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April 2, 2027, 3:33 p.m.
18 Years, 349 Days Ago
Paul plopped down from the wall behind his house and walked through the back door. Bill was there in the dining room. He turned to Paul in surprise.
“Why are you coming in through the back door?” he asked.
Paul froze. He wanted to rush up to Bill and start asking a million questions he’d had from the last time they’d spoken a few days ago. Bill had visited at least another two times since they first met, but this was the first time Bill was at the house before him.
“It’s a shortcut,” Paul lied.
“No it isn’t,” Bill said. “You’d have to walk a block in the wrong direction to even get to that wall.”
Paul’s mouth froze open. His mother bought the lie when he’d used it, but his mother probably didn’t think about directions. She was happy if Paul was happy. Bill on the other hand, liked to understand things. In this case, the habit was pretty unfortunate.
Paul shrugged. “I just … “ Lying took a ton of effort. “Think it’s cool walking on the walls.”
Bill raised an eyebrow. “And the neighbors don’t mind? Doesn’t one of them have a dog?”
Why on earth does he ask so many questions? “No one’s ever asked me to stop.”
“So what brought this on?” Bill asked. “You were just walking home one day and thought, ‘Gee, I wonder what it would be like to walk on those walls over there?’”
“Sure,” Paul said. It was a lot easier to lie when someone gave you one to approve.
Bill shook his head. “You’re not that sort of adventurous. What’s really going on?”
“What, you know me for, like, two weeks, and suddenly you know everything about me?” Paul shouted the question.
“Of course not.” Bill’s tone didn’t change a bit. He even kept a gentle smile on his face.
“But you’re gonna interrogate me like you have some right to? Are you my dad now? You and Mom get married while I wasn’t looking?” The more Paul thought about the questions, the more justified he felt in shouting them.
“What is going on?” His mother’s question came out in a series of slow, emphasized words. She’d come from the kitchen and didn’t look too pleased.
Paul froze again. It was one thing to have a tirade against Bill. Actually, Bill didn’t deserve it either, but it still felt more wrong for his mother getting involved.
“Do you think Paul and I could talk?” Bill stood up from the wooden dinning room chair. Strangely, his tone only became more gentle.
“It doesn’t sound like you’re talking. Paul, are you being rude?” His mother tried to look at Paul, but Bill used a pair of fingers to gently turn her chin back toward himself.
“Sweetheart, it is your right to discipline your son,” he said. “But I’m asking you to let me talk to him.”
Paul coked his head. Why did Bill talk like that?
His mom let out a deep sigh. “I’m fine with you two talking.” She looked at Paul. “But if you raise your voice again, I’ll use my right to discipline you until you graduate college.”
Paul’s had sank in shame. “Yes, Mother.”
She backed out of the room as if taking every moment she could to observe Paul’s behavior.
After she’d been gone a few seconds, Bill turned his attention back to Paul. Those brown eyes of his were so kind. Paul shouted at him, and he just kept that patient tone.
“Why are you so defensive about what you were doing?” Bill asked.
“I’m not defensive!” Paul said defensively.
Bill smiled at him. “In my experience, I’m the most angry when I’m the most ashamed, embarrassed, or afraid.”
Paul just stood there in front of the door.
Bill narrowed his eyes. “If something is bothering you, I’d be honored if you trusted me enough to share it with me.”
Paul just looked down at his sneakers.
“You’re a good young man,” Bill mused. He sounded like he was talking to himself, but he definitely wanted Paul to hear. “So I don’t imagine you’re ashamed or embarrassed. Besides, what would using the back door hide that you’d be ashamed or embarrassed about?”
“It’s this guy,” Paul muttered.
Bill immediately stopped talking. He moved back to his chair and took a seat, offering Paul the one next to him.
Paul sat. “He stands there or rushes out of his house to tell me all about how I’m going to Hell and … other things.”
Bill cocked his head in thought. “So he claims to be a religious person?”
“You’re religious,” Paul argued.
“I’m Christian, which is a religion, but not all religious people are Christian,” Bill explained. “What does he base his opinion of you on?”
Paul shrugged. “I went to his church once. It wasn’t fun.”
“What’s the name of his church?” Bill asked.
“The Way,” Paul said.
“You’ve heard of it?” Paul asked.
The only way Paul knew Bill was frustrated was the odd moment he spent thinking before he answered. “Yes,” Bill said. “What’s this man’s name?”
“Mr. Dorny,” Paul said.
“And Mr. Dorny has you so worked up, you’ll use parkour to avoid him?” Bill asked.
Paul shrugged. When Bill said it like that, it felt stupid. It felt cowardly.
“He’s just super aggressive, and he won’t let me go. He doesn’t, like, touch me or grab me, but he gets in my way and makes it sound like I’m a bad person for not listening.”
Bill nodded. “He lives down the road, the one you’d use to come home from school?”
“Mary!” Bill called her name, and she eventually returned from the kitchen. “I have to take Paul out for just a few moments. We should be back in about half an hour.”
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“I’ll explain everything, but would you be OK if I waited until after we got back?” Bill asked.
“I’ll explain, too,” Paul chimed in. “It’s sort of a long story.”
Mary looked at Bill. “What are you going to do?”
Paul looked at Bill. He’d be interested to hear the answer as well.
“We just have to talk to someone,” Bill said. “There’s a disagreement that needs to be resolved. It won’t take long.”
Paul’s mom shrugged and let out a deep breath. “I’ll just wait for the explanation. Just be home before dinner get’s cold.”
Bill nodded and started walking toward the front door. Paul darted after him. Bill seemed to be walking more quickly than normal. Paul had to move at a pace that was one step below a jog just to keep up. He glanced at Bill, whose lips were moving, but Paul couldn’t make out any words. Is he praying?
They moved purposefully out of the cul-de-sac in which Paul lived and came to Mr. Dorny’s house, which was right at the choke point of road.
Mr. Dorny was outside, sitting in his chair. He saw Paul and smiled.
“Well it’s certainly been a while,” he said. Something about his tone sounded smug. Paul already wanted to hit him.
“He’s not here to talk to you,” Bill said. “I am.”
“And who are you?” Mr. Dorny asked. He got up from his metal beach chair. The motion looked like a lion getting up after eating a fat zebra.