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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 25 - by Nick

Nick opened his eyes when he felt his bed dip and as they focused, he saw his dad smiling down at him and reaching for his blanket to pull it back.

"Wake up, buddy," Jim said softly. "We're going shopping today."

"What time is it?" Nick asked as he sat up in his bed so he could see through the window. It was still dark outside.

"It's five o'clock, son," Jim said. "Papu wants to go shopping."

"But it's too early," Nick whined as he lay back down and curled up with his Winnie the pooh bear.

"Everything's open right now," Jim said with a chuckle. "Come on, bud. We have to get ready."

"Can't I stay home with James," Nick asked. He heard his dad sigh, and he knew the answer before Jim could say it.

"James is coming too," Jim said. "I know it's early, but we're going. Maybe we can get Papu to take us to breakfast."

Nick sat up in his bed and rubbed his eyes before he stretched his arms and legs out and turned to get up. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and Nick had heard his dad and his Papu talk about getting up early and going shopping with Tom and Linda, but he didn't realize that early was going to be five in the morning.

Jim held his hand out for Nick to grab as he stood up, and after taking his dads hand, he let Jim lead him to the bathroom in his room so he could pee and get in the shower with his dad. By the time they got dressed and went downstairs, James was just getting into the shower and Big Nick was sitting at the breakfast bar reading the paper and drinking a cup of coffee.

Nick knew his Papu would be having coffee because that was his favorite drink. Even on a hot summer day, Big Nick would drink hot coffee while everyone else drank ice water or tea.

"Calineda," big Nick said, using the Greek word for good morning as he held his arms out for Nick and lifted him into his lap. "How's my little Polakia this morning?"

"Calineda Papu," Nick said as he planted a kiss on his Papu's cheek. "I'm still sleepy. I didn't want to wake up."

"I know it's early," big Nick said. "But I wanted to buy you something today."

"What are you going to buy me," Nick asked.

"You'll have to wait and see," big Nick answered. "But I bet you'll like it."

Later, as they strolled through Lynnhaven mall, Nick couldn't believe that there were so many people shopping at 6:30 in the morning. Most of them looked to be in some sort of frenzy, anxious to get from store to store and carrying arm loads of stuff to the registers.

Even the food court was open, and the smell of hash browns from Mc Donald's made Nicks stomach growl. He realized that he hadn't had any breakfast, and Jim told him that he was going to ask big Nick to take them out to eat.

"I'm hungry daddy," Nick whined as they passed the food court.

"Do you want me to buy you something for breakfast," Jim asked.

"I want grits," Nick said. "I want bacon too."

"I don't know if we'll be able to find any grits in here, son," Jim said. "But I'll see what I can do."

They searched the food court for any place that might have had grits, but when it became obvious that they weren't going to find any, Nick decided that he could wait.

While they were shopping, Jim and Nick got separated from Tom, Linda, big Nick and James. Instead of trying to catch up, they wandered in and out of stores, looking at video games and toys, and even at a telescope that Nick always liked to look at whenever they went to that store. At one point, they walked into a Dillard's department store and found themselves in front of a glass counter that sold cologne. Nick carefully held up a bottle and sprayed himself several times before Jim could stop him.

"Boy, we better leave now," Jim said as he took the bottle from his son and placed it back on the counter.

As they walked around some more, Nick spotted a photo booth and dragged his dad over to it. Jim dug some quarters out of his pocket and after he put them in the machine, they got inside and closed the curtain. Nick sat in his dads lap and smiled when he felt Jim's chin resting on his shoulder. When they were done, they waited for the picture to come out, then they set off to find everyone else.

Nick noticed that his dad's eyes were watering and he was itching the roof of his mouth for what seemed like an excruciating 30 seconds or longer, then he finally let loose with about seven loud sneezes.

"How much of that stuff did you spray on yourself, Nick," Jim asked with an exasperated look on his face. "Now it's up my nose. Nick giggled at his dad as they walked through the mall. When they spotted everyone, they were in The Gap looking at clothes. James was in a dressing room trying on some sweaters and pants, so Nick wandered around the store. Much to his delight, he came across a display with a tester bottle of Gap Cologne, so he gave himself a few squirts.

"Oh, hell no," Jim exclaimed as he got closer to his son. "Nick, I know you didn't just do that."

"I'm sorry," Nick said quietly. Jim looked angry, but his face softened and he simply held his hand out for Nick to take, then he led him over to where everyone else was waiting for James.

