Chapter 16

It was late, but the passage of time had ceased to have a great deal of meaning for the young woman, beyond reminding her that she was still alive. She could hear him moving around in the other room, but he hadn’t been in for the better part of the day, thankfully.

In the living room, Robert was watching television and using her computer to do research – addresses, phone numbers, and that sort of thing. He’d get his revenge eventually, and in the meantime he would have his fun. No more hiding, no more pretending. What would he tell them when they interviewed him? He laughed. He knew they’d want to know about the abuse; there would have to be some abuse to turn a suburban jock into a monster, right?

He’d show them the truth, and they’d have to be afraid – afraid because there was nothing to hide behind, not for him and not for them. They wanted there to be a funny uncle who touched the ‘no-no spot’ or some coach who’d played hide the sausage with him. Maybe a babysitter who used to iron his nut sack. And then all would be explained. No need to look into the dark truth.

Robert knew that truth: he was an accident. There was no funny uncle or wicked babysitter. There was no secret trauma. Sure, his parents were terrible parents – they were drunks and druggies – but they never hurt him. Neglect maybe, but he never went hungry, and no one ever hit him. He never got left alone for days at a time. No, he simply was, and that revealed a fact no one wanted to face. It could be anyone!

Robert smiled to himself and went to the kitchen. He was in his boxer shorts only, as he was washing the clothes he’d brought with him. He’d have to be gone by later morning; while no one missed the woman, when she didn’t show up to work, there’d be trouble, or there could be. Robert didn’t intend to get caught before he made Paul scream. No, he wouldn’t slip up now.

He opened the drawer and pulled out a very sharp paring knife and felt his cock jerk in anticipation. He had hours and hours of fun left before he’d have to make sure she didn’t tell her secrets. He’d figure her name out later, when he robbed her purse, but for now he had the real thing, so who needed a name?

***

“Dad,” Jim asked Monday night, “do we HAVE to go to grandma and grandpa’s for Christmas this year?”

Andy chuckled at his son. “Your grandparents don’t get to see you much anymore, and they aren’t getting any younger, you know!”

“But Paul,” Jim began.

“Paul will be here when you get back, and if you guys work out, who knows how many Christmases you’ll have?” Andy smiled.

Jim smiled and shook his head. “I had to ask!”

“Got to look in that face and explain, huh,” Andy smiled.

“It’s hard, dad,” Jim grinned.

“I bet it is,” Andy shook his head.

When Jim was in his bedroom, Andy got on the phone and took it in his own room. “Hi, Carl, it’s Andy!”

“How are you, son?” the old gentleman said with a smile in his heart. Though his daughter had abandoned her family, her parents were devoted grandparents, and they loved Andy because he was the best father they could have hoped for for their grandchild.

“I’m alright, dad,” Andy said with a smile in his voice. “Are we all set?”

“Just like we talked about,” Carl told him. “Are you gonna tell us what this is about?”

“When we’re all together, dad,” Andy smiled. “And thanks.”

“Of course,” Carl said. “See you soon!”

“Yep!” Andy said, and they said their farewells.

Andy made one more call and then went to Jim’s room. “Jim, I just called Phil. Since tomorrow’s the day before Christmas eve and we’re gonna be gone, I asked them if we could all get together for our Christmas celebration.”

Jim smiled and hugged his dad. “THANKS!”

“Do you have a gift for Paul?” Andy asked.

“Yeah, I’ve got something,” Jim replied cryptically.

“Alright. We’re going over about five and spending the evening,” Andy said.

“What about coach, dad?” Jim asked.

“What about him?” Andy asked.

“You should invite him,” Jim said.

“I’m sure he has plans,” Andy said.

“But what if he doesn’t? And then we’ll be away,” Jim said. Andy smiled and nodded.

That night as he sat down on his bed, Andy made one last call. “Hey, stud,” Andy said, laughing.

“Hey, cutie,” Sean teased. “What’s up?”

“What are your plans tomorrow night?” Andy asked.

“I was thinking about eating alone in front of the television until I fell asleep watching infomercials. How about you?” Sean asked, laughing.

“Jim and I are having dinner with Paul’s family,” he said, explaining the full circumstances. “I understand if you’re worried about outing yourself, but I’d love it if you’d go with me….”

Sean was silent for a moment before coughing. “It’s a family thing,” Sean he, voice heavy with emotion.

“I know,” Andy said. “Will you come?”

“Yes, yes of course,” Sean said. “I can certainly trust them, if I have to trust Christina,” he added with a laugh to lighten the mood.

