Chapter 02

Paul was sitting in the library reading when he felt a big hand on his shoulder. He jumped, his chest seizing in fear until he looked up and saw Jim smiling down at him. “Didn’t mean to scare you, Paulie, but I called your name a couple of times. Must be a good book!”

“Just spacing out,” Paul said, laughing. “And NOBODY calls me that!”

“Does it bother you?” Jim asked this time, settling into the seat next to Paul comfortably. Jim looked at him in a way that let him know that his answer mattered.

“No,” Paul said softly. “It doesn’t.” After an awkward moment, he coughed and asked more loudly, “So, that paper?”

Jim smiled again — ‘Is he always smiling?’ Paul wondered to himself as he felt that familiar flutter — and reached into his bag. “So I had a hard time with it,” Jim said as he plopped papers down in the table, “but I finally finished!”

“Cool,” Paul said, thankful he wasn’t being asked to ‘help’ write a paper. “Let’s read it together? You want to read it out loud and we can fix it as we go?”

Jim looked around nervously and, seeing a few tutors and a few students nearby, he said, “I don’t know….”

Paul smiled and, pointing to the far corner, asked, “Do you want to go over there?”

Jim smiled and grabbed his bag, while Paul grabbed the paper, and they moved to the far corner of the library which was basically deserted. In a quiet voice, Jim began to read his paper on the Civil War to Paul. Occasionally Paul would reach over and point to a spelling or grammar mistake, their hands sometimes brushing. At one point as he was leaning in to correct something, Paul let his mind wonder. ‘He smells good,’ he thought as he exhaled softly.

“You okay?” Jim asked, laughing. “Bored to sleep?”

Blushing, Paul said, “Just tired I guess. Didn’t sleep well last night.”

When they were finished, Jim looked at him expectantly, and Paul said, “Pretty good! I think we got most of the mistakes. The only thing I’d do is revise your thesis and conclusion to be more specific and less vague!”

“Really? It’s okay?” Jim asked, really surprised.

“Yeah,” Paul said, smiling. Then he gave the boy some pointers about fixing those things and they were all finished. But Jim made no move to go.

“Thanks a lot!” he said to Paul.

“That’s what we’re here for,” the boy responded, blushing.

“No,” Jim said, “thank you!” This iteration made Paul blush more, at which Jim smiled. “But I’ve got to run to practice! You should be safe until that’s over!” Paul and Jim both laughed, and Jim waved at Paul on his way out of the library.

When he was gone, Paul exhaled deeply and smiled to himself. Then he remembered the look Christina had given him and got himself together. Soon he hurried home; he wanted to be inside before the brutes got mobile.

After dinner, once Paul was upstairs, Molly sat down next to Phil and said, “That boy was over here this morning.”

“Billy?” the man asked, sitting up straight. “What happened?”

“He was waiting for Paul outside the garage this morning. I guess he surprised him because Paul called out. By the time I got there, Billy was leaving.”

“So WHAT happened?” Phil asked, getting a little exasperated.

“Paul said he apologized,” she answered, “and the way Billy walked off he looked pretty broken up actually….”

“Hmm,” Phil said with a doubter’s expression.

“He had a black eye, Phil,” she said. “Did he have one yesterday when you were over there?”

He looked up and shook his head. “No.” Then he looked at the ceiling and said, “No wonder he’s such a little menace!”

“Phil! He’s always been a sweet boy! He and Paul had gotten sort of close,” she said. “Something’s happened and he’s been hurt….”

“But why take it out on Paul?” Phil said.

Upstairs, Paul was working at his desk when he heard a tap on his window. Then he heard another. He looked over his shoulder and didn’t see anything, so he got up and went to the window. On the ground, he saw a figure he recognized in the shadows, so he opened the window and whispered loudly, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”

“Can I talk to you?” Billy asked, trying to keep his voice down. “Can you come down?”

“Billy, I,” he began, but then he remembered the morning. “Hold on!” He slipped down the stairs and out the door while his parents were talking in the dining room. He walked around the house to where he had last seen Billy. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“No,” Billy said, the sadness in his voice palpable. “I haven’t been okay for a while….”

“Billy,” Paul said, “I don’t want to talk about that…. Are you OKAY?”

“Dad beat the shit out of me last night,” Billy said, turning his back on Paul.

“Why? Because you broke my glasses?” Paul asked, confused.

“Because I admitted it to your dad,” Billy said, his head hanging. “I deserved it for what I’ve done.”

