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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 23 - by Nick

Nick and James smiled widely as the news was rolled along the bottom of the TV screen. There was no school for Virginia Beach because of the snow that was falling. Jim was shaking his head as he rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath.

"I wonder what they would do around here if the snow was actually sticking," he said sarcastically. "This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. I honestly can't believe they're serious."

It wasn't 6 o'clock in the morning yet, and no one was dressed. Jim and Nick still had their pajamas on and James was running around in his underwear. Skalaki was sleeping peacefully in his favorite place, Jim's recliner, and with the exception of the TV being on, nothing else had happened that morning. Nick had a feeling that school was going to be cancelled when he saw the news the night before. The weatherman said point blank that there were possible school closings throughout the area. Jim warned both Nick and James the night before that the snow wasn't going to stick, so to expect to have school, but Nick had a feeling that no matter what happened, school would be cancelled.

"Alright, boys," Jim said. "Just because you two don't have any school today doesn't mean that I don't have work to do. I need you both to behave today and let me work in peace."

"Will you cook pancakes this morning," Nick asked. "We have time to eat them now."

Jim sighed and nodded, then he turned and headed toward the front door. Nick followed his dad to see what he was doing, but he quickly turned and headed back toward the family room when Jim opened the front door to get his paper off of the front porch, letting a blast of freezing air into the house.

"Go put your slippers on, Nick," Jim said impatiently as he made his way back into the family room and sat down on the couch. "Are you trying to get sick again?"

"Sorry," Nick said sarcastically as he headed out of the family room and up the stairs to his room to find his slippers. As he slid his slippers over his feet, Nick heard his dad yelling at James. He wasn't sure why, so he made it a point to get back downstairs as soon as possible.

"Goddamn, son," Jim was saying as Nick came back into the family room. "How about if I forget to feed you one night? Do you think you'd like that?"

"No sir," James said sadly.

"That's right, you wouldn't," Jim snapped. "Now get your a** in gear and feed that poor dog. I can't believe you didn't feed him. Did you take him out last night?"

James didn't answer. Instead, he looked nervously at Jim with a face that gave his answer. Jim took a deep breath and shook his head, then he rolled up the section of the newspaper he was reading and smacked the coffee table with it.

"James, I swear to God," Jim said irritably. "He better not have peed in this house!"

With that, James picked Skalaki up as fast as he could and walked swiftly past Jim, who was still holding the rolled up paper, and who took a swat at James' legs as he made his way past him, just missing him. Nick watched as James turned into the laundry room, then he looked back at his dad, who was in a grouchy mood to say the least.

"Are you mad at me too, daddy," Nick asked timidly.

"No babe," Jim said in a still irritated tone. "I was just planning on the two of you going to school today, that's all. I have a lot on my mind."

"Is James in trouble," Nick asked. Jim shook his head and sighed, and then he patted the cushion next to him for Nick to come sit next to him.

"Daddy isn't trying to be mean to you boys," Jim explained as he wrapped his arm around Nicks shoulder. "I just have so much I need to get done today. I'll get up and cook you some breakfast in a little bit, okay?"

"Okay," Nick said as he smiled up at his dad. James came back inside from the garage and went straight to the bathroom to wash his hands. When he came back into the family room, Jim motioned for him to come to him with his finger. James cautiously approached him with the same nervous look that he had when Jim was yelling at him earlier, but when Jim held his arms out for a hug, James leaned into him and wrapped his arms around him.

"Did you really go out there in your undies, son?" Jim asked as he rubbed James' back.

"I'm sorry, dad," James said. "I know I was supposed to wear my sweats and my slippers."

"It's okay, buddy," Jim said as he released the hug but still held James close to him. "Are you cold?"

James nodded sadly, so Jim wrapped his arms around him and pulled him into his lap. He lifted each one of James' legs and rubbed them with his hands while James looked up at him and smiled. Nick knew that James was enjoying the attention Jim was giving him, especially after being the target of Jim's bad mood earlier. Nick watched as James rested his head up against Jim's chest and closed his eyes, and for a moment, he got jealous. He put his nose in the air and sniffed around for any evidence that Skalaki might have peed in the house, but then he realized that he was being silly, so he stopped what he was doing and snuggled up to his dad instead. They sat together and watched for the other closings in the area for a while, then Jim let them turn it to Nickelodeon.

"Okay, I'm going to get now and make you boys some breakfast," Jim said as he scooted James off his lap and stood up. When Jim went into the kitchen, Nick followed him and climbed up onto the counter to watch his dad make their pancakes. Just as Jim was getting all of the ingredients together, the phone rang.

