A/N: I know it has been a long time! My only excuse is that I had a chapter almost ready to go (just some editing left), and then it got deleted. I was absolutely furious, and it took me a long time to re-write this chapter because I know it's not the same as it was originally. I hope you enjoy it anyway.
Chapter Four – Confessions (Bobby is seven, Alex is five)
During the year that Alex and Bobby had known each other, they had managed to keep their word, and remain 'secret friends'. Though they went to the same school, Alex was two grades below Bobby, so they had different friends at school. They never told each other their last names – it made it more mysterious that way.
They had also discovered, to both of their delight, that Alex's bedroom window faced Bobby's. At night they could shine flashlights through the windows to each other. Flicking the light on and off three times meant: are you awake? Two flicks for yes. Two short flicks and one longer one meant to signal a smile. Four flicks in quick succession meant they were unhappy. Turning the light on and making a circle meant: see you tomorrow.
The only problem with this was that there were still a limited number of things that could be communicated. For example, once Alex had signaled that she was upset, but Bobby had no way to ask why, or to offer any comfort. Even if he had asked been able to ask why she was upset, Alex wouldn't have been able to answer. He had spent most of the night awake worrying about her, sending her the 'see you tomorrow' signal (turning the flashlight in a circular motion) repeatedly until she stopped answering. The next day he had found out that she had an argument with her sister, but they had made up and Alex was fine.
After she had seen how worried Bobby had been, Alex decided to never tell him that she was upset with their flashlight signals again. Even at her young age she didn't want to upset him – nor did she want anyone worrying about her.
At the moment Bobby was lying in his bed, trying to fall asleep. It was the beginning of the summer again, which probably meant that he and Frank would be sent into the backyard for hours on end again.
Bobby looked up as a beam of light flashed into his room. One, two, three flashes of light. Are you awake? Bobby quickly searched for his own flashlight and flicked it on and off twice. Yes. Alex sent the signal for a smile. Bobby returned it, smiling in reality as well. A beam of light circled the window in response. See you tomorrow. Bobby flicked his flashlight on and off twice. Yes. He sent her another smile. She returned it.
Bobby waited for a time with his flashlight in his hand, but she didn't respond again. He considered asking her if she was awake again, but decided not to. He crawled back into bed with his flashlight still gripped in his hand, just in case she sent him another message. He fell asleep with it in his hand.
The next day Bobby left the house frowning. He was normally looking forward to meeting Alex outside, but he was worried today. He was beginning to wonder about his mother. She had been acting rather odd lately. He wasn't able to pinpoint exactly what it was that was different, but there was something.
He tried asking his brother about it. "Frank?" he asked. "Do you find that Ma's been acting strangely lately?"
"I don't know," Frank replied, shrugging.
"She's been acting funny since Dad got back," Bobby said.
Frank paused and sighed. He didn't want to discuss this with his little brother, but he should have known better than to think that Bobby wouldn't notice.
"I don't know what happened," Frank replied.
"But, she's acting strangely! Haven't you noticed?"
Frank snorted impatiently. "You're too young to understand," he snapped. He turned to leave.
"Wait!" Bobby cried, grabbing Frank's arm. "What's wrong with Ma?"
Frank frowned, unsure. Though older than Bobby, Frank was still young enough that he didn't really understand the whole situation. He didn't want to worry his sensitive younger brother anyway. He turned away without answering.
Bobby frowned at his brother's retreating back. His mind was whirling with worry for his mother, and wondering if Frank knew something he didn't. He returned to the house, thinking that he might be able to ask his mother. She wouldn't be pleased with him returning before she'd called, but he couldn't wait to find out if it what had made her upset. His curiosity was too strong. Not to mention the fact that he wanted his mother to return to normal.
He wandered into the house and up the stairs. His mother was probably lying down. He knocked gently on the door. "Ma?" he asked. "Are you in there?"
"What is it, Bobby?" his mother asked wearily. Bobby pushed the door open to see her lying on the bed with all the blinds closed.
"Ma, are feeling okay?" Bobby asked. "I'm worried about you."
"I'm fine Bobby. Now go back outside."
"Did someone upset you?" Bobby dared to ask.
The change in his mother was immediate and frightening. She sat up quickly and glared at him with an expression he had never seen before. "Don't ever speak to me like that again!"
"Get out!" she screamed. "Never speak that way to me again! Your brother would never treat me like this; he always listens to me! Now, GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!"