Billy felt Paul’s cool hand on his forearm but didn’t turn. Paul squeezed gently, the familiar feeling of the boy’s muscles thrilling, and said, “No one deserves that, Billy.”

“Even after all I did,” Billy said, shaking his head. “Why?” He felt Paul snake his other arm around him and let the boy hug him from behind.

“I tried … but I can’t help myself,” Paul whispered. “I care about you. That’s part of what makes it hurt.”

Billy sighed deeply and Paul could feel the boy quake in his arms. Billy turned around, tears in his eyes, and wrapped Paul in a big hug. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

When Billy got control of himself a bit, he squeezed really tight, and Paul felt him lean in and press his warm lips against his neck. “BILLY!” Paul protested, straining against the strong arms. “Billy we can’t!”

“We could,” the boy said, whispering in Paul’s ear and making the boy shiver.

“We SHOULDN’T!” Paul said, leaning back.

“Why not?” Billy asked, smiling a little and making Paul’s conviction waver.

“Because … I can’t just forget, Billy! I’m not sure I can trust you!” Paul said, feeling bad for saying it.

Billy nodded with a sincerely understanding look, drawing back slightly but still holding Paul in his arms. “You still drive me crazy like nobody else, Paul.”

“I said, no,” Paul said with a blushing smile. “Not now….”

That made Billy smile widely and he did kiss Paul on the cheek. “Okay, then! I should go before they realize I’m gone, or I’ll be in deep shit.”

Knowing that Billy took a risk to come see him shook Paul, and he said, “If you’re ever in trouble, we’re right here….”

“Thanks,” Billy smiled. “I lo … I’ll ah see you tomorrow….”

‘What the hell?’ Paul’s brain screamed at him as he basically walked on air back inside and slipped back upstairs unseen.

“So, Jim came in for some tutoring Tuesday?” Christina teased him at lunch Thursday as they sat in a private corner.

“Yeah,” Paul said, blushing. “WHAT?”

“You LIKE him!” Christina said. “Paul!”

“Okay, he’s cute! And he’s nice to me,” Paul said. “I’m not the first person to like someone who’s not really available, am I?” In his mind, he laughed at himself adding, ‘Two someones?’

“No, sweetie, you aren’t! I just don’t want you to get your feelings hurt!” she said.

“How?” he asked with a laugh. “I don’t have any expectations…. It’s just nice to be around someone — a guy I mean — who’s nice to me.”

“Danny’s nice to you,” she said softly.

“Danny’s … Danny,” he said. Seeing her brow furrow up he hurried to explain, “Danny’s great, Christina, but he’s so quiet! I mean, he’s cool with me and everything, but he could dislike me and I’d never know. He plays everything close. Jim, he lets it show.”

“I guess I know what you mean,” she said. She knew her boy was a mystery to most everybody, sometimes herself included. “But you know he does like you, or he never would have helped you.”

“Oh yeah he would. He couldn’t risk a moratorium on,” and he paused, wrinkling his nose in disgust, “as you’d say, ‘poon.'”

“Maybe not, but Danny’s stubborn when he doesn’t want to do something. Believe me,” she said. Paul nodded. “So who do you think is the cutest jock in school?” She asked with a twinkle in her eye.

She didn’t expect Paul’s ears to begin to burn with a blush at that question. She figured he’d say Jim, or be honest and say Danny. Or maybe one of the boys on the swim team — she never really could figure out what Paul’s type was. But the name that came to his mind was one he would not say.

“WHO?” she demanded with a laugh. But from the look on his face and the depth of his blush, a thought popped into her head, and her eyes snapped open wide. “Paul!”

“Christina, hush!” he warned looking around.

She leaned in and whisper yelled, “Tell me … Paul, tell me you aren’t thinking of Billy right now!”

Paul looked mortified, giving her her answer. “Christina, it’s complicated!”

“No wonder it bothers you so much when they pick on you,” she whispered. “You did like him! More than I thought….”

He was ashamed of not having told her but he knew he couldn’t. Even after what Billy had done to him, he didn’t want to see him suffer the same. And he knew Christina would keep the secret until she saw Billy pick on him one too many times. At length, he simply nodded. “He was … I really liked him, and had a huge crush on him. I thought we were friends.”

“Oh!” she said, giving him a hug. Over her shoulder, he saw Robert smirk at them and nod once, just to remind Paul he was there and watching. “SO … Danny and I are going to the movies tomorrow night. You should come!”

“Christina, I don’t need a pity invite, and you don’t need me cramping your style on a Friday night!” he said, laughing.

