Jump to content


Author: Classic Author
  • Content Count

  • Joined

  • Last visited

View Author Profile

Community Reputation

446 People Like Me!

Story Reviews

  • No Story Reviews


  • No Comments

1 Follower

About NickolasJames8

  • Rank
    The Anti Everything

Profile Information

  • Age in Years
  • Location
    Parts Unknown
  • Interests
    Santa Barbara City Counsel Meetings, benefiber, polyester pants, vinyl jackets, Owen Wilson's nose, Paula Dean's figure, Neil Diamond CDs, Organic Flax Seed and Johnson's Foot Soap.

Recent Profile Visitors

The recent visitors block is disabled and is not being shown to other users.

  1. “There he is!” Taylor shouted, pointing at the large calico that had taken refuge on the back patio, somehow managing to get himself cornered by Nick and his friends. “Someone give me the hose,” Nick said mischievously, grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of teaching the big cat a lesson. For months, Nick, James and Jim had been chasing him away when they’d catch him on their lawn going to the bathroom. A few times, Nick heard his dad comment that he wanted to shoot the cat with a bb gun, but he never acted on his threat. But this time, in the presence of four of his classmates, Taylor, Michael, Ray-Ray and Greg, Nick had plans to detour the cat from ever coming back. Someone handed him the hose while Taylor cranked the water pressure all the way up, and Nick aimed as the cat sat helplessly in the corner. With a vindictive smile, Nick let loose and shot water at the large calico, but the cat instantly darted off, stealthily making his way between two of Nick’s classmates before the first drop could touch him. “God damn it!” Nick brazenly cursed as he watched the feline round the corner and disappear. “Excuse me?” he heard from behind him, and he turned just in time to see his dad cutting his eyes at him, then looking over at Taylor, who looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car as he frantically tried to turn the water off. “I meant to say darn it,” Nick fibbed as Jim slowly gazed over the patio, which was soaking wet, and the group of boys who had spent the night before. “Boy what were you thinking?” Jim exclaimed with a loud sigh, giving Nick a disapproving glare as he held his hand out expectantly, waiting for Nick to hand him the hose. Nick handed it off to him, then he turned to his friends and cracked a grin as Jim rolled the water hose back up. When he was finished, he turned back toward his son and said, “Make sure you let me know if you plan to take off on your bikes.” “Yes sir,” Nick called back to his dad as he and his brood made their way to the side of the house, where Ray-Ray dug a lighter out of his pocket and produced a cigarette. “Is he inside?” the boy asked, his eyes shifting from side to side as he stuck the cigarette in his mouth and prepared to light it. “It’s clear,” Taylor said, as he peeked around the corner for any sign that they were being watched. Once Taylor gave him the all clear, Ray-Ray lit the cigarette like a pro and took a long drag from it, pointing to the end, which was burning bright. As soon as he pulled it away from his mouth, though, he started to cough hard. So hard, in fact, that everyone got out of his way so he could slobber on the grass as he tried to get his coughing under control. “I don’t think I want to smoke any,” Nick said, his nose itching from the smell of the cigarette. “Try it, it’s menthol,” Ray-Ray said with a grin, but Nick waved it off. Instead, Ray-Ray passed it to Michael, who was a lot taller than the others but really skinny. Nick, Greg and Taylor watched as Michael put the cigarette to his lips and took a drag, then they all cleared out when he instantly dropped it and broke into a harsh coughing fit. Ray-Ray looked exasperated as the cigarette rolled into the puddle of spit that he had produced only moments earlier. “You dummy, you ruined it,” Ray-Ray said, rolling his eyes. “It’s the only one I had.” “Who cares?” Greg said, looking almost relieved that the cigarette was out. Nick felt the same way, too. He was worried to death that his dad was going to catch them in the act and that he was going to be busted. “Where’d you get it anyway?” Nick asked, and Ray-Ray grinned widely, flashing his pearly white teeth that seemed to be accentuated by his caramel colored skin and African American features before he answered. He was one of the first people Nick noticed, besides Taylor, when he first started going to school in Virginia, and along with the others who were there with him, Ray-Ray was one of his best friends. “I took them from my mom’s pack,” he boasted. “I could have took a whole pack if I wanted to, because she has a whole carton.” By that point, Michael was starting to recover from the harsh drag he had taken, and was now spitting repeatedly, obviously trying to get the taste out of his mouth. “Do you want some gum or something?” Greg offered, reaching into his front pocket and producing an unopened pack of Wrigley’s that came out of Nick’s Piñata the day before at his party. Instead of answering verbally, Michael reached for the pack almost frantically and pulled the red tab, pealing the top of the pack off as he did. He pulled a piece out and barely had it out of its foil wrapper before he shoved it into his mouth and passed the pack of gum to Ray-Ray. Eventually, Nick did go inside and tell Jim that they were leaving on their bikes, and that they’d be in the neighborhood. He asked James if Michael could ride his bike since he didn’t bring his, and James said yes, so he hurriedly ran back out to the garage. Nick let Ray-Ray ride his old bike, but before they could go, they had to pump the tire full of air. Once they did, they took off for the trail, where Taylor led the way to the newest ramp that he, Nick and James built. Everyone took a turn on the ramp but Greg, who was more than a little bit apprehensive about trying it out. Everyone tried talking him into it, but he wasn’t budging, so Nick just shrugged and continued to take his turns as they came around. On about his sixth or seventh jump, he noticed that Taylor had gotten off of his bike and was talking to Greg, so he rode around to find out what was going on. “You don’t have to be scared,” Taylor was telling Greg as Nick approached them. “Me and Nick do it all the time.” “I just don’t want to,” Greg said nervously, but Taylor persisted. “Everyone else is doing it,” he said, trying to convince his friend to try the ramp once. “I’ve never jumped my bike before,” Greg admitted sheepishly. “What if I crash?” “It’s just like popping a wheelie,” Nick said with a smile. “I know you won’t fall.” “We can build a smaller ramp for you to practice on if you want,” Taylor offered, and Greg shrugged. “Okay, I’ll try it out,” he said. With that, he pedaled over to the path that the ramp was on and studied it closely. Nick and Taylor rode over to where he was on his bike, and Nick was about to tell him to build up as much speed as he could when he suddenly took off on his own. It looked to Nick like he was pedaling as hard as he could, but as he approached the ramp he slowed down and turned around. “What happened?” Michael asked as he rode back toward everyone. “I just needed to warm up, that’s all,” Greg said weakly, and Nick knew he was fibbing. “I’m gonna really do it this time.” “Just go as fast as you can,” Ray-Ray said, patting him on the back. Greg looked around at everyone and gulped, then he started pedaling again, this time moving further away from the ramp. He finally stopped about twenty yards back from everyone, then he started to pedal hard. By the time he whizzed by Nick, Taylor, Ray-Ray and Michael, he had enough speed built up. Before Nick had time to blink, Greg’s bike was sailing through the air. It landed kind of awkwardly, and Greg wound up putting his feet down to catch himself as the velocity of the jump took his bike out from underneath him and he tumbled around in the dirt before coming to a stop. “Oh crap,” Michael exclaimed as he threw his bike down and ran to his friend with Taylor right behind him. Ray-Ray and Nick rode their bikes over and got there at the same time Taylor and Michael did. Greg was holding his knee as he rolled over, and Nick realized that he was in trouble, so he ditched his bike and ran over to look his friend over, along with everyone else. “It hurts,” Greg whined as all of his friends knelt down to tend to him. “Someone rub it for me.” Ray-Ray grabbed his leg and started to rub on it when out of nowhere, Greg looked up at everyone with a huge grin on his face and said, “You rub good, Ray-Ray. Maybe next time you can rub my dick.” With that, everyone started laughing and pulled him to his feet. Ray-Ray gave him a punch on the arm, then he helped him dust off before they climbed on their bikes and took turns on the ramp for the remainder of the morning. When it was lunch time, they rode back to Nick’s house and raided the food from the cook out the day before. One of the presents Nick got the day before was an electronic dart board, and after lunch, Jim set it up in the garage. He put some tape on the garage floor that marked the spot they weren’t supposed to cross, and Nick and his friends spent the better part of the afternoon trying to set the high score. As it got later, Nick’s friends all had to go home, especially because it was Sunday and there was school the next day. Of course, Nick didn’t mind that, because the next day was his real birthday, and his dad already arranged with his teacher to bring enough cupcakes for the entire class so they could sing Happy Birthday for him. Jim explained to him that there wouldn’t be any presents to open until he got home from school and they had his other party. “I know daddy,” Nick said happily. “I don’t have to get presents twice tomorrow.” “I can’t believe my big boy is nine years old,” Jim said, reaching down and grabbing Nick under his arms so he could pick him up and give him a kiss. “You’re still my baby, though. I love you.” “I love you too daddy,” Nick said, holding onto Jim’s cheeks with his hands and smiling at him before he gave him a kiss. “Is papu taking a nap?” “No, he went to the store with your grandpa and James,” Jim said. “Are they buying dinner?” Nick asked, and Jim smiled knowingly. “No, they went shopping for something else,” he said, carrying Nick into the family room. Nick knew they were getting him presents for his party the next day, but he decided to ask anyway. “What are they shopping for?” Nick asked as Jim took a seat in the recliner with Nick still in his arms. Nick snuggled up to his dad’s chest and waited for Jim to tell him that they were shopping for his party. “They’re looking for a present,” Jim said, and Nick smiled up at him. “Something for Skalaki.” “Skalaki?” Nick giggled, and his dad nodded with a grin that told Nick he was kidding. “Sure,” Jim said. “He needs stuff too.” “It’s not even Skalaki’s birthday yet,” Nick said. “Sure it is, buddy,’ Jim said. “Dogs have seven birthdays a year.” “That’s silly, daddy,” Nick giggled. “Dogs don’t get presents.” “They do too,” Jim countered teasingly, reaching down to tickle Nick’s ribs with his fingers. “Like what?” Nick asked with a wide smile, enjoying the time he was spending alone with his dad. “Like chew toys and new doggy bowls for food and water,” Jim told him, obviously trying to keep a straight face but not doing a good job. “And leashes?” Nick asked through his laughter, and Jim nodded. “I don’t believe you daddy.” “I wouldn’t tease my boy,” Jim said, running his hand through Nick’s hair. “What are they getting him?” Nick asked, and Jim raised an eyebrow. “It’s a surprise,” he said. “What do you think it is?” “A pooper scooper?” Nick guessed with a silly smile, and Jim smiled down at him. “No, that’s what we’re getting for you, little boy,” Jim said, tickling Nick’s ribs again. “Guess again.” “NFL Blitz?” Nick asked hopefully, and Jim shrugged, so he guessed again. “Need For Speed Five?” “They haven’t released that one yet, buddy,” Jim said. “When they do, I think daddy’s going to have it before Skalaki gets it.” Nick giggled again and wrapped his arms tightly around his dads chest. Jim hugged him back and rocked him gently as Nick soaked up Jim’s attention, glad that he was alone with his dad. “Did you have fun this weekend?” Jim asked, and Nick nodded. “I had a good party and we had fun last night,” Nick said. “Thank you for letting my friends spend the night, daddy.” “You’re welcome babe,” Jim said. “I’m glad you had fun this weekend.” “I almost got the cat this morning,” Nick said into his dad’s chest. “I saw that,” Jim said. “I don’t think you should corner him next time, son.” “Can I spray him if I catch him going poop on our grass?” Nick asked, looking up at his dad, who nodded. “You can spray him but you can’t corner him with the hose and soak him,” Jim said. “It’s way too cold outside. He might get sick, and you need to remember that he’s someone’s kitty cat.” “Why don’t they make him stay home?” Nick asked. “We don’t let Skalaki go into other people’s lawns.” “It’s harder with a cat, buddy,” Jim told him. “They like to be free to roam.” “Dogs like to be free to roam, too,” Nick said, and Jim gave him a gentle squeeze. “But cats don’t scare people,” Jim said. “And dogs bite. You never hear of anyone getting a cat bite, do you?” Nick started to giggle again and shook his head, then he rested quietly and watched TV with his dad. They stayed in the recliner until James and Big Nick got back, and despite Nick’s protests, Jim held on tight and didn’t let him run to his papu so he could see what was in the bag he had from Toy’s-R-Us. Big Nick made a quick right turn and went up the stairs with James right behind him, and as soon as they was out of site, Jim let Nick go. Knowing that it was too late to follow his papu and James up the stairs to see what they got him, he wandered into the kitchen, where his dad was standing with the refrigerator wide open. Nick watched as his dad surveyed the contents of the fridge, then lifted his head and looked at Nick with a shrug and said, “Maybe I should have had your grandpa and papu go to the store for some supper after all. I guess we’re having leftover burgers and pork chops.” “Can we have grits too?” Nick asked hopefully. Jim nodded and opened the cupboard where he kept the can of grits. Nick climbed up onto a stool and from there, he climbed up onto the countertop and watched his dad cook grits and put the cold meat on a large baking sheet before he put it in the oven. After supper, Nick and James went upstairs to get ready for bed. When they met up in the bathroom to brush their teeth, Nick begged James to tell him what he was getting the next day. James smiled naughtily, then he motioned with his finger for Nick to lean in close so he could whisper it into his ear. Nick was bubbling with anticipation as he extended his neck and put his ear up to James’s cupped hand. In a low whisper, James said, “It’s this.” Then he belched loudly in Nick’s ear and cracked up laughing while Nick stomped his foot in frustration. “That’s what you get for trying to cheat,” he heard his dad’s voice say from the hallway. Nick turned to see Jim smiling and nodding with a knowing smile as the sound of running water filled the room. Nick grabbed his toothbrush, trying to muster his most convincing pout but finding it hard because he couldn’t stop grinning because he knew he’d been caught. He held his toothbrush out for James, who put toothpaste on it for him, then he brushed his teeth while Jim leaned up against the door jamb and waited. “Are you gonna wear any jammie bottoms tonight?” Jim asked Nick and James as the three of them made their way back down the stairs. James shook his head no at the same time Nick said, “No.” Jim just shrugged and led them into the kitchen, where he gave them each their vitamins. After they chewed them up, they went into the family room to pray and calm down before bedtime. “Where’s Miss Lori?” Nick asked, taking note of the fact that while she was normally there on a Sunday night, she hadn’t been there all day. “She had to work tonight, buddy,” Jim said. “She’ll be here tomorrow for your party, though.” “Can Taylor come too?” Nick asked, and his dad smiled at him. “Of course he can sweetheart,” Jim said softly. “But I doubt he’ll have another gift for you.” “It’s okay,” Nick said. “I want him to come no matter what. Miss Cindy and Mr. Charles too.” “Then tomorrow, you need to call them when you get home from school and invite them,” Jim said. “I will daddy,” Nick said happily. “You had a big day, didn’t you buddy?” Jim said, tousling Nick’s hair. “Actually, you had a big weekend.” “When I wake up I’ll be nine,” Nick reminded him. “I know babe,” Jim said, leaning down to kiss him on the cheek. “You’re getting to be such a big boy now.” “Am I growing fast?” Nick asked, and Jim chuckled. “Not too fast, buddy,” he said in a soft voice, and to Nick, it sounded more like a request than an answer. It didn’t take long for Nick to start yawning, and James looked like he was about to nod off too, so Nick wasn’t surprised when Jim got them to get up and go to their rooms. They both gave Big Nick a hug and kiss goodnight, then Jim followed them up the stairs to tuck them in. The next day, Nick felt a rush when he woke up and realized that he was officially nine years old. He hopped out of bed, went to the bathroom, then made a beeline for his dad’s room. It wasn’t quite 5:30 in the morning, but Nick was so excited that he couldn’t wait to wake Jim up. He turned on the light and hopped into the bed, where his dad was snoring loudly, and crawled across the bedspread to shake his dad and get him to come around. “What time is it buddy?” Jim asked in a groggy voice as he opened one eye and used his arm to shield from the light. “It’s in the morning,” Nick said excitedly. “It’s my birthday.” Jim groaned and his head dropped back down to his pillow, then Nick heard him take a deep breath before he reached over and turned his alarm clock off so it wouldn’t go off. “Why can’t you be this excited when I come into your room to wake you up every morning?” Jim asked in a groggy voice. “Happy birthday, baby.” “Thank you daddy,” Nick said happily as Jim held his arm out for Nick to come snuggle up to him under the covers. “Aren’t you freezing?” Jim asked, rubbing his hands up and down Nick’s bare legs, which actually were a little bit cold. “I was just a little cold,” Nick said. “But I’m too excited to be freezing.” “Did you go potty already?” Jim asked, and Nick nodded with a smile. “Good boy. What do you want for breakfast?” “Candy,” Nick said hopefully, but Jim cut his eyes at him and he knew it was out of the question. “What else?” Jim said, and Nick pondered the question before he asked his dad to make him pancakes. They spent a few more minutes under the covers, where Nick snuggled as closely to his dad as he could, but eventually Jim got up to go to the bathroom and wash his face. Nick watched from the bed as his dad sleepily started the shower and shaved his face. He came back to the bed and motioned for Nick, who pulled the covers back and crawled across the bed to his dad, who was waiting to hoist him up. Jim put his nose to Nick’s chest and sniffed him before saying, “You need to get in the shower with me this morning.” Twenty minutes later, they were out of the shower and standing in the mirror as Jim dried Nick off with a large towel. When he was dry, Nick scampered off to the bed, where he crawled in to get warm while Jim brushed his teeth. Nick watched as his dad gargled with mouthwash, then he came into his room and went into his dresser for a pair of boxers and a tee-shirt. His slid his robe on and walked out of room. He returned quickly with a pair of undies, some jeans, a shirt and some socks for Nick. Once he was dressed, Nick followed his dad back down the hall, where Jim opened James’s door and told him it was time to get up. Nick was beaming when, with fifteen minutes left in class, Mrs. Fritzen presented a tray filled up with cupcakes. They all had chocolate frosting spread over the top, and before she passed them out, the class sang Happy Birthday to Nick. As soon as class was over, Nick and his friends made a beeline for the door and out to the loading area for the school busses. He was shocked when Jim was standing by with a smile, waiting for him. Taylor wanted to go with them, but he didn’t have a note saying he could, so he had to ride the bus home. Nick was a little bummed out about it, but he brightened up when Jim said it would be okay for him to ride the bus too. When they finally made it to their bus stop, Jim was waiting for them. They got in his car and Jim drove Taylor to his house, where Nick and his dad got out and went inside with him. Nick invited Taylor, his dad and Cindy over for cake and ice cream later, and Nick smiled excitedly when Cindy said they’d be there. Nick followed Taylor upstairs and waited in his room while Taylor went to the bathroom. When Taylor made it back to his room, he was systematically stripping his clothes off and leaving a trail of them wherever they happened to fall. Nick raised an eyebrow when he saw Taylor nonchalantly drop his shirt on the floor in the hallway, right outside his bedroom, and walk into his room as if nothing were the matter. Nick cautiously peeked out into the hallway and saw that there was a trail of shoes, socks and a towel, all that weren’t there when they came upstairs, that Taylor left on his way from the bathroom to his room. He smiled silently and watched intently as his best friend finished stripping down to his undies and went into his dresser for a pair of jeans and a plain white tee-shirt. When he was finished dressing, he turned and flashed Nick a bright smile, causing him to blush because he thought Taylor looked so cute, especially with the blue jeans and white tee on. Nick sat back down on Taylor’s bed, and Taylor smiled sweetly at him before he walked over and sat next to him. “Happy birthday, Nick,” Taylor said sweetly, taking Nick’s hand in his. “Thank you Taylor,” Nick said quietly, feeling electricity run through him because he was sitting alone with his best friend, holding hands and hoping for a kiss. Taylor didn’t let go of Nick’s hand when he stood up, so Nick got up with him and they walked to the door, where Taylor peaked around the corner and into the hallway. When he was finished looking, he very quickly pressed his lips up to Nick’s lips with a daring look in his eyes. When they got back downstairs, Taylor had a guilty look on his face, especially when he looked at Nick. He looked nervous, but the adults were talking about something else and didn’t seem to notice anything wrong, and eventually, he seemed to relax. By the time Nick and his dad left, Taylor seemed to be his normal, happy self, especially when Nick commented that he left a trail of clothes from the bathroom to his room. Cindy just rolled her eyes and sarcastically said, “Yes, Taylor’s my good little helper. He always cleans up after himself.” As soon as they got home, Nick raced inside and straight up the stairs to the bathroom. When he was finished, he went into his room, where Jim had already laid out some clothes for him to change into. After changing, he bounded down the stairs, where Big Nick was waiting for him in the family room. Nick ran right up to his papu and gave him a long hug. “How’s my birthday boy?” he asked as Nick rested his head on his shoulder. “Good,” Nick said, tightening his grip around his papu. “I missed you today.” “I missed you too my little polakia,” Big Nick said affectionately. “Are you ready to open presents later?” Nick nodded silently, content to rest his head on his papu’s meaty shoulder and be held. He could hear his dad and James in the dining room, working on James’s homework and remembered that he hadn’t had his snack yet, but he wasn’t very concerned with having a snack. He had a comfortable spot and wasn’t planning to move until he had to. “What time are my grandma and grandpa coming over?” Nick asked his papu. “Whenever we call them and tell them dinner’s ready,” Big Nick said. “Papu, do you wish you lived by my grandma and grandpa?” Nick asked. “Of course, Nicko,” Big Nick answered. “I wish I lived by all of you.” “I wish you did too, papu,” Nick said. “How much longer are you going to be here?” “It depends on when the baby’s born,” Big Nick told him. “But I planned on coming for two weeks.” “Do you miss my Uncle Brandon and Uncle Alex and Yia Yia?” Nick asked listlessly. “I sure do,” Big Nick said. “I think about them every day.” “I do too, papu,” Nick said softly. “Are you hungry or thirsty?” Big Nick asked, and Nick nodded. “I am, but I don’t want to move,” Nick admitted. “Well your papu’s thirsty,” Big Nick said. “Why don’t we go together and find something for me to drink?” With that, Big Nick stood up with Nick still resting his head on his shoulder and carried him into the kitchen with him. He opened the fridge and found a can of Fresca, then he got a glass down and filled it with ice before he poured the soda over it as Nick watched on. The two of them wound up at the table, watching as Jim and James wrapped up the homework they were doing. Jim beamed proudly at James as he talked to his dad about the improvements he had made. Even though he was called to school because James hadn’t been turning in assignments, he said he was really proud of how well James was doing. “His report card looked so much better last semester,” Jim boasted to his father as James organized all of his work by putting it in separate folders. “Oh yeah?” Big Nick said. “What’s your favorite class, James?” “PE,” James said without hesitation. “I always get an A in it.” “Probably because there’s no homework,” Jim said knowingly. “All I have to do is dress out and run,” James bragged. “I’m one of the fastest runners in my class.” “I can run fast too,” Nick announced, and James gave him a perplexed glance. “You can’t run as fast as I can,” James told hm. “Only because your older than me,” Nick said. “My dad runs faster than you do.” “He has longer legs,” James explained. “That’s why I’m faster than you, too.” “No it’s not,” Nick countered, but Big Nick and Jim corrected him. “Sure it is buddy,” Big Nick said. “The longer your legs, the faster you should be.” “Yep,” Jim agreed. “Someday when your legs get long, you’ll see what we mean.” “Well I can still run fast,” Nick pouted, his feelings a little hurt because everyone disagreed with him about being a fast runner. “I know you can babe,” Jim said with a sympathetic smile. “When you get a little older you’ll be able to give your brother and I a run for our money.” “When I’m ten?” Nick asked hopefully. “Maybe a little older than that,” Jim told him. “Just be patient. It’ll happen soon enough.” “Do you run fast papu?” Nick asked, looking up at Big Nick for an answer.” “Probably not anymore,” Big Nick said. “But when I was a little younger, I used to run all the time.” “Really?” Nick said. “Your papu used to run me till I threw up,” Jim told him. “We’d go jogging and I’d try to keep up with him. He’d just keep on going and after a while I’d have to give up.” Hearing that his papu was a strong runner wasn’t too surprising to Nick, but the thought of his dad not being able to keep up with him was a little shocking. Especially because of the memories he had of he and Jim going to the junior college in Modesto, where his dad would run the track over and over again, then run up and down the bleachers until he’d gone from one end to the other. After that, he’d get back out onto the track and run some more. He was always drenched in sweat by the time he jogged back to the middle of the track, where Nick would be waiting for him on a blanket with his keys and wallet. Jim would down a big bottle of water, then he’d playfully race Nick back to the Bronco. He’d never seen his papu jog before, but he always figured he was in great shape because of the way he so easily lugged his diving equipment up and down the cliffs when they went to the ocean. The sound of the timer on the oven grabbed everyone’s attention. Jim got up and grabbed an oven mitt as Nick watched from the table. He opened the oven and pulled Nick’s birthday cake out, and as the aroma of a freshly baked carrot cake drifted into Nick’s nostrils, a smile spread across his face. He raised his head just enough to see Jim setting the cake on the top of the stove, where he left it to cool. From where he was sitting, Nick could see the counter top, which he surveyed carefully to make sure that there was no possibility of someone ruining his cake with frosting. By the time everyone had arrived, James was finished with his homework and Nick was excitedly showing Charles how good he was at darts. “My dad and James haven’t beat me yet,” Nick halfway fibbed, leaving out the fact that he hadn’t played darts with his dad or James yet. “Do you like darts?” “Well, I’ve played a few rounds,” Charles said, taking the darts from Nick and standing well behind the line that Jim set up over the weekend with orange tape on the garage floor. Nick watched with great interest as Charles took a serious posture before he let the first dart fly. He seemed to have an established technique, which turned out to be very effective, because he hit a bulls eye right off the bat. His next two throws were almost dead on as well, and Nick stood in stunned silence as Charles walked back up to the dart board and retrieved the three darts Nick had handed him. When the cake was ready, Jim came out to the garage and listened with a look of amusement as Nick reported the skill that Charles displayed throwing darts. When they got inside, Nick grinned as the large, unfrosted carrot cake with a number nine shaped candle burning in the center was carried to the table and everyone sang Happy Birthday to him. “How come there’s no frosting on it?” Taylor asked in a hesitant voice as Lori handed him a piece of cake. “I don’t like frosting on my carrot cake,” Nick told him. “It’s better without it.” “I’ve never heard of having a cake without frosting,” James said, and Taylor nodded in agreement. “At least we have ice cream to wash it down with.” Nick just shrugged and figured to himself that they didn't know what was good, then he happily dug into his piece of cake. When everyone was finished with their cake and ice cream, Big Nick and Tom brought a few normal sized wrapped presents to the table, and one really big one too, while Cindy dug into her purse and produced a large envelope that obviously contained a card. Nick opened it right away and smiled widely when he found a crisp ten dollar bill inside. Jim made him read the card out loud, then he got up and gave Cindy and Charles both a hug before he returned to his seat to open his wrapped gifts. The first thing he opened was from Tom and Linda, and it was a large Hot Wheels case that looked like the back of a big rig. He quickly ripped the package open and opened the case, where several Hot Wheels cars were neatly arranged in their slots. “I love it!” Nick exclaimed, holding his lips out for his grandma at the same time that his grandpa playfully messed his hair up. The next gift Nick opened was long and wide, and it felt heavy. Not too heavy for him to lift up, but it was definitely awkward to try to maneuver it. Out of the corner of his eye, there was a flash from Lori’s camera, and Nick knew that whatever he was about to open, it was something special. He carefully started to remove the wrapping paper and as soon as he saw what it was, he gasped. “What is it buddy?” Jim asked, as if he didn't already know. “It’s a guitar,” Nick exclaimed, trying to hold it up for everyone to see. “Here, open it for me, dad.” With that, Jim took it from Nick and proceeded to remove the guitar from its box. There wasn’t a case, but Nick didn't mind that. He just wanted to get his hands on it so he could try to play it. He had no idea how to play the guitar, but he’d always wanted one because it looked so easy on TV. Plus, one of his favorite wrestlers, Jeff Jarrett, was always smashing people over the head with his guitar. While Jim was getting the guitar out of its box, Big Nick handed him a much smaller present. He had a feeling that it was a game for his Play Station, but he wasn’t sure which one it was. His heart raced when he ripped the paper off and found NFL Blitz, the game he was hoping for. Almost as soon as he finished opening that present, he was handed one more, which had a card on it from Lori. He tore it open and found a brand new back pack with The Rock on it, then he sheepishly went back and opened the card after Jim gave him an admonishing glance. He didn't find any money in the card, but he still read it out loud, then he gave Lori a hug and a kiss. After all of his presents were opened, Nick, Taylor and James went to the family room and took turns trying to play the guitar, but it was fruitless because none of them knew what to do. The guitar came with a book, but Nick didn't have the patience to look through it at the moment. All he could think about was trying to make music with it the way he saw the rockers in music videos do. Just when he thought he had a good tune going, he strummed too hard on one of the strings and it snapped, eliciting a loud gasp from both Taylor and James. Such a loud gasp, in fact, that all of the adults came into the family room to see what happened. “Oh, buddy,” Jim said dejectedly. “Well, so much for the guitar for now. We’ll have to restring it tomorrow. There’s nothing we can do for it tonight. Why don’t you go play your new game?” For the rest of the evening, Nick, Taylor and James played with Nick’s new toys, plus the one’s he’d gotten over the weekend. When they got bored with that, they turned to rough housing on the stairs. Nick laid flat on his stomach at the top of the stairs while James and Taylor each grabbed one of his arms and pulled him down the steps. Taylor went next, then it was James’s turn. They were about to head back up the stairs to take their turns all over again, Jim appeared out of nowhere with his arms crossed and an irritated look. Nick took that as the cue for he and his cousin and Taylor to move on to something else, so they migrated to the family room, where they had a mini battle royal with the couch pillows. Nick kept an eye out for his dad or another adult to come break the rough-housing up, but they never came. It seemed to Nick like they played for hours before Charles and Cindy finally said it was time for them to get going. The boys all groaned a little bit, but only because they were having so much fun and didn't want to stop. Not long after Taylor and his folks left, the phone rang. Moments later, Jim appeared with the phone to his ear and told Nick and James to take Skalaki out one more time, then get ready for bed and hurry back down so they could tell Tom and Linda goodbye. Still wound up from rough-housing in the family room, they raced each other to the laundry room with Skalaki hot on their heels. James beat Nick out the door to the garage, where a blast of cool air gave Nick a refreshed sensation after working up a sweat in the family room. Nick followed his cousin out of the garage and from the side of the house to the back of the house, where they stood side by side on the patio and watched Skalaki sniff around on the grass. “Go knock on the door and tell someone to turn the light on,” James told Nick. “I’ll keep an eye on Skalaki.” Nick shrugged and did what he was told. Almost as soon as he knocked, the patio light came on and Jim pulled the blinds back, the phone still up to his ear. Nick could tell that his dad was having an important conversation, because it wasn’t like him to stay on the phone so long when there were gusts visiting. As soon as Jim turned and walked away from the patio door, he heard James giggle and exclaim “Gross!” “What?” Nick asked as he quickly joined his cousin at the edge of the patio. “Skalaki just pooped and it’s runny,” James said with a mischievous grin as he pointed to the mess on the lawn. “I’m glad it’s not my turn to pick up after him.” “It’s not my turn either,” Nick countered, and James shook his head in disagreement. “Yes it is,” he said. “I had to do it all weekend and dad said I won’t have to do it for two days.” Nick was about to argue, but Jim opened the door and both boys turned their attention his way as he made his way out to where they were standing with a warm smile on his face. “What are you two arguing about?” he asked knowingly, causing Nick and James to grin at each other before James answered. “Who’s turn is it to pick up dog poop?” James asked, and Jim gave Nick an affirming look and a nod. “Nick, you’ll do it tomorrow after school,” Jim said. “Your brother’s been doing it for two days. I’ll take care of it on Wednesday.” “See I told you,” James said with a grin and in a tone that matched his words. “Is he done?” Jim asked, causing the boys to turn their attention back to the dog, who was sniffing around the grass and trees with his tail in the air. “Yeah I think so,” Nick answered. “Why don’t you two get ready for bed then?” Jim said. “I’ll stay out here with Skalaki a little longer so you can get moving.” With that, they both turned and bounded towards the door, anxiously wrestling for an advantage when they got there. They struggled for about thirty seconds for control of the door handle, and finally Nick managed to open the door. That only gave James an opening to dart through the door with Nick right behind him as they tore up the stairs, each one peeling their shirt, shoes and socks off as they tried to make it to the top first. Surprisingly, Nick made it to the bathroom first, but only because he hurriedly stripped down to his underwear and didn't bother with a tee-shirt before he went to brush his teeth. Not long after he got there, he heard James close his dresser drawer. “I win” Nick said triumphantly when James emerged from his room to join him in front of the sink. “You have to put a shirt on silly,” James giggled. “Uh uh,” Nick countered. “I’m hot, so I don’t need one.” With that, James just shrugged and took the toothpaste down, putting some on his and Nick’s toothbrushes, then replacing the cap and putting it away. Nick hurriedly finished brushing his teeth, then he scampered back down the hall to his room, where he quickly found a white tee-shirt to wear before heading back downstairs with James right behind him. When they got to the bottom of the stairs, Jim called them into the kitchen, where their vitamins were waiting. After they chewed them up, Jim asked Nick to give him a minute to talk with James, so Nick obediently went back into the family room alone. “Come here, birthday boy,” Tom said, scooting over a little bit and patting the cushion on the couch so that Nick would sit between him and Linda. “Your grandma and I want to see you before we go home.” “Grandma are you ready to have the baby yet?” Nick asked, wedging himself between his grandparents and gently rubbing Linda’s swollen belly but silently wondering what Jim could be talking to his cousin about. “I’ve been ready,” Linda answered, snapping Nick out of his thoughts. “I’m just waiting on him to decide that he’s ready to come out.” “Did you have a good birthday this year?” Tom asked him, and Nick nodded, pleased that his grandparents’ attention was on him. “I got to have three parties,” Nick boasted. “Two at home and one at school.” Just then, James and his dad joined everyone in the family room, taking a spot on the love seat. He looked over at the love seat, where his dad and Lori were sitting side by side, and he jealously took note of the fact that James was sitting on Jim’s knee, resting his head lazily on his shoulder. Jim was saying something to him, but Nick couldn’t hear it. He saw James smile sadly and nod, and at the same time, Lori ran her hand affectionately through his hair and gave him a kiss. “Did you get everything you wanted?” Tom asked him, and Nick looked around the room at his dad, Lori, James, his papu, and then at Tom and Linda before he nodded happily. “The only thing I didn't get yet was my new uncle,” Nick said sweetly, and Linda gushed as she pulled him into her for a hug. “He’ll be here soon,” she promised him. “What’s his name going to be?” Nick asked, and Tom and Linda both shrugged. “We haven’t decided yet,” Tom answered. “We may name him after his daddy,” Linda said, giving Tom a loving look. Just then, Jim scooted a sleepy looking James off of his knee and said, “Give your aunt and uncle a hug and kiss goodnight.” James let loose with a long yawn as he approached the couch, where he wrapped his arms around Linda’s neck and gave her a long hug. “I love you Aunty Linda,” he said sweetly, giving her a kiss when he let go of the hug. “I love you too honey,” she said with a warm smile. “You have sweet dreams tonight, okay?” “I will,” James said as he moved to Tom, whom he leaned into for another hug. “I love you pal,” Tom said, squeezing him tightly and playfully swinging him from side to side. “Are you alright?” James nodded and smiled half heartedly up at his uncle before Tom released the hug and James moved over to the recliner, where Big Nick was sitting. Nick felt a surge of jealousy run through him when James climbed up into the recliner to give Big Nick a hug and said, “Goodnight papu. I love you.” “I love you too James,” Big Nick said. “I’ll see you in the morning buddy.” With that, James made his way back to the love seat where Jim and Lori were sitting. Jim lifted him back up into his lap while James grinned and puckered his lips toward Lori, holding them out for a kiss. Lori leaned over and gave him a kiss, then James held his lips out for Jim. “I love you sweet boy,” Jim said as he leaned forward and gave James a kiss. “Are you ready for daddy to tuck you in?” James nodded, then he reached out with his arms for Lori, who wrapped him up in a hug and told him how much she loved him. “I love you too,” James said. “Will you come upstairs and help my dad tuck me in tonight?” “Of course I will, honey,” she said. “We need to get going before this one starts nodding off,” Linda said, motioning toward Tom. In reply, Tom just rolled his eyes and stood up, stretching his arms out as he did. Everyone got up and walked with them to the front door. When they stepped out onto the front porch, Big Nick and Jim followed them outside while Nick and James watched from the doorway. “Why don’t the two of you come back inside so you don’t catch cold,” Lori said, and Nick immediately did what she said while James opened the storm door and walked out onto the front porch instead. Nick watched as Lori assertively walked down the hallway to confront James for not listening to her. She stepped out onto the porch and gave James a pointed look as she spoke. Nick couldn’t hear what she was saying, but he knew it wasn’t good because James was frowning and looking up at Jim almost pleadingly. Nick saw his dad mouth something, then point to the door, and James’s shoulders dropped. He shook his head no and seemed to be getting more upset, but Jim gave him a stern look. Finally, James stomped his feet with a hurt look, but he turned and opened the door. Lori was right behind him, silently guiding him to the family room, where he plopped down on the couch and folded his arms with a cross look on his face. Lori sat next to him and said something, but he just looked straight ahead and sealed his lips. Not long after James and Lori sat down, Jim and Big Nick came inside, closing the front door behind them. “I think James is mad at Miss Lori,” Nick told them as they approached him, and Jim let out a loud sigh. “What’s the problem, son?” Jim asked, taking the spot next to James and reaching out to rub his bare legs, which were covered in goose bumps from the cold night air. “Nothing,” James mumbled, leaning into Jim’s shoulder with a sad look on his face. “I think I know the problem,” Jim said as he let out a long breath and stood back up. “You were ready for bed a long time ago. Come on, buddy.” “I’m not ready to go to bed anymore,” James said testily as he stood up behind Jim. “James, let’s go have a talk in the other room,” Jim said, guiding James into the kitchen by the shoulders. Nick quickly moved to the couch so he could see if James got a whipping or not, which was the first though that ran through Nick’s mind when his dad took James to the kitchen alone. Nick watched as Jim used his finger to lift James’s chin, revealing James’s sad eyes. Jim’s expression softened and he pulled a chair out. He took a seat and said something to James that Nick couldn’t make out from where he was sitting. Whatever it was seemed to frustrate his cousin, because James looked like he was almost on the verge of tears as he shook his head and talked. Jim nodded and gave him a look of finality as James looked sadly at his dad and talked. Jim said something to James, who replied with a sad nod as he buried his face in Jim’s chest. Jim reached out with both hands and ran his fingers through James’s hair, then he grabbed his cheeks and pressed his forehead against James’s. Something he said brought a smile to James’s face, and soon as he smiled, Jim rubbed his nose against James’s nose, then he gave a long hug. When James lifted his head off of his dad’s shoulder, Jim asked him a question and he nodded with a shy smile. James said something else, then he puckered his lips and held them out for Jim to give him a kiss. Nick watched as his dad affectionately leaned forward and gave James a kiss, then he stood up and held his hands out for James. James held his arms up for his dad, who reached down and hoisted him up, slinging him playfully over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes as they made their way back into the family room. “Miss Lori I’m sorry for not listening to you,” James said sweetly as Jim took a seat on the couch between Nick and Lori. “It’s okay, sweetie,” she said. “Are you feeling better now?” James nodded as he clung to Jim’s shoulders, obviously enjoying the attention he was receiving. Nick felt extremely jealous but decided to show James that he could be a bigger kid than him by walking up the stairs behind his dad instead of asking to be carried. Jim called Nick over so they could pray together, so Nick got up and joined his family at the