Chapter 06

As the sun began to set, Jim set up the grill and lit the charcoal, and most of the guys gathered around and talked while the coals burned. When they were ready, Jim went into the cabin for the hotdogs and hamburgers, which he and Paul had prepared into patties earlier in the day. As he opened the refrigerator, he heard someone else enter the cabin and looked up.

Jim smiled and said, “How’s it going out there, Paulie?”

“Fun,” Paul smiled. “Mostly just talking to Christina and some of the girls.”

“You’re welcome to join the guys if you want, Paulie,” Jim said. “No one’s going to make problems for you!”

“I know,” Paul said. “Christina and I needed to catch up, though!”

“Yeah, I guess so! I’ve sort of been taking all your time,” Jim smiled and held out a tray for Paul. Then he grabbed one for himself and they walked out to the grill. Jim started cooking, while Paul stuck pretty close to his elbow, except to run inside for the buns and condiments. Meanwhile, Danny got the bonfire started.

Everybody was eating around the glowing fire and talking when another truck pulled up. Jim and Paul were sitting side-by-side on the other side of the fire so they didn’t see it. All they saw was Danny tensing up and Christina scowl

“Hey, guys,” Paul heard and involuntarily leaned into Jim.

“Don’t worry, Paulie,” Jim whispered. “It’s fine!” Then he stood and said, “Robert, Billy, what brings you guys out this way?”

“I got a text about the party, so we thought we’d drive out,” Robert said, a nervousness building among those kids who went to school together. Seamus, Dean, Conrad and the others were in the dark. That wouldn’t last long.

“Of course you’re welcome,” Jim said, “but I’m gonna have to ask you to be nice to everyone who’s here!”

Robert’s face squinted up as he looked around and asked, “What?” It was then that Paul stood up and drew nearer to Jim. “Paul,” Robert sneered. Then he looked back at Jim and said, “Shouldn’t be a problem.”

Danny’s knuckles were white as he balled up his fists, ready to jump if necessary, but Robert and Billy sat down and leaned against a big rock. Billy could still see Paul’s face around the fire and looked at him with something like an apology in his face. Paul responded with a stony look — Billy knew Paul was here and had come with Robert!

Seamus leaned over and asked Danny, “What the fuck is this all about?”

“Robert and Billy have been bullying Paul. They broke his glasses, bruised him up pretty good. And it was them who outed him earlier this year,” Danny explained, his jaw flexing angrily.

Seamus stood up and walked into the darkness for a piss, but when he returned, he settled down on Paul’s other side. “Got your back, man,” he whispered.

Paul smiled and said, “Thanks!”

“So what’s going on?” Robert said, trying to rouse the silent group. “Where’s the beer?”

“Sorry, just a friendly get together, not so much a kegger,” Jim said with a brittle smile. “Don’t want anyone to get hurt driving home!”

Robert reached into his pocket and pulled out a flask. “That’s okay, I brought my own!”

Slowly the conversation returned to life, though everyone seemed to be keeping at least one eye on the two interlopers. Robert passed the flask to Billy, who took a tentative drink, casting a furtive glance at Paul who stared back at him.

“So, Paul, Danny says you got outed at school this year,” Seamus said casually, causing Paul to choke on his soda.

“Uhm, yeah,” Paul said, looking up at the hulking boy by his side. “It sucks!”

“But surely it’s nice too? To be free, I mean, to do what you want, with who you want?” Seamus asked.

“Not so much,” Paul said. “Pretty much just makes me a sideshow!”

“But at least now you can date!” Seamus declared.

“Right! I’ve gone out with every gay guy at school!” Paul laughed.

“Wow, you’ve been busy,” Seamus said, not catching the sarcasm.

Now Paul really laughed, drawing a smirk from Robert and a jealous glance from Billy. “That would be zero, Seamus! I’m the only ‘out’ guy at my school!”

“Would you like to go out with me some time?” Seamus asked staring into the fire nervously.