“Hush! A couple of Danny’s friends are coming! It’s a group thing!” she retorted.

Paul shook his head. “I really would cramp your style if the jock squad is going,” he said.

“Paul, don’t be that way. You know, those guys, the ones Danny talked to, didn’t need a lot of convincing to watch your back…. Some of them are nice guys!”

“I know, Chris,” he said with an exasperated sigh, “but they don’t need me messing up their images either!”

“Alright,” she said, throwing up her hands. “Jim doesn’t seem too worried about that, though….”

“Jim’s going?” Paul asked, suddenly focused.

Christina laughed. “Jim’s definitely going,” she said.

“Well, maybe,” Paul said, making her laugh and shake her head.

Paul had finished his homework before dinner, so after dinner he was free to do what he wanted. He was listening to some music on his computer and reading, when he heard the knocking on his window again. He quickly checked to see who it was and held up a finger, indicating, ‘One minute.’ Then he hurried downstairs.

“Where you off to?” his father asked, looking up from the paper as Paul walked past the living room door.

“Going outside,” Paul said.

“For what?” his father asked. “It’s getting dark!”

Paul sighed. “Dad…. Fresh air!”

His father sighed, but nodded. “Don’t go too far….”

“DAD! I’m not twelve,” Paul replied, his tone intentionally whining, making Phil grin and wink. Then he hurried out to the yard.

“What?” Paul asked as he rounded the corner of the house.

“I just wanted to see you,” Billy said, smiling.

“Billy! You can’t just show up at my window every night!” Paul scolded. “Now you could come to the door and knock. But … somebody might see?”

Billy looked ashamed and averted his gaze. “Paul, I can’t … I can’t do what you do!”

“BILLY, I USED TO THINK THAT I COULDN’T EITHER!” Paul yelled, but caught himself. Then he said, more softly, “But I don’t have a choice anymore!”

“Because of me,” Billy whispered.

“Because of you,” Paul said, nodded. “And I don’t know how to get past that…. Except, you know … sometimes, I’m glad.” Billy looked at him with a question in his eyes. “I get to be ME, Billy. People, some people, don’t like it. But I don’t live afraid people will find out anymore.”

“Paul,” Billy said softly, “I don’t know if I’ll ever … be ready for that! I … miss you SO MUCH, but I don’t think I can do that, if that’s what it would take!”

Paul looked into his eyes and nodded. “I know. You shouldn’t do it for me. You should do it because it’s the right thing for you!”

“Can we ever … get back to the way things were?” Billy asked.

“I don’t know,” Paul said honestly. “And I don’t know if I really want to anymore!” Billy looked dejected, and Paul added, “But maybe we can get to some place new.”

Billy nodded, sighing, and reached for Paul’s hand. Paul didn’t pull away as he felt his hand engulfed and squeezed. “I … I miss THIS,” he said, squeezing Paul’s hand gently again.

Paul blushed in the darkness and looked away, but he admitted, “So do I.”

“What do we do?” Billy asked.

“Give it some time,” Paul said. “And you’re gonna have to come inside at some point, cause I’m guessing it wouldn’t be good for me to show up at your house anymore.”

“Yeah, no!” Billy said. “My dad would freak! But … can I come over? Your parents?”

“They’ll get used to the idea,” Paul said. “And I’ll let you in through the garage so you don’t have to be seen,” he added with a little bitterness.

“Paul, I’m sorry, but,” Billy began.

“I know,” Paul responded, withdrawing his hand. “Goodnight, Billy.”

Paul turned to head back inside but before he turned the corner, he looked over his shoulder and said, “I’m going to the movies with Christina and Danny tomorrow night, so I won’t be around, but email me and I’ll talk to my parents about you coming over.”

Billy smiled and said, “Thanks.” Then he thought about it and asked, “Just Christina and Danny?”

Paul smiled wider and said, “No,” before disappearing around the corner and into the house.

Friday afternoon, when the bell rang, Paul went to his locker to get the books he needed and loaded them into his bag. Down the hall he heard Robert talking loudly and laughed, and he hurried to try to get out of his line of sight. But he was too late; he looked up and their eyes met.

Robert was talking with Billy, and Paul could see that Billy was conflicted. Paul braced himself for what was coming, but he saw Robert frown and Billy’s face contort with an unreadable expression just before he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, buddy,” Jim said happily, squeezing gently, though his eyes locked with Roberts and never broke contact until the two bullies passed them without a word.

“Jim,” Paul said with a deep sigh.

