Chapter 04

Billy leaned in and kissed Paul on the head as he held him, and Paul exhaled deeply. It was like he’d been lost, but had found his way back to where he belonged.

Paul looked up at Billy with a smile and said, “Don’t think this means I’m letting you off the hook completely, mister!” Billy raised his eyebrows and Paul added, “You’re going to have to work your way back into my bed. I have to be able to trust you again, first.”

“Absolutely,” Billy said. “No pressure!”

“Yeah! No pressure,” Paul said, rolling his eyes. “That’s what you said that night, too!”

“Hey, I didn’t try to pressure you into anything!” Billy complained.

“Yeah, well I felt the pressure,” Paul blushed.

“I don’t remember you complaining,” Billy winked.

[FLASHBACK]

Paul woke up in the middle of the night needing to go to the bathroom. At first he was disoriented; the room was strange to him. But the warm body pressing into his back, and Billy’s smell all over the pillow, quickly reminded him.

“Mmmm,” he moaned, pressing back into the big jock. That’s when Paul felt the boy’s cock press against the back of his leg through the thin boxer shorts. It was only half hard, but it made an impression on his imagination. Giggling, he shook his head and slid out of bed and slipped off to the restroom.

When he returned, an half asleep Billy mumbled, “Where’d you go?”

“Bathroom, silly,” Paul replied, slipping beneath the covers and snuggling back up to Billy, who hugged him tight and seemed to wake up a little, though he was still dazed.

Billy lowered his mouth to Paul’s and snaked his tongue between the boy’s lips; Paul responded by admitting him and running his hands up the boy’s powerful back, moaning in pleasure. “You’re hard,” Billy whispered with a smile in his voice, as he felt Paul’s erection rubbing against his hairy thigh. “And loose!” As Billy kissed him again, Paul groaned as he felt the boy’s big hand close around his cock.

“Billy,” Paul moaned in protest half-heartedly. “Stop….”

“Are you sure?” Billy whispered in his ear. “I will,” he added before nibbling at Paul’s earlobe.

“No, don’t!” Paul groaned, reaching across and slipping his hand into the fly of Billy’s boxers, finding the boy rock hard.

“Let’s just lose these,” Billy suggested.

[PRESENT]

“I just can’t believe you had the self-control to stick to jacking off,” Billy laughed. “I was hot to trot!”

“You were always hot to trot,” Paul laughed.

“I AM always,” Billy corrected, and they both smiled. “Come here….”

Paul shook his head and Billy dragged him over before picking him up and settling Paul on his lap. “No pressure, huh?”

“Nope,” Billy said, squeezing him and pulling him into a huge hug. Paul just lay in his arms, soon putting his head on the boy’s shoulder.

“You’re so warm,” Paul sighed.

“Paul,” Billy whispered after a long silence. “I hope we can get through this….”

“Me too,” Paul whispered.

Soon, Paul turned on the television and they settled in, Paul remaining comfortably ensconced in the big boy’s arms. They watched a couple of shows, but when the news came on, Paul said, “You’d better go. My parents will be home soon!”

Billy nodded, but made no move to let Paul go. Instead, he squeezed Paul again and kissed him on the neck. “I know,” Billy sighed.

Paul stood and took his hand, walking him to the door. Before he opened it, he reached up and grabbed Billy’s head, dragging him down into a hungry kiss. “Til next time,” Paul whispered. Billy smiled brightly and hugged him again, before slipping out and hurrying off.

Paul walked upstairs and fell back on his bed smiling. But the voice in his head, the smart one, said, “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?” He just shook his head, clearing the thought from his mind, and laughed.

Then, feeling antsy, he sat up and went to his desk and logged on to the computer. He browsed around for a bit before checking his email. One caught his eye immediately — from Jim. Clicking on it, he read: “Dear Paulie, Friday was great and today was awesome! Thanks for coming out with me. Hope we can hang out again soon. See you at school. Jim.”

“Why couldn’t he be gay?” Paul’s smart inner voice asked, but that part of him that was still a little in love with Billy scoffed. “I’ll take what I can get,” he said to himself, with a sad sigh.