center of the couch. They joined hands while James said the prayer, and Nick couldn’t help but notice that James mentioned his real mom and dad with an emotional voice and a sniffle. When James was done, they all said Amen and Nick got up to gave his papu a quick hug and kiss goodnight, then he waited patiently for his dad to follow him up the stairs with James in tow. “Nick, do you have to go pee?” Jim asked, and Nick nodded. “I have to pee too,” James whined. “Is it an emergency?” Jim asked, and James nodded. Nick knew he was lying, but stayed silent as Jim let him down in front of the bathroom door. While James was in the bathroom, Jim knelt down and gave Nick a hug. “Do you need to use daddy’s bathroom?” he asked, and Nick shook his head. “I can wait daddy,” Nick almost boasted. “Is James mad at Miss Lori?” “No, he’s having a rough night, buddy,” Jim said. “His mom called tonight, and I think he got a little jealous because you had your birthday all weekend. He just needs a little extra love, that’s all.” Just then the door opened and James came out with a bratty look on his face. He immediately went to Jim while Nick went into the bathroom, where it was obvious that James hadn’t even bothered to lift the seat, much less aim or flush the toilet. Nick just shrugged and peed, then he flushed and washed his hands before he went down the hall to his room, where Jim was waiting for him. “James peed on the seat,” Nick tattled, hoping to get James into a little trouble. “Well he’s not the only boy in this house who pee’s on the seat,” Jim said as he pulled the covers back for Nick to climb into his bed. “I’m about to go sit down and have a talk with him, okay? I want you to sleep tight, son. Happy birthday and I love you.” “I love you too daddy,” Nick said, smiling up at his dad, who leaned down and gave him a kiss before he stood up and shut the light off. Nick fell asleep in no time flat, but out of nowhere, he heard a commotion in the hallway that brought him out of his slumber. Startled, he got up and opened his bedroom door to see what was happening. He saw James’s door opened and his light on, but he never ventured out of his room to see what the trouble was. He was about to close his door when the hallway light came on and he saw his papu standing by the switch. He stayed silent as Big Nick peered into James’s room, then he heard him say, “Are you alright buddy?” “Yeah he’ll be okay, dad,” Nick heard Jim say. “He’s not having a good night tonight.” With that, Nick let out a sigh of relief and closed his door. He shut the light off and navigated his way back to his bed, where he got comfortable and closed his eyes once more. He heard his dad walk across the hallway with James, who was still sobbing, then he heard Jim say, “You’re alright buddy. Dad’s gonna run a warm bath for you, okay?” Nick opened his eyes and watched the ceiling as he listened to the sound of water running into the tub drown out James’ crying and his dad’s soothing voice. He was wide awake, still shaken up by the commotion, so he glanced over at his alarm clock and saw that it was almost midnight. He knew he needed to close his eyes and try to go back to sleep, but he didn't feel tired at all. When he heard the water stop, he decided to get up and see what was happening. He was about to open his door when he heard Jim’s footsteps coming out of the bathroom and into the hallway. “Is he alright?” he heard his papu ask, and Jim sighed loudly. “Yeah, he’s just having a really bad night, dad,” Jim said. “I think I’m going to keep him home from school tomorrow.” With that, Nick felt a rush of jealously run through him, so he opened his door just in time to see Jim walking down the stairs with a rolled up towel and James’ tee shirt in his hand. He knew that big Nick must’ve gone downstairs too, because he didn't see him anywhere, and when he looked in the spare room, his papu was nowhere to be found. He moved back down the hallway to the bathroom door, which was opened, and carefully peaked inside. James was sitting in the tub, still sniffling. He turned to head back to his room when he heard his dad’s footsteps coming up the stairs, so he waited for him in the hallway instead. “Son, what are you doing up?” Jim asked with a frustrated tone as soon as he spotted Nick. “The noise woke me up and I can’t sleep,” Nick said, trying to read his dad’s face. “Well I need you to try, buddy,” Jim said quietly. “Do you have to go to the bathroom?” Nick nodded, so his dad took him by the hand and they walked into Jim’s room, where Nick went into the bathroom while his dad waited on the bed. When Nick came out, he decided to ask Jim what was wrong. “Your brother’s having a rough night,” Jim said sadly. “He’s going to be fine though.” “How come he has to take a bath?” Nick asked, and Jim stood up before answering him. “It’s nothing to worry about, son,” Jim told him, and Nick knew that meant that his dad didn't want to say why, but then he relented. “He just needs to calm down a little, son. Sometimes a nice soak in the tub makes people feel better. Do you want a little snack before you lay down? Your papu’s making celery and peanut butter for James. Why don’t you go down to the kitchen and tell him to make you some, too.” “Yes sir,” Nick said, a little anxious to go downstairs and get a snack from his papu because he never got to be up at midnight, especially when there was school the next day. As he made it to the bottom of the stairs, the family room was dark. He could hear the sound of the washing machine from behind the closed door of the laundry room, and he saw a glow from the kitchen light as he made his way down the hall. As he got closer to the kitchen, he heard the dishwasher running, and when he walked in the room, he spotted his papu right away, standing at the counter spreading peanut butter across pieces of skinned celery. “Does your daddy know you’re up?” Big Nick asked, and Nick nodded. “He said to ask you to make me some celery sticks,” Nick reported, climbing up onto a stool at the breakfast nook. For what seemed like forever, Nick and his papu sat alone on the kitchen and talked while they waited for Jim and James to come downstairs. At some point, while they were talking, the sound of the bathtub being drained could be heard from upstairs, but there was no sign of his dad or his cousin. Finally, the washing machine started to spin fast, and Nick knew that it was almost done and that his dad would be down to put whatever was in there in the dryer. A couple minutes later, just as Nick suspected, he heard his dad’s footsteps coming down the stairs and the door to the laundry room open. Nick hopped down from the stool to see what his dad was up to, making a beeline to the laundry room to ask his dad when they were coming downstairs. When he walked in, his dad was taking a load of laundry out of the washer and putting them into the dryer. “Daddy?” Nick said, trying to get his dad’s attention. “What do you need buddy?” Jim asked quietly. “I thought you were going to try to go back to sleep.” “I’m not sleepy,” Nick said. “I thought you and James were coming downstairs.” “I’m going to take your brother his snack,” Jim said as they walked out of the laundry room and to the kitchen. “Where’s James,” big Nick asked as Nick crawled back onto his stool and Jim took a seat on another one. “He doesn’t want to come down,” Jim said. “He’s still upset, so I’m just going to take his stuff upstairs. Are you ready to lay back down, Nick?” Nick felt a little disappointed, but he nodded obediently and slid down off of his stool, walking around the breakfast nook to hug his papu one more time before he followed his dad up the stairs. When Nick made it to the very top, Jim told him to go lay down and that he’d be in to check on him in a little bit, then he watched his dad go into James’ room with the plate of celery sticks. The next morning, Nick opened his eyes and realized that it was dark and rainy, but that it wasn’t night time anymore. He looked at the clock and almost panicked when he realized that it was after nine in the morning, but his panic soon gave way to a grin when he figured out that he was staying home from school. He made a beeline for the bathroom, then he carefully peaked into his dad’s room. The bed was empty, so he went to James’s door, which was wide opened. The bed was empty, so he crept down the hall to see if his papu was up. Once he saw the empty room, he made his way downstairs, where he saw the glow of the TV in the family room and the smell of coffee drifted into his nostrils. He saw his dad in the recliner with a mug in his hand, looking worriedly across the room at James, who was sleeping face down on the love seat. Seeing his dad’s fretful expression made Nick frown, and as he made his way to his dad for a hug, he wondered what was wrong. “Good morning buddy,” Jim said as Nick climbed into the recliner and gave his dad a hug. When he let go, he settled in next to his dad and the next thing he knew, Jim surprised him by reclining the chair. Nick giggled quietly, not wanting to wake his sleeping cousin, and his dad smiled warmly at him. “Listen son, I know it’s not the regular day, but James and I are going to go talk to Miss Sue this afternoon, okay?” “Yes sir,” Nick said. “James’ feelings don’t feel good?” “No, they don’t, son,” Jim said sadly. “Your papu’s going to stay with you while I take him, okay?” “Yes sir,” Nick said. “Where’s my papu right now?” “He went next door to have coffee with grandma and grandpa,” Jim said. “Are you hungry?” Nick nodded silently, so they got up and started toward the kitchen when Jim stopped at the love seat and knelt down, looking worriedly again at James. He sighed and looked up, staring almost hopelessly at the back of the couch before he ran his hand lovingly over James’ cheek. When he stood up, he smiled at Nick and they proceeded to the kitchen. Nick took his same stool from the night before and watched as Jim opened the cupboard, displaying about five different kinds of cereal. Jim gave Nick a silly grin, then he reached out with both hands and grabbed all five boxes, holding them in place by pressing them together as he carried them to the breakfast nook, where he set them down. Nick knew that his dad was trying to be positive, even though he was really sad for James. His eyes looked weary, and Nick knew it was because Jim was probably up most of the night with his cousin. “Which one do you want?” Jim asked him, walking to the dishwasher for a clean bowl. “One of each, please,” Nick said with a grin. With that, Jim put the normal sized bowl he was holding down and went back into the dishwasher. He pulled a large salad bowl out and playfully set it in front of Nick, then he grabbed a large wooden spoon and put it inside while Nick giggled. Just then, James staggered into the kitchen, still half asleep, and went directly to Jim for a hug. Jim knelt down and wrapped an arm around James, pulling him into his chest and letting him rest the side of his head on his shoulder. Nick watched as his cousin let out a long, loud yawn and wrapped both of his arms around Jim’s neck. “Good morning buddy,” Jim said, standing up and lifting James with him. “Are you still sleepy?” James took a deep breath and nodded, apparently still trying to find his bearings. When he let go of the hug, he rubbed his eyes and yawned one more time, then he planted a kiss on his dad’s cheek and rested his head back down on his shoulder as he wrapped his legs around his dad. “I’m thirsty daddy,” James said sleepily. “I want something to drink.” “Do you want daddy to get you some milk?,” Jim asked gently. “Or do you want juice?” “I want milk,” he whined. “Did you go to the bathroom already?” Jim asked, reaching into the cupboard for a cup. James rubbed his eyes and shook his head, so Jim let him down and told him, “Go to the bathroom and when you get done, your milk will be waiting.” “No, I’m thirsty now,” James demanded, wrapping his arms around Jim’s waist and burying his head in his stomach as he let out a sob. Jim sighed and rolled his eyes as if to say, ‘Not again,’ then he knelt back down and gave James a hug and tried to soothe him. “Son, I want you to go before I give you your milk,” Jim said softly but assertively. “But I’m thirsty now,” James cried hysterically. Nick was shocked at what he was seeing, mainly because he’d never seen his cousin act so emotional before. Before he could say another word, Jim stood up with him and turned to carry him out of the kitchen as James’ crying got louder. He heard his dad open the bathroom door in the downstairs hallway and tell James to let go with his legs, then he heard James tell Jim no. “Son, I don’t want to ask you again,” Jim said, the frustration building in his voice. “I don’t want to,” James sobbed, but Nick knew he was doing what he was told because he heard his feet hit the floor. Nick wanted to get up and go see what was happening, but was afraid that his dad would yell at him too, so he stayed where he was and listened as his dad tried to reason with James. He was still crying as he finally listened to his dad and did what he was told, then he heard Jim tell James to wash his hands. “No,” James wailed defiantly, then he heard the water in the sink start at the same time the toilet flushed. “You see, that wasn’t so bad,” Jim said softly as James continued to cry. Almost in an instant, they were back in the kitchen with James sobbing on his dad’s shoulder and clinging tightly to him with his arms and legs. Jim was softly shushing him while he went into the refrigerator for the milk. He took it out and poured it, then he held the cup up for James to take a sip. Nick watched as James, who still had tears pouring down his cheeks, tried to stop crying long enough to take a drink from the cup Jim was holding. When he finally got a drink, he rested his head back down on Jim’s shoulder and let out a new series of sobs. Jim set the cup down and softly caressed his head as he gave Nick a sad smile, then he used one hand to pour Nick a bowl of Coco Pebbles. “Are you hungry babe?” Jim asked James, who sadly shook his head and sniffled. “Do you want to sit with daddy while he eats his breakfast?” James nodded, his head still buried on Jim’s shoulder, so Jim poured himself a bowl of Kix and carried it to the table along with James’ milk. Nick watched from the breakfast nook as his dad took bites of his cereal and talked softly to James, who was still crying. Jim scooped up a spoonful and offered it to James, who accepted it. Nick felt really bad for his dad, and for James, as he watched them eat. He knew how worried his dad was for his cousin, and it was easy for him to see why now. Jim fed James every other bite of his cereal, then James whined that he was thirsty, so Jim picked his cup up and offered him a sip of milk. When Jim pulled the cup away, James said he didn't want any more, so Jim finished what was left, then he downed the milk at the bottom of the bowl. “Are you feeling a little better now, babe?” Jim asked softly, and James shrugged. “Do you want to go sit with daddy in the family room so we can have a talk?” “What are we going to talk about?” James asked in a sad voice. “Just a couple things, buddy,” Jim said, making it sound like it wasn’t that big of a deal. “Why don’t we get up and go talk. Do you need a ride?” He nodded, and Jim stood up with James still clinging tightly to him. Jim put James’ cup inside of the bowl and carried them to the sink, then he walked over to Nick. “Are you okay, buddy?” Jim asked and Nick nodded quietly. “Your brother and I are gonna have a talk in the family room, alright. You can come in there and watch TV when you’re ready, or you can go watch TV in your room. Do you want another bowl of cereal?” “No thank you,” Nick said with a smile as Jim leaned down and kissed the top of his head. He noticed that James looked jealous as he watched Jim and Nick talking. Nick watched while James sat in Jim’s lap and looked up at his dad while he talked. Jim said something to him, and James shook his head no. Nick decided that he wanted to hear what they were saying, so he wandered into the family room and grabbed the remote. He found something to watch on the Cartoon Network and tried not to stare as Jim talked to James about going to see Miss Sue. James tried to argue, but his dad would have none of it. “Son, we’re going,” Jim said. “I’m not doing it because I’m mad at you, babe.” “Then why?” James pleaded tearfully. “I didn't do anything bad on purpose.” “James you didn't do anything bad at all,” Jim told him sadly. “We’re going because we need someone to talk to.” “About last night?” James asked with a sob. “Well, yeah, and about this morning, too,” Jim said. “I don’t think you’re trying to be bad, son. We just need to talk to her and see if she can help us figure it out.” With that, James let out a long, loud sob and Nick couldn’t help but look. His dad was rocking him back and forth, trying to calm him down but it didn't seem to be working. Finally James cried out, “I’m sorry daddy.” “I know you are sweetheart,” Jim said, his voice full of emotion. He gave James a kiss on top of the head and ran his fingers through his hair gently, then he turned his attention to Nick. “Do you want to take a bath or a shower this morning, son?” “I’ll take a shower,” Nick said quietly, feeling shaken by what he was watching. “Take Skalaki out and feed him first, okay?” Jim told him. “Yes sir,” Nick said, dutifully standing up and doing what his dad said. When he came back in, he washed his hands in the bathroom, then he went back into the family room. It was dark and empty because while he was feeding the dog, his dad shut the TV off and took James upstairs. When Nick got to the top of the stairs, he could hear his dad’s voice coming from the spare room his papu slept in, so he turned left and went to the doorway to see what was happening. James was standing in front of Jim, looking out the window while his dad talked to him. Nick didn't listen to much of their conversation because he was afraid he’d hear something that he didn't want to hear. He quickly grabbed a towel from the hallway closet and went into the bathroom, where he started the shower without any help from his dad. Even though Jim hadn’t said so, Nick knew that his dad needed him to start doing things for himself, especially now. Because he had a bad feeling that something was terribly wrong with his cousin, and for the first time in his life, he understood that his father had no idea what to do about it.
  2. Nick was sure his father had lost his mind. It was December 31, 1999, and Jim was in a panic about Y2K. He had stockpiled fifty gallons of drinking water, more canned food than Nick had ever seen in one place in his life, and that included at the grocery store, and a whole box of flashlights and batteries. He also had a huge stack of charcoal and charcoal fluid for the grill. But what really had Nick concerned was the long rope that was sitting on top of the dryer in the laundry room. He heard them arguing that morning when they thought he wasn’t listening, and hearing the men talk the way they had was chilling. “Son, I want you to listen to yourself,” Big Nick said. “You aren’t making any sense.” “I know what I’m doing,” Jim snapped back. “Now, you’re welcome to do this with us, or you don’t have to. But I’ve already made up my mind about the boys and me.” “Jim, stop and think about it,” Big Nick tried to reason, but Jim cut him off. “I already have,” he said testily. “I’m not going to be separated from my boy’s. They need to be right here with me so I can protect them.” “How is tying a rope around them going to protect them, son?” Big Nick said, the frustration in his voice rising. “I don’t want us separated, dad,” Jim countered. “It’s just going to be around their waist’s, anyway.” “So you think that if the three of you are connected at the waist, you can keep them safe?” Big Nick scoffed. “I think you’ve been thinking too much about this. You know, this is only going to happen once for them. The century isn’t going to turn again for another hundred years. You’re going to ruin it for them.” “You know what,” Jim said in a frustrated tone, indicating to Nick that his dad was starting to realize that he was wrong. “Just drop it, dad. I don’t feel like arguing about this with you anymore.” Sitting on the stairs, listening to the men argue, Nick tried to work out in his mind what event’s could possibly unravel that would cause his dad to be involuntarily separated from him and James. The thoughts were too much for him, so he decided to try to put them out of his head. Still they lingered. Nick was scared of the thought that his dad’s plan for the rope would even be necessary. Still, he trusted his dad’s judgment enough to relax and do whatever he was told. From where he was sitting on the stairs, Nick could hear the sound of James’ bedroom door opening and his light footsteps walking across the hallway to the bathroom. He felt a little excited, knowing what they were about to do. The night before when Jim was sitting with them on the couch before bedtime, they talked about their plans for the backyard. Tom and Big Nick had already taken measurements of the back yard while Jim marked the places where he wanted the deck to go. As they were going over their plans, Nick and James stated their desire for a tree house. For the most part, Nick felt like there was no chance his dad would acquiesce, but Jim was surprisingly receptive to the idea. “I always wanted a tree house when I was a boy,” Jim said as he ruefully looked at his father. “Someone wouldn’t build one for me, though.” “Oh, you didn’t need a tree house,” Big Nick said impatiently. “I think you turned out just fine without one.” With that, Big Nick circled Jim sarcastically, looking him up and down as if he were inspecting his body for defects. With a grin, he nodded and gave his stamp of approval. “Yep, you seemed to have come through it all okay,” he said. “Two arms, two legs and a hard head.” With that, Nick and James started to laugh as Jim smiled at them. Nick wasn’t used to seeing his dad on the receiving end of any type of verbal berating, but he seemed to take it in stride, so Nick just shrugged and brushed it off as nothing. This morning, though, his stomach was growling with hunger and his mind was on breakfast. “I’m hungry daddy,” Nick said, walking toward the kitchen. “I need a bowl of grits.” James made it to the bottom of the stairs and followed Nick to the kitchen, where they both climb up onto the breakfast nook and watched while Big Nick peeled a bag of large red potatoes and Jim took a box of Bisquick down and mixed it up with eggs and milk in a large bowl for pancake batter. In a separate bowl, he mixed a second batch of Bisquick and milk for biscuits. It was early in the morning. James, Nick, Jim and Big Nick would have typically still been asleep, but since it was New Years Eve, Jim wanted everyone to come over early for a big breakfast. Nick knew that at any moment, Tom and Linda were going to be there. Lori was still upstairs in bed. One observation Nick had made was that she always slept in, and one time, he said so out loud. His dad scolded him loudly for it and sent him to his room for an hour in time out, prompting him to keep that kind of information to himself whenever he observed it. The potatoes Big Nick peeled were dripping with water, having been washed well in the sink as soon as they came out of the bag. But he noticed that after they were cut, they were washed again, and he wondered how sensible that was. He didn’t dare speak this fact out loud, though, instead choosing to keep it for a later date when he could ask his papu in private about the peculiar extra step he seemed to take. Taking his eyes off of his papu for a moment, Nick noticed that his dad was letting James drop the dough on the baking sheet and he suddenly got insanely jealous. Despite the fact that his dad had already spoken to him about James needing extra attention, he had feelings of envy he felt were out of his control. In the preceding days, it seemed to Nick that his cousin was taking full advantage of Jim’s concern for his well-being and using it to get his way. “Can I pour the pancake batter?” Nick asked, hoping to intrude a little on the space he had been giving his dad and James. “Sure buddy,” Jim said, walking around the breakfast nook and running his hands through Nick’s hair, pulling it back out of his face and planting a kiss on his lips. “I love you buddy.” “I love you too daddy,” he said, beaming as his dad smiled at him. “Are we going to work on the tree house today?” “Yes sir,” Jim said, nodding affirmatively at his son. “We’ll work on the plans in the garage today, and if there’s enough time, we’ll even start to work on the frame. It’s going to be a nice one, I promise.” In the middle of what Jim was saying, the doorbell rang, but Lori answered it. Nick had no idea she had awaken, so he was little surprised to see her walk into the kitchen with Tom and Linda. She looked picture perfect to Nick, too. He hadn’t heard the shower at all, but it was obvious to him that she had not only showered, but also dried and styled her hair. She had done her face as well, the smell of her makeup giving that fact away. Her light perfume helped accentuate her look as she walked through the kitchen like a goddess that everyone stopped to look at. She walked up to Big Nick and gave him a peck on the cheek, then she went to the breakfast nook where Jim was standing and wrapped an arm around his waist, giving him a kiss on the lips as he enveloped her whole body with his large arm. Nick leaned forward and gave her a small hug, taking in the intoxicating scent of the woman his dad was with, and he wondered if maybe he didn’t like girls just a little bit. “Good morning Miss Lori,” James said shyly from the other side of the breakfast nook, still dropping the dough onto the baking sheet. “Good morning cutie,” she said sweetly. “Are you making the biscuits?” “Yes ma’am,” James said with a huge smile, turning back to his work. Linda walked up to him and grabbed both of his cheeks, pulling him close for a kiss on the lips that made him blush outwardly as Nick giggled. As embarrassed as he seemed to be, though, James still dropped his fork and wrapped his arms around Linda’s neck for a long hug as she whispered something into his ear that made him smile and nod. After breakfast, Jim sent Nick and James upstairs to get dressed for the weather. It was sunny outside, but the temperature was in the low twenties. While Nick was getting dressed, he head James’ bedroom door open, so he peaked his head out to see what he was doing. When he saw him heading to the bathroom, he walked down the hallway and pushed his way past his cousin. “I was here first,” he said nastily to James, who was already in the door and about to close it when Nick had come in. “No you weren’t,” James said defensively. “Get out, I have to go.” “You get out!” Nick yelled in reply. “I have to go too.” With that, Nick tried to force his cousin out the door, but James was too big for him. When he realized he wasn’t going to be able to force him out, he reached up and grabbed him by the hair with both hands and pulled as hard as he could, yanking James’ head from left to right, over and over until James was able to use his fingers to break Nick’s grip. Once his grip was broken, Nick gave James a hard shove that knocked him back, through the door jam and into the hallway. Then he closed the door and locked it, smiling to himself as the sound of James’ crying flowed into his ears like music. Nick stood still in front of the mirror and smiled, completely satisfied with himself. He heard the crying get further away, telling him that James had most likely gone downstairs to tell on him, but in a small way, that was what he wanted. He knew he didn’t really have to go to the bathroom at all, either. He just wanted to be mean to his cousin, and he knew he had succeeded. He heard two sets of footsteps coming back up the stairs, and nervously, he waited for his dad to knock at the door. “Nick, open this door,” Jim said impatiently as the knob moved back and forth, telling Nick that his dad was trying to come in but had found the door locked. “Open it!” Nick unlocked the door and stepped out of the way as it swung open. On the other side, an obviously angry Jim was standing next to James, whose face was streaked with tears that were still running down his cheeks. Jim stepped in and looked around, his eyes focusing first on the unused toilet, then on Nick, who stood still and waited for his punishment. Jim motioned for him to follow him out of the bathroom and James hurriedly ran inside and swung the door closed. Nick looked back at the bathroom door, which hadn’t closed all the way, as they made their way to Jim’s room. Once there, Jim closed the door and pointed to his bed. Nick followed his dad’s command and sat cross-legged as his dad plopped down on the bed next to him. “Now tell me what the hell you were thinking, boy,” Jim said irritably as he cast an angry glare down on his son. Nick looked up at his dad and thought about his answer for a moment. It suddenly dawned on him that he had no idea what he was thinking. So, instead, he made something up. “I had to go to the bathroom,” Nick fibbed as his dad cut his eyes at him. “Don’t lie to me boy,” Jim warned him quickly. “You didn’t even go to the bathroom, so let’s start over. Why did you pull James’ hair and kick him out of the bathroom?” “I just wanted to beat him up,” Nick said, realizing that the truth was escaping his lips. “Why son?” Jim asked, sounding exasperated at Nick’s answer. Nick just shrugged his shoulders and answered truthfully again. “I just felt like doing it,” he said simply. Jim got up and walked to his closet, where his belt hung on the inside of the door. He walked back to the bed and sat down next to his son and sighed deeply before speaking. “So let me get this straight,” he said. “Just so we’re clear. You felt like beating James up?” Nick sat still and nodded slowly, his fate becoming clear to him. “What makes you think it’s okay to beat anyone up?” Jim demanded in a calm voice that made Nick feel uneasy. “Because sometimes I want to beat people up,” Nick answered, once again being as honest with his dad as possible. “Well son, sometimes I want to make you do all of James’s chores,” he said calmly. “ And I want to take away your Christmas presents after I spank your ass, but that doesn’t mean I go through with it. You need to use your head, son. When James is done in the bathroom, you’re going to apologize to him, then you’re going to do his chores for the next two weeks. If you don’t, I’ll give all of your Christmas presents to the church. Do you understand me?” “Yes sir,” Nick said ashamedly, looking up at his dad, who was still gripping his belt ominously in his hand and giving Nick a look that indicated he wasn’t free and clear yet. “We’ll sit here and wait for him to finish,” Jim said, folding the belt over and taking an end in each hand, letting his fists meet before pulling them apart forcefully, making the belt snap as he eyed his son and nodded slowly. James seemed to be taking forever, and the wait was causing Nick to have second thoughts about what he had done. He was still unclear as to whether or not Jim planned to whip him. Finally, after an uneasy five minutes, the toilet flushed and Jim stood up, motioning Nick to stand and follow him out to the hallway. They walked past the bathroom door, where the sounds of hand washing could be heard over the running toilet. When James opened the door and came out, Jim and Nick were waiting for him in the hallway. “You feel better buddy?” Jim asked, kneeling down and wrapping an arm around James’ shoulder. James simply nodded with a sad look on his face as he laid his head down on Jim’s shoulder and looked accusingly at Nick. “I’m sorry James,” Nick said, swallowing his pride to avoid the whipping he knew he’s wind up enduring if he didn’t apologize. “I won’t do it again. I promise.” Instead of answering, James turned away from Nick and wrapped his arms around Jim for a hug. Nick knew his cousin was being difficult on purpose, but he bit his tongue and listened as James put on an act for Jim. “I have a headache now,” James complained as Jim wrapped his arms around him and gave Nick a disappointed look. Nick saw his cousin turn his head momentarily, and unbeknownst to Jim, he smiled triumphantly at Nick. A feeling of rage coursed through Nick’s whole body, and he knew that the only thing that would make it go away would be to make James pay, but he knew if he did he’d be in trouble. Resigned to his defeat, Nick slumped his shoulders and walked to his room, closing the door so he could be alone. A few minutes later, his bedroom door opened a little bit and Tom came in. “Hey kiddo,” he said with a smile, taking a seat at Nick’s desk. “Are you okay?” “No,” Nick said bitterly, on the verge of tears. “I got in trouble because of James, and he made a face at me and my dad didn’t see it.” “Oh he did?” Tom asked, sounding as if he was ready to take Nick’s side. “Tell me everything.” “My dad made me say sorry to James,” Nick whined, feeling tears welling up in his eyes. “Then he said I had to do all of his chores for two weeks. It’s not fair.” “Do you think you might have done something to deserve that?” Tom asked, raising an eyebrow as Nick shook his head. “James is being a brat,” Nick said dejectedly. “He always gets his way and he never gets in trouble like I do.” “Are you sure about that, Nick?” Tom said knowingly. I seem to remember James being grounded for almost a month. You don’t remember that?” “But he deserved it,” Nick pleaded. “He wasn’t doing his homework and he beat Taylor up. Plus he ran away.” “You’re right, he did deserve it,” Tom agreed. “As a matter of fact, I think your dad is pretty fair with the two of you in terms of punishment. He doesn’t play favorites.” “But James made a face at me,” Nick sobbed loudly as his crying started to get out of control. He felt Tom’s hand on his shoulder, massaging it for a moment before he felt himself being lifted onto his grandpa’s lap. “I’ll tell you what, kiddo,” Tom said as he lightly stroked Nick’s long hair. “I’ll keep an eye on James today. If I catch him doing anything mean to you when your dad’s not watching, he’ll be in trouble. Deal?” Nick looked up at his grandpa and nodded his head, sniffling and trying to get a handle on his crying. “I’ll also have a talk with your dad about making sure James isn’t manipulating him,” Tom said, then he added, “That doesn’t mean your dad isn’t watching out for it, kiddo. But I’ll talk to him just be on the safe side.” “Thanks Grandpa,” Nick said, feeling a little better. “You’re welcome little buddy,” Tom answered. “Are you ready to come downstairs with the rest of us?” “Okay,” Nick said as Tom scooted him off his lap and took his hand. Downstairs, everyone was talking and relaxing in the family room when Nick and his grandfather walked in. Tom took a seat next to Linda and lifted Nick onto his lap, hugging him tightly and making him feel warm, as his cousin watched from the floor with a nasty sneer as he petted Skalaki in front of the fireplace. When the conversation moved to the subject of the back yard, everyone got up and walked onto the patio, prompting Jim to remind both boys to get their coats from the front hallway. Nick was reaching for his coat when James walked up from behind and intentionally bumped Nick out of the way, grabbing his own coat and at the same time, tossing Nick’s coat about three feet away to the floor. Then, as Nick watched helplessly, James trampled over his coat as he walked back down the hallway and out the back door. As tears welled up in Nick’s eyes, he tried to wiped the footprints from the coat that James left with his shoes, but he couldn’t get them off. Frustrated, he gave up, threw his jacket down and wailed loudly. Suddenly the back door opened and closed, and a worried looking Jim walked down the hallway. “What’s wrong, baby?” Jim asked as he knelt down and pulled Nick into a hug. Nick pointed to his coat and cried for a moment before he found his voice and spoke. “James did that to my jacket,” he cried somewhat hysterically, at his breaking point with James. “He pushed me and threw my jacket on the floor and stepped on it. I can’t get the footprints off.” Jim looked at the coat on the floor and picked it up, looking closely at the shoe prints on the surface, then he kissed Nick gently on the end of his nose before he let go and stood up with the coat in his hands. He marched to the back door and opened it swiftly. Nick felt a draft of cold air hit him at the exact time he heard Jim’s voice bellowing out for his cousin. “James!” he heard his dad’s voice boom. “Get in this house right now!” Nick walked to the family room and watched as James cautiously approached Jim, who had a furious look on his face. As soon as James was inside, Jim yanked him by the arm and led him to the kitchen. Nick didn’t follow, but he could clearly hear his dad’s authoritative voice as he spoke. “Why the fuck would you do this?” Jim exploded right off the bat. “I don’t know, dad,” James cried, his voice shaky and his sniffling audible to Nick from the kitchen. “Well you better figure it out,” Jim said more calmly, but still forcefully. “I can’t,” James sobbed. “This is fucking bullshit, James,” Jim spat and Nick heard his coat hit the floor. “Are you going to pay for a new jacket?” James didn’t answer. Instead, his crying filled the house, and Nick knew he was paying for what he did. Nick wondered how hard Jim was going to be on his cousin, too. He knew he wouldn’t be whipped for the simple fact that his dad was exploding with rage, and James had to know that too, Nick thought. When Jim spoke again, Nick knew his dad had reached a breaking point with James. “You’re fucking thirteen, James!” Jim shouted. “Nick’s eight! You’re tooold to be doing this shit to him! Leave him the fuck alone! Do you hear me?” James sobbed loudly, once again not answering Jim’s question. The shouting stopped and the only sound Nick could hear besides James’ crying was the sound of Jim hanging his coat on the back of a chair at the table. Nick heard Jim pull another chair out and then he heard his dad say, “Come here, son.” Nick walked to the entrance of the kitchen, where he looked in and saw his dad sitting at the table hugging James, who looked pitiful. It was obvious to Nick that his dad had startled James so badly that he had stopped talking, and that maybe Jim had realized that he’s gone too far with his shouting. Nick heard the back door open and watched as Tom walked by him and into the kitchen, taking a seat at the table next to Jim. Nick took a seat on the couch and listened as Tom passed on what Nick had said to him upstairs. James tearfully denied it, but it was obvious to Nick that they weren’t buying his story. They pressed him for the truth, but he wouldn’t admit to what happened. Instead, he regaled the events of the morning, when Nick kicked him out of the bathroom and brutalized him in the process. “Nick,” Jim called out. “Come in here please.” Nick did as he was told, making his way across the cold kitchen floor to where his dad was sitting with James on his legs. Jealously, Nick lifted his arms for his grandpa to put him in his lap as he watched his dad hold onto James with one arm. For what seemed like an eternity, Nick listened closely as his dad and his grandfather talked to them about their fighting and the lengths they were going to in order to inflict punishment on each other. “Personally, I think the two of you are ready for school to start next week,” Jim said. “God knows I am.” Nick knew his dad was probably right. He and James were together almost all the time, and they were starting to tire of each other’s presence. It seemed like every time Nick turned around, James was there, hogging all of his dad’s attention. He hadn’t been able to enjoy any time alone with Jim in a long time, and he was irritated with James about that. But he also blamed Jim, who had been going out of his way to spend quality time with James. “James, you’ll do your own chores,” Jim said matter-of-factly. “That means I want you to go out back today and clean up after your dog. Do you understand me?” James looked up and nodded, looking almost fearful of the consequence if he protested. Nick heard the back door open and close, and in a rush, Skalaki scampered into the kitchen for some companionship and food. He was followed closely by Big Nick, Lori and Linda, who were rubbing their hands together and blowing into them. Jim scooted James off of his lap and told him to feed the dog, who was whining at his feet. As James walked off with Skalaki on his heels, Jim held his arms out for Nick, who happily moved from his grandfather’s lap to his dads. Once he was nestled comfortably in Jim’s lap, Nick wrapped both of his arms around his dad and hugged him as tightly as he could. “Are you okay sweetheart?” Jim asked him softly. Nick pouted and nodded, knowing he was putting on an act that his dad could see through. Jim simply tousled his hair and held him close while Nick soaked up the attention he was getting. For the next half hour, Nick quietly sat with his dad and listened as the adults sat at the table and talked about various things. One of the things they talked about was where to have the New Years Celebration. Jim said he thought it would be fine to have it at his place, but Tom and Linda were offering to host everyone as well. As the discussion carried on, they ultimately decided it was best to have it at Jim’s so Nick and James could be home in case something happened. Big Nick chastised Jim again for panicking about the turn of the century, telling him that he was putting too much into what everyone was saying about Y2K. “Son, the odds of there ever being a terrorist bombing or some kind of attack on American soil in this day and age is highly unlikely,” he lectured his son. “You really need to calm down.” “Maybe you’re right dad,” Jim said. “But I’d really feel better if we just stayed here and did this.” “That’s fine, Jim,” Linda said. “We can do it anyway you want us to.” A few moments later James walked into the house through the garage and came into the kitchen to report to Jim. Nick noticed his expression when he walked in and saw him sitting in Jim’s lap. “How far did you get buddy?” Jim asked him with a smile as James approached the table. “I got all the dog poop off the grass,” he answered. “Then I swept the patio and the garage.” “Good boy,” Jim said affectionately, holding his free arm out to James, who was beaming proudly as he leaned into him for a hug and kiss. “Now go wash your hands.” With that, James ran to the hallway and into the bathroom to do what he was told as Nick repositioned his legs so James wouldn’t be able to take any of his dad’s lap. As the evening approached, Jim told Nick and James to settle down and rest so they would be up for the New Year’s celebration. Nick took his spot on the love seat with the remote control and James went up to his room to listen to music. Big Nick had gone next door to visit with Tom and Linda. Jim and Lori were working with his laptop in the kitchen on something. Nick got caught up watching The Rug Rats on Nickelodeon and didn’t notice that his dad and Lori had come into the family room and were watching the cartoon with Nick until a commercial came on and he looked around the room. Lori looked tired and Jim had a look of deep reflection on his face. Nick got up from his spot on the love seat and moved to the couch to sit with his dad and Lori, who both smiled at him when he crawled up to sit with them. Jim lifted Nick up and cradled him in his arms the way he did when he would rock him in the recliner. Nick smiled up at his dad, who was cooing down at him along with Lori. For a brief moment, Nick pretended that Lori was his real mom, and that she had been there all along. The thought warmed his heart, especially when he watched his dad and Lori share a tender kiss and exchange ‘I love you’s. Nick let his dad hold him in his arms as the commercials ended and the show started again, and before he knew what was happening, he fell asleep. When he woke up it was after eleven o’ clock. James was holding a soda and the men had beers. Lori was sipping a wine cooler and Linda was sipping Coke from a glass with ice in it. There were trays of food on the coffee table and end tables, and the volume on the TV was up loudly. Nick got up and went to the bathroom to pee, then he came out and got himself a Coke from the refrigerator. He noticed that someone had cooked egg rolls, his favorite Chinese food, so he helped himself to one and joined everyone. “Ella tho,” Big Nick said happily when he saw his grandson. “Did you have a good nap?” Nick nodded and smiled shyly, noticing that everyone was watching him. He took a few more sips of his Coke and finished his egg roll before Jim took him upstairs to change into his pajama’s. When his dad was finished changing him, they went back downstairs to join everyone with about five minutes to spare. Nick noticed that his dad seemed a little pensive, but that he wasn’t panicking. As the clock on the television screen started to count down to midnight, everyone stood up and watched intently and followed the count excitedly out loud. Nick looked around, feeling a rush of energy that seemed to be moving around the room as his family prepared to welcome the new millennium. At the stroke of midnight, everyone shouted “Happy New Year!” There were hugs all around the room, and Nick watched with a smile as Tom, Big Nick and Jim downed their beer’s simultaneously after a toast. Jim knelt down and pulled Nick and James into a huge hug, standing up and lifting them both off of their feet. “Happy New Year, boys,” Jim said quietly at he hugged and kissed them both. “I love you guys so much.” “I love you too, dad,” James said with a smile. “Happy New Year, Nick.” “Happy New Year James,” Nick said softly. “I love you daddy. I love you too James.” Jim set them both down and made his way around the room, giving everyone hugs and wishing them a happy new year. As the night wore on, Nick settled down again on the couch with his cousin, who looked as tired as Nick felt. It didn’t take long for James to fall asleep amidst all of the celebration, and Nick figured he wouldn’t last much longer, either. Much to his surprise, though, he was still awake when Tom and Linda went home. He went with the adults to the front door and out onto the porch, where he watched his grandparents walk next door to their house. When they went back inside, Jim sat down on the couch and gave James a gentle shake. “Hey buddy,” he said softly. “Are you ready to go to bed?” James sat up and nodded, so Jim stood up and reached down, taking hold of James under his arms and picking him up. Nick watched as Jim planted a kiss on James’ cheek and pulled his head down to his shoulder. “I love you sweet boy,” Jim said as he turned to carry James upstairs to his room. “I love you too daddy,” James said sleepily as he wrapped his arms around Jim’s neck and yawned. For a moment Nick wanted to be jealous. He didn’t want Jim to love his cousin as much as he loved Nick, but he knew he was wrong to feel that way. James was finally getting the love and attention he had been robbed of when he was younger. Nick knew it, too. He also knew that Jim loved James more than he could say, but that he loved Nick more. He said so himself. So instead of being jealous, Nick decided to be thankful that his dad had enough love in him to share with James. When Jim came back for him, Nick smiled and held his arms out. Jim scooped him up and gave him the same kiss on the cheek he had given James, then he told him he loved him. “I love you too,” Nick said, taking the time to notice how great it felt to get that attention from his dad. As they made their way up the stairs to the bathroom, Nick wondered how it made James feel to finally be safe. He felt bad that he had spent so much time being jealous of James that he hadn’t stopped to consider everything that had been happening over the past few weeks and how that was making James feel. He knew that the affection Jim was giving him was making up for years of not having any affection at all from his parents, and he had to stop and think about how never getting a hug or a kiss from his dad would make him feel. He knew for sure that he would hate not getting the attention from Jim that he was used to having, and he thought that it wasn’t fair that his cousin had lived his whole life up to that point not knowing what it felt like to be loved by the two people he loved more than anyone in the world. When they got to his room, Jim pulled the covers back for him and Nick got in, smiling up at his dad, who leaned down and gave him a kiss. “I love you baby,” Jim said as he pulled the covers up over Nick’s chest. “I love you too daddy,” Nick said as his dad smiled warmly down at him. “Did you have a good time tonight?” Jim asked, and Nick looked up at him with a smile as he nodded sleepily. “Good. Happy New Year, son. Good night and sweet dreams.” “Good night daddy,” Nick said as Jim handed him his Winnie the Pooh bear to cuddle with. Jim planted one more kiss on his forehead, then he got up and shut the light off, letting Nick drift off into a peaceful sleep.
