Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Jim stared at his dad for a minute, but at last asked, "You and coach ... spent the night together?"

"Yeah," Andy said. "I mean, not like that makes it sound, Jim. We slept together, in the same bed I mean. We didn't do anything ... serious," he added, blushing.

Jim looked at Andy like he'd never met him and asked, "Nothing serious?"

"We kissed, and we slept, Jim. Honestly," Andy said, getting up to sit down by Jim.

"It's so ... weird," Jim said.

"Are you going to be okay with this?" Andy asked.

"WITH WHAT?" Jim asked.

"Well, it wasn't ... a drunken fluke. I mean, it was drunken, but we had feelings for each other, Jim. Always did, I guess," Andy tried to explain.

"So ... you're going to date Sean?" Jim asked.

"Yeah," Andy said. "Seriously, Jim, with the exception of doing things with you – and those are the greatest things in my life – just spending the day with Sean made me as happy as I've ever been!" Seeing a look on Jim's face, he added, "Not since your mom left, Jim. I guess since college, when I had friends! Maybe even since Dent's accident."

Jim hugged his dad and said, "I can't say no to that...." Then he started laughing hysterically.

"What?" Andy asked, a little concerned.

"I'm a gay football player who's dating the school's only out gay kid; meanwhile my dad's dating my football coach," Jim said. "It sounds like a comedy show from Bravo's discard pile!"

Andy smiled and said, "It's tricky with Sean at work, and I'm not busting out either. I don't care what people think, but as far as everyone else is concerned, we're just friends, okay?"

Jim nodded and got up to go to his room, and his dad asked, "You okay, Jim?"

"What a day," Jim said. "I'm great, and your thing throws me for a loop, but I'm happy you're happy."

"I felt the same way when you started hanging out with Paul," Andy winked, and Jim went to his room.

***

After a mind-numbing morning of tests, Jim made his way to the cafeteria. He grabbed a tray of food and looked around and found Paul and Christina sitting in their normal place. Paul was beaming at him, trying his best not to stand and wave with both arms, while Christina eyed him suspiciously. Jim plopped down beside Paul and smiled shyly. "How were your exams?" Jim asked nonchalantly.

"Good," Paul said, smiling at him.

"Dude, that's a little creepy," Christina said, popping a french fry into her mouth. "What's the deal with you two?"

Paul smiled at Jim expectantly, as if to say, 'Can I, can I, can I?' Jim nodded and Paul leaned over the table. "Christina, I need you to control yourself a little, okay?"

"Sure," she said with a shrug. "Whatever!"

"Last night, Jim came over to my house and ... we're kind of dating," Paul said, whispering and smiling like mad.

Christina's eyes got real big as she looked at both of them, and Paul put a finger in her face and said, "CONTROL YOURSELF!"

"Oh my God!" she whispered excitedly as she leaned in and also began smiling like a crazy person. She grabbed Paul's hands and repeated, "OH MY GOD!" while looking at Jim. "This is so exciting! You two are perfect for each other!"

Jim blushed, smiled, and nodded. "Listen, Christina, I don't care who knows, I really don't. But I woudn't mind it coming out in its own time, either," he said. Smiling at Paul, he said, "You know I'm not ashamed, but ... it’s so much all at once."

"Your secret's safe with me," she said, but the way she was beaming at them, Jim wondered. They were already getting looks. He gave it until mid-January, but mostly because school was out in a day. "Of course, I'll tell Danny," she said, "unless you'd rather."

"Can I?" Jim asked. He didn't really want to reveal to either of them that he and Danny had actually talked a lot about Jim's feelings for Paul.

"Yeah, she said, "but hurry. I won't be able to help myself with him for long!"

"Isn't that the God's honest truth," Paul said, teasing. "She can't help herself with him for more than about five minutes before she goes nuts!" Then he winked at Jim and added, "Or goes for the nuts anyway!"

"Alright donut-punchers," she said with a cheeky grin. They had a bit more normal lunch after that, but Paul's and Christina's grins were a bit ... unnerving.

