Chapter 11

“Your brother was always trying to get me to go to parties with him,” Sean said, staring intently at one spot on the wall. “I finally did go, that night. I got a beer from the house and went out on the back patio. It was cold and there were just a few people there – must have stood out there for an hour by myself.” Andy sighed and leaned back to listen. The man obviously needed to get this off his chest.

“Anyway,” Sean continued, “I decided it just wasn’t for me, so I tried to slip through the house and get out. It was a long walk home but it was still early in the evening. Anyway, Scott Walker was by the door and I was looking over my shoulder and bumped into him. He spilled his beer on his girlfriend and spun around to deck me. I didn’t even realize what happened, but Dent grabbed his elbow and told him to get lost.”

“He asked me where I was going,” Sean explained, “and I told him I was leaving. Shit like that was why I didn’t go to those things. I wasn’t much bigger than your son’s friend then. So he pouts like, and asks me ‘Please don’t go?’ So I stayed, but I stayed with him. Later, he went on the porch with me and we stood there all alone now. ‘Sean, what do you think we’ll be doing in ten years?’ he asked.”

“You remember that?” Andy asked with a laugh. “After 20 years?”

“I’ll never forget that conversation,” Sean said. “I told him I had no idea. ‘Come on,’ Dent said, ‘where do you want to be? Married? Working?’ I looked at him, and we were lit by the moon. ‘Dent,’ I said, ‘I want a lot of things, but … it’s stupid!’ He looked at me and smiled and said, ‘TELL ME!'” Sean exhaled deeply and leaned forward, putting his head in his hands, his shoulders shaking. Few people had ever seen the big, fierce man cry.

“What, Sean?” Andy asked, leaning forward.

“I told him, ‘I want to be with you,'” Sean said, miserably. “I said, ‘I love you, I’ve always loved you, and I will always love you! And I hate it that it’ll never be!’ He looked at me, surprised, and bolted inside. That’s what had him so shaken! That’s why he was driving like that. That’s why he’s dead,” Sean said, his lungs heaving with a near panic attack, which he’d not suffered since college.

Andy sat shocked. He had had no idea Sean was gay. “I … don’t know what to say,” Andy said at last. “Sean, you didn’t kill my brother, and you didn’t cause his accident.”

“You can’t believe that,” Sean replied.

“Sean, there are a couple of problems with your theory.” Sean looked up at him expectantly, and Andy said. “Most important is this one. My brother was madly in love with you.”

“What?” Sean asked, the tears in his eyes spilling over.

“Sean, my little brother came to me when he was 12 and asked me about boys. To my knowledge I am the only person he talked to about it. YOU WERE HIS DREAM!” The look on Sean’s face made Andy worry.

“We could have…? Oh God,” the man said, on the verge.

“He never would have left you on that porch, never have been flustered. He should have grabbed you and kissed you, not run off like that,” Andy said.

“Unless,” Sean began. “I’m so stupid. He wasn’t running away, he was chasing someone.”

“What?” Andy said.

“Scott,” Sean said. “He was there at the door. He must have heard me, and your brother was going to try to talk to him.” After a moment, he whispered, “It wasn’t my fault?”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Andy repeated.

“Oh, Andy,” the man said. “I can’t tell you … I went through so much therapy in college. I told myself if I wasn’t gay, he never would have died. I’ve never had a good relationship, any relationship really. Oh my fucking God! And all because of a mistake!”

“Sean, you’re still a young man! It isn’t too late,” Andy said, leaning forward. “This isn’t such a small town, you know. People get it.”

“Do you think they’ll send their boys to play football for me? Do you think they’ll want me in the locker room anymore? I just don’t know if I can do it,” Sean said. “I don’t know if I can start over.”

“We’ll support you, Sean,” Andy said, looking at his shoes. “I should never have drifted off like I did. It was just too hard. He loved you so much….”

“Thanks, Andy,” the man said. “I need to think.”

“Are you okay by yourself?” Andy asked.

“I’ll be okay,” Sean said.

“Call me if you need anything,” Andy said. “I’m sorry, Sean.”

“Thanks,” the man said, nodding. “Me too.”

***

Paul rode in silence back to the house, staring out the window while Jim watched him out of the corner of his eye. When they got home, Jim said, “I’d better get back to my place.”

“Do you have to go?” Paul asked.

Jim looked at him and said, “No,” before following him inside. Unseen, Molly shook her head and followed the boys.

“Let’s make some sandwiches for lunch,” she said, and the boys each made their own and stood across the island from one another, eating and talking.