“Danny’s girlfriend? What happened?” Andy laughed.

“I slept late, so when I came out of your room the other morning she was having lunch with the boys,” Sean said with a laugh. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”

The men laughed and talked for a while. But when Andy lay down to sleep, the bed felt empty, and he smiled.

***

Paul was fidgeting downstairs while Molly put some finishing touches on dinner and started making some desserts. “Do you think he’ll like it?” Paul asked for perhaps the fifteenth time that afternoon.

“He’ll love it, Paul,” his mother said. “He’ll sleep with it on his pillow if you ever let him sleep alone again,” she teased.

“We’ve been apart the last few nights,” Paul pouted, making his mother laugh. “Now give me a hand!”

They worked in the kitchen for a couple of hours to get the desserts all ready and everything else set for dinner. Then Paul went upstairs to get ready, showering and changing into some nice clothes. Then he checked his email and randomly surfed the internet.

***

Meanwhile, down the block and across the street, another boy sat closeted in his room pondering the screen. But Billy was chatting with his college boy, who was presently at home for the holidays. “When you get back to campus, can I drive over some time?” Billy asked,

“Awesome,” the cute young man replied. “We can meet somewhere first and you can follow me back to the dorm, if you’re comfortable.”

Billy smiled to himself and said, “Great!”

Billy stood up and dropped his pants and the young man said, “Ouch, extreme close up!”

Billy laughed and said, “I’ll show you extreme close up when you get back here!” Soon the boy on screen was naked and playing along.

***

The door rang and Paul ran downstairs to answer the door, getting there just as Molly and Phil emerged from their room, Molly in a nice dress and Phil in a sport coat and tie.

Paul opened the door to quite a surprise. There were three men on their porch. Paul waved them inside with a huge smile. Molly said, “Merry Christmas, guys!”

Phil shook Sean’s hand and said, “So glad you could join us, Sean!”

“I hope it’s alright, but at the last minute I called Sean up and asked him to come with me,” Andy explained. With a glance at Sean, who gave him one more approval, he added, “I didn’t want my boyfriend to be alone while I was at a celebration!”

Paul smiled and elbowed Jim as his parents stood slack-jawed for a moment. Molly recovered and said, “I should hope not. You’re always welcome here, Sean!” Then she led the man to the living room, Phil and Andy following her.

“So when did all this come about?” Phil asked.

Sean explained, as briefly as possible, their long history and how it had rekindled. Molly exclaimed, “There’s something very romantic about it!”

They talked a bit until it was about time for dinner, and just when they were getting ready to stand up and move to the dining room, the doorbell rang again. The boys looked confused as their parents tried to restrain their grins.

“Jim, why don’t you get the door?” Molly suggested.

The boy looked at her with confusion, but opened the door. His face turned to shock as he opened it wide. “Grandma! Grandpa! What are you doing here?” he asked with excitement and happiness.

Carl and Bethany hugged their grandson, and Carl explained, “Your father called and asked us if we could possibly come here this year. Wouldn’t say why, but he begged! Said you really wanted to spend Christmas in town this year.”

Jim beamed as he brought them inside. “Grandma, Grandpa, these are the Andersons – Phil, Molly, and Paul – and this is my football coach, Sean Spencer!”

Carl and Bethany introduced themselves more informally and Molly invited everybody into the dining room. Then she and Paul began bringing out the food: turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, slaw, and rolls. Then they got drinks for everyone and put pitchers of water on the table.

“Wow, Molly!” Andy said. “THANK YOU SO MUCH!”

Phil smiled at his wife and grasped her hand. “This IS wonderful, dear!” Then he said, “If there are no objections to a bit of a prayer?” Seeing only smiles, he continued, “Dear God, This has been a trying year for our family, but as we draw again to this season, we see how quickly things can turn. Thank you for the blessing of friendship you have bestowed upon us this year. May its bonds grow stronger day by day. Thank you for all we have and all we will. Amen.”

After a chorus of amen’s, the plates of food began to pass, and light conversation kicked up. “This really is lovely,” Bethany said. “Thank you for having us.”

“It’s our pleasure,” Molly said, shooting her son a wink and a smile.”

“So, I should tell you, we normally go around the table at the end of Christmas dinner and talk about one thing we are thankful for. Consider this fair warning,” Phil said. “Think while you eat!” They all laughed and many looked at each other with interest.

***

Billy had just ejaculated on his bare stomach for his college boy when his bedroom door opened. Billy was helpless, his boxers around his ankles and covered in semen, and his screen was in clear view. It went blank, but not quick enough. Billy’s father struck him quickly, but with an open hand. The boy saw stars and fell sprawling into the floor.

