Disclaimer - not mine - I'd take better care of them if they were!

A bit of a change from the last two stories. Not a sequel but follows on 5 years after the last one. Things have changed, the boys are growing up... Virgil's cheered up too! Can't promise that's going to last though...

Chapter One

With a tingling of excitement not unlike that which he'd always experienced as a small child at Christmas, Scott Tracy turned into the driveway of his old Kansas home. He hadn't seen his family for nearly six months and although he phoned and emailed everyone regularly, he'd missed actually seeing them. His first months in the Air Force had been amongst the toughest of his life and although he was finally starting out on the career he'd always dreamed of, the initial training had taken more out of him than he'd expected. His first week of leave had come as a welcome relief and he was looking forward to spending time with his family – well, most of them. His father was off on a business trip and wouldn't be back for another few days, whilst John was away at college. Still, it would be good to sample some of Grandma's cooking – she'd promised to make all of his favourites – and he could at least spend some time with his three youngest brothers.

He'd made good time and was almost an hour earlier than he'd anticipated, but even so he was still hoping for a rapturous welcome as he parked the car and jumped out. Looking expectantly up at the porch he was somewhat disappointed when he saw only the lone figure of his second youngest brother. Even then he fully expected Gordon to rush towards him with his usual exuberance, but when the boy simply got up with a sigh and trudged towards him, obviously forcing the smile which appeared on his face as he drew near, Scott's feeling of excitement faded, to be replaced with concern.

"Hey Scott." Gordon sounded as miserable as he looked.

"Gordon?" Scott asked slowly. "Something wrong? Where's everyone else?"

"Grandma's gone to pick Al up from his baseball practice. Virgil should be here soon unless..."


"He might go round to his girlfriend's. He's hardly ever here these days."

"Oh," Scott was a little surprised at the bitterness in Gordon's voice. "That's Melanie, right?"

He'd had Virgil on the phone often enough over the past few months, first telling him enthusiastically about his new girlfriend, then, in a particularly memorable conversation, nervously asking him for the kind of advice he'd never be able to get from Grandma. Scott had been happy to give him the benefit of his fairly extensive experience with women, but at the same time he'd been a little disconcerted to realise that his little brother was all grown up.

"Yeah." Gordon's lack of enthusiasm was obvious.

"Don't you like her?"

"Yeah, she's okay. I just don't like Virg very much right now."

Although he was taken aback at Gordon's comment, Scott wasn't particularly surprised at how quickly he slipped back into big brother mode. He'd been back two minutes and it felt like he'd never been away. Another argument to settle? Quite how his brothers had managed since he'd left home he didn't know.

"What's he done?"


"Okay..." Scott sighed. It was going to be one of those discussions. "You might need to give me a bit more to work with here, Gords."

Gordon was quiet for a moment, then he looked over at his brother and Scott could see that he was genuinely upset.

"There's this girl I like..." And that explained everything, thought Scott, settling down on the porch steps next to his brother.

" Her name's Alice and she's- Scott, she's just the most wonderful girl I've ever met..." As Gordon went on... and on... Scott realised his brother had got it badly. First crushes were always the worst, he thought, wondering where Virgil came into this. His middle brother was intuitive and usually pretty good at giving advice, so quite what had gone on to make Gordon so resentful towards him was anyone's guess. When Gordon finally ran out of adjectives to describe the apparently flawless Alice, Scott looked across at him.

"Okay, so you've met the girl of your dreams. Have you done anything about it?"

"I was going to ask her out this afternoon."

"Didn't go well, huh?" Scott put an arm around his brother's shoulders. Even he'd experienced rejection and he wondered if he could bring himself to share this particularly unhappy memory with Gordon. Not something he really wanted to talk about, but sacrifices had to be made when a brother needed his help.

"I told Neil I was going to do it, just so I wouldn't chicken out. But he couldn't keep his mouth shut and by lunchtime everyone knew. Then one of her friends came over and told me Alice likes someone else so there'd be no point asking her."

"Oh, who?" Scott had a feeling he knew where this was going, but before Gordon could answer another car pulled up and Virgil leapt out. At least this time Scott got his enthusiastic welcome. It was a good few minutes before he remembered their younger brother. But when he turned around Gordon was gone.

"What's up with Gordon?" Scott asked as he and Virgil went inside.

"Gordon? I don't know. He was alright this morning."

"He said something about a girl," Scott began.

"Oh, right. Alice? The most perfect girl in the world?"

"That's the one."