“We’re going camping over the break mom,” Paul said.

“Oh?” she asked. “How long?”

Paul looked at Jim and said, “A week?”

“Sure you can stand me alone that long,” the boy joked.

“I think I can handle that,” Paul said.

Molly tried not to snort, thinking, ‘I just bet you can.’ Then she said, “Well, just let your father know where you’ll be so we can find you if we need to,” she said to Jim.

After they ate, the boys ran upstairs and started planning their trip. They talked about where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do. But at last, Jim said, “I really should get home and start studying for exams!”

Paul nodded and exhaled. “Can we study together some this weekend?”

“Won’t do you much good, but if you want I can bring my books over here tomorrow afternoon and we can work together,” Jim said.

“Would you?” Paul asked.

Jim smiled and said, “Sure!”

Paul looked at his feet and said, “I just don’t want to think about it.”

“About what?” Jim asked, concerned.

“The whole thing. Robert, Billy,” Paul said.

Jim put a hand on his shoulder and nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

***

[FLASHBACK]

Class had started a week earlier, and Paul was walking in the hall when Billy bumped into him. Billy shot him a quick smile before hurrying off, and Paul realized there was a note in his hand. He opened it and read, “My parents won’t be home until 11! Come over after school and bring your swimsuit!”

Paul couldn’t help but smile the rest of the day. He tried his best to deter Christina’s questions, and though he knew she didn’t buy his excuses, he avoided answering her. After school, he rode the bus home and ran inside to grab his suit. “Going swimming, mom!” he called as he hurried out the front door.

At Billy’s house, he found the door unlocked and let himself in. “Billy?” he called. “Hello?”

“Upstairs,” Billy called.

Paul ran upstairs and found the boy pulling on his suit. “Nice ass,” Paul winked.

“Your turn,” Billy retorted, sitting on the edge of his bed to watch Paul change into his suit. Paul lifted his shirt over his head and felt strong hands on his torso.

Paul groaned as the hands explored his soft skin, and quickly took the shirt off and stepped into Billy, who kissed him passionately. “You want to fool around before we head outside?”

“Sure,” Paul grinned and sat down on his lap, resuming kissing him. Then, Paul began to kiss Billy’s neck and chest, and the boy lay back on the bed and moaned in pleasure. Paul traced the boy’s abs with his tongue down to the waistband of Billy’s swimsuit.

He was just about to hook his fingers under that waistband when the door opened and they heard, “What the fuck!”

Paul looked up in terror at Robert, who stood over them, his mouth agape. Billy looked at Paul, then at Robert, back and forth a couple of times, before he muttered, “Paul’s a queer. Figured I’d give it a try!”

Robert laughed cruelly and said, “Sorry…. Door was unlocked.” Then he laughed some more and said, “I guess if your girl isn’t putting out, what’s the difference, right?” With a sneer, he added, “I’m next.”

Paul lurched from his position and made it to the door before the big jock could grab him, darting downstairs and outside. He’d left his shirt, and he didn’t care. He ran home and upstairs before his mom could realize he’d left it, and wouldn’t come out for dinner.

***

[PRESENT DAY]

Friday evening fell and Paul sat studying at his desk when he heard the doorbell downstairs. He wasn’t expecting anyone, so he let his parents answer it. The sound of loud conversation drew him to the door, and there he realized it wasn’t conversation. It was yelling.

“Just let me TALK to him!” Paul heard, and hurried downstairs.

“ENOUGH!” Paul yelled at his father and Billy. “What do YOU want?” he asked the boy.

“What happened?” Billy asked.

“You know what nearly happened,” Paul said angrily. “You knew it all day and didn’t tell me!” Billy looked away and Paul stormed up to him. “HOW COULD YOU?” Paul asked. “Were you really going to let them rape me?”

“Paul,” Billy said, “they wouldn’t have….”

“DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT?” Paul asked. “ARE YOU STUPID OR JUST IGNORANT? YOU REMEMBER THAT DAY AS WELL AS I DO! THE DAY ROBERT CAUGHT US!”

Phil tried to avoid looking flustered by that comment, but failed miserably. “Billy, what do you want, really?” Phil asked. “What can you hope to accomplish, given what Paul knows? You can’t think he’ll take you back?”

Billy looked back and forth between them, and it was clear THAT was what he had hoped for, at least before. “Paul,” he said, stepping toward the boy, “I AM sorry.”

