What's The Difference Between Me and You?
Chapter Twenty Four
Authors Note: I get a lot of email, and I make it a point to answer each one. If you've recently (or not so recently) sent me an email and haven't gotten a reply, it's because the reply I sent was returned to me as undeliverable. Please unblock my email address so I can send you a reply.
The look on Jim's face
made Nick panic. He had a sense that something was definitely wrong and that he
needed to be out of the way, so he sat down on the couch and watched as chaos
erupted around him. Jim walked out of the front door and before Nick could get
up to see where his dad was heading, Linda walked through the hallway and into
the family room as he heard the engine of his dads Bronco 2 start up.
"Did James run away?" Nick asked nervously as his grandmother bit her fingernails.
"Don't worry, sweetheart," Linda said in a soothing voice. "Daddy and grandpa are going to find him."
"He's mad at my dad," Nick said sadly. "He got whipped today for beating up Taylor."
"Again?" Linda asked in a disbelieving voice. "Why was he beating Taylor up this time?"
"Because Taylor caught the football and James got mad," Nick said. "My dad grounded him and took his PlayStation away, too."
Nick studied his grandmother's face as she sat silently, not seeming to be paying attention to what Nick had just said. It was obvious to Nick that she was worried, even though she didn't let him know that. The next hour was uncomfortable as Nick kept on walking into the kitchen to look out the window for his dad, hoping that he would be back soon and that he would have James with him.
When the timer went off on the stove, Nick was startled. Linda took the pan out of the oven and set it on the stovetop before she removed the foil cover to allow the dish to cool.
"Sit down, sweetheart," Linda said as she brought Nick a plate of food.
"I'm not hungry grandma," Nick sighed, and he wasn't. He was feeling nervous and his stomach was twisted up. Linda put the plate down on the table and took a cup down from the cupboard to pour Nick something to drink, then she sat down in a chair next to him.
"I know you're upset, Nick," she said. "But everything's going to be fine. James couldn't have gotten far. Did he say anything about where he might have gone?"
"He said he hated it here and he wanted to go home," Nick said sadly. "How long will it take him to go home?"
"To Tennessee?" Linda asked. "Is that where he said he wanted to go?"
"Yes ma'am," Nick answered. Just then the phone rang, and Linda picked it up right away. Nick wondered what was wrong when she didn't speak right away, and he got even more confused when she pressed a button on the number pad.
"James, are you okay," she asked, and Nick's heart sped up for a moment. "Where are you at?"
Nick tried to listen hard enough to hear what his cousin was saying, but he couldn't quite make it out.
"Honey, just stay put," she said. "We'll be there."
Nick let out a sigh of relief. He watched as his grandmother listened and nodded, almost as if James were right there in the room, talking to her.
"Don't worry about that right now, James," Linda said. "Everything's going to be fine, I promise. No one's mad at you. We're just worried and we want you home."
Nick knew what James was worried about. He was wondering the same thing to himself. Would Jim whip him again? Would he be so angry that he would want to send him away? Maybe he would ground James even longer than he already had. None of that seemed fair to Nick anymore, but he knew better than to say anything about it. Jim would tell him to mind his own business, and he might even be whipped himself for taking James' side.
"I love you too, sweetheart," Linda said. "I want you to stay on the line with me, okay? Don't hang up."
Linda set the phone down, picked up her purse, and dug out her cell phone to call Jim. When she got a hold of him, she told him where to find James, then she had to get back on the phone with James and have him describe the stores that were all around him. She was on both lines for about 20 minutes before she finally hung up with Jim, then she got off the phone with James.
"They're coming home," she said with a smile as she put her cell phone back in her purse. Nick saw the stress leave his grandmothers face when she hung the phone up, and somehow, he took that as his sign to relax as well.
Linda and Nick talked about different things while they waited in the family room for Tom and Jim to get back with James. When Nick told his grandmother about the party he was invited to on Saturday at Chuck E Cheese, she asked him what kind of present he was taking. He told her he hadn't thought much about it and that Jim still needed to take him shopping for a gift. Then he wondered out loud about what Taylor was taking. Linda offered to take him to Toys R Us or Target to pick out a gift if he wanted her too.
"Really?" Nick asked.
"Sure, sweetheart," Linda said. "We haven't really had a lot of time to spend alone. I think it would be nice."
"When?" Nick asked.
"Well, maybe tomorrow if it isn't too bad outside," Linda answered. "We can get him something really nice."
"Thanks, grandma," Nick said as he hugged her. "I love you so much."
"I love you to honey," Linda said sweetly.
After a few more moments, Nick heard his dads Bronco pulling into the driveway, so he jumped up and ran down the hallway to the living room, where he looked out the window to watch as his dad, his grandfather and James all got out and walked toward the front door. Nick could see James' bike in the back of the Bronco, but no one bothered to take it out. When the front door opened, Nick watched from the living room as all three of them walked down the hall toward the family room. Nick followed them carefully, because none of them seemed to be speaking.
When Nick made it to the family room, he saw Linda hugging James tightly as Jim and Tom took their coats off. When they broke the hug, Linda led James to the love seat where the two of them sat down and she spoke.
