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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 19 - by Nick

Nick sat on the floor of his room and rolled his eyes as he listened to his dad and James talking in the hallway. He was already irritated because there was a knot in his shoe that he couldn't get undone, and his attempts at forcing his shoe on his foot were coming up short, but now he could hear his dad trying to sabotage their plan. "Are you sure, James?" he heard his dad say from the hallway. "Why don't you just stay home one more day so that I can be sure."

"I'm sure Uncle Jim," James answered. "I feel good."

Nick sighed and went back to his shoe. He stood up and tried to twist and turn his foot into the shoe, and it seemed like his foot was about to go in when suddenly Jim looked into his room and saw what he was up to.

"Boy, what in the world are you doing?" Jim asked impatiently, "Who taught you to put your shoe on like that? Good God almighty."

Nick pulled his foot out and sat on his bed while Jim tried to take the knot out with his teeth. After what seemed like a long, tense struggle, Jim held the shoe up in triumph with one hand and smiled.

"I don't know how you managed to get a knot like this in your shoe," he said. "But please, son, try not to let it happen again."

"Sorry, dad," Nick said. "I'm not sure how it happened."

Just then James walked in to Nick's room dressed for school. His hair was twisted up in spikes and he had a brand new pair of Vans on. Nick jealously glared down at them, wondering if his dad was going to buy anything for him too. Once Jim got Nicks shoes on and tied for him, he brushed Nick's hair and they were out the door.

Normally James and Nick would catch the bus, but today they were running late. Nicks bus was gone, and Jim said that since he had to go to the store, he would drive James as well. As they pulled through the drop off area to let James out, Nick looked out the window and thought for sure that he had died and gone to heaven. There were so many cute guys everywhere, and he couldn't seem to pull his eyes away. As soon as James was out of the car, Nick hopped into the front seat and when he did, he saw a whole other group of cuties.

"Put your seatbelt on, buddy," Jim said as they pulled away from the school.

"Where are we going, dad," Nick asked as he clicked his seatbelt on.

"First we're going to Farm Fresh," Jim said. "Then, we're going home."

The ride to Farm Fresh only took about a minute from James' school. They turned left out of the school onto Dam Neck. Farm Fresh, Jim's favorite grocery store, was on the right.

"How come you like shopping here so much," Nick asked as they pulled into a parking space.

"Because it's clean," Jim said. "Would you rather go across the street?"

"No sir," Nick said. Across the street from Farm Fresh was another store, Food Lion. The last time they went in there, someone had thrown up and the smell was horrible. As they shopped, Nick thought he could still smell it, but he thought that maybe he was imagining it. When they got to the front of the store, however, they realized that the vomit was still on the floor. People who worked there were just walking past it, not doing anything to clean it up, so Jim left the cart full of groceries and walked out. They went across the street and found Farm Fresh, and from then on that was where all of their groceries came from unless Lori went to the Commissary to buy groceries. If she did, Jim would give her a list and she would do their shopping for them.

"Can I have a donut," Nick asked as they approached the bakery.

"Go ahead," Jim said, so Nick ran ahead of him to the counter and picked out two maple bars. He and Jim loved maple bars, and he knew that even though he couldn't eat a whole one by himself, his dad would eat what he couldn't. As they walked away from the bakery, Nick got in front of Jim so that he could push the cart with him. He was too big to get in the cart like he used to, but he still couldn't see over the handle of the cart to be able to push it alone, so he stood in front of his dad and helped to push while his dad steered them down the aisles. It had been a long time since Nick and his dad had done anything alone, so as they walked through the store, Nick made sure he soaked up as much of his dad's attention as he could.

When they got up to the cash register, Jim grabbed 2 packs of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and 2 bags of Skittles and threw them up on the conveyor belt with everything else. Nick watched his dad as he wrote a check, then he wrote down in another part of his checkbook how much he wrote the check for. On the way out to the car, Jim let Nick ride on the front of the cart while he pushed and popped wheelies with the cart, making Nick giggle.

After Jim unloaded all of the groceries, he and Nick sat down at the table and ate their maple bars together. Nick got about half way through his when he knew he was done. He looked across the table at Jim, who was finished with his, and slid his plate over to him.

"Down for the count, huh," Jim said jokingly, then he picked up what was left of Nick's donut and crammed it all in his mouth. He chewed it up, then he opened his mouth and showed Nick the donut, all chewed up on his tongue, then he swallowed it.

"Gross, daddy," Nick giggled. "You're being silly."

"Oh, I am?," Jim exclaimed as he stood up and advanced on Nick. "Then come here!"

With that, he reached in and attacked Nicks ribs with his fingers, tickling him all over the place. Nick got up to try to mount some kind of defense, but when he did, Jim manhandled him and lifted him up over his head and pressed him like he was lifting weights. When he was done, he threw Nick over his shoulder and walked him into the family room, where he tossed him on the couch. When Nick got up to try to run to the love seat, Jim pulled a cushion off the couch and threw it at his legs, taking them out from underneath him. Nick laughed hysterically as he unsuccessfully tried to fend off his dad. Eventually, they ended up in a WWE style wrestling match.

"I'm gonna lay the smack down on your candy a**," Jim bellowed as he sat on his knees facing Nick, who was planning his attack. Nick jumped up onto the recliner and threw himself on top of his dad, who was waiting to catch him in mid air. He lifted Nick up over his head again, but then he fell backwards and pretended that he couldn't kick out as Nick counted to three.

"I just opened up a can of whoop a** on you!," Nick said as he got up, then he realized what just came out of his mouth. He covered his mouth with both hands, but it was already too late.

