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So Gene falls into Finny's perception of the world, where there is no war. It's not that he really believes the crazy theory, he says, it's just that he feels happy and at peace, so the rest of the world is removed from him.
Nothing shook his perception of reality – not even Leper enlisting in the service.
Yes, that's right, Leper enlisted. One day in January, a recruiter from the ski troops showed a video of, well, ski troops, all in uniform, gracefully gliding down a mountain. Leper was immediately taken in. He had no idea that you could do something like ski in the military. So he signs up and is gone a week later. Since he was almost eighteen, he enlisted just in time to choose his service instead of risking getting drafted and being assigned one.
It would have been better, says Gene, if Brinker had been the first to go. This would have made sense, and the boys would all have felt his absence and known the war as a fact in their daily lives. But it was harder to notice at all that Leper had left. They didn't know how to reconcile his absence with the reality of the war.
Then, one day in the Butt Room, Brinker is reading from the newspaper about a supposed attempt on Hitler's life. It must have been Leper's doing, he concludes.
And that becomes the way that the boys "establish a liaison" with the war. Everything they read about, everything on the news, all directly involves Leper.
Still, at night, Gene hopes that Leper is as heroic as they all think. He wonders if he himself will someday be able to measure up to the army and its standards.
Finny remains the only one outside of the joke. He doesn't want to play along and imagine Leper in various epic scenarios. So he draws Gene away from that crowd, away from the Butt Room all together, into a world inhabited only by the two of them, while Gene continues to train for the Olympics of 1944.
Saturday afternoons, explains Gene, are boring. There's never anything to do, especially in the winter. So when Phineas one day suggests that the boys plan a Winter Carnival for the next Saturday, Gene agrees to go along with it and takes a position as head of the snow statues committee.
Brinker, who has by now withdrawn from his various "I'm a model student" roles, even takes part. He's a rebel now, notes Gene.
On the Saturday of the Carnival, the boys have managed to scrape together a series of prizes for the ensuing contests (Finny's icebox, a marked-up dictionary, a translated copy of the the Iliad, etc.) as well as enough hard cider to keep everyone happy for the day.
Brinker, despite his recent transformation, still tries to take control of the games. Phineas galvanizes the boys into tackling him. Fortunately for all, Brinker decides to play along and takes it as all good fun.
(Phineas 1, Brinker 0.)
Finny declares the games open and, to represent as much, lights the Iliad on fire. Oh, joy.
The boys, ablaze with the passion of youth (read: hard cider) frolic about in the snow. Finny orders Gene through a series of tasks to prove his qualifications for the Olympics, and Gene performs spectacularly.
Then, a telegram arrives for Gene. It's from Leper. It reads that he has "escaped" and is currently hiding out "at Christmas location." He tells Gene to come "at once" and signs it "Your best friend."