With a sigh, I explain about Malik and how he was sent to rescue hostages in Syria but became one himself. I wrap it up, saying he has apparently been found and I’m not going to be able to go on a rescue mission because of Sam.

“You give up a lot for your son,” Mike murmurs. “And I know your job is important to you. I understand how important this friend must be to you. But you’re being the best father a man can be by setting your priorities straight. If there’s ever any advice I can impart to you about being a father it is for you to continue being the same man you are when it comes to your son.”

“Really?” I ask, because I’m new to this. I have no fucking clue if I’m doing anything right.

Mike nods, a smile playing at his lips. “You’ve always been a good man, August. I saw it when you were younger, and I see it now. From the moment Leighton showed up on your doorstep, you have been a father in every sense of the word. Even before you met Sam, you were a father because you didn’t ask questions and you immediately jumped in to do whatever it took to save his life. Sam’s a lucky boy. His life is much better now that you’re in it. I’m glad this all played out the way it did.”

I’m usually not one to get choked up by emotion, but I have to say… Mike’s words affect me deeply. While I have a great relationship with my parents, they’re not the type to be overly involved with me as an adult. Once I flew the nest, they decided to start leading their own lives. They’ve never told me that they’re proud of the things I do. I mean, I know deep down they are, but they’re more interested in assuring I’m a happy person and living my best life. They have no clue I have the abilities to be a good father. But they’ll soon be given the opportunity to evaluate that since I’m going to have to tell them about Sam. We all discussed it, and Sam is eager to meet them. Our goal was to get him out of the hospital first, so I’ll need to give them a call to convince them to come to Vegas for a visit.

“You and Leighton seem to be getting on very well,” Mike muses, the hopeful emphasis on the word “very” ringing loud and clear.

I shrug, trying to brush off the significance of his claim. “You know I heaped a lot of blame on her in the beginning for keeping Sam away, but, lately, I’m wondering how fair I’ve been. I think we’ve made our peace.”

Mike takes a swig of his beer. “Nobody ever begrudged your anger over the years you missed out on with Sam.”

I’ve appreciated the understanding on their part—their willingness to let me work through those turbulent emotions. “My ability to handle fear is a lot different based on my experiences and environments. I think I’m becoming more cognizant of the fact Leighton has a separate set of experiences and environment which she operates in, so I can’t hold her to my standard. I’ve come to appreciate her as a mom a lot more. Becoming a parent has made me look at things a bit differently.”

Mike chuckles, clapping me on the shoulder. “I always knew you two were good for each other. Knew you’d find a way back onto common ground. You can’t quiet a love like that.”

I jolt at his proclamation and use of the “L” word, shaking my head in denial. “It’s not like that.”

Not for me. At least, I don’t think it is. I mean, Leighton made the statement the other night she never moved on from me, so maybe she’s there. Should I be? Am I in a place I shouldn’t be?

I can tell by the skepticism on Mike’s face that he’s not buying my denial. “Oh, it’s something like that. You say what you want, but something has changed between you two lately. You’re both doing that thing you used to do when you were younger.”

My brow furrows. “What thing?”

“Communicating silently.” Mike chuckles. “Used to drive me batshit crazy. With just a look, you two could pass entire conversations back and forth. You’ll never know what that does to a father—knowing his daughter has that deep of a connection with another man. At any rate, you and Leighton are doing it again, so you can’t tell me there’s not something there.”

I grab my beer, muttering, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, old man.”

Mike doesn’t reply, merely laughs knowingly.

Sullenly, I brood over my beer, wondering how much I even know about myself. Or am I just being stubborn and refusing to admit my feelings?

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