"You got lucky," Jim said, winking at Nick as if to tell him not to worry about it. "I'll get you next time."

Nick helped his dad put the cushions back on the couch, then Jim collapsed on the couch and turned on the TV. Nick crawled up onto the couch with his dad and snuggled with him to relax and watch TV.

"I'm having fun," Nick said as he got comfortable.

"Me too, buddy," Jim replied. "I'm glad I kept you home today."

"I am too, daddy," Nick said. "I miss spending time alone with you."

"I know you do, baby," Jim said. "We need to do this more often."

"What else are we going to do today," Nick asked.

"Well, I was thinking that maybe we could go for a ride," Jim said. "We'll go out to the country and you can drive for a little bit."

"Really?," Nick asked.

"Why not?," Jim said. "It's been a long time since you've driven."

"Are we going to take the Camry or the Bronco?," Nick asked, hoping that they would take Jim's Bronco so he could shift.

"Do you want to take the Bronco," Jim asked.

Nick smiled and nodded, so Jim said, "Then we're taking the Bronco."

When they lived in California, Jim used to take Nick out to the country and let him sit in his lap and steer. When Nick got older, he wanted to learn how to shift, so Jim taught him how, and before long, Nick was able to shift without looking down. He knew all of the gears by heart, and he could do it while he was steering. But when they moved to Virginia, Jim and Nick stopped doing that. Then when James moved in, it seemed like the last thing on his dad's mind, so Nick didn't even ask if they could.

While they were watching TV, Nicks mind started to wander. He was thinking about his school work and the spelling words that they were working on for the week. He knew that on Friday there was going to be a spelling test like there was every Friday. He started to run over the words in his head, making up sentences for each word, when Jim interrupted his thoughts.

"Listen son," Jim said. "I was thinking that we should have a talk today."

"What about?," Nick asked. Jim cleared his throat, then he took a deep breath. Nick could tell that whatever it was, it was something serious.

"Well, it's about what we talked about this weekend," Jim said.

"About when I was feeling gay," Nick asked. Jim smiled and nodded before he continued.

"I was wondering if you have any questions about that," Jim said, then he cleared his throat again.

"About liking boys," Nick asked.

"Well, that, and other things you might want to ask about," Jim said.

"Like kissing and stuff?," Nick asked.

"Sure," Jim said confidently. "Is there anything you'd like to know?"

Nick thought about it for a moment, then he thought about something that he had heard his dad say a bunch of times before.

"I do, but I think I have to cuss to ask you," Nick said.

"Well, that's fine, " Jim said. "Just as long as you know that you can't cuss all the time."

"I know," Nick said with a grin on his face.

"So, go ahead," Jim said with a sigh.

"What's a butt fucker?," Nick asked, thinking about the name he had heard his dad call so many people throughout the years.

"Oh boy," Jim said with a nervous chuckle. "Well, that's a name that some people call other people to be mean. But I guess it can also be what two men do when they're loving each other."

"That's what gays do when they're in love?," Nick asked.

"That's what some men do," Jim said. He looked very uncomfortable, and Nick was wondering if he should have even asked. "I'm sure that there're other ways that men show how much they love each other."

"Like kissing," Nick asked, thinking to himself about the kisses he gave Taylor over the weekend.

"Yes, son, like kissing," Jim said.

"What's a cocksucker?," Nick asked, making Jim look even more uncomfortable.

"Well, son," Jim said. "That's another word that can be used to call someone a name, or it can be something that two people do when they're loving each other."

"Okay," Nick said with a shrug, He knew that the conversation was making Jim nervous, so he decided that he was done asking.

"Do you remember what you told me the other day," Jim asked.

"About being gay sometimes?," Nick replied.

"Yes," Jim said. "Well, how have you been feeling for the last few days?"

"I think I was straight yesterday," Nick said.

"What about today," Jim asked.

"Well, I was kinda feeling gay this morning," Nick admitted.

"How about right now," Jim asked.

"I still feel gay," Nick said. "Are you mad at me?"

"No way," Jim said softly. "I would never be mad at you for that, son."

"I was still gay on Sunday," Nick said. "I felt really gay all day, then yesterday I was straight again."

Jim wrapped both of his arms around Nick and gave him a long hug. When he let go, he brushed the hair out of Nicks face.

"I know you know this already," Jim said, "But I love you very much. I'm also very proud of you son. I just wanted to make sure to tell you that today, because it means a lot to me that you always remember that."

"I love you too, daddy," Nick said.

"There's something else, Nick," Jim said with a serious look on his face. "I'm only asking because I feel like I need to."

"What is it dad," Nick asked.

"Has anyone else ever talked to you about being gay," Jim asked, "Or maybe showed you anything about it?"

"Like about sex," Nick asked.

"Yes," Jim answered uneasily. "Has anyone ever touched you or talked to you about it before?"

"No sir," Nick answered. "Me and James talked before, but not about sex or anything like that."

"What kind of stuff did you two talk about," Jim asked.

"Just about who was cute and stuff like that," Nick said.

"Someone at his school," Jim asked with an interested tone to his voice, almost like he wanted to hear some gossip. Nick smiled and nodded.

"I think he has a boyfriend," Nick said, making Jim chuckle.

"Oh, really?," Jim exclaimed. "Well, we'll see what he has to say about that when he gets home today."

"Are you going to tease him," Nick asked with a grin.

"Maybe a little," Jim said. "I'm at least glad that someone around here tells me these things. What else has he told you?"

