The Sophomore Year

Chapter One: Summer Vacation

AJHero: U there?

FictionAddictionis idle.

AJHero: Artie!1! Come on! We said we'd chat tonight.

AJHero: Not cool, man. You know I only get computer acces...acsess? How the heck do you spell that? Whatevs. I only get accesss for a few hours at camp and your wasting it!

FictionAddiction has signed on.

FictionAddiction: I don't think this chatting on the internet business is going to work out.

AJHero: Your here! :) I missed you, babe!

FictionAddiction: It's you're—not your, and it's you—not 'U'.

AJHero: Huh? :_0

FictionAddiction: What are you doing now? What's with the colon/underscore/zero thing?

AJHero: What? You mean my crying face? I'm crying cuz your talking grammar crap instead of saying that you miss me.

FictionAddiction: Oh. I see it as a face now. That's ridiculous. For the last time, Alfred, it's you're. I can't focus on a conversation if you're going to abuse the English language.

AJHero: O_O;

FictionAddiction: I refuse to communicate with you in emoticons. I will acknowledge your feelings when you use actual words.

AJHero: :O-8

FictionAddiction: ...that one doesn't even look like a face.

AJHero: What? You don't recognize you're face giving my penis a blowjob? XD

FictionAddiction: In that instance, it would be your.

AJHero: If I use good grammar, can we internet sex each other?

FictionAddiction has signed off.

AJHero: Arthur?

AJHero: :O-9 roflao now I only have one ball.

FictionAddiction has signed on.

AJHero has signed on.

FictionAddiction: Are you done with your stupid camp yet? I miss you. Come back to England. I'm not liking all these rumors I'm hearing, either. Some pictures hit our tabloids over here, and while I'm pretty sure it's just a look-alike, I'm still a little concerned.

AJHero: I can't, babe. :( I miss you 2. I really miss your sexy ass and that thing you do with your tongue.

FictionAddiction: Alfred, why are you so lewd all the sudden? I don't like it. You sound like Francis...who is visiting and driving me insane, by the way.

AJHero: But baaabbbbe! I'm just really really really horny, and your super far away and it's communal showers so I can't ya know and I think my balls are turning blue.

FictionAddiction: You can't hear it, but I'm playing you the world's smallest violin.

AJHero: Why'd you buy a really tiny violin? I though you played piano?

FictionAddiction: Thought – not though. Why can't we talk on the phone again? I hate chatting almost as much as I hate computers.

AJHero: No phones allowed at camp. :( I couldn't bring junk food either. I'm starving and I have blue balls. It's bad honey. I neeeeeed bring me McDonalds.

FictionAddiction: You can either have sex with me, or McDonalds. Your choice.

AJHero: Do I get to top?

FictionAddiction: Sure.

AJHero: McDonalds

FictionAddiction has signed off.

Alfred ignored greeting his mother in favor of attacking the backpack she'd brought for him—desperately searching for his precious phone.

"Alfred, aren't you going to even say hello to me?" Helen requested. Her tall son, no longer gangly by any stretch of the imagination, mumbled his reply without even glancing at her.

"Yeah, hi mom, love you, too. Camp was fun. Had a blast. I'm starving and I want the new Madden game for my birthday," Alfred rambled as he punched the speed dial for Arthur and waited for the ringing to end. Helen rolled her eyes and not-so-carefully reversed her Hummer out of the too-small space.

"Alfred, I am a mother—not a vending machine. I'm glad you had fun at camp. You toned up nicely, and the tan looks good, but from now on you really need to start using sunblock. A quality lotion can give you an imitation tan that looks—"

"Yeah, ah-huh. Wear lotion. Got it. Jus' give me one sec, Helen—I gotta call Arthur," Alfred said, brushing off her comments with complete dismissal. Helen shot him an mildly reproachful glare (since when did he call her Helen?) and wondered when her sweet, wide-eyed little boy had turned into a teenager. She wanted to blame boarding school, but if she was truly honest, a summer full of pool parties with young celebrities and football camp with spoiled rich kids (both of which she'd been responsible for coordinating) seemed to be the cause behind Alfred's worsening attitude. Not to mention, her own attitude had been ten times worse as a teenager, so she couldn't exactly criticize him for it. She certainly wasn't going to be that mother that demanded her child call her 'mom'. She was secure enough as a mother to use first names with her child...wasn't she? Of course she was.