"God damn, boy," big Nick said loudly. "You smell like a French whore."

Tom threw his head back and laughed uproariously while Linda gave Nick a smile that let him know she was amused. Jim looked around, red in the face, then he shook his head at his dad.

When James came out of the dressing room, Jim wanted to hurry and leave before anyone else could embarrass him, so he quickly took James' stuff to the counter to pay for it.

"I've got it, Jim," Tom said as he pulled his wallet out.

"No, let me pay for it, Tom," Jim said.

Before Jim could pull his wallet out of his back pocket, Tom handed the clerk his credit card and smiled at Jim, who simply shrugged and put his wallet away. While they walked through the mall, James and Jim walked closely and talked about Christmas and the fact that James already needed a new backpack. When Nick got close, Jim turned and sniffed his way, then he pointed toward big Nick and said, "Why don't you go stand next to your Papu, son. Find out what he's going to buy you."

Nick did what he was told, and when he asked, big Nick got a huge grin on his face.

"Did your daddy take you anywhere this morning," he asked. "Besides the perfume store?" Nick giggled and thought about all of the places he went with his dad while they were separated from everyone else.

"We went to a lot of places," Nick said. "Is it Dillard's?"

"Where else did we go," Jim asked from where he was walking with James. "What did we look at?"

Nick thought for a while as they continued back toward the end of the mall where they had come in from, but he was drawing a blank. Suddenly, Jim and James took the lead and made a quick right turn into the store where Nick and his dad had been looking at video games earlier. Jim stopped next to the telescope that Nick liked, and his eyes got huge. He looked up at his Papu, who was smiling down at him, and all he could say was, "Really?"

Big Nick nodded as a clerk carried a large box, one that was larger and taller than Jim, to the register. When he walked up to the register, he told James to pick something too. When James found a game for his Play Station, big Nick told him to pick out another one. Nick knew he wasn't supposed to look as the stuff was being rung up, but he did, and he couldn't believe the price. Everything was more than 500 dollars, but big Nick simply pulled the cash from his wallet and paid without blinking. When they got out to where the cars were parked, Nick and James both gave big Nick a hug and told him thank you.

Before they left, they decided on a restaurant to eat breakfast at, and Nick started to speak up when Jim cut him off.

"As long as it's some place where this boy can get a bowl of grits," he said. "He's been asking me for grits all morning."

They stood in the parking lot and talked about where else they wanted to shop while Jim called Lori on his cell phone and asked her to meet them at the restaurant for breakfast. Jim seemed to wander away, standing on the other side of his car as he talked to Lori with a peaceful smile on his face. It was almost as if he forgot where he was for a moment. Finally, he looked over at everyone and said something to Lori, then he hung up and they all got in their cars and left.

After breakfast, Nick was anxious to get home and set his telescope up, but he knew better than to whine about staying out longer than he wanted.

As the morning wore on, Nick's patience with being out shopping was starting to wear thin. His legs were getting tired, and he could feel himself turning cranky. What he wanted to happen and what was actually happening were two different things, and Nick wasn't sure how much longer he could stand being on his feet while Lori and Linda slowly looked at clothes and towels. While they were inside Super Wal-Mart, Nick followed everyone around patiently, but it was getting to be obvious that Linda and Lori weren't moving any faster. In fact, it seemed to Nick that they were now moving in slow motion as they turned price tags over and talked about how pretty the fabric they were looking at was.

When it seemed like they were finally headed toward a cash register, the ladies took a quick right turn into the baby clothing section, and Nick let out a loud sigh that everyone seemed to hear, because they all turned to look at him. Jim gave him a stern look and took him by the hand, guiding him to an open area of the store where he put his hand on Nicks shoulder and squatted, putting himself eye to eye with his son.

"What's the problem, Nick," Jim asked with a small sigh of his own.

"I want to go home," Nick whined. "My feet hurt and I'm bored."

Jim gave him a long, quiet stare, and Nick couldn't tell what his dad was thinking about. For a moment the silence was uncomfortable and Nick wasn't sure if he was in trouble or not, but when Jim stood straight up and smiled, Nick relaxed. Jim held his hand out and once Nick took it, they rejoined everyone else.

"Hey guys," Jim started. "Nicks not feeling good. I think he needs a something to drink and a little nap. I think I'm going to run him back to the house."

