But yeah… something’s wrong.

I don’t even have to respond to August, though, because it’s as if he senses I’m suddenly worried. Shifting toward my dad, he says, “Hey, Mike… how about going out and getting a beer with me?”

My dad glances up, clearly surprised at the offer. It’s very unlike August, who has never quite warmed up to my dad, and the feeling has been mutual. For August to do this… I want to hug him so badly I can feel my arms ache just from the desire. He doesn’t owe my dad anything, but I know the truth about why he’s reaching out to him.

He’s doing it for Sam, and he’s doing it for me. He might not like my dad overly much, but he knows we love him.

CHAPTER 19

August

I’m not much of a bar hopper. On occasion, I’ll go out for drinks with my buddies from work. And I’ll hang out at The Wicked Horse. Otherwise, I stay home. My life isn’t all that exciting outside of work.

As such, I wasn’t sure where to take Mike for a beer, but ended up settling on a small hole-in-the-wall place in a shopping complex about a mile from the hospital, which I’d noticed on my many trips by. It’s perfect since it’s practically deserted, and the bartender pretty much stays away from us.

Cracking peanuts provided in little plastic baskets, we watch the TV behind the bar that’s muted but showing sports highlights on ESPN.

When I’m almost finished with my beer, I decide to break the silence. “What’s eating you?”

Mike surveys me for a moment before giving his attention to the TV. “Nothing.”

“Not true.” I reply confidently.

I’m met with silence.

I pick up my mug, drain it, and push it to the edge of the bar, which catches the bartender’s attention. Lifting my chin to indicate I’d like another beer, I then gesture at Mike’s nearly empty glass. When we have two full and foaming mugs in front of us, I try my second attempt to get Mike to open up. “So… Sam had a good birthday, huh?”

That has an effect. Mike makes a scoffing noise before muttering, “And why wouldn’t he? His dad managed to outshine us all by bringing a professional football player to the party—his favorite one, at that.”

I’m startled by the derision in his voice. I’d thought he’d be happy for Sam to have such a treat, not bitter about it. I shift on my stool to face him. “Are you jealous of what I did for Sam?”

“No,” he replies sulkily, eyes returning to the TV screen.

I don’t back off. “Sure sounds like it to me. Maybe that’s just your own guilt manifesting.”

Mike whips around on his barstool, his eyes flashing with anger. “What do I have to feel guilty about?”

And while my intent was to get Mike away from the hospital and perhaps relax over a friendly drink because we’ve all been under a lot of pressure, I realize we actually need to have this out. There’s been animosity brewing between us. “Oh, let’s see,” I sneer, deciding… fuck it. I’ll let it all hang out. “Maybe you’re feeling guilty because you chose to stay behind instead of coming with Sam to Vegas. Put your own selfish needs above your grandson.”

Mike pales, his eyes rounding in shock. “Sam is my number-one priority.”

“If that were the case, you never would have stayed behind,” I accuse.

In disbelief, Mike shakes his head, giving a mirthless laugh. “You think I stayed behind because I was afraid for myself?”

Admittedly, I’m thrown off by his tone. He sounds so confident I’ve misjudged him.

“Well yeah,” I drawl, now a little uncertain.

Mike leans into me, growling, “You dumb jackass… I didn’t come because I thought it would put Sam in more danger. It’s me the mafia wants. They don’t even know about Sam. I was afraid moving to a new location would… I don’t know… cause a stir and unwanted attention. At first, I thought him going off to Vegas with you and Leighton would be the safest thing for him. Letting him go would make him safer. What I feel guilty about is breaking down and coming here. Possibly putting him in danger by my proximity now that we’re out of government protection.”

Well, fuck. Clearly, I had not read the situation correctly. Or, rather, I hadn’t bothered to find out what his intentions and reasoning were in the first place. I merely assumed he was a coward who was abandoning his grandson.

“Shit,” I mutter. Picking up my beer, I take a long pull and set it down, giving a sidelong glance at Mike. I can do nothing but offer a sheepish smile. “Sorry… apparently, I got that wrong.”

“Yeah,” he replies dryly. “I stand by my statement… you’re a dumb jackass.”

“Owning up to that,” I admit. Angling my body his way, I offer him my hand. “Will you accept my apology?”

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