Chapter 07

After breakfast, Paul and his mom started working on all the side dishes they hadn’t prepared the night before. His father had gotten up early to start the massive turkey, but otherwise left them to their devices. He came in to grab a drink and leaned against the counter. “So you have a date on Saturday? With this Seamus character?”

“Yes, dad, with this Seamus character!” Paul laughed.

“Be sure to tell him he can expect to meet us before he takes our little boy out,” Phil said grumpily.

“Warn him, you mean,” Paul said, and Phil laughed.

“Exactly,” the man laughed, before returning to his spot on the couch.

Around noon, the bell rang and Phil let Andy and Jim inside. “Come in, come in,” he said, taking their coats. “Can we get you something to drink?”

Both of them declined, and Andy joined Phil in the living room, while Jim headed for the kitchen. The sight that met him was Paul, in his snug pajama bottoms, leaning over the sink to clean out the drain. Jim felt his pulse and blood pressure, as well as more obvious indicators, rise.

“Those look comfortable,” he joked, making Paul jump. “I should have worn my Tabasco Sauce pants so we could match!”

Molly raised her eyebrows but carefully kept her back to the boys so they couldn’t see her face. “I’m almost through in here with prep. Why don’t you boys run upstairs and relax while the food finishes cooking?”

“Are you sure, mom?” Paul asked.

“I’ll call you when it’s almost ready and you can help set the table!” she replied, sending him on his way.

“So what did you do last night?” Paul asked Jim when they got upstairs.

‘Sat at home and thought about you,’ Jim’s mind declared. “Nothing. Answered some emails, cleaned my room, all that crap. How bout you?

“Helped mom out some, took a shower and got the nature stink off of me,” Paul smiled, making Jim flutter inside.

Before it got too uncomfortable, Jim blurted out, “Want to watch some TV?”

“Sure,” Paul said, flipping it on and handing him the remote. “Make yourself comfortable!”

Jim kicked off his shoes and sat on Paul’s bed, back against the wall, and began flipping channels. Seeing Paul just stand there, he patted the bed next to him. Paul smiled and sat next to him on the narrow double bed, as Jim looked for something to watch.

Paul wasn’t really comfortable though, and it occurred to him he had an opportunity to check Jim’s boundaries. Gently, he leaned over and put his head on the boy’s shoulder and yawned. “Tired?” Jim asked.

“A little, I guess,” Paul answered, and his heart started pounding as Jim lifted his arm and wrapped it around him so his head rested on firm chest muscle. Paul couldn’t help but sigh a little in contentment, and soon, from the warmth and the rhythmic rise and fall of Jim’s chest, Paul had fallen asleep.

Jim looked down at the boy’s peaceful face as he slept comfortably on his chest, and wondered, ‘What the fuck am I waiting for?’ He wouldn’t tell him today, because he didn’t want to risk ruining Thanksgiving for everybody, but tomorrow. Tomorrow he was coming over here and laying his cards out on the table!

***

“Thank you for having us over,” Andy said as they were all sitting around the table eating. “It’s been a while!”

“Yeah, microwave dinners aren’t as great a tradition as they sound,” Jim winked. “Thanks a lot!” Then he smiled at Paul as if to say, ‘REALLY!’

“Well, you’re both very welcome,” Molly smiled. “I’m so glad these boys are friends!”

Paul blushed but smiled sheepishly. As their parents chatted, Jim and Paul exchanged a series of silent glances, occasionally blushing at some undesired revelation or other. After they had their deserts, they made a hasty retreat upstairs, Phil and Andy having volunteered to clean up before the next game came on.

“You can watch the game with our dads if you want,” Paul said as he quickly checked his email before hopping up on the bed next to Jim, who had resumed his spot already. This time, Jim didn’t wait, but draped his arm over Paul and pulled him close.

“I’d rather hang out with you,” he smiled. “I don’t care about the games!”

Paul blushed fiercely and nodded. They put something on and it was pretty boring. Without looking up at Jim, Paul asked, “Do you ever hear from your mom?”