"James, what made you decide to run off?," Linda asked in a disappointed tone. "That's never the answer to any problem."
"I'm sorry," James said as his voice cracked. "I just feel so bad about everything and I didn't know what else to do."
James immediately started to sob after he spoke, and when he did, Linda wrapped both of her arms around him and gave him a kiss.
"Honey, I love you," Linda said. "Everyone here does, James. We were so scared for you. Please promise me that you won't do that again."
"I promise," James said through his sobs. Nick slowly took a seat next to his dad, who looked like he was about to say something, but Nick wasn't sure what. Judging from past experience, Nick would have guessed that his dad was either about to explode, or that he was calming down. Jim's face was hard to read sometimes, especially when he was panicked. Nick knew enough to know that his dad was scared when he left to go look for James, because they had no idea how long he had been gone and where he was. Nick also knew that his dad hated not having control of the situation.
Everyone seemed to take a turn at speaking. First Linda, then Tom, then Jim. Nick was surprised when Jim didn't yell. He seemed calm, but from his tone, it was also easy to see that he meant business.
"This isn't going to happen again, James," Jim said firmly. "Whether you like it or not, you're a part of this family and a part of this household. That means you have to follow the rules of this house."
Jim's eyes were set on James' face, and he was holding James in a stare. Jim could do that to people. If he was telling someone something that he wanted them to pay attention to, he would make direct eye contact with them and not break it while he was speaking. Nick watched his dad make others turn away from his stare before, and he thought it was a sign of his dad's strength. Now Jim was doing it to James, and Nick wondered what was going through James' mind as Jim looked straight into his eyes.
"James, I couldn't find you," Jim said. "That meant that I couldn't protect you, that meant I couldn't keep you safe, and that meant that I couldn't help you. It scared me, son. Don't you ever pull a stunt like that again. Come here."
With that, Jim used his finger to motion James over to the couch where he was sitting. James jumped out of his seat and walked over to Jim, who held his arms out for James to walk into them.
"You're cold, son," Jim said as he rubbed James' back and arms. "You forgot your jacket, didn't you?"
"Yes Uncle," James answered in an un-sure voice.
"No, it's not Uncle," Jim said as he held onto James. "It's still daddy. Nothing's changed, son."
James sobbed loudly as he held on tightly to Jim, who was still rubbing his back and holding his head. Finally, Jim gave him a kiss on the cheek and said, "I love you, James. Please don't scare me that way again."
"I promise, dad," James wept. "I love you too."
Nick curled up on the couch and watched his dad and James together. He was glad that Jim wasn't being too hard on James. James still looked a little scared, but not as scared as he looked when Jim had whipped him earlier, or even as scared as he looked when they walked through the front door. However, he still had a lost look on his face, as if he was looking for his way home but he couldn't find it.
"You aren't in trouble, James," Jim said softly. "You're still grounded from earlier, but you're not in trouble for this."
"Even though I said I was sorry?" James asked. "I told Taylor sorry."
"I know you did, son," Jim said. "But being sorry doesn't change what happened. You still attacked him, and you had no call to do that."
"When can I have my PlayStation back?," James asked.
"We'll see," Jim said. "That's something you'll have to earn back from me, James. You have to prove that you deserve it."
For the next few hours, Tom, Linda, Jim and James all talked about what happened and what James needed to do the next time he felt like something wasn't fair. The snow was starting to fall heavily outside, so Nick knew for sure that there would be no school the next day. He wondered if Taylor was going to come over or not. He was almost certain that If Charles or Cindy didn't have to work, the answer was no. As he tuned in and out of the conversation that was going on around him, it suddenly dawned on him that his dad hadn't said one word to him since he brought James home. He looked up at his dad, who was still talking to James and a sudden surge of jealousy took him over.
"I don't feel good, dad," Nick fibbed out loud.
"What's wrong, babe?" Jim asked as he leaned over to feel Nick's cheeks and forehead with his hand.
"My tummy hurts," Nick said sadly.
"Come here, buddy," Jim said as he held out his arm for Nick to come to him. Nick crawled across the couch and into his dads lap. Jim lifted Nick's shirt and rubbed his stomach, then he asked him what he ate.
"I didn't," Nick said. "I wasn't feeling good and I couldn't eat. Grandma made me a plate though."
"Well, maybe you'd feel better if you had something to eat," Jim said.
"I'm not hungry," Nick said, looking up at his dad, who suddenly looked over at James.
"You must be starving, James," Jim said. "Nick, why don't you lay down in here while I fix James something to eat."
"But I don't feel good," Nick whined as his dad scooted him off of his lap.
"I know sweetie," Jim said as he stood up. "You need to lay still and let your stomach settle."
Nick was furious as everyone made their way into the kitchen to get something to eat. He pouted and stood up, then he stormed up the stairs to his room and slammed his door. He sat down on his beanbag, turned on his TV, and continued to pout while he looked for something to watch. When his door opened and Jim walked in, Nick simply stared straight ahead.