He was lost in fantasy land when his parents got home. He figured his mom had told his dad on the way home, because he felt the floor shake as he heard the door slam. Then he heard the heavy footfalls heading for his room. “Phil!” Molly called after his father, “Calm down!”

Paul’s door opened and his father demanded, “IS HE HERE?”

“No, dad,” Paul said. “He’s gone….”

“But he WAS HERE?” Phil asked.

“Yeah for a few hours, dad,” Paul said, getting testy.

“Anything could have happened,” Phil said. “The way that kid’s treated you the last couple of months, and you invite him into our home? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?”

“I KNOW BEST OF ALL HOW HE’S TREATED ME!” Paul yelled at his dad. “I WAS THERE!” Seeing the shock on his father’s face, Paul took a moment to calm himself. “We were friends dad, and he’s hurting. I think he’s done what he did to me because his father’s been an asshole to him. He came over to apologize and to talk, dad. And he’s going to come back.”

Phil stood looking at his son, stunned. “Alright,” he said. “Alright, I trust you…. But not him. You be careful, and if he does anything else to you, this experiment is over! Understand?”

“Dad, if he hurts me again … I promise, I promise, I won’t argue with you,” Paul answered.

“Right, then,” Phil said, reaching out and ruffling his son’s hair. “You’re a good boy, Paul. I just worry.”

“I know, dad,” Paul said. “Me too!”

In school Monday, Paul went about his day as normal, but he felt less afraid. There was a part of him that just KNEW Billy wasn’t going to hassle him. But when he caught sight of Robert, that confidence evaporated. Especially when the big boy began walking his way with a purposive stride.

“Hey, queer!” he said with a sneer. “Enjoy your days off?”

“What do you mean?” Paul said, trying to buy some time and hoping someone would realize what was happening.

“Come on! Don’t tell me you enjoy our little game? That would take some of the fun out of it,” Robert said.

“GAME?” Paul yelled, flying off the handle. “GAME? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? You can’t just go around making somebody’s life miserable and call it a fucking GAME!”

“Is this like a nervous breakdown or something?” Robert said derisively. “Looks like we’ve got a live one, Billy!” he added with a laugh, making Paul tense up. Billy walked past him a moment later and laughed. But at least his face showed some discomfort. Still, he said nothing.

Robert stepped toward him menacingly, and Billy just stood by. But even as he cringed, Paul heard Billy say, “Dude, my dad is still on my ass about breaking his glasses! Let’s just go, Robbie!”

‘Robbie,’ Paul thought to himself. ‘Huh! And way to be a hero, dude!’ Still, he WAS grateful. Robert looked like he wasn’t going to go along with Billy, until he saw Danny walking down the hall.

“I’ll see YOU later, fag!” Robert said before turning and walking off.

“You okay?” Danny asked as he got close.

“Yeah,” Paul said, and Danny nodded, escorting him to class.

“Hey, guys!” Jim said as he joined Christina and Paul for lunch.

“Hey, jock,” Christina said with a laugh. “Someone steal your seat?” she teased. Jim always sat with guys from the team and some cheerleaders.

“What? I can’t have lunch with my friends?” Jim said, smiling at Paul especially.

Paul tried not to let Jim see him blush. “I’m glad you joined us, but … surprised.”

Paul smiled and began to eat, and chatted with them over lunch. “So you and your dad should come to the game Friday,” Jim said. “After Thanksgiving there’ll only be one more game! No playoffs for us this year.”

“Yeah, right,” Christina said, laughing into her drink.

“Okay,” Paul said, making her eyes bug out. “We’ll be there.”

“WHAT? I’VE BEEN BUGGING YOU TO COME WITH ME SINCE,” Christina began to complain, and then it struck her she might say too much. “Well, you have to sit with me then!”

“Dad, too,” Paul said.

“Yeah, Phil can too,” she laughed. “Your dad is a total DILF,” she added, consciously trying to make him blush, though all the girls did think Paul’s dad was hot.

“Ewww,” Paul gagged, while Jim laughed.

“You know it’s true,” Christina said.

“You’ve been saying it long enough, I get the idea,” Paul said, shaking his head and rolling his eyes.

