What's The Difference Between Me and You?

By Nick

Chapter Twenty Two


Nick lay on his bed and pulled his pillow over his head as he wept quietly, thinking about his dads last words to him and the look he gave him before he left the kitchen. He felt like he wasn't wanted anymore, the way James said his parents made him feel. The only difference that Nick could see between how he felt and how James felt was that maybe he deserved to be unwanted. He felt so ashamed of himself when he thought about the way he acted. He was out to hurt James because he was jealous. When he thought about it, that wasn't what he wanted to do.

When he heard his door open, he pulled the pillow down tighter over his head and turned to face the wall. The one person he didn't want to see was his dad, who he felt had betrayed him. The way his dad slapped him across the face made him feel worthless. It was the first time Jim had ever used his hand to hit him, and it was the first time he had ever been slapped across the face by his dad. Jim had never hit him out of anger before, and Nick wondered what he could have possibly done to deserve to be hit. Sure, he was saying hateful things, but only because Jim wanted them to settle everything. As far as Nick was concerned, he only did what his dad said they were going to do.

Nick felt his dad lay down next to him on the bed, so he reached back without ever turning away from the wall and pulled the covers up over his head, and then he put his hands back on the pillow to keep it tight against his head as well.

"I guess you're not speaking to me," Jim said with a sigh. "I can understand that, son."

Nicks only response was to try to scoot closer to the wall and further away from his dad, who he had no intention of forgiving. Unfortunately, for Nick, his dad simply moved closer again and pulled the covers back.

"Nick, I'm sorry that I hurt you, okay," Jim pleaded. "But you weren't being very fair to James, and I guess I just handled it wrong."

"Leave me alone," Nick sobbed.

"I'm not going to do that, son," Jim said firmly. "I already told you that we weren't going to bed until we settled this, and I meant it."

"Why did you hit me," Nick asked tearfully. "You didn't have to do that."

"I know," Jim admitted quietly. "I shouldn't have done that, son. You're right. But there's nothing we can do to change it now. We still have to work this out."

Nick sat up and looked at his dad, not able to believe what he had just said. He wondered how Jim could just expect him to forget about it and move on. His dad looked upset, even worried. His face was bright red and he was running his hands through his hair. When he noticed that Nick was looking at him, though, his expression changed. He looked relieved and nervous to Nick as he sat up himself and leaned up against Nick's headboard.

"Are you ready to talk about this," Jim asked. "James is waiting downstairs, and he still feels pretty awful."

"I'm glad," Nick said.

"Son, you can be mad at James for the fight you guys had," Jim said. "But you have no right to treat him badly because you're mad at me."

"It's all his fault," Nick said bitterly. "If he would've never come here, you wouldn't have hit me like that and pulled my hair."

Jim sat silently and looked at Nick for a moment. Nick could tell he was thinking hard about something, but he didn't know what it could be. Finally, Jim nodded and spoke again.

"Would it make you feel better if I let you hit me back," Jim asked. Without even thinking about the question, Nick slapped him over and over again across both cheeks, and then he reached out, grabbed his hair with both hands, and pulled it as hard as he could. When he finished, Jim wrapped both of his arms around him and gave him a hard hug.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," Jim said softly. "I'm sorry for everything."

"I want us to move back to Modesto," Nick sobbed. "Just us by ourselves."

"We can't do that, son," Jim said. "We're here now, Nick. We have family here, and you have school and I have my job and we have this house."

Hearing his dad tell him that there was no way that they could go back to Modesto was too much for Nick to handle. He fell apart in his dads arms, sobbing loudly and shaking.

"I want to go home," Nick cried. "Please, daddy. I don't like it here anymore. I want us to go back to how it was."

"I know you do, baby," Jim said as he rubbed Nicks back. "But you are home, son. We're still a family, Nick. I didn't leave you behind, and I didn't send you away, either. This is how it was, Nick."

"Tell him he can't do it anymore," Nick said.

"If you mean what I think you mean, you know I can't do that, son," Jim said.

"Why?" Nick asked with a new wave of sobs. "It's not fair."

"Because it wouldn't be fair to him, Nick," Jim said quietly. "I know you don't understand, son. But this is just how it's going to be."