“Happy to see me?” Jim asked, wearing his signature grin.

“You have no idea,” Paul said, laughing.

“I think I do,” Jim said, tilting his head toward Robert and Billy.

“Yeah! How close are you watching me, by the way?” Paul asked, laughing again. “You seem to be there at just the right time.”

“I don’t know about that, but I was looking for you, and so it was just dumb luck!” Jim declared.

“Yeah?” Paul asked.

“Yeah,” Jim said. “Danny asked me if I’d pick you up and meet him and Christina at the diner before the movie. Seems like they’ve got some … errands to do this afternoon.”

Paul laughed and said, “OH! Well, that’s okay. What time are we supposed to meet up?”

“About 5:30,” Jim said. “Why don’t I give you a ride home?”

“I don’t want to be a bother,” Paul said.

Jim waved him off. “I’ve got time to kill. Besides, I’m not in the mood to sit at home alone for an hour before I come pick you up anyway. Come on!”

“Okay,” Paul said, “but I can’t promise to entertain you!”

Jim smiled and led the way out to his car, which was a real shit-can of a 1980’s Toyota. It was boxy and blue, and there were huge rust patches on the door. “Sorry,” Jim smiled as he opened the trunk and put his bag and Paul’s inside. “It’s a piece of crap, but it gets me around.”

Paul laughed and said, “At least you don’t have to take the bus!”

“Damn straight,” Jim said. Then he belted in and pulled out of the lot. “I’m grateful to have it. It was a stretch for my dad to afford this, and I know he worked extra to save up,” Jim confided.

“Your dad sounds cool,” Paul said with a gentle smile.

Jim gave him a quick glance and smiled. “He’s the greatest!”

“So are you a scholarship kid?” Paul asked, and noticed Jim tense up. “Hey, I didn’t mean anything … shit, I’m sorry. I’m a scholarship kid.”

Jim relaxed and said, “I didn’t realize…. Sorry, I’m just … people used to make a big deal out of it until the first football season! But I know when they see me drive around in this, or walk around in second-hand pants and jackets…. Well, I don’t have any illusions,” he added.

Paul said, “Yeah,” with a sigh. “Turn right up here.”

“This is where Billy lives,” Jim said.

“Yeah, about a block further down,” Paul said.

“Bummer,” Jim said, “living that close to the guy who’s made you miserable!”

Paul grunted. “Yeah,” he said. “It wasn’t always this way,” he added, unable to stop himself from offering at least a half-defense.

“Well, nothing excuses what he did,” Jim said.

“I know,” Paul said, glancing surreptitiously at Jim’s open and expressive face, which wore a look of anger on his behalf and felt his pulse race. “But you know, I do feel … free.”

“And you only need about four or five two-hundred pound gorilla’s watching your back all the time,” Jim joked.

“Yeah!” Paul said. “Wait, four or five?”

“Sure!” Jim said. “I thought you knew, Danny talked to a bunch of guys. We’re all watching out for you, Paulie.”

“Wow,” Paul said, sinking so deep into thought that he almost forgot to direct Jim. “THIS is it,” he said, pointing to his mailbox.

Jim turned in and said, “Nice place!”

“It was my dad’s parents’ house. Dad took it over after they moved to assisted living and he helps them out with the payments there,” Paul said. “We could never afford this place. My dad works for the state and mom works part time for a doctor’s office.”

Jim nodded, laughing. “You don’t have to explain it to me, Paulie!”

“Yeah…. I just, you’re easy to talk to,” Paul said, blushing.

“Thanks,” Jim said, turning off the car.

They walked up to the door and walked inside, Paul calling, “MOM! I’M HOME!”

“Okay, sweetie! I’m in the kitchen!”

Paul waved for Jim to follow him. “Mom, this is my friend Jim! Jim, this is my mom!”

Molly dried her hands and smiled, looking the boy over and holding out a hand. Jim shook it and said, “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Anderson!”

“Please, call me Molly,” she said with a smile at the big boy, and then a curious look at her son. “Can I get you boys something to drink, or a snack?”

“No, thank you ma’am,” Jim said. “We’re gonna grab dinner and catch a movie soon!”

“Alright, well if you need anything before you go, just give a shout,” she said. “Paul, home by midnight!”

“Mom!” Paul complained. He knew his curfew, but mention of it embarrassed him.

“We’re going to see a 9:00, so we’ll be back before that for sure,” Jim said with a smile.

Paul quickly backtracked and, when they were alone, told Jim, pointing to the television, “I need to shower and change. If you want to hang out down here, there’s cable.”

