkness and despair.  It was a pit that led to madness, and he was on its edge, barely hanging on by his fingertips.

            “I can’t help it,” he said, the steel within him rebelling against the fear and making an attempt to salvage the situation.  The only way it could see to save him was by being honest:  “I’m afraid.  All my friends have abandoned me, whether they know it or not, and I’m terrified that you will, too.  I need you, I don’t know how to do this on my own.”

            “That’s the problem.  We can’t work because of that.  You don’t like yourself very much.  When you go to school, you’re going to hate it there unless you can learn to live with yourself, and I can’t do that for you.  I can’t handle that, it’s not fair to either one of us.  You have to do it yourself.  It’s not like I don’t care about you, I just can’t handle things the way they are.”

            He was sobbing, crying in front of someone else for the first time since he had become an adolescent.  It was brought on by the conflict between that dark depression and despair that had grown out of the paranoia created during school and the ability to love that Faith had been nurturing all summer.  The conflict was over now, and all he could do was mourn the side that seemed to have lost.

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 “I just wanted to say thanks again for inviting me, Neal.”

            Neal Osborne looked over his shoulder at the girl in the backseat.  “You’re welcome, Genevieve.” 

            He returned his eyes to the road, hands at two and ten.  “Though, to be accurate, it wasn’t my idea.  Alexander talked my dad into this trip.  Not that I’m not glad we’re all going.”

            “Because that was believable,” the red-headed young man beside Neal in the passenger seat piped up. 

            “I just think it’s a little presumptuous of him to ask, Owen.  Eight people at once is a lot, when it’s not his cabin.”  Neal steered through highway traffic while talking to his best friend. 

            “Alex has lived with your family since he was fourteen years old.  It’s his cabin.”  Owen Truman looked over his shoulder at Genevieve, “Don’t pay any attention to him.”

            She smiled.  “I don’t mind.  I know I’m only invited because I’m Ethan’s sister.  It’s not a big deal.  I’ve never been to Whistler, so I’m grateful.  Is it as pretty as they say?”

            “Not as pretty as you,” Owen teased.  “But it’s nice.”

            “Owen!” Neal gave his friend an elbow while keeping his eyes on the road.  “She’s Ethan’s little sister.”

            He glanced at the pretty brunette in the backseat briefly, and then continued.

            “Sorry, Owen lacks manners.”

            “He’s not being rude.  I don’t mind.  I’m not that little anymore, Neal.  I’m only two years younger than you are, remember?”

            “So I’d shut up and try not to insult the pretty girl, comrade, unless you think being born in 1979 makes you an old man compared to the kids from the eighties.”  Owen elbowed his friend back.

            “Ooh, what were the seventies like?  Can you tell us about them, grandpa?”  Genevieve giggled.  Neal blushed.

            “I didn’t mean… Never mind.  Shut up, Owen!”

            All three of them laughed.

            “Hey, can we make a pit-stop before Toronto?”  Owen asked.

            “What’s up?”

            “Well, I need to take a leak, and besides, I promised Evan I’d hit a Subway or a Mr. Sub.”

            “Late night snack before the flight?  That’s a pretty good idea,” Genevieve said.

            “Not exactly.  I mean, I’m hungry, but Evan and I are scamming Daniel.  It’s hard to explain.”

            “What do you mean, ‘scamming Daniel?’ What does that have to do with sub sandwiches?” Neal asked.

            “Dan’s not too quick on the uptake sometimes.  Evan just plans to take advantage of that with a few well-timed bets.  Never hurts to improve the odds once in awhile, and I get a cut of the proceeds.”

            “That’s a great way to treat your friends!” Genevieve said, trying not to laugh.

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Bonus Chapter – Different Car, Same Day

*** Author’s Note to Readers*** The following novel may contain themes of violence and occasional vulgar language.  The most offensive chapters will have a warning like this one, and are rare.  However, I would recommend to parents that they preview such chapters before allowing adolescents to read them, that’s just common sense.  

A young man lay sprawled across a small bed that was just wide enough for one person.  The bed lay in one corner of a small room with large bricks painted white, giving the room a very institutional feel.  One wall of the corner, above his head, held a wall-mounted bookcase with textbooks and novels.  The other wall of his corner held the only window.  The room’s only further furniture was a desk and chair.  A computer was on top of the desk.  The dresser was crammed into the open closet to create floor space.  A duffel bag lay on the floor in front of it.