Nick pulled back from his dad and in a rage, he slapped him again, hitting him over and over on each cheek, like he did moments before. Jim didn't make a move to stop him, either. Instead, he sat there and let Nick do what he wanted. When Nick finally stopped, he collapsed again in his fathers arms and sobbed loudly.

"Let it out, Nick," Jim said. "Everything's going to fine, son. Just let it out."

"Why did you do this to us?, Nick demanded through his tears. "Everything was good. Now it's not anymore. Why?"

"Nick, everything is still good," Jim explained. "I know you don't understand, son, but it is. As a matter of fact, everything's better than it was before."

"No it's not," Nick cried. "It's worse."

Nick felt his dad kiss him on top of his head and rock him back and forth, as he continued to cry. He really couldn't understand why things had to change, and he felt like his dad was doing things to make their lives worse on purpose. He didn't want James to call Jim dad, and he didn't want James to live with them anymore. He couldn't understand why James couldn't go live next door with his grandparents, instead. He also didn't believe that this would be what his mother would have done if she were still living.

Jim held him on the bed for what seemed like hours to Nick. He just wanted to hide in his dads arms and not come out again until they were home safe in Modesto, and he was riding his old bike to El Vista, and after school, coming home so that he could get in Jim's Schwan's truck and go with him until his route was done. Then they could go home, have dinner together, and relax in the recliner until he fell asleep and his dad could carry him to bed. Then the next day, they could make breakfast together and spend the morning together, all alone, eating and getting ready for their day. Nick felt so emotional as he thought about his life back home, and the days when he would come home and his Papu would be waiting for him because Jim had to take his Schwan's truck back to get it loaded and turn in all of his paper work and money. Now, all of that was gone and there was no way to ever go back.

They weren't going to the ocean anymore for abalone, and they weren't going fishing at Don Pedro reservoir anymore. They couldn't go to Nick's favorite Italian restaurant, Strings, and they couldn't go to his favorite taco truck in Modesto. He didn't get to smell the tomatoes from the cannery when it opened in the fall, and he wouldn't get to eat oranges off the tree in their backyard this winter. In the spring, they wouldn't work in the garden this year and be able to pick strawberries in May. It was football season, and Nick thought about the fact that this was the first time that he could remember that they weren't going to go see the Raiders play in Oakland. Everything was different now. He went to a school that didn't even have recess, and he hated his teacher. He had a few friends at school, but Taylor was his only friend outside of school.

Then his thoughts turned to Taylor, one of the reasons why he was glad they had moved to Virginia. If they had never moved, he and Taylor would have never met. That was a good thing in Nicks mind. Another reason why was Lori. He really did love her a lot, and he couldn't imagine what his life or his dads life would be like if she wasn't around anymore. Then he thought about his grandma and grandpa, and the baby they were going to have. He loved being close to them, and he couldn't wait until his uncle was born. The thought that he was going to have an uncle that was younger than he was made him smile. Then there was James.

The lump in Nick's throat grew bigger when he compared where he came from to where James came from. James didn't have any happy memories of his home. In fact, all of his memories were bad. Every time James talked about home, he either fell apart in front of everyone, or he would go to his room to be alone. Nick knew that when he went to his room, that he went there to cry by himself. James' grandparents were Tom's parents, who were both dead. He didn't know anything about James' grandparents from his dad's side, but he never brought them up, so he assumed that he just didn't have any grandparents.

The truth about James was that he had no one else. The only real family he had besides Tom, Linda and Nick was his parents, and they didn't want him. Nick thought about the horrible things he screamed at him in the kitchen, and then he thought about his cousin sitting alone in the family room with nowhere else to turn. Nick not only made him feel unwanted here, but he reminded him that he was unloved by his own dad. Nick felt like hiding again, but this time it was because he was so ashamed of himself for picking a fight with James tonight. His only purpose was to make James feel bad because he was jealous of him. But the truth was, he had nothing to be jealous of, and now he knew it all over again. The only person Nick had a reason to mad at besides himself right now was his dad. He looked up at his dad to tell him how mad he was at him when they heard the phone ring.

Nick listened with his dad as James answered the phone. When they didn't hear it ringing anymore, they sat still for a moment as they heard the sound of James' footsteps moving up the stairs.

"Here," James said, still teary eyed as he handed the phone to Jim. He turned and walked out of the room quickly. Nick concentrated on his footsteps as he headed back downstairs, but when Jim handed him the phone, Nick snapped out of it and took it from his dad.