After lunch, Christina dragged him off. “WHAT is up with you?”

“WHAT do you mean?” he retorted with a cheeky smile.

“You and Jim? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” she asked.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he said, still smiling.

“You like him!” she said. “That’s a bad idea!”

“Then why did you set us up for a man-date on Friday?” he asked. “You said there would be other people there! Even my mom thought it was a date; apparently me and Jim were the only ones who didn’t realize!”

Christina blushed and said, “I don’t know what you mean,” turning his phrase back on him. “I thought there would be other people!”

“Oh,” he said, surprised, because he could tell she was telling the truth. “Well, he took me for ice-cream after the movie, and then he showed up at my door Saturday morning, bright and early.”

“Really?” she asked, surprised.

“Yep. And then he invited me to go out on the lake with him fishing, so I did. We spent most of the day together until he had to get to practice.”

“Huh,” she said. “Wait! YOU went FISHING?” she asked laughing. “WHAT can’t that boy ask you to do?”

Paul laughed and blushed, and then said honestly, “NO COMMENT!”

That night, Christina and Danny were making out when it occurred to her and she stopped. 

“What’s wrong?” he asked, breathless.

“Why did you tell me a whole bunch of people were going out with us this last weekend, and then only Jim showed up?” she asked.

“We need to discuss this now!?” he asked, frustrated.

“Now, or no more lovin,” she said with a smile.

“I was going to ask others and just forgot,” he said.

“Liar,” she said, punching him in the shoulder.  “You’re like an open book!”

“Okay, Jim said something to me I can’t repeat, but it made me think.  So I thought he and Paul might make good friends,” Danny said.

“Paul’s parents told him it was a date!  He brushed it off,” Christina retorted.

“It wasn’t a date,” Danny said defensively.

“But it was a fix-up,” she said, before asking, straight up, “Is Jim gay?”

“No,” Danny said.  “He’s never said he was anyway….”  After a moment’s silence, Danny said, “I don’t know.”  Christina gave him a hard look, but he reiterated, “I don’t know!  But after Friday night, I wouldn’t bet against it!”

Tuesday evening, Paul was working on homework when the doorbell rang. He let his parents get it, though if he had known who it was he would have raced downstairs.

Luckily, it was Molly who answered the door. She opened, and the ‘Hello,’ died on her lips as the smile froze artificially. “Billy,” she said.

Billy averted his eyes and said, “Can I come in, Mrs. Anderson?”

She nodded stiffly and opened the door. The boy stepped inside and said, “Is Paul here?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Can I … see him?” Billy said.

Molly looked at him for a moment before calling out, “PAUL? Come down here for a minute!”

Paul hurried down and stepped into the foyer and came to a stop. “Hey, Billy! What’s up?” he asked as if nothing strange had happened. His mother looked at him and shook her head. “You want to go upstairs?” Billy nodded.

“Leave your door open,” Molly said, making Paul blush.

“MOM!” Paul protested.

“THAT is not what I meant,” she said with a hard look at Billy, making the boy look ashamed.

Paul responded by putting a hand on Billy’s arm and encouraging the boy to follow him. Upstairs, he said, “They’ll warm up to you when they realize,” Paul said.

“No they won’t,” Billy said.

“They will, for me if nothing else!” Paul said with a smile. He left the door open, but dragged Billy to the corner and stood on his tiptoes to kiss the boy on the cheek.

“Thanks,” Billy whispered, snaking his arms around the boy. “I’m sorry about yesterday.”

“What do you mean?” Paul asked.

“Yesterday with Robert,” Billy said. “I wanted to stop him, but I couldn’t think of anything….”

“What you did was enough,” Paul said, rubbing his back and laying his head on his chest.

“I’m glad YOU think so,” Billy said.

Paul grabbed his hand and led him to the bed and sat him down. Then he dragged his chair over and sat so that they were knee-to-knee. “Billy, do I wish you could be my knight in shining armor? That you could stand up to Robert and have lunch with me? Yeah, that would be awesome,” Paul said. Billy was about to speak but Paul held up a hand and said, “BUT I understand that you’re not there yet. And its not like … well, for now this thing we’ve got going wilL work. Maybe one day things can be different. But Billy, I DO understand!”