"Well, just that he's been talking to someone he really likes," Nick said. "But he didn't say if it was his boyfriend or not. I think he is though."

As Nick sat with his dad, the familiar feeling of being the most important person in Jim's life was coming back to him. He felt special to be able to be at home alone with his dad, and he wondered to himself if they would ever live alone again.

"Dad?," Nick started. "Is James always going to live with us?"

"Yes he is, son," Jim said. "I'm going to tell you something, and I don't want you to take this the wrong way, because I love you more than anyone in this whole wide world, okay?"

"Okay, dad," Nick said.

"Nick, I love James as if he were my own son," Jim said, making Nicks heart sink. "He's your second cousin, and he's your mom's cousin. I know that its been hard to adjust to having to share my attention, but if I know one thing for sure, it's that this is what your mom would have done."

"Did my mom love James," Nick asked.

"She loved him very much, son," Jim said. "We were really young, but even then, she always treated him like he was special."

"How come James doesn't live with his mom and dad," Nick asked.

"Because James' parents are selfish," Jim said flatly. "I don't want you to ever tell him that, because he already knows it, and it's hurtful to him. They don't deserve to have a son like James."

"Do they love him," Nick asked.

"I'm sure they do, son," Jim answered. "They're just too selfish to do the right thing for him."

"Did they hurt him," Nick asked, fearful of what he thought the answer was going to be.

"Yes, son, they did," Jim said, his voice cracking with emotion. "That's why I don't come down as hard on him. He's been through a lot."

Nick looked up at his dads face and saw that his eyes were moistening. He realized just how much his dad loved James at that moment, and how thinking about the abuse James went through upset him.

"I'm glad James is here, dad," Nick said.

"Me too, sweetheart," Jim said as he rubbed his eyes and cleared his throat. "I'm never going to let him go back there. Neither will your grandma and grandpa."

"How come he calls them all the time," Nick asked.

"Because he loves them and he misses them more than he can say," Jim said almost bitterly.

"But they always make him cry," Nick said.

"I know they do, baby," Jim said sadly. "Like I said, they don't deserve to have a son like him. I want you to know that I would never treat you that way, son. You're a gift from God, and I would never do anything to hurt you."

"I know you wouldn't, daddy," Nick said, reaching up with his arms to be lifted up into Jim's lap.

"But you know what?," Jim said happily as Nick got comfortable in his lap. "James is a gift from God, too. We both get to have him, son. I know you get jealous sometimes, but you don't have to. You know I love you more than I love anyone."

"Even James," Nick asked hopefully.

Jim nodded and said, "Yes, son. Even James."

"How much do you love him," Nick asked.

"Well, son," Jim said. "There isn't a number big enough, or a part of the ocean that's deep enough to compare to how much I love James. The sky doesn't go high enough. But as much as I love James, I love you a million times more than that. Do you understand me?"

"Yes sir," Nick said as he smiled up at his dad, who looked like he was tearing up. "Are you okay, daddy?"

"I'm fine, son," Jim said. "I just feel so blessed by God to have you two boys in my life. That's why James is never going back to his parents. The Lord sent him here because he needed someone to do the right thing for him for a change, and that's what I'm going to do."

Nick rested his head up against his dad's chest and thought about the awesome responsibility his dad had taken on. He thought about all of his friends' parents, and even Taylor's parents. They were all so much older than Jim was. When Nick told the class that Jim was 24 during a discussion in class, everyone seemed shocked, including Miss Fritzen. When all of the other kids in the class said their parents ages, they were saying ages like 32 and 35 and even 40 and older.

It made Nick wonder to himself how his dad managed to cope with it all. Not only was he raising Nick, but now he had to raise James, and not only was he doing it, but he was doing it in a way that made Nick feel proud. There wasn't one particular thing that Nick could point to that made him feel that way, but it was everything Jim was doing, and how he was doing it.

"So are you ready," Jim asked, giving Nick a final hug before setting him down off his lap.

"Yes," Nick said with a smile. "How long are you gonna let me drive for?"

"We'll see," Jim said. As they made their way toward the door, Jim ran both of his hands through Nick's hair and said, "I know where else we're going today."

"To Supercuts?," Nick asked.

"You've got it," Jim said

Nick sat in the passenger seat of his dad's bronco 2 and waited patiently while Jim fished his cd's out of the Camry. Nick held on tight to the gear shifter and made the same noise a motor to a car makes, and he started to feel excited. Jim got in and started it up, and as he did, they coasted backward out of the driveway. Nick knew that they were coasting because his dad had the clutch pushed in. Jim took the time years ago to explain how the clutch and the gears worked so that Nick would understand why he had to wait for Jim to press the clutch in before he could shift to the next gear.

When they got out to the country, Jim pulled off onto the shoulder and patted his lap. Nick smiled as he crawled over to sit behind the wheel with his dad. He gripped the steering wheel with both hands and then he used his right hand to make sure that they were in neutral. He looked down and waited for Jim to press the clutch in, then he put it in first. Jim let go of the clutch and pressed the gas slowly and soon they were back on the road. Nick felt a rush of excitement race through him as they picked up speed and he shifted through the gears. As soon as he heard the motor slow down, he knew that his dad had pressed the clutch in and it was time to shift again.

It seemed like forever that Jim let Nick control the steering wheel, and as he drove, Nick felt so proud. His dad was letting him drive further than he ever had before, and he wasn't telling him what to do. Instead, he stayed quiet and let Nick do all of the steering and shifting by himself. As they drove, they were listening to Jim's brand new Juvenile 400 Degrees CD, and the songs seemed perfect to Nick for driving.