"Hello?," he said as he put the receiver to his ear.

"Hi Nick," Taylor said on the other end.

"Hi," Nick said sweetly, suddenly feeling good about hearing Taylor's voice.

"I'm sorry I didn't come over," Taylor said. "My mom and dad said it was raining too hard."

"It's okay," Nick said. "You can come over tomorrow."

"I'll bring more of my candy to school," Taylor said.

"I'll ask if I can bring some to share with you too," Nick promised.

"What's wrong, Nick?," Taylor asked.

"Nothing," Nick fibbed. "I'm okay. I'm just having a talk with my dad."

"Are you in trouble for something?," Taylor asked.

"Not really," Nick said. "I think we're going to go back downstairs."

"Okay," Taylor said. "I think my dad needs to use the phone anyway."

"I'll see you tomorrow," Nick said

"Bye," Taylor said. Nick hung the phone up and handed it back to his dad, who took it and gave him a small smile.

"So you're ready to go downstairs?," Jim asked.

"I guess," Nick said.

"I love you, Nick," Jim said matter of factly. "I know you think I ruined your life, but trust me, son. Things are better for you. They're better for me too. You know what else?"

"What?," Nick asked, still pouting.

"They're better for James, too," Jim said. "That might not mean a lot to you, but it does to me. All of our lives are better now. One day I hope you can see that."

Nick used both of his hands to rubs his eyes, then he stood up so that Jim could get up and they walked down the stairs together. Nick made it to the family room before his dad did, and even though it was only for a moment, he felt awkward about being alone with James. James wasn't even trying to look away anymore. He gave Nick a hurt look that made him turn away just as Jim was coming around the corner and into the family room.

"Come sit with us, son," Jim said as he motioned for James to come to the couch, where Jim had taken a seat. He reached out for Nick, who simply moved closer to his dad but made no move to sit down. Finally, he pulled Nick to him and had him sit between his legs.

"Boys, we have got to talk this over," Jim said. "This time we're going to do this right. That means we aren't going to say anything hurtful. Is that understood?"

This time Nick knew that his dad was looking directly at him, waiting for an answer, so he nodded slowly. When he turned to face James, he saw the same hurt look that he saw when he came downstairs and he wondered what was going to happen and why he had to do this. He felt ashamed of himself for being so mean to his cousin. The truth was that James hadn't done anything to deserve the way Nick had treated him. Even when they fist fought, it was Nick who started it by making that hateful sign and hanging it on his door where James would find it. Before Nick could catch up with his thoughts and feelings, he got emotional again and started to cry.

"Why are you crying, son?," Jim asked gently. Nick turned and looked at his dad, who had a worried look on his face. Then he looked back at James, who looked miserable, and he shook his head and answered.

"It's all my fault," Nick cried pitifully, then he started to sob loudly again. Jim pulled his head to his chest and kissed him as stroked his hair.

"Don't cry, honey," Jim said sadly. "It's not you're fault. If anything, it's all my fault."

"No," Nick pleaded as he looked up at his dad. "I'm the one who started being mean and saying mean stuff to James. I didn't mean any of it, I swear. I'm sorry, James."

Nick was crying harder now that he finally apologized to his cousin. He said so many terrible things that he didn't know if he would be able to take back or not. He looked at James, who still hadn't replied, and his heart sank. James wasn't even facing him anymore. He was looking away from Nick, facing the hallway and not speaking. Nick buried his head back in Jim's chest and cried silently.

"James, do you have anything you'd like to say?," Jim asked. Instead of answering, James got up with his hand over his mouth and nose and walked toward the hallway. When he was out of their site, Nick heard him gasp and fall apart against the wall, crying hard. Jim scooted Nick off his lap and went to James while Nick laid face down on the couch and tried to pull himself together. Eventually, Jim came back with his arm wrapped around James, who seemed to be leaning on him for support and still crying. Nick curled up in the corner of the couch to give them room to sit down and he watched them sitting together. His cousin looked like he was about to be sick when he finally spoke.

"It's my fault, Nick, not yours," James said tearfully. "I'm the one who caused all of this, just like I messed everything up at home. My parents don't want me and now I messed up here and you don't want me either."

