What's The Difference Between Me and You?

By Nick

Chapter Twenty


Nick sat up in his bed and rubbed his eyes, waiting for them to focus. He looked around as the room slowly came into view, then he laid back down, putting his head on his pillow and pulling the blankets over his head. The light shining through his window was making it hard to go back to sleep, even with the covers over his head, so he finally gave up and sat up on the edge of his bed and yawned. He looked at his alarm clock and frowned because it wasn't even 8 o'clock yet. He found his slippers and made his way out of his room, down the hallway and to the bathroom.

When he finished, he made his way to the stairs to head to the family room and see if Skalaki needed to be let out. On his way down, he heard the news coming from the TV, so he knew that his dad was already awake.

"Good morning buddy," Jim said as Nick climbed into his lap on the couch and snuggled up to his chest, closing his eyes for a moment and relaxing.

"Good morning daddy," he said sleepily. "I'm still tired."

"Why did you get up, then?" Jim asked softly. Nick shrugged and let his eyes focus again once he opened them.

"What's for breakfast?" Nick asked.

"I think we're going to go eat somewhere today," Jim said. "I feel like taking you guys out for breakfast. Are you hungry?"

Nick nodded and yawned again, taking the time to think about where they might eat.

"Can we go to Cracker Barrel?" he asked.

"We'll see," Jim said. "That's a long way from here, son. We'll have to drive to Newport News."

"Why can't there be one here?" Nick asked crankily, as if it were Jim's fault that the nearest Cracker Barrel was over 30 miles from their house. Jim simply chuckled softly and gave Nick a hug.

"When are we leaving?" Nick asked.

"Well, let's wait for James and Lori to wake up," Jim said. "I'm sure they're going to be up soon."

They sat together for a while on the couch, flipping through the channels until they found a fishing show they both wanted to see. While they were watching, they heard the shower upstairs. While the shower was still running, James walked downstairs, still half-asleep, and made his way to the couch.

He curled up next to Jim, nuzzled his head under Jim's arm, and yawned, then he rested his head against Jim's chest and closed his eyes.

"Are you still sleepy, pal?," Jim asked. James nodded slowly but never opened his eyes. Instead, he snuggled up tighter to Jim's chest and seemed to fall back asleep. His legs were curled up underneath the rest of his body, and he buried his feet between the cushions on the couch.

James never wore pajama bottoms to bed. Instead, he slept in his underwear, which was how Nick slept sometimes, but not always. Usually, it was too cold for Nick to do that, so he wore pajamas. But, like Taylor, James couldn't stand to be hot when he slept, so pajama bottoms were out of the question for him. As a result, he always seemed cold in the morning when he woke up. Since the weather was getting colder, Jim told him that he had to wear a tee shirt to bed, but when he first moved there, he used to sleep without a shirt, too.

Nick looked up at his dads face and smiled. The difference between the way he looked to Nick at that moment, as opposed to how he looked when he was upset and grieving for James the night before was like the difference between black and white. Jim was smiling down at Nick, then he looked down at James with the same smile. Nick reached up with his hand and rubbed the side of his dads face for no particular reason, then he gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"I love you daddy," Nick said.

"I love you too baby," Jim replied with a warm smile. "Are you going to get in the tub this morning?"

"Do I have to?," Nick asked.

"No," Jim said. "You can get in the shower with me if you want."

"I'll take a bath," Nick said quickly, knowing that if he got in the shower with Jim, he was going to be scrubbed down and that they would be in there forever. Jim looked at him with a knowing smile and laughed.

"How about you, buddy?," Jim asked James as he gave him a small squeeze with the arm he had wrapped around him. "Are you going to take a shower before we leave?"

"Where are we going?," James asked, still half asleep.

"We're gonna go eat breakfast," Jim said. "I feel like eating out this morning."

James opened his eyes and looked up at his uncle with a smile, then he rested his head back on Jim's chest. Jim leaned down and sniffed Nick, then he put his nose up to James and sniffed him too.

"Oh yeah," Jim said. "I've got two stinky little boys who need a bath before we go anywhere."

James smiled at Jim sarcastically for a moment, while Nick gave him a flick on the earlobe.

"I'm glad I'm stinky," Nick said mockingly. "That's why I sat in your lap."