Jim tensed up a bit but his voice was calm. “Sometimes I get a post card close to my birthday or Christmas or some other holiday,” he said. “But I haven’t seen her since she walked out…. Dad didn’t want me to know, but she didn’t even ask for visitation in the divorce.”

When he heard that, Paul shook his head and snaked his arm behind Jim and threw his other arm across his broad chest, rolling into him and giving him the biggest hug he could. “I’m SO sorry,” Paul said. “I shouldn’t have brought it up!”

“It’s okay,” Jim whispered. “I’m glad to have somebody I can tell this stuff to.” And it occurred to him that having Paul half laying on him and squeezing mostly made up for it.

“It’s just … it must be hard these times — Thanksgiving, Christmas, you know, family times,” Paul whispered, still holding on tight.

“It is,” Jim said, misting up. “But dad’s my family, and this year I’ve got you.” The way he said it excited something in Paul’s heart. ‘I’ve got you….’ Paul thought to himself, ‘You do. I just wish….’

“Any time you want to talk,” Paul said, “I’m here for you!”

***

After Andy and Jim left that evening, Paul sat alone and confused. Billy was complicated and exciting and hot; Seamus was sweet and new, and so cute. But Jim, Jim held all promises. Jim was his protector, his true friend, a rock. Jim was kind and beautiful to Paul. And Jim was unavailable.

“What’s wrong, baby boy?” his mom asked leaning on his doorframe. She’d caught him at his desk brooding.

“I deleted my favorite porn,” he said, deflecting with humor.

“YEAH RIGHT!” she said, walking in and sitting on his bed. “Talk to me, sweetie! It’s the least you can do, since I’m never having a daughter,” she teased.

“Oh, mom,” he began trying to sound like a vapid girl but failing miserably. He may have been a petite, smooth, pretty boy, but he was a boy. “It’s the boys!”

“I knew that,” she said, patting the bed beside her. “You could give it some time. You don’t have to rush out with Seamus you know.”

Paul moved to sit by his mom and said, “I promised myself I’d stop putting off life waiting for someone who might never come around.”

“But you haven’t known Jim that long,” she said. But then her eyes opened wide. “There are more than two boys!” Paul nodded slowly. “OH, PAUL!” He nodded again, and teared up as she wrapped an arm around him.

“Uhm, me and Billy were sort of together for about three months,” Paul confessed.

“Oh, God, sweetheart! Why didn’t you tell us? Your heart must have been breaking every day!” Molly said, rubbing his head.

He nodded. “It was so terrible, mom. A friend of his walked in on us on kind of making out. They didn’t see anything, and Billy made out like it was on me to get himself off the hook! I was crushed!” She hugged him tight.

“You know that makes it a lot harder to like him,” Molly said.

“I know,” Paul said.

“And Jim punched him good?” she asked with a smile. “That helps!” Paul laughed. “So you’ve got Billy sniffing around again, and you were in love with him, but he’s still being a weenie. And then you’ve got this stud muffin Seamus, who’s in to you and can treat you right. And now there’s Jim, who may be off limits?”

“That’s got it,” Paul said, shaking his head. “And I like Jim SO much, mom.”

“Me too, sweetie!” she said honestly. “I’d probably wait around to see if it was me, because I think he’s about ready!”

“I’m going out with Seamus,” he said, shaking his head.

“What about Billy?” she asked.

“Billy knows I’m not going to hang out and be his secret girlfriend if I’ve got a better deal, but they know about each other. Well, Seamus knows there is someone else, just not who,” Paul explained.

“This is getting very complicated, sweetheart!” Molly exclaimed. “Be careful!”

“I will, mom,” he promised.

“And you don’t have to leave your door open if Billy is here, if … you know,” she said, standing up to walk away.

“MOM!”

“Don’t Mom me! I don’t want to walk by this door one day and see something no mother should ever see!” Molly replied.

“MOM! EWWW!” he protested, but couldn’t help laughing too. But before she left he said, “You and dad should turn on some music on Thursday nights, and whenever, then! The walls are thin!” Now it was his mother’s turn to blush and retreat.