After a few minutes of discussion, James and big Nick decided to shop with Tom and Linda. Lori wanted to go to another store with Linda, but she told Jim that she would come over as soon as she was finished. Nick felt a little guilty about making Jim take him home, but the relief he felt about not being on his feet anymore outweighed his guilt.

On the way home, Nick went through Jim's cd case, looking for something different to listen to. He finally settled on a cd he found in the case that had a cool looking prism printed on it. He put it in and made a face as the first track started to play. He didn't hear any music at first, just different sounds. A man laughing maniacally and a cash register.

"Hey, good choice," Jim said with a smile as he reached for the knob to turn the volume up. "Pink Floyd's one of my favorite groups."

"This sounds weird, dad," Nick said. "What kind of music is this?"

"It's rock, boy," Jim answered, sounding shocked that Nick was even asking. "Here, just listen."

Nick put his head back and closed his eyes as the sound effects that had been playing faded into the sound of a woman screaming, then the screaming faded into music. The music was strangely soothing to Nick as he tried to concentrate on what sounded to him like a Hawaiian guitar played along to the music. As they drove down the road, it seemed to Nick that there was no space between the songs when there was silence, which was something he was used to on other cd's he had heard.

"So what do you think," Jim asked.

"It's ok," Nick answered. "I've never heard this cd before."

"I guess it's been a while since I've played it," Jim said. "I've had this cd since I was in eighth grade."

Nick looked over and smiled at his dad as he pictured a younger Jim listening to the CD with his friends. He wondered to himself if his mom liked the same CD, and if she had ever listened to it. He thought to himself that if his dad had the CD that long, perhaps she had. He decided to ask.

"Did my mom ever listen to it," Nick asked.

"Oh, yeah," Jim said with a smile. "We both loved it. It was one of our favorites."

"So we're listening to a CD that my mom listened to before," Nick asked.

"Yes sir," Jim answered.

"Cool," Nick said. "I like this CD too. Maybe she can see us from heaven and she's listening to it too."

"Well, son," Jim said with a warm smile on his face. "If she can hear it, she's probably enjoying it with us."

The thought that his mom might be enjoying the CD with him and his dad was soothing to Nick. He put his head back again and smiled as he thought about the idea that somehow, he was doing something with his mom and dad. Jim reached over and grabbed his hand, making Nick feel even more relaxed than he had before.

When they pulled into the driveway, they sat in the car for a while and listened to the rest of the CD. The track they were listening to as they pulled into their driveway sounded almost tragic to Nick, as the Hawaiian sounding guitar played to the sound of a piano and a lady's opera like singing. It was beautiful, but at the same time, it was full of sadness and finality. As the song played, he was consumed with thoughts of his mother, and with the idea that someone had to tell his grandparents and his dad that she died.

As the CD continued to play, the songs seemed to change Nick's mood. There was a song called Money, which Nick thought was a little out of place, but at the same time, it seemed to fit in with the rest of the tracks. The next song brought a lump to his throat. The melody was sad, and the words had a profound effect on Nick's mood for some reason. The next few songs seemed to flow into each other like the first several songs on the CD had, and then the music climaxed for a moment, then it ended and Nick heard the same sound effects he had heard at the beginning of the CD. Without having to be told, Nick knew that they were at the end of the CD.

"I hope my mom liked listening with us," Nick said.

"I'm sure she did, babe," Jim said as he pulled Nick's hand up to his face and kissed it. "I love you."

"I love you too, daddy," Nick said. Then he looked up around the car, wondering where his mom might be if she was in there with them and said, "I love you too mommy."

"I know she loves you more than you'll ever know," Jim said. "Come on, let's get inside before we freeze our butts off."

When they got inside, Nick ran upstairs and anxiously waited for his dad to bring his telescope to his room. By the time Jim reached his room, Nick had already cleared a spot by his window where he planned to have Jim set it up. He watched while his dad peeled the tape back and opened the box, but he realized that he might not get to use it right away when he heard his dad groan. Nick walked over to his bed to see what Jim was groaning about and had to blink when he realized the problem. Inside of the box was several dozen small pieces and the long scope. Jim lifted the scope out of the box and removed the plastic from around it, then he pulled out a tripod and set it up.

