Confession of a Boy Lover – Chapter 2

About a month after the Nelsons moved in, there was a knock at my door. I marked the place on the PDF where I paused my reading. I stretched as I stood. Market research never stopped and wading through SARs, trying to glean information that would gain me an edge in the market was mentally exhausting.

When I got to the door, I glanced through the peep-hole. Donna stood outside. Curious about why my neighbor would knock, I opened the door. “Oh, hi Donna,” I said, more guardedly than I intended.

She put on a big smile, “Hi Jack. Wes and I are finally settled, and we wanted to invite you over for a barbeque this Saturday. Thought it would be fun to get to know the neighbors.”

Remembering my pledge to do my best to avoid the Nelsons, I said, “Oh, that’s very thoughtful of you guys, Donna. This Saturday? Hmm, I’m sorry, but I’ve got plans.”

Donna’s smile faded at my manufactured news, “Oh, I’m really sorry to hear that, Jack. My cousin’s going to be here from Denver, and she’s also single. The other folks are couples, and I just didn’t want Cindy to be ignored. Plus, did I mention, she’s quite a looker?”

I had dated a couple of times while in college, and liked girls my age well enough that I enjoy those occasions. My problem was, my deeper attractions, they just didn’t hold a candle to. I was going on four years since Mark and had done a decent job not feeding my addiction. Maybe spending a couple of hours with this Cindy girl would help me.

I pretended to hem and haw in front of Donna before finally saying, “Let me see if I can clear my calendar. I’d hate for your cousin to be the odd-girl-out.”

When Saturday evening arrived, I dressed in a blue polo shirt and khaki shorts and some leather sandals. I had just turned the lights out in the living room when my doorbell rang. Cindy was standing there. Unlike Carol’s red hair, she had auburn hair. She wore a sundress with yellow suns on a field of blue. Even though it was September, she could probably get away with it for another week or two. Holding her hand was Jem. His long strawberry blond hair had been under the care of a barber since I last saw him on move-in day. He grinned up at me, revealing a couple of missing baby teeth, and said, “Hi, Mr. Roberts. This is my Aunt Cindy!”

If it were possible, Cindy was even prettier than Carol. I manufactured a smile, told myself to enjoy it. Neither Cindy nor Jem heard the stress in my voice, “Hi!”

Funny how our minds work. Cindy was quiet and reserved, at least at first. And getting to know her over the course of the lawn party and dinner was actually a real treat. The handful of women I dated before, I dated because they intrigued me as people. They were actually interesting to talk to, to get to know. Of course, when I was alone, in the comfort of my dorm or apartment, they weren’t the images to which I masturbated. I reserved those thoughts for the boys I loved.

Now, living under an assumed identity, I needed to watch what I said. Over the years, I’ve developed a background that is close enough to what my life was like as a kid and college student that I wasn’t likely to slip up. And if I do, it won’t be over important details. That led me to asking Cindy more questions than she asked me. I learned she was twenty-four and just a couple of years out of college. She repped for a pharmaceutical company in Denver. She was between boyfriends at the time, and with all the long hours she worked, wasn’t too worried about settling down.

As she warmed up, it shouldn’t have been difficult drawing all of this out of her. However, Jem latched on to Cindy and at one point after dinner, he sat on her lap while we visited past twilight. When it was time to go, I wasn’t sure what to do. After all, this had just been a little dinner party for a few neighbors. Cindy helped me out by leaning in for a quick hug, “Thanks for the date, Jack. I enjoyed it. Maybe when I’m here in Boulder again we can hang out.”

I bobbed my head, “Yeah, for sure.”

We’d had a good time, but the distance was a serious impediment to doing more than just a causal date, and more importantly, she wasn’t my preferred demographic.

Before I stepped across the street, Jem came up and took Cindy’s hand and waved at me, “Bye Mister Jack! Thanks for coming!”

He was too adorable. After that, whenever he saw me, it was “Hi Mr. Jack!” in his soprano-childlike voice.