Jim reached down and tickled Nick's ribs, making him squirm and laugh hysterically as he tried to battle back, but it was no use. Just when Nick was starting to feel pain in his side from laughing so hard, Jim attacked James the same way. Nick jumped up and escaped while Jim was tickling James, so he took the opportunity to run to the love seat, grab two throw pillows, and throw them at his dad, who caught the second one and threw it back at Nick, taking his feet out from underneath him. As Nick was about to get up, Jim pounced on him and attacked his ribs again while James did what he could to help him by trying to attack Jim with the other pillow. Eventually, Jim let them both take him over and as he lay on his back, they tried to jump on his chest. When they did, he grabbed them both with one hand and lifted them up like he was lifting weights on a bench. As he was supporting them both with his hands, he roared like a monster and let out an evil laugh, them he tossed them both back onto the couch and stood up.

"You're too strong, Uncle Jim," James said, still trying to catch his breath. Jim made a face at him like a monster from a movie, then he reached out, grabbed him off the couch, and pressed him up over his head the way he always did to Nick.

"Okay, Okay, I give up," James giggled from above Jim's head. "You win."

Jim brought James back down, but instead of setting him down, he hung him over his shoulder so that his feet were hanging off of his back side, then he used his free arm to do the same thing to Nick, then he hauled them up the stairs. When they got upstairs, Jim took them into Nick's room and put them down.

"Go ahead and get in the shower, James," Jim said. "When you're done, get dressed and feed Skalaki, okay?"

"Yes sir," James said respectfully. He turned to walk out of Nick's room, but Jim called him back as he sat down on Nick's bed. James walked back over and Jim held his arms out for a hug.

"I love you, son," Jim said.

"I love you too, uncle," James said as he rested his head on Jim's shoulder. Nick crawled onto his bed and watched them hugging, feeling like his dad was some kind of a hero for what he was doing for James. Jim kissed James on top of the head and let go of the hug.

"I want you to remember what I told you last night," Jim said. "I meant it, okay?"

"Okay," James said with a sweet smile, then he turned and walked out of the room. Nick wondered what his dad meant, but he didn't want to ask because he had a feeling Jim would scold him if he did. So what Jim said next actually surprised him.

"Come sit with me again, babe," Jim said. Nick crawled into his dads lap and looked up at him, wondering what was on his dads mind. "I want to have a talk with you about James. Do you understand the problems he's having with his parents?"

"Yes sir," Nick said as he nodded.

"Okay, well, last night when I was tucking him in, we talked," Jim said. "He really misses his mom and dad. I told him that it's always okay for him to call me dad. That doesn't mean that I love you any less, son. That just means that I want to be there for James when he needs me to be."

"Will he be my brother?," Nick asked, not feeling sure that he liked this idea.

"That's up to you, son," Jim said. "I'm not going to force anything on you, Nick. But you know that I love James very much, and I want him to feel like we're his family now, because we are."

"Will he be your favorite?," Nick asked.

"Sweetheart, I don't have a favorite," Jim answered. "We've already talked about the difference between how I love you and how I love James. You don't need to be jealous."

"Is that why you call him son now?," Nick asked.

"Yes it is, Nick," Jim answered. "I feel like he is my son. I love him that much."

"I love him that much too, daddy," Nick said. "I'm not jealous."

"I can't tell you how proud that makes me, baby," Jim said with a huge smile. "Why don't you jump in the shower with me so we can get out of here quicker?"

Nick got up and took his dad's hand, then they walked across the hall to Jim's room.  When they got to his room, Jim knocked first, and Lori opened the door, so they went in and walked straight to the bathroom. Nick let Jim undress him and when they got in the shower, he just stood there while Jim washed his hair and then scrubbed him down with a washcloth.

 As he expected, the shower seemed to take forever to get through, but eventually, they finished. Jim got out first and dried off, then he took Nick out by wrapping a towel around him and carrying him to his bed, where he finished drying him off. Nick laid down on the bed spread while Jim got dressed, then he waited while Jim went down the hall and picked out an outfit for Nick to wear for the day. When he came back, Nick laid still while his dad dressed him. Finally, Jim scooped him up and carried him back down the hallway to his room where he put on his socks and shoes.

Nick sat still in his dads lap while Jim brushed his hair, and when he was finished, he clung to his dad, making him carry him downstairs instead of walking. When they got to the family room, Lori and James were waiting patiently in front of the TV.