Nick watched as his dad looked hopelessly at the various pieces and parts and wondered if he would ever get to use his telescope. Jim disappeared for a moment, only to return with his toolbox. Nick settled down on his beanbag and watched as his dad sat down on his bed and read the instruction manual. Finally, after a few minutes, Jim took a deep breath and got to work. Nick stayed quiet while his dad worked, and he soon realized that he did the right thing. Jim had several eruptions while he worked, losing his patience every time a part didn't fit right and whenever he realized he had made a mistake and had to go back and start again.

The sound of the front door unlocking and opening broke the silence, and Nick hopped up to run downstairs. Lori greeted him at the bottom of the stairs with a hug and a kiss.

"Hi Miss Lori," Nick said quietly. "Dad's upstairs putting my telescope together."

Nick followed Lori up the staircase and back to his room, and to his surprise, Jim was actually finished. He was starting Nicks PC and getting ready to insert the CD ROM disk that came with the telescope.

"Hey sweetie," Jim said with a smile as soon as he spotted Lori. He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a long hug and a kiss on the lips. "Did you get everything you were looking for?"

"Almost," she answered. "I have a little more shopping to get done, but I wanted to come see you."

"I missed you," Jim said affectionately.

"I missed you too babe," she answered.

Nick watched silently as his dad and Lori cooed over each other and wondered what time Taylor was going to be home. Somehow, he could relate to the way his dad and Lori were so happy to see each other because he missed Taylor already. Charles had said that this was the day they were coming home, but he didn't say exactly what time it would be. Nick hoped to himself that it was sooner than later.

"Come try it out, buddy," Jim said as he pointed the telescope out the window and looked through it.

"Does it work during the day," Nick asked.

"Well, I'm sure it works better at night, but I bet you'll see something," Jim answered.

Nick stepped up to the telescope and closed his left eye so he could concentrate with his right. To his surprise, he actually was able to see the moon quite well. He started to move the telescope around with the remote, but Jim cautioned him.

"Don't point it toward the sun, babe," Jim said. Nick rolled his eyes and turned the telescope back the way he had brought it from. He pulled away from it for a moment to ask his dad or Lori if they wanted to try it out, and when he turned to face them, they were arm in arm, looking down at him affectionately. For a moment, Nick felt like he was with his mom and dad, so he smiled up at them and let himself imagine that he was with both his parents.

"Well, what do you think pal," Jim asked.

"I love it dad," Nick said. "I can see the moon. Do you guys want to see?"

Nick stepped away from the telescope to give his dad and Lori room to look. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, but Nick wasn't sure if that was because they were having fun with the telescope or because they were together.

"When your Papu gets back with James and grandma and grandpa," Jim said as he turned to face Nick. "I want you to make sure you tell him thank you and give him a hug and a kiss, okay?"

"Yes sir," Nick answered.

"This is a really nice gift," Jim said. "You're going to take good care of it, right?"

"Yes sir," Nick said again as he nodded.

"Good boy," Jim said affectionately. "I want you to go downstairs and feed Skalaki and take him outside, okay?"

"Okay," Nick said as he turned and headed back down the hall and for the stairs. He picked Skalaki up off the recliner and carried him out to the garage, touching his nose to the dogs and smiling down at him as he walked. When they got out to the garage, Nick took a scoop of Skalaki's food and brought it back inside to the laundry room, where he dumped it in his bowl and set him down.

When the dog was finished, they went outside and Nick waited for him to go to the bathroom. When he was done, Nick brought him back inside and settled down in front of the TV. His dad and Lori hadn't come downstairs yet, and he wondered to himself what was keeping them, so he decided to check and see if they were still in his room.

He looked through his doorway and saw that his room was empty, so he moved down the hall toward his dad's room and as he approached the door, he thought he could hear a conversation. Without thinking twice, he pushed the door open, only slightly, and instantly, he had to turn his head and dash down the hallway as fast as he could, making sure not to make any noise as he made it to the stairs.

Nick sat nervously in the recliner, holding Skalaki and thinking about what he had just witnessed. His dad and Lori were totally naked, and the conversation he thought he heard was something quite different from anything he had ever seen before. He sat quietly, praying that his dad or Lori hadn't spotted him when he opened the door. If one of them had, he knew he was in deep trouble.

Suddenly the front door opened and in walked James and big Nick, both carrying bags in both hands.

"Hey Nick," James said with a smile. "Where's dad?"

"Um, I think he's taking a nap with Miss Lori," Nick answered nervously. "His door's closed and I think they're sleeping."

