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“This calls for a celebration!” Paul’s mother took a moment to take another bite of her dinner before standing and heading into the kitchen.
“Your project truly does have a lot of potential,” Bill said.
“It’s our project.” Paul couldn’t understand why Bill wouldn’t take any credit.
Bill shook his head. “It’s just like I told the university. All I’ve ever done is provide you research and formulas. Everything on those boards is yours. I’d never have even considered these possibilities before meeting you. I’m honored to be your mentor, but this is all yours.”
Paul shook. Every inch of him wanted to hug Bill. He couldn’t remember ever doing so. There was a sort of fear denying him. If he hugged Bill, it would mean he’s choosing him. It would mean he’d found a father. Then he’d have to let go of the last ounce of anger he held for his bio dad.
Bill walked up to him, and Paul felt the desire to step back, but he was still every bit as frozen as he was the moment before. He was trapped between his fear of letting go and his fear of moving on.
Bill wrapped an arm around him, and something broke. Paul threw his arms around him and hugged him. He didn’t weep, but tears flowed down his eyes freely. The more joy he felt, the tighter he squeezed.
He heard Bill grunt, but he didn’t stop, and Bill didn’t ask him to. They held each other there.
Paul looked up to Bill, who wasn’t that much taller. “I’m going to figure this out,” he said.
“I doubt doubt it,” Bill said smiling.
Paul coughed as if he had something stuck in his throat and tried to pretend he wasn’t drying the tears from his eyes. “I’ve … “ He took another breath. “Did Mom tell you about what happened?”
Bill nodded his head. He understood where Paul was going.
“My bio dad never showed an interest. I was like another muscle to him he could exercise or train to be his. At least, that’s how I felt. I was an annoyance. I never felt like I was a son.”
Bill moved and sat down in his chair. He didn’t say anything. Again Paul noted the similarities between Nobody and Bill. Nobody was quite. It was like he wanted Paul to feel free to say anything.
“I’ve never felt chosen before,” Paul finally said. “I never felt wanted.”
Bill smiled. “Before I ever met you, before the world was made, you were chosen.”
Paul chuckled. Of course Bill would find a way to make this about God, but not in some sort of sermon. It’s just how Bill worked.
“You still don’t know that yet,” Bill said. “But I’ll keep planting. The joy is mine, Paul. You’re a gift, and I’m glad God gave you to me.”
Paul felt another urge to hug the man, but grunted instead. He wasn’t sure he was ready to trust his feelings. Instead, he changed the subject. “Where’d Mom go?”
He walked to the kitchen without waiting for an answer. Paul turned around the open frame that led to the kitchen and found his mother sitting on a stool, crying. Three white bowls sat next to a tub of ice cream, and she sat there weeping.
Paul rushed up to her. “Mom! What’s wrong?”
He gently wrapped her in his arms before stepping back to check for injury. She laughed. It might have been the most melodious and cheerful laugh he’d ever heard. “I’m not sad or hurt.” She pulled him back into a hug. “I’m happy.”
She held him there for a long time. “I’m just so very happy.”
After another long time, Paul started to feel a bit silly. “You know, Bill’s out there waiting.”
His mother laughed again. “Isn’t it wonderful!?”
Paul chuckled. He grabbed the bowls, and she picked up the ice cream. They headed out to the dining room to celebrate Paul’s scholarship.
It might have been the best night in Paul’s young life. They just talked and ate ice cream, but it was wonderful. After they finished, Paul stood to grab and rinse the dishes.
“It’s getting late,” Bill said.
“Do you have to go?” His mother asked.
“It’s OK if you stay,” Paul called out from the kitchen.
“It is most certainly not OK if I stay,” Bill said. “Though I am very tempted.”
Paul heard the sound of kissing, so he turned up the water and scrubbed the bowls as hard as he could. He didn’t leave anything to chance. He washed ever dish by hand just to make sure he didn’t have to overhear his mother making out. He hoped they were, but he didn’t want to have to listen to it.
When he shut the water off, he heard them talking.
“ … have to do things the right way,” Bill was saying.
“Who’s going to know? Who’s going to care? Whose business is it?” His mother asked.
“Ours, and we’ll know.” Bill said. “You’re more important to me than my desire.”
“But aren’t I the one you desire?” She asked.
“Of course you are,” he answered. “But I don’t want you for a night. I want you for the rest of my life.”
Paul wondered if they’d noticed him eavesdropping. It’s like the air got sucked out of the room. He felt the urge to peek around the wall, but stopped just as his mother let out a deep breath.
“Are you … are you asking … “
“Not tonight,” Bill said. “Tonight’s already special, and it’s Paul’s night. Let it be his. But maybe I could take you out tomorrow.”
Paul felt the urge to shout for some reason. He actually covered his mouth like to make it sound more like a sneeze. That gave him an excuse to turn the water back on. He washed his hands. As soon as he turned off the water, he shook his hands dry and rushed into the dining room.
“Where’s Bill?” He looked around, but it was obvious he’d gone home. “What happened?”
His mother smiled. “He had to go, but he’s taking me out tomorrow.”
Paul smiled back and snatched her into a hug. She laughed again, and it was wonderful.
They talked for a bit about unimportant and silly things, but it didn’t take long for his mother to yawn, fighting back a rare evening of work.
Paul said goodnight and headed to his room. He opened the door and found Nobody sitting at his desk.
The End of Chapter Nine … To Be Continued …