East Ridge Academy: Zeke Hallaway

All Rights Reserved ©

October

One morning, in the middle of science, Zeke got called down to Headmaster Dawson’s office.

“What did you do?” Israel whispered.

“Nothing,” Zeke said, staring at the slip of paper.

“Mr. Hallaway,” the teacher said. “Leaving does not require talking.”

“Sorry,” Zeke mumbled. He got up and left the room.

He hadn’t done anything bad since he punched Dom Horn months ago. He hadn’t even fallen asleep in class. What could Headmaster Dawson want?

Zeke left the school and walked quickly across the asphalt to the visitation center. Maybe his mom had convinced his dad to pull him out of East Ridge early.

His stomach churned as he entered the visitation center. Did he really want to leave now when Israel didn’t leave until December?

At Headmaster Dawson’s door, Zeke stopped, took a deep breath, then knocked.

“Come in,” Headmaster Dawson said.

Zeke opened the door and walked in.

“Your mother is on the phone for you.”

Zeke’s heart raced. She was pulling him out early. What should he tell her? He stepped forward and took the phone from Headmaster Dawson. “Hello?”

“Zeke,” his mother sighed. “It’s so good to hear your voice.”

“Hey Zeke,” Teagan said. Her voice sounded weird, like she had been crying.

“What’s up?” Zeke asked.

His mom sighed again. “There’s no easy way to say this.”

“What?”

“You know how your father hasn’t been coming to visitation days?”

“He never came to a single visitation day. Which ones are you referring to?”

“Okay, well,” his mom said. She sniffed, and Zeke bit his lip. He shouldn’t have been so snarky. “I’ve been lying to you for a little while about why he hasn’t been coming.”

“What do you mean?” Zeke asked. Were his parents divorced? Had his father driven down to East Ridge but refused to see him?

“There was a car accident in late May involving Leo and your father—”

“Is Leo okay?” Zeke asked. He hadn’t thought about his friends from home for months, and the remorse he had felt from making the snarky comment grew. Did his friends even think about him anymore since he hadn’t written them a single letter?

“Leo is fine. It’s your dad.”

Zeke stopped breathing. Was he dead?

“He was in a coma after the wreck.”

“Was?”

Zeke heard Teagan sob in the background.

“Was.” His mother repeated. “He wasn’t waking up. The doctors said he was never going to wake up. We had to make the decision—”

“When?”

“This morning. And I know I should have called before, but—”

“It’s okay, Mom.” Zeke said, his chest tight. As much as he hated his dad, no one deserved to die like that. “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”

He could hear her crying. No one talked for a minute.

Headmaster Dawson put a hand on Zeke’s shoulder.

“Mom?” he asked.

“You can come home,” she said.

“I can’t,” Zeke said before he could think. “I’m sorry. Not until Israel can go home.”

“Aw,” Teagan said in the background.

Zeke smiled slightly.

“Are you sure?” his mom asked. “You can write to him.”

“I can’t leave him, Mom. Our other friends are already leaving one by one, and I just can’t do that to him.”

“I guess if you have to stay…” his mother finally said.

“It’s romantic, Mom,” Teagan said in the background.

Zeke smiled again, and Headmaster Dawson eyed him, clearly confused.

“You can come get me in December,” Zeke said.

“What about his funeral?” his mom asked.

Zeke didn’t want to go. It was heartless, but he didn’t think he could do it. “I don’t know. I can’t.”

“I know his passing is something different for you than it is for a lot of people, but—”

“I’m sorry,” Zeke said. He was an awful son. He knew that he was, but Mrs. Truman had told him that sometimes he had to make decisions that helped himself, even if they didn’t make everyone else happy. Zeke knew that this was one of those decisions, even if it broke his mom’s heart a little bit.

“He did love you, you know.”

“I think… I think it will be a long time before I believe that one.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Israel was waiting for him when he emerged from Headmaster Dawson’s office. “Are you okay?”

Zeke grabbed his hand and pulled him down the hall. He felt lighter, somehow. Like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

“Zeke, what happened in there?” Israel asked, jogging a couple steps so that he was walking next to Zeke and not being pulled behind.

Zeke felt like the luckiest boy in the world, holding Israel’s hand with his biggest obstacle out of the way.

“Zeke, seriously. If you don’t start talking, I’ll start guessing.”

Did a person who raised him really deserve to be shaken off as an obstacle? His dad may have done a crappy job, but Zeke’s mom said that he had loved him.