Over the next few months, even though the markets were terribly volatile, I made a few trades where I killed it, shorting some Nasdaq darlings. Things were going well for me. I waved when I saw any of the Nelsons, and they waved at me. My next run in with Jem came as winter belatedly left Boulder and gave way to our short spring.

I was returning home from a run to Trader Joe’s and had just turned onto our street. Jem was in the middle of the road, riding his bike. He was peddling as though his life depended on it, fairly flying as fast as his short, skinny legs could take him. Then I spied his target. He had set up a wooden ramp alongside the curb in front of his house. Having done the same dumbass move when I was around his age, I knew how it would end. Sure enough. When Jem hit the ramp, his bike went one way, tumbling end over end, and he went the other, rolling across the grass.

I stopped next to their curb and rolled down the window to the sound of Jem wailing. “Oh shit,” I muttered, as I climbed out of my car and hurried over to him. Kneeling down, I said, “You okay, little man?”

Jem cried and pointed to his knee. Blood seeped through a slight cut. Of course, when you’re eight and discover with disastrous consequences you’re not superman, the tears flow pretty easily. I had him sitting up when Donna came out the front door. She took one look at the ramp and the bike and fairly yelled, “What the hell? Jeremy Andre Nelson, what did I tell you about trying to jump our curb? Now look what you’ve done. You’ve got Jack over here trying to help you and blocking traffic!”

Involuntarily, I glanced toward the road. The only traffic was my car. Still, never get between an irate parent and their kid if there’s no abuse. I helped Jem to his feet as he continued sniffling. When I got him to the front door, Donna opened it, “The bathroom is down the front hall, by Jem’s room.”

I had expected to turn the boy over to his mom. After all, I was committed to having nothing more to do with the boy than minimal social standards required. And damnit, Donna shouldn’t have expected this. Still, I helped him into the bathroom, with the boy hobbling along beside me, his hand grabbing my shirt to keep himself from falling. Of course, had he tried to stand on his injured leg, I bet he could have walked just fine.

I picked him up and set him down on the countertop next to the sink, “Where’s the stuff to clean this up?”

Donna was standing at the bathroom door with an amused expression. “There’s wash towel in the top drawer. There’s some antiseptic there too.”

I wetted the washrag and dabbed at the cut until the blood was gone. After all, it wasn’t deep at all. Then I smeared a bit of ointment on it before finding the band-aids in another drawer. After I applied the covering, Jem had stopped crying, and he glanced down at his knee, “T-, thanks Mr. Jack. You’re awesome.”

He shocked me and I almost hyperventilated when, as he scooted off the counter, he threw his arms around my neck and gave me a fierce little hug. He ran from the bathroom past his mom, all thought of pain in his knee forgotten. Donna said, “Thanks, Jack. He can be a real handful sometimes. But he’s a real good kid.”

I followed her back to the front door and said, “He gets that from the two of you.”

Donna laughed, but I could tell I hit a nerve. “Yeah. I’m here every moment I can manage. Wes… Well, he does what he can when he’s here.”

You’d think after knowing them for the better part of a school year, I’d realize how often Wes’s car was gone. But until Donna said something, I missed that little detail. “Well, he’s got a wonderful mom, anyway.”

Donna chuckled, “Maybe. But thankfully, he’s got a neighbor who’s looking after him too.”

I headed back to my car where I got in and pulled the car into the garage. As I unloaded the car, I wondered why the hell I had stopped to help. Clearly Jem hadn’t needed my help. He was doing what boys his age do, being theatrical. I made another vow to stay clear of Jem. I really didn’t need the headache of falling for another kid who was unattainable. Or if not unattainable, the risks and the rewards were clearly disproportionate.

Over the summer, Donna and I talked when we saw each other. Even Wes, when I saw him, was friendly and a pretty funny guy. My earlier pledge to avoid talking to Jem died the death of a thousand cuts. Jem made a point of coming over to me, when he saw me coming back home from some errand if he was outside. It was always just a “Hi, Mr. Jack. How is your day? Mine’s good too,” type thing.