"Sure, Cindy," Jim said, catching Nicks attention. "Just bring him by. He's always welcome here."

Nick smiled to himself, and then at his dad, who smiled back. Taylor was coming over. Nick wondered why Cindy and Charles had to work when everyone else seemed to be off work and out of school. Nick could have sworn he saw Oceana Air Station roll along the bottom of the screen in the list of closures, but he decided not to question it out loud.

"I'm getting ready to make pancakes right now," Jim said. "He can eat with us."

Just as Jim was hanging up and putting the phone back on it's charger, Skalaki started to whine at the door, so Nick hopped down and ran to the laundry room to let him in. When he opened the door, Skalaki looked miserably cold. Nick picked his puppy up and cuddled him to warm him up, then he carried him back into the family room and sat down with him in the recliner.

"I thought you were helping me in here," Jim called out from the kitchen.

"Sorry, dad," Nick said. "Skalaki's so cold though. Why can't he eat in here from now on?"

"Because he's a dog, Nick," Jim said. "He isn't going to be careful not to make a mess on my floor, and he doesn't clean up after himself if he spills his food."

Nick rolled his eyes and made a silly face, moving his lips along with Jim's words, mocking him silently as he went on about his reasons for not allowing Skalaki to eat inside.

"But why not let him eat in the laundry room, dad?," James asked. It seemed like a pretty good idea to Nick, too, who wondered to himself why he hadn't thought of that himself. "We can clean up around his dish in there. It's not like there's carpet in there."

"We'll see," Jim said, sounding put out by James' suggestion. Nick knew from his tone that what he actually meant was that he wouldn't admit that it was a good idea, but it was and they were going to start feeding Skalaki in the laundry room. Nick was holding his puppy the way his dad always held him in the recliner, cradling him in his arms and rocking him from side to side. Even though Skalaki couldn't actually smile, Nick thought to himself that he looked happy.

"I love you, Skalaki," Nick cooed as he leaned down and made kissing noises near his puppy's face, but he never actually kissed him. The thought was too much for Nick to stomach as he remembered all the times he saw the dog licking his balls and his butt. Still, he thought Skalaki was so cute that he couldn't help but rain his affection down on him.

Nick was the first to jump up when he heard the knock at the door. He put Skalaki down in the recliner and made a mad dash down the hallway to the front door, getting there at the exact same time that his dad did. When Jim opened the door, Taylor was standing there with Cindy, but he didn't look happy. In fact, he looked a little scared at first, but when Nick smiled at him, he smiled back and came inside. Cindy followed him in the house with what looked like an old diaper bag that had some clothes, Taylor's game boy, and some games for it. She also tried to hand Jim money, but he refused it right away.

"Cindy, there's no way I'd ever want you to pay me," Jim said. "Taylor's always welcome here."

"Well, Charles should be off early today," she said. "But you're really a life saver, Jim. I really appreciate this."

"Anytime," Jim said with a smile. "Tell Charles to take his time, too. There's no rush."

Taylor look humiliated as Cindy dug through the bag she brought and made sure that he had a full change of clothes. She helped him out of his jacket and kissed him goodbye, and finally, she headed toward the door. Taylor followed her all the way down the hallway, and he looked scared again as she got closer to the door. Nick didn't follow him this time, because he wasn't sure what was wrong. He watched from the family room as Cindy knelt down and said something to Taylor as she hugged him. When she walked out the door, Taylor looked like he was going to cry. He made his way into the living room and sadly looked out the window as Nick slowly moved down the hallway, not knowing what to say.

Taylor had easily spent more weekends at Nick's house than he had spent at home since they had met. He never once seemed scared or nervous about being away from his parents, even the first time. In fact, he was always comfortable at Nick's house. Jim always seemed to go out of his way to make Taylor feel like he was part of the family, and Taylor always seemed to be there. But today, for whatever reason, he didn't seem happy to be there at all.

"What's wrong, Taylor," Nick asked softly as he approached his best friend, who was watching as Cindy drove away. Instead of answering, he looked at Nick sadly, then he looked back out the window.

"Is everything okay, guys?" Jim asked as he came into the living room.

"I think Taylor's going to cry," Nick said sadly. Taylor didn't even look at Jim or Nick while they were talking.

"What's wrong, pal," Jim asked as he knelt down and put his hand on Taylor's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Taylor nodded slowly and sadly as tears started to run down his cheeks, so Jim took him by the hand and walked with him to the kitchen. Nick followed right behind them and took a seat at the table as Jim pulled a chair out for Taylor to sit in. Jim sat in a chair right next to him and held his hand while he talked to him.

