As Halloween came and went, October faded into November and Milo began to come down from his birthday high. The chilly wind seemed to carry an extra edge as it blew the last of the Autumn leaves from the trees and sent them skittering down Milo’s driveway and into the gutter in front of his house. The slight breeze, in the pre-dawn gloom, was like a knife on his cheeks as he walked to the bus stop at the end of his street and he had had to exchange his windbreaker for his heavy winter coat and trapper’s hat. The flaps were pulled down over his ears and the cord was knotted tightly under his chin. His signature flip stuck out prominently from under his hat.

When Milo got to the bus stop, he found the other kids huddled together and stamping their feet for warmth. Milo immediately recognized the broad shouldered figure of Mort Schaeffer and went over to say hello. “Hi Mort,” he said, his breath misting in front of him.

“Oh, morning Milo,” said Mort. “I heard it was your birthday last week.”

“Yeah,” said Milo enthusiastically, “thanks for asking. I turned fourteen last week.”

“I’m sorry I missed your invitation,” said Mort with an apologetic shrug, “but we went to state again-.”

Milo waved away the bigger boy’s apology away with a gloved hand. “It’s OK,” he said. “I understand.” Zack played second string fullback on the team and had agonized for three weeks over whether or not he would play in the state championship. As Mort was the Geckos’ starting quarterback, it would have taken an injury for Coach Mitchell to even consider leaving him behind, and Milo knew that Mort would have been crushed if that had happened. He was being actively scouted by the Danville Thunder, even though he was only fourteen and from other conversations that Milo had overheard, several college teams were interested in Mort as well. “So how did we do?” asked Milo.

“We won by three touchdowns,” replied Mort proudly.

“Awesome!” replied Milo, “I bet Coach Mitchell was pretty happy.” This was Coach Mitchell’s fourth state title in six years.

Mort laughed. “Yeah, he was pretty happy.” Mort looked as he had just remembered something. “Oh, seeing as I missed your birthday last week.” He rummaged in his backpack and pulled out something lumpy looking and badly wrapped. He handed it to Milo.

“Ummm…..thanks,” said Milo, taking the belated birthday gift. He began to pull the wrapping paper off and then stopped. He looked at Mort in surprise. “This is your rose quartz,” said Milo, suddenly feeling a little uncomfortable . “Mort, I can’t accept this.” He made to hand it back, but Mort gently pushed the large shard of crystal back toward Milo.

“No its OK, Milo,” said Mort, “I was meditating on my second chakra, when my Third Eye told me that you need it more than I do.”

Milo didn’t really know what to say to that beyond, “well….ummm…..thanks.” At that moment the school bus arrived, and pulled smoothly to a stop in front of the bus stop and all the kids piled on board.

When the bus pulled into the school parking lot, Milo found Zack waiting at the top of the steps. “Hi, Zack,” he said.

“Oh, hi Milo,” said Zack. He eyed the large shard of pink crystal still cradled in Milo’s arms. “What are you doing with Mort’s rose quartz?”

Milo shrugged. “He gave it to me.”

Zack’s dark eyebrows went up in surprise. “He gave it to you?”

Milo nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I think he felt bad about missing my birthday last week-,”

“-but we went to state,” interjected Zack, “and we won by three touchdowns.”

Milo gave another casual shrug. “He said that his Third Eye told that I need more that he does.” He turned to follow the last few stragglers inside. Milo stopped and turned when he realized that Zack wasn’t behind him. “Zack?” he asked, half turning to look at his friend. “C’mon, it’s almost first bell. We’ll be late.”

Zack seemed to collect himself at these words. He turned and followed Milo inside out of the cold. “Melissa was supposed to meet me here,” he said. “Its not like her to be late.”

Milo gave Zack a sympathetic look. “I don’t think she’s coming to school today,” he said. “I was trying to Skype with her last night, and she looked awful.” Milo and Melissa had been trying to put their heads together go over their math homework. Melissa had always placed a large proportion of her self worth in maintaining her universally excellent grades. As a result, Melissa generally had a better head for math than Milo did, however, Murphy’s Law had kept crashing Milo’s computer, and they hadn’t gotten very far.

“We should take Melissa her homework,” said Zack as they climbed the stairs to the third floor.

“That’s a good idea,” said Milo as he took off his hat and coat and hung them up in his locker next to his spare change of clothes. He slung his backpack over his shoulders, took out his wallet, pulled out a crumpled five dollar bill and put it in the chest pocket of his coat. Milo shut his locker door, replaced the broken lock and turned to go to class.

The nondescript looking van pulled into the vacant field and stopped, its engine idling in the air of the cold November morning. The side door opened and two men got out. They were both wearing nondescript looking black suits and sunglasses. The first man was in his fifties and had a tall, erect bearing. He looked as though he was used to being in charge. The second man standing next to him was approximately twenty years younger. He had dark hair which starting to recede into a widow’s peak and accentuated his lean, angular face.

“Are you sure this is the right location,” asked Director Nibblet.

Lieutenant John Tennant reached into the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out a small GPS tracker. He pushed a button and wide the for the device to activate. It pinged, and then pinged again as it acquired several orbiting satellites. It pinged a third time as it locked in on their current location. “We have the right location, Sir,” said Tennant.

The Director nodded, “good.” He turned back to the van, made a hand gesture and several more people, this time dressed in white coveralls got out. They threw open the back doors and extracted several large black garbage bags. They opened them and proceeded to scatter their contents all over the ground. When they were done, they casually tossed out a couple of cube shaped objects, roughly the size of a baseball among the piles of refuse scattered all over the place. Then they got back in the van and drove off.

Melissa didn’t appear at school for the next three days. “She must be really sick,” said Zack. “She hardly ever misses a day of school.”

Milo nodded in agreement as the two boys walked up the front walk to Melissa’s front door. “I can’t remember the last time she came down with a case of the flu this bad,” he said. He reached out rang and the door bell. “I hope she’s OK.”

Milo and Zack stood on Melissa’s door mat for what seemed to be an eternity. Finally, the door slowly creaked open. Melissa stood framed in the open door, wrapped in a pink dressing gown.

“Hi guys,” she said thickly. She looked as bad as she sounded. Her eyes were watering, her throat sounded as if it had been rubbed raw by sandpaper and her sinuses had been filled with cement. She looked as though she had barely slept.

Milo traded a surprised look with Zack. “Oh,” he said. “I’m sorry Melissa-,” “We haven’t seen you at school for the last couple of days,” continued Zack, reaching into Milo’s backpack. He pulled out an armful of textbooks. “So we brought you your homework.” He handed them to Melissa.

“Thanks, guys,” she said, taking the armful of books from Zack. For some reason that he couldn’t explain Zack suddenly felt himself suddenly growing hot, despite the cold weather and he was suddenly glad that no one could see him blushing. Seeing Melissa standing in her doorway looking sick, tired and disheveled, as opposed to her usual smart, confident and assertive self, ready to take on whatever Murphy’s Law threw at her hapless best friend, ready to stick up for him whenever he was bullied and treated like a pariah, it was as if the person standing in the doorway wasn’t Melissa and Zack suddenly half regretted bringing her her schoolwork, even though he knew that she would have killed the two of them if they hadn’t.

“C’mon Milo,” he said. “We should let Melissa go back to bed.”

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