James gave Nick a funny look as he put the bags he was carrying down and walked back out through the front door. When big Nick dropped his bags, Nick ran up and gave him a hug.

"Thank you Papu," he said sweetly. "My dad set up the telescope and I love it."

"You're welcome, my little Polakia," big Nick answered.

"Do you think that later we can look through it together?," Nick asked hopefully.

"Of course we can," said big Nick. "Come help with the bags and we'll go up and check it out in a few minutes, ok?"

Nick followed his Papu out to Tom and Linda's car, where they loaded up with as many bags as they could carry. When he got back inside, he walked toward the family room just in time to see James' back as he moved up the stairs.

"Where are you going?", Nick asked nervously, not wanting James to find the door he had left open.

"I have to go to the bathroom," James answered. "I'll be back to help in a minute."

Nick's heart started to race when the sound of a door slamming came from upstairs and James re-appeared with a funny look on his face. Nick avoided looking his way because he felt guilty about being the one who originally pushed the door opened. Suddenly, Jim's voice made him look James' way.

"I need you to come back upstairs, James," Jim said as he stood on the stairs in a pair of sweat pants but with no shirt.

James looked almost frightened as he walked back up the stairs toward Jim, who waited for him to pass, then followed him up. Nick listened for the sound of a belt, or maybe some shouting, but it never came. In fact, it was strangely quiet in the house as he and his Papu sat in the family room and waited for Jim and James to come back down the stairs.

When they got back downstairs, Jim pointed at Nick silently and used his finger to tell him to follow him. They walked down the hall and into the living room, where they took a seat on the couch.

"Did you know that daddy's door was opened," Jim asked in a low tone.

Nick shrugged and looked down.

"Yes sir," Nick said ashamedly as he scratched his head nervously. "I tried to tell James not to go upstairs, but I didn't know what to say. I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault, Nick," Jim said with a sigh. "It's mine. I apologize for that. I thought my door was closed."

Another guilty feeling swept over Nick as he thought about how he had pushed the door open. But the situation was already uncomfortable, and as long as he wasn't going to be in any kind of trouble, he didn't think there was any need to confess. Instead, he looked up at his dad and said, "It's okay."

"Are you going to show Papu how your telescope works," Jim asked. Nick smiled and nodded, feeling grateful that the conversation was turning to another subject.

Big Nick was upstairs with James and Nick for the rest of the afternoon, spending time with them as they played with the things he had bought them. James was wrapped up in his new Play Station games and Nick kept dragging his papu over to the telescope to have him look out into space. He found it so odd that he could user his telescope to look into outer space during the day that he couldn't stay away from it and he wanted everyone to take a turn looking through it.

When Tom and Linda came over, they were promptly dragged upstairs to Nick's room for their turn to look out of his telescope. Linda managed to escape and make it back down the stairs, but Tom stayed behind and looked through the telescope with Nick. He seemed fascinated with it, and he showed Nick a lot of different stars and constellations.

"This is a really nice telescope, kiddo," he said. "I hope you use it a lot."

"I will, grandpa," Nick promised. "I want to show everyone all the stars and things I can see out of it."

"I'll tell you what," Tom said. "Maybe one evening, when we have more time, I can show you my telescope and we can look at the sky together."

"Really?," Nick said.

"Really, bud," Tom answered with a smile. "It'll be fun."

Nick smiled when he thought about spending time alone with Tom. They had spent some quality time alone, but it had been a while. Usually, when they did something together James came along. Nick also realized that the baby was coming in a matter of a few months, and he wasn't sure if his grandparents were going to have time to spend with him after that. James didn't seem very interested in the telescope, so Nick had a feeling that it would be just him and Tom.

"I can't wait, grandpa," Nick said as he gave him a small hug. Just then, he heard his dad yell from downstairs that lunch was ready. When Nick and James made it to the hallway, he saw James giving him a competitive look, so without warning, he tore past Tom and his papu, with James right behind him, and raced his cousin down the stairs. When they got to the kitchen, it looked like Thanksgiving all over again. There was so much turkey and so much dressing that Nick didn't know how they'd ever eat it all. Linda had baked a large pan of yeast rolls, and Nick could smell gravy cooking on the stovetop.

When they sat down to eat, everyone closed their eyes to pray like they had the day before, and Jim said the prayer. When Nick opened his eyes and looked around, he smiled proudly to himself. Just like the day before, he knew that he had a good life. His dad looked so happy as he smiled around the table, and his Papu seemed to be at peace. Tom and Linda were looking lovingly at each other as the conversation at the table turned to the baby. Lori was planning a baby shower for Linda, who thanked Lori for being such a good friend to her.