"Are you feeling a little nervous buddy?," Jim asked gently. Taylor nodded and looked down, obviously embarrassed about crying.

"Well, I don't want you to feel bad," Jim said. "You know, we're going to have a good time today. Do you know why?"

"No," Taylor answered politely in a small voice.

"Because I have a plan," Jim said with a confident smile. "I can't tell you what it is yet, because it's secret. But I guarantee you, Taylor, you're going to have such a good time, you won't want the day to end."

Taylor grinned at Jim for a moment, then he smiled at Nick, who was starting to wonder what plan his dad was talking about. He thought Jim said that he had work to do, but he decided not to say anything. Instead, he got up and walked over to Taylor's chair. Taylor moved over a little bit and Nick sat down with him and took his hand.

"My dad always thinks of fun stuff to do," Nick said. "I wonder what his plan is today."

"How come it's secret, Mr. J?," Taylor asked.

"Because, how can it be a surprise if I tell you what I'm planning?," Jim replied. "You'll just have to trust me. Now, which one of you boys wants to help me cook this batter?"

Nick and Taylor both got up and went to the sink to wash their hands, then they both climbed up onto the counter and watched Jim pour the batter into the pan and form the pancakes. Jim showed them how he let the bubbles form on the top of the batter before he turned the pancake over.

"Do you want to make one?" Jim asked softly as he handed Taylor the ladle. Taylor smiled as he dipped the ladle into the batter when Jim held the bowl up for him, then he carefully poured the batter into the pan, forming a perfectly round pancake.

"You're a natural," Jim declared. "I should have just had you do all of this."

Taylor laughed at Jim's declaration, then he waited while Jim turned the pancake over. When it was finished cooking, Jim put it on top of the stack, then he told Taylor to pour another one. Nick smiled when he realized that Taylor wasn't scared or nervous anymore. Jim made him feel better by giving him a job to do in the kitchen, and even though it was normally Nick's job to pour the batter, he didn't feel jealous at all. Instead, he felt relieved that Taylor was smiling and even laughing as Jim went out of his way to make sure he was having fun.

"Well, guys," Jim said as he chewed his food at the table. "I think if it gets a little colder outside, the snow's going to start sticking. If it does, we'll go outside and play in it. If not, I have a backup plan."


After breakfast, the four of them worked together to clean the kitchen, then they all went their separate ways around the house. James settled back down in the family room to watch TV while Jim opened his laptop and worked at the table. Nick and Taylor went upstairs to play Jenga, a game Nick hated but Taylor loved.

"Ah Ha!" Taylor exclaimed as the tower came down when Nick pulled a piece from the bottom and tried to stack it on top. "Looks like I win again."

Nick smiled at him, glad that he was feeling better, but wondering to himself if Taylor was ever going to want to spend the night again. Maybe he would get scared again, like he did today. Or, maybe there was something else going on that Nick didn't know about. He thought back to the Friday night that Taylor wanted him to stay over, but he was too afraid to be away from home. Maybe Taylor felt that way, too, but never said anything about it before. He seemed fine again, so Nick just decided to forget about it while they played Jenga.

"Do you think Mr. J thinks I'm a baby," Taylor asked suddenly.

"For what," Nick asked, knowing exactly what Taylor meant but wanting to pretend that he had forgotten all about it.

"Because of this morning," Taylor said. "I don't want him to be mad at me and say I can't spend the night anymore."

"He's not mad," Nick countered, trying to reassure his best friend that everything was fine. "I get scared sometimes, too. It's okay."

"I don't know why I did it," Taylor said sadly. "I like to come here. I just didn't want my mom to leave for some reason."

"Are you still sad?," Nick asked. Taylor just shrugged his shoulders and looked down. Instead of re-stacking the pieces for another game, he gathered them all up and put them back in their box.

"Let's watch a movie," Nick suggested. They got up and went through his DVD's, looking for something different. They didn't see anything they wanted to see, so Nick got out his box with all of the old VHS movies that he used to watch in it and they found Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. Nick fast-forwarded through all of the previews to get to the beginning of the movie, then he settled down on his bed next to Taylor.

"You look comfy in your jammies," Taylor said with a smile.

"Do you want some to wear?" Nick asked.

"I only have my clothes with me," Taylor answered. "I don't have any pajamas to wear."