During the third school year following the Nelson’s arrival across from me, I paid more attention. Wes appeared to be working even longer hours, which I found odd for a college professor. One evening while it was still light outside, I was clearing some brush and weeds from a small flower garden in front of my house. The moment I realized something wasn’t quite right, I heard a now familiar voice, “Hi Jack. How’s your gardening?”

I felt something in my stomach, like the flutter of a butterfly. I ignored it as I turned. Jem was still in his school uniform. His hair was getting shaggy again. Of course, with summer less than two months away, I doubted he’d get it cut before the fall. He grinned as I looked up at him from where I knelt. He would be ten in a few weeks. Inwardly, I sighed. I knew I needed to avoid this pedophilic catnip named Jem. I patted the ground and said, “Just clearing some weeds. I’m thinking about planting some flowers.”

The past three years had flown by, I realized, as I studied the boy beside me. He had grown a lot, now he was just a couple of inches shy of four and a half feet. Some ways, he hadn’t changed. His legs and arms were spindly. If I didn’t know Donna, I’d have sworn she was starving the boy.

Jem picked up a plastic trash bag and helped by taking the weeds I had already pulled and tossed them in. We worked silently for a bit until a door slammed from the boy’s house. Donna stalked out and in the middle of the driveway yelled, “The fuck you say? That’s not my goddamned perfume, you son of a bitch.”

She flung the car door open, and a then slammed it shut with an earth-shattering echo. A moment later, she zoomed by us without a sideway glance.

I looked over at my little helper. Tears were brimming his eyes. I knew better than to touch him. Even as my resolve to avoid him had long-since failed, the one thing I had done was avoid physical contact. Yet, as tears spilled down his cheeks, I reached out an arm and gave him a hug.

The dam broke, and those tears turned into body-wracking sobs. Every minute or two Jem tried to speak, “They-, they’ve been arguing.”

“I-, I hear them at night, s-, sometimes.”

“Mom thinks Dad’s ch-cheating.”

I didn’t have any words of comfort. And I mourned for him. Strange that I’m the one who’s life was ruined by loving a boy and trying to give him what he wanted. But millions of parents drag their kids through horrible marriages and messy divorces, fucking up their kids far worse than I ever could. And society thinks I’m a bad person? Fucking ridiculous.

After he stopped crying, I helped him to his feet, “Come on, we’re losing our light. Let’s go check on your dad.”

I knocked on the Nelson’s front door. A moment later, Wes came to it. In one hand was a cell phone and in the other was a short glass with amber liquid in it. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, “Oh, Hi Jack.”

Then his eyes fell on his son, “Oh, Jem. I thought your mom took you after we, um, well, when she left.”

Jem shook his head as tears beaded in his eyes. I said, “Sorry about that, Wes. Jem was helping me with my garden out front.”

Wes shrugged, and he slurred his words, “Don’t worry, son. This’ll blow over and your mom will be okay.”

The agony in the boy’s eyes hurt my soul. I knew I needed distance right now, so I said, “Wes, take care of yourself and Jem.”

I was halfway down the Nelson’s drive when Jem’s clear soprano voice cut through the dark, “Stop, Jack! Please.”

I turned around and Jem had stepped away from his father. “Dad, I want to stay at Jack’s tonight.” He punctuated his words by pointing the cell phone in Wes’s hand and the glass of whisky in the other.

Wes’s shoulders slumped. He seemed a defeated man, “Fine.”

Jem shot me a pleading look before he said, “I’ll get my things!” Then he shot past his father into the house. I needed to stop this. Having Jem in the house was the exact opposite of what I needed. If society knew my past, they would tar and feather me to even allow a boy under the same roof.

I came over to Wes, intending to kill the idea. Wes took a drink and before I could explain why this was a bad idea, he said, “Thanks, Jack. I know our problems aren’t yours. You’re a good man to help right now.”