Nick wondered to himself what Christmas would be like. He knew that if it was half as good as Thanksgiving was, he would be happy.

Nick reached up and pulled the Barbie down from the shelf. He was barely able to reach it, but when he stood on his toes, he managed to grip it with his fingers and pull it down. As he turned the box it was displayed in over, examining the doll carefully, he got a smile on his face. The grass skirt seemed to sway with every motion of the box, and the colorful strands of her highlighted hair grabbed Nick's attention right away.

This was exactly what Nick was hoping to find. He looked around at some of the other people in the aisle with him, then he tucked the Hula-Hair Barbie under his arm and went to look for his dad. He couldn't wait to show him what he found.

"Don't be silly, Nick," Jim said impatiently as he looked up and down the aisle at Toys-R-US for something to buy for Taylor. "We want him to actually like his present, son."

"You're no fun," Nick said as he secretly put the Barbie in the basket. He was hoping Jim wouldn't notice until they were at the register, but the box caught Jim's eye.

"Again?" Jim said as he lifted the Barbie out of the basket and handed it to Nick. "I want you to go put this back, son . Hurry, too, because I need your help."

"Yes sir," Nick said, feeling deflated as he turned and headed back to the aisle where he had just been.

Nick had a feeling his dad was going to figure out what he had done. Earlier in the day, he and Jim were at Eckerd, and Nick had hidden a rectal thermometer on the basket. When they got to the register, Jim had to pick it up and tell the lady that he didn't actually want it while Nick giggled uncontrollably. Nick had been out all day with Jim while James was at a birthday party for one of his friends from church. Nick had felt a little left out, but Jim told him that the party was for older kids, and that he was just too young to go.

So, since James was at the party and Lori was at work, Nick went Christmas shopping with his dad. Their first stop, though, was Eckerd, a drug store by their neighborhood. They needed a stand for the Christmas tree they were going to buy later. Nick hated going in there because he thought the store always smelled like Pine Sol and there were no good magazines to look at while he waited. This time, however, he found something to do that kept him amused.

Finally, Nick managed to drag his dad to the video game section where they found a game for Taylor, then they walked up and down the aisles and Nick pointed some large size wrestling figures out to his dad of Taylor's favorite wrestlers, Stone Cold and The Rock. They put both of them in the basket and went up to the register.

When they got home, Nick helped his dad wrap what they had gotten for Taylor, then they had lunch. When they finished eating, Nick called Taylor to see if he could spend the night that night. They were starting Christmas vacation, and Nick was getting excited as he thought about having two weeks off to spend with his friend. As soon as they got off the phone, Nick and his dad left to go pick James up from the party and find a tree.

"But I don't want to sit in the back seat," Nick whined at his dad, who told him to jump in the back seat as James was coming out of the house.

"Nick," Jim sighed. "You've been sitting up front all day. James is older and he get's to sit in the front. Just do what you're told."

"Fine," Nick pouted as he deliberately stood up on the seat before he crawled to the back. He could see the anger on his dad's face, but Jim didn't say a word about it to his surprise. James opened the door and got in, and just as Nick was ready to start in on him, he turned around with a sweet smile and handed him a plate that was covered with pink plastic wrap.

"I brought you a piece of cake and some cookies," he said.

Nick could see his dad giving him a look in the rearview mirror that told him what he needed to say.

"Thank you, James," Nick said politely.

"Your welcome," James answered happily, as they pulled off. Nick sat in the back seat and stewed a little to himself about his attitude. He was planning on mocking James and picking a fight with him as soon as he got in the car, but James didn't give him a chance to. Now, he felt like a brat.

When they got to the lot, Jim let Nick and James run loose around the lot, looking for the biggest tree they could find. Together, they settled on one that Nick could've sworn belonged in someone's front yard. It looked tall enough to climb, and as soon as he set his eyes on it, he knew he wanted that one.

Nick decided to wait by it with his hand on one of the arms just in case someone else picked it before James could find Jim and drag him over to look at their find. When they got it to their car, Jim had to unroll a blanket he had in the trunk and spread it out over the roof before he laid the tree on top of it and tied it down.