Later that night, though, she would get her revenge. Paul could hear the music as he lay in bed reading.

***

“What’s going on?” Danny asked as he let his friend inside. “How was Thanksgiving with lover boy?”

Jim’s grin was infectious. “Awesome,” he said, and couldn’t help but gush about the day. “I’m gonna go over there tomorrow and tell him how I feel!”

“Really?” Danny asked, surprised. “You’re sure?”

“About how I feel? Yeah! About letting Paulie know? Yeah!” Jim said.

“But what about the rest? School, the world?” Danny asked.

“I’m gonna be the guy,” Jim said. “That means all-in….”

Danny put his hand on Jim’s shoulder and said, “Good for you! He’s a lucky guy!”

“We’ll see. He’s already trying to decide between two guys. I’m not taking anything for granted,” Jim said. “Just don’t tell Christina until you hear from me, okay?”

“Sure, dude! I don’t want her to flip out,” Danny laughed.

***

The next morning Molly dragged Phil out to black Friday sales and they wouldn’t be home until noon. Paul took his shower and put on some sweatpants to lounge in while he watched television. Around 10, the doorbell rang and Paul opened the door a little.

“Can I come in?” Billy asked with a smile. He was again at the front door but it was daylight and he seemed in a hurry to get inside.

“Come on,” Paul said, opening the door. Billy stepped in and closed the door behind him. He put his hands on Paul’s bare sides and asked, “Your parents out?” When Paul nodded, he slid his right hand up the boy’s smooth back and pulled him in for a passionate kiss. “Did you not wear a shirt especially for me?” he teased.

“I wasn’t expecting you until this afternoon,” Paul smirked. “But since you’re here you can give me a shoulder massage!” Billy smiled and followed him to the couch. Paul sat between Billy’s legs and the boy’s powerful hands began working his tense shoulders expertly. Billy had discovered early he couldn’t get his hands on Paul often enough, and Paul knew it too.

Paul groaned as the boy took special care of him. “Lay down on your belly,” Billy said.

Paul looked over his shoulder at Billy and said, “We should take that upstairs. More room….”

Billy nodded and Paul took off for the stairs, Billy hot on his heels. Paul launched himself onto the bed and said, “Close the door behind you!”

With Paul flat on his stomach Billy straddled his back and began thoroughly massaging the boy’s back. Paul could feel Billy getting hard, pressing into the small of his back. “Roll over,” Billy instructed, and Paul complied.

Billy smiled as he felt Paul’s dick poking him as he knelt over the boy and began rubbing his shoulders and chest as they faced one another. Paul reached up and pulled Billy down on top of him, kissing him passionately. Then he grabbed the bottom of the boy’s shirt and pulled it up over his head so their bare chests touched as they kissed.

“Paul,” Billy gasped as the boy’s hands roamed. Billy grabbed his arms and rolled off of Paul, stretching out beside him. His hand gently tickled Paul’s smooth belly as he looked into Paul’s eyes and said, “I’m sorry.”

“Do we need to,” Paul began, but Billy shook his head.

“I’m sorry,” Billy declared. “I knew as soon as Robert got the text about the party we shouldn’t have come, that it would only be trouble, but … I … I couldn’t stay away!”

“Why?” Paul asked, a knowing smile teasing at the edges of his mouth.

“I was jealous of you and Jim! Alright? But Paul, I’m so sorry, I NEVER meant to hurt you, or push you at all,” Billy said, closing his eyes and shaking his head. “When I saw you were bleeding, I could have…. You’re okay?”

“Yes, silly! It was just a little scrape, and I knew it was an accident or you wouldn’t be here. Though I have to say, I wasn’t entirely upset when Jim punched you!” Paul smiled.

“Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It hurts like hell!” Billy pouted, trying not to smile.

“You’re lucky he was holding back. He only did it because I asked him not to let you leave with Robert,” Paul said.

“Well, he chose that method because he hates me,” Billy replied.

“Yeah, a little,” Paul said. “Now, show me where it hurts so I can kiss it,” he said with a grin.