“What?” Paul asked, choking. Jim’s face fell and full of dark shadows cast by the fire as he listened helplessly. He wanted to say something, wanted to yell, ‘NO!’ But instead he balled that up and swallowed it.

“I want to take you on a date,” Seamus said, looking over at Paul with a shy smile. “Dinner and a movie, or dancing?”

“Dancing?” Paul asked. “Really?” He looked into the boy’s handsome face and saw only anticipation. “I….” Paul couldn’t help himself. He didn’t look to Billy, he looked over his shoulder at Jim who seemed to have been drawn into a conversation with someone else, but was really just looking away and blinking away tears. “I’d love to!”

Seamus put an arm around Paul’s shoulder and squeezed. “AWESOME!” He took out his iPhone and typed in Paul’s name and handed it to the boy. “Give me your number and I’ll call you to figure out a time!”

Paul took it with a smile and entered his phone number and email address, and then followed suit, giving the big boy his own phone. Seamus handed it back to him when he finished and put a heavy arm across Paul’s slight shoulder. As they laughed and talked, both Jim and Billy grew darker.

But the whole thing exploded as Seamus was whispering to Paul and laughing, when Robert said, “COME THE FUCK ON! How can you guys put up with this disgusting shit?” The boy was clearly two sheets to the wind, which brought out his inner sadist to grand effect. An eerie calm silence settled over the crowd. “I mean, this little fairy just won’t go away, and now you’ve got this big assed queer!”

Seamus looked at him with a scowl and said, “Is that the best you can do, douchebag? Real original!” And then he laughed dismissively. “Run along!”

Danny nodded at Seamus and stealthily got up from his place and moved around behind Billy and Robert. Robert looked around the fire and saw only disgust, so he said to Billy, slurring lightly, “Let’s get out of here before the orgy starts!”

Billy nodded and started to follow him silently. Before anyone realized, Paul was on his feet and after the two boys. He grabbed Billy by the arm and said, “It’s not safe! He’s drunk!”

Robert looked at Billy, shock on his face, and then at the small hand on Billy’s bicep. Before he could stop himself, the slightly tipsy Billy snarled, “Get your hand of me, fag!” But when he shook Paul’s hand off, he moved too wildly and accidentally knocked Paul over. The small boy tripped on a root and scraped his head on a rock.

Paul felt a sharp pain in the back of his head and raised his hand to his hair. When he drew it back there was blood. Jim was kneeling by him in an instant, pressing his hand against the boy’s head wound. “Are you okay?” he asked gently, casting a furious glance over his shoulder at Billy, who looked on in horror.

“It’s just my scalp — it looks worse than it is,” Paul said woozily.

“Come on!” Robert said to Billy impatiently.

“Don’t let him go, Jim,” Paul whispered.

“What?” Jim asked.

“Billy! Don’t let him ride with Robert. He’s drunk. It’s not safe!” Paul demanded.

“After everything,” Jim began, shaking his head. “Billy!” he yelled, standing up, his hands bloody. “Come here, you dirty bastard!” Robert and Billy stopped and turned to face Jim. “You come to my place and hurt my friend, and you think you’re just walking out of here?”

“It was an accident,” Billy said, almost touching the desperation he felt – desperate to run to Paul’s side and beg for forgiveness, desperate to run and hide and disappear in his shame, desperate to keep his secret.

“Come here!” Jim said with a low snarl.

“Jim,” Paul called weakly, lying still on the ground. “What are you doing?”

Jim looked over his shoulder and gave Paul a look that said, ‘HUSH! I know what I’m doing!’

“Jim, I don’t want any more trouble! It was an accident,” Billy said, walking forward warily.

When he was close enough, Jim said, “Don’t leave with him!”

Billy’s look said, ‘I know, but how?’ Jim’s grin was knowing and malicious, and Billy didn’t have a moment to react when the big boy’s fist impacted his jaw with a crunch, laying him out, not unconscious but in enough pain that he was not going anywhere anytime soon. Then Jim looked at Robert and said, “Get the fuck out of here!”

