We’ve been trying to get to know each other—speed-dating style. “The Jets,” I reply.

Sam wrinkles his nose. “The Broncos are better.”

“Not going to argue with you, kid.” Sam struggles with the frozen ice cream the deeper he digs, so I take the scooper and help. As I plop it into the bowl, I ask, “Favorite food?”

Sam grimaces again. “These days… not much of anything. I haven’t felt like eating lately.”

And just like that, our happy reunion gets doused with a bucket of ice water. I dig out another scoop of ice cream, deeming the pile in the bowl sufficient, and push it toward him. “You feel like eating this?”

He nods, smirking as he takes his spoon. “Got to admit, ice cream always tastes good to me.”

“So you get your calories and nutrition as best you can,” I remark with a shrug. “You should eat all the ice cream you want then.”

“That’s what my mom says. She’s happy to see me eating anything these days.”

Leaning over, I press my forearms to the counter so we are eye to eye. “I know it’s been tough—I can’t even imagine—but I’m glad I can be a donor for you.”

Sam’s eyes twinkle. “Me too. And bonus… I get a dad.”

I watch as Sam attacks the ice cream. He eats it with gusto and I wonder if there’s something inside him that fears death, making him try to suck every bit of goodness out of what he can. The thought of him dying makes me want to vomit. Makes me feel completely out of control.

“Your mom and I were going to talk to you about it later,” I start. Perhaps because of the somber nature of my tone, Sam puts his spoon down and swallows the last bite in his mouth. “But we’re going to take you to Vegas for your treatment. It’s where I live. Where my job is. And I have the best doctors lined up for you. A fancy private plane lined up to fly you there, too.”

A smidgen of fear flits over Sam’s face. “My mom’s coming, too, right? And Grandpa?”

“Your mom for sure. Not sure if your grandfather can or not. He’s still under protection here.”

“Did my mom lose protection when she left?” he asks.

“Most likely,” I reply truthfully. “I mean… we haven’t actually spoken to anyone about it, but I know the rules are strict. It’s not something you need to worry about, though, since she’ll be safe with me.”

“Will I be in danger if I leave?”

It suddenly hits me like a sack of bricks—the enormous burden Leighton must have had on her shoulders… having to explain all of this to Sam. She could’ve taken the easy way out. Told him that she didn’t know who his father was. She could have made me out to be a bad guy—convinced Sam that I had left them. But she’d told him the truth. Even the ugly bit about her father and what landed them in their situation. She wanted her son to know exactly where he came from and what he was facing. I have to admit I respect the fuck out of her for it.

Because it’s enabling me to have a pretty deep conversation with my kid, and I can do so with complete transparency.

“You are going to be absolutely safe, Sam. Your mom, too. You’re going to stay with me until you’re admitted to the hospital for the transplant. And I am good at protecting people. It’s what I do for a living.”

Sam’s eyes widen and his mouth parts, forming a surprised “O”. “Really? What do you do?”

“Well, I used to be a police officer with the Vegas police department. I actually worked on their SWAT team.”

“That is so cool,” Sam exclaims.

“Now I work for a security company,” I explain. “I protect people, sometimes even rescue those who have been kidnapped.”

“Wow,” Sam breathes in a reverent gush of air. “And you can protect my grandpa if he comes, too, right?”

My face clouds over at his question. I can’t hide it. But I don’t want to keep anything from my son. “It’s complicated, Sam. Right now, your grandpa still has government protection while your mom most likely does not. We’re going to have to talk about it some more.”

And then Sam does something that—for as long as I live—I will never forget.

This child, who has known me for less than an hour, reaches over and sets his hand on top of mine. He looks me dead in the eye and with a conviction I have never seen in another person before, he firmly states, “It’s okay, Dad. I trust you.”

CHAPTER 10

Leighton

Today may have been one of the most exhausting days of my life. The stress of returning home with August, worrying about how my kid will react to all of this and, of course, fighting with my father about our future has my ass dragging. I just want to finish the last of the dishes from dinner, take a hot shower, and go to bed.

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