Danny was in Jim's class for the last exam of the day, and Jim finished first, so he hung around in the hall and waited until his friend came out. "How was it?" Paul asked.

"Eh," said the man of many words. But then Danny surprised him and asked, "Finally popped the question, huh?"

"What, did she send you a text? She promised she wouldn't tell," Jim complained.

"She didn't," Danny laughed. "I saw the way Paul was looking at you this morning across the hall...." Seeing Jim's face, he laughed and said, "Don't worry, everyone will just assume he's got a thing for you until you're ready to come out!"

"I don't want to leave him hanging. People will think he's making a fool of himself, fawning over me like that!" Jim said.

"Then carry your flag tomorrow. I don't care," Danny shrugged. "Whatever you want to do, I'll get your back and kick ass when necessary!"

"Violence isn't always the answer," Jim teased.

"But it’s a language that's easy for some people to understand," Danny smiled. Jim nodded and patted him on the back. "Jim?" he asked before they got to the main exit. "Can I ask you for a favor?"

"Sure," Jim laughed. "Your last favor landed me the cutest boy in school!"

Danny rolled his eyes and said, "Can you come on Friday?" Jim remembered then. There was a memorial at the city hall and a little get-together to follow. "A bunch of my dad's friends will be there, and it would be nice to have some friends there," the stoic boy said, averting his eyes. "Bring Paul too."

Jim put his arm across Danny's shoulder and squeezed. "I'll be there, probably both of us," he promised. Occasionally you got that feeling from Danny: he was a deep well for sure, his silence burying something difficult to fathom. Sometimes, like in the parking lot on the preceding Thursday, you got the feeling that at the bottom of that well was something scary. But times like this, when Danny let Jim hug him, you felt like there was a lonely little boy down there.

***

Christina drove Paul home that afternoon and followed him inside. "Christina, there's nothing to tell. We didn't get 'jiggy'! He just told me how he feels!"

"Tell me everything," she demanded, shaking his shoulders dramatically.

He rolled his eyes and began at the moment when Jim called, and didn't even leave out his spastic moment, instead describing Jim's awkwardness and his own misunderstanding accurately.

"And he grabbed you and just kissed you?" she asked, breathless. He nodded. "How was it?"

"It was just a little peck on the lips but ... I'd never felt anything like it," he said.

"Did he ever give you a proper kiss?" she asked.

Paul blushed and said, "Can I tell you something? You can't tell anyone, not even Danny?" She nodded and Paul said, "It was his first kiss."

"NO WAY!" she said. "But he's SO HOT!" Paul told her what Jim had said, and about the gifts and she just shook her head. "And a freaking romantic too? I can't believe he remembered what kind of ice cream you liked. And he stopped to get you a flower.... Oh my God!" she said, feigning swooning.

"He is so sweet," Paul nodded.

"Plus he's a stud and can kick ass," she added. "What? Don't let that sweet exterior fool you. Remember what goes on in that game! I've seen Jim flip a 200-pound linebacker over his head. And I'm betting he can bench his own body weight and then some!" Paul nodded and let his mind go there, smiling a little. "Got you thinking, huh?" she asked, teasing.

They were still laughing and talking when Jim called to say goodnight and apologize for not being available. "I understand," Paul smiled sweetly. "Study hard!"

"Yeah, study hard, studly," Christina said, making Jim laugh into the phone.

While Christina, who wouldn't study anyway, and Paul, who didn't need any more studying, sat chatting, Jim finished his last cram session and went to bed.

***

Jim was sitting on the hood of his car when Christina and Paul walked out of school the next afternoon. Jim smiled as the boy waved at his friend and exercised all his self control at not running over to throw his arms around Jim.

The boy smiled and said, "Let's get out of here!"

"Having a hard time controlling yourself, Paulie?" Jim teased.

"Do you own a mirror?" the boy retorted, giving Jim a telling looking over and making the big boy blush.

"IN the car," Jim laughed.

