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The Talon House

What's the difference between me and you?

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What's the difference between me and you?

Chapter Six, Book 2

By Nick

Nick felt a wave of excitement run through him as he peered out the window of the bus he was riding in and saw his papu standing next to Tom at the bus stop. Both men smiled amusedly as Nick waved out the window before the bus came to a complete stop. As soon as he heard the loud rush of air come from somewhere underneath the bus, he knew it was okay to get up from his seat and walk with Taylor to the front of the bus, where he smiled politely at the bus driver.

"Have a good weekend boys," she said with a warm smile.

"Thanks Miss Julie," Nick and Taylor said almost in unison as they stepped off the bus. As soon as he felt the cold air smack his cheeks, Nick ran up to his papu and wrapped his arms around his waist as hard as he could.

"I missed you papu," he said a little sadly.

"I missed you too sweetheart," Big Nick replied, kneeling down and planting a kiss on Nick's head. "Did you have a good day at school?"

Nick looked up at his papu and nodded excitedly before he handed him his backpack. Before they turned to walk up the street to go home, Nick walked up to Tom and gave him a warm hug as well and said, "I love you grandpa."

"I love you too kiddo," Tom said. "Does Taylor need a ride home today?"

"I think so," Nick said, turning to look at his friend, who had a shy smile on his face that came from watching Nick and his two grandfathers. "Do you want me and my Grandpa to take you home today?"

"I can walk," Taylor said a little timidly, but Nick quickly dismissed what he told him.

"Yeah he needs a ride," Nick said with a big grin, looking up at his grandpa.

"Okay," Tom said with a chuckle. "Why don't we get your backpack in the house and load up in the Explorer. I think your grandma wants something from Dairy Queen."

"What time did you get here, papu?" Nick asked as they walked along the sidewalk.

"My plane landed at noon," Big Nick said. "Your dad and your grandpa picked me up."

"Did my daddy have a class today?" Nick asked, knowing that on Fridays Jim didn't have any classes so he should have been at the bus stop.

"No, he went to James's school for something," Tom said elusively. "He'll be home in a little bit."

"Is James in trouble for something?" Nick asked, exchanging a confused look with Taylor.

"No, he's not in trouble for anything," Tom answered in a teasingly condescending tone right before he reached out and tickled Nick's ribs. "What makes you think that?"

"Because James is bad," Nick answered smugly, knowing he could illicit a response from his grandpa. In reply, Tom gave Nick a sideways glance and an incredulous smile.

"I'd say the two of you are running neck in neck when it comes to being bad," he said with a wink as they turned to walk up the driveway. "Go inside and drop your back pack off and we'll be waiting in the car."

With that, Nick ran up the driveway and to the front porch, where he bounded through the front door, flung his backpack on the floor of his grandparents' front hallway, and ran back to Tom's Explorer. After they dropped Taylor off, they drove to Dairy Queen, where Tom placed an unusually large and very specific order for Linda. Tom asked Nick and Big Nick if they wanted anything while he was ordering, and Nick asked hopefully for a Blizzard.

"Okay, but you have to make sure you don't fill up before dinner," Tom said.

"I promise, grandpa," Nick said courteously. Big Nick passed, saying that he was still full from lunch, and Nick wondered to himself what they had. His grandma was in no condition to leave the house, so he was sure they'd eaten in. Maybe Tom ordered a pizza, or maybe they got take out somewhere.

As Nick dug into his Blizzard, he paid no mind to what was going on around him and before he knew it, they were pulling into Tom and Linda's driveway. He looked up and saw his dad's car in the driveway next door, so as he got out, he handed his papu the blizzard he had been eating and climbed down out of the SUV. He took the Blizzard back from his papu and followed him up the walkway. When they walked through the front door, the house was quiet. James and Jim were sitting alone at the kitchen table working together on James's homework, and when Nick walked up to his dad, he heard James gasp.

"Hi Papu," he said, getting up and running to Big Nick for a hug.

"Hey bud," Big Nick said, kneeling down and wrapping James in a tight hug.