Billy looked up at his father, totally vulnerable, and the man looked back at him in disgust. “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” the man said, raging. “I’m coming back in ten minutes, and if I find you here, you’re trespassing.”

Billy’s blood chilled. His father would kill him. He didn’t even bother with his clothes. He pulled up his boxer shorts and slipped on his shoes. Then he closed his laptop and grabbed its power cable, grabbed the bag from under his bed that he’d already packed, and slipped out the window. He dared not push the time any further. He was about to open his truck and crawl in when his father called from the steps, “That’s my truck, boy!”

Billy got out and threw the key ring that held the house key and truck key at his father, walking off into the cold black night in nothing but his underwear and tennis shoes. He’d find somewhere to put on some of the clothes from his bag, but for now he just had to get away. There was a little park not too far away with some cover, and he started off in that direction, but he tripped on a root and fell, skinning both hands and knees. It was there, hands and knees scraping in the rocky soil, that Billy began to cry. He rolled over on his side and began to weep, chilled to the bone in the nearly frozen ground.

***

Phil had just finished his turn, explaining that he was thankful for a loving family, and Paul said, “Way to go, dad, taking everybody’s answer. That’s why he goes first, so he gets the easy one!” Everybody laughed at the boy.

“Who’s next?” Phil asked. “Molly?”

“I’m thankful that despite everything that’s happened this year, Paul remains safe and sound,” she said, her eyes misting as she looked at Paul. “Thank you for that Jim, Coach Spencer.”

“Following Paul’s example,” Carl asked, “that’s the second time someone’s mentioned this year in a context like that. Are we missing something?”

Molly smiled tightlipped and said, “Our son has been the victim of a lot of bullying at school, and your grandson has helped put a stop to it,” she explained vaguely. The man nodded and smiled at Jim approvingly. Jim hoped that smile would still be on his face at the end of the night.

With a deep sigh, Jim said, “I’d like to go next.” Phil nodded and sat back expectantly. Jim stood up and wrung his hands and walked into the hall. When he returned he was wearing his letterman’s jacket. “Yeah, coach, thanks, but it’s not you,” he joked. The man acknowledged the joke with a knowing nod. And grandma and grandpa, thanks so much for doing this for me because I really wanted to be HERE this year. Paul and I were going to exchange gifts tonight since I was going to be away with you, so I came prepared, and I’m going to give him his gift now,” the big boy said with a gulp.

“But first, what am I thankful for?” The room was as silent as a house can be. “You see, the thing I’m thankful for this year is being happy again. Ever since mom left, something’s been missing. Dad, you did great, but we both knew, right?” The man nodded sadly at his son and Sean grasped his hand under the table, unseen. “And then things changed. The light came back on, the sweetness returned, it all meant something complete again. And it’s all because of you, Paulie,” Jim said, tears in his eyes. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” the boy whispered before rising and rushing around the table into a big hug.

Carl and Bethany sat silent, watching intently and intensely. Now Jim was talking to Paul like they were alone. “I couldn’t think of what to give you for Christmas, Paulie! It was too hard! I couldn’t buy you something that would show you what you mean to me, so what was the point? So,” he said, “I want you to have this,” removing his jacket and draping it across Paul’s shoulder. The point would be unmistakable, from the size, to the football logo, to the name Pendleton emblazoned on it: Jim was Paul’s.

Andy walked over to the boys and put arms around both of them and said tearfully, “I love you boys!” Phil and Molly were beaming as well.

Carl sighed, and all eyes were on the old couple for a moment. “You didn’t want to leave your boyfriend for Christmas?” he asked.

“No, I didn’t,” Jim said. “I would have, but I didn’t want to.” The man nodded, but remained silent.

As the silence became awkward, Paul said, “I’m next!” Then he ran to the tree and returned with a present. “I guess,” he said, bubbling with giddiness, “it’s pretty obvious what I’m thankful for. I got my knight in shining armor, and he’s the most amazing guy I’ve ever met!” Paul said with a blush. Then he looked up into Jim’s smiling face, right into his eyes, and said, “I had the same problem with a gift – what could I give you that would say it all?” Paul handed Jim the present.

Jim unwrapped the package and lifted the top off the box, which was made to hold clothing. Inside, he could see an ornate, 8X10 frame. He pulled out the tissue paper to see a photograph which stopped his heart. The picture was a close-up profile photograph of Paul staring at a picture of Jim. Paul’s face was dark and intense in that captured moment, a stark contrast to the smiling face staring back to him from the computer screen in the background. Jim let the box fall away as he held the picture, tears rising to his eyes.