"I take it your tummy's not bugging you anymore," Jim said as he sat down next to Nick.
"It still hurts," Nick said bitterly.
"I see," Jim said. "Well, do you think it would feel better if dad spent a little time alone with you?"
"When?" Nick asked.
"How about right now, son?," Jim suggested. Nick shrugged his shoulders and looked at the TV, not wanting to let Jim off the hook that easily. Jim sighed and put his arm around Nick's shoulders, so Nick leaned into his dad and looked up. He wasn't sad, just jealous and upset that his dad hadn't even said hello to him when he got back. It almost made Nick feel like he didn't count.
"So are you still mad at me," Jim asked. Nick shook his head no and Jim smiled at him, then he leaned down to press his nose up against Nick's nose.
They sat down and watched a whole episode of Spongebob Squarepants, then they got up and went back downstairs. Tom and Linda stayed for a little while longer to visit with everyone, and Nick noticed that they seemed to be paying extra attention to him this time. When they left, Jim told James and Nick to go get ready for bed and come back downstairs.
Nick felt a little awkward brushing his teeth in the bathroom alone with his cousin. It was the first time they had been alone since he had run off, and Nick wasn't sure what to say to him. In fact, James and Nick hadn't said one word to each other since Jim and Tom brought him home. They brushed their teeth in silence and then they went to their rooms to get ready for bed. When Nick made it back down to the kitchen, James was already there, chewing his vitamins and getting a glass of water. Even though Jim was there, it was still awkward for Nick because he wasn't sure if James was mad at him for something. He knew that James didn't actually have any reason to be mad at him, but he was still afraid that there might be something that he had done to make James be upset with him.
When they all went into the family room and sat together on the couch, Nick relaxed a little. He noticed that James was snuggling up to Jim's chest the way he normally did, so he did the same. Instead of talking about their day, Jim talked to both of them about how much they meant to him, and how much he loved them both. As Jim was talking, James was smiling up at him and listening closely. At one point, James smiled warmly at Nick, who smiled back at his cousin. Jim never told them that they had to get up and go to bed. Instead, they all sat together on the couch and relaxed. At some point, James fell asleep, and shortly after Nick noticed that his cousin was sleeping, he fell asleep too.
When Nick opened his eyes, Jim was standing him in front of the toilet, telling him to pee. When he was done, Jim picked him up and carried him to his own bed, where he tucked him in.
"Is James mad at me?," Nick asked.
"No, why would he be?," Jim answered.
"He didn't really talk to me tonight," Nick said sadly. "I thought maybe he was mad at me for something."
"I think he's a little embarrassed," Jim said. "You should try talking to him first."
"Are you mad at him?" Nick asked.
"No buddy, I'm not," Jim said softly. "I just got really worried."
"Were you scared?" Nick asked, even though he knew the answer already.
"Maybe a little," Jim admitted. "But not that scared."
"Did you already tuck him in," Nick asked.
"No, he's still asleep on the couch," Jim said. "Why?"
"I just wanted you to tell him goodnight for me," Nick said with a smile
"I love you baby," Jim said softly.
"I love you too, daddy," Nick answered sleepily.
"You had quite a day today, huh?," Jim commented as he leaned down to kiss Nick on the forehead. Nick simply nodded and yawned, ready to fall back to sleep. Jim made sure that the covers were tight over Nick's chest, then he got up and walked to the door, shutting the light off as he walked out. As soon as Jim closed his door, Nick turned to his side, grabbed his pooh bear, and cuddled it tightly as he fell asleep once again.
"Papu!," Nick exclaimed as he ran up to big Nick after getting off of the school bus.
"Ella tho, my little Polakia!," big Nick said, which meant come here in Greek as he hugged his grandson. Nick smiled and told his Papu in Greek how much he missed him and how happy he was that he had come for Thanksgiving.
Nick looked over at Taylor, who was smiling shyly as Nick carried on a full conversation with his Papu in Greek.
"Papu, do you remember Taylor," Nick asked his Papu in English.
"From church, right?," big Nick replied. As Nick smiled and nodded, big Nick held out his hand for Taylor, who looked intimidated as he shook hands with the big Greek.
"Boy, one minute with your Papu and you forget all about me, huh?," Jim laughed as he pulled Nick into a hug.
"Hi daddy," Nick said sweetly. "I didn't forget you. Can Taylor come over later?"
"If it's okay with his parents, it's okay with me," Jim said, making Nick smile. The three of them waited as Taylor crossed the road before they turned and started walking home. Nick told his Papu all about his day in Greek and they talked about what they would do while he was visiting. It was rare for Nick to only speak Greek, but today, he felt so happy to see his Papu that he decided not to speak English while he was there.
When James got home, he seemed confused that Nick and Jim were speaking Greek so well with big Nick. Nick tried to help him say a few words in Greek, but he kept on forgetting what Nick was trying to teach him. Finally, Jim taught him how to say bread, cheese, milk, water and how to count to ten in Greek. Nick proudly sang a song in Greek that his Papu taught him to sing when he was little, and big Nick started to pull out his wallet to give Nick money for making him so proud but Jim spoke up.