Nick hopped up quickly and got into his top drawer to find a pair of pajamas for Taylor. He held them out for Taylor, who changed into them before he crawled back into Nick's bed. When he got under the covers, Nick snuggled up to him and wrapped his arms around his chest. His nose was up against Taylor's head and he could smell his hair, which smelled like baby shampoo. Nick loved the smell of baby shampoo, so he inhaled over and over again as the movie started.

"She's giving him a blowjob," Taylor said as they watched a pretty woman with big breasts go down on Jim Carey. "That's what I heard my mom and dad call it."

That was the first time Nick had ever heard anyone call it that. He always called it c*** sucking, or dick sucking, because that's what James called it. Also, Jim had a habit of calling everyone he had an unfavorable opinion of a cocksucker. Of course, when he thought about it, he had heard the word blowjob before. He just wasn't sure what it meant. Before long, though, Nick lost track of what he was thinking because he was laughing so hard. Ace Ventura was in the dolphin tank talking to the reporters, and as he pretended to speak dolphin, Nick and Taylor shook with laughter.

As the movie went on, Nick realized that at some point, Taylor had brought his hands up to meet Nick's hands, which were clasped together on Taylor's chest, and he had woven his fingers in with Nicks. He sighed when he realized what Taylor had done, then he put his nose back up to Taylor's head and inhaled once more. Taylor turned his head to look back at Nick and smile, and as if he had no control, Nick smiled back and planted a quick peck on Taylor's lips. Taylor smiled, then he turned his whole body to face Nick and put his lips back up to Nicks. This time the kiss seemed to last long enough to satisfy Nick, who was definitely feeling gay now. Taylor lay down on his back to watch the movie again, and when he did, he took Nicks hand and held it.

Nick snuggled up to Taylor's chest and rested his head under his chin, forgetting about the movie as he thought about how sexy he felt. He let his hand travel down Taylor's chest and stomach, which were warm to the touch. Nick was feeling really sexy now, so he pulled himself back up and kissed Taylor on the lips again. As his lips started to tingle against Taylor's lips, Nick pushed his tongue into Taylor's mouth. He was a little surprised when Taylor pushed back with his tongue and held on to the kiss, which was something he usually didn't do.

"I feel sexy," Nick said as he snuggled back up to Taylor and sighed.

"Will you be my boyfriend today?" Nick asked as he took Taylor's hand in his. Taylor smiled and nodded, so Nick leaned in and gave him another kiss. Taylor used his free hand to pull his pajamas back up, then he snuggled closer to Nick and closed his eyes. Nick smiled as his mind swirled with thoughts of his gayness, and how much he loved being next to Taylor. His lips were tingling from kissing Taylor's lips. He had a feeling in his stomach that he couldn't describe, but it was the same one he got every time he and Taylor messed around. To Nick, it was a tickly feeling, but it also felt like a breath of fresh air that felt like a rush of adrenaline.

As Taylor slept, Nick finished watching the movie, laughing to himself as his favorite part played out. Ace was on a balcony of an apartment, and as he belted out his best opera tone, he opened and closed the soundproof door several times. Nick wondered to himself why it had been so long since he had watched Ace Ventura, since he loved it so much. Then he thought about the other movies he had in his box of VHS tapes and he remembered Kingpin, the movie he watched over and over again when he was six and his grandmother was living with him and his dad. Jim would send him to the TV room whenever he and his mom would get stoned because Nick always wanted to follow them out to the backyard. One time Nick managed to come from around the side of the house and surprise them, and Jim was furious.

"What the f**k do you think you're doing?" Jim had hollered ferociously when Nick came through the side gate. "Take your a** back in the house before I blister it!"

Nick actually started to feel emotional as he lay next to Taylor and thought about that day because his feelings were hurt so badly. His grandmother even said something to Jim about being so hard on Nick, which was rare because at that time, she always seemed to be supportive of her son.

"Don't yell at him that way, Jim," she said. "He just wants to see us."

"Mom," Jim said in an almost warning tone. "Just let me handle this. He knows better."

Nick blinked and shook his head, trying to erase that memory. He hated thinking about that day because the truth was, it not only brought back the memory of his dad making him feel terrible, it also made him think about his Oma, who he loved but who, for some reason, decided that she couldn't love Nick any longer. She told him so on the phone on his seventh birthday.

"Oma's on the phone, buddy," Jim said as he handed Nick the phone. Nick smiled excitedly as he put the receiver to his ear and said hello. Unfortunately, she told him things that crushed him. She said that he was a spoiled brat, that he had too much already and that Jim kept him too safe. Then she told him how much she hated his mother, and that if she could have changed one thing about Jim's life, it was that he would have never met her because she was no good.