  3. Nick looked out the window of the bus as it pulled up to his stop and he saw his dad waiting for him. This was the first time Nick rode home without Taylor, and he was bummed out about it in a way. Earlier in the day, Cindy picked Taylor up from school so he could go to the dentist. Nick thought that maybe she would bring him back to school after his appointment, but she never did, so he got on the bus and sat by himself. When he got off the bus, he walked over to his dad, who had a curious look on his face. "Where's Taylor today," Jim asked. "Miss Cindy came and got him out early for his dentist appointment," Nick said. "Well, come on," Jim said grabbing Nick's hand. "We're going home first, but then we're going over to grandma and grandpa's house." "Why," Nick asked. "We're just visiting," Jim said. "Is that ok?" Nick looked up and smiled at his dad as they walked. When they got to their house, Jim opened the door and they went in. "Where's James," Nick asked, noticing that he was nowhere in site. "He's next door," Jim said. "Listen, son, he had a rough day today, so I want you to be on your best behavior, ok?" "Yes sir," Nick said nodding. "What happened?" "Never mind," Jim said in a stern voice. "I just want you to be nice to him." "I will," Nick said. Nick took his backpack upstairs and went to the bathroom. When he came out, he went downstairs and sat at the table, where Jim had his snack waiting. While Nick ate, he watched his dad look out the window with a worried look on his face, and it made him nervous. He could tell that he was in a bad mood about something. "Daddy," Nick said trying to get Jim's attention. "What babe?" Jim said, turning to face Nick. "Are you ok," Nick asked. "You look worried." Jim sighed and smiled. "Everything's ok son." Nick didn't ask his dad anymore questions while he ate. When he finished his snack, he and his dad walked next door to Tom and Linda's house. When they walked in, James ran up to Jim and gave him a hug. "Hey, buddy," Jim said as he hugged James back. "Have you been having a good visit with your aunt and uncle?" James looked up and nodded with a smile on his face, and then he put his head back up against his uncle's chest. "I missed you Uncle Jim," he said. "Well I missed you to buddy," Jim said as he ran his hand over James' face and smiled. The three of them walked to the family room and sat down with Tom and Linda. Everyone's attention turned to Nick, and he told them all about his day at school. They talked about what he was learning and about how he was finally getting used to the difference between the school in Virginia Beach and the school he went to in Modesto. After a while, they started taking about Nick's papu coming to visit. "I met him before," James said smiling. "When Nick was a little baby." "You remember that?" Jim asked. "Uh huh," James said smiling. "We went to his house in the forest." Nick listened to James talking about his papu, and he couldn't believe that he had actually been to his house. "How does everyone know each other?" Nick asked finally. In his whole life, he had never seen anyone from his dads side of the family anywhere near someone from his moms side of the family, but they seemed to know each other so well. "Well, kiddo," Tom said. "Grandma and I have been friends with your papu for years. At least since your daddy was a little boy." "Really?" Nick asked. "How come you never visit each other?" "We moved, kiddo," Tom answered. "You were still a baby." "Did you miss him," Nick asked. "Of course we did," Linda said. "We missed you and daddy too." "I wish my papu lived here," Nick said sadly. "Then we could all be a family like I want." Jim put his arm around Nick and gave him a squeeze. "We are a family, buddy," he said. "Papu's part of it too. He always will be." Nick looked up and smiled at his dad, who leaned down and gave him a kiss on the lips. As it got later, Jim asked Tom and Linda if they wanted to go to Red Lobster with them. "We're going to Red Lobster," Nick asked excitedly. "I didn't tell you," Jim asked. "I guess I didn't. James picked it out today, so that's what we're doing." "Please come," Nick pleaded with his grandparents. "Pretty please." Tom and Linda laughed and said yes. Jim told them when they would be leaving, and then he took Nick and James home to get them ready. Jim took Nick in his room with him and they got in the shower together, then he picked out an outfit for Nick to wear and put it on him. When Nick came out of his room with Jim, he noticed that James had a brand new outfit on with the tags still hanging from it. Jim grabbed a pair of scissors and cut all of them off, and then he took the brush to Nick's hair. As they were about to walk out the door, the phone rang. Jim picked it up, then he brought it to Nick. "Hello?" Nick said. "Hi Nick," Taylor said. "Hi Taylor," Nick said happily. "Why didn't you come back today?" "My mom said I could just go home with her, so I did," Taylor said. "I sat alone on the bus," Nick said. "I was hoping you were going to be back." Nick and Taylor talked for a little while longer, and then they had to hang up because Jim was ready to go. James sat in the back with Nick and Linda while Jim and Tom sat up front, and Nick noticed that James crossed his legs like a girl did. In fact, when he looked over at his grandma, she was sitting the same way. When they got to the restaurant, Nick noticed that James was hanging on his dad and it was starting to make him jealous. When they were waiting to be seated, Jim sat down on a bench and James sat next to him as fast as he could, and when Jim stood up, James seemed to always want to hold his hand or hug on him. Nick knew better than to say anything about it, but inside, he was exploding. Finally, they were seated, James jumped in the booth next to Jim, and Nick had had enough. "I want to sit next to my dad," Nick said to him. "But I was here first," James said. Nick stood still and glared at James for a minute, and then he spoke again. "James!" he said, unable to control himself. "You have to move. I'm sitting there." James gave him a startled look, and then it turned to a hurt look. "Nick," Jim said in a whisper that was somehow still a shout, snapping his fingers one time to get his sons attention. "You need to talk more respectfully than that. Sit down next to James and don't say another word." Nick did as he was told, but he knew that he was going to cry. His feelings were hurt, and he couldn't control himself. He didn't make any noise; he just sat there and let the tears run down his face. Finally, Jim said, "James, will you trade me places?" Nick got up so James could get out of the booth, and Jim got up as well. James slid back in, Jim slid in next to him, and he pulled Nick back into the booth with him. Nicks feelings were still hurt, and he kept crying. Finally, Jim got up and walked with him to the bathroom. "Son, what's the problem?" Jim said in an irritated voice when they were in the bathroom. "I hate James," Nick cried, knowing that he was going to be punished for saying what he did. "You what," Jim asked, giving Nick a chance to take it back. Nick didn't take his opportunity. "I hate his guts," Nick said bitterly. Jim spun him around and gave him a swat on the butt with his shoe. "Say it again, and you'll get another one," Jim said. "You can feel however you want, but you will NOT say that again. Do you understand me?" Nick cried and nodded his answer. Jim put his shoe back on and knelt down so that he was looking Nick in the eyes. "Son, I expect you to be on your best behavior tonight," he said. "You are going to sit on one side and James is going to sit on the other. Is that understood?" Nick nodded again through his tears. Jim wiped the tears away from his face and pulled him into a hug, lifting him off his feet. "I want you to calm down now, son," Jim said. "We'll talk about this when we get home. You and James are not going to start fighting. I'll make sure I talk to him too." When Nick stopped crying, Jim gave him a kiss and put him down. They walked back to the table and no one talked about what had just happened. After dinner, they got up to leave and Nick made sure he grabbed Jim's hand before James could. When they got home, Jim took Nick straight to his room to get ready for bed. After he dressed Nick, Jim took him to the bathroom and waited while he sat on the toilet. "I want to know why you're acting so jealous of your cousin," Jim said while he sat on the edge of the tub. "I'm not," Nick fibbed. "Oh yes you are," Jim said, letting Nick know with his tone that he wasn't buying his lie. "Why does he love you so much?" Nick asked. "You're my dad, not his." "Nickolas James," Jim said with a disappointed tone. "Your cousin needs a family to love him, and for your information, I happen to love him very much. Now, I already told you that I could never love anyone like I love you, and I mean that. But I love James, and I'm not going to let you be jealous of that." "Yes sir," Nick said. "Son, I think you really hurt his feelings at the restaurant," Jim continued. "You owe him an apology. You also owe one to grandma and grandpa. I don't ever want to find out that you spoke to him that way again. Is that understood?" "I'm sorry, daddy," Nick said starting to cry a little. "I don't want you to love him more than you love me." "That's never going to happen," Jim said running his hand through Nick's hair. "I love you more than anyone in this whole world." "I love you too daddy," Nick said. "Good," Jim said smiling. "Now hurry up and finish pooping so we can go downstairs and watch TV with James." Nick giggled at his dad, who plugged his nose with one hand, reached out, and tickled his ribs with the other. After he finished, he got up and washed his hands, then brushed his teeth, and finally he went with his dad downstairs. Nick sat on the recliner while Jim went into the kitchen for something. He looked at James, feeling uncomfortable about being alone with him, but when he looked into the kitchen from where he was sitting, he saw Jim sitting at the table talking on the phone. "James," Nick said nervously. "I'm sorry for how I acted tonight." James looked at him and smiled. "It's ok, Nick," he said in a quiet voice. "I understand. I should have let you sit with your dad." "No," Nick said, not wanting James to feel bad about what happened. "I get to sit with him all the time. You can sit next to him if you want to. I don't mind." Nick got up and walked over to the love seat that James was sitting on and climbed into the spot next to him. "Can I sit next to you," he asked. James smiled and nodded. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," Nick said. "You didn't," James said. "I know you love your dad." "I do, but it's ok if you love him too," Nick said. "Thanks," James said smiling. Nick looked up at his cousin's face and noticed how cute he was. James was smiling back at him and Nick wondered what kind of parents wouldn't love him. He thought about the night before, when James was crying while his grandmother hugged him, and it made him feel sad. He realized that the way he acted tonight probably made James feel as bad as he was feeling when he first showed up last night, and he started to feel really bad. "James," he said looking at him sadly. "Huh," James replied. "I love you," he said suddenly. It was something he never thought about before, but he was sure that he did. "Awww," James said. "I love you too, Nick." Nick reached out and hugged his cousin as he tried his hardest not to be emotional. "I'm glad you came to live with us," Nick said. "I am too," James said. "Hey guys," Jim said softly as he walked back into the family room. "I told James sorry, daddy," Nick said as he smiled up at his dad. Jim sat down on the love seat and Nick crawled into his lap. "That's a good boy," Jim said. "Why are you crying?" "I'm not," Nick said, trying to wipe away the tears he had in his eyes. Jim kissed him on top of the head and gave him a small hug, then he reached over and pulled James into his chest for a hug. "I'm glad you boys made up," Jim said. "James, I know we already had this talk, but you're part of our family now, and we love you very much, ok?" "I love you too Uncle Jim," James said hugging his uncle. Nick leaned over, gave James a kiss on the cheek, and smiled at him. "Awww, that was so sweet of you buddy," Jim said. "I'm so proud of you." "I told James already that I love him," Nick told his dad. "He said he loves me too." "That makes me proud of both of you," Jim said smiling at them. "I'm glad my boys are getting along." Nick looked at James when his dad said that, and he could see that what Jim said made him happy. James was smiling up at his uncle with his head up against his chest, and Nick realized that James might have never had a chance to snuggle with his own dad. After a while they all turned their attention to the TV and before long, Nick noticed that James was sleeping. He looked up at his dad and gave him a kiss on the cheek, then he pointed down at James. His dad smiled when he saw James sleeping, and he held Nick closer and rubbed his back. Soon, Nick was feeling tired and before long, he closed his eyes and went to sleep. Nick sat straight up out of his sleep when he woke up, and when he did, he realized he was in his own bed. He pulled his covers back and walked [R1] to the light switch. He found it, turned on the light, and looked down at his soaked pajamas. He walked back to his bed and felt his sheets, which were also soaked. He walked across the hall to his dad's room and shook him awake. "Daddy," he said sadly. "I need help." "What's wrong baby," Jim said still half asleep. "I pee'd in the bed," Nick said, ready to cry. Jim reached over and turned on the lamp by his bed, then he rolled out of his bed and reached down with his eyes still closed, feeling Nicks pajama bottoms. "I'm sorry, buddy," Jim said. "I didn't take you to the bathroom before I put you in bed. It's my fault." He took Nick by the hand and led him into his bathroom, where he stripped him down and had him sit on the toilet. "Try to pee, son," Jim said as he gathered Nick's wet pajamas up. "I'll be right back." Nick did what his dad said, and soon Jim was back with a dry pair of underwear and a washrag. Nick got up so his dad could use the rag to wipe the pee off him, then he stepped into the clean dry undies. "Just sleep with me tonight," Jim said as he led Nick to his bed. They crawled into the bed and Nick curled up with his dad. "I'm sorry I pee'd my bed daddy," Nick said, feeling sad about his accident. "Don't worry honey," Jim said. "It's ok. It was daddies fault anyway." "I love you daddy," Nick said. "I love you too sweetheart," Jim said. "Go back to sleep, ok?" Nick felt Jim rubbing his back and soon, he fell asleep again. When he opened his eyes, Jim was snoring loudly next to him. Nick looked at the alarm clock and panicked. He was almost late for school, and he definitely missed the bus. "Daddy, wake up," Nick said shaking Jim. "I'm going to be late for school." Jim lifted his head and sighed, and then he put his head back down on his pillow. "I'm not going to send you today, son," Jim said. "You had a long night. Go ahead and go back to sleep." With that, Jim started to snore again. Nick crawled out of his dad's bed and went into his bathroom to pee. When he was done, he went downstairs to look around for something to do. As he came around the corner to the kitchen, he saw James sitting on a stool at the breakfast island holding the phone and crying. "What's wrong," Nick asked as he walked up to his cousin. James didn't answer. Instead, he just sat there and cried harder. Nick walked over to him and started rubbing his back, then he snuggled his head up to James' shoulder. James looked at Nick sadly for a moment, then he started to cry again. "I'm going to get my dad," Nick said as he walked out of the kitchen. He went back upstairs and woke his dad up for the second time. "Daddy, wake up," Nick said. "James is crying." Jim sat up and yawned as he stretched his arms out. "What's he crying about," Jim asked as he started to wake up. "I don't know," Nick said. "I think he was talking on the phone or something." "Oh shit," Jim said as he got up and headed out of his room. Nick followed him down the stairs and to the kitchen, where James was still crying. "Hey Buddy," Jim said softly as he wrapped an arm around James. "What's the matter?" "My mom hung up on me," James cried as he put his head against Jim's chest. Nick watched from the entrance to the kitchen as his dad wrapped both of his arms around James and hugged him tightly. Nick put his head down and walked to the family room to give his dad and James some privacy. He sat on the couch and looked for the remote, but he couldn't concentrate on finding it because he could feel a large lump in his throat. He felt so bad for James that he wanted to cry, but he decided that he would stay strong. Jim and James made their way into the family room where they sat together on the love seat. Nick watched for a while as James cried and clung to his dad, but eventually he had to look away or he was going to cry himself. "Nick, sweety, why don't you turn on some cartoons?" Jim said with a small smile on his face. Nick got up to look for the remote, but he couldn't find it anywhere. Finally, he walked up to the TV and used the buttons on the front of it to turn it on. He found the cartoon network on the cable box, and then he took his seat. Every once in a while, he would look at his dad and James on the love seat, but he would always turn back to the TV before they could see him watching. "So who's hungry?" Jim finally said after a while. Nick turned and smiled at his dad, and James looked up and smiled to. "I am," Nick said as he got up from the couch. "How about you buddy?" Jim said smiling down at James, who was still clinging to him but not crying anymore. James nodded with a happy grin on his face, so Jim got up and walked into the kitchen. Nick and James both followed behind him and watched while he cooked breakfast. Every time Jim would turn to get to the stove, or he moved around, he would run into one of them, and finally, he put them both on the counter so he could cook without bumping into them. Nick and James smiled at each other while they sat side by side on the counter, and Nick couldn't help but notice how cute his cousin looked in his tee shirt and underwear. He hadn't taken the time earlier to notice him, but now that things had calmed down, he was able to. He looked down at James' fingers, and he noticed that his nails were short, just like his. He wondered if his dad got a hold of James and cut his nails for him the way he did Nicks nails. Nick lifted his cousin's hand up off the counter and smiled at him, then he looked at his nails up close. He held James' hand up against his hand and compared the two. "Did daddy cut your nails," Nick asked. James nodded yes and started giggling, making Nick giggle as well. "What are you two silly boys giggling about," Jim asked playfully. "You don't like my nail cutting skills?" He reached out with both hands and tickled Nick and James at the same time, making them both laugh. Finally, Jim turned back to the stove while Nick and James sat and talked about music. James had a totally different taste in music than Nick and his dad had. Nick had never even heard of some of the bands James talked about, and James seemed uninterested in Nick's favorites. Nick always liked what his dad listened to, rap. Not just rap, but gangster rap. Or R&B. If they weren't listening to rap or R&B, they listen to light rock music from before Nick was ever born. In fact, most of it was from when Jim was a baby or not much older than Nick was. "Are you guys ready to eat," Jim asked as he took the food to the table. He walked back to the counter and attacked James and Nicks ribs again with his hands, tickling them until they begged him to stop. He stopped to let them catch their breath, them he attacked again, making them laugh uncontrollably. Finally, he stopped tickling them, wrapped an arm around both of them, and hugged them tightly. "I love you guys," he said softly. "Come on, let's go eat." After breakfast, the three of them rested on the love seat together and watched cartoons. "Do you play Pokemon," James asked Nick. "No, but my friend Taylor does," Nick said. "I don't like it." "Do you think he'll want to play me," James asked hopefully. "I think he will," Nick said. "I think he's good. I don't know how to play, but he knows all about it." "I can teach you," James said. Nick giggled and said, "No thank you. I'd rather ride my bike and stuff." "I have a bike at home," James said sadly. "But I couldn't bring it." Jim looked down at James for a minute, and while Nick watched his dads face, he could tell he was thinking. "How about if we go buy you a bike today, buddy?" Jim said. "Really?" James said with an unbelieving tone in his voice. "Really, James," Jim said smiling. "This is your home now, and I want you to have a bike here." Nick felt so proud of his dad. Jim had always been a good protector to Nick, and he made sure that Nick had all of the things he needed in his life, and Nick knew that. Somehow, he never thought that his dad was such a thoughtful person. James leaned over and gave Jim a long hug, and Nick thought he could hear James crying a little bit, but he wasn't sure. "Thank you Uncle Jim," James said. "I love you." "You're welcome pal," Jim said. "I love you too." They sat on the love seat a little longer, and finally Jim stood up. "Let's get ready," he said. "Nick, you can shower with me. James, you need to take a shower too. I'll get you a towel." Nick stood up on the love seat so his dad could grab him and carry him up the stairs. Jim lifted Nick up, and as they headed toward the stairs, Nick looked at James, who had a sad look on his face. "What's wrong, James?" Nick asked, causing Jim to turn around and look. "Nothing," James said. "I'm coming." "I think he feels left out daddy," Nick said as he laid his head on Jim's shoulder and looked at James. "Are you ok buddy?" Jim asked as he walked back toward the love seat where James was still sitting. James nodded but didn't say anything. "Come here," Jim said as he held out his other arm for James. "Come on, I'm going to give you a ride." James smiled and stood up on the love seat. Jim wrapped his arm around his waist and lifted him up. Nick watched as his cousin smiled and put his head on Jim's shoulder, closing his eyes and hugging him tightly. Jim carried them both upstairs and when he got to Nicks room, he opened the door and the smell from his sheets from the night before hit his nose. "I guess I should have changed your sheets already," Jim said sighing. "It was just too late last night for that." James walked to his room, and Nick followed him. When they got to James' room, Nick stopped at the door. "Can I come in," he asked. "Sure," James said. Nick went in behind James and they both sat on James' bed. They saw Jim walk down the hallway with a laundry basket full of sheets and blankets, and James giggled again. "You're funny, Nick," he said smiling. "I am," Nick asked. "How?" "You just are," James answered. "You make me feel good." "I do?" Nick said, starting to smile. "Uh huh," James nodded. "You're a good cousin." "Aww, so are you," Nick said feeling emotional again. "You're really sweet." Nick leaned into his cousin's shoulder and he felt James wrap his arm around him. He looked up at him and said, "That feels good." James just smiled back at him and gave him a squeeze with his arm. "I'm glad you stayed home today," James said. "Me too," Nick said. "What grade are you in?" "I'm in eighth grade this year," James said. "But Uncle Jim said I don't have to go until next week." "My daddy loves you a lot," Nick said. "I do too." Nick reached up and gave James a kiss on the cheek, then he smiled at him and gave him a hug. James turned on the TV and they watched cartoons while they waited for Jim to come back upstairs. A commercial came on while they watched, and Nick noticed how cute the boys were in it. "Those boys are so cute," Nick said as he watched. "You think they're cute too," James asked. Nick nodded as he watched the commercial. "That one has a cute butt," Nick said pointing to one of the boys. "Do you like that kind of stuff," James asked. Nick shrugged and kept watching TV. "I guess I do," Nick said. "Do you?" "Yeah," James said. "I love looking at cute guys." Nick looked out the door into the hallway to see if his dad was coming, and when he saw that he wasn't, he asked James, "Are you gay?" James didn't answer at first, and it got quiet in the room, except for the TV. Finally, James shrugged and said, "I guess so." "Daddy says it's ok to be gay," Nick told him. "He said he loves me the same, no matter what I am." "Are you gay too," James asked. "I don't know," Nick said shrugging again. "I kind of like looking at cute boys." "Are you going to tell Uncle Jim on me?" James asked nervously. "I promise I won't," Nick said. "He'll still love you the same though." "What if he doesn't want me to live here anymore?" James asked with a worried look on his face. Just then, Jim walked in and said, "What would make you think that?" Nick froze and looked up at his dad, who was looking right at James. Nick turned back to his cousin, who looked like he was about to start crying. "What's going on in here?" Jim said as he walked over to the bed and sat down. "James, do you want to answer me?" James looked down at his bed and started to sob. Nick moved out of his dad's way, and Jim moved over to sit next to James, hugging him with both arms and telling him that whatever it was, it would be ok. "Nick, why don't you tell me what happened?" Jim said as he hugged James. Nick looked at his cousin, who looked up at him with a scared look. Nick looked back down at the bed and felt like he was going to be sick. Finally, Jim looked back down at James and said, "James, I want you to know something. Part of being a family is talking about everything, no matter what it is. I don't think I'd like it very much if I knew that you were keeping a secret from me, especially if it's one that makes you cry." Nick snuggled close to his dad and waited to hear what James was going to say. Finally, he spoke up. "Well, me and Nick were just talking about some stuff," James said shyly. "What kind of stuff," Jim asked. "Boys and stuff like that," James said. "What about boys," Jim asked. "I don't know," James said shrugging. "You forgot already," Jim asked. "I don't think it's been that long." James sighed and looked away from Jim, who had been looking him in the eye and wiping his tears away with his hands. "I want you to know that there's nothing in this world that you can't tell me," Jim said. "I'm never going to judge you or stop loving you or stop caring about you. I promise." "Anything," James asked. "Anything, "Jim assured him. "Can Nick tell you what it is," James asked. "I'm too ashamed." "You don't have to be ashamed of anything in this house," Jim said. "But if you think that you'd rather have Nick tell me, you can." "Nick, will you?, "James said starting to cry again. "Ok," Nick said. "It's that he's gay." As soon as Nick said it, James fell apart. His sobs got louder and he had tears running down his cheeks. Jim lifted him up into his lap and rocked him like a baby, the way he did it for Nick when Nick needed to be held. James never seemed to stop crying, and Jim just held onto him the whole time, rocking him back and forth and telling him that he loved him and that he was proud of him. Nick watched from beside his dad as his cousin cried uncontrollably, and he wondered if that was how he was going to feel one day if he decided that he was gay. "Honey, go get me some Kleenex, ok," his dad told him as he held James in his arms. On his way out to the hallway, Nick turned around and looked one more time, and he saw his dad kiss James on the cheek. He could have sworn he saw a tear running down his dad's cheek, but he didn't stop to make sure. He came back with the whole box of Kleenex, and Jim wiped away James' tears with them, then he held a Kleenex up to James' nose and told him to blow in it. When James finally seemed to be calming down, Jim told Nick to go get them all sodas. When he got back, James was still hanging on with his arms to Jim's neck and every once in a while, Nick could hear a sniffle. Nick opened his soda and lay down on James' bed, behind his dad who was still holding James. Jim opened a soda and took a drink, and then he asked James if he was thirsty. "A little," James said quietly. Jim opened James' soda for him and held the can up to his mouth so that all he had to do was drink. "Is that better," Jim asked softly. James nodded and looked at him with sad eyes while Nick watched from the bed. "Do you still feel like going to get your bike today," Jim asked. "I still get to have one," James asked. "Well of course you do buddy," Jim said as he ran his fingers through James' hair. "Why wouldn't you?" "I thought that maybe I was in trouble," James said. "For what, pal," Jim asked quietly. "Because I'm gay," James said starting to cry again. Jim sighed and rubbed his back. "Why would you be in trouble for that," Jim asked. "That's no reason for you to get into trouble." James looked down, and as Nick gave it some thought, he suddenly realized James' problem at home. "James," Nick said. "Did you get in trouble at home for that?" James nodded slowly and a few more tears ran down his cheeks. "My mom and dad don't love me anymore," he said. "Well, I love you more than I can say, son," Jim said as he hugged James again. "You're safe here, ok?" "Ok," James said. Nick got up from his spot on James' bed and put his head next to James'. "I love you James," Nick said, kissing him on the cheek. "I love you too Nick," James said, starting to cry all over again. Nick wrapped his arms around his dad and around James and hugged them both as hard as he could. They stayed that way for a while, and finally, James had to go to the bathroom, so they got up. "Daddy, I feel bad for James," Nick said as Jim carried him to his room so they could get in the shower. "I do too baby," Jim said. "But we're all here to love him, and that's what we have to do, ok?" "Ok," Nick said. "I love you Nick," Jim said as they got to his bathroom. "I love you too daddy," Nick said as Jim gave him an extra hard squeeze. "Are you going to be James' daddy too?" Jim sighed and nodded, and Nick smiled at him. "I don't mind sharing you," he said. "As long as it's just with James." When they got out of the shower, Jim got dressed and did his hair while Nick waited on his bed, wrapped in the towel that he dried off with. Jim finished his hair, looked in the mirror one last time to make sure it was perfect, then he walked over to the bed and sat next to Nick. "Let me finish drying you off, son," Jim said as he grabbed the towel from Nick and ran it through his hair. "I really want to have a talk with you later, when we're alone, ok?" "About what dad," Nick asked. "About what just happened, son." Jim answered. "We'll talk later. I promise." Jim grabbed Nicks hand and helped him hop off the bed, and then they went to Nick's room to find him an outfit. While they were in there, Jim closed the door and sat down in the chair at Nick's desk, facing the door. He held out Nick's underwear for him to step in to, and then he did the same thing with his shorts. He put Nick's shirt on over his head, and waited for him to put his arms through the sleeves. He grabbed the brush off the desk and Nick turned around so his dad could brush out his hair. "Let's talk right now," Jim said as he brushed Nick's hair. "Ok," Nick said as he waited for his dad to start the conversation. "Son, I'm sorry you had to see that," Jim said sadly. "I should have asked you to leave the room. I wasn't thinking." "No, it's ok daddy," Nick said. "I'm sad for James, but I'm happy in a way." "Oh yeah," Jim asked. "About what?" "It's not a secret anymore," Nick said. "And James knows that it's ok." "Well, I'm glad for that reason too," Jim said. "But, there something I want you to know." "What daddy?" Nick asked. "Nick, no matter what," Jim started. "I want you to know that there is never going to be a reason why you can't come to me about anything. I'll never treat you the way James' parents treated him. Do you understand me?" Nick turned to face his dad, and then he nodded. "I love you Nick," Jim told him as he lifted him up off his feet and into his lap with a hug. "I love you too, dad," Nick said. "If you ever have something like that to tell me," Jim said as he rubbed Nicks back. "I want you to promise not to hold it all inside like James did." "I won't daddy," Nick said, starting to cry. Jim gave him a kiss on the lips, then he set him down. They got up and walked out to the hallway to see if James was ready. "Get this one James," Nick said as he ran up to the first bike he saw. He spotted another bike, and then he ran up to that one and said, "Wait, get this one instead!" Nick looked around at all of the new bikes and he felt like he had died and gone to heaven. He had been to look at bikes with his dad before at places like Toys-R-Us and larger stores like Wal-mart, but this was the first time he had ever been to a place that actually sold bikes exclusively. Jim walked up from behind him and squatted down, putting his arm around his shoulder. "Do you like that one the best, buddy," he asked. Nick smiled and nodded at him. "Look around a little more to be sure," Jim said. Nicks eyes got big as he looked at his dad, who was grinning at him. "I get one too," Nick asked. "Of course you do, buddy," Jim said. "Pick one out that you like." Nick slowly walked around the store, looking at all of the bikes. He couldn't believe his dad was going to buy him a bike today. He looked at as many bikes as he could find, sitting on each one and pretending that he was sliding with his back tire to a stop. Eventually, he found the one he wanted. "Can I have this one," he asked hopefully. "Is that the one you want," Jim asked. Nick nodded and smiled as he ran his hand across the chrome. He used his fingers to push down on the soft seat, then he gripped the handles at the end of the handlebars. "Let's go see what James is looking at," Jim said. Nick followed his dad to the other side of the store, where James was looking at mountain bikes. When Jim and Nick found him, he was sitting on a bike and smiling. "Do you like it buddy," Jim asked. "Yeah, but it's too much," James said. "Says who?" Jim said, giving James a playful shove. "If it's what you want, we'll get it." "Really," James asked. Jim made a goofy face at him. "Really?" Jim said in a silly voice, mocking James playfully and smiling. "Yes, really," he finally said in a normal voice. James didn't say anything. He just looked at Jim and smiled at him. The look he had on his face was loving, but it was also one of respect. Nick watched from his dads side as James got off the bike and took Jim's hand, and the three of them walked together to find someone to help them with the bikes. Jim had to call Tom so that he could get the bikes home. Jim's Camry was new, and he was determined that it wouldn't get scratched. Tom's explorer was perfect for the bikes, because it had a big backspace where the bikes could go. While they waited for Tom, James had a nervous look on his face. "What's wrong James," Jim asked. "Are you going to tell my Uncle Tom about it," James asked nervously. "Yes I am," Jim said softly. "But I'll do it in private, ok?" "Is he going to be mad at me," James asked. "No," Jim said with a confident voice. "James, you don't have to worry. I've known your Uncle Tom and auntie Linda since I was 10. They aren't that way." They waited a while longer, and eventually, Tom pulled up in his explorer. They loaded the bikes in the back, and as they got ready to leave, Nick jumped in the front seat of Tom's car. "Son," Jim said quietly through the window as Tom was in the back closing the door. "You need to let me tell grandpa and grandma, ok?" "Yes sir," Nick said, understanding that he was to keep his mouth shut about James while he was alone with his grandpa. Nick held out his lips for a kiss from his dad as Tom got in on the drivers side, and after he got his kiss, they pulled off. "How come you didn't go to school kiddo," Tom asked. "Daddy said I didn't have to go because I had a bad night last night," Nick answered. "Did you get into trouble when you got home?" Tom asked. "No, not really," Nick said. "Daddy had a talk with me about it though." "Well, why did you have a bad night," Tom asked with a concerned voice. "Well," Nick said shyly. "I wet my bed last night and I had to get changed. It was late." "Uh oh," Tom said. "You didn't sleep good after that?" "Not really," Nick said. "I woke up and it was almost time for school. Daddy said to just stay home." "Have you been having a good day," Tom asked, giving Nick leg a rub. Nick looked back at his bike and smiled. "Yes," he said with a huge grin on his face. "It looks like you and James have both been having a good day," Tom said smiling. Nick didn't say anything else. Instead, he just smiled at his grandfather the rest of the way home. When they got home, Jim unloaded the bikes and Nick and James rode off. James followed Nick around the neighborhood, and Nick took him down the path to the golf course. "You can't tell my dad about this trail," Nick said as they stopped near the golf course. "How come," James asked. "He won't let us ride on it anymore if he knows about it," Nick said. "He thinks trails are dangerous for kids to be on." James made a silly face at Nick, and said," Let's race." Nick jumped on his bike and got behind James, but James was too fast for him. They both came back onto the road and Nick pedaled as hard as he could, trying to catch up to James, but it was no use. James beat him back to their driveway by a long shot, and Nick was out of breath when he got there. "Let's go tell Uncle Jim to watch us," James said. "I have a better idea," Nick said. "Wait here." Nick handed James the handlebars to his bike as he ran into the garage. He found some wood posts and a large flat piece of wood, and he dragged them all out to the driveway. "What are you doing," James asked. "You'll see," Nick said as he piled the posts up on top of each other in the street. He laid the flat piece of wood down on the pile he made, making a ramp. He got on his bike and rode almost all the way down the street. When he got to the end, he pedaled back toward the ramp with all his might, gaining as much speed as he could. Finally, he hit the ramp, and his bike sailed through the air. When he landed, he did a power slide with his back wheel and looked back. James had already started to ride his bike to the end of the street so that he could hit the ramp fast and get good air. Nick watched as James picked up speed, and soon, he was sailing through the air on his mountain bike, which didn't get as much air as Nicks bike did, but still got high enough. Just as he was watching James land, he heard Jim holler from the front door. "Hey!" Jim shouted angrily as he made his way toward the boys. "What the hell are you two doing?" He looked angrily at both boys and then he turned his head back to the ramp Nick made. "Well?" he said in an irritated voice. "We're sorry dad," Nick said. "I just wanted to try it." James had a look of terror on his face as he looked at his exploding uncle. Nick felt bad for him because he knew that this was his first time ever seeing him mad like this, and unfortunately for James, he was one of the people Jim was mad at. "I want both of you to take your bikes, your brand new bikes," Jim said, raising his voice when he said brand new, "and put them in the garage. Then you need to take this crap and put it back where you found it. Then you need to come inside. No one told you that you could jump your bikes!" Jim stormed back toward the house, and Nick knew that he was furious. He looked over at James, who had tears in his eyes as he walked his bike up the driveway. Nick followed him to the garage, and they put their bikes away. When they were done putting all of the wood away, Nick hit the button for the garage door, closing it before they went inside. James walked straight upstairs when they got inside and Nick heard his bedroom door close. He was sure that James was crying alone in his room, and he felt bad for him, but he wasn't sure if James wanted to be alone or not, so he didn't bother him. Instead, he went into the family room, where he saw Jim sitting on the couch talking to Tom and Linda. When Nick was sure that his dad could see him, he gave him an angry glare. "You didn't have to yell at us, dad," Nick said angrily. "You made James cry." Jim snapped his fingers at Nick, motioning him to come closer. "What did you say?" Jim said, looking like he was ready to snap. "You didn't have to yell at us," Nick said. "You could've just yelled at me or something. James is crying now." "Well, I didn't spank you guys," Jim said looking frustrated. "Why is he crying?" "You hurt his feelings," Nick said. "He told you that," Jim asked. "No," Nick said, getting irritated with his dad. "I know because you always do it to me. You hurt people's feelings all the time when you yell." Jim sighed and looked down shaking his head. "I'll go talk to him," he said as he got up. "Do you guys want to come upstairs and talk to him?" he asked Tom and Linda before he went upstairs. They got up and followed him up the stairs, and Nick stayed downstairs in the family room. He lay on the couch and waited quietly for his dad and his grandparents to come back downstairs. While he was lying on the couch, he thought about what he knew his dad was telling Tom and Linda just moments before. He wondered how his grandparents took the news, and how they would take the news about him if he was gay. After a while, his mind wandered to Taylor. He hadn't seen Taylor since he was called out of class by the hall monitor, and he was really starting to miss him. He looked at the clock and it was just a little bit after one in the afternoon. His mind wandered again, and soon he realized that he hadn't eaten lunch yet. He wasn't hungry, but he wondered if that was the reason Jim was in such an awful mood all of the sudden. After a while, when Tom, Linda and Jim hadn't come back downstairs, Nick decided not to worry about Jim's bad mood anymore. He closed his eyes and thought about the things he liked the most about his day and the one thing that his mind kept wandering back to was Taylor.