The partying, the clubs, and the costly football camp were only meant to distract Alfred from missing the British kid so much, and from driving her insane with his constant complaints of boredom. Besides, she'd been helping him get his modeling career started. It wasn't good enough to get one lucky photo break—Alfred needed to be noticed, and a little drama was guaranteed to catch some attention.

"Arthur? Arthur! It's me! I'm free from football camp!" her son yelped excitedly. She could just barely hear the royal's much sleepier (and more irritable) tone on the other end, but she couldn't make out his exact words. Alfred's end of the conversation, however, was telling enough.

"Oh, well I'm sorry. I was just excited to talk since...okay. I'll let you go back to sleep. I love you," Alfred said. He blushed at that part, and mumbled it quickly as if she wouldn't hear him. Helen waited for him to hang up to get a word in edge-wise, but the phone was almost instantly back up to his ear.

"Mattie! Hey, bro! I just got sprung from camp—it was total torture! I couldn't have my phone, no junk food, and...yeah, I just called him. I know he's pissed, but...well, I couldn't help it!" Alfred listened with an annoyed expression to whatever his soft-spoken Canadian friend was saying, but finally could restrain himself no longer and cut in with, "Mattie, you can't honestly read the fucking—"

"Alfred!" Helen snapped automatically. With a look of surprise (and mild irritation), Alfred glanced at her.

"What? You cuss all the time," Alfred reminded.

"Well, that may be so, but you've never—"

"Anyways, so yeah, you can't read the fucking tabloids and believe all that stupid shit. I mean, come on, Mattie! Do you really think I'd get Kelly Clover pregnant? She's, like, a Disney star, and I'm, like, totally gay," Alfred glanced at her as if to say, 'Can you believe this?'

"Mattie...Mattie...seriously, dude. Kelly Clover was at, like, one of my parties, and I barely even talked to her. She was totally trashed anyway. I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if she was knocked up, but...what do you mean I sound 'different'? I don't sound different. Ha! Maybe I just sound more manly now. My voice totally dropped!"

With a tight, annoyed frown, Helen realized she agreed with Matthew. Her son was beginning to sound different...and it really didn't suit him at all.

She'd tried to make more time for Alfred this summer. Now that they had modeling in common, and since he'd finally grown out of his awkward phase, she'd tried connecting with him as best she knew how. Every other night there had been some sort of party or social function, and she'd taken Alfred on her arm to all of them. She'd bought him an entire new wardrobe, the braces had been removed, and in just a short month and a half, Helen had essentially become Alfred's new manager for the never ending offers of guest appearances, photo shoots, and interview requests. While Alfred had been in Europe, he'd become an American teen heart-throb. She'd been all too glad to send him off to football camp for the past week, as she'd discovered she wasn't as young as she used to be, and political life ran at a much slower pace than the fashion world did.

Mostly, though, she'd just needed a break from the monster she'd created. Naturally, Dick had been totally absorbed in his work and didn't give a damn about her troubles with Alfred—no big shocker, there.

Finally, Alfred concluded his conversation with his old friend on a rude note and snapped off his phone.

"Whatever. It's not like I was excited to talk to them anyway," Alfred bluffed, scowling at the window. Helen sighed softly.

"Alfred...I've been thinking about your birthday party. What if we scaled it back some? Wouldn't you like to just fly in your friends from last year and just spend some time...I don't know. Doing whatever gay kids with no social lives do?"

Alfred shot her a venomous glare.