Paul avoided his hand and said, “Yeah, you ARE!” The look on Billy’s face made Paul’s gut churn. There was a part of him that hated the boy, but he still didn’t want to hurt him either.

When Billy rushed out of the house, Paul asked his father, “Go after him?”

“You’re pushing it,” Phil said, pointing at Paul before hurrying out and calling, “Billy, wait!”

Paul collapsed on the couch and soon his mother was at his side.

“Billy, stop!” Phil called.

“Leave me alone. He’s right!” Billy said. “I’m not worth it!”

“THAT is not true,” Phil said, stopping him in his tracks. “What you nearly allowed to happen to my son is despicable, but … listen to me Billy,” he said, forcing the boy to look at him. “What my son saw in you IS there, Billy. You are that boy, deep inside, and if it weren’t for the company you keep, for the family that raised you, you’d be a prince.” Billy blushed and shook his head. “No, it’s true! But now it’s up to you. It’s your choice! Are you going to be the boy you’ve become, or are you going to be the man you could be?”

Billy looked into his eyes and asked, “You really believe I can do it?”

“I do,” Phil said, grabbing him by his muscular shoulders. “But it won’t be easy.” Billy nodded, his shoulders sagging and tried to turn and walk off. “Billy,” Phil said, holding on to him, “I need you to stay away from Paul for a while. It’s too hard for him!” Before the boy could be too downcast, Phil added, “But I AM here for you. If you need to talk, or if you need help, you call me, understand?”

Billy looked at him and said, “Are you for real? After all I’ve done?”

“I trust my son’s judgment,” Phil said. “If anything happens, with your dad, with Robert, anything, you come to me, understand?” Billy nodded and then surprised him by hugging him tight. “There, there,” Phil said as he patted the boy on the back as he started crying. For some reason, this made Billy cry harder.

When he got himself under control a little, Billy said, “Sorry!”

“For what?” Phil asked.

“Being such a….”

“Billy, you don’t have to be ashamed of anything like this, okay?” The boy nodded and took off, probably to sit and collect himself before heading home. Phil went back inside to find Molly holding Paul.

“How is he?” the boy asked.

Phil sighed and said, “Torn up.”

“Good,” Paul said, indulging in some meanness in private.

“You don’t mean that,” Phil scolded gently.

“No,” the boy pouted.

“I told him to stay away from you for a while,” Phil said, “but told him he could come to me if he needed anything.”

“WHAT?” Molly demanded angrily.

Phil tried to explain his encounter with the boy and at last Paul spoke. “He was crying because his dad has never held him like that…. His dad hit him when he cried as a little boy.”

Molly’s face scrunched up and Phil nodded. “I expected as much,” he said.

“Thanks dad,” Paul said. “I didn’t want to leave him all alone….”

“But you are LEAVING him, right?” Phil asked.

“Yeah,” Paul said, shaking his head. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive him enough to let him back in that way.”

“There are other fish in the sea,” Molly said.

“Eventually,” Paul replied. “Right now I don’t know if I could trust anybody enough. I mean, Seamus is really nice, and eventually I’ll call him….”

“There isn’t anybody you trust enough?” the woman asked, her eyes arched.

“NOBODY AVAILABLE, MOM! SHEESH, GIVE HIM UP ALREADY!” Paul said.

It took every ounce of Molly’s energy to keep from blurting out what she wanted to say. She’d promised, and her son wasn’t ready, just yet, to hear it.

***

Andy and Jim sat in the living room eating on their trays in silence. “Jim, that’s the best school you’ll be able to go to in this town. We can’t afford to lose your scholarship, and I don’t want you back in public schools wasting your talent!”

“Dad, it’s over! Give it a rest!” Jim exclaimed.

“It wouldn’t be over if Sean hadn’t,” the man began.

“It’s Sean, now, is it?” Jim asked, arching his eyebrow.

“Always has been,” Andy said, taking a long drink from his beer can. “Your coach and my little brother were best friends in school. As close as two guys can be.”

Jim arched his eyes and said, “Yeah? How come I never saw him growing up?”

“It was hard on both of us losing him,” Andy said. He had Jim’s full attention as he rarely spoke of his brother. “I lost touch,” Andy admitted. He walked over to the bookshelf and grabbed his old high school yearbook and opened it. He sat down close to Jim on the couch and said, “This is Sean Spencer like I remember him.”