Robert cast a glance at Billy and was about to ask, ‘What about him?’, but Danny appeared a few yards to his left and said, “You have a hearing problem?”

Robert looked back and forth between them warily, before turning and getting in his truck and driving off, his tired kicking up dirt and rocks as he gunned it. “What was that all about?” Danny asked Jim as he came over and checked on Billy.

“Had to keep him out of that truck,” Jim said.

“Why?” Danny asked.

“Paul asked,” Jim said, as one might say, ‘Why not?’

Danny shook his head and crouched by Billy. “Dean, can you drop this asshole off on your way home?”

“Sure, dude!” the big boy replied. “He’s riding in the back though. I don’t want Seamus to murder him.”

Jim helped Paul up and whispered, “Can you walk?”

“I’m fine!” Paul protested, but his knees were wobbly. “We’ll, a little help wouldn’t hurt, maybe.”

Jim put his arm under Paul’s and helped him up the cabin. Inside, he washed the wound and put a bandage on it. “I should take you to a hospital to make sure you don’t have a concussion!”

“Jim, I just scratched my head on the way down. I’ll be fine once we get it bandaged,” Paul protested.

“At least I should send Christina and Danny home so you can sleep inside,” Jim fretted.

“You getting nerves about sharing your little tent with a gay boy,” Paul teased, making Jim blush. But Paul guessed the wrong reason.

“NO! I’m worried about you Paulie! I could have beat the shit out of Billy!” Jim fumed.

“Speaking of which, you COULD have found a less violent way of convincing him,” Paul smiled.

“Yeah, but not as personally fulfilling,” Jim said. “You want to head back down or lay down?”

“I’m okay for a while yet, as long as you’ll fetch me my diet cokes,” Paul smiled, and they rejoined the gathered crowd. Paul looked around for Billy and saw him sitting in the back of Dean’s truck, alone and head down. Paul started his way and waved for Jim to sit down. Then he nodded that he’d be alright.

“Billy,” Paul whispered as he got close. The boy looked at him, his face pale.

“You’re okay?” Billy asked.

“I’m fine. I know you didn’t mean to knock me down,” Paul said. “But what you said….”

“I told you, Paul. When it comes to it, I’ll probably always be a coward!” Billy said, putting his head down.

“Billy, we’ll talk about this when I get home, okay?” Paul said. “I just wanted to keep you safe, and going with Robert was stupid!”

“I know, but I was pissed!” Billy said. “I don’t have any right to be, but I was!”

“Why?” Paul asked.

“I saw you with that guy!” Billy exclaimed.

“Billy, we talked about this! He wants to take me out on a real date!” Paul contended. “I told you, I’m not going to miss out because we’ve got our secret tryst!”

Billy looked off into the dark and said, “Are we done then?”

Paul looked at him carefully and said, “No…. I’ll tell him I’m seeing someone else but not exclusively, but if it goes anywhere with him, Billy, I can’t just keep pretending!”

“I’m not pretending,” Billy said, raising his voice a little. “What I feel is real!”

“I know that! I really do! But I can’t keep pretending that one day you’ll figure out that we could have it all! That I’d give you everything if you could give it back! I can’t give up a real chance for a hope!” Paul tried to explain. Billy nodded, acknowledging him, but said nothing. “I wish … Billy I’d give anything for it to be different!” And then Paul began to walk away.

“Paul?” he called softly. “Can I come by Friday night?”

“I’ll clear my calendar,” Paul smiled over his shoulder, and he was heartened to see Billy smile back at him just a little.

Paul settled down between Jim and Seamus, and instantly felt a new conflict in himself. Jim AND Seamus. Jim was perfection itself, but Jim, Paul told himself still, was straight; Seamus was beautiful and masculine all at once. But Seamus was available, gay and interested: the trifecta! And still every inclination in Paul screamed at him to lean over and lay on Jim, to let Jim hold him and take care of him; Jim would make everything better. So Paul sat up straight and tense between the two boys who liked him best, occasionally staring across the distance where sat the boy who’d loved him first.