"Okay, that came out wrong. I just meant...don't you want to spend some time with your real friends? Just being yourself?" Helen asked. Alfred, clueless Alfred, just rolled his baby blues at her.

"I am being myself. Last time I checked, my name's still Alfred Jones," he retorted. Helen frowned thinly.

"The sarcasm doesn't suit you, Alfred."

"I thought you hated my friends?" Alfred shot back, his arms crossed firmly over his muscular chest. He was as tall as she was now, and over the course of the summer, he'd made the final transition from looking like a pre-teen to looking like a young man. It was unsettling how fast he'd seemed to change in just a year, but the baby pout was still being put to good effect.

"I don't hate your friends. Don't be so dramatic, Alfred. I'm merely saying that you've done an awful lot of work lately—schmoozing Hollywood types and all that, and it might be good for you to get back in touch with...well...Alfred."

Helen realized mid-spiel that Alfred had already tuned her out and was furiously texting god-only-knows-who with thumbs moving at near light speed. She lightly shook her head.

"Oh, so that's what he's pissed about. Was I on a new tabloid this past week? Ashley says they got a picture of me and Patrick Donovan looking like a couple. Think they altered it? I don't really remember that party. I was pretty trashed," Alfred mused, as he used his phone to scroll through an internet search of his name to see what headlines popped up.

"I didn't let you get into any compromising positions," Helen said in an unnaturally subdued tone of voice. Her own worry was obvious, though.

"Whatever. You were tipsy, too. You kept telling the pool boy to strip. You were so embarrassing!" Alfred said, laughing obnoxiously at her failings as a parent and as a manager.

"I was not tipsy. I just had a few drinks, and it's been awhile since I drank socially. You have to look loose at those things—they aren't job interviews. Photographers are looking for personality, not just a pretty face," she justified. Alfred snorted.

"Yeah, but they weren't looking at you. I'm the 'sexiest person to live in the white house.' That's a quote from my biggest fan club. Ha! Check it! They signed on, like, 800 new members while I was in football camp. Just wait till the pictures of me looking all awesome in the games with pro players hit the net! You don't even have a fan club anymore—just a facebook group of guys that want to see you dance topless around an American flag."


"What? It's true."

"That's it. Give me that," she snapped. Alfred let out a howl of protest when his mother began rifling through his phone, swerving all over the road as she did so.

"Helen! Give it baaaack!" Alfred whined. Helen found Arthur's number and pressed dial. The royal answered, already lecturing.

"As I already explained, it's much later here, and quite frankly, after all the drivel I've seen on magazines lately—"

"Arthur? It's me, Helen Jones. I need you to get on a flight as soon as possible."

"What's wrong? Has something happened to Alfred?" the British boy sounded instantly terrified, and Helen was glad to hear it—Arthur was Alfred's true friend above all else. He'd sort him out, if there was still hope to undo the damage she'd done in just a short month and a half.

"Yes, you could say that. He needs a real friend right now, so I want you to come to visit as soon as possible. Can that be arranged?" she asked briskly. From the passenger side, Alfred was staring at her in semi-hopeful confusion.

"Is he coming?" Alfred asked.

"Alright, I'll be on the first flight in the morning. Are you sure he's fine physically? No injuries at football camp?"

"You didn't get injured at football camp, did you?" Helen asked, peeping around the phone at Alfred. Her son shook his head in denial.

"No, he's not hurt—just rapidly turning into me. Get here soon."

"What?" was the last thing Helen heard before clicking off the phone and passing it back to Alfred.

"What's going on?" Alfred asked.

"Your friends are right, Alfred. You have changed a lot this summer, and I know it's because of my influence...and it wasn't a good one. I've always thought I wanted a son like this, but now I realize that snobby, spoiled, disrespectful kids are annoying little shits. If I let this go much further, you really will get some girl knocked up. Maybe you'll be ready for the fashion world next summer, but you're not ready yet. Don't bother arguing. I've made up my mind. Oh, and no more cussing. And don't call me Helen—I'm your mother, not your manager."