"Dad," Jim almost whined. "Don't do that."
"That's nonsense, son," big Nick countered. "I haven't seen my little Polakia in over a month and I want to give him something. Come here, James. I have something for you too."
Big Nick took out two twenty dollar bills and handed one to Nick and one to James, who looked at Jim with an un-sure expression until Jim nodded and smiled.
"Thank you sir," James said politely with a smile.
"You're welcome, James," big Nick said. "If you're a member of my son's family, you're a member of my family too."
Big Nicks comment made James' face beam with pride as he stuffed the twenty-dollar bill in his pocket. He looked shyly at the floor before he sat back down.
For the next hour, Nick, his Papu, and his dad carried out a whole conversation about fishing in Greek. James looked confused but mystified as the conversation went on around him. More than once, Nick cursed in Greek, making his Papu laugh and upsetting his dad. When the doorbell rang, Nick hopped out of his seat and ran down the hallway to open the door.
"Hi," Nick said sweetly as Taylor came in.
"Hi Nick," Taylor said with a smile that took Nicks breath away. "My mom said I can't stay long because it's rude while you have company."
"It's not rude," Nick said defensively as they walked back into the family room. "You can stay as long as you want, huh daddy?"
"Sure, buddy," Jim said. "You don't have to leave anytime soon, unless you have to be home."
"My mom said not to be here too long," Taylor told Jim, who rolled his eyes and smiled.
"Well, if your mom said it, you have to listen to her," Jim said. "But as far as I'm concerned, you can stay as long as you'd like to."
"Thank you sir," Taylor said with a smile. For the next half hour, big Nick asked Taylor and James all kinds of questions about school and what kind of sports they liked to watch. He reminded them both that wrestling was fake when they both said that wrestling was their favorite sport to watch. Jim rolled his eyes at his dad when he said that and spoke up.
"So was every show we watched on TV growing up, dad," Jim said. "Was Knight Rider real?"
"It's different," big Nick protested.
"How?" Jim shot back. "They're all actors, aren't they?"
Big Nick didn't respond to Jim's question. Instead, he rolled his eyes and turned back to Taylor and James. Eventually, it was time for Taylor to head home, so Nick decided to ride with him back to his house. As soon as they were on the trail, Nick took a quick right into the trees and rode back to the clearing where they always jumped their bikes. When he got there, he put his bike down and took out his twenty-dollar bill to show it off to Taylor.
"My Papu gave it to me," Nick bragged. "He gave James twenty bucks too."
"How come?" Taylor asked.
"He just did," Nick answered. "He always gives me money."
Nick stuffed the twenty-dollar bill back in his front pocket and sat down on a log next to Taylor, who was digging into the dirt with his pocketknife. Nick watched silently as Taylor carved out a large heart in the dirt, then he wrote both his and Nicks names inside of it. He looked back up at Nick and gave him a cute smile that made him feel sexy. Nick reached out and took Taylor's hand in his and held it while they sat in silence, looking at the heart Taylor carved. They didn't speak while they sat there. Nick was enjoying the closeness, so he scooted closer and rested his head on Taylor's shoulder.
Because his Papu was visiting, Nick knew that Taylor's parents weren't going to let him spend the night, or even come over as much. He felt a little sad at the idea of not being able to see his friend as much as he usually did, but he knew that as soon as his Papu left, things would go back to normal again.
Sitting there with his head on Taylor's shoulder, Nick put his nose up to Taylor's head and smelled his hair, which still smelled like baby shampoo. Thoughts were swirling around in his own head about how perfect it would be if Taylor lived with him and could just sleep alone with him every night. He could feel the warmth coming from Taylor's face and neck, and his hand felt good when it was in Taylor's hand. He thought to himself that maybe spending the night at Taylor's wouldn't be so scary. Taylor would be there, and he did know Charles and Cindy. They always treated him nice, too.
Suddenly, he felt Taylor's other hand on his shoulder and he felt Taylor shifting a little, turning toward him. As soon as Taylor had his body turned all the way, he wrapped his whole arm around Nick and hugged him tightly. Nick responded by wrapping his one free arm around Taylor and holding on to him with all of his might. He wanted a kiss badly, so he lifted his head off Taylor's shoulder and looked at his face for a moment with a smile. Taylor seemed to know what Nick wanted because he leaned forward, so Nick planted his lips against Taylor's lips and tilted his head a little.
While they were kissing, Nick ran his hand up Taylor's shirt and felt the warmth of his stomach as his lips tingled. With his hand still up Taylor's shirt, he wrapped it around Taylor's back and rubbed it softly as he pulled Taylor's whole body even closer to him, then he felt Taylor push his tongue into his mouth. Nick pressed back with his tongue, and the kiss seemed to last forever. Nick felt so good as he sat on the log and kissed Taylor that he almost forgot where they were for a moment. When they finally broke the kiss, Nick's head was spinning. He looked into Taylor's eyes and sighed, feeling like he could just sit there and look at them forever.