“This is beautiful, Paulie,” he said at last, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.

“My mom took it the other night,” Paul said. Then he whispered, as quiet as could be, “That is how I feel about you….”

Jim laid the photo on the table and hugged Paul tight, lifting him off the ground. Carl reached over and grabbed the picture. Part of him wanted desperately to disapprove, but his will to do so was evaporating. It was too beautiful. “It’s an extraordinary photograph,” he said to Molly, who nodded to accept the compliment.

An arm around Paul, Jim looked at his grandparents, waiting. At last it was Bethany who spoke. “Jim, we’re old. This doesn’t come natural to us, so give it some time. But seeing you happy has been one of the few things missing in our lives, and we’ve felt responsible for that. She was our daughter, after all. So thank you, Paul.”

Carl patted her hand and said, “You’re a good father, Andy. That’s what I remain thankful for….”

“Thank you, dad,” Andy said with a blush. “I hope you aren’t disappointed in me, but I’m dating Sean now!” he added, dropping the bomb. “That’s what I’m newly grateful for.”

Carl said, “To be honest, I was surprised it took this long for you to move on with your life … in this way.” Andy looked at him confused, so he clarified, “I used to notice the way you’d notice men, Andy. But I knew you were faithful to my daughter. But I figured when she let you loose, you’d follow your inclination.”

There was a general silence, and Sean said, “I’m grateful that, for the first time in thirty-some years, there are some places in the world that I can finally be myself,” smiling at Andy, the boys, and then Phil and Molly.

“Who wants dessert?” Molly asked. There was a chorus of groans and protests. “Maybe later, then,” she laughed. “Anyone want coffee? We can take it to the living room,” she suggested. The adults all took some and headed for the living area.

Paul said, “Go talk to your grandparents. I’ll clean up in here.”

“Come with me,” Jim begged. “This can wait.”

“Go make sure they’re alright with us, first,” Paul said.

“I don’t care what anyone thinks,” Jim said fiercely.

“I know,” Paul smiled, running his fingers over Jim’s name on the letterman jacket that hung loosely around him. “But I DO care what they think. Just let me do this….”

Jim nodded and went into the living room alone. Molly moved to rise and go fetch Paul, or help him, but Jim shook his head. Jim went and sat by his grandparents as everyone else talked amongst themselves for a moment and tried not to listen.

“Well?” he asked. The both looked at him quietly.

Carl said, “It’s just a bit of a shock, Jim. You of all people!” Then he smiled. “Paul I would have guessed, or I should say, I did guess. Even your dad I guessed….” The man put his hand on the boy’s knee and said, “It’ll take some adjusting in my mind to get it around the idea that you’re gay, to be honest but it’s my mind that’ll do the changing, not my feelings about you.”

Jim hugged his grandpa and said, “What about Paul?”

“He’s a cute little thing, isn’t he?” Bethany teased. “He’s not hiding out doing dishes because we’re having this conversation?” she asked as it dawned on her. Jim nodded and she rose, squared her shoulders and walked into the kitchen.

She walked up next to Paul, who was piling dishes in dishwater and began to scrub them, without saying a word. Then she handed the dishes to Paul who rinsed and dried. “You were afraid we had a problem with you?” she asked after a while. The boy nodded. “You’re our grandson’s first … the first person he’s dated. We were surprised you are a boy, for sure,” she smiled. “We’d hoped to see a great-grandchild! We’re both in good shape for old people,” she added with a laugh.

“That could still happen,” Paul said. “We could … I mean Jim and whoever could adopt, or have a surrogate, or anything.”

“You’ve thought about this?” she smiled.

“Sure! I love kids, but I’ve always known I was gay, since I knew what ‘liking’ meant,” Paul said.

“You really do LOVE my grandson, don’t you?” Bethany asked, looking at Paul.

He looked up into her eyes with a sincere face and said, “More every day.”

She couldn’t help herself; she didn’t even dry her hands before giving the cute teen a big hug. “He loves you too, Paulie; I can see it in his eyes!”

“Thank you,” Paul whispered. “And it really is Paul. Only Jim calls me that,” he added with a blush. She smiled and shook her head before kissing him on the forehead. They returned to work, then and they were just about finished when Paul heard a knocking on the side door of the garage. Bethany looked at him and followed curiously as he walked toward the door to the garage. She thought nothing of it, and Paul didn’t remember his caution.