"Your place or mine?" Paul asked innocently.

Jim rolled his eyes and laughed. "How about we head down to the mall and walk around for a while. I don't feel like being cooped up!"

"Okay," Paul said. "Let's stop at my place so I can change and leave my mom a note!" Jim nodded and drove them to Paul's house. "Come in while I change," Paul said.

When the door closed behind them, Paul wrapped his arms around Jim's waist and put his cheek against the boy's chest, hugging him close. "You didn't need to change, did you?" Jim laughed.

"No, but since we're here, I'm going to," Paul laughed. "It just takes all I've got not to hug you, or grab your hand, or kiss you! We haven't had any time since Sunday night, and I needed a fix!"

Jim laughed and said, "How about, after the mall, we head back to my place with a pizza and chill out in my room?"

"Really?" Paul said, squeezing tight.

"Absolutely," Jim said. "Believe me, over this break, you'll get your fill of me!" When Paul wagged his eyebrows suggestively, Jim blushed. "Well, maybe not, but you'll be tired of me!"

"THAT is not going to happen," Paul said, inhaling deeply Jim's personal scent of boyish sweat and Dove soap.

***

Sean was sitting in his office ordering new equipment for the baseball staff when one of the boys who had been suspended, Gregg Williams, showed up with his parents. Sean looked up at them over the rims of his reading glasses without saying a word.

"Coach," Mr. Williams said. "May we have a word with you?" Sean nodded but still didn't speak. "We'd like you to reconsider Gregg's suspension from the team."

"Why is that?" Sean asked, a deadpan look on his face.

"Please," Mrs. Williams said, "Gregg is a good boy! We don't know how he got mixed up in all this," she began, but seeing he was unmoved trailed off.

"Ma'am, good boys don't harass boys half their size for having the audacity to exist," Sean said, motioning for them to take seats.

"They said you're a fair man," the boy's father said, and Gregg just looked at the floor between his feet.

"Tell me, Mr. Williams, what if your neighbor knew that a couple of guys were planning on mugging your wife and raping her tonight, so he just went to the mall so he could pretend there's nothing he could do. Would you call him a good man?" Sean asked. The man stared at him without blinking but did not answer. "Now what if that neighbor decided to join those folks and have a swing at Mrs. Williams here, since everyone else was doing it? You realize that your SON and his friends were going to rape that boy?"

The parents blanched – apparently they thought their red-blooded American boy was just going to an old fashioned fag bashing – and looked at their son in surprise. "I'm not gay," the boy mumbled.

"No, I don't suspect you are," Sean said. "I just don't need any more sadistic sociopaths in my world!" The parents had given up their cause, but Sean was shocked that the boy was crying. Looking at the parents and speaking with the same tone he might on the field, he said, "Give us a minute? And CLOSE THE DOOR ON YOUR WAY OUT!"

When they were gone, he said, "Gregg? Look at me!" The boy looked up, tears streaming down his face. "Would you have done it if the guys hadn't protected him?"

The boy looked absolutely forlorn. "I just wanted to play football and go to a good school so I could go to a good college," the boy whimpered. "I just, I can't do it anymore...."

"Would you have done it?" Sean repeated.

"YES!" the boy yelled. "YES I WOULD HAVE DONE IT!"

"WHY?" Sean asked, his face twisting in disgust.

The boy broke down in sobs before launching himself from his seat and pounding his big fists into the side of a big filing cabinet over and over until his knuckles bled.

"GREGG!" Sean yelled, rushing up behind him and locking his arms behind the boy's elbows to stop him.

"I wish I was dead," the boy whispered as he descended into tears again. Sean sank with him to the ground.

"Gregg, you need help, and I'm going to get it for you, but you have to tell me what's going on here!" Sean said.

"I'm not gay," the boy cried as his coach restrained him. "I'M NOT!"

"Then why did you go along with Robert's plan?" Sean asked.

