“His dad’s a piece of work.” I sigh and sit down in one of the chairs, dropping my head towards my lap.
“I think you need to step in. He needs a role model in his life,” James says.
I lift my eyes to his. “I own a strip club. I can’t exactly take him there to hang out.”
“What teenage boy doesn’t like women?” James asks, looking at me with a smile twitching his lips.
“I don’t know if I’m a good role model.” I’ve never thought about how my owning a strip club would affect any relationship I had. Luckily for me, Kat doesn’t have a problem with what I do, but that doesn’t mean I think it is a normal occupation for someone with a family.
“You’re there. Your club’s clean. I’m not saying that he needs to be there. Honestly, I just think he needs something he needs a man in his life that he can look up to.”
“I’m not sure my woman would approve of me taking her kid to the strip club.”
“You dating his mom?” James asks with a tilt of his head, making me notice for the first time how much his boys take after him.
“You serious about her?”
“You know I am.”
“Then I think you need to figure out how to be what this kid needs so you can be the man your woman needs as well. I’ve seen it happen too many times. Young man, no one to turn to, starts acting out, ends up in trouble that he can’t get out of. I don’t want that for you or Kathleen.”
I let his words sink in and know I need to do something. I just need to figure out exactly what my role would be.
“I’ll figure it out,” I tell him.
“Figured you would,” James mumbles, taking his eyes off me and looking over at Braxton. “You wanna bring him out?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Braxton says, getting up from behind the desk and heading towards the back of the station.
A minute later, Brandon stumbles around the corner with Braxton and I shake my head.
“Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, what day is it?” Brandon says as soon as our eyes meet.
“Let’s go,” I say, ignoring him and grabbing his arm.
“How can someone who owns a strip club be so lame?” he asks, leaning his weight against me.
“You want me to help you get him into your car?” James asks, holding open the door to the station.
“We’re good. I’ll call you later. We need to figure out when we’re doing our fishing trip.”
“I wanna go on a fishing trip,” Brandon mutters as I lead him out to my car.
“You do?” I ask, surprised. I haven’t even thought about taking him because he has never seemed like he wants to even be in the same room I’m in let alone to go away for a few days on a trip.
“My dad was supposed to take me on a trip for graduation, but he told me we can’t go ‘cause his new kid needs braces,” he says and his eyes draw together like he’s trying to remember something. “My dad’s a piece of shit,” he slurs out.
“Your right about that,” I mutter in agreement while helping him into my car.
Once I see that he’s buckled in, I shut his door, walk around to the driver’s side door, and open it.
“We may have to schedule the fishing trip sooner rather than later!” I yell over the roof of my car at James, who is standing in the door of the station.
His eyes go from me to the passenger’s side of my car and he nods.
I get in and slam the door. Hearing Brandon talk about his father makes me realize what he has been missing. I have a good dad. Even when he and my mother split, I knew I could depend on him. I don’t know what it’s like to be a young man without a father to depend on. And it pisses me off that this kid wants to have a relationship with his dad and his father is too blind to understand that he’s lucky enough to have the opportunity to know his son, to watch him grow, to help shape the type of man he’ll be.
“My mom loves you,” Brandon mumbles, rolling his head against the headrest to look at me. “You hurt her, I’ll kill you,” he says as I pull out onto the highway towards home.
A smile twitches my lips, and I nod before answering. “I love her too, and I won’t hurt her.”
“Good,” he mutters before rolling down the window, sticking his head outside, and getting sick all over the side of my car.
“You’re washing my car tomorrow,” I tell him, trying not to laugh as he gags harder.
This scenario is familiar. I remember calling my mom to come pick me up when I had drunk too much in high school. The next day, I had to wash the inside and outside of my mom’s car. She told me that it was part of my punishment and it worked. I learned my limit quickly.
As soon as we pull up in front of Kat’s house, Brandon opens his door and falls out of the car onto the street. I get out, walk around to his side, and help him untangle his foot from where it somehow got stuck on the seatbelt before assisting him to his feet.
“You’re a good guy, Mike,” he says, patting my chest as he leans into me.
“When you’re not drunk, we’re gonna sit down and have a talk,” I tell him, walking up to the front door and pulling out my key.
“Fuck, you have a key. It is serious,” he says, his body almost pulling me down with him.
As I unlock the door and push it open, he leans over and vomits all over the porch. I hold him up, trying to help him over to the grass. The poor kid is going to have one hell of a hangover tomorrow, and cleaning up puke isn’t going to help.
I turn slightly to look at Kat, who is standing in the doorway wearing nothing but a robe.
“What’s going on? Oh my God. Is he drunk?” she asks, starting to step outside.
I turn towards her, taking one hand off Brandon, placing it in her stomach, and pushing her back inside. “He got sick out here, baby,” I tell her, and she nods, looking at her son.
“I thought that, when we moved, you wouldn’t do this anymore, Brandon,” she says.
I can see the worry in her eyes, and I understand it, but I also understand why her son is acting out right now. Brandon stands up and leans his body weight completely on me.
“Let’s get him into bed. Tomorrow, we’re all gonna sit down and have a talk,” I tell her.
She looks ever more worried. The urge to comfort her almost strangles me, but I need to deal with her son first. Then I can talk to her and hopefully make her understand what’s going on and what this kid really needs. She can’t continue to act like his behavior is normal. It’s not fair to her son or her. Without saying anything else, I follow her into the house and up the stairs towards Brandon’s room.