Eventually, they ended up near the spot where Jim let Nick get behind the wheel, and Jim told Nick to pull off. When they stopped, Nick reached down with his own foot and put the emergency brake on, then he turned around and gave his dad a tight hug.

"I had fun," Nick said. "Thank you for letting me drive, dad."

"You're welcome, sweetie," Jim said affectionately as he gave Nick a kiss. "I love you."

"I love you too daddy," Nick said.

Jim let Nick shift on the way to Supercuts, which wasn't opened yet when they got there. Nick couldn't believe that it was still before 10 in the morning because it seemed like they had already done so much. He got excited when he thought about the fact that there was still so much time left in their day.

When they were finished getting their haircuts, they went back home to take a shower to get all of the loose hair off their heads.

"Son, why don't you jump in the shower with daddy," Jim said. "I want to make sure you get good and clean."

Nick sighed and inwardly groaned, but he knew that his dad wasn't going to take no for an answer. They went upstairs and got in to the shower in Jim's room, and Nick felt like he was in prison. Jim made him wash good with the washcloth, then he decided that Nick hadn't done a good enough job, so he took the washcloth away from him and scrubbed him down himself. After what seemed like an eternity, they got out. Jim got out first and dried off and put some boxers on, then he turned the water off and wrapped Nick up in a towel and carried him to his bed, where he already had clothes waiting for him.

Jim set him down on the bed, then he took the towel from around him and used it to dry him off. When he was sure that Nick was dry enough, he made him lay back down and pick up his feet so that he could put on his underwear. After that, he slid a plain white tee shirt over Nicks head and held out his arms.

"What about the rest of my clothes," Nick asked as he got up and moved toward his dads waiting hands.

"I thought we could just hang out here for the rest of the day in our undies," Jim said as he grabbed Nick under his arms and picked him up. "That way, when James comes home, we can tell him you weren't feeling good."

Nick wrapped his legs around his dads waist and gave him a hug, then he lifted his head and smiled at him.

"Good idea," Nick said.

"I know," Jim said as he kissed Nick on the cheek. As they made their way down the hall, Nick felt like he was hiding in his dads arms. He had a secure feeling, almost as if he were being protected.

"Can we stop and get pooh bear," Nick asked as they passed his room. Jim turned around and did what Nick asked. When his dad handed him the bear, Nick took him and cuddled him while he clung to his dad.

"Don't put me down yet," Nick said when they got downstairs.

"How come, son," Jim asked.

"I just want you to hold me for a little bit," Nick answered. Jim stroked Nicks head and gave him another kiss.

"You like it when daddy babies you, huh?," Jim said. Nick nodded his answer and clung tighter to his dads neck. He felt so close to his dad that he didn't want to get down, even though he knew that eventually he would have to.

"Do you want me to rock you in the recliner," Jim asked softly.

Nick smiled and said, "Yes, please."

Jim sat down and cradled Nick in his arms so that he could rock him from side to side, then back and forth. Nick looked up at his dad and smiled when Jim handed him his pooh bear again and gave him a kiss.

"I love you little one," Jim said as he rocked Nick gently in his arms.

"I love you too, daddy," Nick said in a small voice, feeling content to have all of Jim's affection showered on him. Eventually, his eyes started to get heavy and when he couldn't fight it anymore, he fell asleep.

Nick and Taylor exchanged naughty smiles as they sat on the beanbag in his room watching TV. It was raining outside, and the sound of the thunder was making the windows rattle lightly. Downstairs, Jim was in the process of grounding James for lying about his homework and getting himself suspended at school, and as his yelling got louder, he asked Nick and Taylor to go upstairs. On the way up, Nick watched Taylor's butt move in front of him, and seeing that made his heart rate pick up.

"I wish it was the weekend," Nick said with a sigh as he gazed at Taylor, who was grinning at him.

"Me too," Taylor said. "I don't want to go to school tomorrow."

"Me either," Nick said. "I wish I could go to James' school."

"Why?" Taylor asked.

"Because it makes me feel good when I see all the cute guys there," Nick admitted.

"Does it make you turn gay?" Taylor asked with a cute smile.

Nick smiled and nodded his head and then he scooted closer to his friend.

"Are you gay right now?" Taylor asked with the same smile.

"Yes," Nick said. "I turned gay after school."

Taylor didn't say anything else. Instead, he snuggled up to Nick and put his arm around him. Nick responded by resting his head on Taylor's shoulder.

"Do you want to be boyfriends again?" Nick asked.

"Okay," Taylor said eagerly.

Without a word, Nick wrapped his arms around Taylor's neck and planted a kiss on his lips. He tilted his head a little and held it there for a long time, letting his mind race. He wanted to push his tongue into Taylor's mouth, but he didn't want to gross him out, so instead he broke the kiss and smiled.

Just as they were about to go further, they heard James stomping his feet up the stairs and then they heard his door slam. Nick got up and opened his door just in time to see his dad walking up the stairs with his belt in his hand and a calm look on his face. He knew that James was about to get it.

"James," Jim called out sternly. "I'm going to give you one chance to do what I told you to do, then you're getting a spanking. I mean it."

Nick and Taylor watched from the hallway as James' door flew open and a pile of dirty laundry hit Jim in the chest. Jim simply looked down at the pile of clothes and shook his head, then he went into the room. Nick listened closely and he knew the exact moment that Jim's belt made contact with the back of James' legs because he heard the three smacks, all in a row. The next thing he heard was James starting to cry. He looked at Taylor, who had a shocked look on his face and then he walked down the hall to look into James' room.