  4. In July, the air in Virginia is thick and humid. Almost unbearable to someone who has never been in a humid climate. Coming from California, Nick had experienced most types of climates. As a baby and even up until now, he experienced the cold of the Sierra Nevada region of California. His grandfather lived in that part of the state and he visited regularly. Living in the central valley, Nick had felt the blistering, dry heat that his body seemed to soak up and hold onto for hours on end every day. But as he stepped off of the small plane that he and his father rode into Norfolk, he was overwhelmed with the suffocating humidity that enveloped the entire region. Indeed, Nick was far from home. As they walked through the gate towards baggage claim, Nick's eyes lit up when he spotted his maternal grandparents. He quickly let go of his father's hand and ran toward them. They quickly swallowed him in their embrace and he was smothered with kisses by both of them. "I missed you so much," said Nick "Honey, we missed you too," said his grandmother. Nick's grandfather had tears in his eyes by the time Nick's dad caught up to his son. "Tom, Linda," he said as he hugged the both of them. "I hope you weren't waiting long." "Not at all, Jim", said Tom offering his hand for a shake. "We were a little worried that you guys might've landed early. We tried to get here sooner, but traffic was bad getting here." "Are you hungry?"' asked Linda looking at her grandson. "Yes ma'am," replied Nick. "We ate on the plane from San Francisco, but I'm hungry again." Nick held his grandmother's hand as the four of them walked to the baggage claim area and patiently waited for their suitcases to come along the conveyor belt. After collecting their luggage, they were off to find food. "Where should we eat, kiddo?" asked Tom looking at his only grandson in the back seat. His wife was riding in the back seat as well and he could see how happy she was that she had her grandson with her. "Um....I don't know. Anywhere's okay with me, grandpa." Nick smiled. Jim looked into the back seat and smiled at his son. He could see how content Nick was to be here. Tom looked over at Jim and said, "Well, what are you in the mood for?" Jim just shrugged his shoulders and asked, "What's good?" Out of the back seat Nick suddenly piped up, "Can we eat at Red Lobster?" "Son, last time we ate at Red Lobster you didn't touch anything," Jim reminded his son. Nick frowned," I promise I will this time, dad. Please?" Jim looked at Tom and asked," Do you feel like Red Lobster tonight?" Tom looked approvingly at his grandson in the back seat, then at his smiling wife, then back at Jim and said, "Red Lobster sounds great. You know, we've missed you both so much. I'm glad you guys made it this year." After a long ride that seemed like hours to Nick, they pulled into the parking lot at a Red Lobster. They all got out of the car and walked to the entrance. After a long wait, they were seated and the waitress brought out cheddar bay biscuits, Nick's favorite. He colored the kids menu that the waiter had brought to the table for him and beat his grandfather at a game of tic-tac-toe. Soon they were served and true to what his father was suspicious of, Nick managed to eat about three bites off his plate before announcing that he was full. The conversation at the table seemed to revolve around Nick and his father. Tom and Linda had a lot of questions and quite a few compliments for Jim about Nick's manners. One of the things that Jim always made sure that he taught his son was how to treat others and how to talk to adults. There was not a time in Nick's life when he was allowed to disrespect his elders, even when it might have been warranted. Nick was starting to get bored with the conversation, but the next subject that the adults at the table began discussing stirred Nick's interest........ "I can't get over how much he looks like his mother," said Linda as she looked at her grandson. "He's so beautiful." Linda was starting to tear up, so she quickly looked away and dabbed her eyes. Nick wanted to hear more, and he quickly asked, "Grandma, did I always look like my mom?" All of the adults at the table stopped and looked at Nick, and still a little weepy, Linda replied, "Yes, sweetheart. You always did, and you remind me of her so much." "Can you tell me more stories about her while I'm here?" Nick continued. "Well, I'm sure that sometime we can all sit down together and talk about her. I think that would be nice," Linda said looking at her grandson with loving eyes. Tom was looking at Nick, and as they made eye contact, Nick was sure he saw a lot of pain in his grandfather's eyes, but he also saw a lot of bravery in them as well. It was the same look he saw on his dad's face whenever the subject of his mother came up. Nick fell asleep on the way to his grandparents' house. The next day he woke up in a bed with his dad in a room that was fixed up to be an office. His dad was snoring as usual, something Nick was used to. It wasn't that the snoring bothered Nick, because it never did. He slept right through it, but for some reason he was embarrassed by it. He was certain that his grandparents could hear it from their room and he almost panicked about it. Then he came to his senses and realized that his grandparents must have heard his dad snore in the past. So he got up and made his way to the hallway to search for the bathroom. When he was done, he decided to explore the house. It was brand new, and it even had a brand new smell to it. He crept down the stairs and into a large room with no TV, but with two couches, two chairs, a fireplace and pictures of his mom on every wall. There were dozens of them, and there were also pictures of him and his dad everywhere. Then he came across a picture he had seen before but only in a photo album at home in California. It was of him and both of his parents. It was a picture that made him feel like he was part of a normal family. Of course, Nick didn't live in a dysfunctional family to say the least. He understood what had happened in the past. He knew that his mom and dad loved him and each other. He also understood that his mom had died when he was 6 months old. Another thing that he knew for sure was that his parents were young when he was born. Really young. His dad was sixteen and his mom was fifteen when he was born. All of those things seemed to add up in his mind, but there was something that didn't fit. In his mind, he couldn't make the connection that he had a normal life at one time with two parents who loved him. The idea was overwhelming to him so he just went on believing in his mind that he wasn't a normal kid. Nick looked at the picture one last time before he made his way into another room. The kitchen. His eyes immediately fell on the refrigerator. It had water and ice buttons on the front. So he went into all of the cupboards he could reach until he found a cup to use. He walked over to the refrigerator, got some ice and cold water out of it and drank it. He knew he was going to love his grandparents' house for this refrigerator, if nothing else. Next he went into the dining room where he saw a huge wood table, the same one he remembered from his last visit with his grandparents when they lived in Florida. He ran his hand along the smooth surface and thought about the last house they lived in. He wondered what made them decide to move to Virginia, but he forgot about it almost as quickly as he thought about it when he heard his grandfather's voice behind him. "Well good morning kiddo." Tom smiled as he walked up on his grandson. "Good morning grandpa," Nick said. He was glad he wasn't up alone anymore. Tom opened the refrigerator and asked, "Are you hungry?" "What are you gonna cook?" asked Nick "Well, let's see what we have in here. I know your grandma bought groceries. I'm just not sure what she got." Tom was busy searching the fridge when Nick saw his dad come around the corner. He looked freshly showered and dressed. Tom eventually gave up on looking for food in the refrigerator and decided to make coffee instead. After a while, Linda came downstairs and greeted everyone. Eventually it was decided that they would drive to IHOP for breakfast. Nick took a shower and got dressed in the clothes his dad put out for him. After his dad did his hair, they were out the door. **************************************************** Sitting at the table with his dad and his grandparents, Nick's stomach was grumbling. It seemed like an eternity before someone came to take everyone's order. Jim ordered for his son, and Nick wasn't at all concerned about what his dad was ordering for him. Jim knew his son. He would eat a few bites of his pancakes and a couple pieces of bacon, but not much else. Today's conversation was about what the plan was for the day. Tom and Linda suggested that they all go to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. Nick got really excited at this prospect. Living in California, he had been too many fairs and even a few parks like Six Flags Marine World or Paramount's Great America. But it was when they traveled outside of the state when he saw the best theme parks. Especially the last time he and his father visited his grandparents. They lived in Florida at the time and they all went to Disney World. He saw every park and had more fun than he had ever had in his life. "Are there scary roller coasters," Nick asked hopefully? Tom laughed and replied, "Are there ever. How fast and scary do you like it?" Nick smiled. Jim was looking at his son with a look that Nick couldn't really read. He thought to himself that maybe his dad wasn't so sure that he could deal with a big roller coaster, but Nick shrugged it off. Linda spoke up then and Tom turned serious. "We have some news. I'm pregnant." Jim had a look of shock on his face. Nick couldn't believe it when he heard the news. The shock of the moment wore off and Jim smiled widely. "Congratulations, you two. I can't believe it. How far along are you?" "Three months. The baby is due in February," Tom answered for his wife. Jim reached across the table, took Linda's hand in his and said, "I'm so happy for you. I know how much this means to the both of you." Then he shook Tom's hand and said, "You really deserve this." Nick took all of this in as he sat at the table watching the whole scene unfold. His dad turned to him and said, "Did you hear that buddy? Your gonna have a little Aunt or Uncle." Nick just sat there for a second, taking the time he needed to digest the news. He wasn't upset, but he couldn't get over it. He thought for sure that his grandparents were too old to have a baby. Finally his dad reached over and rubbed his back a little, then said, "Go give your grandma a hug and kiss, son." Nick did as he was told to do, and then he turned and gave his grandpa a hug and kiss as well. Tom and Linda seemed happy to be sharing the news with the two most important people in their lives. Suddenly Nick frowned as his one worry crossed his mind. "Does this mean that you can't go on the rides with us, grandma?" As Linda chuckled, the food was brought to the table and Nick went back to his chair so he could eat his breakfast. After they ate, they went back to Tom and Linda's house to change clothes and soon they were on the interstate, headed for Busch Gardens. Nick got excited when they crossed over a long bridge and suddenly went into a tunnel. As they came out of the tunnel, they were back on a bridge. As he looked out the window, Tom explained to him and his dad that they were just under the Chesapeake Bay. Nick was truly amazed by this. As they drove further, Nick noticed that the interstate was lined with tall, green trees. He thought that it was one of the prettiest things he had ever seen. The freeways at home in California were lined with brown, dry, grassy fields and hills. This was much nicer, he thought to himself. When they got out of the car at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, the humidity hit both Nick and Jim like a punch. Nick looked at the expression on his father's face as they got out of the car and he knew his dad was uncomfortable. Jim hated to be hot more than anything. But, like his father, Nick said nothing about it. He didn't want to be rude. The day passed quickly. Nick and his dad had made a pact to try to get on every ride before the day ended, and they might have succeeded, but Nick wasn't sure anymore. They were having so much fun that he couldn't seem to keep up with the rides they had been on. Nick's dad won him some stuffed animals at the different booths that were available and he even won him a humongous Scooby Doo stuffed animal when he used a sledgehammer to ring the bell on a strength contest. By the end of the day, everyone had an armful of stuffed animals to carry out to the car. On the way home, Nick gathered up as many of the stuffed animals as he could and said, "Grandma, these are for the new baby." "That's really nice of you buddy," Jim said, looking proudly at his son. "Thank you honey," Linda replied looking at her grandson. Nick beamed proudly at his family. There wasn't a time in his life that he could remember feeling so proud to be who he was. After a while, the sun went down and Nick was asleep when they got back to his grandparent's house. Nick stirred a little as he heard his dad and his grandparents talking. He knew what they were discussing, so he just laid there with his eyes closed and listened a little. It wasn't so much that he was eavesdropping; it was just that he wanted to hear more about his mom. "How much more have you told him?" he heard Linda ask. "Not too much," Jim answered. "I don't think he's old enough to know everything. It's just too much to handle." "Jim," Tom interrupted. "We don't want you to tell him anything you don't think he's not ready to hear. We just hate to see you walk around like this." "I'm just afraid he's gonna hate me when he finds everything out," Jim said. "I could never live with myself if I knew he felt that way about me." "You need to stop blaming yourself son," Tom said. Nick couldn't believe he heard his grandfather calling his dad that. "It wasn't your fault. There's nothing you could've done to change it. None of us could." "I'm supposed to be the one who protects him, though," said Jim in an almost emotional voice. Nick was sure his dad was about to cry. He didn't like this conversation at all. Linda spoke up. "Jim, you do protect him. We are so proud of the job you have done. But listen. You are a young man and you are allowed to make mistakes. Nick's gonna understand that. Besides, you know how Tom and I feel." "When do you want to do it?" Jim asked. Tom answered this time. "Why not tomorrow? We can just stay home and look at pictures and talk about everything." "Not everything", Jim said. "Let me take him upstairs and we can discuss what we'll talk about after I put him to bed." Tom and Linda didn't reply. Nick felt his dad scoop him up and take him up the stairs. When they got into the room, Nick opened his eyes and his dad looked at him. "Hey buddy", Jim whispered, smiling at his son. "Let's get some pj's on you and you can go to sleep. It's late. Did you have fun today?" "Hi dad, what time is it?" Nick asked. "It's after 11, son. We were up late tonight." Nick hugged his dad. He just wanted his dad to know that he still loved him no matter what they were going to tell him. "I love you dad," Nick said. "I love you too son," Jim replied to his son. After Jim helped him with his pajamas, Nick crawled into bed and his dad kissed him good night and left the room. Nick lay awake wondering what they were saying downstairs, but he didn't have the courage to go and listen on the stairs. He knew his dad well enough to know that if he was caught, a spanking would surely follow. Eventually, he fell asleep.
  5. Nick was up early the next day, and as he inched out of bed and toward the bedroom door he thought he could smell pancakes. The smell brought him downstairs and to the kitchen, where he found Linda cooking. She smiled when he rounded the corner and he walked over to her for a good morning hug and kiss. "Good morning sweetheart," said Linda hugging him tightly. "Morning Grandma," Nick replied sleepily. Linda looked down at him and asked, "Did you sleep ok? You're up awful early." Nick yawned and stretched his arms out. It was much earlier than he was used to being up at plus there was a three hour time difference between California and Virginia that was starting to catch up to him. "I'm awake. I slept really good, but I just feel sleepy still is all." Nick rubbed his eyes and asked what he could do to help. Linda told him to go wash his hands first then to come back and she would put him to work. When Nick returned his grandmother lifted him up onto the counter and told him to help her with the grits. Nick remembered eating grits the last time he had visited with his grandparents. He wasn't sure he would like them very much but he ended up wanting them every day. When they went to Disneyworld, Tom and Linda had to take him to the same restaurant everyday for almost two straight weeks so he could have grits for breakfast. Nick's grandparents weren't very old in reality. Nick saw them as old because of the fact that they were his grandparents, but actually, they were both still in their mid 40's, and quite fit. Until yesterday, Nick hadn't given much thought to the fact that they were both still young. But the revelation that his grandmother was pregnant had been an eye opener for him. Nick looked closely at his grandmother for a moment. She resembled his mother in so many ways. She looked just like the girl in the pictures that Nick saw throughout his life. Finally, he had to ask. "Grandma," he started. "How much did my mom love me?" Linda's eyes moistened. "More than I could ever tell you," she answered. "Your mom loved you more than anyone in this whole wide world." Nick could see the hurt in his grandmother's eyes, and he felt sorry for asking. Searching for something to say, he finally blurted out, "I love you grandma." He reached out and hugged her tightly and she returned the hug. "I love you too sweetheart. I'm so glad you and your dad came to see us this year." "So am I, Grandma," Nick said. Finally they let go and went back to cooking. Nick could hear water running upstairs, so he assumed that it was his dad he heard. He was right, about ten minutes later the water shut off and his dad appeared in the kitchen freshly showered, looking for coffee. Jim walked into the kitchen and hugged and kissed Linda good morning. "Are you helping Grandma with breakfast, buddy," Jim asked, kissing Nick on the cheek. "Yes I am, and I even washed my hands," Nick answered excitedly. "Well, in that case, I guess it's safe to eat breakfast this morning," Jim teased his son. "Ha, ha," Nick replied sarcastically. Soon Tom joined them in the kitchen and they all sat down for breakfast. Nick had forgotten how much he truly enjoyed eating grits, but when he took his first bite he was in heaven. He smiled and quickly ate all of his grits. He didn't bother touching his pancakes or his bacon. Instead, he fed his pancakes to his dad when he noticed that Jim had eaten all of his. Tom and Linda just looked on and smiled as Nick fed his dad bites of pancakes off his plate. As they had planned to do that day, they all relaxed after breakfast in the family room. After a few minutes, the room got quiet and Linda turned off the TV. Nick was wondering if this was it. IS this was the moment in time when they would finally tell him what they were talking about last night? He soon got his answer when Tom walked over and sat down with him on the love seat. "Hey kiddo. Will you do me a favor," Tom asked. "Sure Grandpa," Nick answered eagerly. Tom pointed to the bookshelf by the sliding glass door and said, "Go over there and grab me those two photo albums, will you?" Nick jumped up and raced over to the bookshelf to grab the two red photo albums. When he returned, Tom told him to sit close. They opened the book and Nick saw a picture he had never seen before. It was a picture of his mom and Jim lying in a hospital bed together, and they were holding Nick. His mom's hair was trashed, and his dad had on a ripped shirt and was sweating. They both looked like they were crying. He looked at his dad in that picture and the realization of how young his dad really was when he was born hit him. His dad looked like a boy in the picture. He was skinny and seemed smaller. His hair was longer and even though it was messed up, he could tell that he styled it back. Nick looked over at his dad and smiled. Jim moved over to the couch and looked at the picture himself. He put his hand on Nicks shoulder and kissed him on top of his head. The other pictures were of Nick being brought home from the hospital, from the moment they wheeled his mom out the doors to the car to the time he was brought home to his grandparents' house in Oakley, California. Nick felt uncomfortable as everyone was starting to get emotional around him, so he turned the page. He saw some pictures of a baby shower and he asked, "Was I born yet when these were taken," to no one in particular. Linda answered him. "No, sweetheart. Not yet, this was mom's baby shower that we all gave her." Nick studied the pictures carefully. He had never seen them before and he wanted to get as many looks at these pictures as he could. He turned the page and what he saw next made him giggle. It was a picture of his mom and dad all by themselves. His dad had on a tuxedo and his mom was wearing a pink fluffy dress. They were holding hands and looking at each other. He thought that his dad's tuxedo looked especially silly. Next, he turned the page and he saw a bunch of pictures of him and his mom alone, and she was looking at him like he was a treasure. She had so much love in her eyes as she held him. Nick felt so good when he looked at those pictures that he started to get a lump in his throat. Finally, he looked up at his dad and both of his grandparents and asked, "Why did my mom die?" No one seemed to have an answer for him. Finally, Jim spoke up. "Well, buddy, no one knows why any of us dies. We just do." Jim paused for a second then he looked at his son and continued. "We all loved your mom so much. We still do. That's never going away. But the thing is, in a way, she's still alive. I see her in you everyday." Nick turned around and hugged his dad with all of his might. He was crying now, and the next question just seemed to pop out of him. "How did my mom die," he asked. His dad looked at Tom and Linda, who looked rather uncomfortable, but Jim continued. "She died in a car accident. You know that though, don't you?" Nick did know that, but he had so many questions about how it happened, so he tried again. "That's not what I meant, dad. I mean, how did the wreck happen?" A look of regret passed over Jims face as he had to answer the question in front of Tom and Linda, who already knew the details but now had to relive the night their only child had been killed. "She was riding in the back of a truck, son, and they crashed with another car and she was thrown from the truck. That's why I make you wear a seatbelt, Nick, and that's why I get upset with you when you argue with me about putting it on." Nick was upset about what he had heard. Knowing that his mom had died after being in a bad wreck had always made him nervous about riding in cars. He used to tell his friends in kindergarten that he was going to die just like his mom did in a car, and his dad and his teachers made him stop. But he still believed that in the back of his head. Whenever he thought about a car wreck, he just imagined that his mom was in some big car that might have tipped over or caught on fire. This was new to him, and he had a lot to think about. "Were you and me with her, dad," Nick asked. "No son. You were at home with Grandma and Grandpa, and I was somewhere else. We were going to go together to the concert that I was at, but she decided that she wanted to go to a party instead," Jim said sadly. He looked at his son in an almost apologetic way. Nick was starting to understand some of what was happening, what his dad meant the night before when he was talking to his grandparents. What he said next came out the wrong way, and Nick was sorry as soon as he said it.... "Why didn't you make her go with you, dad," Nick said, causing a look of guilt to cross his dad's face. Jim looked like he wanted to cry. "I don't know son. I'm so sorry that I didn't try harder to make her go." Jim had tears running down his face, and Nick felt awful. He had never seen his dad cry before, and it made him uncomfortable to watch him now. Linda and Tom moved in closer and they were both hugging Jim and rubbing his back. Tom spoke up. "Nick, there was nothing your dad could've done. He's been blaming himself for eight years for this, and none of it was his fault. If there's one thing I can tell you about your mother, it was that once she made up her mind, that was it. She did what she wanted, and that was that." Tom looked at his wife, who looked devastated. She was still hugging Jim and holding on to her husband for support at the same time. She was falling apart behind all of the memories of that night. Nick felt horrible as he watched his dad cry. It was like it was something that he was holding inside of him for all of these years and finally it was coming out, and his dad couldn't stop. He was so used to seeing his dad as a strong person with nerves of steel, and now he was crying like a baby. "Dad," Nick said. "I'm sorry I said it that way. I didn't mean to make you cry." Jim reached over to hug his son, and as he did, he broke down again. "Son, it's not your fault. I'm just remembering your mom is all. I still love her so much, and I miss her a lot. I haven't cried for her in a long, long time," he said. "When was the last time dad," Nick asked. Jim took a deep breath and thought about it for a minute. Finally, he took Nick in his lap and said, "Well, son, probably not since the first week after you came home from the hospital. You see, we almost lost you after we lost your mom. You stopped eating and you were losing a lot of weight. We had to put you in the hospital, and I didn't know what was going to happen. Finally, you started eating again, and I brought you home. But there's more..." "What, dad," Nick asked. "Well, when you got home from the hospital, there were a lot of people who wanted me to give you up for adoption. They tried to convince me that it would be best for you and for me to. I wasn't sure what I was gonna do, but while everyone else was telling me to do it, I want you to know that all of your grandparents, and that includes your Oma and your Papu, were begging me not to do it." Nick smiled at his grandparents, and Jim continued." One night you wouldn't stop crying and I was so tired that I didn't know what to do. So I took you to bed with me and you fell asleep. While we were lying there, I put my head on your chest, and I could hear your little heart beating and all of your little insides working. It was like I fell in love with you all over again, and I knew that I couldn't ever give you up. But I was scared about how I was going to take care of you, and I cried a lot. I missed your mom and I didn't know how I was going to do it without her there." Nick felt more emotional at that point than he ever did in his life. He felt so bad for his dad for going through all of that, but he also felt so good because he somehow understood how much his dad gave up for him. He just relaxed then and for the rest of the day he listened to stories about his mom and dad. There were so many funny stories and so many sweet stories about them. It was like he was introduced to a world that he always imagined but couldn't quite grasp until today. This was what Nick considered to be the best day of his life. ******************************************************************************** Nick opened his eyes and looked out the window. He had no idea where he was or how far they were from Virginia Beach, but he knew that his grandfather was driving fast, and it was raining hard outside as they sped down the freeway. His dad was sitting in the back seat this time with him and was carrying on a conversation with Tom and Linda. He wasn't sure what they were discussing, but it was something light hearted because all three of the adults were laughing and carrying on. "How much longer, Grandpa," Nick asked. "You're up, buddy," Tom replied. "We were starting to wonder about you. You've been sleeping a long time." Nick smiled and Jim reached over and grabbed his left ankle and squeezed it, lifting his leg off the seat playfully. "Are you hungry son," Jim asked. Nick was definitely ready for lunch. "Yes sir," he answered happily. "Can we eat at Cracker Barrel?" Nick remembered eating at Cracker Barrel in Florida, and they had just passed a large billboard that told him that there was indeed a Cracker Barrel coming up. "Sure thing, pal", Tom answered. Linda turned around to see her grandson, who was sitting directly behind her. "What do you think you're hungry for, sweetheart?" Nick thought about it for a second then he smiled and asked, "Can I have grits again?" "Of course you can, Nick," Linda said. "But don't you think you want something else to eat besides grits?" Nick grinned and said proudly, "Nope. I love grits. Grits and bacon, please." Jim looked over at him and gave him a stern look. "Son, I don't mind if you have grits, but I want you to try to eat a little bit of something else. You need to at least have some chicken strips or something like that." Nick sighed, knowing that his dad meant business. "Ok, dad. But can I have a soda today?" "We'll see, son," Jim said. "I'm not trying to be mean to you, but I want you to eat so you don't get sick." "I know," Nick said, a little embarrassed that his dad lectured him in front of Tom and Linda. As the four of them got out of the car and headed in to the restaurant, Tom told Linda and Jim to go ahead and reserve the table. The restaurant had a line out the door and he knew that there would be a wait. "Wait up, kiddo," Tom said to Nick as he started to follow his dad and grandmother. Nick turned back toward the car and Tom sat down in the back seat and moved over so Nick would have room to sit next to him. When Nick got in and closed the door, Tom pulled out his wallet and took out a fifty-dollar bill. Nick couldn't believe it when Tom handed it to him. No one had ever given him that much money in his life. His dad gave him an allowance of five dollars a week, but he had never gotten fifty dollars from anyone. "There you go, pal," Tom said handing him the money. "Wow," Nick said, still in disbelief. "What's it for, Grandpa?" Tom reached over and put his hand on Nick's shoulder and answered, "It's just because I love you, Nick. I wanted you to have it." "I love you too, Grandpa," Nick answered. He reached over and gave his Grandpa a hard hug. "I guess we should go inside and see if our table's ready," Tom said. "Do you want a ride?" Tom got out and held out his arms for Nick. Nick crawled out on Tom's side and Tom turned him around and lifted Nick up onto his shoulders and carried him into the restaurant. When they got inside, they found Jim and Linda walking around in the country store, waiting to be called for their table. Jim smiled warmly when he saw his son riding on Tom's shoulders. "I guess Grandpa didn't make you stay behind for a spanking," he laughed. Tom looked up at his grandson and said, "Heck no. I don't think I could bring myself to make this boy cry." Jim started laughing and teasingly said, "Well, why don't I let him stay for about a week by himself and when I get back, we'll see if you still feel that way." Finally, they were paged and Tom put Nick down. They made their way to their table and after a while, Nick had a small bowl of cheese grits and a plate of chicken strips and French fries sitting in front of him. He immediately attacked the grits and was finished with them in no time flat. He picked at his chicken strips at first, but he knew that his dad would have all four of them sit there until he ate at least half of his lunch, so he started working on them. After a while, the conversation turned to how much Jim and Nick liked eating at the Cracker Barrel, and as the waitress was refilling their glasses, Nick got her attention. "Is this in California," Nick asked, hoping that when he and his father went home they would know how to find a Cracker Barrel. Unfortunately, the waitress misunderstood his question. "Oh, no sweetie. We're in Virginia," she answered. Nick giggled, but was careful not to sound disrespectful. "No, ma'am. What I meant was is this restaurant in California." Still not grasping the question fully, the poor woman repeated herself. "No, it's in Virginia. California's a long way from here, honey." Finally Linda spoke up. "What he meant was, is there a Cracker Barrel in California?" The waitress held her right hand over her chest when she realized the mistake she made, and she laughed at herself. "I'm so sorry, baby," she said, still laughing. Nick was laughing along with her, and out of respect, he apologized for confusing her. "No, ma'am. I should have said it differently," he said, still smiling widely. After she finished filling the glasses at the table, she left them alone. Nick was still picking at his chicken and finally he looked at his dad who just motioned with his head that he was satisfied with the amount of chicken that Nick had eaten. "Grandpa," Nick spoke up. "Yes, Nick," Tom smiled. "How far is it to Washington from here?" Nick was watching Tom think, hoping that he wouldn't say hundreds of miles. "I'd say about 45 miles," he answered, much to Nick's relief. "Why?" Nick looked at his dad, and thought carefully about what he was going to say. He wasn't quite sure how to say that he was sick of riding in the car in a polite way. So, instead, he thought of a reason that wouldn't get him scolded by Jim. "I was just wondering what we would do when we get there is all," he finally answered. After a while, they were finished and back in the car, headed to Washington DC. Nick was secretly excited about going to Washington DC. He wanted to look at the White House and see the Capitol building. His dad talked about politics all of the time when he was home. Jim's father was a Democrat, and Jim was a Republican to the core. Nick knew better than to say anything to get the two of them arguing about politics, but he felt safe about talking about it while he was in Virginia with his dad and his Papu was back in California. Finally, they arrived in Washington and found the hotel where they had reservations. After they checked in, they went to their rooms and showered and changed. Nick lay on his bed while Jim was in the shower and closed his eyes for what seemed like a second. The next thing he knew, his dad was shaking him awake. "Hey, buddy," Jim said, looking down at Nick. "Are you still sleepy?" "No, I'm ok, dad," Nick answered as he opened his eyes. "Ok, well, go get in the shower and wash good." Jim told him. "There're towels and washcloths on the counter for you. I put them out. Use the washcloth." Nick knew from the way his dad said it that he meant business, so he made sure he scrubbed well while he was in the shower. When he got out he came back out to the room and Jim had his clothes laid out on his bed. Nick got dressed, then went over and sat in Jim's lap so he could do his hair. When Jim was finished, he told Nick to call his Grandparents' room and ask if they were ready. Finally they all met in Tom and Linda's room and left from there to explore Washington DC. It was late when they got back to the hotel. Nick wasn't sure what time it was, but he knew that the sun had already gone down and they hadn't had any dinner yet. He knew his dad was hungry and that they would be eating soon. Jim got in the shower and told Nick to get ready to take one as well. After Jim was done, Nick got in and took a quick shower as his dad had instructed him to do. Tom and Linda called and they met in Jim and Nick's room this time. There was a Steak and Ale right next door to the hotel so they all walked next door and ate. As usual, Nick barely touched his food. Jim and Tom ate what was left on his plate and the three of them sat and talked while Nick colored on his menu. It was definitely late and Nick fell asleep at the restaurant. When he woke up, his head was on Jim's shoulder and they were leaving the restaurant headed back to the hotel. He smiled at his Grandparents, who were watching him and brightened up when he opened his eyes. "Hi, Grandma," Nick said quietly to Linda and waved. Linda reached up and ran her hand over Nick's face gently and smiled. "Hi sweetheart," she said. "Are you up now?" Nick nodded but made no move to get down. He was still tired as they made their way to the hotel so Tom and Linda both kissed him goodnight and went into their room and Jim took Nick back to their room. When they got to the hotel room Jim took Nick inside, laid him on his bed and took out Nick's pajamas. He took Nick's shoes off for him while Nick watched from the bed. Soon he had Nick changed into his pajamas and was tucking him in. He leaned down and kissed his son goodnight. "I love you, Nick," said Jim. "Sweet dreams, son." "I love you too, dad," Nick said looking up. "Was I good today?" "Yes you were," Jim answered. Nick thought about how much he loved his dad and smiled. After a few minutes, he was asleep again. The next day Jim was already up making coffee at the sink in the bathroom as Nick was waking up. He got up and went to the bathroom then crawled into his dad's bed when he went back into the room. He watched cartoons for a while then Jim joined him and they sat and laughed at the episode of Spongebob Squarepants. During a commercial Jim turned the TV down all the way. "Son, I want to have a talk with you," he said in a serious tone. Nick got a little nervous as he gave his dad his full attention. "Do you like it here in Virginia with your Grandma and Grandpa," Jim asked. Nick smiled and said, "Yes. I like it a lot." "Well," Jim continued, clearing his throat. "How would you like to live in Virginia?" Nick thought about what his dad said, then answered. "What about Papu and Oma?' Nick said, thinking about the family he always had around him in California. "Will they live here too?" "No, son," Jim answered truthfully. "We would be here with your Grandma and Grandpa. Papu and Oma and Uncle Alex and Uncle Brandon would stay in California." Nick started feeling anxious. He wanted to see his Grandma and Grandpa all the time, but he didn't want to leave behind all of the people he loved in California. He started to cry. Jim rubbed his back and scooted him closer so that they were sitting side by side. "Buddy, it's ok," he said. "We haven't decided what we're gonna do yet. I was just thinking about it, that's all." Nick calmed down a little and Jim continued. "Son, I just want what's best for you. I know how much you like it with Grandma and Grandpa, but I know how you're going to feel about moving away from Papu and Oma. But you know what?" Nick looked up at his dad and answered, "What?" "We won't do it unless I think you really want to, ok?" Jim said, still rubbing his son's back. "Ok, dad," Nick said, trying to sound brave. Up until this very moment, Nick was hoping that somehow their vacation could last forever and that they would never have to go back. Now that the reality of what he was wishing for was staring him in the face, he didn't know if he liked the idea of never having to go back to his life in California. Jim and Nick just laid on the bed together for the rest of the time that Spongebob was on and watched quietly. After the show was over, Jim told Nick that it was time to get showered and ready for the day.
  6. Forgiveness is a pretty diverse word, if you ask me. It has so many facets to it, and unless you have to really beg for it, pray for it, or learn to give it away, you have no idea what a huge thing forgiveness really is. Over the years, I’ve had to do all three, and it hasn’t been easy. Still, I had to do it, and now that I have, I know that it’s not such a bad thing to ask for. It’s an even better thing to give. In the dictionary, that sits on my bookshelf, the word forgive is defined as to pardon or to overlook. I guess that for a book that offers simple meanings to words, that’s adequate. Still, in my opinion, such a basic outline of the word’s meaning is shortsighted and shallow. Ask anyone who’s emotional well being has depended on the ability of another to forgive. Hell, ask anyone who’s emotional well being has depended on their own ability to forgive. I could go on for days about how blessed I’ve been that my wife and kids have rallied around me when my infidelity became the topic for discussion for so many months during counseling. Their understanding and resolve to stand next to me when I brought so much misery to the forefront of our family’s structure was nothing short of beautiful. The greatest gift of all was when my son Ronnie finally forgave me and let me back into his life. Still, there’s a more profound example of forgiveness that I can point to, and I never knew it was possible. Leave it to one of my kids, though, to prove me wrong. “Mom, dad, I have something to tell you,” Francis said, taking a seat next to us on the couch, nervously clutching her cup of coffee as if she were still the sixteen-year-old that we’d welcomed into our home so many years before. “I don’t know how you’re going to take this, but I have to be honest with you.” “Go ahead sweetheart,” Mary said, sitting back as if she were bracing herself for some bad news. If only we could have known what Francis was about to tell us, we could have braced a little harder. Not because it was such a terrible thing, but because it was so shocking. “I went to see Rudy last week,” she said, her eyes shifting between us for an extended period of time. Now, mind you, I didn’t mind that she went to see her biological dad, but considering the fact that she hadn’t seen or heard from the man since the day he tried to kill her, I found it hard to process what she said. “How did it go?” Mary asked, not sounding as put off as I felt. “How was he?” “He’s not doing too good,” she said quietly. “The visit was hard, but I did it.” “What brought all of this on, sweetheart?” Mary asked, taking charge of the conversation with our daughter because I was still a little too stunned to speak. “Counseling,” she said. “I realized that until I can forgive him for what he did to me, to us, I’m never going to get it out of my head.” “What did he have to say?” I finally managed to ask. “Not too much,” she said, sounding a little disappointed. “Something good came out of it, though. We’re going to have lunch this Wednesday.” “This sounds like something you really want,” Mary said thoughtfully. “It is,” she said, but then she added, “That doesn’t mean I’m going to forget what happened.” “We know that honey,” I said. “I just want you two to know that no matter what happens, you’re my real mom and dad,” she said emotionally. “There’s nothing in this world that Rudy or Eva ever gave me, physically or emotionally, but scars. You helped me heal them, and I love you for it.” “You know we love you too,” Mary said, wrapping her arms around Francis. “You’ll always be loved as long as your father and I have breath in our lungs.” One of the most surprising things that happened in the wake of our counseling was the re-emergence of Eva in the lives of her kids. Mary and I had encouraged them to reach out to her, even if it was a little heartbreaking for me to do. I knew it was the right thing, though. We expected her to be a little guarded at first, but she surprised us by expressing her gratitude to us and welcoming her kids with open arms. Another surprise was the way Mary and I were able to regenerate our friendship with her. I was honestly a little more than uncomfortable about forging such a bond with a woman who thought nothing of walking away from her kids for years without so much as a phone call while Mary and I tried to pick up the pieces of her shattered family. We went through months of agony, watching Paulette, Shelly and Hank wait by the window for their mother, who we knew wasn’t coming back. There’s nothing more hurtful than the look on a little girl’s face when you have to find a gentle way to explain to her that her mother abandoned her and moved overseas. Still, I was in no position to judge, I figured. Lord knows I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, and part of the circle of forgiveness means being able to give it away. In time, I grew more and more comfortable with her presence in our kitchen, where she and Mary had taken to sitting at the table over coffee and Virginia Slims every morning to visit. One of the real positives that came of our resumed friendship with Eva was the way the girls were able to get to know their mother again on comfortable terms. In the walls of their home, where they’d grown up for the most part, they were able to re-acquaint themselves with someone they now regarded as a stranger. Eva kept her chin out and held her head up when they confronted her one Saturday morning about their childhood. She very calmly explained to them, in her thick Dutch accent, that she was afraid of Rudy. She told them that she was too afraid to come to their defense because of the way she’d been battered by him so many times before. She then rolled up her left pant leg, revealing a long, deep scar that had obviously come from a knife wound that went untreated. It looked more like a valley that had been carved out in her calf muscle, and I for one was speechless. The girls gasped and Mary looked horrified at the sight of the results of Rudolf Van Kemp’s rage. She related to all of us that she was making him lunch one afternoon while the kids were at school, and out of nowhere, he got up and started ranting in Dutch about Black Magic and accusing her of casting spells on him. He then proceeded to choke her until she was unconscious. When she woke up, she said, it was because of the sudden pain of being carved up with a butcher knife. Talk about bravery. This woman’s voice never broke once as she talked about the unspeakable horrors her husband put her through. She confessed her failure to protect her kids, but she also admitted to fearing for her life. “Once I knew he was in jail and you were safe,” she explained. “I knew I had to leave. If I had stayed with him, they would have put you back with us. It hurt me more than anything, but staying away was the best thing I could have done.” That morning, I learned a valuable lesson about life and all of its back-stories. Sometimes we think we know everything, but we don’t know the half of it. I’m not saying that leaving the country