"I missed you Papu," James said shyly.

"I missed you too buddy," Big Nick said with a smile before he let go of the hug and stood up with his hand on James's shoulder. Nick took a bite from his Blizzard and watched the scene unfold, then James set his eyes on what Nick had in his hands.

"You got something from Dairy Queen?" he asked jealously.

"No," Nick said with a grin as he took a big bite from his Blizzard, trying to make it obvious to James that he wasn't taking him seriously.

"You did too," James accused him, and Nick just shrugged and took another bite.

"No I didn't," he said with a full mouth, setting his Blizzard on the table and pulling a chair out.

"Nick, stop it," Jim said with a light chuckle. "Don't tease your brother right now."

"I want one too," James said, crossing his arms and looking dejectedly at Nick.

"My grandpa Tom got it for me because we went to Dairy Queen for my grandma," Nick bragged, knowing that James was hurt that he didn't get one too.

"I'll go get you one when you finish your homework, ok buddy?" Jim offered, and James just sighed and looked bitterly at Nick, who took a slow bite out of his Blizzard cup, trying to make it look as tantalizing as possible. "Speaking of homework, Nick, where's yours?"

"I left my backpack at grandma and grandpa's," Nick said, scooping one last bite from his Blizzard before he got up and put what was left of it in the freezer for later. As soon as he was done, he walked next door to get his backpack. He noticed that his grandpa's Explorer was gone again and wondered where in the world he could have gone, but he barely had time to think about it. As soon as he approached the front door, it opened up and Linda smiled at him.

"Did you forget your backpack, sweetheart?" she asked warmly, and Nick nodded.

"Grandma can I listen to your tummy one time before I go home?" he asked shyly, and Linda replied by holding her arms out to him. Nick grinned and moved into his grandmother's embrace, then he turned his head and pressed his right ear against her swollen stomach. He didn't hear anything, but he could feel the baby kicking and he was tickled pink about it.

"He's moving," Nick said excitedly, keeping his head in place. "I can't wait till you have the baby, grandma."

"You and me both, kiddo," Nick heard from behind him, prompting him to lift his head. Tom walked up to the porch and leaned in to kiss his wife, who was grinning from ear to ear at his comment.

"I felt him kick," Nick said with a smile, resting his head back up to his grandma's stomach.

"He's ready to come out, buddy," Tom said with a smile.

"If he comes out on Monday, we'll have the same birthday," Nick said excitedly.

"I don't think he'll be that early," Linda advised him. "But he should be here by next Monday."

Nick lifted his head from his grandma's stomach and smiled up at her, then he planted a kiss on her protruding belly.

"That was sweet of you honey," Linda said warmly. "I can tell you're going to be a good helper when the baby comes."

"Will I get to hold him and feed him?" Nick asked, and Linda smiled lovingly at him.

"Of course you will," she answered affirmatively.

"Will I have to change his diapers?" Nick asked with a silly giggle, and Tom and Linda chuckled at the same time.

"I'm sure we can find a way to get you out of doing that," Tom said with a wink.

Nick spent a little while longer with his grandparents, then he took his backpack home with him so he could start on his homework. He knew the next day was going to be a big day for him, and as excited as he was about it, he didn't want to ask too many questions. He had plenty of questions in his head, though.

One of the main things he was wondering was how many of his classmates would be at his party. The other was whether or not Jim remembered to get him a carrot cake with no frosting. He didn't want Jim to put Lori in charge of getting one for him. He was afraid Lori would get him one with white frosting on it, and he hated white frosting more than anything.

The most important thing to Nick, though, was how many gifts he was getting and who would be bringing him what. He didn't say a word about it to anyone in his class, but he planned to keep track of who brought what so that he'd know how good of a gift to get them on their birthdays.

Of course, he was really excited that his papu had kept his promise about coming. He knew that it was just a coincidence that his birthday happened to come around at the same time that the baby was set to arrive, but knowing his papu, he knew that he'd have made plans to be there for both celebrations.

As Nick was doing his homework, James was just wrapping his up and Jim and Big Nick were sitting in the family room, talking about Jim and Lori's wedding plans.