As Nick picked his bike up and got back on it, he watched Taylor the whole time. When he bent over to pick his bike up, Nick watched his cute butt go up in the air. Taylor finally climbed onto his bike and rode it around the clearing for a moment before he rode back over to where Nick was waiting for him. When he pulled up beside Nick, he surprised Nick by grinning at him and leaning over and planting another kiss on Nick's lips.
"I love you, Taylor," Nick said softly.
"I love you too, Nick," Taylor said.
"I'm glad I turned gay today," Nick sighed as he reached out for Taylor's hand again.
Taylor smiled shyly at Nick for a moment before he lifted Nicks hand up to his face and rubbed it against his own cheek.
"Sometimes I wish we could be gay all the time," Taylor said.
"I do too," Nick said. "Then we could always be boyfriends."
Eventually, Nick let go of Taylor's hand and rode with him back to his house, then he rode home. When he got back, his dad and his Papu were in the kitchen, trying to figure out what ingredients they needed for dinner. After about 15 minutes, they decided to go out to eat instead, so James and Nick took turns in the shower before big Nick got in. When they were all dressed, they drove to Norfolk to a seafood restaurant.
On the way to Norfolk, and while they were eating, Nick couldn't take his mind off of Taylor. He thought to himself about what Taylor had said to him about wishing he could be gay all the time. Questions ran through his mind as he sat there. He wondered to himself if he was gay all the time now. He seemed to think about boys more and more now. Even sometimes when he was at school, he would see a boy who he thought was cute and who he wanted to kiss. As he looked around the restaurant, he saw a lot of cute boys he would happily kiss.
"What are you thinking about, buddy," Jim asked, snapping Nick out of his thoughts.
"Just some stuff at school," Nick shrugged, happy with his explanation. He went on to tell everyone at the table about the play his class was going to put on in front of the school. Nobody had parts yet, because Mrs. Fritzen had just passed out the script, but she broke the play up into two groups so that everyone could be in it. The first group was going to perform in the morning, and the second group would perform in the afternoon.
"Well, I'll have to make sure I clear my schedule so I can see it," Jim said with a mouthful of food. Nick rolled his eyes and wondered to himself why he told his dad about the play. He had a feeling it was going to be bad, and he didn't really want to even be a part of it, but he knew he didn't have a choice.
When they left the restaurant, Nick spotted a Friendly's Ice Cream Parlor along the way, so Jim pulled into it and they all got sundaes. As they sat at the counter and ate, Nick looked around and thought to himself that he must have died and gone to heaven. Almost the entire staff was made up of cute older guys, and Nick's bottom mind drifted as he watched them all work. He looked at James, who was staring at one in particular with a dreamy look in his eyes, and smiled. Nick knew for sure that this was going to be a place he would bug Jim about coming back to.
It was late when they got home and they still had school in the morning, so Jim sent James and Nick upstairs to get ready for bed.
"Those guys were cute, huh?," Nick said as he stood at the sink with James and brushed his teeth.
"At Friendly's?" James asked as if he didn't know what Nick was talking about. Nick smiled and nodded, and James responded by doing the same thing.
"It was making me feel sexy," Nick admitted.
"There was one guy there who was cuter than any of them," James said with a grin. "I hope we can go back there."
When they finished brushing their teeth, they raced each other down the stairs and to the kitchen, where Jim was waiting with their vitamins. After they chewed them up, they went into the family room and settled down on the couch with Jim. Big Nick was sitting in the recliner, watching ESPN and yawning. Nick knew it would just be a matter of time before his Papu was fast asleep, so he got up and gave him a hug and kiss goodnight, then he walked back over to the couch to sit with his dad and James and talk about the day. Before he knew it, Nick could hear his Papu's loud snoring, and even though it was thunderous, it was a familiar, comfortable sound that he missed. He sat quietly as Jim talked and took it in for a moment.
The next morning Nick was up early, excited about his last day of school before Thanksgiving. He made his way downstairs and to the family room, which was quiet. When he looked at the clock on the cable box, he saw that it was just a little past 4 in the morning but he was too excited to go back to sleep. He wondered to himself if he would get to spend any time alone with his Papu, since he hadn't been able to the last time he visited. He wanted to actually go somewhere, anywhere, with his Papu, without his dad.
Nick picked up Skalaki, who had been sleeping peacefully on the recliner, and put him in his lap as he sat down and turned the TV on. He tried to find some cartoons, but the only thing he seemed to be able to find were infomercials, so he turned the channel to MTV and watched videos. A video came on by Tyrese for his song called, Lately, and Nick thought about Taylor as he listened. The words and the melody made him feel like he loved and missed Taylor, and he wished that they were sitting together in the recliner watching the video together.
Eventually the video ended and another one started, so Nick reclined in the chair and cuddled Skalaki, who seemed to be really comfortable, and pretty soon his eyes started to get heavy again. He realized that he had fallen back to sleep when he was awaken by his Papu's hand gently stroking the top of his head.
"Good morning my little Polakia," big Nick said softly. Nick looked up and smiled at his Papu, who was smiling back down at him.