Billy grabbed both his hands and leaned in close. He closed his eyes and said, “I wish I could be the guy you deserve. I really do. But maybe I will be able to one day; all I can promise you is I will try.”

Paul leaned in so their foreheads touched and stroked the boy’s cheek softly. Then he kissed Billy softly on the lips. “Okay,” Paul whispered with a smile. Then he said, “Want to play a game?” Billy got a little smirk, and Paul said, “NOT that KIND of game!”

“Sure, want to race?” Billy asked, pointing to the video game system beneath the television.

“Yeah,” Paul laughed.

About an hour later, Molly came upstairs and peEked in the door. She watched the boys laughing and playing the game for a moment before announcing herself. “Paul, dinner’s ready.”

“Can Billy stay, mom?” Paul asked without looking up.

“Sure,” she said. “There’s plenty. Do you need to call home?”

“No, ma’am,” Billy said. “No one is expecting me.”

Molly nearly asked, ‘And why is that?’ but caught herself and simply said, “Dinner in five, then! Wash up boys!”

When she was gone, Paul teased, “See, she’s warming up to you already!’

As they were washing up for dinner in the bathroom, Molly hurried downstairs to find her husband. “Phil, I need to talk to you,” she said as she entered the living room. Her husband looked up at her with a question in his eyes. “Billy’s here, and he’s staying for dinner….”

Phil’s face was impassive. He wasn’t even happy the boy was in the house, but his mind went back to the conversation he’d had with Paul. He simply nodded and stood, walking to the kitchen to help his wife get dinner on the table. Then he set an extra place.

When the boys arrived, everyone sat down to what began as a very quiet dinner. Paul and Billy exchanged glances for a while, and at last Billy said, “This is delicious. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Molly said. “It’s one of Paul’s favorites,” she added.

Billy exchanged a few more polite words with Molly, before the conversation took a decidedly different turn.

Phil looked up over his glasses and said, “Billy, I’ve seen you spending a lot of time walking around the neighborhood the last week…. Is there some reason you’re avoiding home?”

“DAD?” Paul exclaimed, and even his wife looked at him shocked.

“I ask, because when I came to your house the other day, you were fine, but the next morning you had a black eye. And your father had been drinking,” Phil explained calmly.

“DAD?” Paul repeated. “You can’t just ask something like that over dinner!”

“When am I supposed to ask?” Phil asked. “Billy, I’m letting you back into my house after … everything, but I need a straight answer. Is everything over at your house alright?”

Billy looked away, as Paul continued to look on in shock. But he no longer protested. He felt like his dad was trying to do something right.

“Alright, then,” Phil said. “I’ll send Paul over to your house tomorrow to get the money for his glasses then.”

“NO!” Billy shouted, shocking them all. “Send the bill home with me, but don’t let Paul anywhere near my dad, please!” the boy said in a near panic.

“You aren’t embarrassed to have Paul around. You’re afraid for him,” Phil said.

Billy nodded. “My dad’s sick. He’s … he used to be a good guy,” Billy said, hiding his face.

“What happened?” Phil asked.

“You don’t have to say,” Paul said, interjecting quickly.

“I don’t know,” Billy said. “A few years ago, he started drinking hard and things changed for us.”

Phil nodded and sat back. “Alright then. You come here if you ever need anything, if you’re in trouble or afraid, okay?” Billy looked at him as if he didn’t comprehend. “Billy, no matter what, you don’t deserve what’s happening. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. So if you need something, a place to stay or someone to talk to, you just come here, okay?”

“Uhm … yeah, okay,” Billy said, wiping his eyes.

“Oh, dear,” Molly said, unable to restrain herself from giving the boy a hug, which he accepted and returned eagerly.

“I don’t deserve … everything I’ve done,” Billy said, nearly incoherent.

“Like my dad said, like I said, nobody deserves what’s happened to you,” Paul said, putting a hand on his arm.

“Nobody deserves what I did to you either,” Billy replied.