***

The boys were cuddling, still shirtless, watching a movie on television when they heard the door downstairs close. Paul’s parents were home. Billy reached for his shirt with a panicked look, but Paul put a hand on his arm and said, “No need! They’ll knock if the door is closed.”

“Okay,” Billy said, and Paul laid his head on the boy’s chest and squeezed him as they settled back in to watch their movie.

Billy could tell his mom had done some shopping as he heard the door open and close a few more times. “We’re home!” she yelled up, and then began unpacking.

The softer knock at the door, however, Paul did not hear. “Hi, Molly,” Jim said nervously. “Is Paulie home?”

“I think so, dear,” she said. “We just got home! Why don’t you go check?”

Jim walked upstairs slowly, nerves beginning to get the better of him, but he reached the door and opened it. He should have knocked. His mind, and his chest, seized up as the sight before him was unfathomable. The sight of Paul and Billy cuddling in bed as lovers might, shirtless and smiling, filled him with an instant disgust. He was disgusted that Paul could submit himself to that kind of degradation, and he was disgusted at himself for … everything.

“Jim,” Paul said in shock.

Billy’s face was a mask of terror. There would be no talking his way out of this one. And yet he began to lie, “It isn’t what it looks like….”

But Jim was already gone, his feet taking the stairs with superhuman speed. “Jim,” Paul shouted, pulling his shirt on as he ran after the boy, leaving Billy alone in shock.

Molly was surprised as the big football player rushed by her without a word, and hurried out the front door, slamming it slightly in his wake. “What’s happening?” she asked as Paul followed moments later.

“Billy was up there with me, mom,” he said as he rushed by.

“Oh, no,” the woman said, but she said it to herself. Paul was already outside.

“JIM! STOP!” Paul yelled at the boy who was already getting in his car. “PLEASE?”

“I CAN’T DO THIS!” Jim yelled, pounding on the roof of his car and turning to point at Paul. “I JUST CAN’T, PAUL!” Paul stopped in his tracks and looked like he’d been slapped in the face. Nothing Jim could have said would have prepared him for that.

“Please,” Paul said, taking one more tentative step with tears in his eyes.

“God damn it, don’t do that! Don’t make me feel bad for this!” Jim said, shutting his eyes tightly.

“I don’t understand,” Paul said, lowering his head.

“FUCK!” Jim said, unable to help but feel moved by his friend’s pathetic expression. He took two steps forward and pulled Paul into a hug.

Paul began to sob openly in his arms and at long last whispered, “You called me Paul….” After a few more moments, he said, “I hate nicknames, but I like being Paulie to you.”

Jim choked back some tears and shut his eyes tightly, kicking himself. “I was angry. You’ll always be Paulie to me.”

“But why?” Paul asked. “Why angry?”

“WHY HIM?” Jim asked with heavy emotion. The unasked question was, ‘instead of me,’ but Paul missed it, or subconsciously ignored it.

“It’s complicated,” Paul whispered, not letting go. “We were together for months before … you know.”

“But why take him back? Why let him hold you in your bedroom and push you around in the hall? He doesn’t have the right, Paulie!” Jim insisted.

“No, he doesn’t,” Paul said, hanging his head in shame. “But I was tired of being alone, and I let him back in about the time we started to get to know each other. I was SO lonely, and so tired of being dumped on without any rest! And Jim … HE really does love me!”

Jim clasped him by the shoulders and looked into his eyes. “He thinks he does, Paulie, but he doesn’t. He CAN’T, not really, not like you DESERVE! If he loved you, he could never have turned on you! He could never have hurt you in school!” Then he hugged Paul again and whispered, “He’ll hurt you again, and I can’t stand to watch!”

“You’re not going to be my friend?” Paul asked, panicked.

“I couldn’t do that, Paulie. But it’s going to hurt me to see you be with someone who doesn’t deserve you,” Jim said.

“Maybe things will work out with Seamus,” Paul teased, but he couldn’t see Jim’s face.