"Go along with it? He MAKES us do things! Some of us anyway; some of them are like him, they just like to hurt people. He'd never done anything like this before, though," the boy spilled.

"Makes you how?" Sean asked.

"Last year, he had a party at his house, and some of us freshmen got a little drunk, so we stayed the night. When I woke up in the morning, I was naked," Gregg said. "My ... I was sore."

"Sore?" Sean asked, his stomach sinking.

"My asshole," the boy said, looking like he was going to puke. "I put on my underwear and realized I was actually bleeding."

"Oh God, Gregg," Sean whispered.

"He had pictures of him fucking us," the boy said, collapsing emotionally. "He makes us do whatever he wants, or he'll show people the pictures of 'some guy riding our asses while we're loving it' and we'll be ruined. But now ... what else is there. When people realize what we were going to do to Paul.... It's over," he said.

Sean couldn't help himself. He cradled the big boy as he cried incoherently and called for the parents as loudly as he could. The uncomfortable looking couple seemed to have no idea what to do, so Sean ordered them, "Call 911 for an ambulance! And the police!"

"What? Why?" the woman asked while her husband dashed for the phone.

"Your son's been hurt badly, and he wants to hurt himself," Sean said, holding the boy tightly and rocking him, while his parents stood by.

The ambulance and the police arrived at about the same time. Once the boy was on the gurney, Sean recounted his conversation with the boy to the cops, as well as Gregg's statement that he wanted to die. The cops made copious notes and Sean asked, "What can you do about Robert?"

"We need a victim's complaint before we can get a warrant," the cop said. "What about the gay kid? That Robert ever physically harm him?"

"I don't know," Sean said. "I heard him threaten the boy on school property. Is that enough?" The cops shrugged. They'd have to run it up the line. Sean snapped his fingers and said, "The pictures...."

"We need a complaining witness for the sex charges," the cop reiterated.

"What about the child pornography? Don't you have enough to go into his house and look for the pictures? Those boys were 14, 15 maybe, when he drugged and molested them, and made pictures to blackmail them! I've done my duty, reporting child abuse. Surely you can follow up on THAT?" The men nodded and reached for their radios.

"Where are you going?" they asked Sean, who grabbed his keys and coat.

He looked at them like they were crazy and said, "One of MY boys is in the hospital!"

On his way out to the car, Sean pulled out his phone and dialed up Andy's number. "ANDY?"

"Yeah, buddy?" the man asked with a audible smile.

"Andy, are you at home?" Sean asked.

"No, on my way," Andy said, worried. "Why?"

"Call Jim, and make sure he and Paul – I'm guessing they're together – make sure they head home RIGHT NOW!" Sean said.

"What's wrong?" Andy asked, scared.

"Robert. It's WAY WORSE than I thought. Get those boys to your place and keep them locked up tight until I get there. I'll explain everything after I leave the hospital."

"Hospital?" Any asked. "Are you alright?"

"It's not me," Sean said, "and I really can't explain right now!"

"I'm calling the boys now," Andy said.

"Andy?" Sean asked.

"Yeah," Andy answered.

"Maybe don't put your gun away when you get home," Sean said, chilling him.

Andy immediately dialed Jim. "Hey dad! We're just browsing at the bookstore," Jim said, answering the expected question.

"Jim, I need you to listen to me," Andy said nervously. "I need you to get Paul out of there. Go straight out to your car and drive home now. If you beat me there, lock everything up tight!"

"Dad, you're scaring me," Jim said, drawing Paul's full attention from the book he was skimming. "What's wrong?"

"I'll try to explain everything, but I just need you to go, NOW," he answered his son.

"Sure, dad," Jim said, hanging up and grabbing Paul's hand. The boy smiled for a second before he was dragged off unceremoniously by Jim.

"What's going on?" Paul asked, scared.

"I don't know, Paulie," Jim said, his attention completely focused, "but dad seems to think we're in danger, so we're headed to my place to wait for him." Paul nodded and ran alongside him to the car.

***

Andy arrived at home to find the house dead-bolted tight. He knocked on the door and said, "It's me, Jim!"