“What?” I stammered, “Jem really belongs with you or Donna.”

Wes shrugged, “What’s it matter? I’ve gotta call Cindy back and warn her about Donna.”

With that, he turned and left me standing in an open doorway. A minute later, Jem came out, a school backpack tossed over one shoulder. He took my hand and pulled me back toward my house. Alarmed at the circumstances, I let him lead the way while considered alternatives.

Once we were inside, I got him settled in front of the TV before asking, “Do you have a cell phone, Jem?”

The boy shook his head, “No. Mom says I’m too young.”

While a cell phone with his mom’s number would have been handy right then, in general, I agreed with Donna. I asked, “Do you know your mom’s cell phone number?”

He nodded and repeated it for memory for me. A moment later, I dialed the number. It went directly to voice mail. “Shit!”

Jem looked up, a scared expression on his face. Worried I had startled him unnecessarily, I came over and sat beside him, and put my arm around his thin, narrow shoulders. “Not you, Jem. Just trying to let your mom know where you are.”

He leaned against me, “Thanks, Jack.”

The emotional turmoil was severe for the boy, and soon Jem’s eyes were drooping. I set him back against the seatback cushions and took my phone into the bedroom where I tried again to call Donna. This time, the phone rang and rang until it went to voice mail, I said, “Donna, this is Jack. Please call me as soon as you get this message. Jem is over here with me. But I want to get him back with one of you as soon as possible.”

It was nearing ten in the evening when Jem padded into my room. Donna still hadn’t called, and I was worried. Still, Jem needed at least one strong person in his life right then. “Hey Jem. Let’s get you ready for bed. Do you mind sleeping on the couch? I can put some covers on it.”

He nodded and followed me back into the living room. I pointed to his backpack, “Do you have a change of clothes in there?”  

He nodded, and I grabbed it and said, “I’ll show you where the bathroom is.”

With this nine, almost ten-year-old standing beside me, I dug out a pair of pajamas, “Once you’ve changed, head on back into the living room. I’ll get you squared away in there.”

While I was waiting in the living room, my phone rang. When I answered it, Donna said, “Oh, thank God you have Jem. I’m such a fucking idiot. He’s got to think both of his parents are dumbasses.”

I made a non-committal noise, waiting for her to say something productive.

She said, “I drove all the way to fucking Denver, Jack. I was so mad at Wes that I drove here to kick my cousin’s ass. What the fuck was I thinking?”

I said, “Well, you were pissed, and you had a right to be angry. Anyway, Jem will be relieved to know you’re okay and ready to pick him up.”

There was an awkward silence from the other end. I added, “When do you think you’ll get here?”

Donna’s laugh was brittle, like she was at the end of her tether. “When I got into Denver, instead of finding my cousin, I found a bar. I’m actually calling you from the motel next to it. I’m too fucked up to drive back tonight. Do you mind letting Jem stay with you tonight?”

Jem chose that moment to return from the bathroom. He wore The Incredible Hulk pajamas. I said, “Yeah. He can stay. He’s right here. Why don’t you tell him good night? He wants to know you’re safe.”

With that, I handed Jem my phone. He picked it up, and the tears flowed again, “M-, mom! Are you okay?”

I couldn’t hear Donna’s voice, but the tears streaking Jem’s face broke my heart. He deserved better of his parents than they were giving him that night.

“Yeah. I told Dad I wanted to stay with Jack. He was drinking.”

This was going to be a long night. I normally just slept in my underwear. It was comfortable and as a bachelor, who did I have to impress. Now, I’d need to find some shorts, maybe a t-shirt.

“Tomorrow? Okay.” Then Jem handed the phone back to me. “She wants to talk to you.”

I put the phone to my ear, “Yeah?”

Donna said, “Thanks a million, Jack. I’ll be home sometime around noon tomorrow. I’ll be by to pick him up after that.”

I hung up the call after forced pleasantries and turned to Jem, “Alright. Did you remember your toothbrush?”