            The third wall of the little room was decorated with illustrations, featuring comic book and fantasy characters:  mutants and elves, angels and ogres.  The fourth wall had the door, which someone was currently knocking.  The youth on the bed rolled over.

            The knocking became pounding and he sat up.

            “Ethan!  Wake up!  Come on, wake up!”  Someone shouted through the door.  He stared at it for a moment, his head cocked to one side, a strange little smile in the corner of his mouth.

            He pulled on a tshirt that was draped over the chair and then pulled on jeans that had been lying in a crumpled pile on the floor.  He waited at the doorway, peering into the peephole.  He timed opening the door perfectly.

            “Ethan! Whoooaaa!”  Another young man toppled into the room, caught off balance by his next big swing.  Instead of pounding the wood, he pounded himself into the carpet.  Being over six feet tall and more than two hundred pounds, he hit it fairly hard.

            “Dick!”  He grinned, picking himself up.  “Why didn’t you answer me, Ethan?”

            Ethan looked at him with that same little smile.  “I was dreaming.”

            “Well, get your ass up!”  The bigger youth grinned, punching him in the arm.  “Grab your bags, we have to get moving.”

            “I thought we agreed to meet at nine?” 

            Another young man appeared in the doorway.  He had long dishevelled hair that seemed unable to make up its mind regarding its colour.  It wasn’t quite blonde, nor was it quite brown. 

            “Dan’s a bit excited,” he said.  “To put it mildly.”

            “Yeah, and this fucker used my enthusiasm against me.  Knocked me right onto the floor.”  Dan playfully shoved Ethan, who showed no reaction in his face. 

            “He’s probably getting you back for last week.” 

            “What did I do last week, Evan?” Dan asked.

            “The shaving cream incident?  You covered his door and his bed.”

            Dan laughed loudly, “I forgot about that.  That was awesome.”

            “Well, now you’re both even,” Evan said.  “Can we get on with our lives?”

            “I was trying to get Ethan up so we can leave.  I don’t want to miss our flight, man.”

            “We can leave now, if you really want to,” Ethan said.  “I’ve been packed for days.  We’ll just get there earlier than the others and have to wait.”

            “Well, that’s better than just standing around this dump.  School’s out, let’s rock!”  Dan followed this comment with an enthusiastic bellow more suited to a crowded hockey arena after a game-winning goal than a university dormitory.

            “Dan, I admire your passion, but you’re aware some people actually use Reading Week to study, aren’t you?” Evan smiled.

            “Who gives a fuck?”  Dan laughed.  “Let’s go.  I want to be the first one there.”

            Ethan pulled on his boots and coat while his friends bantered, hardly listening.  He hefted his duffel and followed them down the hallway.

            “I bet Neal gets there before we do,” Evan said, talking about one of the friends they would be meeting at the airport.

            “Uh uh, no way.  We’re closer than he is, and we’re leaving earlier than we planned,” Dan said.  “Twenty bucks says you’re wrong.”

            “Deal.”  Evan shook on it with his hefty friend.  “I bet you another twenty that Owen is with Neal, and eating a sub sandwich while they wait for us.”

            “A sub?  Bullshit, easy money!  I’ll take that bet.  You couldn’t possibly know that.”  Dan gleefully shook again.  Evan shrugged.

            “Owen likes snacks, what can I say.  If I’m wrong on both counts, you just pocketed forty dollars.”

            They stopped by Evan’s room and grabbed his gear, including his cherished guitar in a cloth gig-bag.  Dan’s room was next door, so it wasn’t long before they were headed out of the building towards the parking lot.

            “Crap, it’s snowing!”  Dan said, tugging a hat over his dark hair as they walked through the school grounds.

            “We’re going on a ski trip, Dan, better get used to it,” Ethan said.  “There’s a lot of snow in the mountains.”

            “And there’s a lot of snow-bunnies in Whistler.  I am going to get so much ass this week!”  Dan cheered.

            “Pervert,”  Evan laughed.  Ethan strode ahead, finding his truck and tossing his bag into the back.

            “Let’s roll, shall we?”

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