Nick still couldn't believe it was true that his dad and Lori were going to be married. All of his earliest memories of were his dad being single, and he couldn't remember a time when Jim had a girlfriend longer than a couple weeks. But in Nick's mind, that just reaffirmed that Lori was special, and that his dad really was in love with her. When Nick finished his homework he went into the family room to sit with the others, and the subject of Nick's party came up.

"So do you still want to have a sleepover, buddy?" Jim asked as Nick crawled up beside him and snuggled up for comfort and warmth.

"Yes sir," Nick said with a grin.

"How many of your friends are spending the night?" Big Nick asked, and Nick blurted out, "Twenty Four."

"Twenty Four?" Jim exclaimed loudly. "How in the hell did you come out with that number, Nick?"

"We have twenty five kids in our class," Nick explained.

"You invited your whole class to spend the night?" James asked with a silly grin, and Jim cut in again.

"No," he said, answering for Nick. "How many boys are in your class, son?"

"I don't know," Nick said. "I just put that we were having a sleepover on all of the invitations."

"Oh crap," Jim said with a sigh. "I guess we'll find out tomorrow if twenty four boys and girls show up with sleeping bags."

With that, James giggled out loud and Nick smiled shyly at his dad and his papu. They spent a little more time in the family room catching up with Big Nick and talking in more detail than Nick had ever heard about Lori's family. They also talked about setting a date for the wedding.

"We want to do it in the Summer months," Jim said. "There are already so many weddings booked for next Spring. We can do it in June."

"Have you thought about what kind of ceremony you're going to have?" Nick heard his papu asked, but he realized that he found the conversation to be boring, so he tuned it out and concentrated on watching his cousin, who was sitting on the couch right next to big Nick, petting Skalaki.

He knew that James was now a full fledged member of their family, and that when his papu was making plans to come to Virginia to see them, he was also making plans to come see James. He thought about the hug James gave big Nick when they came home from Dairy Queen, and he remembered that he was supposed to be jealous. For some reason, though, he wasn't jealous at all.

"Who's hungry?" Jim asked, and Big Nick and James both spoke up.

"What are we having for dinner?" Nick asked, and Jim shrugged.

"Well since you're the birthday boy, why don't you tell us what you want tonight," Jim said, giving Nick a firm squeeze around the shoulders and a kiss on the cheek.

"Can we eat at a restaurant?" Nick asked hopefully, and Jim nodded.

"Anyplace you want, sweetheart," Jim said.

"Can we go to Cici's?" Nick asked, and Jim gave him an exasperated look.

"Cici's?" Jim asked incredulously. "Are you sure that's what you want?"

Cici's was a pizza buffet that Nick really liked, but no one else seemed to care for. There was a buffet at lunch time if they went to Pizza Hut, but after a certain time, it was gone. Nick really liked having the freedom of grabbing slices of pizza with different toppings, and he loved the mini arcade Cici's had.

"Son, do you remember what happened the last time we had Cici's?" Jim asked him knowingly, and Nick blushed at the mention of the incident Jim was talking about. They had gone to Cici's one Friday night, and Nick had stuffed himself with four pieces of pizza, which was more than he had ever eaten in his life. After he ate, he, Taylor and James played video games for a while, but it wasn't long before Nick was back at the table, asking his dad if they could leave because he didn't feel good.

As soon as Jim rounded Taylor and James up, they walked out of the pizzeria just in time for Nick to feel his mouth water and an urge to cough. A couple steps later, Nick had splattered the sidewalk with his throw-up. He made such a mess that Jim had to take him back inside and to the bathroom to help him get cleaned up, and he swore he'd never eat at Cici's again.

As time went by, though, the memory of that night seemed to feel less painful to Nick. Once his dad brought it back up, though, he changed his mind and picked another place.

"Let's eat at Golden Corral instead, then," Nick said, and Jim nodded.

"You don't mind Golden Corral, do you dad?"he asked and Big Nick shook his head, smiling at his grandson.