"He's been moping over her for days. He-"

Gordon shot out of the kitchen at top speed, an uncharacteristic look of fury on his face as he turned on Virgil.

"Stop laughing at me!"

"What? Gordon, I wasn't!"

"Yes you were. I hate you, Virgil! You've already got Melanie and now Alice likes you too. How am I supposed to compete with you? You're older and you play the piano and all the girls like you..."

Scott would have laughed at Virgil's dumbstruck expression if Gordon hadn't been so distressed.

"Gords, I'm sorry, I didn't know." Virgil did feel bad about it, not to mention embarrassed. And maybe just a little flattered too, if he was honest with himself. Not that he'd ever admit it to Gordon, or Scott.

"I haven't done anything to encourage her, I promise. Honestly, I'm happy with Mel."

"I know! That just makes it worse. She knows you're not interested and she still likes you. You've just managed to make two of us miserable!"

"Gordon, these things happen, you know. It's not Virgil's fault." Scott tried to calm his brother down.

"Yeah, I might have known you two would stick together."

"Gordon-" Virgil wasn't even allowed to finish the sentence before his brother turned on him again.

"It's not fair! You've got a girlfriend. You go round to her place every evening when her mother's working. You tell Grandma that you're studying in the library or practising for some recital and I have to cover for you whenever you're late home from school. And I know exactly what you get up to here on Saturday afternoons when everyone else is out -"

"Gordon! Would you mind keeping your voice down? I'm sure the neighbours don't want to hear about your brother's love life!" The three brothers whirled around at the sound of Grandma's cold voice. They hadn't heard her come in. Alan stood behind her, wide eyed and trying not to laugh. Virgil wasn't laughing though and Scott looked at him in sympathy as his grandmother turned her attention away from Gordon.

"Virgil, I think you and I need to have a talk after dinner." Turning on her heel she was away into the kitchen before any of the boys could say anything. They stared at each other for a moment then Virgil glared at Gordon.

"Thanks, Gordon!" And he was gone.

"Serves him right," Gordon laughed spitefully before heading upstairs followed by a grinning Alan.

Scott took himself into the kitchen where Grandma was setting the table rather more noisily than usual.

"Let me do that," he offered, taking the pile of plates from her and beginning to set them out.

"You know," he said tentatively, "Virgil's not a kid anymore."

"I know, Scott. And I'm not the naive old woman you all seem to take me for. It's no surprise to me to hear what he's been up to. I'd just rather not have heard about it from Gordon."

"Yeah, well, Virgil probably agrees with you there."

There was silence for a moment before Scott commented,

"After everything that happened to him when he was a kid it's good to see him just being normal."

"I know. And I'm glad he's happy now. But he'll always be a little boy to me. You all will."

Scott smiled.

"I suppose you've been encouraging him," Grandma said with a sudden twinkle in her eye.

"Well, I might have given him a few pointers..."

"Well maybe you can do the same for Gordon. I take it things didn't work out with this girl?"

"Apparently not. Seems she's got a crush on Virg."

"Oh dear. No wonder Gordon's not happy. Are you going to talk to him?" Silly question really, Grandma thought – of course Scott would try to solve his brother's problems, just as he always did.

"Guess so. Didn't take long to get back to normal, did it?"

Dinner was an awkward meal. Gordon was quiet, but Virgil seemed to want to prolong the meal for as long as he possibly could, obviously hoping to put off his forthcoming talk with Grandma. Scott tried to keep the conversation along neutral lines, asking his brothers about school.

"I'm busy," Virgil said. "Especially now rehearsals for the theatre production have started. We're doing Little Shop of Horrors. Mel's got the lead – she's going to be great. I'm in the band – there's a lot of piano in this one."

"Not on stage this year, then?" Scott asked.

"Don't be stupid, Scott," Gordon chipped in before Virgil could reply. "There's no part for our perfect brother in that piece. I'd have a better chance of getting a role – there's got to be some loser or misfit I'd be just right for."

Virgil shook his head in frustration.

"Maybe you should audition then. Alice is in the chorus, so you could actually do something to get her attention instead of moping around all the time."

Before Gordon could come up with a response Grandma broke it up.

"That's enough, both of you! Poor Scott will be packing his bags and heading back to his base if you carry on like this."

Gordon muttered an unconvincing apology and turned his attention to his food. There was silence for a moment before Virgil spoke again.

"Hey, Gordon," he said, earning little more than a grunt from his brother. "You'll never guess who auditioned today."