He shook his head, “Darn. I knew I forgot something.”

“Don’t worry about it. Just remember to brush extra good tomorrow. Now let’s get you under the covers and ready for bed.”

Jem looked cute lying under the makeshift covers on the couch. I wished then that I could be the kind of adult who could help someone like him without the complications of my attractions. He really needed someone other than his parents he could rely on, and that person definitely shouldn’t be me.

“Good night, Jem,” I said as I knelt next to him.

The boy offered me a sad smile, “Good night, Jack. Thanks for everything.”

He caught me by surprise when his arms looped around my neck and hugged me fiercely. Once he let go, he sank back against the sofa. I turned out the light in the living room, leaving the bathroom light on and the door ajar.

I wasn’t as emotionally worn as Jem, but I was still tired. I found an old pair of boxers and slid them on over my underwear when I undressed for bed. It was better than just my underwear, in the off-chance the boy wondered into my room during the night.

A few minutes after laying my head on my pillow, I was fast asleep.

It wasn’t even light outside when I became aware I was not alone in my bed. Lying against my side was a smaller form. Cursing inside my head, I turned the lamp on my nightstand on, and saw Jem’s little form curled up against me, his back against my side. A faint snore told me he was still asleep. Wondering how long he had slept in my bed, I glimpsed the time on my alarm clock. It was a few minutes before five.

Even though I knew the right thing was to pick him up and carry him back into the other room, I was tired. I killed the light and rolled onto my side, facing away from Jem. I closed my eyes, knowing it would take forever before I fell back asleep. But within a few minutes I was asleep again.

When I woke up, sunlight peeked through my curtains. At some point in the morning, Jem had shifted in his sleep. His front was against my back and a twig of an arm was draped across my chest. I rolled onto my back and felt a sense of relief. Most mornings I woke up with my morning wood. This morning, perhaps from the stress, maybe from something else, my midsection was remarkably disinterested in the fact I had a nearly-ten-year-old boy in my bed.

Jem stirred once I was on my back. He blinked himself awake until he swiveled his head around, taking in me and the rest of his surroundings. His voice was like magic, pitched high like so many preadolescent boys, “Sorry about coming in here last night. When I woke up and was all alone, I got scared. You’re not mad, are you?”

“No,” I said, wanting to reach out and hold on to the boy. Not trusting myself, I slid out of bed, “I don’t mind, Jem. But maybe it would be best if anyone asks, that you let them know you staying on the couch last night.”

As I pulled on a T-shirt, I saw his cognitive wheels turning until he nodded, “Oh, yeah. Right.”

Jem didn’t ask any questions about that, and I certainly wouldn’t explain further. Instead, I headed into the kitchen. “You hungry, man? I got cold cereal and milk, or milk and cold cereal.”

Jem followed me into the kitchen, “I guess cold cereal and milk.”

I caught his smile as he deliberately mixed up the options. Over the years, Donna bragged on Jem, telling me how smart he was. I could see that native intelligence in his eyes as I grabbed milk from the fridge and cold cereal from the pantry.

After eating, Jem leaned his elbows on the table. His reddish blonde bangs hung down, brushing his thin eyebrows of the same color. His eyes, normally the color of emerald, were more like a stormy, green sea as his lips turned down, “Do you think my parents are going to divorce?”

In our day and age, what kid doesn’t know about divorce? The lucky ones never see the hard work that goes into a successful marriage or the silent disagreements their parents manage to keep from impacting their kids’ lives. Jem’s safe and secure world was crumbling around him and I wanted to reach out and hold him, tell him things would be okay. Even though I have spent more time with him over the previous day than I had over the previous three years, I knew it was best for both of us for me to reign in my wreck of emotions and not let myself get so close to him that I slip.

I said, “I don’t know. They need time to work things out. It’s hard to figure out when you’re nine… excuse me, nearly ten, but try to show them both you love them while giving them a bit of space.”

He cocked a skeptical eye at me, “That’s like doing two opposite things at the same time.”