Nick just stood still and listened because he didn't know what to say. He was scared and his Oma, who he loved so much, was still ranting. She told him that he ruined his dad's life by being born and that Jim would have so much more if it weren't for Nick. When Nick started to tearfully plead with his Oma, asking why she hated him, Jim grabbed the phone from him and asked his mom what the problem was. Nick could hear his Oma's voice coming from the receiver, even though she was talking to Jim now, and a look of rage was forming on Jim's face. For a moment, Nick thought that his dad was mad at him, because of the look he had. But then he cussed into the phone and hung it up, then he threw it on the couch.

Nick spent the next hour in his dads lap, crying and trying to understand what he did to make his Oma so angry. He had so many good memories of being alone with her. She always took him to the library for story time, and to the farmers market to buy fresh fruit, and he loved spending time in her backyard. She had the most beautiful backyard Nick could ever remember seeing. There were pretty flowerbeds, fountains, birdbaths and statues everywhere. She always seemed to be in her backyard when she was home, or baking something in her kitchen.

"What's wrong," Jim asked, snapping Nick back into the present. While he was thinking about the past, his dad had opened the door and come in un-noticed.

"Nothing, dad," Nick said sadly.

"I know better than that, son," Jim said softly. "Do you want to talk?"

Nick carefully crawled out of his bed and followed his dad down the stairs.

"Okay, the first thing I need to know is how in the world Taylor ended up in pajamas," Jim said, making Nick smile.

"He just wanted to be comfy for the movie," Nick said. "We watched Ace Ventura."

"So why the tears," Jim asked.

"I was just thinking about something that makes me sad," Nick said.

"And that would be...," Jim asked.

"Oma," Nick said quietly. "I was thinking about my birthday."

"I'm sorry, baby," Jim said. "I know that was a bad day for you. It was a bad day for me too."

"Why did she say that stuff about my mom," Nick asked. "Was it true?"

"Absolutely not, son," Jim said firmly. "Your Oma knows better than that, too.

"Why did she say it then," Nick asked.

"Because your Oma has a lot of anger toward a lot of people," Jim said sadly. "She has a right to be mad at Papu, and she has a right to be mad at me too. But she had no right to treat you that way."

"Because Papu was mean to her?" Nick asked.

"Yes he was, son," Jim admitted. "Your Papu has a different idea about how a husband and wife are supposed to act."

"Why should she be mad at you," Nick asked, wondering to himself what his dad could have done to deserve his Oma's wrath.

"Well, son," Jim started. "I grew up watching my dad tell her what to do, even after they were divorced, and I did it too. It was wrong, and if I could take it all back, I would."

"Is Papu sorry now?" Nick asked.

"I think so," Jim said, smiling slightly. "The important thing is that Oma's happy now, and we're happy for her."

"Does she still hate me?" Nick asked. Jim shook his head and sighed before he answered.

"Oma never hated you, Nick," Jim said. "As a matter of fact, I'd be willing to bet money that she happens to love you very much. Sometimes, though, she needs to be selfish. I know you don't understand, son, but it's true."

Nick and his dad sat and talked on the couch as James was in the kitchen on the phone. Jim leaned forward and peaked around the corner, and then he rolled his eyes and smiled.

"He's been on the phone with that Kim girl for almost as long as you guys have been upstairs," Jim said, sounding amused.

"That's because he has a boyfriend," Nick said with a grin.

"Oh he does?" Jim asked. "Who would this be?"

"I don't know his name, but I heard him talking about him on the phone," Nick answered. "James wants to buy him something for Christmas." Nick knew that he had just made the last part up, but he thought it was fun to egg his dad on, who now had a concerned look on his face.

"What kind of gift, son?" Jim asked, but before Nick could answer, he bellowed out, "James!"

James ran into the family room with the phone to his ear to see what Jim wanted.

"Just a minute, Kim," James said, then he put his hand over the mouthpiece.

"When you're done talking to your friend, I need to talk to you about something," Jim said.

"Do I have to hang up now?" James asked nervously.

"Why don't you tell your little friend that you'll call her back," Jim ordered more than he suggested. James turned and headed back to the kitchen with the phone back up to his ear but he quickly returned without it. Nick felt nervous because he knew that he had told on James, but he didn't think Jim was going to make that much of it.

"Sit down, son," Jim said and James quickly did as he was told. "Is there something you wanted to tell me?"

James looked uncertainly at Jim for a long moment and scratched his head, so Jim spoke again.

"Okay, I'll try again," Jim said calmly. "Who's this boy?"

"What boy?" James asked with a genuine look of confusion on his face.