"What? You mean you really were playing the piano after school?" Gordon asked bitterly.

"Yes, you know I was," Virgil glared at him before going back to his original topic. "Who do you think tried out for the Dentist?"

Gordon mentioned a couple of names with little interest.

"No, no one that obvious. Think of the person least likely to get involved in a musical. Then think of the person who most resembles a psychopathic bully."

Only one name came to mind and Gordon was finally interested enough to forget his troubles as he stared at his brother.

"Not James McCauley?"

"Yep. He was really good as well – pity really, I don't want to have to spend weeks rehearsing with him. I think he might get it though."

"Isn't that the boy you had trouble with a few years ago?" Grandma asked.

"Yeah. I haven't had much to do with him these past few years. We take different classes and he spends most of his time in the gym. He's a boxer – he always did like knocking people around."

"Well as I recall you got in a few good punches of your own," Scott said. "Didn't you break his nose?"

"Yeah. Don't think he's ever forgiven me."

"You know he's Alice's cousin?" The dreamy look was back on Gordon's face.

"Really?" Virgil was genuinely surprised. "There's not much of a resemblance is there?"

Gordon glared at him. "Why do you care what she looks like?"

"Gordon!" Scott warned.

Virgil felt sorry for his brother, he really did, but at that moment he'd had enough.

"For the last time, I'm not trying to steal your would-be-girlfriend, Gordon! And especially not now I know who she's related to. What do you want me to do? Tell her I'm not interested? Ask her to go out with you?"

"No! Just leave me alone!" Gordon was out of the kitchen before anyone could react.

Grandma sighed. "Alright, everyone, finish up and get yourselves out of here. Not you, Virgil. You can help me clear up. Scott, just close the door on your way out will you?"

With a whispered "Good luck!" Scott was gone, though he had to go back to the door to drag Alan away when he turned to see him with his ear to the keyhole.

"Come on," he said, pushing him up the stairs. "You can help me talk some sense into Gordon."

"Now why would I want to do that?" Alan asked. "This is fun."

Fun? Scott thought. Just you wait, kid, it'll be your turn next. And that was a really frightening thought!

Gordon wasn't in the most receptive of moods and his refusal to allow Scott to cheer him up left the young man wondering if he was losing his touch with his younger brothers. Leaving him to wallow in thoughts of Alice he returned to the lounge, wondering how much longer Grandma was going to keep Virgil in the kitchen. He didn't envy his brother, having been on the receiving end of one of Grandma's lectures a few years before. He still blushed when he thought about it. Sure enough, Virgil finally emerged looking absolutely mortified.

"How was it?" Scott asked.

"I don't want to talk about it," his brother replied, sinking into a chair and burying his head in his hands. "Grandmothers shouldn't be allowed to talk about things like that. She's an old lady – how come she knows so much anyway?"

"Well, she did find that book of John's..." Scott reminded him.

That brought a smile as they remembered one of the few times their articulate brother had been lost for words.

"Guess we've all been caught out at one time or another," Virgil said. "I just hope I'm around when it's Gordon's turn."

"Hey, don't be too hard on him. He's got it badly."

"I know. But I swear I haven't done anything to encourage this girl. I don't think I've ever even spoken to her."

"Well, you have been a bit preoccupied," Scott teased. "Come on, let's go for a drive. You can tell me all about Melanie. When do I get to meet her?"

Virgil was glad of the chance to get out of the house and get some time alone with Scott. Things just hadn't been the same since his brother had left home. Although they spoke often on the phone, he missed having him around. It had been better when John was there, but the last eighteen months had been hard. He didn't like being the oldest one left, although he got on well with Gordon and Alan – most of the time anyway. Gordon had been a real pain these past few days and he didn't know what he could do to help, especially after this latest development. He sympathised with his brother, but he really could have done without being dropped in it like that. The talk with Grandma had been embarrassing to say the least, even worse than the one his father had given him a few years ago - and, thanks to his older brothers, Virgil had known most of the details anyway. But Grandma... he really owed Gordon for that.

The worst thing though, was that after the lecture she'd gone on to surprise him by giving him a hug and telling him how pleased she was that she was able to lecture him at all, after fearing she'd lose him to kidnappers, then having to watch him struggle to come to terms with what had happened to him. That had brought back memories he usually kept locked away, another reason to be mad at Gordon.