“Okay,” Jim said, laughing, and settled into the couch, turning on the television. He flipped through a few channels before settling on A&E.

He heard the shower run upstairs and his mind drifted, until he was shocked back to the moment. “I figured you for ESPN,” Molly said, leaning on the doorframe with a smile.

“Sports are exciting to play. They can be fun to watch when you know the people playing too, but watching strangers play? I can check the scores in the morning,” he said.

“What do you play?” she asked.

“Football,” he said. “I play club soccer in the spring, too.”

“Hmmm,” she said. “You know Robert and Billy?”

“Yeah,” Jim said, a little disgust in his voice. “Danny, Christina’s boyfriend, he asked me and some of the guys to watch out for Paul around school.”

“Oh!” Molly said, her entire demeanor changing. “I’m sorry if I came across as a little … suspicious,” she said.

“A little?” he asked with a laugh. But then he said, “I get it. After all that’s happened, and then I show up….”

“I shouldn’t have assumed, though,” she said. She hoped he wouldn’t see through the question, when she asked, “So, where are you boy’s going?”

“We’re meeting Christina and Danny at the diner before the movie,” he said.

“Okay,” she said. “Well, have fun.”

She turned to go, but he said, “Molly?” When she turned around, he said, “We’re going to do our best to make sure nothing else happens to him….”

“Thank you, Jim,” she said authentically, before hurrying off.

Upstairs, Paul dried off and pulled on his robe to slip across to his room. Then he put on a fresh pair of underwear and some designer jeans he picked up at a nice second-hand shop, and a blue sweater his grandma gave him for his birthday. He thought it would look good with his brown leather jacket.

He looked at the clock and saw it was still only 4:30. Too early to leave yet. He sighed and went down to find Jim. “Anything good on TV?” he asked with a smile as he entered.

Jim only missed a beat, before answering, “Not a thing!” Then he clicked the television off and said, “SO….”

“So?” Paul asked.

“Well, you want to show me around?” Jim asked with a laugh.

“Oh, sure!” Paul said, embarrassed. “I don’t have many people over.” So he showed Jim around the house and ended up in his room, which was small but neat. The bed, a double, took up most of the room, and bookshelves lined one wall, while a little desk took over one corner. There wasn’t much in the way of posters or ornamentation on the walls, but the shelves were full of books and personal mementos that Jim browsed surreptitiously.

“So, do you play the piano?” Jim asked, having noticed the antique high-backed piano in the living room.

“I took some lessons,” Paul said, sitting on the bed.

“Is this you?” Jim asked, picking up a picture of a boy in a tie sitting at a baby grand.

“Yeah,” Paul laughed. “That was my first recital — I was seven.”

“I would have been scared to death!” Jim said.

“Says the guy who walks into thunderdome every week!” Paul laughed.

“To be out there all by yourself, it’s different.” Jim responded.

“I know … I am scared every time I perform, for the first few seconds. Then I forget everything but the music,” Paul answered with a smile.

“And THUNDERDOME? Really? Have you ever seen a football game?” Jim asked, laughing.

“Live? No,” Paul said.

“Television?” Jim asked.

“I walk past it while dad watches sometimes,” Paul answered with a sly smile.

Jim laughed and said, “You should come with Christina next week! It’s one of the last games of the season!”

“Why aren’t you playing tonight?” Paul asked.

“The team we were supposed to play was disqualified for the year for rules violations,” Jim said. “Nice to have a Friday night off.”

“Well, I imagine there are things you’d rather be doing,” Paul said.

“Why do you do that?” Jim asked. Then he shook his head and said, “I like spending time with my friends.”

Paul looked at him with a scrunchy forehead and asked, “Are we friends?”

“Paulie, Danny asked me to look out for you. But I didn’t say yes only because he asked me. I said yes because I thought you were a nice guy and you didn’t deserve everything that happened. Yeah, I want to be friends!” Paul nodded, and he added, laughing, “And your mom thought we were going on a date, by the way.”

“She did not,” Paul said, protesting and turning purple.

“Oh yes she did,” Jim laughed, recounting his conversation with Molly.

“Oh my God!” Paul said. “That’s so embarrassing. I’m REALLY sorry!”

“It’s no big deal,” Jim said.

Paul shook his head and said, “Thanks….”

A little while later it was time to go and they went downstairs, and Phil was just getting home. Paul quickly made the introductions, but they were sort of in a hurry. “One second,” Paul said. “I’ll meet you in the car,” he said, letting Jim outside. Then he went to the kitchen. “MOM!”