for three decades was the most admirable thing Eva Van Kemp could have done, but she was right. At the time, all she would have had to do was go back to Rudy and the kids would have been placed back in the home. Still, I had memories in my mind of little Hank waking up in the middle of the night, screaming because he’d had a nightmare. Or of little Shelly, who didn’t understand why she had a new mommy and daddy. Of being up in the middle of the night with Francis when she was starting to have contractions. All of those false alarms, and the fear she faced. The fear we faced with her, because we had no idea what to tell the kids. Watching Paulette withdraw from other children and not understanding it at the time, but finding out later on that she was being teased at school because people knew about her situation. Maybe the most painful memory, though, was the day Jerry moved away because he couldn’t forgive Francis for going to the police. In his mind, it was her fault that their family was torn apart the way it had been. He didn’t understand at the time that normal families just didn’t function the way his did. It was all he knew, and he loved his mom. He knew, though, like Francis, Mary and I, that she was long gone and that she wasn’t coming back. Trying to explain that to a kid with convictions as strong as he had was impossible for Mary and I, and in the end, we had to let him go. Throughout the years, I automatically placed fifty percent of the blame for all of that on Eva Van Kemp. I couldn’t work it out in my mind how she could be with a man who beat her five kids so mercilessly. When we lost Raymond Jr. I was especially bitter about it. I mean, we would have gladly hired men to sit on either side of our kids with over sized feathers and fan them while they sat on thrones if it would have brought them back, and here were these people who heaped nothing but pain and suffering on their children, who were still living and breathing. Of course, being short sighted, I failed to see the obvious. I failed to see that these weren’t their kids anymore. They were ours, and we were giving them the life we thought they deserved all along. At least we tried to. There were things we didn’t do right, and they suffered in other ways. I don’t have to go back over all of that, though, because it’s all been said. Mary and I both know what we did and what we didn’t do, but it’s too late to change that. What we could do, though, was see things more clearly. We could understand Eva’s decision to leave, and to stay away. She trusted us. We were her friends, and if I’d have known it at the time, I would have been as honored as I was while I was sitting at the kitchen table next to my wife, listening to her talk about her difficult life. ____________________________________________________________________________ Planning for a family reunion isn’t an easy task, especially if you’re married to someone who wants everything to be perfect. Of course, a reunion was the last thing I thought Mary would have ever dreamt up, but I think she had an ulterior motive. In fact, let me take that back. I know she had an ulterior motive. “It’s not going to kill you, Ray,” she said, steadfastly holding her ground when I objected to the idea of renting a banquet hall for the reunion. “This is going to be something nice for all of us, and we’re doing it. That’s final.” I opened my mouth to protest again, but she held a silencing hand up in front of me, and my shoulders slumped. So, resigned to my fate, I got on the phone and called the hall, booking it for early October. It was no coincidence that the date of the reunion fell on the same week of our fortieth anniversary, which I thought was going to be spent by my wife and I in a quiet, candle lit restaurant. After that, I figured, we’d go home and spend the evening alone. Maybe we’d share a dance, or we’d have a drink. But most importantly, we’d be alone. As soon as we told the kids about the reunion, though, those plans went out the window. All of the sudden, we were bombarded with ideas for tying our anniversary celebration in with the reunion. According to Francis and Paulette, Mary and I weren’t to part with a dime for any of it, either. I appreciated the thought, but there was no way I was going to let my kids pay for a celebration Mary and I had planned. Of course, after I tallied it all up, I decided that it might have been a good idea to take the kids up on their offer. I never would have, though. Instead, I paid for everything over their protests and told them to keep their money for something more substantial in their lives. I got the feeling that they took a little offense to my refusal of their money, but I knew they’d get over it in time. One Saturday morning I was awoken with a kiss on the forehead by my wife, who was all made up. “Ray, Eva’s here and we’re going to the mall for a couple of things for the reunion,” she told me. I sat up sleepily and grumbled something to her about driving carefully, then my head hit the pillow again. I honestly had no idea the damage two women armed with charge cards could do until I witnessed the carnage for myself. When my day started and Mary announced that she was going to the mall to pick a few things up for the reunion, I took her literally. Having been married to her for forty years, though, I should have known better. “Raymond, there’s more in the car,” she said, practically forcing her way in through the front door with a plethora of shopping bags from Macy’s, Home Depot and Sam’s Club. I walked out to the car and almost fainted when I saw the sheer volume of the merchandise in the trunk. All I could think was that taking a part time job at Wal-Mart as a greeter to pay for all of the stuff she’d bought would make the bills that I knew were coming in the mail a little less bitter of a pill to swallow. I was being overly dramatic, though. Besides, Mary was going to great pains to make sure things would be perfect. We had a caterer hired, and there would be an open bar with a bartender. Ronnie and I had been working diligently to make sure there would be enough tables and chairs. Mary stayed on our case about it, though, and wanted to be involved in what we were doing at every level. In the meanwhile, she was working on travel plans for Robert Jr. and Samantha. October wasn’t exactly a convenient time for them to attend a family reunion, especially because Robert had to miss school, but Samantha was still excited about making the trip. For his part, Robert called us almost every night for a month before their visit because he was so excited. When we went to the airport to pick them up, I couldn’t believe how much he’d grown on us again. He just kept getting taller, and his dark hair was getting longer too. “He doesn’t want to cut it,” Samantha complained on the way home from the airport. “Lately he’s been bothering me for an earring too, but I told him he could hang it up.” “Do you think you’d want to go get a haircut with Grandpa?” Mary asked him hopefully, and he shook his head with a big grin. “I like my hair, Grandma,” he said cheerfully. “I’m going to let it grow past my shoulders.” “Oh no you aren’t,” Samantha protested, and all I could do was chuckle to myself in the front seat because I could remember having long hair when I was in my mid-twenties. It was right around 1966, and Charlie took me to the side and let me know that if I didn’t cut my hair he was going to dock my pay two dollars a day. That was all the motivation I needed to get it cut, and I never let it grow long again. I really can’t say why, but I was nervous the morning of the reunion. Maybe it was because we were all getting together as a family for a formal affair that was happy for a change. After the funerals and the difficult counseling sessions, we were finally gathering for a celebration of our family and all of its members. Francis was conspicuous by her absence all day. Something deep down inside was afraid she wouldn’t show up, but I knew her better than that and admonished myself for doubting her presence at our family reunion. Being October, you’d think that it would be cold outside, but it was actually rather warm. So warm, in fact, that I jumped in the pool at six thirty in the morning. I dove in at the deep end and swam up out of the water, where I was pleasantly surprised to find my grandson Robert, who looked more and more like his dad every time I saw him, standing on the deck. “Can I go swimming too Grandpa?” he asked. In place of a verbal reply, I pulled my arm back and sent the biggest splash of water at him that I could, then I went back under and swam to the steps, where I got out and took my place behind him on the diving board. I watched his perfect form as he took his dive, and shook my head in amazement when he disappeared under the surface. When I took my turn he giggled and splashed me, and I found myself chasing him around the pool all morning. Spending time with my grandson that morning turned out to be one of the highlights of my day that held the promise of a lot of good memories. I admired the way he was so mature and well behaved most of the time, but at times, he could be childish and immature the way a ten year old was supposed to be. When we got out of the water, we decided we were hungry. I thought about cooking breakfast for everyone, but I wanted more quality time with Robert Jr. So instead, I woke Mary up and told her I was taking him out for breakfast. While I was in my room with Mary, Robert Jr. was telling his mom the plan. “Is it ok if I order a big orange juice?” he asked politely as we looked our menu’s over. “I promise to finish it.” “You get whatever you want, son,” I told him with a smile. He looked so serious as he studied his menu, looking over the different offerings and giving it all serious consideration. When the waitress came to take our orders, I marveled when he ordered a Feta cheese and spinach omelet with a side of bacon and asked for fruit instead of fried potatoes. I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but on the way home, we stopped at the mall. It was still early, but some stores were already opened. We walked to FYE and I let him pick out a few CD’s from groups I’d never heard of. He looked happy, though, and that was enough justification in my mind. “Do you have a case to put them in?” I asked, and he shook his head. “Not with me,” he said. “But I have one at home.” With that, I grabbed the nicest CD pouch I could find and put it on the counter. I smiled when I saw him admiring another CD, holding it up to one he had picked out as if he were trying to decide which one to get. I couldn’t see making him choose, so I took both CD’s from him and placed them on the stack with the rest. I knew Mary would have had a fit if she knew how much I’d spent on Robert Jr. that morning, but it was so worth it to me. It pained me that he lived so many miles away, and that we only got to see him a few times a year. In the meanwhile, he was growing like a weed and we didn’t get to see it happen every day. So, right or wrong, that morning was my way of showing him how much I loved him and how badly I missed him and his mom when they weren’t with us. I wasn’t sure what to make of a group that called itself Jimmy Eat World. It sounded a little vulgar to me, but the music wasn’t so bad. We listened to it on the way back, and my heart melted as I listened to my beautiful grandson singing along with the CD as it played. It broke my heart that he would be leaving again in a day, but I took consolation in the fact that he and Samantha would be coming back at Christmas. When we got home, I was sure the neighbors could hear the stereo in my truck, which must have come as a shock to most of them. Robert Jr. had it up so loud I could hardly concentrate, but there was no way I could tell him no about something as harmless as the volume on the stereo for one lousy ride. The rest of the day went by pretty fast, and before I knew it, the time to leave had come. Samantha looked stunning, but all eyes were on Mary when she came down in her evening gown. She looked like a queen to me, and I was so proud to be her King. Robert Jr. came to me for help with his tie, and he looked like the perfect little gentleman in his coat and slacks. Somehow his hair complimented the suit, and even Samantha conceded the point when he openly stated the fact. At the banquet hall, I took stock in the members of our family and was absolutely stunned. Somehow, over the years, our family had grown by such leaps and bounds, and now we had grandchildren and great grandchildren. When I let the thought sink in that we were great grandparents, I found myself floored. Yet, there we were, with the proof in front of us. I didn’t necessarily feel old, but I definitely felt aged. There was a podium, and each of our kids took a turn speaking. Ronnie went first, and I found myself wiping tears away as he spoke about how much love was always in our home and how he strived to be the kind of parent to his kids that his mom and I were. Francis, Jerry, Paulette, Hank and Shelly all went next, and again I found it hard to keep my tears in check. One of the most touching speeches, though, came from Eva. When she spoke at first, it seemed like she was bragging about her children and their successes. But when she relayed all of it might not have happened but for the guidance and love Mary and I gave them, I wept openly with my wife. She thanked us for all we did for her family, then she stepped down and walked over to us. We both embraced her, and in Dutch, she told us that she meant everything she said and more that she didn’t know how to express. Mary got up and spoke next. She talked about the love in her heart for me, for our kids. One profound thing she said was, “I thank god for blessing me with the kids we have with us today, and for the ones that he took home.” Her faith was still amazing after all of those years, all of the good times and all of the tragedies. I was totally unprepared to speak, but I was called up to speak by my wife. Once she stepped up to the podium to speak, I figured I’d be called upon to do the same, but that didn’t make me any better prepared. Still, I managed to find the words to express how I felt, even if they were less than eloquent. “I guess the first thing I’d like to do is thank my wife for letting me know well in advance that I’d be giving this speech,” I joked, and everyone laughed. From there, I was able to relax and say what came naturally. “There’s never been a time in my life when I didn’t feel blessed to have so many people in my life who I love and who have always loved me back,” I started. “The fact that everyone’s here speaks volumes about the strength of this family. We’ve been through rough waters, and we’ve sailed smoothly. My wife and I have felt love and loss in the same breath, and we know the joy that comes from having so much. Not materially, but in human terms. We’ve raised nine beautiful kids, and the return on the investment we made in our family has been a thousand times what we put into it. God has blessed us with so much, and the fruits of those blessings are all sitting in the room with us. Whether you married into this family, were born into it or came to us as a gift so many years ago, you’re part of that blessing. So are Raymond Jr., Robert and Richard. Without them, we wouldn’t be the family we are now, and I give God the glory for that. I just want everyone in this room to know that I love you.” It’s funny. They say that it’s better not to count your blessings. Instead, they say, make them count. A lot of us look for ways to make our blessings count, but we don’t even know we’ve been blessed until we look around one day and see what we have. I spent so many years being bitter about my life, second-guessing my choices and wallowing in my own misery, and I didn’t see what I had. Raymond Jr. passed away in 1976, and all I could do was lament on what went wrong. I made a lot of mistakes and bottled up a lot of bitterness I felt toward Mary for what she didn’t do. That whole time, though, I didn’t realize that I had eight more blessings. When Robert committed suicide, I did it again. I did it so much that I wasn’t watching things happen around me until Richard was gone. I’d be remiss if I went back through the events that followed Richard’s death. They’ve been told, and it’s already been spoken. But we did get a great gift in the wake of that tragedy; the preservation of our family. Mary and I are recovering. The kids are recovering. Eva’s recovering, and somehow, Francis has been able to find a way to forgive her dad for the horrors of her childhood. My only wish is that the boys could have seen this day with us. Is it perfect? No. But does it have to be? Looking around that banquet hall at my family and all of its generations, I was struck by the reality that we’d survived. We’d accomplished so much, and yet we struggled for so long that the mere fact we were there seemed surreal. Somehow, though, life went on. Even when it was ending, we were surviving and this was our reward. I took my seat and felt Mary grip my hand with all of her might. I turned and gave her a quick peck on the lips, then she rested her head on my shoulder as the music started. We smiled simultaneously when we both heard the familiar strains of Jim Croce’s guitar, and we knew it could only be one song. The words were so profound, yet so appropriate for how I was feeling at the moment. Not just for my wife, but about my entire family and all of my days. If I could save time in a bottle, The first thing that I'd like to do Is to save every day till eternity passes away, Just to spend them with you If I could make days last forever, If words could make wishes come true I'd save every day like a treasure and then, Again, I would spend them with you But there never seems to be enough time, To do the things you want to do Once you find them I've looked around enough to know, You're the one I want to go Through time with. If I had a box just for wishes, And dreams that had never come true The box would be empty, Except for the memory Of how they were answered by you. But there never seems to be enough time, To do the things you want to do Once you find them I've looked around enough to know, You're the one I want to go Through time with “I love you Raymond Moore,” she said with a tearful smile. “I love you too, Mary,” I told her. “May I have this dance?” The End Lyrics for Time In A Bottle ©1972 by Jim Croce and ABC Records
  7. I just knew everything would be alright. Every year I would wake up to a pile of gifts under the tree, and somehow I knew this year would be no different. It was December 24, and there were a grand total of six presents under our tree, and they were all for other people. It was something new, to be sure, but I had a feeling that if I searched long enough and hard enough, I’d find my mom’s stash of gifts. They had to be somewhere. To be honest, I never searched before. I didn’t think it was a good idea to try to find my stash of presents because I knew my mom would be crushed if I ruined the surprise she planned for Christmas morning. Besides that, I knew Santa was watching, and I didn’t want to risk ruining my chances of receiving the optimum number of gifts from the jolly old Saint. So instead of investigating the somewhat troubling absence of packages under the tree with me and my sister’s names on them, I chose to be patient. On the surface, I accepted the truth. We were broke that year. My mom was going to nursing school and working two part time jobs to get the bills paid, and it was only by the grace of God that we still had a phone. I had a paper route in the neighborhood that brought in a hundred dollars a month, and most of my earnings from that went to my mom so she could pay bills like electricity and water. What I brought in wasn’t much, but it helped out. Being eleven, I guess I was slow on the uptake. My mom had sat down with my sister and I and told us that she’d do her best for us on Christmas, but the truth was that she hadn’t received a dime from our dad in ages, and usually when his child support check did come, it bounced. I hated my dad for that. My mom struggled each and every month just to keep a roof over our heads while my dad lived like a king in another town. My sister and I were out of sight and out of mind for him, and my mom was someone he loved to heap torment on. I knew that he purposely let us struggle so that she’d pay for trying to make it without him, and that no matter what she did, he’d be somewhere waiting in the wings to make sure that she knew he was better off that she was. On Christmas eve I collected early on my paper route and was really surprised at the amount of tips I got. As soon as I was finished collecting, I hurried home to turn the money over to my mom, who I was sure could use it for bills, especially if she had spent a lot of money on presents that year. Along the way I stopped at the corner store to buy some candy. They had a sale on Hershey’s Bars, my mom’s favorite candy bar, so I got nine of them for three dollars. I figured I’d stuff three of them in each of our stockings if there was any room left after Santa left. He usually crammed all of our stockings with goodies, but I figured I’d find a way to make them fit. I just had to wake up before my mom and sister did, but after Santa was gone. As I was checking out, I saw some really nice lockets with letter embossing on them. One had a cursive F, and another a cursive R, which was just right for my mom and my sister, respectively. They were five dollars each, so I grabbed them both and rubbed my hands together, excited about seeing the looks on their faces when they found the lockets in their stockings the next day. When I got home I snuck up to my room and hid everything I bought, then I walked down the hallway to my mom’s room to give her my collection money. From the hallway I could hear voices. One voice belonged to my sister, and the other to my mom. They were arguing fiercely about something, so I stuck my ear to the door and eavesdropped. When it became clear to me what they were fighting over, I felt sick to my stomach. My sister was all over my mom’s case about Christmas, wanting to know if she had gone out and bought her the leather jacket she wanted. My mom told her that she already knew the answer to her question, and my sister went on to tell my mom that she was angry that there were gifts under the tree for our cousins and aunts and uncles, but nothing for us yet. Of course this left my mother in tears, and she screamed back at my sister that she was doing all she could. She said that the gifts were for the help we received from our family throughout the year, and that we had plenty of other reasons to be happy that Christmas. My sister retorted that if the gifts were for all the help our family gave her that both she and I should have gifts under the tree too, because every dime the two of us made went towards bills in our household. She also said that she resented working every night after school and not being able to afford the things her friends had. Hearing this exchange left me shaken, and I quickly retreated to my room so I could settle down. I knew how important that leather jacket was to my sister, and I cursed my dad for not being the man we needed him to be. I felt like all of the stress my sister was putting on my mom belonged on my dad’s shoulders, not my mom’s. I felt like I just had to find a way to take some of that stress away from my mom, so I decided to turn to the one person I knew of who could make things better in our house. I sat down on my bed and I wrote a letter to Santa Clause. I knew it was late, but I thought that maybe if I left if on the tree for him he’d get it and maybe he could do something. I was sure not to ask for anything more than I intended to. I had one thing in mind that evening, and that was my sister’s jacket. I sharpened a number two pencil and used my history book for a surface as I used my neatest cursive to write my letter. I was sure to explain everything to him just in case he missed it, but I was sure that he already knew our situation. I made it clear that if he needed to take away something I was supposed to get in exchange for her jacket, I was willing to do it. I just wanted my sister to get her jacket and my mom to have a little relief. When I was finished with the letter, I sealed it in an envelope and put it under my pillow so that my mom and sister wouldn’t see it. I came back out of my room and went back down the hallway to my mom’s room, where the door was finally opened. I went in and handed her my collection money and gave her a hug, making sure that I told her how much I loved her. From there we went downstairs and turned on the TV to watch Holiday specials on the couch. As the evening wore on, my eyes drifted to the lonely Christmas tree in the corner of our living room and took note of the presents underneath. There were the same number of gifts under the tree on Christmas Eve that were there the week before, and I wondered to myself if it was true. Maybe my mom wasn’t able to buy us gifts. Maybe things were as tight as she said they were. I looked up at her face and noticed that she had silent tears streaming down her cheeks. I felt helpless. My mom struggled year round, and she didn’t deserve to cry on Christmas Eve. She deserved to be happy. As far as I was concerned my mom was a queen and she deserved to be treated as such. My chest felt heavy for a moment and I realized that I was struggling to choke back tears myself, but I quickly rebounded and decided that I was the man of the house. I had to be strong for my mom and my sister, so reached out with my right hand and wiped the tears from her face, then I took her hand and gave it a strong squeeze. I was the last one up that night, making sure that I was up to place the letter on the tree. Once I was sure it was secure in an obvious spot, I went back upstairs to my room to get some shut eye. I had a hard time sleeping that night, and I think a lot of it had to do with my own hopes and fears. I was so worried that Santa wasn’t going to find the letter that I let my stress build and build until I lost control of my own devices for about an hour and cried myself to sleep. My alarm went off at 5:30 in the morning, and I quickly hopped out of bed to go investigate. I wasn’t worried about anything but the letter. I was beginning to doubt the location of it, and I felt a sudden rush of anxiety course through me as I made my way out of my room and down the stairs. When I got to the bottom of the stairs I had to blink because I was so shocked. I walked up to the tree and looked it over to be sure I wasn’t imagining things. It was all so surreal to me. The proof was right in front of my eyes, though, and as I surveyed the scene, a new feeling swept over me. The letter was still there, unopened. Our stockings were empty, and the same gifts were sitting under the tree that had been there the night before. I sighed heavily and wiped my eyes, finding it hard to keep my emotions in check but prevailing none the less. I wasn’t going to let myself cry because it wasn’t the manly thing to do. I was the man of that house, and for the first time, I knew what my duty was. I slowly climbed the steps and returned to my room, where the stash I had snuck in with the night before was waiting. I gathered everything up and in spite of the growing lump in my throat, I smiled as I dropped the candy bars and the lockets in the stockings that hung for my mom and sister. It wasn’t much for the extra large stockings that we had all my life, but I made a point of situating the contents so that they looked as full as possible, then I went back upstairs to my room so I could give myself the privacy I needed to weep.
  8. On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The moment the bomb landed and detonated, 70,000 people died instantly. Over 60,000 more would die of injuries or illnesses related to the attack that preceded the one on Nagasaki and helped propel the United States and its allies to victory in the Pacific Ocean during World War Two. In an instant, so many people’s lives were shattered. In fact, the number is so astronomical that we may never know the true human toll that was paid when the US dropped the atomic bomb. I’ve tried to ponder the concept of someone’s life coming to such an abrupt end, or someone’s world crashing down around them in a split second, but I could never quite grasp it. I know that comparing what happened when Phillip caught Kyle and I stealing a kiss on my bed to the horrific loss of life on August 6, 1945 would be shallow and insensitive to the people who died. I’m still here, living and breathing, and none of my loved ones were killed that afternoon. Our home is still in tact and I won’t have to attend any funerals because Phillip spotted me doing something I shouldn’t have done. But damn, I can definitely relate to their plight a little better. Because in that one instant, my world was obliterated. Phillip saw Kyle and I kiss, and he was devastated. Jarred saw the looks Phillip and I were exchanging and realized what they were about. Unfortunately, Kyle was able to make his own deduction and knew there was something more going on between Phillip and I than just friendship, and even though he didn’t outwardly say so, I could see the hurt look in his eyes, and it tore me up. Jarred was a dog. He cheated on Phillip with me when I didn’t know who Phillip was. I didn’t know he had a boyfriend, and I thought we had a chance. Later, when he told me about Phillip, I made my own stupid choices. I made a conscious decision to not only continue my hollow relationship with him, but to try to convince him that I was the one he wanted to be with, and to dump Phillip. I can accept the responsibility for what I did. Phillip is a little different. I mean, he’s never treated me like anything less than a prince. He’s written me beautiful poems, serenaded me with love songs, bought me jewelry, taken me out on my first real date and he wanted to dance with me when we were alone. If all of that were the only things that mattered, he’d be a perfect ten in the boyfriend department. But there was one glaring flaw in his character that I couldn’t look past. He was lying to me the whole time. By telling me to stay closeted to Jarred, he knew he was insuring that he could cheat with me unimpeded. The problem with that, though, is that I was in on his scheme without him even knowing. As deceptive as he was trying to be, I was deliberately helping him along. A moment of weakness for me turned into a feeling I wasn’t prepared to deal with, and out of nowhere, I found myself in love with Phillip. That’s why watching him turn to chase after Jarred was so hard. Instead of letting him go and staying behind to find out what was going on between Kyle and I, he took off after Jarred, his desperate voice carrying through the walls of my house as he pleaded for a chance to explain. I heard the sound of my front door slamming, and I knew they were gone. Trying to face Kyle at that moment was hard. So hard, in fact, that I simply looked away when he said my name. How in the world could he bring himself to speak to me after everything that had just gone down? “Andrew?” he said quietly as tears I couldn’t contain streamed down my cheeks. “I’m sorry,” was all I could muster as I tried to avoid his eyes. “Don’t be,” he said sympathetically. I looked over at him and instead of the look of hurt I’d seen just moments before, I saw a look of concern. “But you don’t understand,” I explained, and he sighed and shrugged. “I think I do understand,” he said matter of factly. “I’m not worried about that right now, Andrew. I’m worried about you.” In my life, there haven’t been a lot of people I could point to and say they were a true blue friend. I mean, yeah, I had been making friends and meeting people in the last few months, mainly thanks to Jarred. But people change best friends like they change clothes, and I really feel like the term is given more stock than it’s worth sometimes. And yet, here was Kyle K, someone who’s heart I practically broke just minutes before, and he was still by my side, worrying about my well-being instead of brooding about what just happened. I don’t really know what goes into making someone’s character turn out to be strong, but whatever it is, Kyle got a lot of it in his life. He was the definition of a real friend. Unfortunately, I was something else entirely. As I sat there, sobbing and pondering the future of my relationship with Phillip and Jarred and Kyle K, I realized that I was a real asshole. I was shallow beyond reproach, I didn’t stop to think about the consequence of my actions, short or long range, and I was more interested in what I wanted than how getting it would affect others. Especially Kyle K. I was about to pour my heart and soul out to him when I heard shouting in the front yard. Kyle and I got up and hastily made our way to my window, where we saw Jarred on his bike, yelling and pointing to my room. Phillip was standing still, looking stunned and even a little hurt. I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but it didn’t look good, especially for me. ___________________________________________________________________________ Things were quiet, especially for a summer evening. A warm breeze was blowing just strong enough to lift the strands of brown hair from Phillip’s head and make them flutter. The somber look on his face matched the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach, and all I could do was wait. Wait for him to speak. Wait for him to drop the bomb on me. Wait for my heart to break all over again. “Boy, we’re something else, aren’t we?” he said with a nervous chuckle. I just smiled at him, grateful that he was willing to break the ice between us with some modicum of humor. “Now what?” I asked, and he took a deep breath. “Honesty,” he said plainly, and I nodded in agreement. “Andrew, Jarred told me about you two.” Shit. “He did?” I asked fearfully, and he nodded quietly. “I guess I have no right to ask why you didn’t tell me,” he said. All I could do was smile nervously at him and wait for him to continue. “I should have been up front with you, Andrew. You had no way of knowing that Jarred and I were together, but I guess you know now, huh?” Whoa. I had to stop and process what he just said, because half of it was right, but the other half.... “I never meant for you to get hurt like this,” he went on. “I could go on and on about Jarred cheating on me, but how do I explain myself to you, or to him?” I knew I had to tell him the truth. There was no way I could let Phillip shoulder the blame for what was going on. He had to know the truth. Otherwise, how could I face myself? “Wait Phillip, there’s more” I started, but he interrupted me by holding his finger to his lips and gently shushing me. “Andrew, I don’t want to know,” he said softly with a sad expression that ripped my heart to shreds. “It doesn’t matter anymore, does it? I mean, you did the right thing and I didn’t. That’s all there is to know.” “What do you..” again he cut me off. “Jarred told me that you broke things off a month ago,” he said. “I already know, Andrew. You were faithful to me, at least with him.” With that, I knew he was talking about Kyle and I. I just couldn’t figure out what Jarred had told him, and why. Was he trying to hurt him by admitting to cheating? Why wouldn’t he have wanted to hurt me too? Especially since I hurt him so badly. I wasn’t getting it. I decided to clear the air with Phillip once and for all about Kyle K, then I was going to tell him the truth about Jarred and I. The whole truth. “Phillip, Kyle and I never got that far,” I said. “We kissed and messed around, but we never did it.” “How did you mess around?” he asked, and I sighed. “We cuddled and made out, but I barely got him to unbutton his pants once,” I admitted. “After that, we decided not to go that far because he wasn’t ready for it. You have to believe me.” “I do,” he said, his eyes moistening with my confession. “I want to tell you about me and Jarred,” I pleaded, but he shook his head. “I don’t want to know,” he repeated, this time with more emphasis. “Andrew, you didn’t cheat on me. I’m the one who’s cheated. But I want you to know something, and it’s important for me to tell you this because I mean it.” “What?” I asked, feeling a little defeated getting more emotional because he wasn’t letting me tell him the truth. “I meant what I said that first night,” he said with conviction. “I meant it then, and I mean it now. I want to protect you and take care of you. I really love you and care about you.” I don’t know what it was about hearing him say it, but those words made me break down and sob hard. Maybe it was the pressure finally getting to me, or the realization that Phillip still wanted me, but what ever it was, I felt it. “I love you too, Phillip,” I cried, and he wrapped me in his protective arms and held me tight. “Are we still going to be together?” “Always my love,” he practically whispered in my ear. “What are you going to do about Jarred?” I asked him, and all I heard was a heavy sigh. “Let’s not worry about that right now,” he said. “Let’s just worry aboutus.” “But he’s hurt,” I argued weakly, prompting him to tighten his embrace. “I’m hurt too,” he said quietly. “So are you, Andrew. We have to work this out, but I want to start with you and me, because we’re all that matters right now.” “He told you because he wanted to hurt you,” I said bitterly. “I should have just told you the truth. I’m so sorry Phillip.” “We can’t change what happened,” he said introspectively. “What we can control is what happens from here.” “So what happens?” I asked, lifting my head from his shoulder and looking into his moist eyes for an answer I knew he couldn’t give me. _________________________________________________________________________ “You lied,” I said solemnly. All around us were tourists and vendors, walking at a much faster pace. A pace Jarred and I seemed to be impeding as we strolled slowly down the boardwalk. The sounds of music being played by Indy groups were accompanied by the smell of beer, grilling meat and oddly enough, popcorn. “I know,” he said, a tinge of regret in his tone. “I did it for you, though.” “Why?” I almost demanded. “You don’t get it, do you?” he said, shaking his head at me almost in disgust. “No,” I answered him plainly. “You must really think I’m a total piece of shit, Andrew,” he said, his voice dripping with contempt. “I don’t know where the problem between us started, but you’ve completely changed. You know, I’m a person with feelings, just like you.” “Jarred, don’t start with me,” I interrupted, but he turned on a dime and pointed his finger at me impatiently. “Let me finish,” he snapped, then his expression softened and his shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry.” I didn’t answer him. Instead, I just walked silently along side him and listened to his explanation. “Ever since that time you ran away,” he started sadly. “You’ve been treating me like the enemy. What did I do to you that was so horrible? Is it because I told your parents where you were?” “You wouldn’t help me,” I said bitterly. “Help you do what?” he asked incredulously. “Run away? Stay hidden from your mom and dad? Your mom and dad, Andrew.” “You know why I ran away,” I told him, and he laughed sarcastically. “Yeah, I do,” he countered. “You know something, you’re in fucking dreamland about your parents, dude. You have no idea how lucky you are. Do you really think anyone else’s mom and dad would let their boyfriend spend the night in their room with the fucking door closed? Give me a break, dude.” All I could do was sigh and let him go on with his rant. I mean, he might have had a point about my parents being okay with me being gay and having Jarred and Phillip spend the night, but he had no idea about what led to me leaving that day. As far as I was concerned, he was out of line, but I didn’t speak up. Instead, I just let him keep going. “Andrew, I did what I knew was right,” he said. “You might not think so, but sometimes I wonder about you. It’s like all you think about is yourself. Your mom was on our phone, crying. She was crying, Andrew. What would you have done?” “I don’t know,” I mumbled, willing to concede that much. Until that moment, I had no idea about my mom being reduced to tears. “Dude, you might not feel this way about me, but I’m being honest with you right now,” he said. “I happen to care about you a lot. And this might sound weird, but I care about your mom and dad too. You have no idea what it was like for me to see them that way.” “Really?” I asked, and he just rolled his eyes and shook his head. “You don’t have the first clue, do you?” he spat. “There are people in this world who care about you, Andrew. Not just your mom and dad, either. I mean, if you don’t get it by now, maybe you never will.” “I get it,” I protested, and Jarred just looked at me sadly and shook his head. “If you get it, why would you have to ask why I lied to Phillip?” he asked quietly. “I lied because no matter what happens, I want you as a friend. I want you and Phillip to be friends, too. Do you think he’d still consider you his friend or whatever you guys are if he knew everything?” “He lied to me too,” I said, prompting Jarred to give me a stare of disbelief. “He might have lied, but you knew what the truth was,” he told me matter of factly. “There’s no way you can say you were a victim, Andrew.” “I know,” I admitted. “Andrew, I still love you,” he said, stopping to look me in the eyes. “Not just as a friend, either. I think you know that, though. This isn’t me hitting on you, or trying to be with you. I’m just being honest with you.” “I still love you too, Jarred,” I confessed. “I always have.” “But you love Phillip,” he said quietly, finishing what I had started to say. All I could do was nod slowly and look away. “I understand.” “I know you’re still going to see him,” I said, a feeling of despair sweeping through me because I was well aware that what I was saying was true. “You were never going to break up with him when we were together, and he’s not going to break up with you, either.” “I don’t know what Phillip wants to do,” he replied. “I haven’t seen him or talked to him yet.” “You don’t have anything to worry about,” I said truthfully, and once again, I knew I was on the outside looking in, waiting for my turn at true love. _________________________________________________________________________ Loneliness. That was something I’d felt so many times the year before, when nobody knew it. My mom and dad were letting me claim some independence and decided to trust me to stay home all day by myself while they drove down to Nags Head, North Carolina for the day. I would sit at home and think about all the things I could be doing if I had friends to do them with. That’s when I had to face my reality. The reality that I was pretty much out of the social circles at my school that everyone wanted to be in. That I was starting high school without a lot of friends, and no one to really call a best friend. I liked boys but was afraid of telling anyone. Even if I did want people at school to know, who would I have told? My friends in Boy Scouts? The people who sat at the same table I did at lunch? I couldn’t see it happening. It was during those Saturdays and Sundays that I would curl up on the couch with a blanket and the remote, trying to sort out the hurt feelings I had but not knowing how. I didn’t understand why my parents would want to leave me all alone and what I was supposed to do. I know they didn’t do it intentionally, and had they known how it made me feel, they wouldn’t have done it at all. But I also knew that they wanted me to make friends, to become a social being. I met Jarred by chance one day in front of a Food Lion. I had volunteered to sell tins of popcorn for my troop, and when we made eye contact, he smiled at me and walked over. From that moment forward, I knew, all of my lonely days were behind me. The time I spent with him gave me the confidence I needed to branch out and make friends, and I was able to see for the first time that people liked me for me. Not because I was in the same troop as they were in scouts, or because of the house I lived in that was right on the beach. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Maybe I was just being impatient, or maybe it was the events of the day before. Whatever it was, I was feeling terribly lonely from the moment I woke up. I came downstairs without getting myself ready and found the remote, then I took my familiar spot at the end of the couch and curled my legs up so the reality that I was alone could grip me all over again. So I could sort out the feelings of hurt and inadequacy I felt. Just the day before, I was laying in Phillip’s arms, being loved and pampered, and now I was all alone again. Maybe I deserved as much. I think that’s what was so disappointing. Jarred was right about me, and almost everything he said was true. Of course, him telling me I didn’t have a clue was the pot calling the kettle black, but that’s besides the point. My reality was and always had been that I was selfish and uncaring. I didn’t stop to take Kyle K’s feelings into account before I let things go as far as they did. I sure as hell didn’t think about Jarred when I started sleeping with Phillip. None of that should have come as a surprise to me, though, based on how I acted when I was with Jarred. Still, it did, and maybe that’s what was getting to me. I was so wrapped up in my own selfish motives that I couldn’t see who I was hurting and how much damage I was actually doing. Phillip was right. I never cheated on him. Jarred was right. I knew Phillip was lying, and I was not the victim. Jarred was as honest with me as I could expect him to be, I guess. He didn’t tell me up front, but ultimately, his conscious made him tell me what was happening. Not to hurt me, but to do the right thing. And yet, I was able to reason in my head that it would be fine to keep sleeping with him. I didn’t deserve Jarred or Phillip, and now I could see it. Of course, being able to see something for what it is doesn’t make it any easier to accept. I don’t know how I managed, but somehow, I didn’t shed a tear that morning. Instead, I sat quietly alone and collected my thoughts so I could try to sort things out. I had so many questions, and so many things were uncertain that I had no idea what was going to happen next. Curiously, though, a knock at my door made things a lot clearer. I got up and walked guardedly to the front door, slowly opening it. I blinked when I saw who it was, but in reality, I shouldn’t have been so shocked. In fact, I guess I should have expected it. “Hey Andrew,” Kyle K said timidly with his hands in his pockets. “I’m sorry if I woke you up.” “You didn’t,” I said, opening the door the rest of the way so he could come in. I know my appearance must have been a bit of a shock to him, and maybe that’s why he thought he’d stirred me from a slumber. My hair was a mess and I was still in my boxers and tee-shirt. I used my fingers to rub the sleep from my eyes and blushed, feeling embarrassed for answering the door in such a disheveled state. I closed the door and excused myself so I could get myself together. Ten minutes later I was downstairs, sitting on the couch with Kyle K, pouring my heart out to him about Jarred, Phillip and my feelings for him. “I never meant to hurt you, Kyle,” I pleaded. “I never meant to hurt anyone.” “I know you didn’t,” he said with a sad smile. “I guess I kinda pushed myself on you, though.” “I didn’t feel that way,” I told him. “I liked it. You didn’t know what was going on with me and Phillip.” “I was pretty shocked,” he said. “I mean, him and Fedina have been together for a long time.” “What?” I asked, giving him a sideways look. “How did you know?” “Well dude it’s so obvious,” he said. “We all know. We just don’t say anything because it seems like they don’t want anyone to know.” “You mean Kyle knows too?” I asked, and he rolled his eyes as if it were the most obvious fact in the world. “We’ve all been close since we were this high,” he said, holding his hand at knee level. “You can’t keep something like that a secret from the people who really know you.” “I guess they’ll always be together,” I muttered bitterly. A little too bitterly, I think. “You still want to be with Phillip?” he asked, sounding a little hurt. “I don’t know what I want,” I admitted. “I just want to be with someone who wants to be with me with no strings attached. No boyfriend on the side, no one he’s cheating with and no lies.” With that, he sat back and looked at me incredulously. A moment later, his incredulous stare turned into a sweet smile. A moment after that, his sweet smile turned into a shy smile. “There’s already someone like that who wants to be with you,” he told me in a small voice, and like a ton of bricks, it hit me. ___________________________________________________________________________ “Hey retard!” Phillip shouted, holding his hands up in a fruitless attempt to shield his face from the forceful spray of water that Jarred had turned on him. “You’re supposed to be watering the damn rose bush, not spraying me with the hose.” “It’s not like you’re going to melt,” Jarred countered, turning the hose on himself by holding it directly over his head and letting the water soak him from top to bottom. From where Kyle and I were sitting, all was well. The slow moving swing perfectly matched our sleepy mood. He was resting his head on my shoulder, and I had wrapped my right arm around him, enjoying the feeling of his warm breath against my neck. I reached out with my left hand and used it to run my fingers through his blonde mop, then I leaned over and planted a kiss on his soft, moist, pouty lips, eliciting a sigh from him as our lips parted. I could feel his left hand moving up and down my bare back and the palm of his right hand making its way in a circular motion over the entire area of my torso. “Are you spending the night?” he asked seductively, zeroing in on my left nipple with his fingertip and rubbing it lightly before looking up at me for an answer. “Yes,” I answered, planting another kiss on his lips with a smile. How could I resist his charms? All he had to do was ask, and I was willing to give him what he wanted. Of course, I knew his seductive tone was just a ruse. We wouldn’t do much more than cuddle, kiss and explore each others bodies with our hands, but I played along with it anyway. It was fun, and hey, I could dream, couldn’t I? I won’t get into the intricacies of exactly how I manage to maintain a sex free relationship with Kyle K. It’s not important, and in reality, revealing those secrets would only open old wounds and possibly, some new ones as well. I’m not an angel. Neither are my friends, and we don’t have to be. Well, there’s a very real possibility that Kyle knows how I get by. But I like to think he doesn’t. He’s not stupid, though, and he knows I have needs that have to be sated. Will there ever come a time when Kyle decides he’s ready to take care of those needs? I hope so, because I want that more than anything. I know he does too, but neither one of us is rushing to get to that point. He’ll get there when he gets there, and when he does, I’ll be there waiting for him. Until then...... The End