Five years ago he'd been very different, though to be honest, he didn't recognise the damaged boy he had been any more, not when he looked in the mirror, or in the way he felt. It had taken him a long time to learn to live with what had happened to him and he didn't often think back to the dreadful experiences he'd suffered years ago, but when he did he always felt a sensation of utter relief that they were in the past and he'd been able to move on. He'd had a miserable time of it a few years ago; surely he deserved to be happy now. After all, all he wanted was to be like other kids his age. It had taken him a long time to get there. There had been times when he hadn't been sure he'd see another day, let alone make it to seventeen. People who didn't know what he'd been through just assumed that he was naturally calm and composed, but those close to him knew it was a hard-won serenity. He'd had to work hard to recover his balance and control his feelings and he didn't like anything which threatened that stability or reminded him of those terrible times.

It was a sharp poke in the ribs which roused him.

"What was that for?"

"Are you going to get moving or are we just going to sit in your car?" Scott asked.

"Where do you want to go?" Virgil asked, slipping the car into gear and moving off.

"Anywhere, just take me on a tour of the place," Scott said, leaning back lazily. "I thought you might want to get out of the house for a bit."

"Yeah, it might be better for Gordon's health if I don't see him for a while," Virgil agreed.

"Poor kid. I seem to remember you being just as bad over that girl from your art class."

"Oh, yeah, Rachel. I'd forgotten about her."

"Found someone to take your mind off her, obviously."

"Yeah..." Virgil drifted off into his own world for a moment.

"Where's Dad off to this time?" Scott asked, changing the subject and wondering what Virgil's response would be.

"No idea. He's been kind of secretive lately - locking the door of his study, hiding the papers on his desk when he does let anyone in. I don't know what he's up to."

"Oh," Scott said. He had a fair idea of what was going on, following the extraordinary conversation he'd had with his father a few weeks earlier. He knew that John had had the same discussion, but his father obviously hadn't felt the time was right to share his plans with his younger sons. It felt strange to have a secret from Virgil.

Both brothers grew quiet, Scott considering yet again the fantastic plans his father was developing, whilst Virgil was predictably thinking about Melanie. He couldn't wait to show her off to Scott. Life really was pretty good right now, he thought, pulling up outside their favourite coffee house. If it wasn't for Gordon everything would be perfect. Then he pushed all thoughts of his younger brother and his girlfriend out of his head – he'd waited a long time for Scott to come home and he intended to make the most of it.

The next day was a Saturday and Scott got to meet Melanie when she came round to practise her songs for the production. He could see the attraction – quite aside from being pretty, she had a lovely voice. Scott could see why his brother was so smitten. After a while he got the feeling that he was definitely in the way, but, having promised Grandma that he'd keep an eye on the pair of them, he maintained his role of chaperone dutifully, despite Virgil's increasingly heavy hints. In the end Virgil had given up and taken Melanie home. Scott didn't expect him back any time soon, but he felt he'd done his duty as far as Grandma was concerned. It was proving to be an interesting trip home, he thought, as he took out his phone to check in with John. He knew his brother would be amused by his brothers' antics and he wondered if he'd had any more thoughts about their father's plan.

Virgil knew he was pushing his luck with Grandma when he got home five minutes after the others had started eating dinner. Still, who could blame him? Mel's mother had been out and they'd had to behave themselves all afternoon in front of Scott. No wonder they'd got a little carried away when they finally got some time to themselves. Despite his lateness he paused a moment before heading into the house. Life really was good: he was looking forward to the production - always happier to be hidden in the orchestra pit than actually performing on stage; he had a beautiful girlfriend; he was looking forward to beginning his studies in Denver... And although he was more of a realist than most boys his age, he felt a real optimism about the future. He might have stayed staring distractedly up at the night sky for longer, but his grandmother's angry shout as she banged on the window roused him and he started running for the door.

Monday came quickly. Alan, Gordon and Virgil would have liked to have skipped school to spend time with Scott, but he insisted they go. Waving the last of them off with a grin, he returned to a leisurely late breakfast. He'd spent most of Sunday trying to cheer Gordon up. He hadn't been able to do anything about the resentment Gordon felt towards Virgil, but at least his brother had been a bit more positive that morning, looking forward to a good workout in the pool before classes started.