Slowly, he got drawn back into the conversation, and a little of the tenseness drained away. He caught Jim watching him carefully, watching to make sure he was alright, and he felt a warmth in his chest.

Dean finally rose and said, “All aboard! I gotta get home guys! It’s been different, man,” he laughed, smiling at Jim and clasping hands with him to pull the big boy to his feet like he was a rag doll. Then he gave him a big hug. Paul stood and shook his hand timidly.

Conrad gave Jim a complex fist-bump and said, “See you round!” Then he winked and waved at Paul.

Seamus shook hands with Jim and hugged Paul, whispering, “I can’t wait to see you!”

“Me too,” Paul said, blushing. But as the boy walked off, Paul said, “Wait a second,” and hurried after him. At a distance, no one could hear Paul say, “I should tell you something…. There IS someone else I’ve been seeing.” He could see Seamus was disappointed, but he quickly added, “But he won’t go out with me. It’s getting old, and I told him if someone came along who’d treat me right, I’d see where it goes.”

Seamus smiled, “So let’s go out a couple of times and see!” Seamus got an impish look on his face and quickly leaned in and kissed Paul on the cheek. “It was really cool of you to come clean about that!” Paul’s hand rose involuntarily to his face and he blushed fiercely, making Seamus laugh. “Oh, we’re gonna have so much fun!” he said before jogging off to hop in with his friends.

When Paul returned to the fire, Jim was gone and so was Danny, so he sat next to Christina and said, “Where are our … I mean where are Danny and Jim?”

“Where are our what?” she asked with a grin.

“Never mind!” he exclaimed.

“Jim walked down to the lake and Danny went to talk with him,” Christina said.

“Wow, to be a fly on that non-wall,” Paul said. “The silent man is having a talk?”

“I know, right, but Jim’s looking pretty frazzled, what with Billy and all,” Christina said.

“And all?” Paul demanded.

“The look on his face when you fell! He looked like he was going to murder Billy and then when he saw you were hurt, he looked like he was going to pass out. And then there’s Seamus,” she said carefully.

“What about Seamus?” Paul asked.

“Paul, think about it!” she demanded. When he looked at her confused, she huffed and shook her head. “When Seamus asked you out, there was this look of panic on Jim’s face, and then he just … I don’t know….”

“If he was interested, he would have said something,” Paul declared. “He’s never said anything to even hint that he might be!”

“He’s never said anything, but he’s done plenty! He wants to be with you all the time! He takes you out to places guys don’t take guys! ICECREAM? For fucks sake, you’re dense!” Christina insisted.

Paul fumed, but the logic was impeccable. “I can’t risk our friendship!”

“And he’s probably thinking the same thing when he doesn’t say, ‘I love you, gay boy!'” Christina huffed, making Paul laugh. “So Seamus is a total hunk of meat, though!” Now Paul laughed harder, as she let him off the hook.

Down by the water, Jim stood skipping stones. Danny walked up next to him and stood silently, watching the dark water ripple. But it was Danny who broke the silence. “Damn it, Jim, you’re a pussy!”

Jim looked over at his friend and saw no smile, no hint of humor at all, and said, “Probably true. Anything in particular calling for that diagnosis?”

Danny said, “YEAH!” Gesturing with his thumb over his shoulder at the fire, he said, “What the fuck was that back there?”

“Paul didn’t want me to hurt him!” Jim said.

“Don’t be a fucking moron! I’m talking about Seamus! You’re just gonna let him go out with Paul?” Danny asked.

“Paul deserves to be happy,” Jim said. “Seamus is a nice guy.”

“Seamus is awesome!” Danny said. “He’s the strongest half-back in the city, and he’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. And he’s not TOO BIG A PUSSY TO ASK OUT A DUDE HE LIKES!”

Jim turned to face him with a glower in his face and anger in his eyes. “SHUT UP!”

“What are you gonna do? Get mad at me and stand there like a fucker?” Danny taunted.

“SHUT UP!” Jim bristled. “BACK OFF!”