Jim unlocked the door and let him in, demanding, "What's going on, dad!"

"I'm not sure," Andy said. "Sean called me and said it was Robert and I needed to make sure you boys were safe! He said things were much worse than we thought."

"Robert," Paul said. "This is about me, and now you're all getting drawn into it."

Jim hurried to his side and said, "This is not your fault! Besides, where ever you are, that's where I want to be!"

"None of this is your fault," Andy agreed. "Captain Melodrama is right about that much. Who knows how someone attracts the attention of a nutjob like Robert"

Paul snickered a little at Andy's characterization of Jim and hugged the boy. Jim sat next to him and took him in his arms, holding him. "Sean will be able to explain more when he gets here," Andy added, disappearing into his bedroom to change.

When he returned wearing a t-shirt and jeans, with his shoulder holster still on, the boys noticed but no one said a thing.

***

"Andy, I'm on my way to your place," Sean said. "Do you want to call Paul's parents over?"

"Why don't we just meet over there?" Andy said. "I'll call them up and let them know."

"Okay. Where do they live?" Sean asked. Andy told him how to get there and hung up.

Then he called Phil. "Hello?" Phil answered.

"Phil, it's Andy? Are you and Molly home?" Andy asked.

"All evening," the man answered, "and child free it seems!"

"Not for long, buddy," Andy said apologetically. “I'm on my way with the boys."

"Everything alright?" Phil asked.

"No," Andy said. "The boys are alright but we all need to have a talk."

Phil, confused, said, "Alright. We'll see you in a bit!"

Andy turned to the boys and said, "We're going back to your place for a bit, Paul. You're welcome to come back here tonight, or Jim can stay with you, or you can stay home by yourself," Andy said.

Paul looked at Jim and said, "Can I come back here with you to stay the night?"

Jim looked at his dad and saw the man nod. "Yes," he said. "Pack a little bag when you get home."

***

"What's going on?" Molly asked as Paul rushed over and hugged her. "We've been worried sick since you called!" she directed at Andy.

"I don't know all the details," Andy said, "but I got a call from the coach this afternoon saying there is reason to be afraid that Robert might try to hurt the boys."

Molly squeezed Paul and reached over to grab Jim, pulling him into a little group hug. "My poor boys," she said,

Andy smiled sadly and nodded at Phil, who indicated Andy should follow him into the kitchen. Phil got down a couple of glasses and pulled out a dusty bottle of bourbon, pouring them each a couple of fingers. "It's never going to be easy, is it?" Phil asked, handing him a glass.

"Was it ever before?" Andy asked, laughing.

"No," Phil said. "But I'd hoped for our boys...."

"Those boys won't have it easy, but at least they've got each other," Andy replied.

"You think it'll last?" Phil asked, leaning against the counter.

"I don't know," Andy said. "All I know is that for years, Jim's been drifting. He tried to make me happy, he's a good boy, but he hasn't been happy like he has been since Paul."

Phil nodded and said, "Of the few boys Paul's ever talked about, Jim is different."

The doorbell rang and Phil went to answer it. Sean Spencer stood pensively at his door. "Please come in, Coach Spencer," Phil said, extended a hand and smiling.

Sean shook his hand and came inside. "Thanks. Please, call me Sean! That goes for you too, boys, except at school! Can we sit down?"

They all congregated in the livingroom. "Can I get you something coach?" Phil asked. "Water, soda .... Andy and I've just had a little bourbon."

"Water, please," the man said with a grateful smile. When Phil returned and he had taken a drink, Sean said, "This afternoon, one of the boys I kicked off the team and his parents came to my office seeking to get their boy reinstated. I can't tell you which one because of what I'm about to tell you." Sean wrung his hands and continued, "The boy had a nervous breakdown. Robert's been controlling some of the boys with blackmail."

"What could be bad enough to justify what they were about to do?" Jim asked angrily, but with a pale face Paul grabbed his hand and shook his head.