"Get in your bed," he heard Jim say as he approached the door to the room. "You will not lie to me or disrespect me, James. You're grounded until I hear from your teachers that you've been doing your homework."

Nick looked into the room and saw James lying in his bed with his back to Jim, still crying. Jim was sitting down on a chair talking to him, but he definitely looked upset. Not angry, just upset. Nick backed away from the doorway so that his dad couldn't see him but he could still see into the room.

"I didn't want to have to spank you, son," Jim said. "But you absolutely brought this on yourself. I told you to come up here and get your backpack, not to stomp your feet like a little brat and throw your dirty clothes at me. Tell me why you thought that would be okay?"

"I don't know," James cried. "You didn't have to whip me."

"I did have to whip you, James," Jim said sadly. "You've been lying to me about your homework, you've been lying to me about your schoolwork, and when I tried to talk to you about it, you were totally disrespectful. But I still gave you a chance to get out of being grounded. All you had to do was bring me your backpack, but you couldn't even do that without stomping your feet like a two year old."

With that, Jim stood up and Nick tiptoed back down the hall to his room where Taylor was waiting for him.

"What happened," Taylor asked.

"James got a spanking and he's grounded," Nick said. "My dad's talking to him."

"Nick," Jim called from the hallway as he neared Nick's room.

"Yes daddy," Nick answered just as Jim put his head in the doorway to his room.

"I want you to leave James alone tonight, okay?" Jim said. "He's grounded right now, and he's upset. He needs a little space, alright?

"Yes sir," Nick said. "Did he get a hard spanking?"

"What makes you think he got a spanking?" Jim asked flatly.

"We heard it," Nick said as Taylor nodded in agreement.

"From down the hall?" Jim asked.

"Yes," Nick said. "We heard you spank him and we heard him crying."

"It wasn't that bad," Jim said with a sigh. "Why don't you two come back downstairs?"

As they followed Jim down the stairs, Nick felt disappointed. He was looking forward to spending some time alone with Taylor but now it wasn't going to happen.

"Son, I know it isn't your turn, but I want you to take Skalaki out to the garage and feed him," Jim said as they reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Do I have to take him out to go potty," Nick asked, hoping that his dad would say no.

"I'll do that, son," Jim said. "It's raining outside, and I don't want you two getting colds."

Taylor followed Nick to the family room, where Skalaki was sleeping next to the recliner. He was curled up in a ball and as they approached, he opened one eye and lifted his head.

"Come on boy," Nick said as he motioned with his hand for the puppy to follow him to the garage. Skalaki got up and followed them to the laundry room, where Nick had to bend over and pick him up because he refused to go out into the cold garage.

As he usually did whenever he fed Skalaki, Nick poured more food than his bowl would hold and it overflowed, then he went back into the laundry room and filled up his water bowl and carefully carried it back out to the garage. Taylor was watching the puppy eat from a few feet away, so Nick walked over to where he was standing and took his hand.

Taylor turned to him and gave him a sexy smile, making Nick sigh and rest his head on Taylor's shoulder.

"I feel sexy right now," Nick said as he gazed into Taylor's eyes from where he was resting his head.

"Me too," Taylor replied.

"Give me a hug," Nick said, and when he felt Taylor's arms wrap around him, he felt his head spinning.

Nick wrapped his arms around Taylor and ran his hands up and down his back, feeling the warmth coming from his body. Nick put his lips on Taylor's cheek and kissed it, then he lifted his head and smiled at him. When Taylor smiled back, Nick moved in, kissing Taylor on the lips again. He turned his head and held the kiss while he opened his mouth part of the way, just to see what Taylor would do. When he felt Taylor's lips move apart from each other, he decided to try to push his tongue in.

Taylor grinned as Nicks tongue moved into his mouth, and Nick felt Taylor's tongue press back for a long, enjoyable moment, and then he stopped.

When they broke the kiss, Nick grinned naughtily at Taylor, who was grinning back just as naughtily. Nick sighed and enjoyed the sexy way he was feeling until Skalaki finished his food. When they saw he was done, Nick took Taylor's hand again and they walked back into the house. Jim was in the kitchen starting dinner, so they held hands as they walked down the hallway. When they got to the family room, they sat down together on the recliner and snuggled close.

"I wish you were spending the night tonight," Nick said as he laid his head on Taylor's shoulder.

"I know," Taylor said. "Maybe I can tomorrow night if it's okay with Mr. J."

"It is," Nick said. "My dad says you can spend the night whenever you want."

Taylor smiled sweetly at Nick, causing a rush of emotions to take him over for a moment, so he leaned in and planted a kiss on Taylor's lips. Taylor seemed to enjoy it at first, but then his eyes got big and he looked around fast.

"Don't worry," Nick said. "My dad's in the kitchen. He can't see."

Nick didn't try to kiss Taylor again. Instead, he simply sat with him in the recliner, content to feel his arms wrapped around him and to smell his hair. At one point, while Jim was still in the kitchen, Nick gazed up at Taylor and said, "I love you."

Taylor smiled at him and said, "I love you too, Nick."

Eventually, Taylor had to go home, so Jim loaded his bike up in the back of his Bronco and told James that they would be right back. The rain was coming down so hard that Jim decided that he didn't want Taylor riding his bike in that weather. When they said goodbye, Nick wanted to give Taylor another kiss, but he knew he couldn't, so instead, he made sure that they made plans for Taylor to spend the night again on Friday and Saturday while both of their parents were there. On the ride home, the only thing Nick could think about was how excited he was that tomorrow was Friday and that Taylor was spending the weekend again.