“You’re here now,” Phil said, shaking his head. “I’ve not forgotten. None of us have. But that’s not the point; the point is … you ARE safe here.” Paul smiled at his father from Billy’s elbow, because he could tell the man was making an effort he’d rather not make.

When Billy left later that evening, Paul found his father sitting in his chair reading at sat down on its arm, wrapping an arm around his dad, who hugged him. “Thanks, dad,” Paul whispered.

“For what?” the man asked.

“For being the best dad ever,” Paul teased. “You didn’t have to say those things to Billy….”

“The boy used to be a good kid,” Phil said. “And now that we know why he’s changed maybe we can help him be a good kid again.” Paul smiled, until his dad added, “Now why you came around so quickly on the boy who made your life a nightmare is a real question.”

“He apologized,” Paul stammered. “He felt bad, I could tell….”

Phil smiled and rolled his eyes, “Alright, Saint Paul. Go finish your homework and get to bed!”

Paul smiled and kissed his dad on the cheek before doing just that.

Thursday afternoon, Paul sat working in the library when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, Paulie,” Jim smiled down at him.

“Jim, hey!” Paul said. “Uhm, you need some help?” Paul asked.

“No, just came by to say hi, and make sure you guys were still coming tomorrow,” Jim said, slipping into a seat by Paul.

“Yeah,” Paul said, “Christina would never let me out of it now!”

“Cool!” Jim said. “If you and your dad will hang around after the game, I’d like to introduce you to my dad, okay?”

“Sure thing!” Paul said. Then he saw the girl he was supposed to be tutoring come in and look for him. “Well, back to work for me!”

“How late are you going to be here? I could give you a ride home after practice,” Jim said.

“I … don’t think I’m gonna hang around the library that long, and you’ll understand that I shouldn’t come watch practice and wait for you,” Paul blushed.

“You could if you wanted to,” Jim said.

“Robert,” Paul said.

“Robert won’t do shit, cause he knows that Danny and I would fuck him up,” Jim laughed, and patted him on the shoulder.

Paul felt a sudden desire to lean over and kiss the boy, and knew he’d have to be careful if he wanted to be friends with Jim. He didn’t want to do anything to screw up their friendship, and then there was Billy. Whatever that was. “Thanks, Jim,” Paul said. “But I don’t want to cause trouble.”

“Well,” Jim smiled, “if you ever want to cause some trouble, you just let me know. I’ll be happy to assist.” He stood and waved as he walked off, and the girl took his place.

Billy came over that night and played video games on Paul’s television while the boy did his homework. “Don’t you have any homework?” Paul asked.

“Nah,” Billy said. “My classes are easier!”

Paul laughed and shook his head. “I’m gonna grab something to drink. You want something?”

“Coke?” Billy asked.

“Sure thing,” Paul said, and ran downstairs. He looked around and realized his parents were watching television in their bedroom, so he was very quiet as he made his way back upstairs. Then he put his finger over his mouth and shut the television and game off, before sitting the drinks on the nightstand.

“What?” Billy asked softly.

“My parents are in their bedroom watching television,” Paul said, sitting down on the bed beside Billy. “Probably asleep,” he whispered as he leaned in to kiss Billy on the lips. He melted into the big boy as he felt Billy’s fingers in his hair.

“We should be careful,” Billy said, breathless, but he gasped as he felt a soft hand slide beneath his shirt. Paul tickled the soft hairs on his abs and kissed him again forcefully. “What’s gotten into you?”

Paul grinned and said, “The real question … is what hasn’t gotten into me in too long?”

Billy’s eyes closed, and he groaned as Paul tweaked his nipple beneath his shirt. “God, don’t tease me!”

“Sorry,” Paul said, grinning, “but you have to admit, as far as payback goes, this is a pretty pleasant one!” Then he slung his leg over Billy and sat on his lap facing him, and then grabbed Billy’s hands and placed them on his waist. As they kissed, he shivered as he felt Billy’s hands slide around to squeeze his ass.

“God I missed this,” Billy grinned.

“Me too,” Paul whispered saucily, as he nibbled the boy’s ear. “And other things too….”

