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Finally! Paul wasted no time charging the man. He unleashed a flurry of punches, all of which Nobody dodged as if Paul were moving in slow motion. Nobody didn’t make any effort to retaliate.
“Fight me!” Paul shouted.
“Why?” Nobody asked. The jerk wasn’t even out of breath.
“Because if you don’t I’m going to kill you!” Paul meant every word. He wouldn’t hurt so bad if he hadn’t trusted Nobody and let Bill into his life.
“Would you rather have lived a life never knowing Bill?” Nobody asked the question even as he ducked another wild punch from Paul, who fell to the ground sobbing.
“I don’t know.” Paul managed to speak through the tears. “It hurts so much.”
Nobody stood far enough away to dodge in case Paul got up, but he was out of fight. He was out of energy.
“The lives we have on this world are always temporary,” Nobody said softly. “People tend to act as if they’ll live forever, if not a nice long while, but we don’t have any say in it.”
“So God gets his kicks out of ripping the people we love away from us!” Paul rolled over and sat up, but he still didn’t have the strength to fight anymore. It took everything he had to keep from just sitting there and crying forever.
The anger he felt gave him a distraction, and that’s what it had always been. The rage was a tool to keep the sadness at bay, but none of it ever worked well.
“I believe Bill was a great Christian, loved by God,” Nobody said.
“So what?” Paul sat there covered in road grease and bits of trash from the alley.
“So what I think is that God called his child home,” Nobody said.
“We were his home!” Paul found a pebble and threw it. Nobody dodged it easily.
“So we come back to the question of property. You don’t own your mom. You don’t own Bill. The people in our lives are gifts, but they’re not property.” Nobody took a few steps closer as if to test Paul’s willingness to lash out again.
“It’s not the same!” Paul screamed.
“Then what is it?” Nobody asked.
Paul stammered a bit, trying to find a way to explain how he felt without making it seem like Bill was some toy he wanted to keep to himself forever, but he couldn’t think of a way. “Fine,” Paul said. “I wanted Bill. He was supposed to be my dad and my mom’s husband. We were supposed to be a family.”
The words came out more like whimpers than the ones before it.
“Nobody this side of Heaven understands why we lose the people we love when we do.” Nobody spoke in that soft, gentle whisper he always used. It was hard to hear through Paul’s sobs. He wasn’t even sure he cared enough to listen.
“You loved him.” Nobody said.
“Of course I did!”
“You wanted to make him proud,” Nobody said.
“Then make him proud,” Nobody said. “Become the man you know he’d want you to be.”
Paul couldn’t shout anymore. He couldn’t even speak. All he could do was curl up into a ball and cry. The temperature swung from normal, to freezing, to hot, to normal again. Just as quickly, less than an eye blink, a light flashed, which meant Nobody had left.
“But how do I do it?” Paul finally managed to say. “He taught me everything. How do I be the man he wanted me to be when he’s not here to tell me what to do anymore?”
Of course Nobody would leave those questions unanswered. He never really said anything. He just pointed at some dumb Bible verse or quoted the Bible and left it there for Paul to think about.
Isn’t that what Bill would do?
The thought came unbidden, and Paul shoved it down. No! I won’t turn to the one who took Bill from me!
Isn’t that exactly what Bill would want?
Paul lost the energy to argue even with himself. Whatever happened, he couldn’t think of what to do.
“I don’t know what to do without him,” he muttered.
Someone embraced him. For a split second, Paul jerked in surprise, but the slender arms and gentle manner were familiar to him.
“Neither do I,” his mother whispered. She had to have sat next to him and wrapped him in her arms.
“Stop!” Paul said, trying to pull away. “That dress of yours is expensive.”
“I don’t care,” she said softly, gripping him tightly even as he tried to stand. The tremble in her voice made it clear she was crying, too.
Suddenly, another pair of arms wrapped around him. Paul glanced to his left to see Jordan there. The moron! He didn’t know what to say or do, so he just held Paul quietly. He was the greatest friend anyone could have.
“We miss him, too,” his mother whispered. “I’m just doing my best. I’m just trying to do what he’d want, and it’s not because I don’t miss him; it’s because I miss him. It’s not because I’ve stopped loving him; it’s because I still love him.”
Paul codlin’t even speak. The dam of anger he’d tried to hide his sadness behind had come crashing down, and the tears wouldn’t stop.
Jordan gave him another squeeze. He didn’t say a word. But that firm hug said everything. It said, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here.”
They were a trio of well dressed idiots from the perspective of anyone who might have seen them. They were all sitting in a filthy alley holding each other and crying as if they’d been beaten or robbed.
Paul felt that way. Maybe I did think of Bill like mine, but that’s only because I wanted to be his.
Paul kept thinking as he cried. Even his mother had gone silent.
Paul wondered what Bill would want. It wasn’t hard to imagine. He’d want Paul to do what his mother had done. He’d want Paul to become a Christian.
He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t turn to the one who took Bill from him.
Was there something else? Yes.
“We’re going back to work on the project tomorrow,” Paul said.
That was something he knew he could do.
The End of Chapter 12. To be continued …