Jim followed his father’s finger to the skinny boy in the picture. He could recognize him because he knew who he was. Otherwise he wasn’t sure he would have. The boy in the picture was just above average height and very thin, with fine features. He wasn’t pretty, but he might have been with a little more weight. His coach, by comparison, was tall and powerfully built and most definitely handsome, he had to admit. “Wow,” Jim said. “He’s changed.”

“No kidding,” Andy smiled. Then he turned a few page and said, “This is your uncle Denton with Sean at a football game. They were inseparable! If you find a picture of Dent in here, Sean’s probably in it!”

Andy showed him a few more, and Jim asked, “Do you have any pictures around here of them?”

“Probably in the photo box my mom gave me,” Andy replied, and stood to grab the box. He quickly flipped through some photos and picked a few out, handing them to his son.

“Looks like they had a lot of fun together,” Jim said.

“Here’s one of the three of us up at the lake, before dad and I built the cabin,” he said, handing Jim another picture. “That was just a few months before the accident….”

Jim looked at the picture and was really tempted to ask his dad about something. He almost didn’t but he turned to his dad and asked, “Was uncle Dent … uhm, I mean, different?”

Andy looked at his son and sighed. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, how did he really feel about Coach Spencer?” Jim asked earnestly.

“Why do you ask?” the man inquired.

“It’s just, the way he looks at Coach Spencer,” Jim said.

“In this context, I think it’s okay to call him Sean, Jim,” Andy laughed.

“The way Dent looks at him in these pictures, especially the candid ones. It’s like there’s something going on in his head,” Jim said.

Andy looked at his son and said, “My brother was gay, I knew that since he was twelve. I don’t think anything ever happened between them.”

“Coach?” Jim asked, looking at a picture of the two boys smiling at each other.

“It’s not my place to say,” Andy said.

Jim nodded. “I thought so.”

Jim fell into a thoughtful silence and Andy looked at him and said, “You know, I’m the only one he told before he died.”

“He told you?” Jim asked.

“That’s the only reason I knew, son,” Andy said. Jim got up to walk to his room. “Jim,” Andy said.

The boy looked back at his dad, and said, “Yeah?”

“Sean is coming over for dinner tomorrow night; why don’t you join us?” Andy asked.

“Yeah, sure,” Jim said, lost in thought. Back in his room, Jim mentally kicked himself. ‘Way to wuss out, asshole,’ he mumbled under his breath to himself.

***

The next afternoon, Paul was sitting on his porch steps in the cool air when the rust old pile of junk pulled into his driveway. Jim hopped out of the car, and waved. “Hey,” Jim said, “how’s it going?”

“Okay,” Paul smiled weakly.

“What’s wrong?” Jim asked, sitting down beside him and putting an arm across his shoulder. “Anything I can do?”

“Yeah,” Paul said. “I’m just glad you’re here,” he added, leaning into Jim and laying his head on the boy’s shoulder. “You don’t mind do you?” he asked.

“No,” Jim laughed softly. “Now tell me what’s wrong!”

Paul explained how Billy had come over the night before, and how things had gone. “It’s just got me in a funk! You want to do something tonight?”

“I would, but dad invited coach over for dinner,” Jim said. “You want to come?”

“You sure?” Paul asked.

“SURE! I’ll call him and let him know you’re coming!” Jim said, reaching for his phone.

“I’ve never been to your place before,” Paul said.

“We haven’t known each other all THAT long,” Jim smiled as he dialed the cell. “Seems like forever though,” he added.

“I know,” Paul smiled.

“Hey, dad? Can Paulie come to dinner tonight?” Jim asked.

“Sure! Just warn him about the food!” Andy said.

“Dad says to warn you about the food,” Jim laughed. “Cans or cartons, dad?” he asked into the phone.

Paul laughed and said, “Why don’t you and I cook?”

Jim smiled and said, “Dad, Paulie and I will make something! We’ll go grocery shopping!”

Paul shook his head and said, “Let’s go!”

“What about studying?” Jim asked.

“I don’t feel like it. I’m good anyway. How about you?” Paul asked.

“Yeah, I’m about set. I’ll do some last minute reading tomorrow night for my Monday exams, and same on Monday night for Tuesday exams, and then we are FREE!” Jim said, pumping a fist into the air and making Paul laugh.

“Let’s go,” Paul said.

“You should let your parents know where you’re going,” Jim laughed.

Paul ran inside for a minute and returned moments later. “OKAY! Let’s go!”

“Have something in mind for dinner?” Jim asked.

“Yep,” Paul said. “It’s cheap, it’s easy and most everybody likes it!”

“What’s that?” Jim asked with a smile.