"No, son, that's not true," Jim said sadly, as he rubbed James' back. "You didn't mess anything up, James. Not with your parents, and not here. I love you so much, and I absolutely want you here."

"Nick, I won't call him dad if it makes you mad at me," James through his sobs. "I'm so sorry I made you hate me."

Nick looked up at his fathers face and saw a look of hurt and devastation that he had only seen one time before. That was the day his dad and his grandparents talked to him about his mom. He looked back at his cousin, who was also looking at Jim's face, and he knew what he had to do. It was the hardest thing in the world for him to bring himself to do, but he knew that he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't.

"But he is your dad," Nick said softly. "I want you to call him dad."

"No you don't," James answered. He was right. Nick didn't want James to call Jim dad, but Nick would feel like a real loser if he told James the truth about it.

"I do too," Nick said. "I'm sorry I was being so jealous. I just got my feelings hurt, that's all."

"You aren't just saying that?," James asked with an uncertain tone.

"I promise," Nick lied. "I do want you to call him dad. Promise me you will."

Nick laid his head back up against the couch and waited for his cousin to answer him. Jim looked down at James with a hopeful look, then at Nick with a warm smile.

"Okay, I promise," James said. Jim wrapped his free arm around James and hugged him tightly, kissing him on top of the head and telling him that he loved him.

"I love you too, dad," James said. "You're not mad at me, Nick?"

"No," Nick said sweetly. "I love you, James."

"I love you too, Nick," James said emotionally. Nick moved close enough to be able to give his dad a hug and a kiss.

"I love you daddy," Nick cried tearfully as his headache started to throb again at the thought of letting his chance to have James stop calling Jim dad slip away.

"I love you too, sweetie," Jim said as he took Nick into his arms. "I love the both of you more than I could ever say."

They spent the rest of the evening on the couch together. They kept the TV off until 9 o'clock, when Monday Night Raw came on. As they sat together and watched wrestling, Nick looked up at his dads face. He looked so happy and so proud to be sitting with the two of them. Nick knew that he would never be able to tell his dad that he was bothered by having to share James with him. Maybe Jim knew that it was always going to bug him. Either way, Nick knew that his dad had a special place in his heart for James that wasn't ever going away, and that he was going to have to learn to live with it.

As usual, James fell asleep first. Nick wasn't sure why, but James always fell asleep on the couch when they were watching TV. If the TV was off, he didn't seem to fall asleep as early, but if they were watching anything, forget it. James would be out like a light in no time. Before Nick knew it, 10 o'clock had rolled around and Raw is War was starting. That was usually when Jim would send them to bed, but for whatever reason, he never told Nick to go get ready for bed. Instead, he smiled down at Nick and gave his shoulder a squeeze, then he turned his attention back to the TV set.

"When's Miss Lori coming over, dad?," Nick asked. Normally, she would have shown up by now. Tonight, not only had she not shown up, but Jim didn't even seem to notice it.

"She came over this morning, son," Jim said. "She's on a different shift for now."

"She gets off of work later?," Nick asked.

"Yep," Jim said with a smile. "You'll be asleep when she gets off tonight."

"Wow," Nick said, somewhat amazed that she had to work into the night. It was never anything he had heard of before. Finally, after giving it some thought, he shrugged his shoulders and put his head back down against Jim's chest. During the Rakishi vs Val Venus match, Nick couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. When he opened his eyes, Jim was standing him up in front of the toilet.

"Come on, buddy," Jim said. "Go pee so I can get you to bed." Nick realized that he was already in his pajamas, so he pulled them down and peed for his dad, who messed his hair up affectionately as Nick pulled his pajama bottoms back up.

When they were done, Jim took his hand and said, "Let's go, you're sleeping with me tonight."

Nick didn't argue. Instead, he held his arms up so that Jim would pick him up and carry him to bed. He laid his head down on his dads shoulder and closed his eyes as they made their way down the hallway.

"I want my poohbear," Nick said sleepily as Jim laid him down. Nick smiled when his dad turned and walked back out of the room. He had Nicks Winnie the Pooh with him when he came back. He handed it to Nick and kissed him goodnight. Nick smiled up at his dad before he closed his eyes again. When he opened his eyes again, Jim was sitting in the bed next to him with a worried look on his face. The light was on in the room, but there was enough light coming through the windows for Jim to turn the light off if he wanted to.