Dinner was quiet. James wasn't really speaking to Jim, so Nick just pushed his fork around a little on his plate and acted like nothing was wrong. As Nick watched his cousin at the table, he thought about what Jim had told him a few days earlier. He wondered if James wanted to go home to his parents, or if he would forgive Jim for the whipping he got. James didn't really seem hungry, either. He just looked at his food with a depressed face, not seeming interested in eating.

"Boys," Jim started. "You both need to eat a little more before you're excused."

"Yes sir," Nick said as he scooped up his food and started to eat. James didn't make a move to even attempt to take a bite.

"James, that means you too," Jim said sternly.

"I'm not hungry," James said in a sad voice.

"I want you to at least take a couple of bites," Jim insisted.

James looked up from his plate with tears streaming down his cheeks, then he looked back down at his food and tried to use his fork to scoop some up. Jim sighed, picked James' plate up off the table and set it next to his own plate. James put his head down and sobbed for a few moments as Nick tried to concentrate on his food. Finally, after he took a few bites, he looked at his dad, who simply nodded at him that it was okay to get up.

As he was leaving the kitchen, Nick heard his dads chair being slid across the kitchen floor, so he turned around and saw Jim sitting side by side with James, who still had his head down. He watched as his dad wrapped an arm around James' shoulder and pulled him into a hug. He felt so awful for his cousin, who seemed scared and homesick. Jim was rubbing James' back and telling him to let it out, so Nick turned and went back into the family room and curled up in the recliner with Skalaki and watched TV until it was time for bed.

"I love you sweetheart," Jim said as he kissed Nick on the forehead and pulled his covers over him.

"I love you too, daddy," Nick answered.

"Are you sure you went pee?," Jim asked. "I don't want you to have an accident tonight."

"I promise I did," Nick said.

"I'll see you in the morning then, okay?," Jim said.

"Okay, daddy," Nick said with a smile. "I'll see you in the morning."

When he got home the next day, Nick took Taylor to his room almost immediately and closed his door. His dad and James were working in Tom and Linda's garage as part of James' punishment for getting suspended from school, so they were alone.

"Let me change my clothes before we go to your house," Nick said with a grin.

While he was changing, he was sure that he could hear Taylor breathing harder as he watched, and his lips started to tingle when he thought about what he wanted to do with him, but he decided to stay patient. They went back next door after he changed and asked Jim if it was okay for them to ride his bike to Taylor's.

"I don't know if I like the idea of Taylor riding on your handle bars, son," Jim said.

"He won't," Nick promised. "I'll stand up and pedal and he can have the seat. Please?"

Jim sighed and gave them both a sarcastic look, then he motioned with his head for them to go ahead.

On the way there, they stopped along the trail when Nick spotted a turtle crawling near a puddle. He stopped and picked it up and looked it over closely.

"I wonder why he puts his head in his shell," Nick said.

"He's scared," Taylor said as he gently petted the shell with his hand.

"Don't be scared, Mr. Turtle," Nick said sweetly. "We won't hurt you."

Nick sat down on a log and put the turtle up to his face so that the opening was facing him. He could see the turtles head inside, so he smiled.

"It's okay," Nick said softly. "You can come out."

"Are you going to take him home?" Taylor asked.

"I wonder if I can keep him," Nick said. "Where can we say we found him?"

Taylor shrugged his shoulders and took the turtle from Nick. When he did, it's head popped out. He used his finger to gently pet its head, and for a moment, it went back in its shell. When it came back out, Taylor smiled proudly.

"Maybe he should go home with you," Nick said. "He likes you better than me."

"My dad won't let me," Taylor said sadly and in a small voice.

"Maybe he will this time," Nick said hopefully. "If he doesn't, then I'll keep him. But you name him."

"What name should I give him," Taylor asked.

"Whatever name you want," Nick said.

"Let's go back to my house and ask first," Taylor said.

They got on Nicks bike and rode to Taylor's house carefully so that Taylor wouldn't drop the turtle. When they got there, Taylor shyly asked Cindy if he could keep it.

"Honey, you know I would love to say yes," she said. "But this is something that daddy and I have to discuss together."

"I promise to take good care of it," Taylor said pleadingly.

"I know you do, honey," Cindy said with a smile. "I'll tell you what. Why don't we wait for daddy to get home, and I promise to do what I can, okay?"

Taylor smiled warmly at his step mom and then looked down at the turtle.

"Can I name him," he asked.

"Go ahead," Cindy said. "What are you going to call him?"

"Ren," he said with a grin. "He looks like Ren from Ren and Stimpy."

"He does?" Nick said curiously.

"Thanks, mommy," Taylor said as he smiled at his turtle. "I love you."

Cindy leaned down, gave Taylor a small hug and a kiss on the lips and said, "I love you too, sweetheart."

Nick and Taylor took the turtle to the backyard and let him walk around in the lawn. He made his way to a puddle in the middle of the lawn and took a drink when he got to it.

"He must have been getting ready to take a drink when we found him," Taylor said. "I hope my dad says yes."

Just as Nick was about to agree with Taylor, the patio door slid open and Charles walked outside with Cindy right behind him.

"Hey sport," Charles said with a smile. He still had his uniform on and Nick noticed that he put his hat back on when he stepped outside.

"Daddy," Taylor said excitedly as he ran up to him and gave him a hug.

"Hi Mr. Charles," Nick said.

"Hey bud," Charles said as he released his hug with Taylor.