“Tacos,” Paul said.

“We could just pick up a couple of value packs at the Taco Bell,” Jim teased and Paul just shook his head.

“Straight boys,” he muttered with a laugh. Jim blushed but didn’t seem to find it as funny as Paul had.

***

Andy smiled as he heard the boys laughing in the kitchen. He loved the way Jim had seemed so much happier the past month or so; Jim just seemed to come alive around Paul. He just wished Jim felt like he could talk about it.

He went to answer the door when he heard a heavy knock, and smiled. “Hey, Sean! Come on in!” The man handed him a six-pack of Heineken and stepped through the door. “How’re you feeling?”

“Better,” Sean said softly, “but it’s still all kind of a shock to the old system.”

Andy put a hand on his powerful shoulder and squeezed. Come on in and have a seat in the living room. The boys are finishing up dinner.”

“Boys?” Sean asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Jim and Paul,” Andy said with a nod.

“Funny, I never saw those two hang out ’til recently,” Sean said. “Did I just miss that?”

“No,” Andy said. “When Paul got outed at school, Danny asked Jim and some of the others to look out for him. Jim … took that very seriously. They got real close.”

“So I’ve noticed,” the man said. “So what’s been going on with you?”

“Just day to day, Sean,” Andy said with a shrug. “Since Gloria left, it’s been a struggle just to hold things together. Work, being there for Jim, you know!”

The man nodded and asked, “You want one of those beers?”

Andy smiled and grabbed a bottle opener and opened one for both. “Hey coach!” Jim said as he walked by the door. “You remember Paulie?”

“I doubt I’ll ever forget,” Sean laughed and nodded. “Hey, guys!”

Over dinner, the men mostly let the boys talk, especially about their camping trip.

“How long will you be gone?” Sean asked.

Paul smiled over at him and said, “A week!”

“It’ll be nice for you boys to be able to get away from all this shit and just be yourselves for a while,” Sean said, failing to monitor his tongue completely. Perhaps it was the second beer, perhaps it was just a slip.

“Yeah,” Paul smiled. Then, confused, “What?”

“Well, it can’t be easy trying to keep things under wraps, since you’re out and he isn’t. Getting away from all that must be,” Sean said, earning a surprised look from the boys and a quick shake of the head from Andy.

“How did you know about Billy?” Paul asked, earning himself a headshake from Jim.

“He’s talking about me,” Jim said.

“What?” Paul asked, blushing.

“Billy’s gay?” Sean asked, confused.

“You were seeing the boy who’s been bullying you?” Andy asked, squinting. Suddenly they were all laughing at the mass confusion and chaos that had been unleashed at the table.

Paul said, “I was kind of secretly seeing Billy,” taking the heat. “Please don’t tell anyone. It would … I think he’d hurt himself if it came out.”

“But then, the other day must have been terrible for you,” Sean said, reaching over and patting the boy on the shoulder. “I’m sorry!” Then he looked at Jim and said, “And I’m sorry for assuming. You two are just so … close and with Paul being out, I sort of assumed you two were together….”

Jim shrugged and said, “No harm, no foul, coach!” Meanwhile, Andy was watching his son carefully. He’d wondered about it himself, and now he thought maybe his son had been biding his time because Paul and Billy had been together. Why was it all so confusing? The men drank their third beers while the boys, now mostly Paul, chattered away. Then Jim and Paul cleaned up a little and left Andy and Sean sitting on their own.

“I’ve got major egg on my face, Andy,” Sean said with a blush.

“Nah,” Andy said, draining his bottle. “Jim doesn’t seem to care what anybody thinks about him and Paul, and besides, I was kind of wondering myself….”

“Still, I feel like an ass!” Sean said.

“Don’t worry about it,” Andy said. “Got anywhere you have to be in the morning?”

“Hung over,” Sean winked.

“Good,” Andy said going to grab a couple of glasses and a bottle of scotch.

“You want to go to the movies, Paulie?” Jim asked. “The old guys are on a bender!”

“Sure,” Paul said. “You want to stay at my place tonight? In case they start streaking the neighbors?”

Jim laughed and said, “Yeah, let me grab a few things. Then I can have that famous breakfast with you in the morning!”

“I’d invite you guys over too, but you might not be up in time,” Paul teased after Jim was gone.

“Thanks,” Sean said. After a moment’s indecision, the man added, “Kid, you’ve got guts. I’ve been wanting to tell you that since all that mess at the beginning of the year. A lot of guys wouldn’t have had the nerve to stick it out!”