I nodded, “Yeah. They’re mutually exclusive.”

Jem mouthed the words, as though applying them to his memory.

I bussed the table and said, “Why don’t you get dressed. I need to run to the nursery and look for some flowers, I’ll call your mom.”

Donna picked up on the second ring, “Hi Jack. How was Jem?”

I was heading back to my bedroom and turned to see the boy. He had pulled off his green Hulk top. To go along with his too-skinny arms and legs, his chest was thin and milky white. I turned back around and continued toward my bedroom, “Yeah, he’s doing okay. Worried about you and Wes.”

“He’s not the only one,” she said with a worried tone.

Knowing it wasn’t my place to intrude, I focused on the reason I called, “I’m heading out to get some flowers for that empty spot in front of my kitchen window. I wanted to see if you wanted me to send Jem home to his dad or if it’s okay for him to come with me.”

Donna let out a nervous chuckle, “Thanks for calling to ask. I just got off the phone with Wes when you called. I’m heading back to the house in a bit and we’re going to talk about… ah, things. I really hate to impose, but do you think it would be okay if Jem hung out with you until this evening? I’ll come and get him sometime between six and eight. If that’s okay with you. I hate to fuck up your day.”

I glanced at the door as I said, “I guess it’s okay. Jem’s not going to fuck up my day. You’ve got a good kid there, Donna. You and Wes focus on yourselves today. Go figure things out.”

On the other end of the connection, Donna sighed, “God, Jack. You’re a life saver. Thanks.”

When the call ended, I grabbed a clean pair of jeans and a T-shirt. I was down to my underwear when Jem came around the corner. His eyes went wide as he gasped, “Oops!” and turned his back on me as I hustled into my jeans. Once I was done, I said, “Sorry about that, Jem. That’s on me. I should have closed the door. Not used to having houseguests.”

He turned around as I wrestled my shirt over my head. His cheeks were rosier than normal as he said, “It’s okay. I’ve seen my dad naked before. You’re not as hairy as him.”

I was a bit taken aback at Jem’s observation. I knew he wasn’t checking me out. Kids his age are just observant and tend to say whatever comes to mind.

Growing up in suburban Georgia, I had always felt I was a bit behind the curve developmentally. It was probably one reason my self-esteem wasn’t very high. I didn’t have many friends when I was started going through puberty, and it was worse, I think, because I was probably close to a year behind other boys my age when I started.

My best friend at that time was Jack Toliver. His mom and my mom were best friends, and we were actually next-door neighbors. Jack was several years older than me and had actually baby-sat me until I was old enough to not need a sitter. I was pretty close with Jack and confided in him about how these uncertainties made me feel. He told me he knew how I felt and even gave me a big hug and helped me feel better. A couple of weeks later, he invited me to spend the night over at his place. If our moms hadn’t been best of friends, and if the two of us weren’t as close as we were, it would have been awkward for a seventeen-year-old to invite a twelve-year-old for a sleep-over. The night of our sleep-over, we locked his bedroom door and as we discussed my body, we were soon naked, sitting on his bed. He was already fully grown at seventeen. His hairy penis was six inches when erect, while my little three inches left me feeling terribly inadequate. That’s when he taught me it wasn’t the size of the boat that mattered, but the motion of the ocean.

That night, Jack introduced me to mutual masturbation and oral sex. Even though all I could do was dry cum, he made me feel good about it.

After that, Jack and I had several more sleep overs until he graduated from high school and headed off to college at the end of the year. I had all my firsts with Jack. My first dry orgasm, my first wet one too. Getting oral sex for the first time, and giving it too. He taught me how to swallow his cum and even enjoy it. He even took my virginity when he fucked me. I thought we were in love, but when he went to college we quickly drew apart.

The biggest thing Jack helped me with was feeling better about my body, even though I wasn’t the tallest, strongest or biggest. By the time I was seventeen, I was still a few inches short of six feet, but was resigned to not growing taller. Also, I told myself it was normal to only be five inches when hard. And it was okay only having a few wayward wisps around my nipples and under my arms.

Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure I was trying really hard to feel okay about a body that I felt didn’t measure up, and that’s why when I was seventeen, what I learned from Jack, I paid forward to Ethan. Ethan was a boy in my scout troop. He was thirteen and on the small side. We were on a camping trip and as things sometimes happen, we were both naked in our tent in the wee-hours of the night. That first time, we just jacked each other off. But on subsequent camp-outs, we traded blowjobs. That’s when I discovered that Ethan at thirteen, his cum tasted better than Jack’s, at seventeen.

Looking at Jem, framed in the doorway of my bedroom, I said, “Well, we’re all guys, right? We’ve all got the same plumbing.”

The boy giggled and nodded. We spent the rest of the morning at the nursery picking out greenery for the flower bed. He had a good eye for flowers and enjoyed picking them up and smelling them. When we returned home, Jem stared at his house. Both cars were in the drive. I came over to him and put a hand around his shoulder, as he said, “You think they’re fighting?”

I guided him toward the house, “Dunno. Let’s eat, then we’ll do some gardening.”

Jem and I had finished planting the flowers and were drowning them in an appropriate amount of water when we saw Donna and Wes coming across the street. The sun was well on its way through the western sky. Jem’s jeans were dirty and there were streaks of dirt across his shirt and face, but until he glimpsed his parents, he’d been pleasant company. His smile faded as the two came up my drive.

Donna and Wes weren’t holding hands, but they also weren’t staring daggers at each other. Wes held back, clearly uncomfortable while Donna stepped forward, “Goodness, Jem. You look like quite the gardener. Are you having a good time?”

Jem was guarded when he came over to his mom, “Yeah. Me and Jack planted the entire garden,” his hand swept behind him at the narrow flower bed next to my porch.

Donna came over and oohed and aahed. Then she said, “Jem, can you give me and your father a moment with Jack?”

Curious, I followed the boy’s parents back down to the street where Donna, still in charge of things, said, “Wes and I really owe you for helping out.”

Wes finally spoke, “Yeah, Jack. Thanks for not pointing out what an ass I was last night.”

I shrugged. What could I say? “No problem, guys. If my ass was in a bind, I hope you’d do the same. That’s what friends are for.”

Donna offered a weary grin, “We really appreciate it, and that’s why we hate imposing further. It’s just that Wes and I need a bit more time this evening and with it being a weekend and all, was hoping we could impose on you one more night.”

I glanced up the drive. Jem stood next to the porch, holding the water-hose. He was absentmindedly watering the grass, his eyes focused on us. I knew it was best for all of us for me to refuse. If the past twenty-four hours had taught me anything, it was I liked his company, and I doubted it was healthy for either of us.

“Sure,” I said, ignoring the voice of reason in my head, “You guys take care of yourselves. Jem can stay over again.”

I glanced up again. Jem really was a mess. His clothes were dirty, and it looked like he got more mulch on him than he did the flower garden. I said, “He really has been a big help today, but like most kids his age, I think he got more dirt on him than he did the flowers. Do you mind if I send him back to get cleaned up?”

Donna looked embarrassed, “Oh, we made reservations at a restaurant. We’re a couple of minutes late already. Do you mind giving him a bath?”

My eyes grew round. I think Donna realized how she framed her question and she said, “Oh, Jem can handle most of it himself. But he needs help with his hair and back.”

What was I getting myself into? I nodded, “Sure, Donna. Now, go on, you two. I don’t want you losing your reservation.”

With that, Donna and Wes waved up at Jem, “We’ll see you tomorrow!”

I watched them get in Donna’s car. As they pulled out of the drive, I felt Jem’s hand slide into mine. “Where are they going?”

 I squeezed his hand a little, “Out to eat. I think they need more time to talk this evening. You okay spending the night again?”

He looked up and smiled, “Yeah.” As we walked back up the drive, I rested my hand on his back as he walked a bit closer to me.

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