Chapter Eight

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There was no wiping the smile from Lysander's face as he walked into school the next day.

Not even Jack's tormentors leering at him from across the hall could make him falter in his step. He had been certain right from the start that Zack would manage to have Dakota found, but she could be back a whole lot sooner than he had initially expected. It was the greatest news he'd received in all his life.

He took his place next to Jack in English, returning the boy's greeting enthusiastically. If Jack was curious about the sudden lift in Lysander's mood, he was unable to mention it, because Ms Lowe was already strolling through the room handing out slips of blank paper for her free writing exercise. He and Jack took theirs without a word. Jack was working almost before the paper hit the desk, but Lysander took a moment longer to think about what he was going to write. Of course, there was only one thing on his mind.

I'm going to see my sister again, he scribbled down. I always knew I would, but now I know it's going to be soon. She'll be safer here in California, and then we can finally start getting over everything that's happened. She can meet Zack just like she always wanted, and maybe then we can start being a proper family.

He thought back to all the times she had voiced her daydreams to him, of all of them being together and living happily. Their mother would no longer be a part of that story, but maybe there was still hope for the rest of them.

I don't know how I'll ever be able to thank Zack. He's done more than I ever thought he would, and he seems genuinely interested in the outcome. I guess I really was wrong about him. Sometimes it still feels like he doesn't want me around—like I'm an intruder in his life and things were better when he didn't know about me—but other times he makes it clear that he's happy I'm there, and he's sorry that it couldn't have happened sooner. I'm trying to remember that this is harder for him than it is for me in some ways. He's still learning how to be a father, but I've always known how to be a son.

When time was up, he handed his paper over willingly. There was a rush about the room as Ms Lowe ordered everybody to get into their groups again, and a moment later he and Jack were joined by Eliza Beth and the other boy that Lysander had met on his first day. George, he recalled. George, who Lysander now realised, kept his distance from Jack and spent his time wishing he was on the other side of the room.

'I didn't get the chance to tell you yesterday,' Eliza Beth said, drawing his attention to her instead. 'I thought what you did was amazing. Standing up for Jack like that. It was about time somebody did.'

'Thanks,' he said.

'It was a stupid move if you ask me,' George said before either of them could say more. 'Now everybody's gonna know you're a fag too, and you're gonna get just as much crap as Avery does.'

'I'm not gay. And I'm not afraid of morons who think they can put people down just because they like the same sex.'

George looked like he had been about to say something more, but changed his mind and shut his mouth at the last moment. He looked down at his hands and pretended to be interested in his fingernails. He didn't look up again.

'So you're not gay?' Eliza Beth asked, as if she needed to clarify the point further. 'That makes what you did even more impressive.'

'I don't see why it should,' Lysander said, even as he felt his chest swell with pride. 'Jack's my friend. And even if he wasn't, nothing gives anybody the right to bully him.'

'That's where you differ from most guys,' Jack said as he pulled out his copy of Macbeth. 'There's a couple of guys around that I know agree with you, but they keep their mouths shut so they don't end up in the emergency room. The girls are a different story.'

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