  9. As a rule, I try my hardest not to ogle those I think might be straight. I mean, I wouldn’t want some girl to push up on me, so I think it’s common courtesy for me to be considerate of other’s preferences as well. Still, there are some times when I can’t help myself. Take Kyle Porter for instance. I have no doubt in my mind that he’s straight as an arrow, but he’s so damn gorgeous that I have a hard time peeling my eyes off of him. His dark toned skin, a gift from the Sun Gods that he was granted when he took his shirt off in their presence, was perfect in every way. Not a blemish to speak of that I could see and that includes his acne free face. When he peels his shirt off his anatomically superior frame calls out for horny girls to get hot and bothered in his wake. The way his hair, which consists of just a few dozen naturally brown strands that have been bleached blonde or saturated with peroxide half way up sit just perfectly over his brow and flutter so carelessly when a stiff breeze blows over. Unless he’s coming out of the water with his surfboard, which happened to be the case on this particular afternoon. I was on my way back in with my board when I caught a glimpse of the sincere smile he was flashing me. I noticed that his strands were plastered across his forehead, blending in nicely with his creamy complexion as his chest heaved up and down with exhaustion from the thirty minutes he’d spent catching wave after wave. I got the feeling that the real reason for his smile was laying on a beach towel spread out across the sand, covered in Coppertone and smelling like Coco and Shea Butter. To call Renee pretty wouldn’t be doing her justice. She was a bronzed Goddess, and even I could see it. I always had, though. At school, I always admired her from afar. Not that I was interested in her or anything. I’m just saying, she was always the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. That said, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that she and Kyle wound up together. They were a stunning couple to watch, and even though they weren’t snobs, or even conceited as far as I knew, they had an air of exclusiveness about them that could be intimidating to someone who doesn’t know them. I know I used to feel that way about Renee. I mean, even if we’d have hung out in the same group at school all these years, I would have been a little cautious about how to approach her. She just seemed that way, but I’d never tell her so. Instead, I realized, I was grateful for her friendship, and happy to return her cute hugs and other innocent signs of affection that she gave me when we saw each other. Of course, that made me wonder what the approaching school year would be like. I wasn’t necessarily one of the kids that got picked on, but I was far from popular. I’d been asked to go to parties, but there was a part of me that was scared to go, because I didn’t know what would be going on. I was honestly scared to try drugs and alcohol my freshman year, so I always withdrew. Eventually, the invitations stopped and I relaxed. I guess I never considered the possibility that Jarred would be the one to introduce me to not only Renee, both Kyle’s and Phillip, but also to the weed and the alcohol I used to be so afraid to try. My idea of fun before I met him was surfing, riding my skateboard, jumping my bike and being a Boy Scout. It was safe, it was drug free and it was something my parent’s approved of. I climbed on my board and paddled out toward the giant wave that was building and heading my way, then, at the right moment, I stood up and rode it out. By the time the water was receding all around me, leaving only a white layer of bubbles in its wake that quickly dissolved and revealed the smooth sand, Kyle K and Jarred were heading toward the blanket, where Phillip was already sitting with Renee and Kyle Porter. By the time I made it back to the blanket, the conversation had shifted toward where we were going next. “Let’s go back to your place so Porter can get his car and we can go eat,” Jarred said decisively, looking at me with an expression that said hunger was racking his body. I was right there with him, and I’d have been surprised if anyone else would have said they weren’t starving. We gathered everything up and started our trek back to my place. I noticed right away that Kyle K was carrying his best friend’s board, as well as his own, while Renee rode on her boyfriend’s back. Five minutes later, we were back at my place, and I took it upon myself to turn the hose on and rinse myself and my board off, then I handed it off to Kyle K and let everyone take their turns while I went inside and changed into something dry and put deodorant on. Normally I’d have been in the shower, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I was quick about everything. I was about to head back downstairs when Kyle K popped his head in my bedroom door. “Hey dude,” he said almost shyly. “Just seeing what you were up to.” “Getting something dry to wear so my crotch doesn’t rot,” I said with a grin. “Want something to wear?” “If you don’t mind,” he said, sliding his hands in his pockets and looking down at the floor in a gesture I found irresistible. His rich, red lips were turned upwards in a smile, with his bottom lip hanging down just enough that I could see the wetness of the back of it. I smiled back at him and met his eyes, locked in the gaze we were sharing for almost a full minute until the sound of Jarred’s voice broke our trance. “Do you guys know where you want to eat?” he asked as he walked through the door, then he looked between us almost awkwardly, as if he could sense the chemistry in the air. He cleared his throat, then he went on. “We were thinking about going to Norfolk for Shoney’s. Is that okay with you guys?” “Sure,” Kyle said, pulling his hands out of his pockets and straightening up. “Sounds good,” I said, turning my smile toward Jarred. “I don’t know if I have anything that’ll fit you guys, but if you want to borrow something, go ahead. Tell Phillip and Kyle, too.” “I brought something,” he said. “I think everyone else did too.” With that, he turned and walked out and I opened my closet so Kyle could pick out what he wanted. He settled on a green Quicksilver top that I found at Dillard’s and had to have because it was so cute, and a pair of tan corduroy shorts that went well with the top. As it turns out, Kyle and I wear the same size, which was what I suspected but wasn’t a hundred percent sure of. I sat on my bed and watched as inconspicuously as possible as he peeled his wet shorts and boxers off, and almost fainted at the sight of his round, silky buns, which were no more than a couple feet from where I was sitting. As hard as I tried, I had no control of my body and its reaction to what I was seeing. Blood rushed to my dick and before I knew what was happening, it was twice the size and solid as a rock. I thought I might be able to keep things cool, but when Kyle turned to face me, I realized I was in more trouble than I initially thought. “Can I get a pair of boxers?” he asked me, his smile trapping me all over again. I cleared my throat when I realized that I was going to have to stand up, but I knew I had no choice. I stood and as quickly as possible, I made a beeline to my dresser, trying hard to hide the bulge in my pants, but it was no good. As soon as I stood up, Kyle’s eyes drifted downward and caught the site of my hardon, and his smile got bigger before he looked away shyly. I turned to hand him the boxers he asked for, but he had moved from his spot and was now standing at the head of my bed, laying out the shorts and shirt I’d handed him neatly across the bedspread, leaving me no choice but to walk back his way. As I approached him, we made eye contact again, and I couldn’t help but notice the look of mischief in his eyes as he accepted the boxers from me. “Do you need a pair of socks?” I asked him once he was fully dressed and prepping himself in the mirror. “Please,” he said, so I turned and got them for him. I took a seat on the bed and waited for him to finish. Much to my surprise, he brought the socks over to the bed and sat right next to me. When he brought his feet up, our shoulders made contact. A lot of contact, in fact. So much contact that I could feel and hear every breath he was taking as he slid each sock over each foot. While he was straightening the sock on his right foot, he surprised me again by resting his left hand on my right thigh, then turning and giving me another smile before he went back to what he was doing. In reality, all of this took less than a few minutes, but it seemed like an eternity to me. It was almost as if I’d lost track of time, but the sound of Phillip and Jarred’s arguing brought me back into the present. “Hey, can we get some socks?” Phillip asked, casually walking in and taking a seat at my desk. “Sure,” I said, a little relieved that I wasn’t alone with Kyle K anymore. “Do you guys need anything else?” “Some wax for my hair would be nice,” I heard Kyle Porter say from the doorway. “Down the hall, in my bathroom.” I said, standing up. That’s when I noticed that Kyle K still had his hand on my leg, and I breathed a little sigh of relief that we weren’t sitting side by side anymore. I walked with Kyle and Renee to my bathroom and opened the cabinet to show them what I had, then I walked back down the hall to my room to see if everyone else was ready. From my house, there are two options for eating at Shoney’s. You can either go to the one that sits at the edge of Norfolk on Virginia Beach Boulevard, or you can follow Atlantic Avenue all the way down to the end, where it rounds a corner and puts you on Shore Drive. From there, you can get on Little Creek Road and your there in no time. In my opinion, it’s the same distance no matter which way you go, but apparently there’s an ongoing debate amongst Jarred, Phillip, both Kyle’s and Renee about which one is the most accessible. “Oh God, do we have to have this argument again?” Phillip groaned, rolling his eyes. “It’s stupid to go all the way down Virginia Beach Boulevard when we’re so close to the other one,” Renee said, causing her boyfriend to give her a skeptical look. “Dude, it’s faster to go to the one on Little Creek,” Kyle K said, and Renee turned and nodded at him. “Does it even matter?” Jarred said. “I’m starving. Just drive, man.” Obviously, Kyle Porter was on Phillip and Jarred’s page, but he was wise enough to do what his girlfriend wanted to. I had a feeling that Kyle K might have influenced that decision, too, but I didn’t give it much thought. Instead, I just sat back and kept my input to myself until we got to the restaurant. We claimed a booth with a large, round bench that wrapped around the table and was just right for the six of us, then we went up to the buffet for food. Jarred, in keeping with his ridiculous demeanor, piled his plate high with meatloaf, fried chicken thighs and enough cornbread to feed a family of four. While the rest of us ate like normal human beings, he shoveled his food down until there was none left, then he made Phillip stand up so he could get out for his next trip to the buffet. When he got back, he had about ten yeast rolls on his plate and more fried chicken. As he systematically took his plate apart, Kyle Porter reached out and grabbed one of his rolls. “Hey fuck face,” Jarred bellowed in jest, but in a loud enough voice that the entire dining room stopped and stared at our table for a long, uncomfortable moment. Jarred looked around at all of the faces that were staring our way, and I suddenly felt Kyle K, who was seated to the left of me, sliding down in his seat, trying to duck out of site. I had a good mind to do the same, but instead I waited for everyone to go back to their meals. Phillip closed his eyes and shook his head, chuckling to himself. Kyle and Renee were trying to hold their laughter in but having no luck, and Kyle K, who had brought himself back up, put his head back and laughed silently to himself. For my part, I was having a hard time keeping it together but somehow, I managed. Finally, I exhaled, and when I did, I let out a brief giggle. “You’re retarded,” Phillip said with a grin, still shaking his head at Jarred. “Well it’s not like we’ll ever see these people again,” Jarred said indignantly. “God, I love you man,” Kyle K said, wiping tears from his eyes. Kyle Porter reached out and took another roll off of Jarred’s plate, this time eliciting no outburst or protest, tore it in two, then handed his girlfriend the other half. As accustomed as I was becoming to the scenes Jarred seemed to always make in public, I couldn’t help but feel relieved when we left the restaurant for someplace a little less crowded. Kyle K’s mom never seemed to be home, which seemed a little peculiar to me, but I didn’t question it. I’d been to his house over and over again, and she was always either at work, out of town on business, or just out. Either way, I didn’t mind at all, because we always seemed to have the freedom to drink and smoke all the pot we wanted when we were at his place. It was a nice place, too. I think it could have been a lot nicer if Kyle and his mom took better care of it, but that was none of my business. They were happy with it, and that’s all that counted. Kyle seemed to have more than Jarred, Phillip and I, at least materially. The fifty-five inch plasma in his living room was certainly bigger than the forty-two inch he had in his room, but I didn’t hear any complaints from him about it. Earlier in the week I had bought a hundred sack from Jarred, and that was currently the source of our amusement. I had a fondness for smoking joints rolled with the frostiest, stickiest buds in my sack, and was getting pretty good at rolling them. Everyone admonished me for my habit, lecturing that I was wasting good weed by not using a pipe. I wasn’t too worried about it, though. I figured that somewhere, someone was growing more, and I’d just buy it when my stash was gone. Joints burn so much easier, and aren’t as harsh as a pipe can be. I like hitting a bong, but sometimes if there’s smoke left in the chamber, it can make me cough, and I’m not fond of the staleness of someone’s left over bong rips. So we passed the joint around, and it seemed like that was all it took to get us all blazed. Renee took her pipe out, and Jarred packed it with his own bud, then we passed it around a few times. I was in orbit the last time the pipe came my way, and I almost missed my hit, as if I needed it anyway. “Hello, earth to Andrew,” Kyle K said with a grin as he waved his hand in front of my face, causing me to crack up. I took the pipe from him and hit it, then I tried to pass it to Phillip, who waved it off, so I wound up handing it to Jarred. At the other end of the sectional, Renee and Kyle Porter were in the middle of a very long, very heterosexual kiss that I found sweet but disgusting at the same time. I turned my head and noticed that Kyle K was staring off into space, then I looked over to where Phillip and Jarred were and saw them smiling dumbly at each other. I knew what they were smiling about, but I also knew that they couldn’t do anything in front of the rest of us, so I turned my attention back to Kyle K. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Renee and Kyle Porter get up and hold hands as they made their way toward the staircase. I looked over at Jarred and Phillip again, and realized that they were grinning at each other because they knew where the couple was heading and what they’d be doing, and they had the same thing in mind. I felt a little crushed when that realization hit me, but I kept a stiff upper lip and tried not to let my thoughts consume me. Of course, in my state, that was easier said than done. All I could think of was the possibility that Jarred and Phillip were going to find a way to sneak off and have sex, and that Phillip didn’t even care that I was sitting right there. I sat and stewed about it for about five more minutes, then I got up and made an announcement. “I need some fresh air.” With that, I got up and walked out the front door, closing it behind me and taking a seat on the top step of Kyle K’s porch. I rested my head against the vinyl siding that covered the outside of his house, and took a deep breath, trying to think about what the hell I was doing. Just then, I heard the front door open and close, and I lifted my head just in time to see Phillip sitting next to me. “Are you okay?” he asked, and I sadly nodded my reply. “You don’t look it.” “I’m okay,” I lied. “I was just wondering when we were going to be together by ourselves today.” “Do you want to leave?” he asked, and I shrugged. “We can go back to your place if you want to.” “We don’t have to,” I said quietly. “Will be alone later tonight?” “I promise, my love,” he said softly, then he looked around before he leaned in and planted a kiss on my lips that brought a smile to my face. I put my hand over my heart and said, “I love you.” “Love you too,” he said, standing up and reaching down with his hand to help me up. I placed my hand in his and let him pull me to my feet, then I held his hand as we took the five steps we needed to take to make it to Kyle’s front door. Before he reached out and turned the knob, I leaned into him and let him wrap his arm around my shoulder for a long hug. When he released it, I let go of his hand and stood up straight while he opened the door and we walked back in. At some point, Kyle K and Jarred got wrapped up in playing Halo 2 on his X Box360 and Phillip took the opportunity to be daring by wrapping an arm around my shoulders and pulling me into him as we sat on the couch and watched. I could feel his arm move from my shoulders and down my back, his fingertips tracing down my spine from the outside of my shirt. I gazed up at him, and out of nowhere, he planted a kiss on my lips, his eyes locked on Jarred and Kyle the whole time. It was obvious that they were immersed in the game, but we had to be careful, which was why I almost choked when I felt lips part and his tongue invade my mouth. When we broke our kiss, I sighed and looked up at him dreamily, then I mouthed the words, “I love you” to him. He replied in kind, and I sighed again as I rested my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes. When I reopened them, Jarred was still playing, but Kyle K had crashed. Phillip was out like a light, too, and at some point, I wound up with my head on a throw pillow. I sat up and cracked my neck, and Jarred turned and smiled at me. “Hey Andrew,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling his weed out. “Wanna go smoke another joint?” “Sure,” I said, stretching my arms and legs as much as possible before getting up and making a beeline for the bathroom. When I came out, I followed Jarred out the back door. We each took a chair at the patio table by the back door and I watched intently as Jarred rolled a perfect looking joint. The table had a built in umbrella for shade and a glass surface that made it easy for him to break up the bud and scoop up every bit of it to dump into the paper. Once the joint was rolled, he set it out of the shade so it could dry, then he turned and smiled at me. “So you like Kyle K?” he asked, and I looked down and blushed, causing his smile to spread out even more. “I knew it!” “It’s not what you think,” I said quietly. “I just think he’s cute. He’s not gay though.” “How do you know?” he asked in a tone that said he thought I shouldn’t dismiss the possibility. “I don’t,’ I admitted. “But even if he was, I, I don’t know.” “Andrew, I want you to know something,” he said. “I meant what I said when I told you I’d always care about you. You really are one of my best friends, and I always want it to be that way.” “Even if we don’t..” I asked, letting my voice trail off at the end of the sentence because I knew he knew what I meant. “Of course,” he said. “That was never a condition of our friendship.” “I thought that maybe you were pissed at me for not wanting to anymore,” I told him. “I might have been,” he admitted, then he sighed. “I’m sorry I made you feel that way, though. You didn’t deserve that.” “I’ll always care about you too, Jarred,” I said with a smile. “So are you going to light that joint, or are you letting it age?” Once the joint was gone, Jarred got up to go back inside. “Are you coming in, dude?” “Nah, I’m going sit out here,” I said. “The breeze feels good.” “Okay,” he said with a shrug, then he turned and went inside. As it turns out, the time alone might have been just what I needed to mull things over in a more reasonable fashion. Jarred had officially given me the green light to get over him. It was all up to me now. The question was how willing Phillip would be to commit to me and me only, especially now that I had done that for him. Of course, in order for him to realize that I had made a sacrifice of my own to be with him, he’d have to know all about the months I’d spent as Jarred’s lover. I knew it was risky, but I had to level with him if I expected him to ever be true to me. That thought terrified me, though. Just thinking of the hurt I’d be putting my boyfriend through was overwhelming, and I found myself shaken at the thought. So shaken in fact, that I started to feel a little sick to my stomach. I used both hands to fan my face and try to calm down, but it wasn’t getting me anywhere. I knew that the only way to get myself back on track would be to decide not to tell Phillip anything, so that’s what I did. I told myself that I was just stoned, and that Phillip never had to find out. I let out a small sigh of relief and calmed down just in time to crack a smile when the back door opened and Kyle K walked out. “Hey,” I said, feeling a little flush again when I took the time to soak up his sleepy smile. I noticed that his hair was matted against the left side of his head, an obvious result of his slumber. “Hi,” he said through a small yawn and a small stretch. “Jarred said you were out here all by yourself.” “Yeah, the air’s nice and cool,” I replied. He finished his yawn and put his arms down, batting his baby blues as he walked up to where I was sitting and leaned across the table for the orange Zig Zags that were on the other side of me. He could have easily walked around and grabbed them, I knew, but instead he opted to put himself where I could pick up his intoxicating scent. He reached out and grabbed the papers, then he slowly pulled back until he was face to face with me, his nose less than an inch from mine and his lips so close to mine that if either of us so much as puckered up, they’d touch. Without a word, he smiled at me and we both stayed where we were for an extended period of time. I could feel his breath tickling my face, so I grinned at him, wanting him to know that I liked his close proximity and wanted the two of us to join at the lips more than anything. He responded with a smile of his own, so I brought my left hand up and let my fingertips brush against the back of his hand in small circles. I figured that if he needed a signal to go further, I was only too happy to send it his way. When he didn’t make a move, I knew he was nervous, so I decided to take the initiative. I used my tongue to lick my lips from right to left, and I could almost feel the surface of his lips on the tip of my tongue. I heard him sigh, then he inched a little closer, but still not close enough for our lips to touch. I looked deep into his eyes, which were full of uncertainty and nervousness, and I gave him a warm, accepting smile before I puckered my lips. And just like that, I was kissing Kyle Kammersguard on the lips.
  10. “What just happened?” I asked myself, looking around my room and pondering my next move. When I left my house the night before, I was with Jarred Fedina, the beautiful hunk who had satisfied my sexual urges as only he could, but at the end of the night, we were separated by forces beyond our control and I rode my bike along General Booth, which turned into Pacific Avenue, all the way home, without him. It wasn’t what I was planning on when we left for the party at Kyle K’s house, but it was how things wound up happening. Even worse, it happened because of him. I might have been a little less bitter about the way things had unraveled, but I honestly couldn’t stop fuming, even after the party had dispersed and I started for home. Of course, that was just the beginning of my troubles. Add to that the fact that I was so busy trying to figure out where Jarred and Phillip had disappeared to that I lost track of time and missed my curfew, and it’s easy to see that I was in a bad state at the moment. The evening had started off innocently enough, but things quickly deteriorated when Kyle Pelton, Renee, Jarred and Phillip all came into the room with Kyle K and I. The distressed look on Jarred’s face told me that he was as uncomfortable as I was, but there was nothing we could do at the moment. “You remember Phillip, don’t you?” Jarred asked me, his eyes shifting uneasily between the two of us. I looked up at him, then over at Phillip, who was smiling broadly and looking right at me, and did the only thing I could do. I smiled back at him and said, “Sure, we met at 7-11, right?” “Yeah, I remember that,” he said. “That was a while ago, wasn’t it?” “It has been,” I said, standing up and extending my fist to meet his, which he had extended. We bumped knuckles and I reclaimed my spot on the beanbag next to Kyle K, which I suddenly found myself hoping would make Jarred feel a little jealous. I admit that it was childish, but I couldn’t help it. I was definitely feeling jealous, and even a little silly that I was sitting in the presence of my lover and his boyfriend. Things got even more uncomfortable when Phillip took a sudden interest in talking to me. “So why haven’t I seen you around, man?” he asked, as if we were old friends. I was a little taken aback by that, since the truth was, we’d only met one time. “Well, with school and stuff,” I lied. “I just really haven’t gotten out much. I usually get out more over the summer.” “Well dude, you’ll have to hang out with us from now on,” he said with a warm smile. “We’re three steps ahead of you, Cassiante,” Kyle K quipped from beside me, wrapping a friendly arm around my shoulders as he passed me the joint. “He’s a regular now.” I hit the joint and I was admittedly beaming on the inside. If there was one bright spot in my evening at that point, it was the time I was spending with Kyle K, who was growing on me in a hurry. The first time we met I was sure he hated me, or at least wasn’t too impressed with me, but he was proving me wrong. As I coughed on my hit, I passed the joint to a smiling Phillip, who didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the time I had been spending with his boyfriend. With six of us in the room, it didn’t take long for the joint to burn away, but I was already high. Kyle produced a third and forth joint, though, and it took a lot longer for us to kill those off. When we were finished, I sat still and zoned out for what seemed like an eternity while everyone around me talked. When I tuned in for a moment, the guys were laughing at Phillip for being in the choir, and Phillip was telling them all to fuck off. After an extended period of laughter, Kyle Pelton, Renee, Jarred and Phillip went back downstairs to see what was happening. I had completely lost track of the fact that there was a party going on downstairs, and that it was basically going on unsupervised while we were in the middle of a choke session upstairs. Jarred closed the door on his way out and I suddenly found myself back where I was; alone with Kyle Kammersguard. I turned his way, stealing what was supposed to be a quick glance, and soaked up his beauty. He had a far away look in his eyes, and I knew it was because he was so baked. He was staring straight ahead, and it was obvious his mind was somewhere else. He shifted a little, and that’s when I realized that his arm was still around my shoulders, causing my stomach to stir a little with a sexual charge I couldn’t have begun to describe. As I looked him over, I began to let the possibilities course through my head. His rich red colored, pouty lips looked delicious, and I imagined for a moment that he allowed me to taste them. Of course, I didn’t dare try. I wasn’t going to let my high, be it sexual or pot induced, ruin the moment. He had given me no indication that he was interested in guys, and I wasn’t about to push the envelope with him. Instead, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the feel of his warm body next to mine. As my thoughts drifted, I wondered what Jarred thought, seeing the two of us together on the beanbag, and if it made him feel the least bit jealous. I hoped so, because, I decided, if anyone deserved it, at the moment, it was Jarred. ____________________________________________________________________ “You’re late,” my dad said shortly as I crept through the door from the garage, hoping that my parents were asleep. He was right, of course. I was late, and I had no way of explaining myself. My curfew was eleven o’ clock, and when I slipped through the door, it was after one in the morning. “Well sorry,” I said in a nasty tone, feeling a little defensive after the long bike ride home that gave me time to fume about the way my evening had turned out. I normally wouldn’t have acted that way with him, but his presence and his tone caught me off guard, which was something I’d had enough of that night. “Excuse me young man?” he demanded, sounding appalled. “Just where have you been?” “Out,” I said bitterly, just wanting to go to my room and be alone. I turned to head to my room when I felt my dad’s hand on my shoulder, stopping me and spinning me around at the same time so that I was facing him. He looked outraged. “You’ll do better than that,” he said matter of factly. “Now I’m going to ask again; where were you?” “I was at a party and I lost track of time,” I snapped, wishing he’d just let me be. “Who’s party?” he asked suspiciously. “I thought you were with Jarred.” “Well I wasn’t!” I said sarcastically, advancing on him as I did until I was almost in his face. “Are you done?” “Yes I am,” he said with an irritated smile on his face. “And so are you. Go to your room, you’re grounded.” “I fucking hate you!” I yelled before I turned on my heels and stormed up the stairs to my room, where I slammed the door as hard as I could and locked it. I looked around my room and decided that I wanted to do something, anything, to get back at my dad for grounding me. So I turned my stereo on as loud as it would go and flopped down on my bed, pulling my pillow over my face so I couldn’t hear the pounding at my door, which was getting louder and more persistent the longer I tried to ignore it. Finally I got up and turned my stereo off, then I walked to my door, where my dad was still knocking. “Andrew, open this door right now!” he shouted. “Fuck you!” I yelled. “Leave me alone.” “Young man, you don’t speak to me that way!” he yelled through the door. “Open up right now.” “No!” I shouted. “I just want to be alone.” What happened next was something I never thought I’d witness. The pounding on the door got even louder, and out of the blue, I heard a ferocious shouting from my dad that had me instantly petrified. “Andrew I said open this God Damn door!” he bellowed. “Right now!” I was too scared not to do as I was told. I unlocked the door, and as soon as I did, it flew open and I was staring up at my dad, who looked like a mad man. His eyes were radiating with fury and his nostrils were flaring up, and all of the sudden, he was advancing on me. He reached out and gripped my wrist with his hand, squeezing it hard and roughly leading me to my bed, where he practically threw me down. “Who the hell do you think you’re talking to?” he demanded. “Answer me.” I lay on my bed and sobbed, stunned at his sudden outburst. I’d never seen him explode like that, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Before I could respond, he reached out, grabbed my cheeks with one hand, and raised my face so that I was looking straight into his blazing eyes, then he spoke again. “I’m your father,” he said in a low tone that was somehow loud at the same time. “I’m not one of your friends on the street. Do you understand that?” I nodded slowly, and he went on. “Don’t you ever speak to me that way again,” he said as my streaming tears landed on his fingers. “You can be mad at me all you want, Andrew. But you will not cuss at me. Is that understood?” I nodded slowly again, then I watched as he let go and took a step back. I turned my head to the door, where my mom was leaning against the jam and watching me with a matter of fact look that said she was behind my dad a hundred percent. She stood up straight and walked over to my dad, latching onto his arm as she sighed. “What’s gotten into you, honey?” she asked me, looking and sounding disappointed. “You know better than to use that kind of language with your father.” “I’m sorry I had to be rough with you, Andrew,” my dad said. “You know I love you very much, and I’d never hurt you. But I won’t be treated that way by you. I’ve always respected you and treated you fairly, son.” I didn’t answer either of them. Instead, I stayed where I was, which was on my back, on my bed, and sobbing. My dad had never handled me that way before, and I didn’t like it. Of course, I’d never cussed him out like that either, but that didn’t excuse his actions. I could see a small amount of regret on his face for what he did, but he never apologized. Instead, he stood there with my mom and watched me silently, as if they expected me to say something. They could have stood there all night, as far as I was concerned, though, because I wasn’t speaking to either of them. The next morning I got up, expecting to be alone, and was shocked to hear the TV on downstairs. I got out of bed, went down the hall to the bathroom to pee and wash my face, then I walked back down the hallway to the top of the stairs, where I could hear the unmistakable sound of CNN coming from the television set. I rolled my eyes and shook my head, knowing that my dad had stayed home from work, most likely to spy on me. I didn’t let that keep me from going downstairs to look for something to eat and drink. I simply bypassed the area of the living room he was in and walked straight to the kitchen, where our initial confrontation had occurred. I opened the fridge and found a carton of milk, which I opened and drank from. When I set it back on the shelf I had grabbed it from, I spotted a covered plate, so I took it out and removed the foil to see what was under it. It was half of a sandwich from The Baker’s Crust, one of our favorite bakery’s. I pulled the bread apart to examine it closer and took note of the fact that it was a roast beef with Swiss. I took the onions and pickles off, tossing them in the sink, then I grabbed the milk carton and headed for the table. I sat down and took a bite from the cold sandwich, then I chased it with a large gulp of milk. Just as I was wiping my milk mustache away my dad walked into the dining room carrying a glass, catching me off guard. “Hey buddy,” he said quietly, taking a seat across from me. I didn’t respond to his greeting. Instead, I took another bite from my sandwich and turned the milk carton around to see if there was something to read. “I take it you’re not speaking to me,” he said a little sadly, and in reply I simply passed him the milk carton. He poured himself a glass, then slid the carton back my way before he said, “Well, I guess I can understand that, but I at least want you to hear me out.” “Or what, you’ll throw me around again?” I snapped suddenly, shocking myself as much as my dad. “Andrew, I’m sorry for that,” he said. “I had no right to treat you like that, son.” Instead of answering, I took another bite of my sandwich and chased it with another gulp of milk, then I got up from the table, carrying my plate and the half-empty carton of milk back to the kitchen with me. I put the milk back in the fridge and dumped the sandwich in the trash, then I put the plate in the sink and moved to the living room. I took a seat on the couch, curling up on the end and grabbing the remote control to flip through the stations when my dad came into the room and sat on the couch too. I sighed again and tossed the remote his way, uncurling my legs and moving to get up when he commanded me to stop. “Son, I want you to stop ignoring me,” he said bluntly. “I’m sorry for what happened last night, but you can’t just blame me. You had a part in it too.” “When was that?” I demanded, standing up and turning to face him. “When I twisted my own wrist? When I threw myself on my bed? When I squeezed my own cheeks?” “Okay, you need to calm down,” he said in a calm voice of his own. “I know what I did, Andrew. You don’t have to remind me. But you know what? You were way out of line, and I think you know it.” “How was I out of line?” I countered defensively. “Well let’s see, buddy,” he said. “First off, you were more than two hours late. Second, you had a serious chip on your shoulder when you came in, and third, how many times did you cuss at me?” “You didn’t even ask me what was wrong,” I accused him, my eyes filling with tears again because of the confrontation. “All you cared about was that I was late. You wanted to have a reason to ground me because you hate me!” “Don’t say that Andrew,” he said. “You know I don’t hate you, and I didn’t plan on grounding you.” “Then why did you do it?” I demanded. “Because you had it coming for being a little shit,” he said plainly. “You had no reason to talk to me the way you did. I gave you plenty of time to change your tone and you didn’t.” “That doesn’t mean you had to hit me,” I told him, feeling emotional about what I considered to be abuse. “I didn’t hit you kiddo,” he said. “I was rough with you, and I’m sorry. I promise it won’t happen again, Andrew. But you can’t talk to me that way, and you sure as hell can’t stomp around here and slam your door and blare your music at one thirty in the morning.” “I wish you weren’t my dad,” I said, hoping to hurt him. It worked, too. He sat back in his seat and looked devastated as I snatched the remote off of the couch, where I had tossed it, and reclaimed my spot at the other end of the couch to resume channel surfing. He didn’t say another word. Instead, he simply looked at the floor with a heavy sigh and shook his head. To say I was satisfied would have been an understatement. I had never had this kind of fight with my dad before, but I knew how to win it. I mean, who the hell did he think he was? He wasn’t allowed to touch me that way, and to be honest, I never thought he would. Hell, he’d never even raised his voice at me before, and now, all of the sudden, I was just supposed to be okay with him roughing me up? No way. I didn’t care how sorry he was, he wasn’t getting off the hook that easily. “I’m going to Jarred’s.” I announced about an hour later, uncurling my legs and hopping to my feet. As I walked toward the stairs I waited for him to tell me no and that I was still grounded, but it never happened. Instead, I made it all the way up the stairs and down the hall to the bathroom. I jumped in the shower and fifteen minutes later I was in my room, getting myself together. I did my hair and put my cutest outfit on, then I bounded back down the stairs to walk out the door. I didn’t see my dad on the couch, so I just shrugged and made my way out to the garage, where my bike was waiting for me. Unfortunately, so was my dad, and he didn’t look pleased. “What do you think you’re doing?’ he asked pointedly. “Going to Jarred’s,” I said with a sneer, realizing that I wasn’t off the hook. “Actually, no you aren’t,” he said firmly. “I told you last night that you were grounded, and I meant it. Go back inside.” “Why?” I demanded, turning and stomping my feet the whole way back into the kitchen. “That’s why,” he said, pointing to my feet. “I didn’t raise a brat, Andrew. You’re grounded and that’s final.” “For how long?” I asked. “Until I think you’re ready not to be grounded anymore,” he said. “I hope you know I meant what I said,” I snapped. “I wish mom would divorce you and kick you out!” “Well, maybe you can tell her that yourself,” he said sadly. “You’ll be here when she gets home.” “Why are you doing this to me?” I shouted. “You’re doing this to yourself, buddy,” he said. “Now go to your room.” “You’re sending me to my room?” I asked incredulously, and his reply was a simple nod while he pointed at the stairs. I couldn’t believe his nerve, so I turned on my heel and stormed off, stomping my feet the whole way and slamming my door for good measure. In the corner sat my backpack and wallet, which I knew had two hundred dollars in it. I looked around my room again, sitting on my bed and rubbing my temples while I tried to figure out what to do next, then it came to me. I stuffed a couple outfits in my backpack, grabbed my wallet, cell phone and Ipod, and then, while my dad was on the phone and not paying any attention, I slipped out to the garage through the kitchen, got on my bike and rode off into the hot afternoon.
  11. NickolasJames8