"Good morning Papu," Nick yawned as he stretched. At some point while he was sleeping, Skalaki had moved across the family room and over to the love seat, so Nick lifted himself up and sat on the arm of the recliner so that his Papu could sit down with him. When he did, Nick crawled into his lap, snuggled up to his chest and closed his eyes again. Just like hearing his Papu snore, sleeping in his Papu's lap was a familiar feeling that Nick used to take for granted and that he had missed. He stayed there until Jim woke up and came downstairs, and he woke up and went into the kitchen to watch his dad and his Papu cook breakfast.
That afternoon, school was out early, and when Nick got off the bus, his dad and his Papu were waiting for him. As usual on a minimum day, Cindy wasn't home from work yet, so Taylor walked home with Nick to wait for his dad, who usually got out of work early to pick him up. Nick and Taylor watched excitedly as Jim and big Nick argued in the kitchen.
"You don't know what the hell you're doing in here," big Nick said as he moved in to take over the job of preparing the trout that they were going to cook as part of Thanksgiving dinner.
"Oh, yeah, and you're the professional, right?" Jim scoffed. Then he said with a sure tone, "You'll have us all in the hospital with food poisoning."
Taylor giggled as the two men went back and forth, but eventually finished what they were working on and covered the dish before putting it in the refrigerator so they could cook it the next day. Nick simply smiled as he watched his dad and his Papu standing side by side in the kitchen, talking about the shrimp dish Jim wanted to make. Nick knew that if his dad was going to make shrimp, they would probably have to drive all the way to Harris Teeter, a grocery store on the oceanfront. Tom and Linda first took them there while they were on vacation, and Jim was amazed at the fresh shrimp that they had. So he decided that he would only buy his shrimp there when they moved to Virginia Beach, and every time he made a shrimp dish, they had to drive to Harris Teeter.
Nick was about to suggest to Taylor that they go upstairs to play a game on his PlayStation when Charles showed up.
"Hey sport," Charles said as Taylor ran up to him to give him a hug. "Did you have a good day?" Taylor nodded and giggled as he told his dad about watching Jim and big Nick in the kitchen.
"What are you guys doing tomorrow?" Jim asked as he shook Charles' hand. "You know, you're invited to dinner too. We're having a huge feast."
"I appreciate the offer," Charles said. "But we're actually leaving town tonight for Fredericksburg. Cindy's parents are having Thanksgiving dinner at their house this year."
The two men went on about the drive, and how long it actually took to get there from Virginia Beach while Nick and Taylor wandered into the back yard.
"I wish you were coming tomorrow," Nick said sadly.
"I do too," Taylor said. "I hate going to Fredericksburg. It always takes a long time."
"Will you get to have pie and turkey," Nick asked, somewhat un-sure about what a stranger would make for Thanksgiving. Somewhere in his mind, Nick had worked out that even though his family had a regular Thanksgiving dinner, maybe other families didn't. He thought about other families sitting down to a Thanksgiving feast of hamburgers or burritos. As silly as he knew it was, it was an idea he couldn't get out of his head.
"Of course, silly," Taylor giggled. "What else are we going to have?"
"I don't know," Nick said as he smiled shyly. "I never had Thanksgiving with any other family. I just thought maybe some people would make different food."
Just then, the back door opened and James walked out, followed by Skalaki, Jim, Charles and Big Nick.
"Are you ready to go, sport?," Charles asked. "We have to get packed. Mom's going to be home soon and we have to get on the road."
"Yes sir," Taylor said as he took his dads hand.
"When will you guys be home?," Nick asked.
"We'll be back on Friday," Charles assured him. "Probably sometime in the afternoon."
"Do you want to spend the night," Nick asked Taylor hopefully.
"I don't know about that, buddy," Charles said. "You've got company right now."
"Taylor's welcome to spend the night anytime," Jim said as he messed Taylor's hair up with his hand. "He's never a problem, trust me. I wish my boys were as well behaved as this one."
"Well, we'll see," Charles said as he looked down at Taylor, who was looking back at him with a hopeful look. Nick simply smiled to himself because he knew Taylor well enough to know that he could turn one of Charles' "We'll see's," into a "yes." As he watched Taylor and his dad drive off, Nick felt his dads hand on his shoulder. He looked up and smiled, feeling completely happy about how his Thanksgiving weekend had started out.
That afternoon, as Nick sat at the large table at Olive Garden with his dad, his Papu, Tom, Linda, James and Lori, he felt even better. Everyone was talking amongst themselves about different things, and Jim was bragging to everyone about James' grades, which had come way up.
"I'm so proud of him," Jim said, making James beam with pride. "He's worked so hard. I knew he could do it, though."
Soon, the conversation turned to California and big Nick's business. He was telling everyone how busy he had gotten and how he had to take his ad out of the phone book because he couldn't keep up anymore. Eventually, Tom asked him a few questions about fishing, and before Nick knew it, Tom and his Papu were wrapped up in their own conversation while everyone talked about other things.
As they were walking out of the restaurant, big Nick called James and Nick over to him.