"That's what I'd like to know," Jim said. "I hear you have a boyfriend."

Nick had to stop for a moment to think about what his dad had just said, or rather, the way he said it. He didn't look or sound uncomfortable at all. In fact, he seemed fine with the whole thing, as if it were as normal to him as if he were asking James about a girl. In a small way, Nick felt proud of his dad for that.

James, however, looked mortified. He was blushing and looking away from both of them. He wasn't smiling at all, even though Nick noticed that his dad was.

"Well?" Jim pressed. James finally looked up at Jim and sighed, then he spoke.

"Well, there is someone I like, but we aren't boyfriends," James explained.

"What's his name?," Jim asked matter of factly. James again looked embarrassed as Nick and Jim waited on him to answer.

"Scott," James said in a small voice. Nick noticed that James cracked a smile when he said his name.

"Is he cute?," Nick blurted out. James looked up at him with an even bigger smile and nodded.

"What does this Scott think of you," Jim asked in a more serious tone.

"I don't know yet," James said. "Kim's talking to him for me."

"Do you kiss him?" Nick asked, feeling excited for his cousin.

"No," James exclaimed embarrassedly. Jim shook his head and smiled at Nick, then he stood up.

"Just as long as you know that I have to meet anyone you decide to go with," Jim said firmly. "That's the rule in this house. If I don't like him, you don't see him."

"Yes sir," James said as he and Nick watched Jim walk back into the kitchen.

"Nick, why don't you wake Taylor up," Jim said. "The three of you can help me make cookies and a cake."

Nick went back upstairs to his room where Taylor was still sleeping soundly. Nick thought to himself about how cute Taylor looked. He was holding Nicks Winnie the Pooh bear, and he even looked a little hot because his hair was pressed up against his head with his sweat. Nick thought about how he wanted to wake him up. He wondered to himself if he should shake him or say his name. Then he had an even better idea. He got down on his hands and knees and quietly crawled over to his bed, then he sat up on his knees, lowered his head down to Taylor's cheek, and kissed it.

Taylor opened his eyes and looked up at Nick with a startled expression, but when Nick smiled at him, he smiled back.

"Hi," Nick said quietly. "My dad wanted me to come wake you up so we can make a cake and some cookies."

"Really?" Taylor asked as he sat up. He seemed excited about the idea, so Nick nodded and smiled.

"Come on," Nick said. Taylor stood up, stretched, and yawned, then he made a left turn out of Nick's room to the bathroom. Nick followed him down the hall, stood next to Taylor in front of the toilet, and peed.

When they were done, they washed their hands and headed downstairs to the kitchen, where Jim was waiting with a cookbook and all of the ingredients to make a cake from scratch. They had a really good time making the cake, and they never got around to the cookies because they used all of the eggs making the cake. Jim was going to call Linda and ask for some eggs from her refrigerator, but when they looked out the window, they saw that the snow was starting to stick.

"Let's get dressed and go out there," Jim said. "We can throw the football again."

They all got dressed and bundled up, then they went out front and formed teams. Taylor and Jim played against Nick and James. They had a good time slipping and sliding around on the grass, but the fun they were having ended suddenly when Jim threw the ball to Taylor. James was defending him, and as Taylor caught the ball, James tried to wrestle it away from him. Taylor wouldn't let it go, and in a flash of anger, James grabbed a handful of Taylor's coat and threw him to the ground, then he punched him in the nose.

Nick and Jim ran over to help Taylor, but it was too late. His nose was bleeding and he was crying hysterically. The look on Jim's face was hard for Nick to read, but if he had to guess at that moment, he would've said it was a mixture of outrage, fury and confusion.

"Get your a** in the house right now!," Jim said angrily as he pointed to the front door. James started to say something in his defense, but Jim cut him off.

"Not another word, son," Jim said. "Go straight to your room."

With that, James stormed off, slamming the front door behind him as he went inside. Jim had Taylor hold his head back as they walked toward the house. When they got inside, Jim took him straight to the bathroom in the hallway downstairs and sat him on the toilet while he tended to his bloody nose.

"I want you to hold this tissue to his nose, okay?," Jim told Nick. Nick did what his dad told him to do, and moments later, Jim was back with a towel that was wrapped around some ice. He pressed it to the outside of Taylor's nose and held it there while Nick tried to console his friend, who was still crying.

"Do you have a Play station, Taylor," Jim asked. Taylor shook his head but he was still crying and he looked confused by the question. Nick didn't understand what was going on either until his dad yelled up the stairs.

"James!," he yelled. "Bring your Play station to me right now!"

