Up at the Thunder House, the weather had finally settled into a steady beat. The Torsson parents were away ("God knows where," Tancred Torsson had said about it) and Tancred himself was calm at last. Charlie could assume so, at least; there were absolutely no winds blowing around the Thunder House, and Tancred was absolutely home.

Charlie knew Tancred was home, because he'd just called. At six-thirty in the morning. It didn't set a new record, but it came painfully close. Charlie wasn't so happy about it because it was in the middle of the last week of summer vacation, and he was relishing his last few days for sleeping in at home.

"He-ey," the familiar voice had said on the other end of the line.

"Oh. It's you," Charlie mumbled blearily. "What're you doing calling me now?" Even as he looked out the window he could see the beginnings of dawn. "You didn't call me all summer and you pick six AM the Wednesday before school starts up again to finally do it?"

"Pretty much." This was a different voice, with laughter in the background.

"Lysander?" Apparently they'd put him on speaker, Charlie noted.

"Yeah. It's Sander. Can you come? We're having a bit of a party."

"At SIX AM? You guys are crazy," said Charlie in awe. "Of course I'm coming."

And before he knew it, Charlie had started on his way, before Grandma Bone had the chance to wake up and get him. He didn't dare wake any of his family members, not even Uncle Paton, who could have driven him. He stayed especially clear of his newly returned father, Lyell Bone, who was often tired when he wasn't being joyful at being reunited with his family.

But it was Charlie, as he pulled himself up to the Thunder House, who was really tired. Walking all the way up the Heights was exhausting, and he had to lean on the gate to get his strength back. Luckily enough for him, his friends had spotted him from the window. They came out and half dragged, half carried him into Tancred's house.

"Hello, Sander," he said disorientedly to the tall Black boy whose shoulder he was partially slung over. "Hello, Gabe."

"Hello yourself," said Fidelio Gunn, the curly-haired boy trotting next to them. "You've left me out."

"And you, Fido. Couldn't forget." By now they were inside the Thunder House. A breeze riffled throught it, even though Tancred was obviously in a manageable mood. They dashed upstairs to Tancred's room. They found him sitting on a lopsided mattress. Billy Raven sat next to him, with Emma Tolly and Olivia Vertigo on the floor. Billy and Emma held playing cards, while Tancred and Olivia looked over their partners' shoulders.

"What're you playing?" asked Charlie, sitting down next to Tancred.

Tancred said nothing. None of the others said anything either, so Charlie looked to Lysander. "It's silly," he said, shaking his head and laughing. "Silent. Olivia made it up."

"So it's called Silent." Charlie turned to Fidelio, grinning. "If your house had to play it, I bet it'd lose, if anything's to be said by the name."

Fidelio couldn't decide whether to be offended on the part of his noisy house or to laugh at the joke, so he sat down on the floor next to the girls and watched them play.

Billy was staring blankly into Emma's eyes. Tancred was doing the same with Olivia. Both girls stared back as hard the boys were. Charlie was interested, but the rest of them weren't. They'd seen it all before. Gabriel, Fidelio and Lysander played their own game, slapping each other's palms and whacking forearms. Charlie found their antics every bit as intriguing as Silent.

The game of Silent came to a head. Billy and Tancred stood up as one, and Emma and Olivia matched their every move. Without a word, Billy threw his deck into the air rather more sloppily than Tancred would have liked. Dealing with it, Tancred moved his arm in a flourish and pointed his fingers at the deck. The cards blew around in the air and landed in a prim, neat stack on the floor. Another perfectly controlled blast of wind sent the cards flying in a beautiful arc onto Tancred's bed, where they landed in a perfect stack again.

"Hmm," said Charlie. "That's cool. Never knew you could do all that, Tanc."

"Shush," ordered Olivia. "You can't speak in Silent, and you're distracting...us..." Her voice faded as she realized she'd broken a rule in the game she herself had invented.

Tancred's smile would have lit up a pitch swamp. "Commence round Big Two," he said, the smile growing more mischievous.

Fidelio pulled Charlie out of the room, leaving Lysander and Gabriel to continue their game.

"Liv made it up," he murmured. "Silent. Beats me why she'd want to invent it, when she can hardly stand silence."

Charlie smiled. "Maybe as a challenge. Livvy loves challenges."

"Anyway, the point," said Fidelio. "Silent starts out with a card game. Their starting game of choice is Blackjack. Tanc says it wakes him up like coffee, gets him prepared for the rest of the game."

"Uh-huh," said Charlie, starting to feel the effects of waking up at six-thirty.

"Yes," said Fidelio. "And when the game's over, they go rigid very suddenly and sit stiffly and glare at each other. No talking. They're allowed to blink, though, Olivia says staring's unhealthy. They have to hold eye contact for at least ten seconds. Then they can get up and try all sorts of tricks, silently and with no contact to the other team, to get the other team to make a sound. As soon as one of the teams succeed, they begin another round, which always is announced with 'Commence Round' and the name of the game. If it's a repeat, and it sometimes is, they add 'Again.'"