"How do you feel, baby," Jim asked. Nick had to stop and think about it for a moment because his head was groggy and his eyes hurt.

"I'm cold," Nick finally answered.

"You have a temperature, son," Jim said. "I want you to lie back down and get some more rest."

Nick closed his eyes for what only seemed like a few moments to him when he felt Jim's hand on his cheeks and forehead.

"Open your mouth, buddy," Jim said as he held a thermometer up to Nicks lips. Nick did as he was told and when Jim put the thermometer under his tongue, he sat quietly while his dad sat next to him with a panicked look on his face. Finally, Jim took the thermometer out of Nick's mouth and looked like he wanted to faint. Nick rolled his eyes and lay back down. He knew that his dad was probably freaking out over nothing, but there was nothing he could do but try to relax. He closed his eyes one more time, and the next time he opened them, Jim was putting a sweater over his head and guiding his arms into the sleeves.

"Where are we going," Nick asked crankily as Jim wrapped him up in a blanket and hoisted him up.

"I'm taking you to the hospital, son," Jim said. "Your fever's getting too high."

"I don't want to go to the hospital," Nick whined. "I want to go back to bed."

Jim didn't say another word as he carried Nick out to the already running car and buckled him into the passenger seat. He pulled out of the driveway and as they started down the road, Nick closed his eyes and went back to sleep. During the trip there, Nick could hear his dad cussing as he made his way through traffic. He felt the car turn and stop, then he heard his dad turn it off, so he opened his eyes. Jim opened his door and lifted him out of his seat, then he practically ran to the emergency room entrance through the parking lot.

Nick was miserable as they waited to be seen. It actually didn't take very long, and soon he was on a bed in his own room with two doors. A nurse came in and saw them, took Nicks temperature, checked his blood pressure and walked out. A few moments later, a doctor came in and saw him. He asked a few questions that Nick wasn't paying any attention to, then he felt a few spots on Nick's neck and stomach, then he left. A few moments later, the nurse came back in to the room and handed Jim a prescription that the doctor wrote and showed them the way out.

On the way home, Jim stopped at a drug store near the oceanfront and filled Nick's prescription, then they drove home. When they got there, Tom came over right away to see how Nick was doing.

"How's my little buddy," Tom asked as he sat down on the edge of the love seat where Nick was laying down.

"I don't feel good, grandpa," Nick whined. Tom put his hand on Nick's forehead and sighed as Jim came into the family room with a measuring spoon and his medicine, some kind of pink liquid that Jim was pouring into the spoon.

"I need you to open up, son," Jim said. Nick opened his mouth and Jim poured the medicine in his mouth. The taste was horrible, and Nick almost spit it all back up. The only thing that stopped him was his dad's hand, which forced his mouth shut and his head back.

"Swallow," Jim said impatiently. Nick did as he was told, but he started crying as soon as he got it all down. He was already not feeling good, but then his dad made him take some kind of awful medicine that tasted like poison and snapped at him while he was forcing it down his throat. Jim already had a cup of water with him, so he handed it to Nick, who drank as much as he could to get the taste out of his mouth. Jim took the cup back to the sink while Tom held Nicks head up so that he could sit back, then he let Nick lay his head in his lap while he stroked his hair.

"It's okay, buddy," Tom told him as he wiped Nicks tears away. "I know you're sick, and that medicine tastes bad. But you need it so you can start feeling better."

Nick calmed down and snuggled up to his grandfather while Jim came in and sat down on the couch and opened his laptop.

"I haven't gotten anything done today," Jim said, sounding frustrated. "I'm just going to have to work through the night."

"Don't worry about it, son," Tom said in a reassuring tone. "There's no rush. It'll get done when it gets done. It's not going anywhere."

"I know," Jim said. "But I don't like to keep you guys waiting."

"You aren't," Tom said. "You're doing something more important right now. Just concentrate on that."

Nick watched for a while as his dad read something on his laptop, then he closed it and took it upstairs. Since Jim had quit working for Schwan's, Nick wondered what he did now, but he never asked. He also never asked what his grandfather did for a living, but he always wondered about that as well. It seemed like his grandpa would go to work, but whenever he needed to be home, he was. He knew that his dad worked at home now, but he didn't have any idea what he did or who he worked for. Now he could see that whatever Jim did, he was doing it with Tom.

