There was one thing that the oldest boy in the family had understood for many years. The price of secrecy was generally extracted from the buyer in guilt and remorse. His own endeavors had taught him that…He had accepted the consequences of his birth as a temporary condition and his station in life a soldier of the true message. The future held the hope that his battles would be triumphant and his sword swift and sharp, dissecting the hatred that had infected the message of a loving Creator with Whom he had a contract and Understanding. If he was successful, the guilt would belong to the Others and the remorse would turn to forgiveness.

       This he truly believed…

       But now, he stood in the backyard of the red Cape Cod house, and watched the two cousins share something dark. There was little doubt that something was terribly wrong…Both of the 12 year olds were looking grim, which was not the norm, especially with a coming birthday celebration pending for one. And, Matty had noticed an unusual somberness from his dark haired sister during the family dinner. 
          The girls stood in the furthest corner of the yard, under the drooping branches of a Weeping Willow, deep in conversation,  glancing nervously about. Everything about the scene in front of him begged for investigation, so the lean blond boy, hastened to the side of the ancient apple tree in the yard, where the girls would not notice him, but from behind which, he could observe them for a while. Which he did.
         It was not possible to hear their muted conversation, but, after a while, things seemed to get a bit testy and the teenaged boy could make out a few words and phrases as the girls exchanged heated words.  Something about borrowing and stealing and as the conversation reached a crescendo, the word ‘betrayal’ was thrown in as well. 
         And then they went separate ways, Gail through the trees and back towards the direction of her house, and Lucy wandered in the opposite direction, looking around, and headed in the direction of the towering pines, that earlier in the day had been nearly ignited by the flames of the fire in the underbrush and pine straw…
           Matty remained hidden and watched his younger sister as she reached the burnt area of the farmhouse scape, occasionally glancing nervously about as though she was being stalked by her own demons. She stopped, and then, quickly entered the burn zone and seemed to scavenge about, kicking at the pine straw as though she had lost something. After about a minute, she nervously left the area and headed back towards the family home. It was then that Matty made his presence known, stepping out from behind the large trunk of the old tree. The girl was quite startled.
           “What are you doing there?” she asked, angrily.
           Matty knew this game… “Lose something?”
           “Huh? What are you talking about?”
           “Or, was it something that belonged to someone else?”
           Lucy reddened. She looked away and then down at the ground, without answering.
           “You’d better tell me what’s going on… Something’s not right, and, the two of you aren’t going to figure it out, by the looks of it, at least not when you’re mad at each other.”
          “What do you mean?”
          “You know what I mean! You and Gail!  Spill it! What’s going on? Does it have something to do with the fire? Tell me!”
          Lucy was even paler looking than before and looked about ready to cry. “Promise you won’t tell anyone Matty…”
          “That depends. What happened?”
          “Promise me…PLEASE!!” With that, the tears started to fall, and the young girl trembled with the desperation of a captured animal…
          “Oh God… You two had something to do with starting the fire, didn’t you? What on earth were you doing? How could you do something like that?”
          Lucy wept openly now, visibly shaken from the insinuation. Then she looked up at her big brother and with a faltering voice,  told a story that left Matty’s stomach in knots.
          “It’s not what you think, Matty… Me and Gail were just fooling around, trying to practice the things we were learning about survival in the ‘Girl Scouts”… We were trying to make a fire, using a fire stick, but, all we could do was get a little heat from the stick and it wasn’t enough to catch the pine needles on fire. Then, we started wondering if it was the stick or if the pine needles were really the things to use, to get a fire started, so, Gail went and got some matches from her dad’s car, and we tried to use them just to see if the needles would catch fire, but they wouldn’t, because they were wet,  I guess…”