“We should ease back into THAT,” Billy said softly.

“Oh, we will,” Paul replied. “Just … don’t want you to think you’re the only one who liked what we had.”

“Uhm,” Billy said, warning, “if you don’t stop rocking like that I’m going to cream my pants.”

“Something to remember me by,” Paul teased as he reached between them to stroke the boy through his pants. He could see on Billy’s face that the boy had not been exaggerating, as a look of bliss, then panic, passed over his face.

Billy flipped Paul on his back and said, “That wasn’t nice,” as he pinned Paul’s hands above his head with one strong arm, while running his other hand down Paul’s chest and abdomen. Paul inhaled deeply as that hand slipped beneath the waistband of his shorts. As Billy’s fingers wrapped around his rock hard penis, Paul struggled against Billy’s restraining hand, not seriously but from the feelings of intense pleasure.

“Yeah, Billy,” he moaned. “Faster,” he demanded as the boy began to stroke him. Billy silenced him with a kiss and picked up the pace.

“I’m gonna cum,” Paul announced, and Billy kept stroking until he felt the boy’s cock spasm in his hand. When he pulled it out, his hand was covered in hot cum. Paul reached over and held out a box of tissue for him chuckling.

Friday evening, Paul pulled on a sweater and grabbed his coat; his father was waiting for him downstairs. “Are you ready yet?” Phil asked sarcasticaly when the boy appeared.

“Yeah, I’m ready!” Paul replied.

“If we leave now maybe we won’t miss too much of the game!” Phil said.

“It doesn’t start for thirty minutes, dad!” Paul replied, following the man to the car. Sure enough, twenty minutes later they had parked and bought their tickets.

“There’s Christina, dad!” Paul said, waving at the girl and leading his father over.

“Hey, Paul,” she said giving him a hug. “Hey, Mr. Anderson! Never thought I’d see this day!”

“Me either, Christina,” Phil said with a smile. “You guys want a drink or something? I’m gonna grab some coffee before the game starts?”

“Hot chocolate,” Paul said.

“Christina?” Phil asked.

“Me too, if it’s no trouble?” Phil waved her off and hurried off to the concession stand. He returned just as the game was about to begin. Phil and Christina did their best to explain what was going on to Paul, for whom it was a fairly mysterious phenomenon. Soon, however, Billy caught his eye; the boy had apparently come with some of his friends from the baseball team. Every few minutes Billy would steal a glance his way, but he dared not approach. He couldn’t afford to be forced to explain that to the guys, whose parents were friendly with his.

At halftime, Paul made his way to the bathrooms, and he felt a presence behind him. Looking over his shoulder, he exhaled, relieved that Billy was alone. When the door shut behind them they stood next to each other at urinals.

“What are you doing here?” Billy asked.

“I’ve been getting a lot of that,” Paul joked. “Jim invited me!”

“Jim?” Billy asked. “I didn’t know you guys were friends.”

“We weren’t, until Danny asked him to keep an eye on me after Robert and….” Paul let the sentence trail off.

“After I broke your glasses,” Billy said.

“Billy, get over it. I have,” Paul said. “Anyway, he’s been really nice.”

“Huh,” Billy said. “Well, alright….”

They washed their hands, and Billy looked around carefully before giving the boy a quick peck on the cheek, smiling shyly. “You’re so … it’s hard for me to watch you and not be with you,” Billy said. “I just want you to know it isn’t easy for me either.”

“I know,” Paul said. “But it is what it is….”

When he returned to his seat, Paul was subdued and his father noticed and cast Billy a quick glance. “Everything alright, son?”

“Yeah, dad! Fine!”

“He didn’t,” Phil began.

“NO! He just wanted to say hi!” Paul said.

“He couldn’t just come over and,” Phil began.

“NO, DAD! That would be bad for him,” Paul said quietly. “Those kids’ parents work with his dad!”

“Okay,” Phil said unhappily.

“What are you two whispering about?” Christina demanded.

“How big your ass looks in those pants,” Paul answered cheekily, making Phil chuckle.