"I'm very proud of you two boys for doing so good in school," he said as he pulled two crisp hundred-dollar bills from his wallet. As he handed one each to them, he held his index finger up to his lips and smiled. Nick and James simply looked at each other in amazement as big Nick wrapped an arm around each one of their shoulders and smiled.
"Dad, what are you doing back there?," Jim complained.
"Just spending a few moments alone with my grandsons," big Nick said.
"How much did you give them?" Jim asked knowingly.
"Just a few dollars each," big Nick fibbed, then he added nervously, "Why all the questions?"
"Dad," Jim griped. "How much did you really give them?"
"It's a secret," big Nick said as he swiftly moved toward the car with James and Nick by his side. Jim shook his head and took Lori's hand as they walked together to her car. She had to leave from the restaurant and go straight to work, but she was getting off early to help Linda with the cooking.
On the way home, Jim interrogated both boys about how much money they had.
"Okay, boys," Jim said in a negotiating voice. "How much did Papu give you?"
James shifted uncomfortably in his seat as Nick grinned, knowing that it was too late for Jim to stop big Nick from giving them the money, so he answered.
"A hundred dollars," Nick bragged.
"Dad!" Jim exclaimed. "You don't have to do that. You come here to visit, not to hand out money."
"Do you remember when you were little?" big Nick asked Jim. "Your yiayia and your Papu used to give you and your sister and brothers money all the time. This is their report card money, son."
Jim sighed and smiled into the rearview mirror at James and Nick, then he said, "Fine. Did you boys say thank you?"
"Thank you Papu," Nick said.
"Thank you big Nick," James said in a shy voice. Big Nick turned around in his seat, putting his knees on his seat so that he could rest against his legs as he looked into the back seat.
"You know, James, you can call me Papu if you want to," he said. "You're in this family too, and that makes us family to each other. But it's up to you, okay?"
"Okay, Papu," James said shyly with a sweet smile. Nick watched with a warm feeling in his chest as his Papu smiled proudly and turned around in his seat. Nick noticed that James was looking at him nervously, probably wondering if it was okay with Nick if he called big Nick Papu, so, to make his cousin feel better, Nick reached across the back seat and grabbed James' hand and held it. The look on James' face softened then, and he smiled at Nick, who smiled back. When they were almost home, Nick noticed his dad watching them with a smile in the rearview mirror and he suddenly felt proud of himself.
When they got home, Nick spent the rest of the afternoon with James in the family room. It was way too cold to go outside and ride their bikes, and James was still grounded from his PlayStation so Nick didn't even try to suggest that they go up to his room and play Nicks. Instead, they stayed downstairs and watched TV together on the couch, quietly giggling to each other when they saw a cute boy in a show or on a commercial.
Later in the afternoon, they drove to Harris Teeter for shrimp and more fish for the next day. James wanted catfish, and Nick wanted more trout, so big Nick told the lady in the seafood section to give him some of each.
"How about if we have the catfish tonight and the trout tomorrow?," he suggested to the boys. "We'll have a fish fry tonight."
As they walked through the store, big Nick seemed to grab everything that Nick and James pointed at and throw it in the basket. Jim rolled his eyes and told his dad that they already had most of that stuff at home, but big Nick said that if his grandsons wanted it, he was going to buy it for them. Nick noticed that James seemed to be grinning from ear to ear whenever big Nick called him his grandson, and it made him feel good inside.
When they got home, Jim took out the deep fryer and got it ready while big Nick breaded the catfish and cut up the potatoes for French fries. Nick and James watched everything from the breakfast bar with huge grins as Jim and his dad went back and forth over what temperature to set the deep fryer at. Once that was settled, Jim called Tom and Linda up and invited them over to dinner. When they arrived, dinner was ready and everyone sat down to eat.
During dinner, big Nick brought Lori up, and Nick listened closely.
"So I see you two are still together," big Nick said. "It must be serious between you guys."
"You seemed shocked," Jim said.
"Well, I haven't seen you this serious about a girl in a long time," big Nick said.
"Well, I think Lori is perfect for you, Jim," Linda spoke up, making Jim smile at her.
"I love Miss Lori too," Nick added. "She cooks good."
The conversation between the adults continued for a while, but eventually, Tom changed the subject. Nick had a feeling that Tom thought Jim was uncomfortable with the conversation being about him and Lori.
After dinner, James got up and loaded the dishwasher while Nick helped his dad shell walnuts at the kitchen table. Big Nick brought a large bag of them with him on the plane, and Jim wondered out loud to himself if he snuck it past someone or if he told them about them when they checked his bags in at the airport in Sacramento.
"Well if he did, God bless him, " Linda said as she grabbed a handful of walnut meat. "It's been a long time since I've had walnuts."
Nick noticed that his grandma seemed to be eating everything that was sitting on the table. She had a large bowl of ice cream when Jim dished it out and then she found some fruit and ate that too. When it seemed like there was nothing left in sight to eat, Nick saw his grandma say something to Tom, but he didn't hear what it was. Tom leaned over and talked to Jim.
"Can the boys have something from Dairy Queen," he asked. "Linda wants a few things."