Sean nodded at the boy and said, "Freshman welcome party, he drugged and raped a couple of the freshmen on film. Seems that, on the pictures, they look pretty willing because of the drugs...."

"What are you going to do about the boys?" Phil asked.

"I don't know. Right now I only know for sure that this boy is on the up-and-up," Sean said.

"How do you know for sure?" Jim asked.

"Because he collapsed in my floor and told me he wanted to die while I held him crying in my arms. He's on suicide watch at the hospital right now," Sean said. "Robert was in trouble before he came here. They said he hurt a boy he was bullying; I think he may have raped that boy too, given what he's done and what he planned to do to you...."

"He's really dangerous," Andy said. "The police?"

"Went to his place this afternoon. Didn't say what they found but there's a warrant out for his arrest right now," Sean said.

"They didn't find him?" Paul asked.

"He'd packed a bag. Somehow he must have known someone would give him up, after what happened with you," Sean said. "I don't want you boys alone until they catch him." Looking at their parents he said, "Sorry if I'm overstepping, but I'm scared for your children."

"You're quite right, Sean," Phil said. "The boys shouldn't be alone. Stick together and in groups. Even if you go to the bathroom at the mall, don't go alone! Understand?" The boys nodded. "And I think we have to cancel that camping trip if they don't catch him before then!"

"DAD!" Paul pouted.

"It's too dangerous, out in the woods alone with a dangerous psycho out for your blood!" Andy said, backing up Phil.

Sean looked thoughtful before he smiled and asked Andy, "How much vacation do you have saved up, you old skin-flint?"

Andy blushed. He was a workaholic, and they could rarely afford to actually go anywhere anyway. "About 12 weeks...."

"Why don't you crack one of them out? You and I can take these boys up to the national park for a week!" Sean smiled.

"You guys know each other outside of school," Molly asked.

"We grew up together," Sean smiled. "His brother was my best friend, and Andy was always around."

"Well, that would be okay," Phil said.

Paul grabbed Andy's hand and said, "PLEEEEASE!"

Andy laughed helplessly at Jim and said, "No wonder you never say no to this kid!"

Suddenly, Paul's face was serious as he looked at Sean. "Billy...."

"What about him?" Sean asked.

"He and Billy.... They were friends. I wonder," Paul contemplated, but dared not finish the thought.

"The police will talk to him if they find any evidence," Sean said.

"But he needs help," Paul said. "If his parents found out that Robert had ... they'd blame him, just like they did after he outed me. They figured out why we were spending so much time together," he finished, looking away, embarrassed.

Sean looked at him and said, "Does anyone ever say no to you?"

"They do," Paul smiled, "but I try to make sure it's no fun!"

"When I leave here, I'll stop by there for a private chat with him," Sean said. "I can tell his parents it's about baseball or something. I'm not his coach, but I am head of the athletic department."

The adults talked while Paul went upstairs to get a few things for the night, and when he returned, he asked, "Can I spend the night at Jim's tonight? We'll hang out tomorrow until you guys get home at least...."

"Okay," Molly said.

"Call us and let us know where you are if you go out tomorrow," Phil added.

Paul had a strange look on his face, but at last he said, "There's one more thing...."

"What?" Phil asked.

"The boy in the hospital," Paul said. "I want to talk to him."

There was a general outburst, as Molly shook her head and Jim asked, "WHAT?" Other replies were harder to understand.

"First of all, his doctors might not allow it. Second, he might not be ready for that, or even want to talk to you," Sean said over the others.

"He's not your responsibility," Molly said, earning a frown from her husband.

"Would you at least run it by his parents?" Phil asked. "They can ask his doctors and, if they approve, they can ask him...." When Paul gave him a smile of thanks, Phil said, "I don't approve, but I ... trust you."

Molly glared at Phil, but she knew her son wouldn't give it up until he heard that the boy didn't want to talk to him.

*******************

Thanks to Bruce for a number of corrections, and to Michel for pointing out a typo.


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