She seized a book from her nightstand and threw it. Bobby ducked, and quickly retreated to the hallway, shutting the door behind him for fear of another projectile. He rushed outside faster than he ever had in his life. He couldn't believe his mother had thrown something at him. And he had been reminded of how Frank was his mother's favourite, again.
Bobby left the house and sank to the ground by the fence. His eyes filled with tears, which he furiously tried to hold back. He could just hear his father telling him that men don't cry, and he'd better learn to buck up.
But why would his mother have thrown something at him? That book was a hardcover. If it had hit him, it would have hurt. And besides that, Frank did not always listen to her – she just believed the lies he told her. Bobby never told his mother that Frank disobeyed her. She probably wouldn't believe it anyway.
Bobby scrubbed at his eyes furiously. Maybe his mother liked Frank better because he really was a better son. Bobby tried his best, but he seemed to get on his parent's bad side more often than Frank, and he was slower to be forgiven too. Bobby was just wondering what was so wrong with him when the sound of the neighbor's back door closing caught his attention. He turned to look at the fence, hopeful that Alex was alone.
He was answered soon enough as she wriggled her way under the fence and into his yard. "Hi Bobby!" she said. He smile faded and her eyes narrowed as she looked at him. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing," Bobby said quickly.
"I don't believe that for a second," Alex replied. She walked over and placed her hand on his arm. "You can tell me," she said earnestly.
Bobby frowned at the ground while he considered her offer. He had never told anyone about his mother, not even his friends from school. But Alex was his first friend here, and she was his secret friend. If she had kept his existence a secret, surely she would keep what he told her a secret?
"You can't tell," Bobby said.
"I won't," she replied. "I promise I'll keep your secret."
"I'm worried about my mother."
"Why?" Alex asked.
"She's been different," Bobby said.
"What do you mean different?" Alex asked.
"She's… been acting a bit odd lately."
"Maybe she's upset about something?" Alex suggested. "Did you ask her?"
Bobby felt his eyes burning again at the reminder of his encounter with his mother. "Yes, she… she didn't tell me what was wrong."
"Did something happen when you asked her?" Alex asked, concerned.
Looking at her sympathetic expression, Bobby found that it became harder to hold back his tears. One escaped and slid down his cheek. He brushed it away, furious that someone had seen him crying.
However, much to Bobby's surprise, rather than being disgusted with his tears, Alex had wrapped her arms around him. "What happened?"
"She got really angry," Bobby replied miserably. "If only I was more like Frank…"
"Who's Frank?" Alex asked.
"My brother," Bobby replied. "He's a better son than I am."
"I don't think that's true!" Alex said earnestly. She released him, and sat back to look at him. "You actually wanted to find out what's bothering your mother, and Frank didn't! Did he?" she asked, suddenly realizing she didn't know.
"No, but that was the better thing to do because now Ma is angry!" Bobby said. "I think I just made things worse."
"Even if she likes Frank better than you, it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you," Alex told him. He still didn't look convinced. She was unable to counter what he had said. She, after all, didn't know his mother at all. "I like you better than Frank," she offered.
"You don't even know Frank," Bobby laughed.
Alex shrugged. "I don't care. You're my best friend."
Bobby smiled at her. Having Alex living next door made up for anything bad that had happened in the morning. He got up and fetched the soccer ball from besides a tree. "I'll be the goalie," he said.
Alex took the ball from him, and the two played together in Bobby's yard.
Bobby was nervous to re-enter his house that evening. His mother was sitting on the couch; his father appeared to have left again. His mother turned as the door opened, revealing that her two sons had heard her calling.
"Come and sit," she said, patting the seats on either side of her. Frank went over and sat down next to her. She wrapped an arm around him. Bobby hesitated at the edge of the room. Was his mother still angry with him?
"You too, Bobby," his mother said, indicating for him to join her. Bobby launched himself next to her. She seemed to be in a much better mood now, her irritation with Bobby that morning forgotten. She wrapped her other arm around her younger son before turning back to Frank. "Tell me about your day," she instructed. Frank obliged, and Bobby sat quietly listening to his brother and watching his mother smile at her favourite son.
Still, Bobby reasoned, he was also sitting with his mother. He was even lucky enough to have one of her arms around his own shoulders. He snuggled in closer to his mother, not even minding that she didn't ask about his day at all.