They ended up driving to a Denny's that Nick had never been to and there wasn't a very long wait to be seated. They ended up at a booth with one large seat that wrapped around the table, so Nick made sure that he took a space next to his dad. While they were waiting for their server to arrive, Nick colored on the kids menu that they gave him, then he played tic-tac-toe with his dad, who beat him, then with James, who he tied with over and over again.

When the server came to take their orders, Nick was about to tell her what he wanted when Jim spoke up.

"He'll have the pancake breakfast with bacon and a side order of grits, please," Jim said.

Everyone else got to order for themselves, making Nick feel left out and hurting his feelings. He sat in his seat and looked down, pouting and not talking anymore, as everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves.

"What's wrong, son?," Jim asked as he ran his hand through Nicks hair.

"I wanted something else," Nick fibbed. "You didn't even let me say what I wanted."

"Nick, I ordered for you because I know you won't eat anything else," Jim said with a sigh. "What did you want?"

Nick looked around at everyone at the table. They were all looking at him, waiting on his answer, but he couldn't think of anything to say because the truth was, he wanted exactly what Jim had ordered him. The only difference was, he wanted to tell the server what he wanted.

"Never mind," Nick said, feeling tears starting to well up in his eyes.

"Hey, buddy," Jim said softly. "We can order something different if you want to."

"I'm not hungry now," Nick cried, feeling sorry for himself. He wasn't too sure why his feelings were so hurt about this, but they were, and when Jim wrapped his arm around him to try to console him, Nick buried his face into his dad's chest and started to cry harder.

"Can you let us out?," Nick heard his dad ask Lori, then he felt Jim tugging on his hand. Nick got out of the booth with his dad and took his hand when he held it out for him. Jim led him to the door of the restaurant, and soon, they were out front next to the car.

"Son, you need to calm down," Jim said sternly. "I'm sorry if you didn't get to order what you wanted, but I already told you that we can get you whatever you want."

"I don't want anything," Nick cried pitifully. "I hate Denny's."

"If you aren't hungry, you don't have to eat," Jim said calmly. "But you will behave when we go back inside. Do you understand me?"

Nick didn't answer his dad. Instead, he started to cry harder, feeling like he was being punished because his dad didn't let him order his own food. Jim took him by the hand and walked him to the driver's side of the car, opening the door and sitting down in the seat. Then he took Nick by the shoulders and gave him firm look.

"Nickolas," he said slowly but loud in a tone that said that he meant business. "I don't know why you're crying, but I want you to get it together right now. You are not going to ruin breakfast for the rest of us."

"I want to sit in the car," Nick said sadly.

"Come here," Jim said as he lifted Nick into his lap. "Why are you being so cranky all of the sudden?"

Nick laid his head on Jim's shoulder and sobbed, not answering the question his dad asked because he didn't know why. He heard his dad sigh, then he felt himself being lifted as Jim stood up and closed the car door. When he finally started to calm down, Jim took him back inside and back to the table where their food was waiting.

While everyone else ate their food, Nick sat and pouted, wiping away his tears every once in a while as he leaned into his dad, who was ignoring him as he ate his breakfast. When he finished eating, Jim slid Nicks bowl of grits over so that he could get a spoonful out and hold it out in front of Nicks mouth.

"Open up," Jim said with an irritated tone. "You're going to eat something."

"I'm not hungry," Nick said grumpily.

"I didn't ask if you were hungry," Jim said, still sounding irritated. "I said to open up."

Nick folded his arms and looked up at his dad defiantly, sealing his lips as hard as he could.

"Fine," Jim said as if it no longer bothered him. "Don't you dare ask me for anything to eat again before lunch."

With that, he put the spoon back in the bowl and slid it away from him, and Nick suddenly felt like crying again. As he sobbed, he could hear the server bring the check. Jim took his wallet out and gave her some money, then he stood up with everyone else while Nick laid face down on the seat and cried. He felt his dad pulling him to the edge of the booth, then lifting him up and carrying him out of the restaurant and to the car. As his dad put him in the car and buckled his seatbelt for him, Nick kept crying. He noticed that his dad looked as irritated with him as he had ever looked before, but he didn't stop. Instead, he sobbed louder and kicked the back of Jim's seat the whole way home.

"I'm sorry guys," Jim said to James and Lori as they turned onto the street they lived on. "I thought I had a big boy, but apparently, I have a baby who needs to go straight to bed when we get home."