"Why don't you boys take Skalaki outside before we leave?" Jim said, letting go of Nick and giving him a light nudge of encouragement to get up. "Make sure you put your coats on before you head out there."

Nick followed James to the coat rack, then back into the family room, where the two of them called for Skalaki, who was now too big for Nick and James to carry. They walked out the back door and out to the lawn, where Nick and James waited patiently for Skalaki to sniff around the lawn and bushes before he finally found a suitable place to go to the bathroom.

When they went back inside, Jim was on the phone, and it didn't take Nick long to figure out that he was talking to Lori, who was at work and not able to meet them for dinner.

"Go wash your hands, boys," Jim told them, pulling the phone away from his head for a moment as he did. Nick and James did as they were told, and when they came back to the living room, Jim was off the phone and ready to walk out the door.

As usual, Nick's eyes were bigger than his stomach. He loaded his plate down with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and rolls, but he was barely able to finish his piece of chicken. He took a couple of bites of his rolls and never touched his mashed potatoes, then he waited patiently for everyone else to finish. Big Nick seemed to be enjoying himself, and commented that the only good buffet in California that he had been to was Fresh Choice, a vegetarian all you can eat buffet.

When everyone was finished with supper, Nick and James asked what Jim and Big Nick wanted for dessert, then they went up three times. Once for Jim and Big Nick, twice for themselves. When they went back to their table for the final time, Nick made the mistake of chasing his ice cream down with a full glass of ice water. On the way home, his stomach felt like it was bursting at the seams.

When they got inside, Nick made a beeline for the couch and closed his eyes while he fanned his face.

"Buddy, you hardly ate any dinner," Jim said, sitting on the edge of the couch and stroking Nick's forehead. "How can you be feeling sick?"

"I think I drank too much water, daddy," Nick whined. "I felt good until I got thirsty. Then I felt full and I can't make it go away."

"You're going to have to pee it out," Jim said, leaning over and kissing the end of Nick's nose. "You'll feel better in a little bit, son."

"Where's my papu?" Nick asked, and Jim looked at the stairs.

"I think he's upstairs in your bathroom," Jim said. "You two might want to wait to brush your teeth for a while and go potty down here. Depending on how long he takes, it might not be safe to go in there."

Nick and James both giggled at Jim's comment, then they all started to talk about different things. Jim and James were sitting on the floor in front of the couch, and they talked about the conference Jim had with one of James's teachers. James promised Jim that he was going to work harder.

"Buddy, you've been doing so good," Jim said, a hint of concern in his voice. "I don't want you to not pass eighth grade just because you didn't turn your homework in."

"I promise to turn it in, dad," James said.

"I know you're getting it done, son," Jim said, wrapping an arm around James affectionately. "I just don't know why you haven't been handing it in."

"I don't know," James said sadly, looking at the floor. Nick couldn't understand why James would go to all the trouble of doing his homework and then not turn it in. He thought about it for a moment, then he shook his head and shrugged, confident that his dad wasn't watching him.

After while, some of the pressure seemed to leave Nick's stomach, so he sat up and made room for his dad and James to sit with him while they waited for Big Nick to come back downstairs. Jim took the spot next to him and James sat on the other side of Jim, so Nick took the opportunity to rest his head on his dad's lap while James turned the TV on and surfed the channels.

About a half hour later, Nick heard the toilet flush upstairs and knew his papu was finally finished. He had to pee, but he knew not to go upstairs and use his bathroom, so instead he hopped up and went to the downstairs bathroom. As soon as he emptied his bladder, his stomach felt better almost instantly, and he let out a sigh of relief.

When he came out of the bathroom, he made a beeline for the telephone to call Taylor. He picked the phone up off its charger and slipped away to the laundry room for some privacy.

"Hello?" Nick heard Charles say when he answered the phone.

"Hello Mr. Charles," Nick said respectively. "Can I talk to Taylor, please?"

"Sure buddy," Charles said. "He was upstairs getting ready for bed, but I think he's back down here somewhere. Let me see if I can find him."