As Jim hugged him tighter, he said, “Maybe,” with a pained expression.

Paul backed up with a really nervous look and said, “I need to ask you to do something….”

“What?” Jim asked, his eyes narrowing.

“I need you to come back inside and talk to Billy and let him know you won’t tell anybody,” Paul said.

“You know you’re asking too much?” Jim said sternly. “You shouldn’t,” he began but sighed. “FOR YOU….”

Paul nodded and led him back inside, past a nervous Molly, and upstairs. They found Billy softly crying on the bed. Without looking, he said, “It’s all over! He’s gonna tell everybody!”

“Stop your whining,” Jim said harshly, causing Billy to sit up and look at him. “I’m not going to tell anybody.”

“Why?” Billy asked suspiciously.

Jim looked at him with a simplicity that expressed his own disbelief at Billy’s attitude. “Because Paulie asked me not to!” Then he leaned in and in a lower tone that spoke volumes said, “But if you hurt him again, so help me….”

“Jim!” Paul said, putting a hand on his arms. “Billy, Jim is my friend, and I trust him.”

“Yeah, I get it. But he’s not my friend. He’ll tell if anything happens between us,” Billy said.

“No,” Jim said in a near growl, “if you hurt him again, so help me God, I’ll beat you to within an inch of your life, mother fucker!” Billy met his eyes, and Jim added, “I think we understand each other?” Billy nodded. “I’m not going to tell anybody, because NOBODY DESERVES THAT, but … I’ve got to get out of here.”

Paul grabbed his arm before he could escape and said, “Thank you!” When Jim left, he smiled weakly at Billy and said, “That went well!”

***

“What happened, dude?” Danny asked uncomfortably as Jim sat in the floor of his bedroom, leaning back against the bed crying.

“I walked in on him with the other guy … the secret guy,” Jim said.

“Were they … you know?” Danny asked with a grimace.

“NO! He was just holding him while they watched TV! It wasn’t the what, it was the who!” Jim declared. “I need you to promise not to tell, because I just can’t keep this one to myself!”

“Jim,” Danny said, thinking of his girlfriend. “Alright. I promise.”

“It’s Billy,” Jim said.

“WHAT?” Danny asked, choking.

“Billy and Paul were together most of the summer, before he outed him,” Jim nodded.

“MOTHER FUCKER!” Danny swore angrily. “And he’s back for more! That no good….”

“You’ll hear no objections from me,” Jim replied. “What should I do?”

“I guess declaring your undying love is out, huh?” Danny said.

“Yeah…. For sure!” Jim said.

“You just keep being you, and don’t let Paul forget you’re the guy he wishes he could have! Unfortunately for Paul, this thing with Billy … well, you know, and I know, and, hell, even Paul must know…. But when that happens, after he recovers, you should tell him how YOU feel! And I don’t care if it means stepping on Seamus’s face.”

Jim knew Danny was right about it all, but part of him knew he was about to do something stupid.

***

“Billy, don’t be this way,” Paul said that evening before the boy left. Billy had been withdrawn and quiet all evening.

“Someone knows about us,” Billy said. “That’s huge. Sorry if I can’t just pretend like that didn’t happen!”

“Billy,” Paul said, putting his hand on his head, “nothing has changed. I trust Jim with my life, so I trust him with your secret!”

“Well, it’s my secret,” Billy pouted.

“Didn’t bother you when it was my secret, though, did it? You’re being a real asshole,” Paul said. “Just go home!” Billy pouted a little and then turned to go. “You’re just going to walk out of here?”

“You said,” Billy began.

“I know what I said. You’re supposed to apologize, or fight for me, or something,” Paul said. Then he led the boy to the door and said, “I’ll see you later!”

“Paul,” he began.

“Somebody’ll see if you don’t hurry,” Paul said, closing the door.

***

“Calm down, Paul,” Phil said, looking over his paper at the boy who had just walked to the door, peeked out, and retreated for perhaps the tenth time. “What time is he supposed to be here?”

“Four,” Paul said with an anxious look.