James walked slowly down the stairs, but he didn't have his Play station with him, so Jim motioned him into the bathroom, where he took his belt off and held it up.

"I said to bring me your Play station," Jim warned, and James quickly turned and went back up to his room. He came back downstairs with his Play station, and Jim snatched it out of his hands and set it down on the counter.

"Now go get all of your games," Jim instructed him. James started to say something, but Jim stepped toward him with his belt, so James did what he was told again.

"This better be every one of them," Jim said when James brought his case down with all of his Play station games. "Now, go back to your room. I'll be up in a little bit."

Jim took the Play station and the games with him out of the bathroom, and now Nick was really confused and worried about Jim's plan for James' Play station. When Taylor's nose stopped bleeding, he took over the ice pack from Nick and held it there himself while Nick searched the house for his dad. He couldn't find him anywhere, but he saw the Play station sitting on the kitchen table with the case full of games. He shrugged and went back into the bathroom to check on Taylor, who still looked upset but wasn't crying anymore.

"Are you okay," Nick asked. Taylor nodded and pulled the ice away from his nose, so Nick helped him up and they walked into the family room together. While they were sitting on the couch, they heard Jim's belt snap 3 times and shortly after, they heard James crying loudly. Nick didn't feel bad though. Instead, he was glad Jim whipped James. He was hoping that James was grounded from his Play station, too.

Jim made his way back down the stairs and into the family room, where he sat down next to Nick and Taylor on the couch and tended to Taylor's nose for a while. Finally, he stood up.

"Follow me," Jim said as he made his way into the kitchen. He pulled out two chairs and told them to sit down, then he cut three giant slices of cake.

"Is James grounded, dad?" Nick asked as Jim set his plate in front of him.

"Definitely," Jim said in a confirming tone. "He's so grounded."

"How come you made him give you his Play station," Nick asked.

"Because I don't like the idea that he has something in his room that Taylor doesn't have," Jim said in an almost angry voice. "He's not going to sit up there and play with his Play station that he doesn't even deserve to have right now while Taylor goes home with a bloody nose that James gave him and no Play station. I'm not going to have it."

"When can he have it back," Nick asked.

"If he pisses me off, never," Jim snapped, then his face softened. "How are feeling, Taylor?"

"I feel okay, Mr. J," Taylor said with a sweet smile. Even with a mark on the side of his nose where James' knuckle scraped him, Nick thought Taylor was cute.

"Well, when your dad gets here, we'll tell him what happened," Jim said shaking his head. "Then, James can apologize to the both of you."

"Is James still mad at me," Taylor asked.

"I don't see why he should have been mad at you to begin with," Jim said. "Personally, I don't really care if he's mad at you or not. I wouldn't worry about it."

Nick knew that his dad was furious with James. His tone and the look of disgust on his face was more than enough to let Nick know that he hadn't calmed down about it. Taylor, on the other hand, looked content as he stuffed his mouth with chocolate cake and the extra frosting that Nick had scraped off the top of his cake. Nick wasn't a big fan of white frosting because of an incident when he was four that he remembered clearly.

They were at his Papu's birthday party and Nick had already eaten a piece of birthday cake, but he walked around the party and asked random family members for bites of their cake, even though his dad had already told him not to. When he got to his dad, Jim simply smiled and said, "Sure buddy, open up."

Nick opened his mouth and Jim crammed a huge spoonful of white shortening based frosting and a dark red flower in Nick's mouth. When Nick finished his bite, he turned to his dad to tell him he didn't want another one, but before he could get the words out, Jim put another large spoonful of frosting and another dark red flower in his mouth.

"Is it good buddy?," Jim asked him. Nick nodded politely and walked away before Jim could spoon another bite into his mouth. His stomach was definitely sour after eating all of the frosting his dad gave him, so he laid down on the couch and tried to let his stomach settle down. As he lay there, he could hear Jim sitting with his uncles and laughing that he had taught Nick a lesson about asking other people for bites of their food, then he heard his dad talking to him.

"Are you ready for some more?," Jim asked with a laugh, but Nick didn't think it was very funny. He could feel flashes of heat in his face and the harder he tried to get fresh air, the worse he felt. Finally, he stood up and made it as far as the bathroom door before he threw up on his Papu's carpet.

"What's so funny Nick?" Taylor asked as Nick laughed at the memory. Nick told the story the way he remembered it, and Jim laughed along with him.

"Boy, your Papu sure didn't find it very amusing," Jim laughed. "Especially when we left and he had to clean up your puke."

Jim went on to tell them another story about when Nick was two and his Papu fed him too many raisins.

