Chapter 1


"Come on, kick the ball!"

Sam Jackson knew there was something wrong. There was some reason why he couldn't play soccer. What was it?

"Hurry up, kick it."

"I can't. I …"

"You're holding up the game!"

"All right, but …"

Sam gave an almighty kick, but all that seemed to happen was that he was falling … falling … falling … As he hit the ground, the excruciating pain he felt made him scream in agony.

Suddenly his friend Robbie was by his side saying, "What is it, Sam? Show me where it hurts."

"My knee," sobbed Sam. "Right here."

But there was nothing there.

"Robbie, my leg! What have they done to my leg …?"

"It's all right," said a comforting voice, as Sam sat up in a lather of sweat. "You've just had a bad dream. It happens a lot with people who've had major trauma."

Sam gave the nurse a weak smile. Sorry I made a fuss," he said sheepishly. "I didn't mean to …"

The nurse smiled back. "Who's Robbie?" she asked. "Is he one of your friends?"

Sam nodded. "Not just a friend," he said. "He's the best person …"

"One of the Band of Brothers, is he?"

Sam stared at the nurse in surprise. "How did you know they were called that?" he asked.

"Oh, word gets around. I mean, they're here every day. They must think you're pretty special."

"Yeah, they must. I love those guys so much."

"So, you're one of the Band, too, then?"

Sam looked wistful. "I wish," he said. "Fact is, I hardly knew them before this happened." He indicated the stump of his amputated leg. "It's only since then that I've realised who my real friends are."

"Well, it's a big day for you tomorrow, Sam, so you try and get back to sleep. And no more nightmares, okay?"

Sam grinned. "I'll do my best; gotta put on a good performance for the guys."


"Come on, Pete," said Robbie impatiently. "We promised Sam we'd be there at ten o'clock."

"Just one more minute," begged Peter. "We only need to finish tying these balloons."

Peter and his best mate, Shane, had spent the past hour mounting a large banner that read 'WELCOME, SAM!' over the front door of the farmhouse, and artistically adorning it with streamers, bunting and, now, balloons. Shane, who was an extremely talented artist, had also painted a very life-like portrait of Sam that Peter had framed and mounted on the door.

It was now almost three weeks since Sam had crashed his father's car on the way home from a party and had his right leg amputated as a result-not to mention both arms in plaster and twenty-one stitches in a cut in his forehead. Today was a red-letter day for Sam: not only was he trying out an artificial leg for the first time, but the doctor had said that afterwards he could spend a few hours at the farm with his friends before returning to the hospital.

"Right, Pete, if you're not in his car by the time I count to ten," said Robbie ominously, "we're going without you."

"All right, all right," said Peter, rapidly tying the last balloon and leaping into the back seat of the car next to Shane. "We'll have heaps of time."

"Not if I'm going to find a parking spot for Dad's car," said Robbie. "It's not the Mini, you know-I can't just slot it in anywhere."

"Oh, I have every faith in you, Robbie. Not only are you my favourite big brother, but you're also the world's best driver…"

Robbie was unable to suppress a smile. "And crawling won't get you anywhere, either," he said sternly.



"See, at least thirty seconds to spare," said Peter smugly, as they rushed up hospital steps.

"Um … I don't think you'd be wise to push your luck with Rob any further, Pete," said Nathan.

Peter glanced at Robbie's flushed face. "Perhaps you're right," he said, winking at Shane.

They found Sam with the physiotherapist who had been explaining how to attach the prosthesis. "With both your arms broken you're at a big disadvantage," she explained. "The best we can hope to do until you're out of plaster is stand you in a frame that supports you under your arms. But at least you can get used to weight-bearing on your stump."

With the artificial leg strapped on, it was finally time for Sam to try to stand. "I've waited over two weeks for this," he said enthusiastically. At the therapist's direction, Robbie took his weight on one side and Nathan on the other, as they eased him out of his wheelchair into the frame.

"Now, I want you to put some pressure on your new leg," said the physiotherapist. "Very slowly just move your weight onto it."

Sam let out a yelp of pain as his stump took weight for the first time. "I … I … can't do it," he cried. "It hurts too much!"

But the physiotherapist was adamant. "You must try," she said, "no matter how much it hurts. Slowly … slowly …"

Sam's face contorted and tears coursed down his cheeks. Robbie felt for him so strongly that his own eyes began to mist up.

"A little more weight … a little more weight," the therapist was saying. "Good … good. Try not to let the bars support you-your friends will steady you." And suddenly Sam was standing on both legs.