“Did you get caught smuggling something in? Did you get in another fight and not tell me?”

“My dad is dead.” Zeke said, stopping in his tracks.

Israel stopped and dropped his hand. “What?”

“He was in an accident. Something to do with one of my friends. And my friend is okay, but my dad was in a coma for months and my mom didn’t tell me. He was on life support and he wasn’t going to wake up, so they pulled the plug.”

“Zeke… I’m so sorry.”

“You know what?” Zeke hugged Israel close. Then he pulled back and kissed him on the cheek for the first time ever.

Israel blushed. “What?”

“The man who caused half my problems is gone.”

“You’re going home?” “No, silly,” Zeke laughed, hugging him again. “Not until December.”

Israel pulled away and grinned. “Good. Now I don’t have to break up with you. Smash your heart into a million pieces. Take your spot on the Tigers and start dating Zoren…”

“It’s a good thing I like you, Benton.”

◊ ◊ ◊

“Deven’s last day is today, right?” Amoni asked while Deven was in the bathroom at breakfast.

“He leaves tomorrow afternoon, so yeah,” Pax said. “Today is his last full day.”

“Are we going to do something like we did for Kelsey?” Israel asked.

“We could play 500,” Zeke suggested.

Pax shrugged. “The thing is, Deven has a baseball game tonight. It’ll be dark by the time he’s done.”

“Ninja is his favorite,” Ember said.

Pax swiped a blade hand in front of his neck.

“Math is too a language,” Israel said to Zeke.

“Is not,” Zeke insisted, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth as he saw Deven approaching out of the corner of his eye.

“You guys are still on this?” Deven asked, plopping down on the bench.

“It’s only a language if you don’t have to use another language to talk about it,” Pax said.

“Math is a universal language,” Ember said. “Everyone knows the order of operations, no matter what the ‘normal’ language they’re explaining it in is.”

“Can we stop?” Deven asked. “You guys have been bringing this up for days, and I think we can just agree that Ember and Israel are way smarter than the rest of us. I’m so over it.”

“Just because we’re smarter doesn’t mean we can’t try to educate you.”

“Dev, how are you feeling about going home?” Pax asked.

“Can we not talk about that?” Deven snapped.

Pax recoiled. “Sorry.”

“Yeah, Deven, who crapped in your cornflakes?” Amoni said.

Deven put down his fork. “I can’t deal with you guys right now.” He got up and left the cafeteria.

“Why’s he mad?” Gray whispered.

Everyone shrugged.

“Maybe he got bad news from home?” Israel suggested.

“Maybe he’s not going home,” Zeke said.

“Wouldn’t he have known that from his parents’ last letter? It can’t just change like that.” Pax snapped his fingers. “We would have seen him get called down to reception or something.”

“Well whatever it is, I guess we’ll just have to wait for him to cool down.”

“We need to know if he’ll be mad at us for throwing him a little party or not.” Israel said.

“I want to show him that we care about him,” Gray said. “He can’t leave being all mad.”

Zeke, Israel, and Amoni nodded in agreement.

“I’ll figure it out,” Pax promised.

“Our good old Pax Snickerdudelana,” Ember teased.

◊ ◊ ◊

“Did you talk to Deven?” Zeke asked when Pax came into math class.

Pax nodded and sat down in the desk next to Zeke. “Justin told him this morning that they’re not letting him play his last game today.”

“What?” Zeke said. “That’s idiotic.”

“I know,” Pax said. “Deven is furious. Justin said that Deven ‘didn’t give them enough warning’ and now they have to figure out how to play without him.”

“By making Cooper play his first full game out of nowhere?”

“Exactly. It’s the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard.”

“At least now we have time to throw a party for him, I guess.”

“We can have his card finished in time to play 500 before dinner and Ninja afterwards, you think?”

“Absolutely,” Zeke agreed.

◊ ◊ ◊

At dinner, Deven was in a much better mood after playing 500 for an hour.

“Screw baseball, anyway,” Deven said. “I’m not good enough to make any club teams, and my dad will want me to focus on football and wrestling.”

“You can’t let him take over your life forever,” Pax said.

“Do baseball if it makes you happy,” Zeke said.

Deven shrugged. “I think I need a break. We’ll see, I guess.”

“We’re gonna miss you, man,” Amoni said.

Deven smiled. “Don’t get all sappy yet. I can’t hold out that long.”