"Hey buddy," Nick heard his dad say as he started to open his eyes again. "Come on in."

Nick yawned and sat up just in time to see Taylor walk into the family room with a smile on his face that faded when he saw that Nick was sick.

"Are you okay," Taylor asked.

"I have a fever," Nick said as cheerfully as he could, considering how bad he felt.

"I thought you were sick," Taylor said. "When you didn't come to the bus stop this morning."

"I had to go to the hospital," Nick said. "They made me lay in a bed and then I had to take this gross medicine that my dad keeps giving me."

Taylor made a funny face as he tried not to laugh at Nick's description of his medicine. Finally, his face lit up.

"Do you want to play a game," he asked.

"What game," Nick asked.

"Let's play Monopoly," Taylor said.

"Daddy," Nick called out. Jim almost ran into the family room as soon as Nick called him.

"What's wrong, son," he asked.

"Will you please get us Monopoly from my closet?," Nick asked. "We want to play."

Jim smiled and went upstairs to get the game for them. When he came back with it, he set it up for them and made Nick a small bed out of blankets and pillows on the floor so that he would be comfortable. They played for a while, but when Nick's eyes started to bother him, he had to stop. Taylor sat with him for a while longer, so he did his best to stay awake, but soon, it was getting close to Taylor's curfew and he had to leave.

Nick moved back to the love seat and looked into the kitchen where Jim was working on his laptop and James was doing his homework. He settled his head back down and watched the TV, but he couldn't concentrate on it for long. Soon, he fell asleep again. Jim woke him up a few more times that evening to take his temperature and to make him drink water or to give him his medicine, but other than that, Nick slept.

"Goodnight, dad," James said as Nick started to open his eyes.

"Goodnight, son," Jim said. "I'll be in a little bit up to tuck you in." Nick opened his eyes and saw his dad give James a kiss goodnight, then James turned around and went to his room. Nick was in Jim's arms in the recliner, and Jim was rocking him from side to side and looking down at him with a worried expression. He smiled though, when Nick smiled up at him.

"How's my baby," Jim asked softly, making Nick feel warm inside.

"I'm feeling okay," Nick said. Jim leaned down and kissed him on the forehead.

"You're still hot," he said. "Are you ready to go to bed? Or do you want to sit in daddy's lap for a while?"

"I want to sit in your lap, daddy," Nick said, enjoying the attention he was getting. Jim started rocking him from side to side again, so Nick closed his eyes and let himself fall asleep, knowing that he was safe in his fathers arms. He felt Jim stand up and start walking, so he opened his eyes and noticed that they were heading back upstairs. He felt his dad lay him down, and without even opening his eyes, he knew he was back in Jim's room. He curled up to a pillow and closed his eyes again while his dad took a shower. When the water stopped, Nick opened his eyes and watched his dad get ready for bed. He put on a tee shirt and some boxers, then he slid his sweat pants on and brushed his hair. When he walked out of the room, Nick knew he was tucking James in like he promised he would. He let his eyes close again, just for a moment though, because soon Jim was back. He got in the bed, wrapped both of his arms around Nick, and pulled him close.

"I love you, Nick," Jim said as he planted a kiss on Nicks cheek.

"I love you too," Nick said quietly as he felt Jim's arms locking around his body, making him feel safe and helping him fall back to sleep.

The next morning Nick got out of his dads bed and staggered to the bathroom. He almost didn't make it in time to not wet his pants, just getting his pajamas unzipped in time to pull his tally-whacker out and aim it . He knew that he sprayed the seat and probably got more pee outside the toilet than in it, but he was still relieved not to have an accident. He tried to zip his pajamas back up but he was still groggy and having a hard time with it, so he just went back to the bed so he could lay down. It was dark outside still, but when he looked at Jim's alarm clock, he could see that it was almost 6:30 in the morning. The smell of toast and coffee was coming from the kitchen and drifting up the stairs and into Nick's nostrils, making him restless, so he got up and slowly made his way down the stairs to the family room, where he curled up alone in the recliner and listened to Jim and James talking in the kitchen.

"So, what am I going to see on your report card, James," Jim asked.

"I'm not sure, sir," James answered with a shy voice.

"Well, whatever it is, just be honest with me son," Jim urged him. "If I know that you're at least trying, I'm not going to ground you or come down on you hard. But you can't lie to me and your teachers, son. I'm not going to put up with that."