"You must try to stay like that for a few more minutes," said the therapist as Sam wobbled and winced. "I know it's painful, but your stump will never harden unless you use it." When she finally said Sam could go back to his wheelchair, each of the boys heaved a sigh of relief. It was almost as if they, too, had suffered the pain.

"It gets easier every day," the therapist assured Sam, "and by the time your plaster's removed, your stump should have settled down and we'll be able to get a permanent prosthesis made specially for you."

Sam looked pale and shaky. Nevertheless, he thanked the therapist. But he could not pretend he was looking forward to his next session with her.

"Wow, I don't know how you did that, Sam," said Robbie with great admiration.

"Yeah, it was almost unbearable just watching," Nathan agreed. "But try to put it out of your mind until tomorrow, mate, and enjoy the rest of your day. We've got heaps planned for you."

Sam smiled weakly. "Let's get out of here, then."

Robbie and Nathan were as good as any nurses when it came to caring for Sam. They soon had him comfortable in the front seat of the car, with his wheelchair folded and stowed carefully in the boot.

"It's great that you've got your licence, now, Robbie," Sam said as they drove along. "It'll be ages before they'll let me have one again, of course, now that I've been done for DUI and negligent driving. Not that I'd be able to drive anyway-and even if I could, I'd have nothing to drive because I wrecked Dad's car. You know something? I've got to be the worst son anyone could ever have. I'm just a hopeless tosser."

"Sam, I don't know what drugs they're giving you at that hospital," said Peter, "but they seem to be making you talk absolute rubbish."

"No, I'm serious," said Sam. "I've given my parents and everyone else nothing but grief, not to mention stuffing up my own life. I could go to gaol on the neg. driving charge. My two older brothers never, ever got themselves into any trouble. I'm just the black sheep of the family."

"He's delirious," said Peter.

"Just answer a couple of questions for me, Sam," said Nathan. "Do you intend to ever drink and drive again?"

"You're kidding," said Sam. "I'll never touch another drop of alcohol as long as I live-look what it's done to me!"

"And when you can drive again, are you likely to speed and drive dangerously?"

"If I ever can drive again, I'll be the best-behaved driver on the road."

"And, finally, do you intend to give your mum and dad any further grief?"

"Of course not! I'd do anything to make up for the pain I've caused them."

Nathan nodded. "Might I suggest, then, that you stop beating yourself over the head for things that are in the past and you can do nothing about. Put it behind you and concentrate on being the new Sam Jackson-the one who's our friend and who we respect and admire."

"I guess you're right," said Sam. "It is pretty silly to keep going on about it. But I still don't know how you guys can have any respect for someone who's been as stupid as I have. I mean, none of you ever touch grog, so far as I know, and you Twins have got your own cars and wouldn't dream of clowning around in them."

"I'm not trying to be smart, Sam," said Robbie, "but why d'you reckon you did those things?"

"Aw, I dunno. I suppose because that's what other kids-and adults-do. Like, you go to a party and everyone's drinking and stuff. Then people start doing stupid things because they're off their face, and you join in because it seems the thing to do and …"

"Right," said Robbie. "So what you're really saying is it all starts with getting drunk or high or something. Well, you're right; we don't drink or do drugs. Nath and I decided a long while ago that we wanted to be healthy and always in control in any situation. The rest of the guys decided the same thing and now you have, too."

"But how do you manage at parties and stuff where everyone's doing it and putting pressure on you to join in?"

"We don't go to parties."

"You don't? But how …?"

Nathan took over. "It's like this, Sam-and please don't think I'm being pompous or anything: We reckon just because other people think something is a good thing to do, or socially acceptable, doesn't mean that it is. We make our own decisions and do what we think is right. We've decided that parties, in general, are a good thing to avoid. If we want a 'party', we have our own."

"But what about school socials? You must …"

"Same thing. Everyone knows that a lot of kids get up to stuff that they're not supposed to at socials, despite the best efforts of teachers. So we just don't go. It's no big deal."

"But don't you miss out on socialising or whatever?"

"What's to miss?" said Shane. "We're with our best friends all the time. We couldn't be happier. Who wants to socialise with people they don't even like?"

"Think of it this way, Sam," said Robbie. "You've told us you'll never touch alcohol again as long as you live, so why would you want to put yourself in situations where underage drinking is in epidemic proportions?"

"You know, you're right. You're absolutely right. I've never thought about it like that before. I only did those things so I'd be accepted. But, I'll tell you something. Since the accident, all I've wanted to do is spend time with you guys. Which is probably just as well 'cause no one else has been too bothered with me, anyway. I just admire your Band of Brothers so much!"

"I should hope so," said Robbie, "since it seems you're now part of it."