          “What? What are you saying? That you started the fire or not?”
          “No, that’s the thing… not at first,. at least.”
          “Good grief!! Just tell me how it got started then!”
          Lucy bit her lip, but, finally continued. “Well, the matches ran out, so, I went into the house, because it was my turn to get some matches, but, mom hides them in the kitchen cabinet because of DJ and Gerry, you know…”
         “Yeah… DJ and Gerry…” The blond boy looked at Lucy sternly, shaking his head.
         “Well, anyways, I couldn’t get at the matches in the cabinet, because mom was cooking the spaghetti sauce, so, I thought of the lighter that dad had from the war, you know, the one with his initials scratched into it. The one he keeps in his dresser drawer…”
        “Don’t tell me you took his lighter! Lucy, you know we’re not supposed to touch that unless he says we can!”
        “Oh God… just listen… I didn’t know where else to find some matches and I thought we would only need it for a minute, just to see if we could get a little fire to start with the pine needles or maybe with some leaves and pine needles… So, I borrowed it.”
        “Borrowed? Yeah, that’s one way to put it… borrowed… Like that Coke in the police station, that time…”
        “Do you have to bring that up again? I told you I wouldn’t do that again, and I didn’t!!”
        “Yay!! You don’t know how happy that makes me!! Now all I have to do is go through a whole list of things that you shouldn’t do, and get you to swear that you won’t do each and every one of them! What good is it, if you just come up with different ways to get around the real truth?”
        Lucy just stood there, looking glum, trapped in her own obfuscation…
        “So, what happened, then? Did you start a fire and it got too big to put out, or something?”
        “No! That’s the thing! We were very careful! We finally got a tiny fire started in a small place we dug in the dirt… We made a kind of fire pit. Then we put needles and twigs and finally some oak leaves we found. They were kind of wet, too, but, they finally caught on fire, so we watched it for a while and then we smothered it.”
        “Huh? You mean you put it out?”
        “We thought we did…”
        “Wait a minute! Are you just saying this to try to make it all right? Because, there was a fire, and it didn’t start by itself!”
        “No, that’s what happened, only…”
        “Yeah… We smothered it because it was starting to make a lot of smoke, and we thought that someone might see, and call the fire department or something…”
        “Gee, can’t imagine that happening!”
        “Stop it! I feel bad enough! I’m telling you, we smothered it!”
        Matty rolled his eyes. ” Can you see why that sounds like a pile of doodoo? Come on, if you smothered it, how did the fire start?”
        “Cathy and Sandy must have done it.”
        “What? Now you’re blaming your baby sister and another cousin! Geezz!! That’s pretty pathetic, if you ask me…” Matty turned and started to walk away.
        “No, listen.. Matty! Listen… Me and Gail got nervous and we put the fire out, partly because we saw Cathy and Sandy snooping around. So, we got out of there and went to Gail’s yard, and sat on her swing for a while and talked, but then, we saw the smoke coming from the woods again!! So, we ran to see what was happening and before we knew it, there were flames coming out and the firemen were coming!! We saw Cathy and Sandy running away from where we had put out the fire just when the firemen showed up. They were all scared … They must have started the fire somehow, with what was left under the dirt.”
          “Oh my God… What a mess! So now, there are four of you involved!”
          “Matty. Please don’t tell mom and dad!! We didn’t mean to start a fire! It was an accident! You know we wouldn’t do something like that on purpose! Please, Matty! Please….”
          “Lord…. What would I tell them anyhow?? That we have a bunch of firebugs in the family?” The boy thought for a moment, then asked,”Where is Cathy, anyways?”
           “I saw her and Sandy going to play at Sandy’s house… Oh… Matty. One other thing..”
           “Yeah? What?”
           “The lighter…”
           “What about it?”
           “It’s missing…”
           “Huh? Whatta ya mean? Where is it?”
           “I don’t know! See, when we were lighting the fire, first I used it, then Gail did, only we kind of panicked when the smoke started and after we saw the bad fire start and the firemen come, I tried to find it, but it wasn’t in my pocket and Gail didn’t have it either! I think we must have dropped it in the woods. I’m worried the firemen found it…”
            “You gotta be kidding!! They have it? Good God! It won’t take a genius to figure out who that belongs to! What if they think pop had something to do with it? God! What the heck have you done?!”
            Lucy really started to cry then…
            “Stop that!  We don’t have time for that! We have to try to find that lighter! Maybe it’s still there, in the pine straw!”
            “I already looked… I asked Gail if she had it too, after I couldn’t find it, and then I told her that I thought she was lying. Now, she’s all mad at me…”
             The heck with that! That’s the least of our worries! If the cops or the firemen have that lighter, the questions will never end! We’re going to have to search anywhere near where you two were. Maybe you dropped it, or something, when you were swinging…”
             “No.. I checked there, already…”
             The conversation was interrupted at that moment, as they heard their mom calling for Matty. “Matty!! Bobby’s on the phone!” The boy turned to leave but looked back, and, said one last thing. “Don’t worry. We’ll figure this out… Somehow.”

             Then, he turned and yelled in the direction of the house, “I’m coming!”

              Bobby… thank God! Maybe two heads were better than one! At any rate, the 14 year old boy yearned for the comfort of the strong arms of his lover wrapped around him right now.
             How did things get so messed up, so quickly? He bounded up the porch stairs and through the kitchen door. The black phone was off the hook, and rested on the old, tattered phone book that sat on top of the linoleum covered countertop. He picked it up and spoke into the mouthpiece. “Bobby?”
              “Who were you expecting, Bubba? Of course it’s me! Whatta ya up to?”
              “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you… I need to talk to you. I need your help on something. Can you meet me?”
              “Course I can… At the treehouse?”
              “Yeah… 10 minutes, OK?”
              “OK…See ya there…”
               Matty felt better, just hearing his voice. He walked out the back door and navigated the 4 steps to the sidewalk, two at a time… It was then that he saw the police car.

             Continued in part 10….