With that, Nick waited patiently for Taylor to come to the phone. He heard a bit of a commotion in the back ground, then he heard Taylor snap at his dad to give him the phone before he came on.

"Hello?" Taylor said sweetly as soon as he came on.

"Hi Taylor," Nick said. "You already had to get ready for bed?"

"Yeah," Taylor said in a disappointed voice. "My mom and dad made me take a bath early."

"How come?" Nick asked. "I wanted you to spend the night tonight."

"I got in trouble for saying a cuss word to my dad," Taylor said bitterly. "It wasn't even a bad cuss word."

"Was it the F word?" Nick asked, and he heard Taylor giggle on the other end of the line.

"No, it was the S word," Taylor said. "It was his fault I said it though."

"How come?" Nick asked, and he heard Taylor sigh.

"Because he was making me mad," Taylor said. "He said I had to pick up my Lego's. My mom told me to do it before he came home but I didn't feel like it."

"Are you grounded?" Nick asked, worried that Taylor wouldn't be allowed to come to his party or stay for the sleepover.

"I was," Taylor said dejectedly. "I'm not anymore, though."

"That's good," Nick said, a feeling of relief sweeping over him. "I was scared you wouldn't get to come to my party."

"I can," Taylor said with a sweet voice that made Nick smile. He found a comfortable spot to sit down on a pile of blankets and crossed his legs as his conversation with Taylor carried on. His mind drifted back to the Monday that had just gone by, Valentine's Day. Everyone in class passed cards and candy hearts out to each other, but Nick had made a special card on construction paper just for Taylor and hid it in his room.

When they got home from school, Nick knew he didn't have a lot of time to give Taylor the card because of his counseling appointment, so he made sure that as soon as they got to his house, he dragged Taylor upstairs and closed his bedroom door.

"I made something special for you," he said shyly, opening his bottom dresser drawer and taking the neatly folded card. On the inside was a heart Nick had drawn with his and Taylor's names in the middle and a crooked arrow going through it. Nick messed up drawing the arrow, but had already worked so hard on coloring the card, drawing the heart and using his best cursive to write his and Taylor's names that he didn't want to start over. Instead, he tried his best to fix the crooked part by coloring it in, but it seemed to make the spot worse, so he just stopped and hoped Taylor wouldn't notice.

Taylor smiled widely when Nick handed him the card, and after he read it, he looked at Nick and in a small voice he said, "Happy Valentine's Day."

With that, Nick leaned in and planted a kiss in Taylor's cheek, prompting Taylor to turn and face him before he responded with a kiss on the lips that sent a chill through Nick's body. Thinking back on Valentine's Day was making Nick wish that Taylor could be there with him right then and there, but he knew it was too late, especially since Taylor had gotten himself in so much trouble with his mom and dad.

"Tory and Greg are spending the night tomorrow," Nick said, talking about two of his friends from school.

"What are we going to do?" Taylor asked.

"We're going to pitch a big tent in the living room," Nick told him, not entirely sure yet if that was his dad's plan. They had talked about doing that, but Jim hadn't committed to anything yet. Still, Nick decided that pitching a tent sounded like the most fun, so he went ahead and told everyone at school that Jim said for sure that they were going to do it.

"Then we're going to watch a movie that's rate R," Nick said. "I want it to be something scary."

"American Pie?" Taylor asked, and Nick shrugged as if Taylor were sitting next to him and could see his reaction.

"Maybe," Nick bragged. "Or maybe something with sex in it."

"Will your dad let you?" Taylor asked, and Nick nodded before he answered.

"He will because it's for my birthday," Nick fibbed brazenly. "Maybe if you come over early tomorrow we can go to Video Update and pick one we both like."

When Nick got off the phone, he put it back on the charger and made a beeline for the family room to visit his papu. Big Nick was sitting in the recliner, so Nick crawled up into his lap and gave him a long hug.

"There's my little polakia," Big Nick said affectionately. "Where were you?"

"Talking to Taylor," Nick said, talking into his papu's chest. "I wanted him to spend the night but he got in trouble for cussing."