Her son (who had been truly nightmarish since coming home without Arthur) flashed her the tiniest of smiles when she expected a massive argument.

"Yeah, yeah, Mom...whatever you say," he replied back, playing a bit with his phone. Helen was thrown-off by the sudden reappearance of the Alfred she remembered (and loved).

"I don't understand you at all," she finally admitted. "One minute, you're a total jerk and the next you're back to your normal, sweet self. Care to enlighten me? Have you developed schizophrenia in the past month?"

Alfred blushed a little, rolled his eyes, and began playing a game on his phone.

"Have I really been a jerk?" he asked. He almost sounded sheepish. Helen relaxed ever-so-slightly.

"Just a little...not as bad as when I was a teenager. God, I don't know how your grandparents put up with me."

"I did miss you and dad at football camp," Alfred said. Helen was surprised at her own reply.

"I missed you, too. Not bratty teenage Alfred—but the old Alfred. I missed you last year, too. You're not going to believe this, but I even cuddled up with that dumb cat of yours a few times."

"It's nice we can just talk like this sometimes, right Mom?"

"It's nice you haven't ignored me to text someone for nearly five minutes," Helen replied. Alfred was giving her his biggest, sweetest grin. She finally began to suspect something was up. She flashed back to her own teenager days and it hit her like a ton of bricks. She scowled.

"Alright...what is it you want?"

"A Camaro."

"Ha! I thought you wanted a stupid football game for your Z Box?"

"It's an X-box mom, geez. And come on! I'm going to be 16 in a week! How am I supposed to get to parties and stuff and have a real life if I don't have a ride? You hated when I just stayed at home playing card games and reading comics all the time. Now that I'm hot I wanna go do cool stuff! Please give me a car? Pretty pretty please? I'll leave you alone for the rest of summer!"

"I'll discuss it with your father."

"But mooooooommmmm! Pleeeeease! With a cherry on top?"

Helen found herself accelerating so as to get home faster. She didn't think it was possible, but football camp had made Alfred even worse. Now his ego was bigger, his sense of self-importance was massive, and he'd finally realized that he was young, good-looking, and filthy rich. Helen mentally groaned when she realized she still would have Alfred in her hair for another month and a half before she could send him off to the dorms.

She was starting to feel like the good influence of Arthur Kirkland on her son was her last hope, and she couldn't believe it had only taken a month and a half of dealing with the son she'd thought she always desired before she wanted to trade the egotistical jerk back in for the one she'd never really appreciated.

Matthew sighed forlornly as he watched another boring client leave his mother's office. Despite the fact that his parents made good money and were quite prominent in both business and politics, they had grown up with middle-class values and didn't spend money frivolously. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for Matthew, this meant they thought it was important that he work during the summers and build up his resume. For the first half of summer, he'd been stuck filing papers, fetching lunches, and answering phones. One of the secretaries at his mother's office was out on maternity leave, and Matthew was picking up the slack.

Mostly, though, he just wrote stories, sent text messages to Francis, Gilbert, and Alfred, and shopped online. Spending so much time surfing the internet, however, allowed him to watch the strange reception Alfred received at home unfold. While still in England, he'd been aware that media hype for his best friend was steadily growing in a more positive direction. Alfred and Arthur's appearance on the talk show had seemingly caught the whole world's attention, and the calendars were everywhere. His mother had even proudly hung one in the staff room, and Matthew still blushed daily upon seeing it there.

As for Matthew, it had been strange to return home as the best friend of someone famous. All the kids in his neighborhood that had once ignored him now clamored to invite him over or hang out with him. It was so transparent what they really wanted—a connection to either Alfred or Arthur—so Matthew tended to decline almost all the invitations that came his way. As Francis had predicted, he'd been a home-body all summer, simply watching television, reading the tabloids about Alfred, and calling his best friend when possible to lecture him or ask for gossip.