◊ ◊ ◊

After many intense games of Ninja, the Snickerdudels sat on the floor and Deven read his card out loud. “All you guys keep telling me not to forget you,” Deven said, laughing. “First off, forgetting you guys is impossible. I spent way too much time with you, and you’re way too weird.”

They all laughed.

“Besides, I mean, like…” Deven grinned. “You’re my best friends, you

know?”

“Aw,” Gray, Zeke, and Israel said.

“You’re my best friend, too,” Pax said. “And that just means if you don’t

keep in touch, I’ll hunt you down.”

They all laughed again. A tear dropped onto Deven’s cheek. “Dang it, guys.

I’m gonna miss this.”

Gray started the group hug. Zeke had his arms around Amoni and Pax as

Deven sobbed in the middle of them. “I h-h-haven-n’t cried f-for years.”

“Then this counts as catharsis,” Ember said.

Deven laughed. “Now I’m j-just crying be-because I have no c-clue what

that means.”

Everyone laughed and moved out of the group hug.

“You don’t live that far from me and Izzy,” Zeke said. “We can hang out on

weekends.”

“That would be awesome,” Deven said, wiping his eyes.

“Remember when Israel was scared of you?” Pax asked Deven.

“That was for, like, a day!” Israel protested. Zeke laughed at him.

“Remember when we were partners for that history project?” Ember asked.

“The War of 1812,” Deven said.

“Yeah, and I did all the work except writing that on the poster.”

Everyone laughed.

“Hey,” Deven said. “I googled all the pictures, too.”

“Genius,” Israel teased.

Zeke sat back against the nearest bed and listened to his friends reminisce.

He wondered what memories they would bring up when it came time for him and

Israel to leave.

◊ ◊ ◊

Deven left after lunch the next day. Even though Zeke knew he would see him again, it felt like he was saying goodbye for good.

“He’ll write,” Israel assured him. “And if he doesn’t, we can pester him to no end when we get home.”

“Not by writing him letters,” Zeke teased. “I can’t wait to witness your first real act of rebellion: setting up an email account without permission.”

Israel bumped his shoulder. “If you want me to keep in touch with you, you have to stop bringing that up. I get more nervous every time.”

Zeke grabbed Israel’s hand and used it to wrap his arm around Israel’s shoulders. “Don’t worry, love. I’ll be in your ear the whole time, walking you down your first few steps in the aisle of the Devil.”

“That’s the magic of technology,” Israel said. Then he cocked an eyebrow. “Also, ‘love?’”

Zeke let go of his hand and blushed. “I dunno. Just something it was trying out.”

Israel bumped his shoulder again. “I like it.”

◊ ◊ ◊

October thirtieth marked the end of the baseball season at East Ridge. None of the teams had games, but instead it was customary for each team to get together and say goodbye in their own way. Meric got permission to use one of the empty visitation rooms for the Tigers’ celebration. He asked them all to show up wearing their hats and jerseys with whatever pants they wanted.

At dinner, instead of eating with the remaining Snickerdudels, Pax and Zeke made their way to the visitation room that Meric had reserved with their trays in hand. When they got there, Meric, Corey Ryan, and Lincoln Kimball were already there. Zeke and Pax sat down on the floor next to Lincoln, and Meric smiled at them. Zeke smiled back, his heart heavy. He was never going to play baseball with these people ever again.

By the time the whole team arrived, the noise level in the small room was nearly unbearable, and Pax was practically sitting on Zeke’s lap to make room for everyone else.

Zeke looked around, taking it all in one last time. Meric, Wyatt, and Zoren stood at the front of the room, eating and laughing. Next to Zeke, Hayes, Pax, Lincoln, and Runcorn were telling stories from their Halloween celebrations back at home. In the back corner of the room, Winship and Lyon sat quietly, as always. Corey and Kaden faced Eddie Long and Noah Ayers, who had come onto the team as Spencer’s replacement.

Even though this team wasn’t the exact one that Zeke had started the season with, he loved them all for the sense of purpose and the happiness they had brought into his life. Not only had they all been totally cool when they found out he was gay, but they had trusted him and stood up for him on and off the field, time and time again. Zeke had never felt so close to any other team he had been a part of.

“Hey guys,” Meric said, projecting his voice over the conversations and holding up his arms. Everyone stopped talking and turned towards him. He smiled. “I thought we could get started with our little ceremony.”

Zeke had been itching to know what the ceremony part was. No one who had been on the team at the end of the previous season, or even seasons before that, would tell him.