    Chapter 1

    The flight was packed, much to my dismay. Earlier in the evening, I was panicking about the cross country trip we were about to embark on, but understanding that I had no choice…..I had to get on the plane. My other option was to stay in California, the state where I was born. The state where I lived a good portion of my life, and had built so many memories that are ingrained in my mind to this very day. The dry heat in California was something I could never get enough of. I could lay out on the rocks on the Pacific coast and soak up the warmth of the sun while I slept the day away without a care in the world. The therapeutic sounds of the waves crashing against the boulders that line the beaches of the northern coast massaged my ear drums, making it easier to relax and let sleep come to me. Seagulls flying over head sang a song of freedom that beckoned me to listen. Back home in Virginia, the beaches were so different. They were clean, sandy and flat. There was no rough terrain and no seaweed littering the beaches. Of course, that meant that there was less marine life to explore, too. The Pacific Ocean is the home of thousands of different strange and exciting species of animals. The ugliest fish made the tastiest meals, though. The magical shell of an abalone was a story in of itself. I could look at the rainbow color of the reflective silver lining and get lost in a tale that I didn’t have to hear. It was as if that shell served as a diary for the tender, tasty muscle. Looking at it, I imagined it floating through the murky waters of the Pacific, looking for a rock to latch onto and call home. That is, until someone like me came along to pry it away from its home, placing it in a large potato sack to be prepared in a deep fryer or stew. Our vacation had been planned out well and executed almost flawlessly. The only drawback to a fun vacation is that it has to end. When you’re visiting family, it’s even harder to leave. I got to see people that I hadn’t seen in a long time, people I loved. I use to take their presence for granted when I was a little boy. I even resented it if I saw too much of them. They had a tendency to be bossy, at least in my opinion, and I was selfishly happy when they went home. Now I was sorry to be leaving them behind again, and I wondered to myself when I’d get to see them all again, and what the circumstances might be that would bring us together. We had actually gone to California earlier in the year when my Great Grandfather passed away. He was eighty four, and he had lived a long, healthy life. But I felt a sense of mourning from his passing that I can’t really put into words. He was an important person in my life, and he was the true measure of a man in my opinion. He worked every day of his life, whether it was in his vineyards, on his dairy, or just in his back yard. He always had a shovel in his hand because it was all he knew. My own Grandfather reminds me of him in a way, but in a different way. He’s not lazy by any means. He’s worked hard his whole life, and he raised four kids in the process. My dad is one of those kids he raised, and if I do say so myself, my Grandfather raised a real man. My dad is the toughest, bravest, hardest working man I know hands down. I’m not just saying that because he’s my dad and I love him, either. I’m saying that because he demonstrates it in everything he does. But I would be lying if I didn’t say I had my own issues with my Grandfather. I was camping with my family last spring in North Carolina when I learned something about him. My cousin and my stepmom had gone to sleep in the tent, and it was just dad and I up with the fire. We were relaxing and talking about my job. At the time, I was working as a bagger at the NAS Oceana commissary for tips, and my dad was telling me all the jobs he had as a kid. He told me about his paper route, and about his job at a vegetable stand after school. I asked him why he worked so much, and his eyes moistened a little. If I put his words in a quote, I wouldn’t be doing him justice because what he said was so profound. In so many words, he told me that when he was a little boy, my Grandfather had left him and my Aunt with my grandmother, who I haven’t been close with for a long time. He said they used to share custody, but that my Grandpa never paid child support like he was supposed to. Eventually, my Aunt gave up on my Grandma and stopped going to live with her when it was her turn to have them. My dad stayed with her, though, and he suffered terribly. He told me that he used to listen at night through my Grandma’s bedroom door as she cried to herself, and he knew she was crying because she didn’t know what to do. She worked and went to school, but the pressure was building on her just the way my Grandfather had planned. So, in a manly gesture, my dad, at age ten, took a paper route in the morning and worked at a vegetable stand after school. When he wasn’t doing that, he was mowing lawns, passing out flyers and selling newspaper subscriptions. He did that until my Grandma became a Registered Nurse when he was fourteen and he was able to stop. Even though I’m not the one who suffered through the pain my Grandfather inflicted, I have a hard time getting over what my dad told me. I love my Grandfather, and I’ll even admit that I’m shallow enough to love him more than my Grandmother. When I was really little my Grandmother started some kind of middle age crisis and decided she didn’t want me or any of her grandchildren in her life. Both of her kids ex-communicated her as a result, and she lives alone with her garden and her cats. After we moved to Virginia, my life changed a lot. Actually, my dad’s life changed too, and in huge ways. The first thing that happened was that my dad took my cousin James in from my mom’s side of the family. He was thirteen at the time, and he was badly abused by his parents. He accidentally outed himself to my dad within days of his arrival, but my dad responded with love and caring. I won’t say there was understanding, because my dad made it seem like there was nothing to be understanding about. The only thing he worried about was James’ well being, emotionally and physically, as well as mine. That made coming out to him a lot easier when it was my turn. Before and after I came out, there was Taylor, my best friend. Eventually, he became my boyfriend, too. Sooner than later, actually. We always pretended when we were little that we were actual boyfriends, but neither of us really understood that we were really forging a relationship. As the years went by and it became obvious that we were more than friends, we both came out as a couple to our two sets of wonderful parents. I feel truly blessed by The Lord to be surrounded by the adults I’ve grown up around. When I got the news that Taylor was coming to California with us, my heart skipped a beat. I was dying to show him my old neighborhood and my old school yard. I wanted him to see the house I lived in, and the park I played at. I wanted to walk with him through the school grounds of El Vista Elementary School and reminisce about the days when I would line up at the four square court and wait for my turn to play. Our vacation was better than I had imagined it could be. We had more fun than at any time in our lives. My dad rented a car for James and he drove us around, so it was almost like we were totally independent adults while we were there. We went to San Francisco, and we drove to Berkley, too. We went to People Park and strolled along the merchant tables along the way. We also got to go to Great America, one of the best theme parks in California. Our vacation ended with a bang in Reno, where we celebrated my great, great Grandmother’s one hundredth birthday with a huge party at a banquet hall inside of the Boomtown casino. I felt a little awkward about being there with my Grandma and her side of the family, but as usual, I was proven wrong. I introduced Taylor as my boyfriend and my liberal, Dutch family accepted him with hugs and kisses. I don’t know why I was so shocked about that. Most of the people there spoke very little English because they had traveled from the Netherlands for the celebration. Once again I was reminded of how blessed I was to have the family I have. The most significant event of the evening, at least for me, happened when my Grandmother, who I had said about ten words to since I was seven, walked up to Taylor, James and I and asked us why we weren’t dancing with everyone else. We all shrugged and didn’t really have an answer. Then she shocked me. She wrapped her arms around me and in Dutch, she told me how proud she was of me and how much she loved me. Then, she turned and hugged and kissed Taylor and told him how lucky I was to be with someone as hot as he was. Then she dragged my cousin James out to the dance floor and made him dance with her. The next morning we had a ten o’clock brunch in the same banquet hall, and my Grandma made a point of having us all sit with her while we ate. It was nice to sit with my Grandma, or Oma, which was what I used to call her when I was little. But it made me a little sad to think about the years we missed out on. She was venomous to me when she pushed me away as a little kid, and it made me frightened to be around her. I had never seen her act the way she had acted in those days, and I never thought things would be okay enough for us to be sitting together at a table at her request. When I took my seat on the plane, I gulped a little, but I quickly put all of that out of my head as I took notice of the hunky male in the seat next to mine. His thick hair was glowing with radiance as he took his seat, and his long arms seemed to ripple as he reached up and turned the air vent on above us. When he turned and flashed me a smile, I melted. Yes, I was a little sad to be leaving my birth state, but I was relieved to have him next to me as the plane taxied down the runway. As we lifted off, I looked out the window, down on the lights of Sacramento, California. The capital city, the home of the Kings. Down below, a body of water glistened in the moonlight as it faded from my view. Finally, the city lights were gone, replaced by the dark shadows of the clouds we were flying through. I felt Taylor’s arm hook mine and his head resting on my shoulder. I planted a small kiss on his lips and grinned to myself as I realized how much I was looking forward to spending eight hours in the air with the love of my life.
  12. NickolasJames8

    Chapter 10

    The delicate touch of fingers running through my hair was enough to arouse me, as if I wasn't already to that point. Skin to skin contact was sending a chill through me that I could never measure. From the base of my neck to the tips of my toes, my whole body was begging for more of the physical contact that I was receiving. Moving to and fro, it was as if we had morphed into one being, formed at the very depths of ecstasy. I gently moved in for a lasting kiss, closing my eyes for a moment that seemed to be cemented in time. As our tongues slid back and forth in perfect time and motion, I felt his fingertips pressing against my own, heightening my senses. His energy was the water and I was the soil, waiting to be enriched with his nutrients. Our love was the seed, and it was quickly blossoming into a beautiful, fragrant flower. Sitting alone with him, exposed to the elements of nature and all of its beauties and ravages made my heart pound. There was nothing more perfect, nothing more pure and nothing as fulfilling for me that to sit alone with Phillip on this Monday morning, listening to him breathe as we slowly swung back and forth. The morning air was crisp, and the ground was moist. The sprinklers came on automatically, and the water was barely missing us. The day before had been somewhat of a nightmare, but I had persevered. I had done what I had to do, and we were all better off. This morning was my reward. The payoff for finally thinking clearly enough to do the right thing. My conscience was clear and at this moment, I hadn't a worry in the world. I could finally say that everything was okay. Doing the right thing when it came to Andrew wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. As a matter of fact, I could definitely say he was one of the coolest guys I had ever met. No matter what, I was always going to be his friend. He didn't reject me. He didn't judge me. He didn't even get angry with me. Instead, he was sweet, caring, understanding and even sympathetic. I don't think I could have asked for more than that. I was so scared of his reaction that I guess I never considered that he might understand. I felt like I had done such a disgusting thing to him that there was no way he'd ever forgive me. When I first got there, actually getting the words out was much easier said than done. Especially since he had attacked my mouth with his almost as soon as he closed the front door. And I was weak. Way to weak to resist. As soon as I saw him moving toward me with his arms out, I gave in to my demons and reciprocated, tilting my head to the right and accepting his passionate invocation for romance. Tasting his sweetness was almost enough to make me forget what I was there to do, but I snapped myself back into reality soon enough to stop the momentum of our journey before it took us to the point of no return. Breaking our kiss was no small task, either. Andrew had a whimper that I found irresistible, and it was as audible as it had ever been as the reality of what I had to do sunk in. I moved my arm from around his neck and gently brushed his cheek with my hand as I broke our kiss, causing him to smile and blush as I looked deep into his eyes, my heart breaking at the inevitability of the pain I was sure he would feel. "What's wrong?" he asked knowingly. I opened my mouth to speak, but my voice faltered and I actually started to cry. I had an idea that this was going to be an emotional experience, and yet, I found myself startled by my own tears. Andrew simply wrapped his arms around me and hugged me tightly, running his hand up and down my back. I found a sense of security in his embrace that I needed at the moment, but at the same time, I also feared that this would be the last loving thing he would ever do for me. "Andrew, I...," I started, but once again, my voice failed me. This time, though, he shocked me with his response. "I know, Jarred," he said softly. "It's okay. I understand." "You do?" I asked, feeling a sense of bewilderment. "Yeah," he answered with the voice of a person who was obviously fighting pain. "I'll always care about you, Andrew," I said, gathering my senses and regaining my composure. His response was to hug me tighter. "Let's go sit down," he said. We moved to the couch where I reached out for his hand. He smiled shyly at me and slipped his hand in mine, then we sat quietly together with his head resting on my shoulder. I could hear his light breathing by my ear as I nuzzled my body closer to his, almost leaning into him for support. It wasn't fair, and I knew it. I had caused this pain. It was my own fault. My tears were a product of my own actions. My confession to Andrew had been easier than I ever imagined it would be, and I knew that once again that I was sitting in the presence of someone I didn't deserve. Someone who still cared about me, even though I had deceived him. I felt Andrews arms wrap around my chest and stomach, and when I looked down, I noticed he had locked his fingers together where his hands met on my left side. I slid my right arm around his back and reached over with my left, pulling him even closer to me so I could feel the warmth of his body as we rested together in the familiar position we had enjoyed so many times before. We were cuddling again. I knew it, and I was sure Andrew knew it too. He turned his head so that he was looking at me, and our eyes met. Then we kissed. It was that simple. Our lips met, and our tongues danced. As we picked up momentum, everything just felt right, and I ended up on my back. Andrew was on top of me, grinding his raging hard on into my own stiff cock. I opened my legs to give him a more comfortable place to rest against me as we kissed. I suddenly realized what we were doing but I found myself unable to stop. Fortunately, Andrew pulled off me and sighed before he rested his head on my chest and ran his hands up and down my sides. "What's his name?" he asked quietly. "Phillip," I confessed. "You've met him before." "I remember him," Andrew said. Then, meeting my eyes, he asked, "Does he know about me?" I quietly shook my head no, and from the look in his eyes, I knew that the rest was painfully clear to him. "You were with him first, weren't you?" he asked as he laid his head back down on my chest and reached out to take my hands in his. "Yes," I said, feeling like I had just betrayed my best friend. "We've been together since September." "Do you love him?" he asked, once again lifting his head to meet my eyes. "Yes," I said as I nodded slowly. His eyes moistened a little, but he gave me a small smile and put his head back down on my chest. I felt his grip on my hands and he seemed to be digging into my chest with his head, as if he didn't want the moment to end. Finally, treacherously, he looked at me and confessed his need. "Can we still see each other?" he asked in the sweetest, most innocent voice I had ever heard in my life. I nodded my reply, knowing how stupid I was to do it. But instead of breaking Andrews heart and my own, I opted for something else. It wasn't what my parents would have wanted me to do. I knew it wasn't fair to Phillip, either. It certainly wasn't what Andrew deserved. But it was the right thing for me to do. I knew in my heart that I would never be able to give up on Phillip. He was my everything. My whole world seemed to revolve around him. I loved him. But it wasn't enough. Because as much as I loved Phillip, Andrew gave me something that I couldn't get from Phillip. I couldn't place it, but it was there. It was more than sex, but it wasn't quite love. Maybe it was a deeper, more intimate friendship that I was after. I still can't say. But my mind was made up. Maybe one day I could break it off with Andrew, but I wasn't going to be in a hurry. Right now, we were enjoying each other's touch. The warmth of our bodies was connecting us, and we both knew what was happening. "Do you want to go upstairs?" he asked hopefully. I responded by lifting his head from my chest and pressing my lips to his. Then we got up and I took his hand once more, letting him lead me to the stairway that would take us to his room. The sound of the sliding glass door opening snapped me out of my thoughts and caused Phillip and I to break our marathon kiss. It was my dad, probably looking for me. It was still early in the morning when Phillip came over, and to tell the truth, I was barely awake myself. My cell phone rang just after 5 in the morning, and I picked it up out of instinct more than anything. When I saw Phillip's cell number on my caller ID, I panicked a little. My first thought was that something had happened. The night before he was out with his parents and I didn't get to see him, but we had made plans to get together and go to Pungo on Sunday. I smiled a little to myself when he told me that he wanted to come over and see me right away. Once we hung up, I tried to get myself together but failed miserably. Instead, I wound up laying down on the edge of my bed with my feet planted on the floor and falling asleep. His light tapping on my window snapped me out of my slumber, though, and as soon as I rinsed with Listerine, I was out the back door. "Hey guys," my dad said as he pulled open and stepped through the sliding glass door in his morning robe. "You're up awful early for a three day weekend, aren't you?" "Good morning Mr. Fedina," Phillip said politely with a small grin. "It's my fault. I called and got Jarred up." My dad smiled and shook his head as he walked away from us and toward the faucet that controlled the soaker hoses he had laid down in the flowerbeds. We waited patiently for him to finish and go back in so we could resume our kissing, but as luck would have it, my dad had other plans. "So, Phillip," he started as he made his way back toward the patio. "Can you stay for breakfast?" Phillip looked at me for an answer, as if he weren't sure whether it would be okay with me if he said yes. I gave him a warm smile, then I smiled up at my dad. "Yes sir," Phillip finally answered politely, "Thank you for the invitation, Mr. Fedina." The uncomfortable feeling of sitting at the table with Phillip and my parents was something I could have never prepared myself for. A thousand paranoid thoughts were swirling through my head as we ate, and I suddenly realized that this hadn't been such a good idea. I think Phillip could pick up on my uneasy vibes, because he suddenly looked uncomfortable. I looked across the table at my parents, who were exchanging glances, and my heart dropped into my stomach. When my mom looked expectantly at me, I almost got sick. I knew what she wanted me to do. It wasn't something either of my parents had communicated to me, but now it was clear to me. They wanted me to come clean to Phillip. That was not going to be happening any time soon. By the time we were finished and my parents had gotten up to clear the table, I was half way expecting Phillip to tell me he was leaving. In fact, breakfast had been so awkward that every time I tried to look at him and smile, he looked down almost ashamedly. I was truly afraid that he thought I was embarrassed to have him over. I decided to speak up. "Let's go in the living room and sit together on the couch," I said, taking his hand and standing up. He smiled a little and stood up, and I swear it felt like a breath of fresh air had swept through the house and took all of the awkwardness with it on its way out. When we moved to the couch, I curled up next to him and wrapped both of my arms around him, suddenly realizing that I needed him to hold me. "I love you Phillip," I said as I rested my head on his shoulder. "I love you to babe," he whispered to me passionately. "I'm glad you're here," I told him. "I missed you so much yesterday." "I missed you too," he said. "I have to tell you something," I said nervously, now realizing that I definitely should have mentioned to him that we had been caught on Saturday night. "I should have told you this yesterday, but I wanted to tell you in person." "What's wrong?" he asked, now shifting nervously on the couch as I reluctantly loosened my grip on him. "My parent's found out," I blurted out as fast as I could. He looked down at me with a look of, `Oh, shit,' then he turned his head back toward the kitchen, where the sounds of dishes being rinsed and loaded into the dishwasher were originating. "You told them?" he asked in a voice that echoed his shock. I slowly shook my head and when he sat back and straightened up, I knew he got the picture. That's when he voiced the exact sentiments I had when I was first busted. "Again?" "I'm not grounded anymore," I said, then watched as his eyes got as big as saucers. He stayed silent, though, as I went on. "I got grounded on Saturday night," I explained. "But we talked yesterday and they ungrounded me. It was pretty ugly." "I'm sorry, Jarred," he said, taking my hand in his. I could tell he felt bad about something. "It's all my fault." "No it's not, Phillip," I said gently. "I wouldn't have been grounded if I hadn't yelled and acted like an ass." I felt like I owed him that much. There was no way I could let him feel like he was to blame for anything that had happened with my parents. I felt bad enough only giving him half of the story. If I had allowed him to shoulder any of the blame, I couldn't live with myself. "I want to make it up to you," he said softly. "Then just hold me," I said as I snuggled back up to him. "That way I can forget about yesterday." Phillip wrapped his arms around me and I curled my legs up under the rest of my body as I relaxed in his embrace. I reached up with my lips and offered him a kiss, which he reciprocated. No tongue, though. Just two longing pairs of lips, anxious for contact with each other. When we broke the kiss, I felt his hand move slowly up and down my back as he lovingly stroked my hair and gazed down at me. I had been feeling so vulnerable all morning that this was what I needed. I needed to be held, and to be loved. I had to know that things were still okay with Phillip. I knew that was silly, especially considering the fact that he had no idea what was happening behind his back. But I think I needed that moment to decipher the meaning of my relationship with him. It all seemed so clear when I was in his arms. My mom and dad had wandered back into the living room at some point, completely unnoticed by me. When I finally did notice them, I felt a little self-conscience at first, but then I felt guilty when my mom gave me a look that told me that she knew I hadn't told Phillip the truth. I knew she was disappointed, but I decided to disregard that. This was my moment, not hers. She had no right to try to interfere. I simply looked up at her and grinned, feeling triumphant for a moment, then I smiled when she hooked my dads arm and turned to leave, going through the sliding glass door. When the door closed, I knew I had won. Not that I was in any type of competition, but I knew what the score was anyway. There was no way either of my parents were going to tell Phillip the truth. It would accomplish nothing, and all three of us knew that. What was done, was done. There was no changing the past. Dwelling on it would only cause trouble and cause pain not just for Phillip, but for me too. I knew my parents would never do that to me. I looked up at Phillip's beautiful face and sighed. This was perfection. God's perfect will was holding me tight. All things Holy and good were in my presence and I was wrapped in the embrace of an angel. "I love you Phillip," I gushed, feeling almost as if I had won a million dollars. "Promise me we'll always be together." "I promise," he answered with the certainty of a faithful lover, confident in my devotion to him. "No matter what?" I asked as I looked into his eyes, where the answer to my question lingered, comprehensible to me in so many ways. His simple answer was to press his lips to mine, sealing his commitment to me with a kiss. "No matter what," he said softly as our lips parted. That was it. I hadn't another care in the world. If my life had ended that morning, in the living room and in the arms of the love of my life, I would have died a very content person. I reached up with my hand and ran my fingers through his soft, silky hair as he smiled at me. I knew that I'd see Andrew again. That was a given. I needed his touch and his kiss as much as I needed Phillip to love me and be there for me. But I also knew that seeing Andrew again wasn't the worst thing in the world for me to do. It could get ugly if Phillip ever found out, but I was going to be careful. He hadn't caught me yet, and if he did, I'd deal with it when the time came. In the meanwhile, though, I knew I was having another epiphany. I suddenly realized that for the first time since I met Andrew, I was exactly where I needed to be. The End
  13. NickolasJames8

    Chapter 21

    Given the fact that they’re barely a year apart in age, one would think that Lexi and Marti would be at each other’s throats more often than they were. I mean, yeah, there are the occasional taunts and arguments that go with any sibling pair, but it could definitely be a lot worse. I suppose, though, that over the years they’ve had to learn to respect each other’s boundaries. Otherwise, how would they ever have a moments peace? Gerald promised Lexi that he’d take some time out of our schedule to let her show off her gown, and a promise is a promise. Listening to Mike and Erin go on about their offspring, one would expect that an afternoon alone with the two of them would be spent breaking up fights and bandaging wounds. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the civility they displayed, not just to Gerald and I, but to each other. “Oh my God, I love it,” Gerald gushed as Lexi extended her arms slightly and took a full turn, giving everyone in the room a full view of the gown she and her mother picked out for the wedding, a turquoise halter top that made her look much older than her 14 years. Her hair was pulled up tightly into a bun, accentuating her tan and showcasing her long, golden earrings. Her high-heals were a perfect match with her earrings, and she walked around the room with grace and poise, as if she weren’t wearing them at all. I knew that someday soon, she’d break her fair share of hearts. Her brother, on the other hand, seemed visibly irritated with his shirt. It was obvious to me that whoever measured his neck did a piss poor job, because he almost appeared to be choking on his collar. His neck and shoulders were a lot thicker than most kids his age, almost disproportionately thick compared to the rest of his body. He’d been bragging about weight training, and my guess was that he was spending more time working on his traps and neck than anywhere else. His chest and arms were developed, but not as noticeably as his neck and shoulders. I silently motioned him over to me, and as he approached, I gently loosened his tie and undid the top button on his shirt, then I fixed his tie so that no one would notice that his collar wasn’t fastened. “How’s that?” I asked as he let out a sigh of relief. “I don’t think mom and dad are going to like this,” he cautioned me, but I dismissed his concerns with a wave of my hand. “It looks fine, and I think if we stay quiet, they’ll never know,” I told him with a wink. “Now let’s do something with that hair of yours.” With that, I pulled a chair out that was sitting against the wall and put it in front of the vanity, then I patted the seat. Marty took a seat and I went to work as Gerald and Lexi watched, obviously amused with what they were seeing. I used a spray bottle to dampen his hair, then I gave it a vigorous massage. I grabbed the tube of Spiker Ice that I had purchased just an hour earlier at the small convenience shop in the hotel, and I carefully dispensed it into my hands, rubbing my palms together until I was sure I had an even amount on each one. Ten minutes later, Marty’s hair was a work of art that consisted of about twenty tightly twisted independent spikes. Nothing outrageous, mind you. His hair wasn’t that long, so the spikes themselves were no more than about two or three inches high, but they looked great on him and when he got up and looked in the mirror, he beamed. “Okay, you two, go stand in front of the wall,” Gerald told them. The siblings complied, and at my fiancé’s urging, they linked arms and smiled. It was a quite a sight to behold, so I made sure that Gerald took several pictures for us to save when we got home. Spending a few hours with Lexi and Marty was a drastic change from the company we’d been keeping earlier in the day, when Gerald and I sat down to breakfast with his mother. If ever there were such a thing as a human train wreck, it would be Mrs. Ballard. Just the fact that she could bring herself to sit across the table from me and Gerald with a smile as if nothing were the matter was astonishing, especially when it was so obvious that nothing was okay in her world. The night before, her arrival caught the two of us off guard. So far off guard, in fact, that I looked cautiously around for Gerald’s dad, practically expecting him to assail the two of us at any moment, at least verbally. “Wait right here,” Gerald said quietly before leaving my side to approach his mom, who was tucking her credit card back into her purse. Just like the pictures I’d seen, she looked good. She was wearing a blue evening gown and a shawl that seemed to compliment her attire. Sizing her up, I guessed that she was probably a size two, but definitely no bigger than a three. She initially smiled when he walked up to her, but I watched her smile fade as his mouth moved, and I could only wonder what they were talking about. After a brief dialogue between the two, she pulled an open envelope out of her handbag, and I was able to make out what she said next by watching her lips move; You invited me. I watched as Gerald closed his eyes, took a long, painful looking breath, and let his head fall back, and that was all I could take. I assertively walked up to the desk and took my place next to my fiancé, ready to take a stand for him. My mind was racing, trying to think of something to say, anything at all, but Mrs. Ballard beat me to the punch. “So you must be Dennis,” she said in a neutral tone, and in response I cleared my throat. I was honestly intimidated to be in her presence, and at the moment, I couldn’t understand why. Looking back, though, I know that it was because I had spent months rehearsing, gearing up for what was supposed to be the confrontation to end all confrontations. I wanted to put her and her husband in their places, and at the same time, be the knight in shining armor that would take Gerald off into the sunset once I had righted all of the wrongs that his parents imposed on him. Instead, I stood silent, struggling to find the right words for the moment, not sure if we were going to have a fight or an amicable discussion. Would we talk about what she and her husband put us through all of those months, or would we act like it hadn’t happened? Would Gerald insist that she leave, or would we cave in and let her presence cause us undue tension? Did she come to ruin our wedding, or was she there because she had a sudden change of heart? At the moment, the only thing running through my head was Holy Shit, probably the only inappropriate remark I could have made at the moment, so I kept it to myself. Luckily, Gerald broke the silence and the awkward moment passed us by. “Mom, this is Dennis,” he said. “Dennis this is my mom, Yvonne.” I politely extended my right hand to her, and much to my surprise, she accepted it with a firm grip and a welcoming smile. I made momentary eye contact with her as we shook hands, and just like that, I knew what she was up to. Before I had the chance to release my grip on her hand, she leaned into Gerald and wrapped her left arm around his damp frame for a hug. “You two are soaked to the skin,” she observed with a small amount of concern. “You’ll catch colds.” “We’re fine,” Gerald said rather shortly, releasing the hug and putting his arm around my waist. “We were just heading upstairs to change into something dry.” “I see,” Mrs. Ballard said in a tone that did little to hide her sudden distaste, as if she were just coming to the realization that we were staying in the same room. “Well I have to finish checking in. I’ll let you two go get changed.” “Dennis, why don’t you go up without me,” Gerald said. “I’ll be right up, sweetie.” With that, he leaned in and gave me an affectionate peck on the lips that I was sure singed his mother’s eyes. When he pulled away, he gave me the sweetest smile that I couldn’t help but return before turning to make my way back toward the elevator. On the way up to my room, I contemplated the reasoning and potential impact of Gerald’s mom coming to our wedding. On one hand, it could mean that she was finally coming around to the fact that Gerald was in love and ready to chart his life’s course with me. On the other hand, it could be that she was there to try and talk him out of the wedding. Maybe a last ditch effort to change his mind and convince him that he was making a huge mistake. Neither of those two possibilities bothered me in the least. I mean, if she was finally coming around, then I could welcome that kind of change. It would certainly be great for Gerald, and maybe she could get away from her abusive husband. Or, if she there to try to talk Gerald out of the wedding, I knew she’d fail miserably. My fiancé lived with nothing but terror his entire life until he left for college, and he was finally in a place where he was safe, loved and recovering from the nightmare of his childhood. There was no way he was going to walk away from the life he had, or the future we were planning. Unfortunately, though, there was a third possibility that sent a chill through me. It was the most plausible of all explanations for her presence, and the thought of it was making me ill. Somewhere deep down, I just knew that she was there to extend an olive branch. Not one where she begged for forgiveness from her son for the way she’d been treating him. No, that one was most likely not forthcoming. This was an olive branch with wisteria vines hiding in the leaves, waiting to latch on to us as soon as we accepted it and never let go. She would never be okay with our marriage, but she would always be in the picture. Not just a phone call away, either. Most likely, she would be in our faces at least three, maybe four times a year. Maybe more than that. She’d try to drive wedges between us and be as much of a weight on our relationship as she could. When we needed privacy, she’d be there to intrude on our space. I’ve seen it before. I’ve had friends marry against the wishes of a parent and, unbeknownst to them, that parent found a way to prevail upon their new life and ruin what was supposed to be forever. I could see it from a mile away, but how do you tell someone whose friendship you cherish that their mother or father is out to get them and their significant other? “My mom wants to have drinks with us at the bar,” Gerald said when he came back up to the room. “I told her I’d discuss it with you, but that I really didn't like the idea.” Deep down, I knew I was making a mistake, but for whatever reason, I talked Gerald into meeting with her. Maybe I thought we’d get something accomplished, or that the confrontation I was expecting the first time around would actually materialize. Who knows? Whatever it was, though, proved to be enough for me to convince my fiancé that it was something we ought to do, so he acquiesced. While he was in the shower, I was busy in the mirror, obsessing over my skin tone, of all things. Not so much for Gerald’s mom, but for my wedding day. Looking back, I guess I was probably distracting myself, at least subconsciously, from the issue of Mrs. Ballard, which is what I probably needed to do. Because while on the surface I was still confident that things were going to be okay, deep down, I was silently dreading the possibilities. I didn't want Gerald to pick up on my anxiety, though, because I was afraid he’d think I didn't trust him not to cave in to his mother’s disapproval. After everything we’d been through, all the months of counseling, all the tears we cried, all the fights and eventually, all of the healing we’d done, I wanted to trust his judgment. I slowly traced my fingertips along a deep crease across my forehead and grimaced. The only time that crease came out was when I was under pressure, and man, was I under a lot of pressure right then and there. I closed my eyes and used both hands to massage my temples, wondering what was going through Gerald’s head at the moment. There was no way that this wasn’t weighing on him. In fact, I was sure that for every ounce of stress and strain I was experiencing at the moment, there was a pound of it resting on his shoulders. I also knew that he needed support if he was going to bear the brunt of the load, so I told myself to stop being so self absorbed and be there for him. To be his support system and take the pressure off of him, no matter what the next few days had in store for us. “Gerald, you look like you’ve been taking care of yourself,” she observed with a polite smile as Gerald and I took our seats across the table from her. “Thank you mother,” he said rather coolly, then he changed the subject. “Do uncle Mike and aunt Erin know you’re here?” “I haven’t talked to either one of them,” she said with a dismissive shrug. “Your father might have called them after I left, but if he did, I wouldn’t know about it. He wasn’t exactly pleased with me coming here, you know.” “Then what are you doing?” he countered, and Mrs. Ballard looked a little stunned by his tone. “You know something, Gerald, just because your father feels a certain way doesn’t mean I go along with him lock step,” she told him. “I wanted to be here for you, son.” “Mom, don’t,” he practically spat, shaking his head in disbelief. “You’ve made it perfectly clear to me over and over again how disgusted you are with me.” With that, Mrs. Ballard lowered her head, but I wasn’t sure if it was out of shame for her past behavior, or because she didn't want to admit to the truth that Gerald’s accusations contained. I reached over and took his hand, giving it a supportive squeeze just as a cocktail waitress walked up to take our order. I asked for a shot of Glenlivet, Gerald ordered a draft Michelob Ultra and Mrs. Ballard ordered bourbon. “Make mine a double,” she added, and for a brief moment, I almost felt for the woman. She was obviously there against the wishes of her husband, and against the wishes of Gerald and I. Mike and Erin probably wouldn’t welcome her arrival with opened arms, either. She was essentially an island at the moment, I had to wonder what the hell she was thinking about when she decided to pack her bags and catch the ferry to Provincetown. When she looked at the two of us with pleading eyes, I almost had to look away. “I’m not here to start trouble, Gerald,” she said. “Dennis, I know what you’re thinking, too. I just want to be here to see my son get married. I don’t want to try to talk him out of it, I don’t want to ruin your ceremony. I just want to be there.” “Why?” Gerald demanded. “Because you’re my son and I love you,” she said, her eyes moistening. “Gerald, I’ve missed you terribly since you left for your last year of school. Did you honestly think that you could come to Provincetown and that I wouldn’t come across the bay to see you?” “I don’t know what to think anymore,” Gerald said, his voice tinged with sadness. “This last year would have been hell without Dennis and his family. You and dad had so many chances to be there for me, and instead, you added to my problems. As usual.” “Gerald look at me,” she said, her voice shaky and her composure fading. “What do you think would have happened to me if I hadn’t gone along with your father? Be honest.” Before he could answer, the waitress returned with our drinks. I watched with great interest as Gerald and his mom both downed their drinks in one swallow, neither one taking their eyes off the other. I guess taking a double shot of bourbon to the head is no great feat, but I was a little shocked to see Gerald down his beer so quickly and immediately ask for a refill. I simply shrugged and followed their example, though I quickly found myself wishing that I had ordered a beer chaser for my scotch. When the waitress walked away to fetch our second round, Gerald spoke up. “I’m surprised he let you out the door to come here,” he said a little smugly. “It wasn’t easy, trust me,” she told him, shifting a little uncomfortably in her chair. “I paid a price, son.” “What did he do?” Gerald asked, his tone changing from smug to serious. “Don’t worry about it, I’m fine,” she told him, but Gerald pressed on. “Did he hit you?” he demanded, and once more, she lowered her head. Gerald closed his eyes and let his head fall back, then he let out a loud sigh and straightened up. “Are you okay?” I asked out of the blue, shocking myself as much as anyone else. Mrs. Ballard looked up at me with a sad smile and nodded, then she looked back down. “Where at?” Gerald asked, and she rubbed her right arm. Before he could say another word, she removed her evening shawl and revealed a dark purple bruise that covered her entire bicep and the back of her shoulder. The look on Gerald’s face was indescribable. I guess I could liken it best to a feeling of distress and helplessness, almost the way I felt when I was four and saw my dad pull my mom’s hair. But it was plain to see that this wasn’t a new emotion that was sweeping over my fiancé at the moment, and that was what made it even more heartbreaking to watch. I turned my attention back to Mrs. Ballard just in time to see a stream of tears falling from her eyes, but almost as soon as she spotted me looking at her, she straightened up and wiped them away as she cleared her throat and put the shawl back over her evening gown. Our second round of drinks came, then a third, then a fourth, fifth and sixth. It was obvious to me from the way we were throwing them back that Gerald and his mom were driving toward the same goal, and that I was simply along for the ride. At some point the conversation completely ceased, and the mission was simply to get fucked up and forget about the fact that Gerald’s mom endured a beating from her husband just because she wanted to see her son. The next morning I was up with the sun. I hopped out of bed and took care of my three morning S’s, gratefully taking note of the fact that I wasn’t hung-over. I meticulously applied shaving lotion to my face, then I slowly ran my razor down each side of my face, careful not to knick myself or to gouge the ends of my sideburns. As the blade glided down my neck, my mind flashed back to the night before and what a whirlwind it had been. I’d seen Gerald cry, and I’d been with him in what seemed like his weakest moments, but there was no way to compare what I’d seen in the past to what I witnessed the night before. Because it wasn’t tears we were dealing with. No, it was something far more traumatic for him than I ever imagined. Because in the moment that Mrs. Ballard removed her shawl, I was able to see the wounds on his soul. I was able to see the scars on his broken heart, one for every time he wanted to protect his mom but he couldn’t. From the time he could walk, talk and understand what domestic violence was. Not because he learned about it in a classroom or from an after school special, but because his father had introduced it to him. I stepped into the shower and soaped up, letting the steam rise around me as I soaped up. My mind was racing with worry. I wondered how depressed Gerald would be when he woke up, and I couldn’t help but think back on the awful story he told me about his dad waking him up to show him what he did to her. How he was trying to keep his eyes closed because he was frightened, and the horror that must have come over him when he was dragged out of bed and had to witness the end result of a monster’s rampage. More than that, though, I worried about what was waiting for Mrs. Ballard when she returned to Boston. Would he do it again? Of course. It wasn’t a matter of if, but of when. And that had to be in the back of Gerald’s mind already. How couldn’t it be? What was she going to do? Did she actually have somewhere safe to go when her husband went overboard? What did Mike and Erin know about everything? I stepped out of the foggy bathroom just in time to be greeted by a very rugged looking Gerald. Obviously he wasn’t sharing in my good fortune, but he still managed a smile when he saw me. “Morning babe,” he said, his voice hoarse from thirst. “Call your mom and dad. We just got off the phone.” I gave him a peck on the cheek, then I did what he said. I halfway explained to my mom that Mrs. Ballard was there, but I left out the rest. I hated to keep facts from my folks, but this was Gerald’s issue at the moment, and it needed to be his decision if we talked about it with anyone else. I invited my mom and dad to have breakfast with us, but they declined, mainly out of deference to Gerald and his mother I think. When Gerald got out of the shower, I waited for him to get dressed. When he sat down on the bed to put his socks on, I took the opportunity to sit next to him and wrap my arms around him. Sometimes, I find it’s more comforting to sit in silence and just let the moment unravel on its own. Gerald was the first person that I ever wanted to just sit with, the first person that I ever found intimacy with where there was no sex involved. Holding him tightly in my arms and listening to his body, its entire functionality from his lungs to his heart, was a special way of making love with him. Because there was a connection there that was so real and so profound, and I found myself wishing that we could just stay where we were for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, there was business to tend to. Unspoken business and commitments that we had made to others. We had phone calls to make and loose ends to tie up. There was one bit of unspoken business that I couldn’t get out of my head, that I wanted to approach Gerald about, but I had no idea if it was appropriate or not. Finally, I just blurted it out. “We have to help her get away.”
  14. NickolasJames8