Nick looked up hopefully at his dad, who seemed to be contemplating the question and finally shrugged.
"I don't see why not," Jim said. "It's not like they have school tomorrow."
Tom wrote down what everyone wanted and while Linda was telling him what she wanted, Nick listened in amazement. Her list of stuff never seemed to end, and she was very specific about how she wanted the stuff that she was telling him. She wanted extra everything for toppings and she even wanted a hot dog with lots of relish and a hamburger with bacon and cheese and extra ketchup and onions.
Big Nick had fallen asleep in the recliner with his new buddy, Skalaki, sitting in his lap, so Nick and James rode with Tom. Nick noticed that his grandpa seemed embarrassed as he read the specific instructions that came with Linda's order, and before they left the drive through, he went through every item and compared it to his list to be certain it was right.
"There'll be hell to pay if we show up with the wrong stuff," Tom said as he went through the bags. "I can't wait for her to deliver this baby."
When they got back, Nick watched in awe as his grandmother systematically ate everything she told Tom to get for her. Nick could barely make it through half of his blizzard, and neither could James, so they put them in the freezer next to Jim and Lori's sundaes.
When Lori showed up, she looked freshly showered and was dressed really nice. She gave Jim a kiss and then went into the kitchen to help Linda with the turkey and the stuffing. The bird was huge, bigger than any turkey Nick had ever seen in his life, and Jim made a point of telling both of them that when they needed it moved to come get him. Once the turkey was ready, Jim put it in the oven and followed Lori and Linda next door for a while. When they returned, they had several cans of pie filling and about six boxes of pudding.
Eventually, Lori and Linda decided that it would be best if they cooked the pies across the street at Lori's house, so Jim had to carry all of the stuff back across the street again. When he returned, he told Nick and James that it was time to get ready for bed.
"Dad, we're not tired," Nick complained. "Can't we stay up late tonight?"
"I'll tell you what,' Jim said. "You two go brush your teeth and get ready for bed, then come back down here and take your vitamins, and you can stay up as long as you'd like. Deal?"
"Deal," Nick said with a smile, then he and James tore up the stairs as fast as they could to get ready for bed. When they finished brushing their teeth, they raced each other down the stairs, as usual, and went to the kitchen where Jim had set their vitamins on the counter. When they made it back to the family room where Jim was waiting for them, they had calmed down as they each took a seat next to him on the couch.
"Did you boys have a good day," Jim asked softly. James smiled and nodded while Nick snuggled up to his dad and relaxed.
"I did too, daddy," Nick said. "I'm having a good Thanksgiving."
"How about you, buddy?" Jim asked James. "Are you having a good Thanksgiving so far?"
"Yes sir," James answered. "Am I being good?"
"You're being very good, son," Jim said as he wrapped his arm around James' shoulder, then he looked down at Nick. "So are you, babe."
"Thank you, daddy," Nick said, then he looked over at Tom, who was smiling as he watched from the love seat. "I'm glad we're all together for Thanksgiving."
"Is that what you're thankful for?" Jim asked. Nick smiled and nodded, then he rested his head back up against his dad's chest.
"I'm thankful to be here," James said with a grateful tone. Jim leaned down and kissed him on the cheek and smiled.
"I'm glad you're here with us, son," he said, then he sighed. "I've been thinking about it all afternoon, James. You've been making me so proud lately that I've decided to unground you starting right now. Before you go to bed, I'll get you your PlayStation out of my room."
"Thank you, dad," James said. "I promise to keep trying to make you proud of me."
"Son, you make me proud of you everyday," Jim said. "I want you to know that. Lately, though, I've been really proud of how you're doing in school and how well you're behaving."
"When does Papu have to go home?,' Nick asked.
"He goes home on Sunday," Jim said. "We'll have to take him to the airport early, then we'll go to church from there. Who wants to pray?"
James volunteered, and as they joined hands, Nick held his hand out toward Tom, who got up and came over to the couch and took Nick and James' hands. When James was done, they all said Amen and opened their eyes, and Nick noticed that Tom was looking at Jim proudly as he took his seat again.
"Okay, boys, Daddy has to go across the street again to check up on the pie situation, " Jim said, making Nick giggle. "In case you guys are asleep when I get back, I love you both. Give me a hug and kiss."
When Jim got up, he headed upstairs as Nick watched James, who had an excited look on his face. Jim came back downstairs and said goodbye one more time without mentioning the PlayStation, then walked out the door. As soon as it closed, Nick and James both went upstairs cautiously and made their way down the hall to James' room. When Nick peaked around the corner, he saw James' PlayStation back in it's old spot. His games were in their case, on his bed and when James looked behind the TV, he smiled and turned on his TV and his PlayStation. Jim had hooked it up for him.
They went back downstairs to ask Tom if it was okay to stay upstairs and play video games, but when they got back to the family room, he had fallen asleep. Nick smiled as he watched his two grandfathers sleeping and thought about how lucky he was. He went over and gave Tom a kiss on the cheek, then he did the same to his Papu, then he went back upstairs to spend time with James, who Nick decided he was thankful to have as a member of his family
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