“Here, we like to give out a couple awards, and as you all probably know, we all get shirts for being on a team.”

A bunch of the guys, including Zeke, cheered. They all knew about the t-shirts. They were white, and all they said was “East Ridge Academy Baseball,” but having one to wear on the weekends was something everyone who played baseball looked forward to. Pax and Deven wore theirs all the time.

“I have a bunch up here,” Meric said, gesturing to a box, “so I’ll just throw them to you, okay? Anyone need an XL? No? Okay. Large?”

A couple guys raised their hands, and when Meric got down to smalls, Zeke raised his hand. Meric tossed him one, and Zeke looked at it proudly.

“We can match now,” Pax whispered, and Zeke laughed.

Once everyone had shirts, Meric spoke again. “Now we have a couple awards to give out. They aren’t official, but, like, I printed them out in the library and captains of the Tigers have been doing this for years, so it’s as official as it gets.”

Some of the team, including Zeke, laughed.

“I’d like to point out that it wasn’t just my opinion that went into giving these awards. Zoren,Wyatt, and I, as the oldest guys on the team, got together and talked it out.

“We have four awards, but the first I’d like to give out is ‘Most Improved Batter,’ which we decided to give to Allen Runcorn.”

Everyone cheered as Allen pulled his hat down and got up to join Meric at the front of the room. Meric handed him the piece of paper and gave him a bro hug. Allen smiled and returned to his spot next to Lincoln, who patted him on the back.

“The next award is for ’Most Improved Field Player,” Meric said. “This one was hard because a lot of you were really good to start with and all of you got better, but in the end, we decided that it should definitely go to Evan Lyon.”

Zeke looked back to the corner where Evan sat, joining his teammates in cheering and clapping. Lyon blushed as he stood up and made his way to the front of the room, tripping over Eddie’s leg and nearly falling. At the front, Meric patted him on the back and said something that looked like, “Great season, man,” but it was impossible to hear over the cheering.

When Lyon was back in his corner, Meric picked up the next piece of paper. “I think this is my favorite award, and—”

“Only because Cervantes gave it to you,” Wyatt teased, and Meric laughed. “Okay, it is true that I got it last season, but it’s not why I love it so much. This is the ‘Best Teammate’ award, and the person who gets it is, well, just all around a really great teammate. They’re encouraging, positive, hardworking, and teachable. They’re just great to work with. So we unanimously decided to give this award to Jordan Hayes.”

Zeke cheered louder than before as Pax whooped and patted Hayes on the back. Jordan hopped up, the biggest smile on his face, and jumped over people to get to the front of the room. He slammed into Meric, who hugged him back, laughing. When Jordan let go, Meric handed him the paper. Jordan held it above his head, grinning, and everyone cheered louder. Zeke’s face hurt from smiling so much.

As Jordan headed back to his spot next to Zeke and Pax to sit down, the cheering died out. Meric picked up another piece of paper and cleared his throat. “This is the last award, the one everyone waits for because it’s kind of a big deal. It’s the ‘MVP’ award.”

Wyatt, Jordan, and Eddie whooped, and Meric laughed, dropping his head. “All right, well, this year, we’re very happy to give the ‘MVP’ award to Zeke Hallaway.”

Zeke looked up at Meric in disbelief as Pax threw his arm around Zeke’s shoulders. “Congrats, man!”

When Pax let go, Zeke pushed himself up and made his way to Meric, who pulled him into a hug. Suddenly, things felt real again, and Zeke smiled.

“You deserve it, man,” Meric said in his ear, then let him go. He handed Zeke the award.

“Thank you so much,” Zeke said over the cheering. Meric smiled at him, and Zeke turned and went back to his spot to sit down.

“Feel free to hang out for a while,” Meric said. “We have the room until seven, but if any of you want to go do something else or you have homework to get done, you’re totally free to leave.”

“Anyone want to play 500?” Kaden Smith asked, getting up on his knees.

Pax looked at Zeke, who shrugged. “I’ll come in a minute.”

“All right,” Pax said, getting up and following Kaden and a few other guys out of the room.

Zoren and Wyatt had started picking up trash and trays around the room. Meric was busy talking to Eddie and Allen, so Zeke helped pick up.

“Thanks, man,” Wyatt said when he noticed Zeke helping. “Congrats, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Zeke said, his ears burning.

“It wasn’t a hard decision. All of us agreed right away.”