He was desperately hoping that Francis would make good on his claim and fly to Canada for a rescue, but he knew that had been mostly wishful thinking. Francis' parents were in the middle of a drawn-out custody battle over him, and Francis was temporarily staying with Arthur until the issue was resolved. Neither of his parents had wished for him to be involved in the fighting and the court hearings, but of course, it affected Francis all the same. Sometimes, he seemed desperate to talk to Matthew for hours at a time, much like he had at Christmas when he'd first learned of the divorce. At other times, he was in a foul mood and vented it on Matthew. He'd end conversations abruptly, ignore Matthew's messages, and hint that he was spending time with other people.

Between Francis' mood swings and Alfred's new love for partying and rubbing elbows with celebrities, Matthew was left feeling (once again) rather forgotten about and unappreciated. He wanted to be supportive of Francis, but it was difficult to know what to say. His parents had always been happy and stable. His life, though boring, had been incredibly normal. Going to World Academy had been the only exciting thing that had ever happened to him, and so sometimes he simply didn't know what to say to Francis when he talked about the trials of constantly traveling and his problems at home. Being so far away from each other only made this disconnect feel even worse.

For the first time yesterday, Matthew had avoided one of Francis' calls. He'd felt guilty about it, but his feelings were still hurt from the last time they'd talked. Francis had asked for his opinion, and then lambasted him for it—criticizing him as being sheltered and naive when he hadn't liked what Matthew said.

If he was honest, his relationships with his friends had all been pretty terrible over the summer. Matthew continued to text Gilbert, but the skater seemed to have no interest in him anymore. His replies were random, always brief, and sometimes he didn't even answer Matthew's initial question—he just replied with something dirty and vulgar.

Matthew filed away another stack of papers and checked his phone for the millionth time. No texts. No e-mails. Absolutely nothing.

Just then, however, as if summoned by his own desperation, his phone buzzed and he was surprised to see an e-mail from World Academy. It was not a mass-generated e-mail, but rather it was specifically addressed to him. For a second, he read the first few paragraphs in a state of confusion until it dawned on him. Before school ended, home room teachers had passed out a form asking if the students wished to be involved in a new penpal program, designed to help scholarship students that would be coming the next year as part of an outreach program meet some friends before arriving at campus. Thinking it would be fun (even while most of his classmates scoffed at the idea of being penpals to poor kids and tossed the papers) Matthew had filled out the form and returned it.

Included in the e-mail was the contact information for a boy named Alex Lopez. No other information was given. That was tricky—Alex was one of those names that could either be for a girl or for a guy. Instantly, some of Matthew's old insecurities popped up. There was no point in messaging the mysterious Alex. Matthew wasn't interesting enough for his own friends to keep in touch over the summer—why would a total stranger want to talk with him?

He dismissed the idea and returned to doing busy work until he was completely bored out of his scull. He texted Alfred (it was the third text he'd sent that week, all of which had gone unanswered), played roughly six games of solitaire, and then started thinking about how nervous he'd been before leaving for World Academy. What if Alex felt the same way? He'd been convinced he wouldn't make any friends and that he'd continue to be overlooked. When they'd described the penpal program, Matthew had thought he would have loved to come to school knowing just one person—even if they weren't good friends or anything, it would have comforting to know that out of all the strangers, even just one person was someone he'd talked to before.

He was being down on himself (it always annoyed Francis when he did that) and he really should think more about the feelings of poor Alex. Feeling strangely nervous, Matthew opened a blank e-mail and began to type.

Hi Alex,

My name's Matthew. I guess I'm your World Academy penpal. I don't really know what to say. I'm afraid I'm not much of a talker. I live in Canada. I'll be a sophomore next year. So far my summer has been totally boring. What about yours?


There. That was normal sounding enough. Maybe it was too normal sounding? Matthew re-read it and convinced himself he sounded so boring that there was no way Alex would reply. With a sigh, Matthew sent the e-mail anyway. If Alex was desperate enough for a friend, Matthew had made the first step. He didn't have to feel guilty about not following through with the program—

His phone was ringing. It was Alex's number.

