Summer had started and Susie and Dad's bosses had been letting me come into work with them. Since I was going to be a junior in high school, they let me take on the work an associate, or beginning employee might undertake, and paid me for the work I did. It was the sixth or so time I'd come to work with Dad and were were about to leave for lunch when I noticed a college intern sending me unpleasant looks. Dressed in a prim dress, she looked overly serious and judgmental.
"Who's that?" I whispered, nodding in the direction of where I was receiving a particularly unpleasant look.
"That's Juliana Thomas," Dad said. "New intern."
"You do see the look she's giving me, right?"
"Kiddo, Juliana's pretty competitive, and she's pretty new, so she probably feels threatened by you."
"Probably. C'mon, kiddo, lunchtime."
Juliana gave me increasingly darker looks when we returned from lunch and she cornered me when I came out of the men's room mid afternoon.
"Who exactly do you think you are?" She hissed furiously. "You hardly work but everybody seems to know you—George, Darren, and the boss—are you giving out sexual favors? Because there is nothing special about you. Why are you here?"
"Sexual favors?" I sputtered incredulously.
"Nick," snapped a voice.
"I'm not giving out sexual favors, I swear!" I looked at Dad in shock.
"Yeah, kiddo, I'd know if you did," he chuckled.
"Not funny," I most definitely did not pout.
Juliana looked at us, confusion evident on her face.
"Juliana," said Dad, "I'd like you to meet my son, Nick."
"He's your…son? But, but you'd've had to been—"
"I assure you, Ms. Thomas, that I did not engage in underage sex and have a child."
"I'm legally his son, just not biologically," I cut in curtly.
Darren wrapped an arm around my shoulders and I leaned into the embrace.
"Oh," was all Juliana had to say, "I see."
She was polite to me for the rest of the summer.
It was mid July, about two o'clock in the morning, and I was in a jail cell.
"Make your call," the burly police officer said from outside the cell.
I swallowed nervously and dialed Dad's cellphone.
"Hello?" A voice mumbled from the other end.
"Nick!" There was some shuffling in the background and I heard a door open. Then, "Why are you not in bed sleeping where you should be?" Dad's voice was calm but filled with ice.
"I'm at the police station," I muttered.
A sigh. Then, "Nicholas Reed Mathews."
"Sorry Dad. Really, I am." I swallowed thickly.
"What are you doing there?"
"I…went out and…drank."
"Nicholas." Dad's voice was cold. "I'll be there in ten minutes. You have a lot of explaining to do." He hung up.
"Here," I said, handing the phone back to the police officer. He'd found me stumbling my way back home, given me a breath test, then dumped me where I was now. "My dad'll be here soon," I yawned tiredly.
Ten long minutes later, I heard a door open and Dad came to stand in front of me. The policeman unlocked the cell.
"C'mon, kid," Dad cut me off, voice stern. "You can explain in the car."
I nodded, and Dad went to talk things over with the policeman.
When we finally made it out to the car, I was filled with a nervous apprehension. Dad didn't say a word.
"Dad," I began. It had been way too silent and I couldn't take it anymore. "Dad. I'm sorry. I thought it would be fun but it wasn't. I won't do it again. Ever. Really Dad, I won't."
"Remember those first rules we talked about when I met you?" Dad's voice was still infused with steel.
"What were they?"
"No lying and nothing illegal," I muttered. "And no drugs or anything."
"Dad." A thought suddenly occurred to me. "Please don't get rid of me! I swear, I'll be good. Just please don't send me away!" I sniffed, feeling tears well up.
"Kiddo." Dad's voice gentle. "I'm not sending you away. But," he scolded, tone become harsh again, "There will be consequences."
"I haven't decided a punishment yet, but you're for sure grounded."
"Okay," I whispered.
Dad parked the car and and opened my door. I stumbled slightly when I got out. Dad caught my arm and gently guided my to the apartment.
"I'm sorry. I really am. Please, I'm—"
"Shhh," Dad hushed me. "I forgive you, Nick."
I turned and buried my face in Dad's shoulder, throwing my arms around him and hugging tightly. The tears that had been threatening to escape in the car spilled over.
"Kiddo," he said, voice soft. "You experimented with alcohol. I can't say I didn't do the same at your age. And it's okay to be curious about things, but you have to consider what effect they might have. You could have been seriously hurt coming home. That's why I was mad."
I pressed my body closer to the solid, reassuring figure that was my dad.
Dad guided me to my bed and sat me down.
"Don't leave yet," I begged tearfully.
Dad ruffled my hair. "Move over, then."
I rolled over to my side, and dad settled himself on the bed, sitting against the headboard. I moved my head onto his lap and was lulled to sleep by Dad carding his fingers through my hair.
"Nick," I heard faintly. "You're my son now. It's my job to protect you and keep you safe. I…I don't want to lose you because you made a few stupid choices."