“Thanks. I think,” Zeke said, smiling sheepishly. He couldn’t help but think that, if Spencer had still been on the team, he would have gotten MVP. Afterall, he was the best catcher at East Ridge, and he was a pretty decent batter, too.

“I think we can just take all this to the kitchen,” Zoren said to Zeke and Wyatt, throwing his thumb towards the door.

Zeke followed Zoren and Wyatt out of the room, hoping that he wasn’t missing his chance to talk to Meric.

“Who do you think will be captain next?” Zoren asked.

“Maybe Corey,” Wyatt said.

“Why not you?” Zeke asked.

Wyatt laughed. “I’d be a terrible captain.”

“Would not.”

“Zeke’s right, you know,” Zoren said, laughing.

Wyatt shook his head. “It’s not going to happen.”

The kitchen was connected to the mess hall by one door, which Zoren pushed open with his hip.

“Can I help you?” one of the ladies, her arms elbow-deep in dish water, asked.

“We have some trays and cups to return,” Wyatt said.

The lady pulled her arms out of the water and dried her hands on her apron. She told them to drop the trays in her water, and then led them to another lady at a sink and had them drop the cups in.

“Have a good night, boys. Thank you,” she said, smiling.

“You too,” Wyatt and Zeke said.

“I think I’m going to head back to the cabin,” Zoren said. “This week has been exhausting.”

“I should go too,” Wyatt said. “I have a test on Friday that I really need to pass.”

“Good luck,” Zeke said.

“Thanks, Hallaway.”

“See you guys around?”

“Yeah, see you,” Zoren said, and he and Wyatt waved and left the mess hall.

Zeke made his way back to their visitation room, where Meric was turning off the lights and closing the door.

“Hey,” he said, seeing Zeke. “Something wrong?” “No,” Zeke said.

Meric handed him his MVP award. “You left it.”

“Sorry,” Zeke said, taking it from him.

“You seem… really sad.”

“I’m not,” Zeke said, even though he was beginning to feel pretty awful.

“Just because the season ended doesn’t mean we won’t see each other around,” Meric said, smiling and leading Zeke down the hall. “And I know it’s busy with school and stuff, but we can always get together and practice like we did over the summer.”

“Really?” Zeke asked, a smile coming back to his face.

“Of course,” Meric said, laughing. “I mean, I always had fun and learned a lot. We can definitely keep working on something, even if we have to get special permission to use the gym.”

“Sounds great,” Zeke said. “And I wanted to thank you for, um, well, I don’t know. Just believing in me and everything, even though I caused problems sometimes. You were a really good captain.”

“Thank you,” Meric said, his cheeks a little red. “I hope I’ve been a good friend to you, too.”

Zeke smiled. “Nah, you’re the worst.”

Meric laughed and pushed him. “Get outta here, Hallaway.”

Zeke laughed and they pushed through the doors to the blacktop, where some of the team was still playing 500 in the light from the streetlamp.

“I think I’m going to join them,” Meric told Zeke.

“Hope it’s fun,” Zeke said. Meric smiled and ran off, and Zeke headed for his cabin, hoping to snuggle up with Israel.

When he opened the door, everyone was there. Pax, Amoni, and Gray were playing cards on the rug in the middle of the room, Ember sat at one of the desks staring at a piece of paper and biting his pencil, and Israel lay on his bunk reading. He looked up, saw Zeke, and put his book down.

Zeke took his shoes off and went over to sit next to him, smiling. He pulled Israel into a hug and kissed his forehead.

“Pax said you had news,” Israel said.

“He didn’t tell you guys?”

“Just said that you would have something to share.”

“I just got the MVP award,” Zeke said, handing the paper to Israel.

Israel took it and smiled up at Zeke. “We should get tape from the school and hang it above your bunk.”

“Nah, that’s okay.”

“Oh, come on, Zekiel,” Israel said, laughing.

Zeke rolled his eyes. “If it’ll make you happy.”

“You know it makes you happy, too.”

Zeke smiled and shrugged. “Maybe a little. I still just can’t believe it.”

“Well, after it’s on the wall for a while, I’m sure you will.”

Zeke kissed Israel on the cheek, making him blush. Zeke got up and let him go back to reading while he joined Pax, Amoni, and Gray in playing cards.

◊ ◊ ◊

“Halloween is just as important as the Fourth of July,” Amoni insisted after workouts the next morning. “How come we got a day off then, but not today?”

“How is it just as important?” Pax asked. “The fourth is all about our country and Halloween is just about candy.”