Matthew glanced nervously around the office. It was totally empty. Everyone was out for lunch and likely wouldn't be back for another hour or so. Blushing a little, Matthew awkwardly accepted the call.


"Hey! I just got your e-mail. I'm Alex," the mystery penpal said with bright energy. Matthew found himself smiling. How someone managed to sound so friendly and warm in just a simple greeting floored him.

"You read my e-mail pretty fast, Alex," Matthew replied in his soft-spoken way.

"Yeah, heh, but I'm so bored. You'd think it'd be impossible to be bored in Miami, but even I get tired of laying around at the beach all day and eating ice cream!" Alex replied in a thick, Spanish sounding accent. Matthew didn't know much about Florida, even though he was furiously trying to remember. All that came to mind was Disney World.

"Err, so are you American?" Matthew asked.

"Oh, hell no! I'm Cuban, born and raised. But it's been a weird year, for sure. My dad passed away last year so I came to live with my uncle in Miami. I'd barely been here a year before I got this offer to come to World Academy on scholarship. Crazy, huh?" Alex babbled. Matthew blinked trying to process Alex's life history in just a few seconds.

"Wow...that is pretty crazy," Matthew muttered.

"What about you, socio? What's your story?" Alex asked. Matthew spun slightly in his office chair, glancing around the boring, yet tastefully decorated office. What did he possibly say about his life? I'm a shy, gay kid from Canada who spent most of my childhood invisible, only to go to World Academy and become best friends with other gay kids who just happened to be super rich, famous and influential? As boring as his life seemed, it was weird to try and describe it.

" much to tell. My parents are pretty well off, but nothing crazy. I'm not really sure why I was invited to World Academy, but I make pretty good grades, I guess. I'm just spending the summer working at my mom's office," Matthew said. He was surprised at how closely Alex seemed to be listening to him speak. Maybe he was just accustomed to Alfred always talking over him in a rush to say whatever had popped into his head, or Francis dismissing him before he even got an idea verbalized.

"Cool, man. I've always worked my ass off—this is the first summer I've just been a lazy bum. Gained so much weight since I got to the states! It's a little embarrassing, but food in Miami is amazing, and it's, like, everywhere. What kind of food do you like?" Alex asked. Matthew smiled a bit. It was strange for someone to be so interested in getting to know him.

"I really like sweets—especially maple syrup on just about anything. Have you ever tried maple syrup on ice cream?" Matthew asked, waiting for the squawk of protest that such a comment would have earned from Alfred.

"Canadian ice-cream, huh? I'm gonna try it today, socio, just for you!" Alex said brightly, laughing in good humor. Matthew was trying to picture how the other teen might look, as if he were a character in one of his stories. He'd definitely have a big, friendly smile, and probably a great tan. He'd be a little husky, like Ivan, but not intimidating. Matthew decided he liked Alex, and he was glad he'd e-mailed him.

"Err, Alex, what does socio mean? Am I saying it right?" Matthew asked. His new Cuban friend laughed.

"Oh, that's Cuban slang—in English I guess you'd say buddy? Maybe pal?" Alex suggested.

"That's neat," Matthew replied with a small smile. "It'd be cool if we could be friends. I'm kinda shy, so I don't really make friends that easily," Matthew confessed. Alex snorted in disbelief.

"Don't believe it—you sound hella nice, socio! I bet you have tons of friends. You think you'll even have time to hang out with me when we get to school?" Alex asked jokingly. Matthew fiddled with a pen on the desk in front of him and wondered why the hell he was still blushing. Maybe it was just the fact that he was talking to a complete stranger on the phone. Though, he was rapidly thinking of Alex as someone he'd always known. His friendly way of talking set him at ease.

"We'll have Canadian ice-cream together," Matthew joked a little nervously.