When they pulled into the driveway, Jim got out and opened Nicks door as fast as a he could, unbuckling him and snatching him out of his seat without a word. James used his key to unlock the door, so Jim walked straight into the house and marched Nick upstairs to his room. When they got there, he stripped Nick down impatiently and took a pair of pajamas out of his dresser, then he proceeded to dress him in them.

"Get in," Jim said angrily as he pointed to Nick's bed.

"No!," Nick yelled at his dad. "I'm not tired and I don't have to!"

Jim calmly took a breath, then he looked at Nick and spoke again.

"I'm going to count to three," he said. "Then, I'm going whip you if you don't do what I just said."

Nick glared at his dad as the count started.

"One," Jim said as he started his count with authority. "Two. Three."

With that, Jim ripped his belt from around his waist and Nick quickly got in his bed before it was too late.

"I hate you," Nick said quietly as Jim pulled the covers over him.

"Well, you're allowed to, son," Jim said. "I'm sorry you feel that way, though. I love you very much."

"No you don't," Nick said. "You love James better than you love me."

"You know better than that," Jim said. "You need to get some sleep, because you're obviously too tired to behave."

"No I'm not!," Nick shouted. "I wish you were dead instead of my mom!"

Nick wasn't sure where that came from, but when he looked up at his dad, he knew that he had just hurt Jim's feelings and he wished he could take it back. Jim didn't say another word. His face was white now, and he just looked at Nick with a devastated expression, then he looked down and turned to walk away, closing the door behind him. Feeling terrible, Nick buried his face in his pillow and cried quietly, wondering why he said that. He knew that he didn't mean it, but Jim turned and left before he could take it back.

Nick finally pulled the covers back and got out of his bed. He walked to his desk and found a piece of paper and a sharpened pencil and a book, then he walked back to his bed. He lay back down on his stomach and wrote his dad a letter.

Dear daddy,

I'm sorry for being mean and hurting your feelings. I didn't mean too. I didn't mean it. I don't know why I did it. I'm sorry.

Love Nick.

He folded the letter up into a neat square and put it on his nightstand, then he walked back over to his desk to put the pencil and the book back. When he was done, he walked over to his window and looked out into the backyard, where he saw his dad sitting on the patio with Lori. She was holding his head and saying something, but he couldn't hear because his window was closed. He saw his dad start to talk, and he was shaking his head as he spoke. He looked distressed, almost like he might have been crying. The longer Nick watched from his window, the worse he felt. Finally, they stood up and hugged, then Lori gave Jim a kiss on the lips and took his hand as they made their way back inside.

Nick lay back down on his bed and unfolded the letter he wrote so he could read it again, then he started to cry again. He wondered out loud to himself why he had to be such a brat and why he had to hurt his dad's feelings. As he sobbed quietly in his bed, he heard his dad's voice in the hallway, talking to James about something. He waited for his door to open, but it never did, so he buried his face back in his pillow and kept crying until he fell asleep.

When Nick opened his eyes, he heard the sound of his dads saw coming from the backyard. He got out of bed and walked to the window, where he saw his dad and James working on something together. James was holding a piece of wood for Jim as he cut it the way he needed to. Nick rubbed his eyes as he walked out of his room, down the hall to the bathroom.

When he finished, he washed his hands and walked to the stairway, where he sat down at the top and looked down. He had never taken the time to notice them from this view before, so he sat still for a while and looked at all of the pictures on the walls on each side of the staircase. Most of the pictures were of him by himself, but there were plenty of pictures of him and his dad together. One picture of them was from their vacation in Virginia, when they still lived in California. They were coming down the log chute at Kings Dominion and a camera caught the shot just in time to see their expressions as the log was headed toward the pool at the bottom, where they would end up being splashed.

Nick leaned up against the wall as he looked at the other pictures of him and his dad and he started to feel emotional again. He wondered to himself again why he said such a horrible and hurtful thing to his dad, who he loved more than anything in the whole wide world. How could he make his dad see that he didn't mean it? Was there a way to take it back? His tears were back now, but he was able to get himself together when he heard the patio door open. He heard footsteps coming up through the family room toward the stairs, but he didn't make a move to go back in his room. Nick rubbed his eyes for a moment, and when he moved his hands away from his face, Jim was coming up the stairs.

Jim didn't say a word. He simply sat down next to Nick, who looked sadly at his dad, trying to find something to say that could help him explain himself. Finally, he gave up and wrapped his arms as tightly as he could around his dad's neck.

"I'm sorry, daddy," Nick cried. "I didn't mean it. I swear I didn't. I love you."

"I love you too, sweetheart," Jim said quietly, almost in a whisper as he took Nick in his arms and hugged him. "You don't have to say sorry for anything."

"But I didn't mean it," Nick cried.

"I know you didn't, baby," Jim said. "But I was being hard on you too, and I know you were still tired and you didn't feel good. I shouldn't have been so hard on you."

"It's my fault," Nick sobbed. "I was being a stupid brat."

"You were just cranky, son," Jim said softly. "I knew this morning that you didn't get enough sleep last night. I should have been more patient with you."

"I wrote you a letter," Nick said. "It's in my room."

"Let's go get it," Jim said, still speaking softly to his son. He stood up and took Nicks hand and together they walked to Nick's room. Jim sat down on Nick's bed and unfolded the piece of paper Nick had written it on. As he read it, a warm smile spread across his face.

"I love you, Nick," Jim said emotionally as he lifted his son up into his lap.

"I love you too daddy," Nick said as he hugged his dad again. "I never want to make you feel bad again."

"I don't want you to worry about making me feel bad," Jim said. "If you have something on your mind, let it out. Nothing's going to ever change how I feel about you, son."

Jim gave Nick a kiss on the cheek and smiled at him.

"Did I ruin everyone's day?," Nick asked.

"No, not at all, son," Jim said. "Are you hungry?"

Nick smiled and nodded at his dad, who pressed his nose up to Nicks and rubbed it side to side, making Nick feel more loved by his dad than he already was.

"Do you want daddy to make you some breakfast?," Jim asked.

"We can have lunch if you want," Nick offered.

"I'll make you whatever you want, babe," Jim said.

"Can I have tomato soup?," Nick asked.

Jim smiled and nodded as he stood up with Nick still in his arms. They went downstairs to the kitchen, and Nick sat on the counter while his dad heated his soup. He looked at the clock on the stove and realized that he had been asleep for at least 3 hours. When his soup was done, Jim sat him down on a stool at the breakfast counter and sat next to him. He used a small spoon to feed Nick the soup, blowing on each bite before he offered it to his son.

While they were in the kitchen, James came inside and sat down at the counter. Nick noticed that he was watching them closely, almost as if he looked jealous, but he never said anything. Finally, Jim turned to him.

"Are you hungry, buddy?," Jim asked.

"Maybe a little," James said shyly.

"Would you like a bowl of soup?," Jim asked. "Or do you want something else?"

"Soup please," James said with a smile. Nick waited patiently while his dad got a bowl down for James and used the ladle to fill it with soup. He put it in front of James and offered him some crackers, which James took and crumbled on top of his bowl of soup. As he was taking another bite from the spoon his dad was holding for him, Nick noticed that James' bowl was steaming hot from being on the stove longer. As Jim was feeding Nick his last bite, James was still trying to cool his soup off by blowing on the whole bowl.

"Here, son, this is how you do it," Jim said, pulling James' bowl closer to him. He scooped out a spoonful and blew on it, then he offered it to his nephew. Nick smiled as he watched James open his mouth and take a bite because he looked so happy. Jim pulled the spoon back, scooped more soup out of the bowl, and blew on it, then he fed him another bite. Jim fed James a few more bites, then he let him take the spoon back and do it himself. The first thing James did when he got the spoon back was burn himself with his first bite.

Jim immediately panicked and made James open his mouth so he could inspect. When he was sure that James was okay, he took the spoon back and fed him the rest of the bowl. When James was done, the three of them sat together at the breakfast counter and talked about the rest of the day. Eventually, Nick and James ended up in the family room on the couch watching cartoons while Jim went to the backyard and put away his saw and the other tools he was using. Nick watched his dad through the window as he carried everything from the backyard to the garage and realized that he never found out what they were working on. He turned to ask James about it, but he had fallen asleep on the couch.

When Jim came back inside through the laundry room, he had Skalaki with him. He was telling James to feed him as he was walking into the family room, but when he saw him sleeping, he did it himself.

"Are you comfy, son?," Jim asked when he came back inside from feeding the puppy. "You don't have to keep your jammies on if you don't want to."
"It's okay, dad," Nick said. "It's cold outside anyway. I'll just stay inside today."

Jim sat down on the couch and Nick climbed into his lap again and got comfortable while they watched TV.

"Where did Miss Lori go?," Nick asked.

"She went to her brothers house to watch her niece," Jim said. "They're moving to Florida pretty soon, so she needs to visit with them."

As they sat on the couch together, they talked about different things. Nick told his dad what he wanted to be for Halloween, then they talked about James and what he was going to do on Halloween. He was 13, one year too old to trick or treat in Virginia. Jim said that he could easily pass for a 9 or 10 year old and get a costume if he wanted one, but that he might go to a party that his Sunday School group was having for all of the kids who were too old to trick or treat.

Just as they were talking about what he might do, James started to wake up and stretch. He crawled over to the end of the couch where Nick and his dad were sitting and snuggled up with them

"Hey babe, are you up now?," Jim asked softly. James nodded and smiled at Jim, who leaned down and gave him a kiss.

"I love you," James said as he yawned.

"I love you too, son," Jim said. "Were you taking a nap?"

"Yes," James said sleepily, then he rested his head back down on Jim's chest and closed his eyes again. Jim gave James' shoulder a squeeze and rubbed it for a while, but he had already fallen back asleep.

"Daddy," Nick said, trying to get Jim's attention.

"Yes son," Jim answered.

"I'm sorry for acting like such a brat today," Nick said softly.

"You weren't being a brat, honey," Jim said. "You were just cranky because you were sleepy."

"My feelings were hurt because I wanted to tell the waitress what I wanted," Nick explained. "But I was just going to tell her the same thing you told her. I'm sorry."

"Well, I'll let you order next time, okay?," Jim said.

"Okay," Nick said with a smile.

"Did you eat enough?," Jim asked.

"My tummy's full," Nick said as he nodded his head while it was resting against Jim's chest.

"Why don't you let me take you to the bathroom," Jim suggested.

Nick clung to his dads chest and said, "Okay, dad." Jim gave James' shoulder a squeeze and tried to wake him up.

"What about you, buddy?," he asked. "Do you feel like lying down in your bed?"

James nodded and got up when Jim did, then he wrapped his arms around Jim's waist with his eyes closed as Nick took his dads free hand and walked upstairs with them. When they got upstairs, Jim walked James to the bathroom and told him to go pee before he lay down.

"Okay, dad," James said sleepily as he walked into the bathroom.

Nick was stunned. Even though he and Jim had talked about it earlier and he told his dad that it was okay with him if James called him dad, actually hearing it made him feel insanely jealous about sharing his dad. Nick felt like he needed to stop and take a few deep breaths on the way to the bathroom in Jim's room.

"Is something wrong son?," Jim asked as Nick sat on the toilet.

"Was that his first time?," Nick asked quietly. Jim sighed and looked down at Nick for a few moments before he answered.

"No, that wasn't," Jim said.

"When was it?," Nick asked, feeling insecure about someone else calling Jim their dad.

"Earlier, when we were outside working on Skalaki's dog house," Jim admitted. "Son, we've already talked about this."

"I know," Nick said. "I was just wondering, that's all."

Jim leaned up against the wall and locked his fingers as if he were thinking to himself, then he spoke again.

"Nick, James has had a rough couple of days," Jim said softly. "He's really upset about a lot of things right now. I need to be there for him. I hope you understand."

Nick didn't answer. Instead, he stayed silent and concentrated on finishing. When they were done in the bathroom, they made their way back downstairs.

Instead of sitting with his dad on the love seat, Nick sat alone in the recliner and worried about everything that had happened in the last two days. He knew that James needed his family, and Nick knew that he, Jim, Tom and Linda were the only family that James had. He also knew that he and his dad were having a bad day. First they were getting along, then they weren't, then things got worse, then they started getting better. Now, he was sitting alone and feeling like they were bad again. He didn't want to share his dad with James, and he certainly didn't want James calling his father dad. He also knew that it was too late to change that now. Nick decided that he was mad at Jim again for not asking him if it was okay before he told James to call him dad.

Nick sat in the recliner and looked out the window, trying to avoid the sight of his dad. He didn't want to have another argument with him, but he felt so hurt about Jim's decision to let James call him dad that he couldn't help himself. Finally, he got up and stormed up the stairs to his room to be alone without looking at Jim, who he had to walk past to get to the hallway before he could climb the stairs. He sat down on his beanbag and used his remote to turn on his TV. He seemed to lose track of time while he was watching cartoons, so when he heard a light knock at his door, he was a little startled.

"Come in," he said as he stared straight ahead at the TV.

"Nick?," he heard Taylor say as his bedroom door opened. Nick looked up and smiled widely when he saw his best friend standing in his doorway.

"Taylor!," Nick exclaimed, almost jumping up to run up and give him a hug.

"Hi," Taylor said shyly. "Are you okay?"

Nick looked down at himself and realized that he was still wearing the pajamas his dad dressed him in when he was sent back to bed. He smiled and nodded at Taylor, who came in and sat down on the beanbag next to him.

Nick had a terrible morning to say the least. His day started to fall apart at breakfast, and it had only gotten worse from there. It seemed like no matter what he or anyone else did to try to make it better, it didn't work. Every time he thought to himself that he was finally starting to enjoy his day, something else would happen to ruin it. When he stormed up to his room to be alone, he had given up on having a good day. He decided that it wasn't going to happen.

Suddenly, though, Taylor opened his door and Nicks day instantly got better. His smile seemed like sunshine on a cold and cloudy day. When he sat down on the beanbag, Nick could smell his hair, which smelled like baby shampoo.

"I'm glad you came over," Nick said with a smile. "I was having a bad day."

"What's wrong?," Taylor asked.

"I got in trouble today and my dad made me go to my room and go back to bed," Nick said sadly. Then he proceeded to tell Taylor everything, including how James had broken down the night before and Jim decided to let him call him dad.

"That's like me and my mom," Taylor said, talking about Cindy, his stepmom. "Even though she's not my real mom, I call her mom because I love her."

"Do you think I'm wrong?," Nick asked.

"No," Taylor said. "I guess my mom doesn't have real kids anyway, so it's different."

"I feel bad for James," Nick said. "But I don't want him to call my dad that. He's my dad."

"What did Mr. J. say?," Taylor asked.

"I'm not talking to him," Nick said sadly. "I'm mad at him again."

When Taylor didn't say anything, Nick looked down at the floor. He was ashamed of how he was acting, and he knew that the only way his day was going to get better was if he changed his attitude.

"Maybe I'm not that mad at him," Nick said, looking up at Taylor's face for approval. Taylor grinned at Nick as he leaned back on the beanbag. Nick felt lightheaded when he saw Taylor's grin, so he instinctively moved closer to him.

"You'll start having a good day soon," Taylor said, sounding hopeful. "I'm sure you will, Nick."

"Your hair smells good," Nick said. Taylor blushed and smiled again, and when he did, Nick couldn't help himself. He reached out and took Taylor's hand in his.

"I'm glad you came over today," Nick said. "I missed you last night."

"I wish you could've spent the night last night," Taylor said.

"I wish I could've too," Nick said. "Maybe tonight your dad will let you spend the night with me."

"I'll ask him if you think it's okay with Mr. J," Taylor said.

Nick leaned into Taylor and laid his head on his shoulder. He felt Taylor lean his head so that it was resting on top of his, and Nick sighed. He could smell Taylor's hair and the fabric softener in his clothes, so he closed his eyes and let his head spin. As his mind was being filled with sweet thoughts about Taylor, he suddenly felt Taylor's head move so he opened his eyes and found Taylor's smile right in front of him.

"You look so cute today, Nick," Taylor said sweetly.

"I think you look really cute today too," Nick replied with a smile. Taylor gave his hand a small squeeze and leaned in, pressing his lips to Nicks for a quick kiss. Nicks eyes got big when he realized what Taylor was doing, but once he was over the shock, he smiled again and sighed.

Nick didn't have to ask Taylor if he was feeling gay or not. He knew for sure that he was, and so was Nick. Taylor sat back again, resting on the beanbag with Nick and using his thumb to rub the outside of Nicks hand. The longer they sat there, the further away Nicks mind seemed to drift from the bad day he was having. He might've been able to completely forget about it, in fact, if Jim hadn't opened his door.

"Son, I need to talk to you alone," Jim said, using his finger to motion to Nick that he wanted him to get up and come to him. "We won't be long, Taylor."

Nick followed his dad across the hall to his room, where Jim closed the door and patted the top of his mattress for Nick to climb up and sit down. When he did, Jim sat down next to him and sighed.

"I know Taylor's here and this isn't a good time," Jim said. "But we need to talk right now. I'm not going to just let this be a problem."

Nick knew that by "this", his dad meant Nicks jealously over James. He looked up at his dad, who had a serious look on his face, and thought about what he wanted to say. He felt overwhelmed by his whole day, and for Nick, the easiest thing to do would have been to either cry, which was what he felt like doing, or to pretend that there wasn't a problem, which was what he was planning on doing.

"Nick, when we talked earlier, you said that you were fine with it," Jim said. "I'd like to know what changed your mind all of the sudden."

"I don't know," Nick answered in a small voice. "I just don't want him to call you that."

"Well, I'm going to tell you something, and you're not going to like it," Jim said firmly. "It's too late now. I'm not going to tell him that it's not okay to call me dad. That wouldn't be fair to him, or to me. I love James too, and want him to call me dad."

"But why?," Nick pleaded tearfully, raising his voice with each word. "You didn't even ask me first. I'm your son, not him!"

"Lower your voice right now!," Jim said sharply but in a quiet voice as he snapped his fingers and pointed at Nick in one swift motion. "I don't want him to hear you say that. Do you understand that we're all he has?"

"He has my grandpa and grandma too," Nick cried. "Why can't he go live there?"

Jim didn't answer right away. Instead, he glared at Nick with a look that said he couldn't believe that he had just heard what came out of his mouth. Finally, after a long uncomfortable silence, he spoke.

"I want you to know how disappointed I am right now, son," Jim said quietly. "James isn't some stranger. He's family, and he belongs here. He's your family, he's my family, and he's always going to be a part of this household. I'm sorry that your feelings are hurt, but you're being really selfish right now."

Nick couldn't look his dad in the eyes anymore. Deep down, he knew that Jim was right, but he felt violated. He could feel his fathers glare on his head as he wondered what he could say before the sick feeling in his stomach and the huge lump in his throat became sobs. He already had tears running down his cheeks and for the first time that he could recall, he had a headache. Finally, he gave up and let his sobs take him over. He laid down face first on the bed and buried his face in the bedspread so that he could cry and when he did, he felt his dad get up from the bed. While he was crying, he felt Jim grab him underneath his arms and lift him up into a hug.

"Baby, I know this is hard for you," Jim said softly as Nick wept on his shoulder. "But it doesn't have to be. James loves the both of us so much, and we're both lucky to have him here with us."

"You're ashamed of me?," Nick asked through his sobs.

"No, not at all," Jim said. "I've never been ashamed of you, Nick."

"But you said...," Nick started, but he couldn't finish what he started to say because he had to let out a loud cry.

"I said I was disappointed," Jim explained. "But I'm not disappointed in you, Nick. I was disappointed in what you said. There's a difference."

"I want it to be just us again," Nick admitted. "Why don't you want it to be that way anymore?"

"Son, if James had never come here to live with us, I would," Jim said. "But James is here now, and I can't imagine him not being part of our family anymore."

"Are you mad at me for not wanting to share you?," Nick asked.

"No, son, I'm not," Jim said. "But I have to admit that I'm shocked by it."

"I can't help it," Nick said through his tears. "You're my dad, not his."

"Okay, Nick," Jim said firmly, but still in a soft voice. "You aren't allowed to say that anymore. You can feel that way if you want, but you are not to say that again. Is that understood?"

"Yes," Nick answered, breaking down in sobs again.

"Sweetheart, you haven't lost anything," Jim said as he stroked Nicks head and ran his fingers through his hair. "I still love you more than anything or anyone in this world. The love I have for James doesn't take away the love I have for you. You're always going to be my baby boy and nothing's going to change that."

Jim used a hand to lift Nicks head off of his shoulder and looked at his face. When Jim smiled at him, Nick smiled back and gave his dad a kiss.

"I love you," Nick said.

"I love you too, boy," Jim answered, giving Nick another kiss on the cheek. "Don't ever forget that, either."

"I won't," Nick promised. "Daddy?"

"Yes son," Jim said.

"Can Taylor spend the night tonight?," he asked.

"If it's okay with his parents, it's okay with me," Jim said. "You better get back in there with him, son."

With that, Nick got down and made his way back to his room, where Taylor was waiting. Nick sat back down on the beanbag next to Taylor, who he knew could probably tell that he had been crying, because he put his arm around Nicks shoulder and rubbed his back. Nick took a deep breath, closed his eyes and rested his head on Taylor's shoulder, and soon his headache, his sick stomach, the lump in his throat and his tears were all gone.







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