"He was cussing?" Jim asked, sounding a little shocked.

"He said the S word to his dad," Nick reported, lifting his head to look at his dad. Jim looked a little taken aback.

"Taylor did that?" Jim asked disbelievingly.

"Uh huh," Nick said, nodding his head.

"Did he get a whipping?" Big Nick asked, looking dismayed.

"No papu," Nick answered, resting his head back down on his papu's chest, taking in the familiar scent of his papu's aftershave. "Taylor doesn't get whippings. He got grounded for a little while and had to get ready for bed."

Nick rested his head back down on his papu's chest and quietly listened as his dad asked him questions about family and friends back in California. Hearing all of their names was making Nick feel nostalgic for all of them, but when Jim and Big Nick started to talk about their old house, he felt a lump forming in his throat. Big Nick brought up the orange tree in the back yard and Nick thought back to the year before, when he was able to just walk out the back door and pick a large, juicy orange for his dad to peel for him.

Nick turned his head and faced away from his dad and James when he felt his eyes moistening with tears, hoping they would go away. Instead, Jim told James about one summer evening when he and Nick spent the night in the back yard in the garden and Nick couldn't control his tears. They came streaming down his cheeks and it wasn't long before his papu realized what was happening.

"What's wrong little one?" he asked, using his thumb to wipe Nick's cheek.

"Nothing," Nick wept, not wanting his dad to get mad at him for crying about not living in Modesto anymore.

"Are you okay, baby?" Nick heard his dad ask. Instead of a verbal reply, Nick nodded his head, still facing away from everyone.

"It's okay if you miss your old house," his papu said quietly, kissing the top of Nick's head. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No," Nick sobbed. "I just want to sit with you, Papu. I missed you."

"I missed you too, my little polakia," Big Nick said, wrapping his arms around his grandson and giving him a tight hug.

"I miss you all the time," Nick cried. "Why can't you move here with Yia Yia and Uncle Brandon and Uncle Alex?" Nick demanded.

"I wish it were that easy," Big Nick answered. "But you know something? I'm still going to come see you all the time."

"It's not the same, Papu," Nick sobbed.

"I know, but we can make the most of it," Big Nick said, rubbing Nick's back. "And when I come to see you, don't we always do something special?"

Nick nodded, and his papu went on.

"I'll be here for two weeks, Nicko," he said in an upbeat tone. "I promise you that while I'm here, we'll spend some time together and you'll have fun, okay?"

"Okay Papu," Nick sniffled.

"Do you want to go sit with your daddy or do you want to stay here with your papu?" Big Nick asked, and Nick responded by tightening his grip on his papu's chest and not moving from his spot for the rest of the night. He listened intently while his dad and his papu continued to talk about various places in California that he remembered, and he let himself smile a couple of times when they talked about certain people and their quirks.

Finally, Jim got up and walked over to the recliner where Nick was resting with his papu and knelt down, running his hand over Nick's bangs and smiling at him before leaning in to give him a kiss. Nick smiled back at his dad and let Jim lift him off of his papu's lap for a hug.

"I love you little boy," Jim said as Nick lifted his head and pressed his nose against his dad's nose.

"I love you too, daddy," he said with a sleepy smile.

"Are you ready to go to bed?" he asked, and Nick nodded.

"Can I sleep with you tonight, daddy?" Nick asked, resting his head back down on his dad's shoulder.

"Okay, buddy," Jim said, turning and carrying Nick toward the stairway. When he was dressed in his pajamas, Jim took him back downstairs to say goodnight to James and Big Nick. He made sure that he gave both James and his papu a hug and kiss, then he followed his dad back up the stairs and to Jim's room. He crawled in and let Jim climb in next to him. He noticed that his dad wasn't ready for bed yet, and he knew it was because he was waiting for Lori to come over.

Still, Jim wrapped his arms around him and Nick snuggled up to his dad for protection. They talked for a little while in the dark, but Nick only had a few yawns stored up inside of him before he felt his eyes getting heavy and he fell asleep, safe in his dad's arms.

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