Taylor took his dads hand and they walked out to the middle of the lawn where Ren was still drinking from the puddle. Charles squatted down and Taylor picked the turtle up and showed it to him.

"If I let you have him," Charles said. "You have to promise me that you're going to take good care of him. I mean it, sport. I won't let you keep him if you don't treat him right."

"I promise," Taylor said hopefully.

Charles wrapped an arm around Taylor and rubbed his back as he pulled him closer to him for a small hug.

"Did you name him already?" he asked.

"His name's Ren, because that's who he looks like," Taylor said.

"We'll have to go to the pet store then," Charles said. "That also means that we have to buy him a crate to hibernate in this winter."

"Like a bear?" Taylor asked with a funny look on his face.

"Just like a bear, sport," Charles said.

"When will he do that," Taylor asked with a concerned look on his face.

"Probably sooner than later," Charles said. "We'll need to find a pet store tonight. That means you have to take care of him tonight, sport. No spending the night at Nicks."

Nicks heart sank when he heard Charles tell Taylor that he couldn't spend the night, but his disappointment turned to panic when Taylor spoke next.

"Can Nick spend the night with us," he asked. "You said he could anytime."

"Sure, sport," Charles said, turning to smile at Nick. "That would be fine."

"I have to go home and ask my dad first," Nick said nervously. "He might not let me because of Skalaki."

Nick knew that he was fibbing. Jim had already said that it was okay for Nick to spend the night at Taylor's house anytime he wanted to, but the idea of spending the night away from home was scary to him. He hated being away from his dad, and even though he would be with Taylor, he knew that he wouldn't be allowed to be himself if he wasn't home. He wasn't worried about acting gay in front of Charles and Cindy. Being gay was the furthest thing from his mind. It was everything else that worried him. What if he wanted a drink or he had a bad dream? What if there was something he wanted to watch on TV? How would he take a shower?

"Did you want to call?" Cindy offered.

"No ma'am," Nick said. "I better ride my bike home and ask."

"Taylor, I need you to wait here while he goes," Charles said. "We're going to go over a few rules about your new pet."

"Okay, daddy," Taylor said happily. "Will you come right back, Nick?"

"I promise I will if he says yes," Nick said uneasily. "I'll still come back even if he says no and then I'll go home later, if it's okay."

"Of course that's okay, bud," Charles said, helping to put Nick at ease. "Just come on back whenever you find out."

With that, Nick went out the side gate and got on his bike. On the ride back, he felt nervous about lying to Taylor and his parents about spending the night. He knew that his dad was going to tell him yes, but he didn't want to spend the night at Taylor's house. He would have to make up a story when he went back and hope that they didn't find out the truth.

When he rode up to his grandparents' driveway, he found James working alone.

"Where's my dad," Nick asked.

"He had to go home and make a phone call," James said. "Where's Taylor?"

"He can't spend the night tonight," Nick said sadly. "He wants me to spend the night at his house."

"Are you going to ask Uncle Jim," James asked.

Nick nodded at him but he had a sick and uneasy feeling in his stomach as he did. He made his way back to his house and rode his bike into the garage. As he was about to open the door to the laundry room to go inside, he heard his dad holler.

"Motherfucker, you must have lost your mind!" Jim was shouting as Nick opened the door and walked inside. "You two don't have any rights!"

Nick had heard his dad yelling this loudly before, but he had never heard the kind of emotion that was in his voice this time. It was almost a tragic tone, as if he had just gotten some really bad news and he was reacting to it.

"I'll tell you what," Jim shouted. "Keep this up and the next time you see him, you'll both be in prison! You don't get to have him for Thanksgiving or Christmas or for anything else! You aren't fit to be alone with him!"

There was silence for a brief moment, and then Nick heard his dad explode again.

"Go ahead!" Jim almost screamed at the top of his lungs. "I'll have something waiting on your punk a** when you get here!"

With that, Nick turned around and headed back to Tom and Linda's house. He walked right past James and went inside on the verge of tears. As soon as he spotted his grandpa, he told him everything. Tom walked right out the door and Nick watched as he made his way next door. James was watching Tom curiously as he made his way through the garage. From the doorway to the garage at Tom and Linda's, Nick could hear his dad shouting and he was sure James knew what was going on, but he was hoping that somehow he didn't. When he looked over at him, though, Nick could see that he had heard enough to know what was happening. He looked scared and even a little hurt, so Nick walked out to the garage, letting the door close behind him, and gave him a hug. Nick could hear James sniffle as they hugged, and his heart broke for him.

"I love you James," Nick said. " I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault, Nick," James said sadly. "I don't know what to do."

"I won't spend the night at Taylor's tonight," Nick said, forgetting for the moment about how scared he was feeling about spending the night away from home. "I want to stay with you."

Just then Linda walked out to the garage and asked what was wrong, and when Nick told her what was happening, she put her arms around James and gave him a long hug.

Nick and James went inside with Linda and waited for Jim and Tom to come back. While they waited, they talked about everything but James' parents. James told them about how he and Jim had gone fishing earlier that day but didn't get any bites, and how Jim said that in the springtime, he would charter a boat and take Nick with them so they could fish for tuna. Nick and James relaxed and for a while, Nick had forgotten all about what was happening next door.

Finally, Jim and Tom came back, looking calm. Jim sat down on the couch and pulled James into a hug. He had a protective look on his face as he wrapped his arms around his nephew, and while he was still hugging him, he held out one arm and motioned for Nick to come give him a hug.

"I love you boys," Jim said softly, then he planted a kiss on each one of their cheeks.