“Oh, is he angry now,” Danny laughed, and then he shoved Jim in the chest. Not hard enough to knock him over but hard enough to annoy and belittle him. He pushed him right to the edge of losing it and then got all up in his face, chest-to-chest, and growled, “I’m the scariest mother fucker in this town, so why is admitting it to your best friend scarier than getting your ass kicked by him?”

Rage and pain etched Jim’s face and set it in a mask for a split second before his bottom lip trembled and he leaned forward and put his head on Danny’s shoulder. Danny put his arms around Jim and let the boy cry on his shoulder until he felt Jim stop shaking.

“Tell me about it?” Danny whispered and Jim shook his head.

“I can’t,” Jim pleaded.

“You can, Jim! You don’t have to tell anyone else, but talk to me!” Danny said.

“I’m gay,” Jim whispered.

“No shit?” Danny said sarcastically and squeezed him tighter. “And….”

“And I’m falling in love with Paulie,” he said, the first time he’d ever admitted it in words. He’d known it but hadn’t wanted to say it even to himself.

“So what the fuck are you waiting on, Jim? It’s you he wants!” Danny said. “Seamus is just what’s on the menu!”

Jim laughed and shook his head. “There’s something else,” he said, looking nervous.

“What?” Danny asked.

“I promised I wouldn’t say anything, Danny! Paul told me in confidence. “Give me your WORD you won’t tell Christina?” Jim asked.

Danny looked stunned, and he shook his head. “Don’t tell me!”

Jim smiled and nodded. “There’s something else, and just trust me. When I think he’s willing to choose me, I’ll lay it all on the line!”

“It’s your call, dude,” Danny said. “I just want you to be happy, and I bet that boy could make you ten kinds of happy,” he added with a wink. “Especially if he’s anything like his best friend.”

Jim laughed and confided, “Just being out here alone with him as it is makes me ten kinds of happy.”

“Dude, you are hopeless! But … in the meantime what are you going to do about Seamus?” Danny asked.

“Seamus is a nice guy,” Jim said. “He won’t hurt Paulie, but he’s got a short attention span….”

Danny looked unconvinced and said, “You sure Paul won’t work the same magic on Seamus that he worked on you, dude?” That was an uncomfortable thought, but Jim brushed it aside.

***

Jim and Paul walked out into the woods toward their little camp, having doused and buried the fire and cleaned up a little. Neither of them wanted to think about the sounds that had begun to emanate from the cabin as they beat a hasty retreat.

When they got to the tent, Jim turned on the lantern and quickly stripped down and crawled inside. Paul was a little more uncomfortable undressing in the open, so he took longer as he looked around, which was fine by Jim who watched him carefully from the ground. The boy’s small body nearly glowed in the lantern light, smooth and taught, only under his arms showing the least amount of body hair. Then Paul shimmied into his sleeping bag.

The tent was a small, two-man pup-tent, and Jim could feel Paul through the two sleeping bags pressed against him. He wished there were nothing there, wished he could ask the boy to zip the bags together and feel Paul’s smooth body pressed into him.

“So, you’re going on a date with Seamus?” Jim asked. “What will your mystery boy think?”

“He’ll have to deal with it,” Paul said. “Seamus is willing to take me out, and like you said, I deserve that much!”

“Yeah,” Jim said.

“What do you think?” Paul asked unexpectedly. “About me and Seamus?”

“I think … Seamus is one of the nicest guys,” Jim said, “but he dates a lot and is sort of casual about it. Or he has been so far.” Jim paused and said, “You’re special. If anybody could settle him down, it’s you.”

Paul blushed and said, “You’re sweet!”

They turned out the lantern and tried to go to sleep. But it was getting chilly and they both had a lot to think about, so they lay awake, each lost in his own world, until sleep crept in.

***

In the morning, Jim woke first and dressed. In the light, you could see the cabin from the tent, so he walked out into the clearing and finished cleaning up. Danny joined him a few minutes later and said, “Morning, bud! You get laid last night?”