Gordon always felt good after a swim, although that morning it had taken him a while to settle down after several of his team-mates had teased him about his lack of success with Alice. It seemed the whole school knew and he was resigned to a day of teasing and jokes at his expense. But swimming was a great stress-reliever. No matter what was bothering him, he could always make himself feel better as he pounded up and down the pool. Today was no different and he was a natural optimist, after all. Scott's efforts to make him feel better hadn't been in vain and Gordon was definitely feeling more positive. He might not have Virgil's talent for art and music, but he had plenty going for himself, now he came to think about it. The interschool championships were in a couple of weeks and surely a couple of medals would be just the thing to impress Alice. Yes, he thought, he wasn't out of the fight just yet. Maybe he could even enlist Virgil's help, get him to put in a good word. He didn't really like being at odds with his brother and although Virgil didn't spend so much time with him these days, he was pretty good company when he was there. Yeah, he thought, Virgil had suffered enough with his lecture from Grandma – he'd have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that one! He'd make it up with him that night and the four brothers could do something together – if he could drag Virgil away from Melanie, he thought with a wry grin. By the time he'd finished his workout he was feeling better than he had for days.

His good mood didn't last long. Hauling himself up onto the side of the pool he spotted the solid bulk of James McCauley heading his way. Wondering just what the boxer was doing by the pool and hoping he hadn't come looking for trouble, he went to move past, but found himself caught by two large hands.

Wishing he hadn't decided to put in a few extra laps by himself after the rest of the team had finished, he tried to slip out of McCauley's grasp, but the older boy wasn't letting go. Instead he moved closer to Gordon, putting on the menacing expression that sometimes had his opponents ready to throw in the towel before the fight had even begun.

"What's going on?" Gordon asked, hoping he didn't sound as nervous as he felt.

McCauley had at least forty pounds on him and Gordon knew he couldn't fight him off. He'd have to try though. Tensing in readiness, he decided to follow his brother's lead and go for the face, though given McCauley's subsequent experience in the boxing ring he had a feeling he might not even get in one good hit. It didn't look good.

"Listen, kid," McCauley growled. "I've heard you've been bothering my cousin. Just leave her alone. She doesn't want anything to do with you. And even if she did I wouldn't let her hang around with a Tracy. Got it?"

Gordon would normally have come up with some smart comment, but his feelings for Alice were just too complicated, so he simply nodded, feeling humiliated and slightly hopeless. McCauley seemed to think his intimidation tactics had worked, because he let go of Gordon before suddenly pushing him backwards into the pool.

Rising to the surface, spluttering with the surprise of swallowing several mouthfuls of water – something he hadn't done since he was about three years old - Gordon dragged himself out of the pool. Anger at the older boy and frustration over his feelings for Alice got the better of him and he squared up to McCauley, trying to ignore the amusement and transparent lack of any kind of concern in the other boy's eyes.

"Yeah, well, you don't have to worry about me. Alice isn't interested." As McCauley laughed Gordon went on without thinking. "But you might want to have a word with Virgil – she's got a thing for him and I'm guessing you're not going to be as quick to pick on him. You're not much in the looks department, you know – you can't afford to get your nose broken again."

McCauley flushed and a dangerous glint appeared in his eyes. His reputation as the hard boy of his year had taken something of a battering after the usually quiet Virgil had snapped and got in what McCauley still referred to as a 'lucky' punch. In reality though he knew there had been nothing lucky about it – he'd been well-beaten and things would have been a lot worse if a couple of teachers hadn't broken the fight up. Five years later he hadn't forgotten and he certainly hadn't forgiven. He'd hoped to get his revenge, but their teachers had gone out of their way to keep the two apart and their paths never crossed outside school. The theatre production would be the first time the pair had had anything to do with each other in years.

The news that Virgil was the object of Alice's affections wasn't at all welcome. All the animosity he felt towards Virgil came flooding back and Gordon's outburst simply fuelled the fire. His initial reaction was to head off to find Virgil and finish what he'd started years before. And this time he was determined that it would be Virgil who came off worst. After all, Virgil wasn't really a fighter; he'd just been somewhat out of control after his kidnapping. McCauley on the other hand had been determined that he'd never let anyone get the better of him again, hence his decision to take up boxing. He was good too, physically intimidating and pretty much impervious to pain, though with an obvious enjoyment for inflicting it on others. Truth be told, when a fight was going badly he would imagine it was Virgil squaring up against him and that would give him the inspiration he needed to reduce his opponent to a pulp. If only he could have done that in reality... He knew though that he couldn't risk it. He didn't think Virgil would be able to get the better of him now, but the boy had a rich, influential father, not to mention plenty of friends in school. James McCauley might not have been the brightest of students, but he wasn't stupid. Any attack on Virgil would have serious repercussions. But now, with the added incentive of family honour – not that he really had much to do with Alice, but that wasn't the point – he wondered if his time had come. There were only a few months till graduation. He could wait.