“Thanks coach,” Paul blushed. “But I’ve got to say, the worst part was the fear. Once it was done, with the exception of Robert and Billy, things have been okay!”

Sean nodded and Jim emerged. “See you tomorrow, son,” Andy said as the boys made for the door. “You’re welcome any time, Paul!”

“So, how’s YOUR social life?” Andy laughed.

“Yeah,” Sean said, “a parents meeting is about as close as I get to a social life!”

“A guy like you … surely,” Andy began.

“I get my share of horny moms catting around,” Sean replied, “if that’s what you mean. But, you know, that’s not my thing!”

Andy laughed and said, “Yeah, I guess I see your point.”

“I play golf through the warm months with Father Meeks and some of the guys at church,” Sean shrugged. “I volunteer some with the church too….”

“How would that be if you … you know, came out?” Andy asked, leaning forward and sipping from his glass.

“Ah, I don’t know. I go to an Episcopal Church, the liberal kind, so I guess most people wouldn’t care. I know Meeks is pushing gay marriage in the church, so there is that. I just don’t want to be a poster boy or anything,” Sean said.

“Sounds like you’ve got more going than me. I work with mostly scumbags, and they’re most of the human contact I have,” Andy said with a laugh.

“Never found the right girl?” Sean asked, sitting back and peering into his glass.

“I … it’s kind of embarrassing, but do you know I haven’t been out with anyone since she left?” Andy said, pouring himself a healthier serving. “I used to joke she ruined me on women, but I just got lazy. And I’ve not been much of a role model for Jim – I’m afraid of getting burned again! And I know that’s not helped him, seeing me like that!”

“What do you mean?” Sean asked.

“I think he’s afraid to tell me he’s gay because he’s afraid of getting rejected,” Andy said, shaking his head.

“Maybe you should talk to him?” Sean asked.

“What if I’m wrong?” Andy asked.

“Didn’t kill him when I slipped tonight,” Sean shrugged. “What if you’re right and he makes himself miserable because he’s afraid of you abandoning him?”

“You’ve got a point,” Andy said. “I’ve been doing this by myself for too long.”

“Time to get back on the horse?” Sean asked.

“I don’t know,” Andy sighed.

***

Paul and Jim laughed through the comedy they went to see, and then went out to get ice cream again; it was becoming their ‘thing’, mostly because of Paul’s relentless sweet tooth and Jim’s drive to please him. Then they drove back to Paul’s house.

Inside, they found Paul’s parents were in bed. “Shouldn’t we tell them I’m here?” Jim asked.

“You want to go in there and tell them? What if they’re having sex?” Paul teased.

“Ewww,” Jim said. “Okay!” He followed the boy upstairs and put his bag down. “I’ll take the sleeping bag,” Jim said.

“You don’t have to sleep on the floor,” Paul said softly.

Jim, thinking about the probability of poking the boy with his hard-on in the night, blushed and said, “Maybe I shouldn’t.”

Disappointed, Paul said, “Did what the coach said embarrass you?”

“No, Paulie,” Jim laughed. “It’s just … a small bed, and we’re boys….”

“Yeah, so?” Paul asked.

“It could get embarrassing while we sleep,” Jim said arching his eyebrows for emphasis.

Paul rolled his eyes and said, “I don’t have anything to be embarrassed about in that department and you don’t look like you do either!”

“PAUL!” Jim laughed. “You aren’t helping your case, here!”

“I’ll wear my pajama bottoms again,” Paul said. “You might be able to stretch some out to fit you too!”

Jim looked down at the small boy in his shadow and gave him a skeptical look. “RIGHT!”

“OKAY!” Paul pouted. “Sleep in the floor, Mr. Shy Guy!” Paul laughed and tossed him the sleeping bag. Jim rolled it out and crawled inside. “Well, then, I’m sleeping in my boxers if you’re gonna be stubborn!” Paul added, stripping down to some very provocative boxers and sliding under the covers before turning off his lamp.

“Night, Paulie,” Jim said, his smile obscured by the darkness.

“Night, Jim,” Paul replied. A moment later, the boy said, “What if I told you it would make me feel better?”

Jim smiled again and shook his head, crawling out of the bag and whispering, “Scoot!”

Paul smiled and rolled to face the wall, sighing as he felt the boy’s bare chest against his back, his long hairy legs tickling against his own smooth skin. Paul reached back and grabbed his arm, as he had the previous night, and placed Jim’s hand on his chest. But this time they were both awake.