“I wish,” Jim joked privately.

“Well I did,” Danny said, stretching and smiling. “Twice! And once this morning!”

“Horndog!” Jim said.

“She’s worse,” Danny laughed and helped him start getting everything put away and packed into the car. When Paul wondered groggily over and yawned they both laughed at him.

“What?” Paul asked.

“Your hair! It’s terrible,” Jim said, laughing.

Paul yawned again and retorted grumpily. “Fucking Bravo, man! Everybody thinks they’re Queer Eye!”

Danny laughed and patted him on the shoulder. “You got that right,” Danny said with a wry look that only Jim could see. “Christina’s decent, so go in and primp!”

“Whatever!” Paul said with a smile before winking at Jim and kissing Danny on the cheek, causing the unflappable boy to blush a radioactive shade of purple. “I should have smacked him on the ass, football style,” Paul said before he went inside. The boys heard him and Christina laughing shortly, presumably at their expense.

“Dude,” Danny asked, “what are you doing?” shaking his head and laughing at Jim.

“Hell if I know,” Jim said, shrugging.

An hour later they were on their way home. They stopped at the Waffle House and had breakfast together before splitting up. When Jim dropped him off, Paul seemed reluctant to get out of the car. “You want to come in for a while?”

Jim smiled enigmatically and said, “I shouldn’t! I’ve got to get home sometime today!”

“Alright! See you tomorrow!” Paul said, waving and smiling as the boy began to back out. Paul carried his bag inside and called, “I’m home!” But no one was there at the moment, so Paul ran upstairs and showered.

As the hot water rolled over his body, he ran a hand down his smooth chest to grasp his hardening cock. He’d had no time to relieve himself in private since Sunday, which was a record since the day he’d figured that one out! But as he began to fantasize, he found he had trouble. Which of his boys would he dream about?

When he finished up, he dried off and pulled on a pair of pajama bottoms and a t-shirt and went downstairs for some food. His mother came out of her bedroom as he was pouring himself some milk.

“How was the camping trip?” she asked.

“Awesome!” he replied. “We had a bonfire last night and some of his friends, and Christina and Danny, came up! It was so cool … except when Billy and Robert showed up and Jim punched him … and there were three guys from other schools and one of them is gay AND on his school’s football team and he asked me out, Mom!”

“WHAT?” his mother asked.

“What what?” he asked, cocking his head to the side.

“What to all of it!” she replied. “You’re talking so fast I barely caught any of that!”

So he began again and told her all about the camping trip, giving her details about the previous night, how Billy and Robert had shown up and Robert had been drinking, and how Jim punched Billy. But he left out the part where Billy knocked him down, as it had been an accident and she wouldn’t understand.

“Now, tell me about this Seamus!” she demanded with a smile.

Paul gave her a shy grin and described the boy. “He’s so cute, and so sweet, mom!”

“What about Jim?” she asked.

“Jim thinks he’s great,” Paul said and took a drink of milk. His mother shook her head but bit her tongue.

“Well, after dinner I’m going to start some of the food for tomorrow. Give me a hand?” she asked.

“Sure. I’ll run check my email and that kind of stuff and be back in a bit to help!” he answered and ran upstairs.

He checked his emails, responding to another sweet thank you from Jim, and telling Billy they were definitely still on for Friday night. Then he called Seamus.

“Paul?” the boy answered brightly.

“Hey, Seamus! I just got cleaned up and thought I’d call you before and my mom and me get started with the cooking,” Paul said.

“Pretty and good in the kitchen,” Seamus teased. “Cha-ching!”

“Just wait until you get a taste of my cooking,” Paul grinned into the phone.

“You say the word and I’m there, Paul,” Seamus laughed. “What are you doing on Saturday?”

“I’m not doing anything,” Paul smiled.

“Can I pick you up at four?” Seamus asked.

“Okay,” Paul said, and gave the boy his address.

“See you then,” Seamus said, excitedly, “and happy Thanksgiving.”

“Thanks,” Paul said. “You too!”