“Yes, dear?” she asked, looking over from the stove where she was cooking dinner and talking to Phil.

“You thought we were going on a date?” Paul demanded.

The woman blushed, realizing that Jim had understood her question perfectly. “Well, dinner and a movie,” she said. “And he’s very handsome!”

Paul blushed and said, “He’s not like me….”

Molly held her tongue and said, “He explained that you were meeting Christina and Danny at the diner.”

“Christina and Danny and some others,” Paul said defensively.

“He didn’t mention others,” she said, repressing a smile.

“Well, Christina said there would be,” Paul said, hedging. “Gotta go!”

“See you when you get home,” Phil said as his son jogged to the door.

Outside, Paul got in the passenger seat and buckled in, finding Jim sitting there smiling. “What?” Paul asked.

“Told you she thought it was a date,” Jim said.

Paul rolled his eyes and said, “I told her it was a date, and you were just shy!”

“What?” Jim asked, screeching to a halt at the end of the driveway and blushing bright.

“Not so funny now, is it?” Paul laughed. Then he added, “I’M JUST KIDDING!”

Jim shook his head before laughing and saying, “You’re funny! Gave me a heart attack, but you’re funny!”

They chatted as they drove, and by the time they got to the diner, Christina and Danny were already there, waiting in a booth.

“Hey,” Paul said, with a shy half-wave at Danny. Then looking at Christina, he said, “Is this gonna be big enough for all of us?”

Christina looked at Danny and elbowed him. He answered, “Turns out everybody else had plans.” Paul slid into the booth, which was a snug fit when Jim joined him. Pleasantly snug, but still. He gave Christina a look and she shrugged.

Paul and Christina talked while the two football players mostly just listened, though Jim and Danny did exchange a few words about their practice schedule and things like that. After they ate, they drove to the mall and walked around until the movie came on. It was short, so by 10:40 it was over, and they walked out of the mall.

“I think we’re gonna take off,” Christina said. “I gotta get home!” Danny nodded and waved, taking off after her.

“Christina has an early curfew?” Jim asked. “Her parents don’t seem the type!”

“They aren’t – her curfew is 1am,” Paul said. “She’s just horny….”

Jim laughed and said, “I assumed they took care of that this afternoon!”

“Prob’ly did. That was then, and this is now,” Paul said, smiling. “Christina … isn’t like a lot of girls!”

Jim laughed again and said, “I guess I should get you home…. You wanna stop somewhere and get coffee?”

Paul, not really wanting the evening to end, scrunched his face up and said, “How about ice cream?”

“Sure,” Jim said, smiling. They drove to a Baskin Robbins with a drive through and each got a cone. Then they parked and sat eating in the car with the radio on.

“Thanks for coming out tonight,” Paul said. “I never would have come with just Christina and Danny; it’s too weird!”

“I had a lot of fun,” Jim said, smiling over his ice cream.

“Aren’t you worried about being … seen with me?” Paul asked.

Jim looked at him and asked, “Why?” and Paul could see he really did think it was a ridiculous thought.

“People might think … what my mom thought, seeing us together tonight,” Paul suggested gently. “Like now, especially.”

Jim nodded and shrugged. “Fuck ‘em,” he said with a grin. After that, the boys laughed and talked until it was getting to be time to go. Jim drove him home and sat idling in the driveway. “Will your mom be disappointed in me if I don’t walk you to the door?” Jim teased.

“No, but you won’t get your goodnight kiss,” Paul responded with a laugh.

Jim shook his head and said, “Maybe next time! Night, Paulie.”

Paul went inside and found his father reading in the living room. “Night dad,” Paul said.

“Hold up, son! Have a good time?” Phil asked with a smile.

“It wasn’t a date, dad!” Paul said, letting a smile creep onto his face.

“I didn’t say it was. Jim seems like a nice boy; your mom says he’s been watching out for you?” Phil asked.

“Yeah,” Paul said.

“Well, I hope we’ll see more of him,” Phil said.

Paul blushed brightly and admitted, “Me too.”

Phil got up and hugged his son, before sending the boy to bed. “See you in the morning, son,” he added as he locked up and turned out the lights.

Paul ran upstairs and checked his email after undressing. He had one from Billy: “Can I come over tomorrow night around 8? I hope so; I want to see you! Was that Jim you were with after school?”

Paul shook his head and smiled that the boy was jealous, before responding, “Plan on it. I’ll talk to my parents over breakfast! Was that Robert you were with after school?”