“My ass looks great in these pants! Tell him, Mr. A!” she declared, making Phil blush and pretend he had not heard, as the two teens laughed. The second half of the game went fast, as Jim and his teammates cruised to victory. Paul couldn’t hear his own thoughts over the cheering as the final horn sounded as the clock ran out.

Phil started collecting his things and Paul stopped him. “Let’s hang out a bit,” Paul said. “Jim wants to introduce us to his dad….”

Christina would be waiting for Danny too, so they sort of stood around as most of the crowd bustled for an exit. Billy nodded subtly when he caught Paul’s eye, but left quickly with his friends. Only a few friends and girlfriends, and some family was still hanging around as the guys exited the field house, still dirty but having shed their pads and uniforms for casual clothes. Jim was easy to recognize as he jogged away from his friends toward the gate nearest where he had seen Paul last.

Jim waved to a solitary man at the other end of the bleachers, motioning for him to join him as he headed for Paul and Phil. “Hey, Christina,” he said. “Danny’ll be along in a minute. Coach held him back.”

“Why?” she asked.

“I think he’s going to make Danny co-captain after his kick-ass performance tonight!” Jim replied.

“Not that I’d really know, but it looked like you did okay tonight too,” Paul said, trying not to blush.

“He did great,” Phil said.

“Guys,” Jim said, feeling a hand on his shoulder, “this is my dad, Andy! Dad, this is Paul and Phil Anderson, and this is Danny’s girlfriend, Christina!” The man smiled and shook their hands, taking particular note of the delicate boy in the middle.

“You look familiar,” Phil said. “Where do you work?”

“I’m a probation officer,” Andy said.

“OH! That explains it,” Phil answered. “I’m with the county commissioner’s office. Bean counter.”

Andy laughed and the two of them started talking, letting the teens chat amongst themselves while they waited for Danny, who emerged shortly. He was beaming like Paul had never seen, and they knew Jim was right. “Hey, dad and I sometimes go to Waffle House after games. Why don’t you all come and celebrate?” Jim suggested.

They all agreed, though Danny whispered with a wink, “We can’t stay long though!”

They drove down to the closest location and got two booths, Phil and Andy talking shop while the teens sat together a few booths away. When Danny and Christina left, Jim and Paul were sitting alone on one side of the booth, and Jim was on the outside. He made no move to switch and Paul didn’t ask why not. Andy did notice however, as he was facing them.

“Can I ask you a question, Phil? I don’t mean anything by it, but your son….” Andy momentarily lost the nerve, and then had no idea how to ask. “He’s gay?” he asked, deciding on the direct route.

“Yep,” Phil said. “We’ve known for a while, but it’s been harder since Robert and his friend Billy outed Paul to the school.”

“How did you get your head around that?” Andy asked, trying to be nonchalant.

“I’m not gonna lie, it took a while. First I was angry and wondered what I could have done. But I talked to a friend, an Episcopal priest, and he helped me figure some things out. I’m still scared for him, though. It’s good to know boys like your son are looking out for him,” Phil said.

“I wasn’t really thrilled about that,” Andy admitted. “But Jim’s gotten real attached to him. Talks about him all the time, like they’re best friends!”

“The gay thing bothers you?” Phil asked.

“Nah, I don’t care,” Andy said. “I was just worried Jim would end up tangling with the bullies and get in trouble. He’s on scholarship and … I’d hate to see him back in public school.”

“Paul too,” Phil said, nodding. “It’s one of the reason he hasn’t complained more about the bullies.”

“Guess they’ve got a lot in common,” the man said, making Phil wonder.

“What about your wife?” Phil asked.

Andy looked off into the distance and said, “She ran off about six years ago. Nearly killed Jim!”

“Shit, I’m sorry,” Phil said. “What are you guys doing for Thanksgiving?”

“I’ll be on call this year, so we’ll do microwave dinners and football,” the man laughed.

Phil shook his head. “Come to us! We’ll have plenty of food, and then Jim and Paul can hang out!”

“We couldn’t impose,” the man said.

Phil looked over his shoulder and said, “I could just give the invite to your son, and then you wouldn’t have much of a choice, I imagine!”

Andy nodded with a wry smile. “Thanks!”