“Jesus Christ, boy, it’s 3:40! Sit down or go upstairs, or go in the back yard. Just stay away from that door and stop pacing!” Phil demanded sternly, but with a grin.

“DAD!” he whined. “I’m nervous!”

“Why are YOU nervous? It’s Sean who has to meet the parents of the boy,” Andy said.

“SEAMUS, dad!” Paul pouted.

“I know! I’ve only heard like a thousand times now! Upstairs with you!” When the boy didn’t move, Phil’s eyes narrowed and he got a wicked grin. “You’re going to wear that sweater with those pants?”

“PHIL!” Molly said, walking out of their bedroom. “THAT WAS UN-CALLED FOR!” Then she grasped Paul’s shoulders and took a look. “You look beautiful,” she said giving him a kiss. “But the shoes….”

Paul ran upstairs and Phil whispered, “Thank you dear!”

“Don’t thank me,” she grimaced. “It took an hour to convince him that outfit looked fine. And then you go and say that!”

Phil frowned and said, “And you wanted GIRLS!”

Molly chuckled and said, “Hush now.” Then she looked at Phil and said, “Aren’t YOU a little nervous?”

“NO!” he grunted. “Maybe a little, but I get to be intimidating. That’ll make me feel better. Plus Seamus already saw Jim sock Billy one, so that should give him some perspective on hurting Paul….”

Molly smiled and shook her head. She should have explained things to her husband after yesterday, but Phil had been so good with Billy lately…. She looked up and rolled her eyes. Paul was pacing in his room just above them now. “Go talk to him, Phil!”

“And say what?” he asked. Her look got him on his feet and motivated him upstairs. After a moment to collect himself, Phil knocked.

“What?” Paul asked.

“Can I come in?” Phil responded.

“Yeah,” came Paul’s reply.

Phil walked in and sat on his son’s bed and patted next to him. Paul sat and Phil put an arm around him. “Son, sometimes when a boy likes another boy, and they….”

“DAD!” Paul groaned.

“I’m kidding,” Phil smiled. “But you know the spiel, right? Condoms and all that?”

“Yes dad!” Paul said, exasperated.

“What’s on your mind, son?” Phil asked.

“I’ve never been on a date before,” Paul said. “Everybody’ll see us together. Everybody will know!”

“Isn’t that what you wanted?” Phil asked.

“I want to be able to go out and NOT be noticed, to be like everybody else,” Paul pouted.

“But since you can’t, isn’t having a boy who doesn’t mind being seen with you second best?” Phil asked. “I mean, this thing with Billy just can’t work!”

“Mom told you?” Paul asked, his eyes wide.

“Told me what? WHAT HAPPENED?” Phil asked, getting angry.

“NOTHING, DAD! Jim caught us together yesterday,” Paul admitted.

“TOGETHER TOGETHER?” his dad asked.

“No,” Paul said with a deep blush. “I was laying here and he was holding me while we watched television. How did you know?”

Phil looked at him and said, “I knew you had it bad for Billy since the kid moved into the neighborhood.” Paul looked surprised, and Phil laughed. “What? I’m a doting father. I pay attention to you, kid!”

Paul blushed and said, “Thanks, I guess….”

“I knew something changed this summer, and I didn’t know how it related to what happened at school with Billy until he showed back up here,” Phil explained.

“You figured it all out?” Paul said.

“Pretty much,” the man admitted. “I didn’t realize he had any feelings for you too, I mean real feelings, until he came back to you though. Jim took it pretty hard?”

“Yeah. How did you,” Paul started to ask, but his father cut him off with a ‘don’t give me that’ look. “Dad, none of us know what’s going on in Jim’s mind. But he’s the best guy friend I’ve ever had, and that’s too much to risk.”

“Just understand, if everybody else is right, you’re actually risking more,” his father said. “But you boys have time. Plus you’ve got a date with Thomas!”

“Seamus, dad!” Paul said, falling for it again. Phil went for the noogie, but Paul sat back and held up his hands. “NO, DAD!”

Phil laughed and said, “Then stop pacing!” Then he left the room with a wink.