When they got home, Nick and James helped Jim get the tree inside and while Jim held it up, James set the stand up underneath it and used his hand to guide the trunk into it. Nick was lying on his stomach and he helped James screw the bolts into the bottom. When James went to the kitchen for a pitcher of water, Jim got down on his belly and made sure the bolts were good and tight.

"It's getting cold, guys," Jim said. "Make sure you take Skalaki out before it get's any colder."

While Jim was digging out all of the Christmas decorations, James and Nick took Skalaki through the garage and to the backyard. When they were done, they came back in and watched quietly as Jim slowly untangled the knot of Christmas lights that were supposed to be rolled up. The frustrated look on his face told Nick that he needed to stay quiet, and James seemed to understand that Jim didn't want to be talked to while he was working.

After what seemed like a tense 20 minutes, the lights were untangled and Jim plugged them in. When he was sure they all worked, he slowly and uniformly placed them around the tree. When he was done, he plugged them back in while Nick held his breath. The year before, Jim went to all the trouble of untangling the lights and making sure they worked before he put them on the tree, but then he plugged them back in and they didn't work anymore, causing him to erupt.

This time, though, they came on and Nick watched as a smile spread across his dads face.

"It's beautiful, dad," James said softly as he stood up and walked over to the tree to get a closer look. Nick walked over to the box of decorations, and sifted through them all. He found the decorations he had made each year and pulled them all out. He showed them to James, who seemed a little put out about the fact that there wasn't one from him.

"Don't worry," Nick assured him. "I always make a new one when we get our tree. You get to make one too."

"Yeah bud," Jim said. "You and Nick make something and I'll hang them on the tree."

"Okay," James said with a smile. "Can I make it something with my picture on it?"

"Sure, son," Jim said. "That'll make it extra special."

Nick and James spent the next hour or so putting the decorations they already had on the tree. When they were all out of decorations, Jim pulled out two brand new boxes of icicles, and James and Nick went wild, randomly throwing them on the tree wherever they saw a spot that wasn't completely covered in them. Finally, Jim pulled out the star and handed it to Nick, who he lifted up high enough to place it at the top.

When they stood back and looked, Nick thought it was the most beautiful tree he had ever seen in his life. He looked over at his dad, who had an arm wrapped around James. Nick noticed that James looked like he was upset about something, but he wasn't speaking. Jim leaned down and said something in James' ear right before he gave him a kiss on the cheek, and James responded by leaning up against Jim and resting his head against his stomach. Nick had a feeling that James was thinking about his mom and dad, who hadn't called in over a month. Nick had stumbled upon his cousin in his room, crying all by himself, and it made him feel awful. Whenever he would see James crying, he wondered to himself if James' parents even thought about him or if they were glad he was gone. When the phone rang and Jim went to answer it, James sat in the recliner and looked quietly at the tree. Nick grabbed Skalaki and approached his cousin.

"Is it okay if I sit by you?" he asked. James smiled sadly and nodded as he moved over to make room for Nick, who climbed up handed Skalaki to James.

James seemed to cheer up as Nick sat there with him, telling him all about what he did at Eckerd's and at Toys-R-Us. When Jim got off the phone, he told them to come to the kitchen, where he had cleared off the table and gotten out the scissors and some construction paper. James ran up to his room and came back downstairs with a small school picture and some glue. While they were busy working on their decorations, Charles and Cindy brought Taylor over. When Nick heard the knock at the door, he knew right away who it was, so he jumped up and ran to answer it.

Taylor's parents stayed and visited while Nick and James made a spot for Taylor at the table so he could make a decoration too. While they were all at the table, Nick proudly told the rectal thermometer story to Taylor and his parents, but he left out the part about Toys-R-Us because he didn't want Taylor to try to figure out what they got him.

As they worked on their decorations, Lori called and said she was home from work. Nick got excited when Charles and Cindy accepted Jim's invitation to stay for dinner. Eventually, Lori showed up and the adults moved back into the family room. All three of them each made three decorations, and when they were done, James and Nick each handed Taylor one decoration. And carried the rest of theirs into the family room to hang on the tree. Taylor presented Cindy and his dad with the three decorations, one from each of them, and she seemed taken aback. She looked at each one and smiled before she carefully put them in her purse to take with her.

"I'll wait for you guys to come over and we can hang them up together," she said softly. "This was so sweet of you guys."

"These are for you, Miss Lori," James said as he handed Lori her decorations. Nick watched her expression as she held each one up. Just like Cindy, she carefully put hers in her purse, then she took her purse to the hallway and hung it up by the door.