"Yes sir," James said again. He was talking in such a small voice that Nick could barely hear him from the family room.

"Do you think there's something I should know about before I see it," Jim asked.

"I don't know, dad," James answered sadly.

"Alright," Jim said finally. "Don't worry about it, babe. No matter what, it'll be okay. Just eat your breakfast, son."

Nick climbed out of the recliner and walked into the kitchen, where his dad and James were sitting at the breakfast bar eating. Jim was organizing James' folders and putting them in order in his backpack.

"Hey buddy, you're up too," Jim said with a smile when he saw Nick, but his smile faded when he saw that Nick's pajamas weren't zipped up anymore. "What happened, son? Did you have an accident?"

"No sir," Nick answered as his dad felt his legs and crotch to see if he was wet. "I made it, but I couldn't zip my jammies back up."

Jim lined up the teeth on Nicks pajamas and pulled the zipper up, then he lifted Nick into his lap and gave him a kiss. Nick took a couple of bites off of his dads toast, but he wasn't really hungry, so he just clung to his dad's chest and warmed up. Eventually, Jim took him back into the family room and made him a bed on the love seat like he had the day before. Nick watched from the love seat as his dad got James ready to leave for school.

"Are you all set, buddy?" Jim asked.

"Yes sir," James said.

"You have enough money in your account for lunch?" he asked. James smiled and nodded, so Jim spun his stool around and wiped his face off with a napkin.

"I love you dad," James said sweetly.

"I love you to, son," Jim said. "Give me a kiss."

James gave Jim a kiss on the cheek as Jim was lifting him off of the stool for a hug.

"Have a good day at school, son," Jim said. "I'll see you when you get home."

With that, Jim helped James put his backpack over his shoulders and saw him to the door. When Jim came back into the family room, Nick smiled at his dad and sat up. Jim sat down and Nick made his way to his lap, where he stayed all morning. He fell asleep a couple of times, and Jim had to take him to the bathroom a few times, but he still made it a point not to leave his dads lap unless he had to. The closeness was making him feel better, almost like it was medicine he couldn't get from a doctor. Jim was rubbing Nicks legs and his arms and his back, and every once in a while he would rub his nose up against Nicks nose and give him a kiss.

"Let's listen to some music, son," Jim said after a while. He got up with Nick in his arms and walked over to his stereo, where he pressed play to see what was in his tape player. It was a Tupac Shakir tape that they both loved. Jim fast-forwarded it, stopping every once in a while to see where the tape was. Finally, he found the song he wanted, so he positioned Nick so that his head was resting on his shoulder and he took one of Nick's hands in his so that when the song started, they could dance. The song was called Words To My Firstborn, and Nick smiled as Jim held him close and danced with him on his shoulder. It was a really thoughtful song, and the horn that was playing in the background made it romantic. Nick closed his eyes and imagined that his dad was rapping in Tupac's place as they moved around the room to the rhythm of the music that Tupac was rhyming to. Nick took a deep breath and clung tightly to his dad's neck as he heard the horn serenade him and make him feel secure. Finally the last verse played and Nick looked into his dad's eyes, which were moistening. Jim had a strong look of love and devotion on his face as Nick looked deep into his eyes. Jim mouthed the words of the entire last verse to him, and as he did, Nick's heart melted. In his heart, he knew that this level of love was reserved for him and him only. He knew that he didn't have anything to worry about with James. There was no way that Jim could have this kind of love in his heart for anyone but Nick, and he knew it. At the end of the song, the horn wound down and as it did, Jim planted a kiss on Nick's lips and gave him a long hug.

"I love you baby," Jim said.

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

"Every time I hear that song, I think about you," Jim said. "Nobody else. Just you. I want you to know that."

"I do," Nick said, feeling a large lump forming in his throat.

"Good," Jim said. "Daddy's always going to be here for you. As long as I'm living, I'll be by your side."

Nick laid his head back down on Jims shoulder and cried softly. He wasn't sad at all. He was just so overwhelmed with emotion that he couldn't help himself. He felt like he loved his dad so much at that moment that he felt like nothing would ever tear them apart. He felt his dad kiss him on top of his head as he lay there and cried, so he squeezed harder with his arms and legs, hugging his dad with all of his might until his eyes got heavy again and he fell asleep







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