"I tried to tell him," Jim chuckled. "He didn't listen though, then he took you all the way to Save Mart and you made him pay, right in the middle of the store."

Just as Jim was finishing the story, there was a knock at the door. Jim got up and answered it, and soon he came back into the kitchen, followed by Charles.

"Daddy!" Taylor exclaimed as he got up and ran to his dad, who knelt down and hugged him.

"What do we have here?" Charles asked as he examined Taylor's face.

"I got in a fight," Taylor pouted. "With James. He was mad at me because I caught the ball."

"Hold on, I'll go get him," Jim said, then he disappeared.

"Mr. J whipped him good," Taylor said. "We heard it from down here."

Moments later, Jim reappeared with a nervous looking James behind him.

"Let's go son," Jim said testily. "Tell Mr. Charles what you did."

James looked frightened as he looked up at Taylor's dad, who was no longer smiling as he waited for James' confession.

"Go on, boy," Jim warned.

"Well, sir," James said as his voice cracked. "I guess I just got mad and I'm sorry."

"That's not what happened, James," Jim said. "Tell him what you did. I'm sorry is not what you did."

"Well, um, I gave Taylor a bloody nose," James said as tears started to stream down his cheeks.

"What made you decide to that, James," Charles asked in a soft voice. He didn't look upset at all as he knelt down and put his hand on James' shoulder.

"Because," James answered.

"Just because?" Charles asked as he raised an eyebrow.

"No sir," James said, starting to cry harder. "I thought he was cheating."

"I was not!," Taylor snapped, but Charles put his finger to his lips and signaled for Taylor to be quiet.

"That's just what I thought, Taylor," James sobbed. "I'm sorry, Mr. Charles. I'm sorry, Taylor."

Charles looked at Taylor expectantly, so Taylor spoke.

"It's okay, James," Taylor said. "I'm not mad at you."

"Is that better, James?," Charles asked. James tearfully nodded, then he turned and buried his face in Jim's stomach. Jim shook his head, rolled his eyes as he held James' head, and rubbed his back.

"I'm really sorry Charles," Jim said.

"It's no problem, Jim," Charles said casually. "They're boys and fights happen."

"Well, James has already been punished and he's still grounded," Jim said. "Hopefully he'll make a better decision next time he gets mad at somebody."

"Are you ready to go, sport?," Charles asked as he reached out for Taylor's hand. Taylor smiled and grabbed onto his dads hand. As they made their way to the door, Jim told Charles that Taylor was welcome to come over the next day if school was still cancelled.

Nick waved goodbye as he watched Taylor and his dad pull away, then he went back to the family room, where James was suddenly giving Jim a defiant look.

"James, I said go," Jim said as he pointed to the stairs, but James didn't move. Instead, he pouted and crossed his arms.

"Son, I don't expect to have to treat you like a baby," Jim warned. "If I have to, I'll whip you again. Go back to your room, right now."

Instead of doing what Jim told him to do, James sat down on the recliner and reached for the remote control. Nick looked at his dad, who was taking deep breaths, and he suddenly felt scared for James. Jim removed his belt and spoke again.

"You have to the count of three, James," Jim said forcefully. "One Two Three."

When James didn't get up, Jim grabbed him by the arm and pulled him to his feet, then in one swift motion, he spun James around and gave him three more swats with the belt across the back of his legs. James dropped to the floor and cried loudly, and Nick suddenly felt sorry for him. Jim pulled him back up and walked him back up the stairs as he sobbed uncontrollably.

"I want to go home," James whaled as they approached the stairs. "I hate it here."

"I know you do, son," Jim said sadly, as he walked up the stairs with James. Nick sat down on the couch and felt sad for his cousin. As horribly as James had acted, Nick wasn't sure that he liked seeing him get whipped. James looked scared after he was whipped by Jim, almost as if he were lost. Nick laid his head up against the armrest and wondered what was going to happen next.

"I'm sorry you had to see that Nick," Jim said quietly when he came back downstairs.

"Is James mad at you," Nick asked. "Does he hate you?"

"No," Jim said as he sat down next to Nick. "He's just upset about how much trouble he's gotten himself into. He'll be fine."

Nick and Jim spent the rest of the afternoon watching movies on HBO, then Nick followed his dad into the kitchen to help him with dinner. While dinner was in the oven, Jim went out to the garage to feed Skalaki, but he immediately came back inside with a panicked look on his face. He ran up the stairs, then he ran back down and headed for the phone.

"Is James there?" Jim asked in a worried voice. "Oh, no!"

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