"What happens if neither of them talk?"

"Then they go another three rounds for a total of four, and if none of them talk they play another card game. Sander's a regular king at this stuff, but Tancred almost always loses it for his team. Olivia is, usually, surprisingly good."

Charlie sighed. "So what were you and Gabe and Sander playing?"

Fidelio smiled abashedly. "That, my friend, was a rather silly game called Knock Me Down."

"Silly," echoed Charlie with a smile. "Teach me?"

"Leave that to Sander and Gabe, they made it up." They went back into the room. Tancred, Billy, Olivia, and Emma were in another staring contest.

After that, the tricks began. Neither team talked, so Olivia declared, "Commence Round Speed, Again," and they sat down and set up for the Speed game.

Charlie was just wondering if the winner was allowed to shout "Speed!" as was the rule of the game when Olivia threw her last card down on the pile and screamed, "Speed!"

Instantly, she, Emma and Billy went rigid. Tancred tried to go just as rigid, but he was too angry at losing to be composed. A mad breeze blew through the room, upsetting the cards and the furniture. "Tancred, calm!" commanded Lysander. "No wrath."

"No wrath. Fine. FINE," screamed Tancred.

"Erm, Tanc," said Gabriel, raising an eyebrow. "I think you must have misheard Sander. He said NO wrath, not MORE wrath. Take it easy, Tanc."

Tancred got even angrier. "My God, Gabe. Just stop! I don't need your infinite wisdom!" A wind howled through the room.

"Sometimes, Tanc can be way too touchy," mumbled Charlie to himself. Unfortunately, the howling wind didn't quite drown out his low voice. Worse, it carried the sound of his words straight to Tancred's ears.

"I heard that, Charlie Bone!" screeched Tancred.

It started to rain. In the room.

"I'm sorry, Tancred," cried Charlie. Lysander rushed to his best friend's side and put his hand on Tancred's shoulder.

"Tancred! Calm!" His words were so powerful, the stormy boy's winds and rain started to falter. They never went right away, but they began receding with Lysander's voice.

Then it was quiet.

"Sorry," murmured Tancred. "I...lost control."

"That's evident," everyone in the room thought. But nobody was foolish enough to say it aloud. They knew what would happen if they did.

So the eight friends played on for the rest of that day. Surrounded by seven of his best friends, Charlie lost track of time, and it hardly mattered to him anyway. They played for the rest of that day - card games, sports, races. They ate together, danced together, and they even cleaned up Tancred's yard and scrubbed down the gray stones of his house.

That was Lysander's idea. Tancred had mentioned, offhandedly, that his parents might have liked a cleaner house to return to.

"Heck," said Lysander, "I HATE cleaning, but once when I was mucking out Gabriel's gutters with him I had the time of my life."

"Oh, I remember that," said Gabriel nostalgically. "I never thought getting rid of mud by getting it on yourself could be so much fun."

"That's the way it is when you do it with friends."

Admittedly, Charlie had had his doubts about whether or not raking and scrubbing and the like would be half as much fun as Lysander and Gabriel promised, but he soon forgot that cleaning wasn't a conventional party activity, he was enjoying himself so thoroughly. Toward the end, when nearly everything was scrubbed and polished and neat, they started a towel-throwing war. The war was just about to end when they remembered they had a clear meter of wall that they'd left dingy and unscrubbed.

"Ahh, leave it," said Tancred airily. He did a little dance before pointing at the wall and dousing it with a shower of water from a cloud he'd summoned. "See, perfectly fine."

Cleaning and games had taken up most of the day. The eight friends had a quick dinner with each other before they parted ways. They parted it reluctantly, unwillingly, but they had homes to get back to, and Charlie had a newly rediscovered father to spend time with.

So they went, all of them together down the road. Tancred stood at his gate, waving at them until neither party could see the other any longer. Then he went back inside his freshly cleaned, gray stone house.

Lysander and Gabriel led the way down from the Thunder House. Lysander turned first, onto the road that led to his house. "Bye, guys," he called, disappearing behind the gate.

When they got near Gabriel's house, they saw a car parked in front of it. "That's my mom's," said Olivia. "She's here for me and Emma and Fido and Billy. Do you have a ride, Charlie?"

"No," admitted Charlie.

Olivia tapped her chin. "Um," she said. "If you want, we could take you. It'll be a bit of a squeeze, though, if you don't mind."

Charlie accepted her offer.

First they went to Gunn House to drop off Fidelio. Fidelio, following Tancred's example, waved at the gate until he couldn't see the anymore.

Charlie was next to go. Olivia and Billy were both staying over at Emma's, so all three were to leave together.

"Bye," he called, running up the path to his house. "See you at school on Monday." The girls and Billy waved back. "See you. See you!" He copied Tancred and Fidelio, waving his arm off.

He wished he could have stayed there his whole life on, because when he let himself in he was faced with his mother, his father, his grandmother, and Uncle Paton. None of them looked very happy, and for once in his life, all his relations were in perfect agreement.

"WHERE WERE YOU?" they demanded as one.