"Me? Really? You'd let me join…"

Nathan laughed. "We don't give out membership certificates, Sam. You're our friend. You seem to think the way we do and like doing the stuff we like, so welcome to the club!"

"Yeah, Sam," said Peter gleefully as Robbie pulled into the driveway, "if you look up ahead, you'll see we kind of anticipated this."

As the car pulled up on the front lawn, Sam spotted the welcome sign and said in a choking voice, "You guys are the greatest. I'll never let the Band of Brothers down."

Mrs White ran down the steps and gave Sam a hug and a kiss. "You poor darling," she said. "You've had a tough few weeks, but it's wonderful to see you're on the mend, at last."

"Got my stitches out yesterday, Mrs White," said Sam proudly. He pushed the hair back from his forehead with his upper arm to reveal a long jagged scar. "Harry Potter, eat your heart out."

Mrs White laughed. "It's lovely to see you haven't lost your sense of humour, either. Now, morning tea's ready, so as soon as the boys have your wheelchair assembled we'll all have some nice hot chocolate."

Morning tea consisted of rather more than hot chocolate. The centrepiece was a large sponge cake with Get Well Sam piped on it in icing.

"It's such a shame Sam can't have any of this 'cause of his diet," said Peter with a grin.

"What diet?" Mrs White demanded.

"Surely you know, Mum, he's not to put on any weight or his new leg won't fit properly. As his friend, I feel I must save him from himself."

"Pete's method of saving you is to eat your helping for you," Robbie explained to Sam. "This is the sort of thing we have to put up with all the time. You might want to reconsider joining us."

"I think I'll risk it on both counts," Sam laughed, eyeing the large piece of cake that Mrs White had cut for him.

"How soon before they let you go home, dear?" Mrs White asked as Robbie broke the cake in pieces and fed it to Sam.

"I'm having Sunday at home," Sam replied. "It's the only time Mum and Dad aren't at work. As you can see, I'm pretty helpless on my own, and they want to keep me at the hospital for a few more days yet, to get used to the artificial leg." He shuddered. "I'm not sure what'll happen after that. Maybe Mum'll have to take time off work to look after me until my arms are out of plaster."

"You could always come here each day if that's going to be a problem," said Mrs White.

"It's very kind of you to offer, Mrs White," said Sam doubtfully, "but I could never impose on you. I mean, I have to be taken to the toilet and everything."

"Oh, get out with you," Mrs White laughed. "I was a nurse before I was married. I know exactly what I'd be letting myself in for. I'll have a chat with your mother. I'm sure there'd be no need for her to miss work. And I know this lot would love to have you here even though they'd be at school most of the time."

"Yeah, so long as he doesn't eat all the food," said Peter.

"I don't know what to say," said Sam. "Everyone's been so good to me-and I don't deserve it. How can I ever thank you …?"

"You don't have to," Mrs White replied. "You're worth every bit of it."


"And this is our model railway," said Peter proudly as Shane wheeled Sam into the shed. "'Course the Twins did most of it, but we all helped, even Ryan."

Sam's mouth dropped open. "You never said … You never so much as hinted at school … it's amazing."

"Funny thing," said Robbie, "Darren had much the same reaction when he first saw it."

"But why?" Sam continued. "Why have you never said anything about it? If I'd made something like this I'd never stop bragging."

"It's easier to keep our mouths shut," said Nathan. "Most of the kids already think there's something kind of weird about us. We do stuff like this instead of playing computer games, chatting on the Internet or watching TV and videos. That makes us look pretty odd to start with."

"You mean you don't do any of those things?" said Sam in surprise.

"Hardly ever," said Nathan.

"Wow, you really are weird …" said Sam, laughing. "Only joking," he added hurriedly. "If I could do stuff like this I'd never bother with computers or TV again."

"But you can do stuff like this," said Shane. "It's not that hard. We'll show you how to do a few things right now. You're really just like Darren: he reckoned he could never do anything with his hands. Fact is, he'd never tried. He'd never had a hobby or interest except sport. Now he's doing blacksmithing and he's really good."

"Yeah, almost as good as Francis Lambert in Akenfield," said Robbie.

"Really? I never knew Darren could do anything like that," said Sam in amazement.

"That and heaps of other things," said Shane. "But he's learned to keep quiet about his activities and achievements like the rest of us. Even so, Jason McKenzie still sees him as a target for ridicule, as you'll remember from the confrontation they had a couple of months ago."

"I never really realised what that was all about until now," said Sam. "Darren's changed so much this year; he really stands up for what he believes, now, and people take notice of him. Time was, all he ever thought about was sport. Anyway, you can be sure that you'll get nothing but admiration from me, and I won't be satisfied until you've taught me everything you know. So let's get on with it!"