"For sure, socio. So are you into hockey? That's Canada's national sport, yeah?" Alex asked casually. It was then Matthew realized. Over the phone, Alex had no idea what he looked like. He didn't see his slender form, his carefully styled hair, and his meticulously chosen clothing. He didn't see how he gestured with his hands too much, or how fond he was of a stuffed-bear backpack. He didn't have any of the clues that led other people to assume he was gay, and so for the first time in his life, Matthew was talking to another boy as if he was just another one of the guys.

Thinking fast, he quickly did an internet search for hockey and rambled for a few moments about whatever he was reading in the article.

"But, yeah, you probably don't watch much hockey, huh? What sports do you like?"

"I'm all about baseball, socio. It's pretty big in Cuba. American baseball sucks! I'm kinda nervous about moving to D.C. Miami's okay, but I'm pretty homesick for Cuba, ya know?" Alex asked. Matthew could relate to homesickness. He'd been pretty homesick when he'd first left for World Academy.

"It was pretty hard for me to go to England last year, but it's really not so bad. Once you get involved and meet people, the year really flies by," Matthew reassured. Alex laughed, a warm, genuine belly laugh. Matthew liked that about him, too.

"Well, now I've got one friend at least. We can be homesick together, huh?"

"Sure," Matthew agreed. Alex jumped right back in, never allowing an awkward pause.

"So you like hockey, you say you're shy, and you're from Canada. What else do you like, socio?" Alex asked, in such a way that Matthew could tell he sincerely wanted to know. Pretty soon, Matthew was talking about the comics he made with Alfred (though he purposefully didn't mention Alfred's name) and some of the novels he'd read last year in book club. With another belly laugh of delight, Alex began listing authors Matthew had never heard of, but now desperately wanted to read.

He was shocked to realize that he'd spent nearly an hour and a half talking to Alex about everything from books to travel to school before his mother returned from lunch and gave him a reproving stare for being on his phone. He made his apologies to Alex and hung up, promising to call again soon, and wondering with an almost burning curiosity what Alex had thought about him.

Arthur yawned as he stepped off the plane. It was not his first trip to America, but it was the first in which he'd be staying for such a long period of time. Not seeing the point in making two trans-Atlantic flights within the space of a month, he decided to simply stay with Alfred until school began. His mother had invited him, after all, and it seemed like Alfred was making some rather strange choices in his absence. Having seen too many fake photos of himself to count over the years, Arthur wasn't going to assume all the tabloids were 100% accurate, but he did want to get to the bottom of it all. Tired as he was, he was glad he'd be seeing his boyfriend face to face soon.

Exiting the terminal was a quiet affair. His body guard stuck close by him, and soon a small team of American CIA agents materialized around him. He'd long ago learned to sport shades and a hat when traveling in the states, as the media was so much more aggressive there. Despite knowing it would only fuel the gossip mill, he'd still hoped Alfred would somehow meet him at the airport.

It was not to be, however. Without anyone noticing his identity, he was smoothly placed in a plain black car and driven to the most famous icon of Washington D.C. The White House was set quite far back from the main road, and the security checks they passed through seemed endless. Finally, he slid out of the car with his carry-on at the South Portico, expecting to be tackled off his feet, only to see Helen walking briskly towards him instead. She looked strangely relieved.

"Arthur, it's so good to see you again," she said. Arthur raised a formidable brow at her sudden sweetness, but his good breeding kicked in.

"It's good to see you, as well, Mrs. Jones. Where's Alfred?" he asked. The gorgeous blonde frowned slightly.

"He's resting. He had some friends over last night and they were up quite late. Come inside—I'll see you to your room. I've put you in the Queen's Room."

Arthur inclined his head slightly at the honor. It was a room of the White House typically reserved for royalty, and it showed respect towards his position that Helen hadn't assumed he'd just crash on Alfred's floor in a sleeping bag or something. Still, sometimes it was strange to realize he was a British royal dating the son of the American President. If he thought about it too much, it started to feel surreal.