“Candy is important,” Gray said. Zeke agreed.

“I have to side with Amoni on this one,” Ember said.

Zeke raised his eyebrows at Pax.

“The fourth may be a celebration of our declaration of independence, but it wasn’t technically when we won our independence. For us to be truly independent, Britain had to know and let us do so. They didn’t find out until August. Therefore, the Fourth of July has little significance, especially in the way we celebrate it.”

“How so?” Israel asked, pursing his lips to one side. Zeke smiled to himself. Israel’s thinking face got him every time.

“What kind of sophistication can fireworks claim above candy?”

Israel shrugged. “More showy. Probably more engineering.”

“Both holidays bring people together. What other day do you let strangers come take stuff from your house?” Ember asked.

“Is patriotism really comparable to that though?” Pax asked. “Plus, some people say Halloween is against their religion. No one is going to say that about the fourth.”

“Some people are against the fireworks,” Israel said. “They cause animals and war vets with PTSD a lot of anxiety. Not to mention all the pollution. Too many people don’t know how to clean up after themselves.”

“Can we just enjoy eating candy?” Gray asked, throwing his hands in the air.

“I’m with Gray,” Zeke said. “I wasn’t made for these debates.”

Israel, Pax, and Amoni shrugged.

Ember frowned. “You guys are no fun.”

“Fun,” Gray said, “is eating a ton of candy.”

Amoni slapped him a high five.

◊ ◊ ◊

After school, the boys raced to their cabin to see if they had gotten anything in the mail.

“Whoa!” Amoni said, getting up to the porch first. “I think we all got something.”

Zeke got there second and pushed open the door to their cabin. “Let’s bring everything inside.”

Amoni picked up the packages and envelopes and handed them to the person they were addressed to as they came into the cabin. After he gave Zeke his package, he looked back in their mailbox. “Oh.”

“What?” Gray asked. He had already ripped his box open.

“I didn’t get anything.”

Zeke looked at Israel, who looked just as disappointed as Amoni. Amoni never got anything from his uncle or from his friends on holidays, but everyone had hoped this time would be different.

“You can have some of mine,” Pax offered, though he had only gotten a card and two suckers.

“It’s okay,” Amoni said, his voice shaking. “Just another reminder that my uncle doesn’t give a shit about me. No big deal.”

Gray got up and hugged him. Zeke ushered them into the cabin and closed the door.

“I just wish my parents were still alive,” Amoni sobbed.

Zeke looked around at his friends, but it seemed like not even Pax knew what to say.

Gray let go of Amoni and patted him on the back. Amoni sat down on Kelsey’s old bed and put his head in his hands.

“I shouldn’t expect my friends to send anything because they’re poorer than me,” Amoni choked out, “but I always hope, you know? Just something to show that they didn’t totally forget about me.”

Pax sat down on the bed next to Amoni. “I’m really sorry, man. We’re here for you.”

Amoni wiped his eyes. “I know. I love you guys.”

“We love you, too,” they all murmured.

Zeke’s heart hurt. It sucked seeing anyone like this, but especially Amoni, who was always happy.

“We’ll share everything,” Israel promised. “It’ll be like we sent you a package.”

“Thanks,” Amoni said, wiping his eyes again. He took a deep breath. “Whoo. Sorry I freaked out like that.”

“Totally understandable,” Pax said.

“It’s not easy,” Ember said. He held out a box of Whoppers. “My sister sent me these, but I hate them.”

Amoni laughed and took them. “How can you hate Whoppers?”

“They’re disgusting.”

Everyone laughed. Zeke sat down on the floor next to Israel and opened his package. Inside there were Twix, Mike and Ikes, and a card. Zeke pulled the card out of the envelope.

Happy Halloween! Miss you, Zeke.

I sure am glad for all the times you tried to sneak candy into the cart, because now I know what you like! Can’t wait to see you in a couple days and then finally bring you home.

Love,

Mom and Teagan

“That’s so cute,” Israel said, peering over Zeke’s shoulder.

Zeke smiled “What’d you get?”

“Well, my parents know me really well because I was always around the house being lonely. So they sent me a huge bag of candy corn and some Crunch bars.”

“Candy corn is nasty.”

Israel pushed him. “We’re over, Hallaway,” he said, then laughed. “But seriously. I can’t believe you.”

Zeke shrugged and smiled. “Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that you’re wrong, Benton.”

◊ ◊ ◊

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