Moments later, Bethany heard him exclaim, “Oh, God!” She was about to call out for help when the door opened and Paul blew past her. “JIM!” Paul called, and the boy came running. “Run upstairs and get the comforter off my bed now! Bring it to the garage!”

“What’s going on?” Phil demanded, walking into the kitchen and heading for the garage.

Paul grabbed his hand and pleaded, “Dad, don’t! He won’t want you to see him like this. Will you all wait in the living room?”

“Not until you tell me what’s going on,” Phil said.

“It’s Billy,” Paul said. “His dad … caught him in a compromising position and kicked him out. Didn’t give him time to get dressed even. Looks like he’s been out there for a while.”

“Jesus Christ,” Phil said. He took a minute and said, “Get him upstairs and warmed up, and then bring him down.”

“Thanks, dad,” Paul said as his dad escorted Bethany to the living room. Moments later Jim returned with the comforter and looked at him. “Will you wait with the others?”

Jim nodded and looked over his shoulder as he left to join the families waiting nervously now. Paul hurried out and wrapped Billy in the comforter. “Let’s get you upstairs and into a warm shower,” Paul said. “You’re freezing!”

Billy had a glazed look in his eyes and rose automatically. “I … didn’t have anywhere else to go….”

“I know,” Paul whispered, helping keep him wrapped up by putting an arm across his shoulders. “Now come on. Everyone is waiting in the living room until you get cleaned up.” Paul helped him upstairs and into the bathroom.

“Paul, my bag…. I dropped it outside. I’ve got some clothes…. I packed a few days ago, just in case,” Billy said.

“Get in the shower, Billy. I’ll go get it,” Paul said. He ran downstairs and went out to fetch the bag. He put it in his room and then opened the door to the bathroom “Bag’s in my room. You know where the towels are, and there are alcohol and bandages in the cabinet.”

“Thanks, Paul,” Billy said.

“We’re downstairs when you’re ready. I’m gonna get you a plate heated up. Are you hungry?” Paul asked.

“No,” Billy said, but his growling stomach protested. “Starving.”

Paul laughed and said, “I’ll have it ready for you….”

Downstairs, Paul got containers of food out of the refrigerator and made a plate; he put it in the microwave and heated it up a little so he could just give it a last zap when the boy came downstairs. Then he joined the others in the living room.

“Is he alright?” Jim asked, his face a mask.

“He’s scratched up and bruised,” Paul said. “He’d been out in the freezing cold for a while in just his boxers, and he just lost everything.”

Jim nodded and shook his head. “I can’t believe that bastard!” Seeing the look on Paul’s face, he said, “BILLY’S DAD!”

Soon, they heard footsteps and all waited. Paul got up and finished nuking the boy’s food, got him a drink and utensils, and brought him to the living room to eat. Paul placed him on the couch between himself and Jim. In a pair of baggy sweatpants and a t-shirt, he looked almost normal except for the large bruise on his face.

“What happened, son?” Phil asked after Billy slowed down on his food.

“I was in my room … chatting online with a guy,” Billy said, blushing brightly, especially with the women in the room. “We were … I was mostly naked, and we’d just finished when my dad walked in. He saw the guy and before I knew it, he hit me. I was in the floor and he told me he was coming back in ten minutes and if I was still there I was trespassing. I grabbed a bag and my computer and a few things and I got out of there. He would have killed me if I was still there, I think,” the boy rushed through the rest before the tears came. “He wouldn’t let me take the truck, so I started through the woods to find a place to change, but I fell. It was so cold and I was bleeding, I just lay there. I think I fell asleep, and when I woke up, I thought about just going back to sleep….”

“You would have frozen to death,” Molly said with horror.

“I know,” Billy said, casting his eyes away from them. “But I got up and came here instead….”

Paul put an arm across Billy’s shoulder and squeezed him tightly. “We’re glad you did….”

Sean got up from his seat and went to the closet to grab his coat. “Coach Spencer? Where are you going?” Billy asked.

“I am going down there right now!” Sean said.

“Don’t!” Billy begged. “He’s crazy!” Billy looked at them at all and said, “I just need a place for the night and then I’ll get out of your hair!”

Molly looked at him and said, sharply, “You’ll do nothing of the sort, young man!” drawing all eyes to her. “You will spend Christmas with us all, and then we’ll figure out what you’re doing from there. You may have terrible parents, but you’re still just a boy and you’ll not be making these decisions on your own. UNDERSTOOD?” she demanded.

“Yes, ma’am,” Billy said, hanging his head. But he couldn’t help but smile a little. He only ever wanted someone to care.