'It's just been the long separation from Alfred. Once I see him, all this fame and protocol will go back to being just an afterthought,' Arthur thought to himself as he was escorted inside.

"Was your flight comfortable?" Helen asked. Arthur nodded.

"As comfortable as such things can be," he replied.

"I am sorry I called you so abruptly, but Alfred has been acting strangely since he returned home. I admit, I either caused it, or at the very least encouraged it, but now I'm afraid it's getting a bit out of hand."

"I don't quite follow you," Arthur replied. He barely took in the lavish home as Helen led him first through a receiving room and then towards a plushly carpeted staircase.

"I've been allowing—encouraging—Alfred more social. We had a considerable number of parties at the White House these past few weeks, and I'm worried the crowd he's fallen in with have given him somewhat of a big head. Not to mention, he's had the non-stop attention of the entire nation since returning home."

He remembered how silly Alfred had gotten when the girls began to notice him at school—reveling in the attention and signing autographs. Alfred had seen no harm in his behavior then, so what Helen was saying didn't surprise Arthur. Despite claiming his ambitions had changed once he met Arthur, Alfred still had the desire to be popular and attractive. What did surprise Arthur, however, was Helen's accommodating attitude. When they'd last met, she'd seemed determined to replace Arthur's role in Alfred's life with either Matthew or Francis.

"I'm surprised you called me," Arthur settled on saying. "Was Matthew unavailable?" he asked. She glanced at Arthur sharply, and through her aura of worry, Arthur saw a flash of the Helen Jones he recognized.

"I won't beat around the bush. You're not the person I would have chosen for my son—but when given the opportunity to choose his company, I can't ignore the fact that my choices haven't benefited him. Alfred has always been...special. I worry that all this attention has gone to his head. I've never been a good role model for Alfred, but I'm admitting that you have been. It's as much of an apology as you'll get from me," she said briskly. Arthur was struggling to keep up with her as she power-walked down the hallway.

Maybe it was the effect of being so far from home, in this strange other-part of Alfred's life, but Arthur felt like his worst fears from the previous May had come true. The summer back home had changed Alfred, short as it had been. He didn't know what to expect when he saw him now.

"His room is down this hallway," Helen gestured. Arthur nodded, some of his nervousness showing in the way he clenched his fist around his bag, but he took off down the hall. It was nearly ten in the morning—why was Alfred still sleeping?

Arthur knocked gently but received no reply. He glanced back towards where Helen had stood, but she had vanished, leaving the boys to reunite alone. Reminding himself that it was Alfred—his Alfred—on the other side of the door, he opened it quietly and poked his head inside.

A/N: I got bored fixing old errors and wanted to write a new chapter. I missed you guys! I hope you missed this story, and will enjoy the second year as much as the first. Like usual, my schedule is crazy, so updates will be random. I've got a potential joint fic going that I'm writing with the awesome Diane Long, but she's made me promise that it won't interfere with updates to this story. As we work on it, I'll keep you guys posted on how it's going.

So yeah! A new chapter! Obviously, I've got a new friend/love interest? lined up for Matthew (and it's CANNON! KIND OF! YAYZ!) and I'm looking forward to playing with that. I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts on Alfred. As you might have guessed, he's starting to change a bit as the media and his relationship with his parents finally starts to get to him. I hope I didn't overdo it, or make the change too drastic for just six weeks apart, but I'm telling myself that teens are a pretty mercurial lot and a lot can change in six weeks.

I'm sorry! I'm a total idiot. I wrote this chapter in parts and I guess I came back from a break and switched tense without realizing it. The other story I'm working on is first person POV, so I just got muddled. Didn't even realize! I started editing it, but then my stupid-ass computer shut down and I lost all the numerous changes, so I'm just taking that part out and it will start the next chapter. If you read the longer first chapter with weird tense changes in the latter part, I apologize!