When they presented their decorations to Jim, he smiled widely, got his camera out, and had each one of them go up and place their decoration on the tree while he took their pictures. Nick could see the look of pride on his face as he took the pictures, and for some reason, it made him feel complete that night.

After dinner, Taylor, James and Nick went upstairs and got on James' Playstation. As it got later, Charles and Cindy got ready to leave and they all went back downstairs to say goodbye.

"You be good, Sport," Charles said as he hugged Taylor goodbye. Cindy leaned down, gave Taylor a hug and a kiss, and made sure he had everything he needed.

"I love you, honey," she said sweetly.

"I love you too, mom," he said "I promise to be good."

"Taylor's the last of my worries,' Jim said sarcastically as he playfully captured Nick and James in a headlock with each one of his arms. "It's these two monsters I worry about."

After they left, Jim sent the three of them upstairs to get ready for bed. When they came back downstairs, everyone settled down and watched TV. Nick and Taylor sat alone on the couch while Jim and Lori took the love seat and James took the recliner. It didn't take long for everyone to fall asleep around Nick, who couldn't wasn't tired at all. Instead, he snuck across the room and grabbed the remote so he could change the channel. While he was flipping through the channels, Jim woke up and eventually woke up and woke Lori and James up too. James made his way upstairs first, and after Jim went around the house to make sure everything was locked up, he and Lori went upstairs to bed too. Jim told Nick not to stay up too late and not to come in his room, making Nick giggle to himself when his dad was gone.

Nick got up from the couch and turned all the lights off except for the Christmas tree lights, then he settled back down on the couch and snuggled up to Taylor, who started to wake up when Nick sat back down.

Taylor yawned and smiled at Nick, who reached for his friend's hand.

"Are you cold?" Nick asked softly.

"Just a little," Taylor answered sleepily. "Where'd everyone go?"

"They all went to bed," Nick said. "Let's stay up though."

"Okay," Taylor said as Nick moved in to get even closer to him. "The tree looks so pretty."

"I know," Nick said. "I like sitting here and looking at it."

Taylor rested his head on Nick's shoulder and yawned again, then he nuzzled his head again, as if he were making himself comfortable. Nick sighed contentedly as he felt the warmth of Taylor's body against his own while Taylor's thumb moved in a small circle over the back of his hand. The lights from the tree were shining against the walls and on the ceiling, and as they blinked on and off, Nick could feel his heart racing. As he watched the tree, he moved his head a little closer to Taylor's and inhaled for a moment, taking in the scent of baby shampoo in his hair. He let his eyes drift to Taylor, who was looking up at him and smiling warmly, then he let his instincts take over. He moved in for a small kiss on the lips, and the moment he felt his lips touch Taylor's lips, they tingled. He immediately pushed his tongue into Taylor's mouth and soon he felt him pushing back with his own tongue, making his head spin and his lips tingle even harder.

Finally, they broke the kiss and sat quietly together on the couch, taking in the scene of the Christmas tree. Nick snuggled up even closer to Taylor, who had let his hand go and started rubbing his back. The feeling of Taylor's hand moving up and down his back was satisfying to him, and the only thing he could think of that he wanted at that moment was for Taylor to kiss him again. Unfortunately, he heard a door open upstairs and footsteps moving down the hall.

"It's time to go to bed, boys," Jim said from the foot of the stairs.

"Okay, dad," Nick said. "We were just looking at the Christmas tree. It's really pretty."

"I'm glad you guys like it," Jim said with a small smile. "If it gets cold enough, we'll build a fire tomorrow and roast marshmallows, okay?"

Nick and Taylor smiled at each other as they made their way upstairs. Jim tucked them in and closed the door on the way out. As soon as Nick heard his dad's door close across the hallway, he turned so that he was facing Taylor and wrapped his arms around him, pulling him as close to him as he could. Even in the darkness, he could see the features of Taylor's face, including the smile that had crept back across it.

Nick planted his lips to Taylor's again, and as he moved in with his tongue, he felt Taylor's tongue meet his in the middle. His mind raced, thinking about all of the things he wanted to do that night with his boyfriend, but they never made it that far. As much as he wanted to go further, the kiss they were sharing was so perfect to him at that moment that he didn't try to break it. After a long, romantic kiss, he and Taylor simply snuggled together and fell asleep.

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