"I love you too, Uncle Jim," James said. Nick backed off and let his dad be close with James for a while. Jim held on to James with both arms and had him sit between his legs. Every once in a while, he would kiss him on top of his head and rub his cheek up against one of James' cheeks. For all of the affection his dad was giving James, Nick didn't feel jealous at all. He knew that Jim was protecting him, and that for the moment, he needed to leave them alone and not try to interfere.

Nick told his dad about Taylor's turtle, and about what Charles said about him spending the night.

"Do you want to, buddy," Jim asked. "It's okay with me."

"Not really," Nick said shyly. "I'd rather stay home and be with you and James."

"You better call them and tell them that," Jim said. "Don't keep them waiting for you."

"Can I go back over there and tell them," Nick asked.

"How late are you going to be," Jim asked.

"We might go to the pet store," Nick said. "To get stuff for Ren." "Ren?" Jim asked with an amused tone.

"Taylor named him after Ren from Ren and Stimpy," Nick said. "He looks just like him in the face."

"That poor turtle," Jim chuckled. "Go ahead."

Nick smiled and gave his dad a kiss goodbye, then he kissed his grandparents and James goodbye and was out the door. He got on his bike and rode as fast as he could back to Taylor's, excited that he wasn't spending the night.

"We almost gave up on you, bud," Charles said warmly as he opened the door for Nick to come in.

Nick told them everything that happened, and even though Taylor was disappointed, he understood.

"If it's okay, maybe you can spend the night tomorrow instead," he said. "If your dad says it's okay."

"I'll ask him," Nick said. "I think he just feels bad for James."

"Well, James can always spend the night too," Charles said.

"He's grounded," Nick said. "He got suspended at school."

"Mr. J gave him a whipping," Taylor told his dad as if it was unheard of to him.

"I'm sure he deserved it if he got one," Charles said.

"I never had a spanking before," Taylor said with a grin.

"I'm sure we can do something about that," Charles said teasingly.

Cindy took Taylor by the hand and pulled him around to her backside and smiled.

"I'll protect you, honey," she said jokingly. Taylor hid behind his step mom and stuck his tongue out at his dad, who laughed and nudged Nick.

"Do you see how I get teamed up on?," Charles asked. "They have me out numbered."

When they got back from the pet store, it was starting to get dark, so Nick rode home. When he got there, his grandparents and Lori were there, sitting with Jim and James in the family room. They were talking about James' parents, and even when Nick sat down, the conversation didn't stop.

"I love my sister with all of my heart," Tom said, sounding heartbroken. "But I don't know her anymore. She's changed so much."

James was snuggled up to Jim on the love seat with his head in his lap. He didn't seem shocked or even upset with the conversation.

"She's always been this way, Uncle Tom," he said. "Both of them have been like that for as long as I can remember."

James looked like he was thinking back, and a painful look crossed his face before he looked up at his uncle and snuggled closer. Jim gave him a firm hug and rubbed his back while Linda spoke.

"James, I want you to know that none of this is your fault," she said. "I don't want you to ever think that you caused any of this."

"But they love each other so much," James said, almost weeping. "They just hate me."

"They don't hate you, son," Jim said softly. "I think they love you a lot, but they're just too selfish to do the right thing for you."

"They threw me away," James said with a rush of tears and crying. "My mom said that I was a piece of garbage and that they were taking out the trash."

With that, James broke down and sobbed. Nick looked at his dad, who had tears streaming down his cheeks as he held and rocked James in his arms. Lori was sitting next to them, kneading Jims shoulder with tears in her eyes as well. Nick looked at his grandparents, who looked heart broken as they watched from the couch. Nick had a huge lump in his throat that turned to tears. He turned and went into the kitchen, where he sat at the table and put his head down and sobbed for his cousin. He felt a hand on the back of his neck, and when he looked up, his grandparents were standing there. Tom knelt down and gave him a hug, lifting him up off his feet, and as Nick cried on his shoulder, Linda kissed him and ran her fingers through his hair.

"That was a lot for you to see, wasn't it?," Linda said. Nick nodded as he clung to his grandpa, who was hugging him tightly.

"It's going to be okay, kiddo," Tom said quietly. "James is here now, and he's safe. No one can hurt him here."

"But they already did," Nick said, feeling a deep sorrow for his cousin. He always wondered why Jim showered him with so much love and affection, but now he could see why. James' life was a nightmare until he came to live in Virginia, and now his parents were trying to keep his nightmare alive. As Nick sobbed in his grandfathers arms, he wondered how his grandpa could be so wonderful while his sister was such a monster.

From the kitchen, Nick could see his dad and Lori sitting on the love seat with James, trying to calm him down, and he had another thought. He gave Tom a kiss and got down, then he went back into the family room, where he simply leaned in and gave James a kiss on the cheek.

James looked up at him and smiled pitifully, but Nick didn't frown. He smiled as sweetly as he could, then he sat down with Lori and rubbed James' back and rested his head on his shoulder. Lori reached up and wiped some tears from Jim's eyes, then she put an arm around Nick and gave him a hug. Tom and Linda came back into the family room and somehow, Jim managed to move over enough so that the both of them could sit down on the love seat with them and hug James.

Nick looked at his family and realized that he had it better than he knew. Here he was, sitting with his dad, his cousin, his grandparents and Lori, and everyone there had nothing but love in their hearts for each other. He knew then that Lori and James were family too, and that as much as he missed having the time alone with his dad that he used to have, he never wanted to go back to a time when he didn't have them in his life.

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