Gordon watched him nervously, regretting his outburst. He could guess what McCauley was thinking and he wondered what kind of trouble he'd just caused for Virgil. When McCauley said nothing in response, just stalked away thoughtfully, Gordon decided he'd better warn his brother.

Gordon didn't have a chance to catch up with Virgil until lunchtime. By then news had got around that McCauley had got the part in the play. That was just going to give him more of an opportunity to get at Virgil and Gordon wished he'd kept his mouth shut. He knew he could find his brother in the art room painting scenery. He just hoped Virgil wasn't going to be too mad at him.

Virgil was more than a little surprised when Gordon decided to join him.

"What's going on?" he asked. "Thought you weren't speaking to me."

"Yeah, well," Gordon shuffled uncomfortably. "I'm sorry, Virg. I think I might have done something stupid."

"Again?" Virgil tried to bite back the sarcastic comment but he guessed Gordon had heard as his brother frowned. "Sorry... What have you done this time?"

"McCauley had a go at me about Alice-"

"What? Did he hurt you?" Virgil automatically thought the worst where James McCauley was concerned.

"No, just pushed me in the pool. I'm okay – he knows I'm no threat. The thing is, Virg, I got a bit mad and I might have mentioned something about her liking you."

Virgil sighed. Great. He'd nearly got to the end of high school without another run in with McCauley. Trust Gordon to drop him in it. With all the rehearsals they had coming up it wasn't as if he was going to be able to avoid him, either.

"Are you mad at me?" Gordon asked nervously. "He didn't say anything, but it was obvious he wasn't happy."

"He's never happy." Virgil said shortly, still wondering how this one was going to play out. He didn't really think McCauley would be stupid enough to cause any trouble, not when graduation was so close. He'd just have to watch his back for the next few months. And at least if McCauley was mad at him then at least he wouldn't be worrying about Gordon.

"We could tell Scott," Gordon suggested.

"Why? What could he do?" Virgil didn't think much of that idea. "I'm a bit old to have Scott fighting my battles for me, Gordon. As I recall I've done alright against McCauley by myself."

"Yeah, but that was before he joined the boxing club. And to be honest, Virg, he could probably take you pretty easily now."

Virgil raised an unamused eyebrow. "You think so?"

"Well, maybe not when you're mad." Gordon was backtracking now. He was so used to Virgil being calm and controlled that he'd forgotten just how fierce he could be when he wanted. Still, there was no point inviting trouble.

"Do you want me to tell Mr Kingsley? He might kick him out of the play."

Virgil looked at him. "Why would he do that? As much as I hate McCauley he's going to be fantastic. He really wants to do it too. I think he'll behave himself – at least until the play's over. And Alice is in the chorus, so I guess if I ignore her he'll get the message that I'm not interested."

"He'll probably beat you up for breaking her heart," Gordon said gloomily, wondering how he was going to be able to pursue Alice with her cousin watching over her.

"Come on, Gords. It'll be okay. And he's done me a favour. At least you're talking to me now."

Gordon smiled. "I guess I don't hate you really, otherwise I wouldn't be worrying about you."

Virgil stopped to look at him for a moment, rubbing a paint stained hand across his forehead, oblivious to the smudge which was left there.

"Okay, Gords, I'll be careful. Now while you're here why don't you make yourself useful? Pick up that brush. You can do the night sky – even you can manage a plain black canvas.

They worked in companionable silence for the rest of the lunch break.

Scott and Grandma were glad to see that the breach between the brothers had been healed. Later that evening Gordon took his oldest brother to one side and told him about his run in with James McCauley and his fears for Virgil. Scott thought for a while.

"Virgil's right, you know, I can't go in and sort McCauley out. I'd end up in jail for threatening a kid. Trust Virg on this. He knows how to stay out of trouble."

Gordon shot him an incredulous look, causing Scott to amend his statement.

"Well, most of the time. But he's only likely to do something stupid if he's trying to protect you, so as long as you keep out of it... Have you given up on Alice now?"

"Guess so," Gordon said. He'd already decided that the risks to himself and his brother were too high. He just wished his heart would catch up with his head – there was still that funny fluttery feeling every time he thought about her. Scott smiled sympathetically and braced himself for the ridicule he knew would shortly come.

"Cheer up, Gords. Did I ever tell you about the time I asked Katie Reynolds out?"

Well, anything to cheer the kid up...