    Chapter 30

    I pedaled as hard as I could down the sidewalk, my overstuffed backpack in tow. I was in a different neighborhood, but one not too far from where I lived. The surroundings weren’t exactly familiar, but they intrigued me as I hung a hard right and rode up a long, quiet residential block. When I say I rode up it, I mean I was literally riding up hill. I had to get away. I needed time. Time to think about things. Everything. My conscious was betraying my sense of logic. I knew it could all be simple, but there was no way I could just leave things the way they were. My dad knew something was up, but he wasn’t demanding that I give him any information. As I took the steep hill that I knew would lead me to a quiet park, I realized that the hill I was on was more than an obstacle on my way to a final destination I was trying to reach. It was a metaphor that I could compare my life too. Just when I thought the road had leveled out and I was on level ground, something would have to happen to send me to the bottom of the grade, and it was up to me to struggle to get myself back to the top. This time, though, I knew I was bringing this all on myself. There was a way to make it all go away, I knew. I could just ignore my memories and act like nothing was the matter. I could just forget what really happened that day. The day Mr. Kessler did something unspeakable to my little brother and me. The day I followed his example. I was in a state of bliss that afternoon. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was abusing my little brother because Mr. Kessler made it look like it was normal. I knew it was something I shouldn’t have done, but I thought it was okay because an adult was encouraging it, and who would know? I didn’t plan on telling my dad because I knew he wouldn’t approve, but what did he know? He wasn’t there, I reasoned, and he didn’t know how special it felt when Mr. Kessler tickled me down there. He didn’t understand how special it felt to help my little brother feel the same way. He couldn’t understand, I knew, because he wasn’t as cool as Mr. Kessler was. When my dad showed up that day to pick my brother up, I put what we had done in the back of my head, and my little brother and I had a silent understanding between us that we weren’t going to say anything. That day when I got home, I went upstairs and went to the bathroom, did my homework, and went out to run my route. Everything was normal, and I didn’t give what we had done a second thought. When I got home from my route, I ate dinner with my mom, did the dishes and got ready for bed. That was it, though. As if it never happened, I hid the memory of what happened and didn’t give it a second thought. When my stepmom called and said I wasn’t allowed to visit anymore and why, I didn’t understand. The incident with Mr. Kessler never crossed my mind, and I was confused and devastated that they would accuse me of doing anything to hurt my little brother. When I came out to my mom that night, I did it with a clear conscious. How could I have not known the truth? When I made it to the top of the hill, I moved to the side of the road and let a couple of cars pass me by, then I coasted along a downgrade that ended at the park I was trying to get to. No one would think to find me there, and I needed to be alone. I needed to think. I needed to sort everything out and make a plan. Actually, I had one, but it wasn’t the brightest one I’d ever come up with. Still, I halfway went through with it. My backpack was stuffed with clothes and my mind was almost made up to call my dad on my Sidekick and tell him the truth, then head west again, like I had last time. Maybe this time I could make it to Bodega Bay, or maybe I could at least get to Pleasant Hill and hide out at Mark’s. I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there from where I was, but I could follow signs. Also, I reasoned, it would give me the chance to take my bike over Kirker Pass Hill, something I’d been dreaming about doing since I got to Pittsburg when my grandparents picked me up at George and Patricia’s. I sighed when I thought about George. How would he feel about me if he knew what had happened? He and Patricia basically rescued me from my life, and the whole time, I was the violator of his son. Of course, now things had gotten even more complicated than that. Even assuming that nothing had happened, I wondered how he’d feel if he knew about my relationship with Mark. Would he hate me if he found out? Was he going to hate me when he found out the truth about my little brother? It was a certainty that if my dad knew, he’d tell my stepmom and she’d tell George. That would be it. Not only would George hate me, but I was sure Patricia would too. Then the whole truth would come out and Mark would know. How could I expect him to want to be with me after he found out what I did to his brother? To my brother. I laid my bike down on the grass and sat next to it, using my backpack as an armrest to lean against as I contemplated my next move. I was boxed in a corner, and I knew it. There was nowhere to run, except to the unknown. But I was scared. My life had finally come around and I had gotten a taste of the life I longed to live. Now, in the blink of an eye, it was in jeopardy. All of it, as long as I was honest with my dad. Of course, I reasoned, there was always the option to lie. Who was I kidding? Lying wasn’t an option. Not for me. Not about this. I looked at my bike and took note of how the sunlight glistened off of the chrome. I had just shined it up a couple of days earlier and it looked great. I could see a warped reflection of my face looking back at me that made my mind wander to a different time. Usually, on a Tuesday afternoon in Modesto, I’d have been running my route. I would have been stopping to pick up my customers and making sure I only made the stops that were scheduled along the way. I had a few riders I had invented in my mind that I made rare exceptions for, and I would make a special stop to let them out along the way. But normally I was by the book, only stopping where there was a sign that indicated that we were at a bus stop. When I stood up and slid my backpack over my shoulders, I had tears in my eyes. Still, I stayed strong and climbed on my bike to take care of my business. _____________________________________________________________________ My route that night took me all the way down Buchanan Ave, almost into Antioch. I dipped down Loveridge, Harbor and Railroad Avenue occasionally, but I was running a dedicated route that night and I wasn’t going to be pulled away from it. When my phone started to ring at 5:30 I got nervous, especially because I knew it was Justin. “Dude, where the hell are you?” he asked, sounding a little confused. “We’ve been waiting for like an hour for you.” “I’m just riding my bike,” I answered forlornly. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was contemplating running away because then I’d have to tell him why, and I was desperate for him not to know what I did. “Mark’s going to have to go home in a little while,” he said. “Here, talk to him.” Before I could tell him no, my boyfriend was on the other end and I was at a loss for what to say. “Babe is everything okay?” he asked in the same confused tone as Justin, but there was a hint of concern in his tone as well. “Yeah I just needed to get out of my house for while,” I said, knowing that I had most likely complicated things. “I think me and my dad are going to be fighting tonight.” “Well why didn’t you come over here, babe?” he asked, and I winced. There was no way I could face Mark at that moment and I knew it. “I didn’t want him to know where I was,” I said, not lying but not being totally truthful either. “Kevin what’s going on?” he demanded. “Are you in some kind of trouble?” “I’ll be okay,” was all I said, then with a small sob, I added, “I love you, Mark.” “I love you too, babe,” he said, sounding troubled. “I’ll call you when I can,” I said and hung up before he could get another word in. I turned my phone off and looked forward, determined to burn up enough of my evening as I could on my route. As I got closer to Somerset Rd in Antioch, I turned around and headed back toward home. I made a quick right on a street that would take me through an entire neighborhood of houses called Ventura Drive, and as I made my way down the road, I looked around and wondered to myself if anyone else felt the way I did. I had a longing in my heart to be one of the kids I saw playing in their yards. They were shooting hoops with their brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. They were happy and confident in their lives, seemingly not a care in the world. Their mom’s weren’t in love with convicts or child molesters. Their dads stayed with their moms and made their family whole. They didn’t have secrets they were hiding from their loved ones that would tear everyone apart. I could smell spaghetti sauce cooking in someone’s kitchen, and I wondered who it was. I imagined to myself that it was probably in a home with a lot of love and a lot of security. They didn’t have any doubts about what was next in their lives because they were a strong, loving family that didn’t have terrible secrets. As I rode through the line of houses with well-manicured yards and happy families, I saw one house that was dark. A boy was walking up to it and he didn’t look excited about being there. In fact he looked nervous, and I wondered what was waiting on the other side of the door for him. I hoped it was nothing terrible, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was. I knew that nervousness well. It’s something that you can will yourself to forget about at some point during your day, but eventually, you have to face it because it revisits you every time you put your key in the hole and turn it. The only certainty about what’s waiting on the other side is uncertainty, and more often that not, when the unknown becomes the known, it’s too terrifying to face. Still, you make the best of it because it’s all you have. The option to leave, to face the unknown, seems even more terrifying than the uncertainty you face at home. Because at least you have a place to call home. Someone to call mom. Someone to love you, even if that love is tainted by a mental illness that prevents the one you love from loving you the right way. When Ventura finally ended, I was back on Harbor Street, looking at Buchanan Park and Hillview Junior High School. I swallowed and took a deep breath, then I stood up and pedaled the rest of the way home. I had something to do, and it wasn’t going to be easy. Still, it was the right thing for me to do, and I’d face the consequences of it with my chin out and my head up. It was all I could do. __________________________________________________________________________ When I got home my dad was sitting on the front porch with a sullen expression. When he spotted me he stood up but didn’t say a word. Instead, he silently followed me through the opened garage door and waited for me to get off of my bike. When I had my bike put away, he pressed the button on the wall and the garage door came down. I watched as the rubber seal at the bottom pushed out from the pressure of the huge door that rested on it, and I felt like I was watching my fate. Sealed. I took my backpack off and turned to face my dad, who was definitely aware of its contents. He motioned with his finger for me to hand it to him, then he cleared his throat as he set it on his work bench and unzipped it to confirm what we both knew. As a rolled up pair of socks tumbled out, he nodded slowly and picked it up, stuffing it back in and zipping my bag back up. “Let’s go inside son,” he said sadly, turning and walking up the small set of steps that led us to the kitchen of our home. I followed him without a word and took note of the fact that he held the door open for me and waited for me to pass, then he closed it and locked it before he walked into the dining room, where a cold platter of fried chicken, mash potatoes, gravy and green beans sat untouched. He sat my backpack on a chair at the table, then he pulled my regular chair out for me. I took a seat and watched as he took a seat in his regular spot. When he was seated, he looked across the table at me, narrowing his eyes on mine and locking me in a stare I couldn’t escape. “Why, Kevin?” was all he said, his voice cracking with emotion. I looked at him and shook my head silently as tears rolled down my cheeks, not sure what to say. I knew why, but I didn’t know how to say why. Finally I gulped and broke my silence. “It’s hard,” was all I could think to say. Was that it? Was that why I ran away? I didn’t have too long to ponder the thought because my dad was quick with a reply. “What’s hard, son?” he asked. “What have I done to make things so hard that you’d want to run away?” “You believed me,” I said, and that was it. At least I thought that was it, but my dad didn’t quite grasp what I was trying to say. “What do you mean, I believed you?” he demanded. “I mean, you finally believed me,” I said tearfully. “You know what I mean.” “I see,” he said as he sat back in his chair, his eyes moistening. “Is that all?” “I’m sorry dad,” I sobbed, knowing that this was the moment of truth. His reaction was all I cared about, and at that moment, as I looked into his eyes, which were misty and full of raw, gritty emotion, I thought back on everything my dad had walked away from for me. I’ll never know what my dad saw in my stepmom. In fact, I’ll never know what he saw in my own mother. I had a real distaste in my mouth every time I mentioned her name. Whenever my dad talked on the phone with her, I would shudder in disgust at the thought of the possibility that they could ever work things out. But I knew he loved her. He loved my little brother, too. The kid wasn’t even his own flesh and blood, but when he looked at pictures we had in our house of him, there was a look of deep love and loss that I couldn’t relate to, except for how I felt about my mom. But my dad walked away from the life he had built with them to stand by me. He had to hate me now. I just knew it. Even worse, their divorce was final. It had happened at some point when I wasn’t paying attention. He mentioned it in passing, but I shrugged it off and considered it a dead issue because I didn’t care. I was glad she was gone, and I was secretly hoping that soon, all of the pictures in our house of my little brother would come down too. It made things hard for my dad, and in a way, it made things awkward when Mark would come over and see them. “Kevin, tell me what happened,” he said in a surprisingly calm voice. I wiped my eyes and looked across the table at him, realizing that the emotion in his eyes looked even stronger than just a moment before. There was something different about it this time, though, and I knew what it was. It was powerful. The look of love he had in his eyes was like nothing I had ever experienced from him in my life. I thought that I’d seen its height when I came out to him, but that was nothing compared to what I was witnessing right then. It was as if I was able to draw the strength I needed to be brave and truthful with him about what happened. So I started from the beginning and told him everything. __________________________________________________________________________ Hurt. Betrayal. Time wasted. Those were the words that could accurately describe the vibes in the air as I sat side by side with my dad. He was in total shock, I know. I was too, though, and I was having a hard time verbalizing my feelings. I couldn’t believe things had gone the way they had. Then again, looking back, the writing had been on the wall for quite a while. Across the room, Mark, Justin and his brother were sitting motionless, in the same state of unspeakable horror my dad and I were in. It was unfathomable to us all that we would have been a witness to such a sad scenario, but there it was, right in front of our faces. Chavo Guerrero had just turned on Rey Meysterio in the middle of the ring, and we couldn’t believe our eyes. “Well shit,” my dad said. “I guess we should have seen it coming.” After that, the living room was a buzz with chatter about the matches we were watching. When the pay per view was over we helped my dad clean up and went over our plans for the following Saturday. “Dad are you sure it’s alright?” I asked one last time as we sat at the table. “Son, I already said yes,” he said with an irritated smile. “Go to the party and have a good time.” “I love Chuck E Cheese’s,” Justin said excitedly. “Thanks for letting him come, sir,” Mark said respectfully to my dad. “Mark, I may not get along with your dad,” he answered. “But you know I think you’re great. And what’s with this sir crap? You know my name.” Mark smiled warmly at my dad and nodded, he then grinned over at Justin’s brother, who was watching almost guardedly at the exchange I had with my dad. “Well, Steele’s birthday’s important,” I said. “I want to get him something he’ll really like.” “I’m going shopping for him this week,” Mark said, but it sounded more like an offer. “If you want you can tag along.” I looked up hopefully at my dad, who nodded his approval and picked up the last of the dip bowls and soda cans to take to the kitchen. The four of us followed him so we could help out but he shooed us away. “You guys go have fun,” he said. “I’ll get this mess.” That night, after Mark, Justin and his brother left, I changed out of my clothes and into a clean pair of undies and a nightshirt, then I joined my dad on the couch. “You all set buddy?” he asked, wrapping an arm around my shoulder. “Yeah,” I said, letting loose with a long yawn and snuggling up to him. “I love you dad.” “I love you too kiddo,” he replied, using the remote to flip through the channels. “Did you have a good time tonight?” I smiled and nodded quietly as I felt my dad’s fingers lightly stroke the top of my head. I let my mind drift off as the images on the television flashed in front of me, setting the stage for whatever dreams I would have that night. I probably wouldn’t remember them. It’s a funny thing about the truth. In the Bible it says The Truth Shall Set You Free. Well, whoever wrote that was a wise man, because I was free in so many ways. I was free to go to sleep and not be wracked with nightmares about my past. I was free to dream about my future. I was free to live in the present. Free to be who I was. Free to be happy. Free to be gay. Free to love. Free to be Kevin. For the first time in a long time, my dad was free too. He was dating again, and I wasn’t as jealous as I thought I would be. He was free from the ghosts of his past. A past that he was paying for in spades. Those shackles were gone, now. Shaken at the same time I managed to unchain myself from the shadows of my past. I’d like to be able to say that my mom was free too, and maybe she was. She was free to do what she wanted with her life because I wasn’t there to remind her of her mistakes. Maybe she’d always be with Billy. I wasn’t sure. It hurt sometimes to think about her wanting to go that route, but that was her choice. I didn’t have to facilitate that choice by giving her my silent stamp of approval though. That’s something Georgia taught me. Mark was free, too. Free to finally stand up to his dad and tell him how he felt. Free to make George face up to what he did. Free to say that he didn’t forgive his dad yet, and that he thought George owed him, his mother and his sister an apology.Mark was also free to be in love with a boyfriend that wasn’t cheating on him with anyone else. I made a solemn vow to him to be true to him, and I meant it in every way. When I reopened my eyes I was looking up at my dad from my bed as he pulled my covers up to my chest. I smiled at him and waited for him to lean down and kiss me good night. When he turned the lamp off next to my bed, I watched him get up and walk out, closing the door behind him as he did. I realized something that I should have known a month before as I was winding my way down Ventura Drive on my bike; I was one of those kids I was watching play carelessly with their families. I lived in a happy home with a lot of love and security, and I was happy and confident in my life. I had a loving family that I didn’t have to keep secrets from and the feeling of dread that I knew so well was a thing of the past. I smiled a little to myself as I pulled the warm covers up a little further and thought about my life, and in that instant, I realized that dreams really could come true. The End
  15. NickolasJames8

    Chapter 17

    As the clouds rolled through the gray sky with the swiftness of a fast running canal, bringing with them the chill of an October Monday morning, Mark’s thumb traced delicate circles over the back off my hand. I waited patiently for Justin to hit the joint and pass it my way while his brother worked on packing a bowl. It was excessive, to be sure, but we were on a mission to get blazed, and at eight in the morning on Columbus Day, we had nothing better to do. The three day weekend had been a whirlwind for me, starting with an argument I had with my dad about my allowance. We had actually started the discussion the night before, when I realized I was out of money. “Dad,” I whined, coming out of my room, where I had gone into my night stand to count my loot. “How come you never give me an allowance?” “An allowance?” he said with a sarcastic chuckle. “That’s something you have to earn, son.” “I do earn one,” I countered weakly, knowing that I was fibbing. “How’s that kiddo?” he asked, wrapping an arm around me as I sat down on the couch beside him. “Well, I do my homework,” I started. “And sometimes I help grandpa in the backyard.” “Hmm,” he started, and I knew where this was heading. “You do your homework and sometimes, you help in the back yard.” “I do,” I said, looking up at him and with my most convincing expression. “Ask grandpa, he’ll tell you.” “You know what I think, kiddo?” he started. “I think you need to get the rake out of the shed and start knocking on doors. It’s Fall, you know.” “But dad,” I whined. “No one else has to do that.” “Well, I had to do that when I was your age,” he said. “Do you think your grandma and grandpa were just handing out money?” “No sir,” I said quietly. “But I really want one.” “Well I’m sure you do, son,” he said. “I want to win the lottery. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.” “But..” I started, and he cut me off. “No buts about it kiddo,” he said. “There’s hundreds of houses in the neighborhood, and I think you can get out there and earn a little of your own money.” “This sucks,” I said dejectedly, pouting as I crossed my arms. “My mom and Billy gave me an allowance.” “I’m sure they did, son,” he said sadly, then he got up and walked to the kitchen. I knew I had upset him by bringing them up, and I felt a little bad about it, but not too bad. I knew my dad had the money to give me my own allowance, but he was being cheap, as far as I was concerned. That night at the dinner table, I refused to look at him or acknowledge a word he said. He hadn’t addressed me personally, but I was normally pretty talkative at the table. I loved telling my dad about my day at school and especially about gym class. I was one of the fastest runners in my period, and I could run the mile in under six minutes. When dinner was over I got up from the table un-excused and went straight to my room to brood a little longer. I sat down in the chair in the corner and hung my legs over the side, looking around my room. I noticed that I had none of the things in it that Justin and his brother had, and for the first time, I wondered why. Justin and his brother both had their own computers, a TV, a DVD player and stereos in their rooms. I had a bed, an old ragged chair, a dresser and a night stand with a lamp. When I thought back to my room at my mom’s house, I was in the same shape. We didn’t own a computer. We had a DVD player, but it was in the living room. I wondered to myself why my dad hadn’t taken the initiative to get me some of the things Justin had, and even though I wanted to ask, I didn’t feel like speaking to him. I fell asleep that night in the chair, and the next morning, I woke up in my own bed. I was wearing a night shirt and my undies, but nothing else. I figured my dad had come in at some point and found me, so he put me to bed. I sat up and stretched out for a moment, scratching my head and yawning loudly before I got up to go to the bathroom. As I staggered down the hallway, I heard the unmistakable sound of my dad’s cell phone. He was up already, talking to a client and sipping his coffee. I bypassed the bathroom and peaked around the corner, watching him at the table. He was in his coat and tie already, and his cologne was as fragrant as ever. I rubbed my eyes and turned to walk back down the hallway to the bathroom so I could drain my full bladder. My first trip to the bathroom in the morning was always my hardest one. I was usually half asleep, and more often than not, I peed on the seat. I was normally too tired to think about my aim, or even about closing the bathroom door while I went or flushing the toilet when I was done. It was a miracle if I even remembered to wash my hands that early in the morning. When I was through, I staggered back down the hallway to my room, where I took refuge under my covers. It was a chilly morning, and for some reason, my dad and grandparents had the front door open, letting the cool air come through the screen door. I knew I had to start getting ready for school, but I was honestly too cold and too tired. I buried my face in my pillow and my feet under my blankets and shut my eyes, hoping to get another twenty minutes of sleep. “Come on, buddy,” I heard my dad’s voice say as my bed dipped down. “Don’t go back to sleep, son. It’s time to get up.” “I’m cold,” I grumped, trying to hold on to my pillow as I felt him starting to pull it out from under me. “Well get up and get dressed and you won’t be,” he replied as he successfully wrestled the pillow away from my grip. I felt a blast of cold air hit my feet when he pulled my blankets away, and I knew I had lost. “I don’t feel good,” I lied, trying to win my blankets back from him. “You don’t?” he asked in a tone that said he didn’t believe me. “Well maybe I need to give you some cough medicine before you go to school today.” “Gosh!” I said irritably as I got up. “Why do I have to get up right now?” “Because it’s time for school,” he said impatiently. “And because I said so.” Without another word I started to get dressed while he waited to make sure I didn’t go back to bed. I slipped my nightshirt off threw it angrily into the laundry basket by my closet, then I moved to my dresser, where I harshly pulled the drawers out, looking for something to wear. “You can drop the attitude right now mister,” my dad warned me. “You might be tired and cranky, but I’ve had it with your attitude already.” “What attitude?” I snapped, looking sharply at him, and before I knew what was happening, he had grabbed me by the arm and was leading me roughly to my bed. “That attitude,” he said angrily. “You’ll knock it off now, Kevin. I’m not putting up with that crap this morning. What the hell’s your problem?” “You’re my problem!” I shouted, feeling a burst of anger run through me, and in reply, he grabbed me under my chin and cut his eyes at me. “Now you listen here, bud,” he said in a low voice that said he meant business. “When you talk to me, you’ll talk with respect. If you don’t, I’ll blister your ass. Do you understand me?” I didn’t answer him. Instead, I willed myself not to talk to him by sealing my lips closed. He held my chin in place long enough to make me start crying, but not long enough to make me speak. He let go with a loud sigh, then he went to my dresser and got some clothes out for me, laying them on my chair. “Just get dressed, son,” he said. “Your breakfast is almost ready.” When I got home from school that day I was surprised to see his truck in the driveway. Usually on a Friday he was still working when I came home from school. I walked through the door and without a word, I spread my homework out on the table and got to work. While I was working, my grandma brought me a snack and sat down next to me, wrapping her arm around me and speaking to me in a soothing voice. “Honey, I know you’re mad at your father,” she said. “Personally I think he was a little too rough with you this morning. But I want you to go in there and talk to him. He feels really bad.” “But why does he always have to be so strict, grandma?” I asked, feeling frustrated with him. “He acts like I don’t need things.” “Well honey, what kind of things do you need?” she asked softly. “A computer and a cell phone, like all my friends have,” I started. “Or even a TV in my room and DVD player. Everyone else has that, but I don’t. It’s not fair. He won’t even give me an allowance.” “Then you need to explain to him that you need those things,” she said. “But throwing a fit and not speaking to him doesn’t help you at all. I can guarantee it.” “Okay, grandma,” I said with a small sigh. I knew she was right, but I didn’t think talking to him about it was going to help. I had tried the night before and it got me nowhere. I finished my homework and my snack, then I got up and walked into the living room, where my dad was sitting on the couch watching TV. “Hey buddy,” he said gently when he spotted me. “Hi dad,” I answered as I took a spot next to him. “Dad?” “Yeah bud,” he said. “I’m sorry I was being such a brat this morning,” I said, not really sure if I was being totally honest. “You know something, buddy,” he started. “If there’s something wrong, you need to tell me. Lately you’ve had the shittiest attitude, and I don’t know where it’s coming from.” “I don’t mean to dad,” I said quietly. “I just feel really bad about stuff and you won’t listen to me.” “What kind of stuff, son,” he countered. “Like my allowance,” I said. “There’s other stuff too.” “Like what?” he asked. “Like how all of my friends have cell phones and computers and TV’s in their rooms,” I answered, and he cut his eyes at me. “What does an eleven year old little boy need a cell phone for?” he asked mockingly. “So I can call home,” I said. “And talk to my friends. Justin has one. He has a computer in his room and a TV and DVD player too.” “Well good for Justin,” my dad said sarcastically, but my grandma, who had been standing in the entrance way the whole time unbeknownst to me, cleared her throat and gave my dad a sharp look, causing him to sigh. “Listen, Kevin,” he said. “To me, those are things you earn. Maybe your friends have them, and that’s great, but I want you to earn those things, son. You have to show me that you deserve them.” “How?” I whined, feeling defeated. “Well for starters,” he said. “You can stop it with the attitude. We’ll work out the rest when I’ve had a chance to think about it more, okay?” “Yes sir,” I said quietly, sitting back on the couch and wondering what he was going to come up with. Out of the corner of my eye, though, I was shocked to see him pulling his wallet out of his back pocket and open it. He started to pull out a five dollar bill, but my grandma knowingly cleared her throat again, so he tucked it back in and pulled out a twenty and handed it to me. “I mean it Kevin,” he said as he out the money in my hand. “I don’t want anymore of your attitude. Do you understand?” “Yes sir,” I said with a smile as I accepted the money and shoved it into my front pocket. I reached out and gave him a long hug, then I got permission to ride my bike to Justin’s. Mark’s car was in the driveway when I rode up, and as soon as I was in their yard, the garage door opened and on the other side stood Mark, Justin and his brother. After Justin and his brother greeted me, they went inside, leaving Mark and I in the garage by ourselves. I was a little anxious to get inside, but curiously, Mark took a seat on a folding chair and patted his lap. I smiled shyly and sat down on his legs as he wrapped his arm around me and held me close. “I missed you,” he almost whispered in my ear as his tongue flicked at its entrance, tickling it and heightening the arousal I was already feeling. “I missed you too,” I said, turning my head to face him and pressing my lips to his. I moved my tongue to meet his, and for a solid five minutes, we kissed passionately. When we broke the kiss, I was ready to go inside, but Mark had other plans. I took him by the hand and stood up, but he resisted with a grin. “What’s wrong?” he asked teasingly, staying in his chair and not moving to stand with me. “Aren’t you ready?” I asked, feeling more than a little anxious to get it on with him. “Tell me what you want,” he said in a negotiating tone, still smiling knowingly. I leaned in and pressed my nose to his, then I puckered my lips and kissed him. I pulled my lips off of his but held my nose in place and said seductively, “Fuck me.” With that, I felt him slide his hand down the back of my pants and grab a handful of my butt cheek. He kneaded it forcefully for a few moments, then he slipped a finger into my crack and found my moist entrance, which he invaded much to my delight. I laid my head on his shoulder and let him finger me for a few moments, then I felt his finger come out and I knew for sure it was time to go inside. I purred lustily as I sucked on the finger that had just been up my butt, rubbing my prostate and getting me ready for the sex I needed so badly. I turned to walk to the door, but Mark didn’t follow me. I was getting a little flustered at his non compliance. My need was becoming more urgent, and I didn’t know how much longer I was going to be able to last. “Let’s go to my place tonight,” he said with a grin. “Your house?” I asked, suddenly intrigued by his suggestion. “Won’t we get caught?” “Did you say you were spending the night?” he asked, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t. “What about your mom and dad?” I asked, not sure how we would be able to pull something like that off, and feeling a little uncomfortable about sneaking off somewhere that remote. At least my dad knew where I was when I spent the night at Justin’s. There was no way I could tell him I was going to Pleasant Hill for the evening. If I asked, he’d most likely laugh in my face. Still, there was a side of me that wanted to do whatever Mark wanted, so his next statement eased my worries a little. “That’s no problem,” Mark said confidently. “My mom’s spending the night with her boyfriend in Dublin, and my dad doesn’t live with us.” “Oh,” I said, a little startled to hear about Mark’s parents being spit up. “Well, how are we going to do it?” “They’re coming too,” he said, motioning with his head toward the door leading into the house. By ‘they,’ I knew he meant Justin and his brother. My guess was that they had gotten permission already from their folks, and the only thing stopping me was the formality of getting permission from my dad. “Let me call my dad and ask him,” I said with a sigh, dreading the task I knew lay ahead of me. The smile that had spread across my boyfriend’s lips made it worth it for me to try though, so I took him by the hand and led him inside. Much to my surprise, my dad said it would be fine as long as he talked to Justin’s parent’ first. I was so shocked I had to get him to say it again, still not sure I heard him right. I promised him I would behave and that I’d be home for a change of clothes as soon as Justin’s mom got home from work. The ride to Justin’s old neighborhood was suspenseful, exciting, nerve-racking and fun. We got on the freeway and Mark held my hand the whole way. I was wondering if we’d ever get there, though, because traffic was horrible. I wondered to myself what kind of house Justin used to live in, and what Mark’s house was like. I had heard about Pleasant Hill, a city right outside of Concord. My dad and grandparents had talked about it before, mainly talking about the high cost of living there. I had to wonder whether there were any bad neighborhoods there, because I knew there were some really horrible ones in Pittsburg. Not that we lived in one at all. If anything, my grandparents had brought my dad and all of my aunts up in a really nice area, and Justin’s house was just as nice. As we took the Willow Pass Way exit, we drove past a huge mall, then we made a right hand turn on Contra Costa Boulevard. That’s where I lost track of where we were. After a confusing series of rights, lefts and curves, we were in a ridiculously nice neighborhood with over sized homes. As nice as the neighborhood was that we lived in, I had to silently ask myself what could have possessed Justin’s folks to move from the one we were driving through. Mark pulled into the driveway of a huge two story house, the garage door almost all the way up as we pulled into the driveway. “That’s our old house,” Justin said excitedly as he pointed to the house to the right. It was a palatial two story house with a 3 car garage and it was bricked in. “My mom and dad still own it. We’re just renting it out.” “How come you guys moved to Pittsburg?” I asked, hoping my question wasn’t out of line. “My dad moved his company headquarters to Pittsburg,” Justin said sadly. “Maybe someday we can move back.” With that, Justin’s brother wrapped an arm over his shoulder and gave him a gentle squeeze, then the three of us walked up the driveway, through the garage and into the house. I felt out of place as I looked around the massive family room. I knew for sure I had never been in such a huge house. It had a brand new smell to it that made me feel a little self conscious about having my shoes on as we walked across the carpet. I felt like I had to be careful not to touch the walls because they were so pristine and white. Considering that Justin told me that Mark had lived next door his whole life, I had to wonder what Mark’s mom did to keep the house so new looking and un-lived in. As I was looking around the house, mesmerized by a lifestyle I had never seen before, I felt Marks hand in mine. I looked at him and smiled shyly, a little nervous in his element. “Come on, babe,” he said, leading me through the house and up the stairs. Once we were at the top of the stairs, we walked down a long hallway and once again, I was careful not to touch anything. There were vases on brass stands lining the hallway, and the walls were covered with pictures of Mark and his mom. Some of them were the most baby adorable pictures I could have ever imagined seeing. There was one of his holding a ball and laughing, and I knew he couldn’t have been any older than one year old in it. His room the complete opposite of the rest of the house. It was the definition of chaos and destruction, to put it mildly. There were clothes strewn everywhere, CD’s and DVD’s layering his desk and dresser and empty bags from Jack In The Box everywhere. He had a really nice PC and a plasma TV hanging from the wall, but his room smelled like stale feet. He pulled open the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a giant sized bag of weed that contained several smaller bags. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have guessed that he was selling weed. Knowing Mark like I did, though, I thought nothing of it. He took a seat at his desk and dumped the contents of his bag out on the smooth finish of his desk top. With a small pair of scissors, he proceeded to chop it all up, then he rolled four fat joints with an orange pack of Zig Zags. While he sat there and worked, I studied his serious demeanor carefully. He seemed to be all business at his desk, not smiling or looking up from his project. His fingers looked so skillful as they rolled the joints, which had come out perfectly with no lumps or tears. As he finished each one, he held it up and inspected it carefully before setting it on his mouse pad to dry and moving on to the next one. When he was finished, I slowly approached him and leaned into him as he planted a kiss on my cheek. “I love you,” he said out of the blue, making my knees go weak momentarily as I turned to meet his gaze, which was serious. “I love you too,” I replied right before I pressed my lips to his and let my tongue enter his mouth. I felt his fingertips pressing against mine as he used his left arm to pull me into his lap, intensifying our kiss and sending chills through my body. “Do you mean it?” he asked as we broke our kiss, and I cut my eyes at him sarcastically, causing him to break out in laughter. He wrapped both of his arms around me and hugged me tightly for a moment before he reached for the joints, which had dried and were ready to be smoked. I was shocked when we didn’t go outside to get high. Instead, we sat in the family room and smoked as it didn’t matter. Mark took out an ashtray and set it on the coffee table for us to use if we needed to knock the ashes off, but that was the only precaution he took. When we were done with the first joint, we got up and raided the kitchen, which was fully stocked. “My mom knew you guys were coming,” Mark said, smiling at Justin and his brother. “So she went to Safeway and got a whole shit load of food for us.” I looked around the house for a picture of Mark’s dad, but there wasn’t a single one. Justin and his brother told an old story about Mark’s mom. She had busted them all hitch hiking on her way home from work one day as she drove by them. Mark cracked up as the details poured out, and I could tell he was having a good time. Out of the blue, Justin’s brother got a call on his cell phone. “Oh, hey Kate,” he said sweetly as Justin made faces and mock gagged himself. “Sure, I’m at Mark’s for the night.” With that, he got up and walked away for privacy. I giggled as Justin continued to make faces behind his brother’s back while Mark stuffed the roach in a porcelain pipe and hit it. “I bet he’s going to fuck her tonight,” Justin said with a silly smile. “He hasn’t gotten any in a while.” Kate wasn’t what I thought she was going to be. I had imagined that someone as sexy as Justin’s brother would have been with a super model, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. If there was one word I would have used to describe her, it would have been thick. I guess she wasn’t obese, but she wasn’t exactly trim, either. She seemed more husky than anything. Her face left a lot to be desired, too, but she had a nice hair do. I guess that counted for something. She knew Justin, though. In fact, she knew him too good. I really didn’t like the way they interacted, to be honest. He was rude to her, and she treated him the same. At one point, he called her a fat ass, and she responded by almost knocking his block off. Of course, this incited his fury, which I had never seen before. His eyes were blazing with tears as he screamed, “Bitch!” in her face. With that, he got up and stormed out the back door while I sat there stunned. Mark got up to follow him, so I did the same thing. “Hey dude, are you okay?” he asked as we stepped out onto the patio, finding Justin with his face against the fence, looking into his old backyard through the planks. Mark walked straight to him and placed a hand on his shoulder, talking softly to him as I stared in awe at the rest of the backyard. There was a spectacular in-ground pool, as well as a built in hot tub. An amazing looking gas grill seemed to be built onto the back of the house, and there were small statues all around the yard. I turned my attention back to Mark and Justin, who were now looking through the fence together. Mark was kneading Justin’s shoulder and talking, and every once in a while, Justin would nod. I watched from afar, not daring to interrupt the moment they were sharing. It was obvious that Justin was dealing with more than his obvious dislike of Kate. Our visit had caused him to become homesick for the place he had grown up, the house he lived in his whole life. As the sun was starting to set, the back door opened and Justin’s brother came out with Kate on his arm. They looked like such a mismatch, though, and it was hard for me to picture the two of them in bed. The two of them walked over to the fence and Mark pulled his face away from it to give them both room to talk to Justin. While they talked, Mark and I went back inside. My yearning for sex had yet to be sated, so I vocalized my need once more when we were alone. When I opened my eyes, it was after midnight. Mark had given me multiple orgasms, and I had come to the conclusion that I was his hopeless bottom. Before his hard on invaded my love tunnel, he shocked me by asking me to get on my hands and knees, then burying his face in my butt and introducing me to a new pleasure. He called it a rim job, and it was the most wondrous feeling I had ever experienced next to having Mark inside of me. I was a little nervous at first because I was scared I wasn’t clean enough back there for him. While I was certainly more conscious of my hygiene since I had started having sex with Mark, I wasn’t expecting him to do that. In my mind, all I could think of was how I had sat on the toilet and went number two after school. My worst fear was that he was going to get a mouthful of something I might have missed, but luckily, he didn’t say a word. I found myself intrigued by this new activity as well. I wondered what it would be like to bury my face in his butt and lick at his hole. Would it stink? What would it taste like? Would I like it? I had no way of knowing unless I tried, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for that yet. I didn’t have too long to think about it, though, because the spasm’s his tongue was giving me caused a rush of cum to shoot out of the end of my hard on with a force I didn’t think was possible. From there, he rolled me over on my back and slid his hardness into my spasming hole and brought me off several more times before he filled me up with his own tremendous load. I extracted myself from his embrace and got up, finding myself in need of a bathroom to relieve my aching bladder. As I made my way down the hall, I heard the sounds of crying coming from the stairs, so I quickly did my business, then I investigated. Justin was sitting alone at the bottom of the stair case, and he looked incredibly lonely. I moved slowly down the stairs and took the spot next to him, wrapping my arm around him and pulling him into me. “What’s wrong?” I asked softly. “Nothing,” he said sadly, and I sighed. “Tell me what it is,” I said in a gentle voice. “It’s okay to need someone to talk to sometimes.” “I wish I hadn’t come,” he said bitterly. “Let’s go sit on the couch,” I said, getting up and reaching down for his hand, which he extended to me with a small smile. When we got to the couch, I sat at the far end by the arm and curled my legs up underneath me so Justin could get comfortable too. As soon as he got comfortable, I wrapped my arms around him and held him closely. The smell of his hair was sweet, and the curly locks were soft to the touch. I un-twirled one of his curls and put the end of it in my mouth, covering my teeth with my lips and biting down gently. It was something I had never done before, but it was almost instinctive at the same time. “What’s it like?” Justin asked, and I knew what he meant. I let my hand travel down to his chest, where I drew an imaginary line around each one of his nipples and his belly button, making him giggle a little before I answered. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” I said, bringing my finger back up to the top of his warm chest. “Will I ever find someone?” he asked, and I knew the answer already. “Of course you will, Justin,” I said knowingly. “You’re the sweetest, cutest and most fun person I know.” “Really?” he asked, turning his head just enough to see my face, and I smiled and nodded. “I’ve never even had a kiss before,” he said pitifully. “I don’t think I’ll ever be someone’s boyfriend. No one likes me that way.” “Are you kidding?” I asked, feeling a little flushed. “I promise you that a lot of people feel that way about you.” “Like who?” he challenged me. “Name even one person.” I looked deep into his eyes, feeling like I had access to his very soul, and as my face lingered dangerously close to his, I knew there was no turning back. ******************************************************* “Puff puff pass, bitch,” Justin said as Mark hit the joint a second time and prepared to share the hit with me. I watched him pass the joint to Justin, then he pressed his lips to mine and exhaled, filling my lungs with the smoke that he had drawn in. I coughed the hit harshly out of my lungs and laughed at myself, then I reached over and playfully punched Mark in the shoulder. “I’m sorry, babe,” he said gingerly. “Here, let me make it up to you.” With that, he pressed his lips to mine again and instead of a torrent of smoke, he gave me his tongue. When our kiss was over, I took the joint from Justin’s brother and hit it before passing it to my best friend, who smiled knowingly at me as he took it from me. The feel of his skin against mine felt electric, and his face looked angelic to me. As I brought Mark’s hand up to my lips and kissed it, I couldn’t help but think back to what happened. I felt a little guilty, and yet, at the same time, I felt like I was doing the right thing. Mark’s arm came down over my shoulders and he pulled me into him, and as I rested my head on his shoulders, I wondered how long I was going to have to lie to my boyfriend.
  • Create New...

Important Information

Our Privacy Policy can be found here. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue..