What's The Difference Between Me and You?
Chapter Twenty One
"Hey no fair!" Nick exclaimed with a laugh as Jim
grabbed a handful of candy from his bag. "That's my candy."
"Yeah, yeah," Jim said as he stuffed two miniature candy bars in his mouth. "I have to check it for you."
"You're silly, dad," Nick said with a smile. "You're not supposed to check it that way."
With that, Nick dumped his bag of candy out on the floor of the family room. It was a Sunday night, but Jim kept Nick and James out trick or treating late, going from door to door until people started turning their porch lights out. Charles and Taylor actually started out with them, but as it got late, they all made their way back toward base housing where they lived, then from there, Nick, his dad and James worked their way back home, hitting the houses that were on the way.
"I can't believe how good we did," James exclaimed as he dumped his bag out on the floor and let Jim examine his candy for any weird looking wrappers.
"I'm glad we got you a costume this year, son," Jim said. "No one knew the difference."
James smiled mischievously at Jim and Nick, then he looked back down at his pile.
"Can I eat some tonight, dad," Nick asked as he sorted his chocolate candy bars from his hard candy.
"Just a little bit, boys," Jim said. "Then you need to go get ready for bed."
With that, Nick recklessly ripped open about nine of his miniature candy bars and stuffed them in his mouth as Jim shook his head and rolled his eyes with a smile. They put their candy away and ran upstairs together to brush their teeth and change out of their costumes. When they finished, they tore back down the stairs, trying to beat each other to the kitchen, where Jim was waiting for them with their vitamins.
"Alright, let's go settle down for a little bit," Jim said when they were done chewing their vitamins. The three of them went back into the family room and sat down together on the couch to relax with the TV off and talk about the day.
"Did you two have fun?" Jim asked as Nick and James sat down with him, each taking a side.
"Yes sir," Nick answered. "I'm glad it got dark early so we could be out longer."
"Well, it's going to be getting a lot darker a lot earlier now, son," Jim said. "That means you have to come inside earlier than you did before. How about you, James? Did you have fun?"
James smiled and nodded, and then he rested his head up to Jim's chest. James was always quiet at the end of the day, which was when Jim liked to talk for a while with both of them, but usually, James would just listen while Nick and his dad talked. To Nick, he looked like he was relaxing and he would only talk if someone talked to him first. It seemed like he was content to be there with Jim and Nick, and that the closeness was enough to keep him happy.
"Who wants to pray tonight?," Jim asked.
"I will," Nick volunteered.
"Okay, son," Jim said. James, Nick and Jim all joined hands and closed their eyes, and Nick prayed. When he was done, they all said Amen. They sat for a little while longer on the couch, then it was time to go upstairs.
"I love you, sweetheart," Jim said as he pulled the covers up over Nick and gave him a goodnight kiss.
"I love you too, daddy," Nick said. "I'll see you in the morning."
Jim got up and walked out of Nick's room, closing the door on the way out. Nick closed his eyes and thought about his day. He had a good time trick or treating with Taylor and James and his dad and Charles. Even though James was a year too old, Jim bought him a costume and let him trick or treat anyway.
Earlier in the day, they were throwing the football outside, and Jim had to teach James how to catch it and throw it. It was kind of shocking to Nick that James' father had never taught him how to catch or throw a football. Before that, they had gone to church and Nick gave 10 dollars of his own money to the church by putting it in the offering plate when it came around. Nick smiled as he thought about all of the candy he scored earlier on, and he wondered to himself just how long he was going to be able to make it last.
That was the last thing Nick remembered thinking about before he sat straight up in his bed and gasped. He looked around his room, but his eyes hadn't focused yet, and he couldn't figure out where he was. He sat on the edge of his bed and called out for Jim in a panic.
"What's wrong, son?," Jim asked as he turned on the light in Nicks room. Nick didn't answer right away because he was crying. Finally, when Jim sat down on the bed with him he wrapped his arm around Nick's shoulders and gave him a squeeze, he started to calm down and could talk.
"I had a nightmare," Nick wept.
"What was it about?," Jim asked softly.
"I can't remember," Nick sobbed
"Come on, babe," Jim said as he stood up and took Nicks hand. "You can sleep with me tonight."
As they made their way down the hallway, Jim took Nick into the bathroom and had him pee before he took him to his bedroom. On the way from the bathroom to Jim's room, James came out of his room half-asleep.
"What's wrong, dad?," James asked.
"Nick had a nightmare," Jim said. "He's okay, though, son. You can go back to sleep."
"Okay," James said as he made his way to the bathroom. Jim lifted Nick into his bed when they got to his room and crawled in next to him, but he left the light on so that Nick wouldn't be scared.
"I think you ate too much candy," Jim said. "That's why you had a nightmare."
Nick lay on his stomach and sniffled while Jim rubbed his back. He heard the toilet flush and right afterward, James came into Jim's room.
"I just wanted to say goodnight again," James said.
"Goodnight, buddy," Jim said. "I love you and I'll see you in the morning."
"I love you too, dad," James said, then he climbed up onto the bed, gave Nick a kiss on the cheek, and smiled at him. "I love you too, Nick."
"I love you, James," Nick said, and he even managed a small smile for his cousin. Jim gave James a kiss goodnight before he went back to bed, then he turned off his light and lay down again. Before long, Nick fell back asleep.
The next morning, Jim's alarm clock went off at 5:30, bringing Nick out of his sleep and whatever dream he was having. He watched as his dad pulled himself up just far enough to reach out and hit the snooze button, then put his head back down on the pillow and went back to sleep. Nick smiled and crawled over his dad and made his way to his bathroom. When he was done peeing, he crawled back into bed with his dad and curled up with him.
"Did you go potty, son?," Jim asked sleepily.
"Yes," Nick said. "I'm cold now."
Jim wrapped his arms around Nick to warm him up. Just as Nick was starting to relax, he heard Jim's alarm clock go off again.
"Shit," Jim griped as he hit the snooze button again. "I guess it's time for me to get up, son,"
Nick groaned as the cold air hit him when Jim pulled the covers back to get out of bed. He lay in the bed under the covers while his dad went into the bathroom, then he cringed when he heard Jim yell at him.
"Boy, I was there when you were born," Jim hollered. "I know you weren't born in a damn barn! Lift the seat next time!"
Nick closed his eyes again when he heard the shower starting, but he didn't get to rest long.
"Let's go, son," Jim said as he pulled back the covers. "You didn't have a shower last night. Get in with me."
Nick whined all the way to the shower, where Jim stripped him down and made him get in. He stood still with his eyes closed while his dad washed his hair and scrubbed him from head to toe. When they were done, Jim got dressed and took Nick to his room, where he picked out an outfit and dressed him in it. Then he walked across the hall, opened James' door, and told him it was time to wake up. Nick heard the shower starting as he and Jim made their way downstairs to start breakfast.
Before James could get out the door, Jim went through his back pack and checked to make sure that he had done all of his homework. He'd organized James's folders so that he could find what he needed for each class and he told James to make sure that he brought all of his work home with him.
"By the way, James," he said. "I know you're getting your report card this week. I expect you to have it with you on Wednesday."
"Yes sir," James said. With that, James was out the door, on his way to the bus stop while Jim tied Nick's shoes for him on the couch.
"You know, you're getting to be a pretty big boy for daddy to keep having to do this for you," Jim said. "I know you know how to tie your own shoes, son."
"No I don't," Nick fibbed with a grin on his face. "I forgot."
Jim gave Nick a sarcastic smile and sighed, then he finished tying his shoes for him.
"Do you want to take your lunch today or buy your lunch?," Jim asked. Before Nick answered, they walked over to the refrigerator and looked at the lunch calendar that was stuck to the front.
"It's taco day," Nick said with a smile. "I'll buy my lunch."
"Let me give you a check," Jim said. "Make sure you give it to Miss Fritzen so she can add it to your account, okay?"
"Okay, I will sir," Nick said. One of the things Nick had to learn when they moved to Virginia was his PIN number for the cafeteria. In California, he had a card that got stamped everyday. Before lunch, his teacher would pass cards out to students who would carry them to the cafeteria and hand them to the lunch woman. Here in Virginia, he had a code that he had to enter on a pad, and when his account was getting low, the lunch woman would tell him.
Jim wrote the check and made Nick put it in his front pocket, then they walked to the bus stop together, where Taylor was already waiting. He was always the first one there in the morning. Nick was usually second, then the other kids in the neighborhood would start to show up.
"We went to some more houses last night," Nick bragged as he walked up to Taylor. "We have a lot of candy."
Taylor set his backpack down on the sidewalk and unzipped it, taking out a candy bar and opening it to eat. Nick gasped in shock. He looked at his dad, who looked back at him and shook his head no. Somehow, Jim knew exactly what Nick was thinking. He wanted to run home and get his candy so that he could have it at school, but he also knew that his dad wouldn't have it. Nick dropped his shoulders in defeat and watched as Taylor ate his candy with a smile.
On the bus, Taylor dug another candy bar out of his backpack and handed it to Nick, who smiled sweetly at him and accepted it.
"Thanks," Nick said.
"You're welcome," Taylor said. "I brought enough for both of us."
"If you're eating candy, that's fine," the bus driver said over the speakers through her CB. "But if I find any wrappers on the floor, I'm not going to let you do it again."
Nick looked around the bus and noticed that almost everyone was eating Halloween candy. Taylor handed him another candy bar, and he promptly ate it and stuffed the wrapper in his backpack. When they got to school, they ate about three more candy bars on the way to their classroom. None of the teachers who were standing in the hallway said anything, much to Nick's surprise. He knew that if he were still at El Vista, he would be in serious trouble if he were caught with Halloween candy.
After school, as Nick and Taylor were walking toward the bus, one of their classmates, Tory, walked up and handed them both invitations to his birthday party, which he was having at Chuck E Cheese in two weeks.
"I didn't even know there was a Chuck E Cheese around here," Nick said to Taylor as they read the invitations again on the bus. "I love it there."
"I've never been there before," Taylor said. "What is it?"
"Never?," Nick asked, hardly able to believe that Taylor had never been to a Chuck E Cheese before. "It's awesome. You'll see."
When they got off the bus, Jim was waiting. Nick ran up to him and excitedly showed him the invitation. Taylor walked home with them, then Jim and Nick gave him a ride to his house. Jim said it was too cold for him to have to walk all that way and that he didn't mind driving him home. Nick was a little embarrassed by it, but Taylor seemed to appreciate it. On the way to Taylor's, Nick made sure that Taylor was coming over later.
"I have to give you some of my candy since you shared with me today," Nick reminded him.
"I didn't mind sharing," Taylor said. "But I'll come over in a little while, if it's okay with you, Mr. J"
"Of course it is, buddy," Jim said. "If you want, we can wait."
"That's okay, sir," Taylor said. "My mom wants to spend some time with me for a while today."
"Alright, pal," Jim said. "We'll see you in a little bit, then."
"Bye, Taylor," Nick said as Taylor got out. Taylor smiled at him and waved, and Nick felt his head get light for a moment as Jim pulled away from the sidewalk and drove out of base housing. As they passed the golf course on their left and turned through the curve, they could see James' school bus pulling away from the bus stop. Jim made another left turn onto the street they lived on and when he did, they saw James walking down the road, holding hands with a girl he went to school with.
Nick looked at his dad in shock, and Jim had a small grin on his face as he passed them and turned into the driveway.
"Does James have a girlfriend?," Nick asked his dad, not sure about what he was seeing.
"To hell if I know," Jim said sarcastically. "You'll have to ask him."
As James and the girl got closer to the house, he turned and gave her a small hug, and she crossed the road before she continued down the street.
"Who's that, buddy?," Jim asked curiously.
"That's my friend Kim," James said happily.
"Is she your friend, or your....," Jim started to ask, but James cut him off.
"We're just friends, dad," he said, rolling his eyes.
"Okay," Jim said defensively but with a smile. "I was just wondering. I thought it was kind of odd to see you holding hands with a girl."
James grinned and said, "She's my best friend at school."
When they got inside, James put his backpack on the kitchen table and went upstairs while Nick took his backpack to the family room and opened it, taking out his class work for the day and separating it from the homework he had to do that night.
Jim sat down with him and they went through his class work together.
"Your hand writing is getting so much neater, son," Jim said. "I'm so proud of you."
"I've been practicing, daddy," Nick bragged. "Do you want to watch me write something?"
"Sure, babe," Jim said. "Let's go in the kitchen and sit at the table so you can have a hard surface to write on."
Nick pulled a blank piece of paper out of his binder, sat down in front of it at the table, and started to write in cursive as his dad watched. Jim was reading what he was writing word for word, so Nick decided to write his dad a note in the next paragraph saying that he loved him. Just as he was starting the paragraph, James came in and unzipped his backpack.
"I've been working on something in wood shop," he said, grabbing Jim's attention. He pulled a small carving that said dad in all capital letters and handed it to Jim with a shy smile. Jim gasped at first in shock, then he smiled warmly at James and sighed.
"You made this, son?," Jim asked.
"I made it for you, dad," James said. Jim's eyes were moistening as he turned it and looked it over. He had a proud look on his face as he sat it down on the table and looked at it.
"Come here, buddy," Jim said warmly as he held his arms out for James to give him a hug. "I love you, son."
"Do you like it?," James asked as he gave Jim a hug.
"I love it," Jim said. "I'm going to find a special place to put this."
Nick glared at the two of them as Jim got up from the table and walked into the family room with James, taking the carving with him. He couldn't believe that Jim was making such a big deal over the carving that James made for him, and he was especially hurt about the fact that his dad was now ignoring him. He read the few sentences that he had managed to write while James was still taking the carving out of his backpack, then he got mad, crumbled the paper up, and threw it across the kitchen.
He put all of his homework in his backpack and zipped it up, then he took it upstairs with him to his room. He closed his door and sat down at his desk and started his homework, feeling hurt and angry. He thought about how his dad spoiled James, and he wondered to himself if it was because James was always getting into some kind of trouble. If he wasn't getting detention at school, he was getting bad grades or being grounded for something at home. He always talked back to Jim and anytime Jim sent him to his room, he would slam his door. Nick knew that if he did any of that, he would be in serious trouble.
Then another thought crossed his mind. Actually, it was more of a plan. Nick smiled to himself, then he finished his homework as fast as he could. When he was done checking it to make sure all of his answers were right, he organized it as neatly as he could and put it in his backpack before he took it downstairs.
"Here, daddy," Nick said sweetly as he handed Jim his backpack. "I'm all done."
Jim opened Nicks backpack and smiled as he went through all of his work. Nick watched carefully as his dad looked everything over. When he was sure that Jim didn't find any mistakes, he turned his attention to James, who looked frustrated as he was trying to work out a math problem on scrap paper. James was in all remedial classes, and he was basically as far along as Nick was in almost every subject.
"What's wrong, James?," Nick asked arrogantly as he watched James struggle. "I know what you need to do." As Nick strutted around the table and watched his cousin get frustrated, he smiled to himself and occasionally, he would make a smart remark. He never offered to help or explain anything to him, though.
"How come you can't do division yet?," Nick asked in a cocky tone. "I'm doing harder problems than that."
"Nick, that's enough," Jim said as he got up to start dinner. As soon as he was sure that Jim wasn't paying attention, Nick started making fun of his cousin again.
As time slowly passed, James was getting more and more discouraged with himself. Just when he looked like he was on the verge of tears, Jim walked up from behind Nick, catching him off guard by grabbing three fingers worth of his hair and giving it a hard couple of tugs, jerking Nicks head back and forth.
"I know you aren't still doing what I think you're doing, boy!," Jim snapped impatiently as he tugged on Nick's hair. "Do yourself a favor and get out of the kitchen before I put the belt to your ass!"
With that, Nick cleared out as fast as he could with a smile on his face. Even though Jim pulled his hair, he was so happy that he had succeeded in tearing down James that he was feeling triumphant. He sat down on the love seat and watched while Jim sat down next to James and tried to explain how to do long division. James was starting to break down now, and Nick knew it. He watched with amusement as his cousin dropped his pencil and started to cry. Jim looked defeated as he picked up the pencil and paper and worked out the problems for James, then told him to copy his work in his own handwriting.
"If you ever do that again," Jim said angrily as he stood over Nick in the family room. "I'll take every toy you have, plus your TV and your computer and your play station and I'll give it all away. Do you understand me? Wipe that smile off of your face!"
Before Nick could answer, Jim turned and stormed back into the kitchen. Nick stood up and headed upstairs to his room.
"Fuck him," Nick said to himself tearfully. "Fuck them both."
He got upstairs and slammed his door, then he sat down at his desk and took out a piece of paper. He grabbed a black crayon and wrote in as large of writing as he could, I HATE JAMES.
Then he turned it over and wrote the same thing on the other side, then he snapped every one of his crayons in half and threw them in his waste paper basket. He took a piece of tape out of his desk drawer and attached it to the paper, then he opened his door and taped it to the outside. Then he slammed his door again and laid back down on his bed and tearfully wished bad things would happen to him so that his dad couldn't be mean to him anymore.
After laying on his bed and sulking for a while, Nick calmed down when he heard footsteps coming up the stairs. He knew that they weren't Jim's footsteps because they were too light. It was James. Nick knew that James would have to walk past his door to get to his room, and if he walked past his door, he wouldn't be able to miss the sign. Nick smiled to himself again, knowing that James would see the sign and most likely get his feelings hurt.
"I'm telling," Nick heard from the hallway. He got up and opened the door to find James standing in front of his door with an upset look on his face.
"Go ahead," Nick said calmly. "I don't care. Fuck you."
James gasped, then he snapped back. "Fuck you too, Nick."
"Go to hell, James," Nick said. "I hate your guts!"
"I hate you too, you little fucking brat!," James shot back. With that, James reached out, pushed Nick into the wall, and tried to corner him.
"I'll kick your ass!," Nick shouted as James tried to force him to the ground by grabbing his hair with both hands. Nick responded to the attack by punching James in the eye. James instantly let go of Nick's hair and covered his eye with both hands, and when he turned away, Nick unloaded on his back, punching him as hard as he could and cussing at him the whole time.
By the time Jim made it up the stairs, Nick had James facing the wall as he landed body shot after body shot. Nick knew how to find someone's kidney, and he was purposely landing as many punches to James' kidneys as he could when Jim grabbed him and pulled him off. James was crying as he turned and snatched the sign Nick made off his door and tried to give it to Jim, who was still trying to calm Nick down, so James cursed at Nick one more time before he staggered in obvious pain to his room.
"Fuck you, Nick," James sobbed on his way down the hall with the sign in his hand.
"James, that's enough!," Jim said sharply. "Nick, I want to know what happened, and I want to know now!"
Nick knew from his dads tone that he was deadly serious, so he told his side of the story.
"I was just being alone in my room when James started yelling at me," Nick cried, feeling scared that he was going to be whipped for fighting. "He said something mean, then he said the F word to me, then he tried to beat me up."
"I heard him say the F word, son," Jim said calmly. "I'll take care of that. Why did he say something mean to you?"
"He was mad at me," Nick answered. With that, Jim turned and headed down the hall to James' room with fire in his eyes. Nick went back in his room and waited for his dad to come back with the sign he made. Nick knew it was inevitable. James had it and he promised that he was going to tell on him. Nick wondered to himself how many times he would be whipped for this, or if he would have everything in his room taken away and given away like Jim had threatened earlier.
"Let's go," Jim said when he popped his head back in Nick's room. "Dinner's ready."
During dinner, James never looked at Nick, who was giving his cousin dirty looks and hoping for some kind of a confrontation the whole time. Finally, Jim gave Nick a warning look, then he spoke up.
"Let's get something straight right now," Jim said sternly. "I'm not going to break your fights up anymore. I don't care who wrote what, or who said what to who. The next time I catch you guys fighting in the house, I'm going to wait until you're finished, then I'm going spank the both of you for not having enough respect for my brand new house not to fight inside. Do you guys understand me?"
"Yes sir," James said quietly with a shameful look on his face.
"Nick?," Jim said with an impatient tone.
"Yes sir," Nick answered.
"Good," Jim said. "After dinner, you two are going to talk this out and you aren't going to bed until this is settled."
Nick looked James in the eye and smiled. He had plans to rip into James, and to tell him exactly how he felt. He knew that Jim might ground him, or even whip him, but he was past the point of caring. For his part, James looked nervous and scared. He barely touched his food and looked away when Nick made eye contact with him. When they were finished eating, Nick felt a little nervous, but he was still ready. Jim got up and cleared the table while Nick and James sat in silence. Finally, Jim finished putting the dishes in the sink and sat back down.
"So who wants to start?," Jim asked the both of them.
"I will," Nick said eagerly.
"Okay, is that alright with you, James?," Jim asked. James nodded and looked at Jim nervously, so Jim spoke again. "You don't have anything to be nervous about, James. Your fight is over. Now you guys are talking this out. Nick, why don't you start by telling James why you think you guys had a fight."
"It was because he was yelling at me from the hallway," Nick said, looking at his dad. "Then I opened the door and he kept yelling at me and he cussed and said that F word."
"You said it first," James said defensively. "You said you hated me. He even made a sign that said he hates me and hung it on his door."
"Is that true, Nick," Jim asked, looking at Nick disbelievingly.
"I guess it is," Nick admitted. "But he makes me mad the way he always gets his way."
"What do you mean?," Jim asked somewhat defensively himself.
"I mean you treat him better than you treat me, and I hate it!," Nick yelled at his dad. "I was trying to show you something today and you just ignored me as soon as James came in here with his stupid thing from school that he made you! You aren't even his real dad!"
"Goddamn it Nick!," Jim shouted as he jumped up out of his chair, making it tip over. "What the fuck have I told you about that?"
Jim was shaking as he pointed his finger at Nick and almost screamed his next words at the top of his lungs.
"I am his dad," Jim roared furiously. "He is just as much a part of this family as you or I. You have no right to say that he isn't."
Nicks eyes were blazing as he got up and almost in his dads face and shouted back at him.
"No you aren't," Nick screamed. "You're supposed to be my dad. Why do you love him instead of me?"
As soon as Nick spit his words out, Jim reached out and slapped him across the face. It wasn't a hard slap, but it was enough to stun Nick, who couldn't believe what his dad just did. Instead of stopping, though, he turned all of his anger and hatred toward James.
"This is all your fault," he screamed at his cousin. "I hate your guts! Go back to Tennessee!"
"Take it back, Nick," Jim warned him in a shaky voice. "Take it all back now!"
"No!," Nick shouted at his dad, who reached out to slap him again but stopped himself. Jim was taking deep breaths, and Nick knew that he was trying to calm himself down. James had tears streaming down his cheeks and he looked devastated.
"James, Nick doesn't mean what he's saying," Jim told him in a panicked tone. "He's just mad."
"I do too mean it!," Nick screamed as he started to sob. "I hate you! I hate you both!"
Nicks head was throbbing as he watched his dad walk over to James' side of the table and stand next to his nephew. He was so mad and felt so betrayed by his dad that he couldn't stop himself from yelling when Jim told James to stand up for himself.
"James, I am your dad, and I love you," Jim said. "You need to fight back. I'm right here, son."
"He's not your dad!," Nick yelled hatefully. "He's my dad! Your dad doesn't want you!"
"James, stand up to him now!," Jim said forcefully. James looked at Nick with an angry glare as his tears streamed down his cheeks and he spoke.
"My dad does too want me," James said sadly, sounding like he was trying to convince himself more than anything else. "He's right here."
"No!," Nick snapped viciously. "Your dad hates you. My dad is the one who loves you."
James started to cry hard, but Jim snapped him out of it.
"Don't let him do this to you, James," Jim warned him. "You know what the truth is, son. Tell him that he's wrong."
"You're wrong, Nick," James said in a defeated tone. "He's my dad too."
"No he's not!," Nick shouted. "I'm not sharing with you! He's mine!"
"Stop it!," James yelled, almost in a pleading voice. "Why do you hate me?"
"Because I do!," Nick shouted. "You think you're so great, but you aren't! I'm smarter than you, too! My homework's harder than yours, and I was done first! You're in retard classes!"
James was finished and Nick knew it. He had nothing left, so he gave up and sobbed loudly. When Jim told him to fight back, he simply cried harder and buried his face in Jim's stomach.
"I hope you're proud of yourself," Jim said disgustedly as he wrapped his arms around James. "Get out of my site."
Nick turned and walked away from the table. When he got to the family room, he turned back to look again, and his dad gave him a look that told him that he was disappointed in him. Nick looked at the floor, then turned back around and walked to the stairs so that he could go upstairs and sulk in his room.
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