Date Written: 1/24/03
Rating: PG (language)
Summary: A look at another (darker) episode in the life of 16-year-old Nick Fallin.
Author's Notes: Many thanks go to my beta readers on this story: Meghan and Kay.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. The characters in this story are borrowed from the TV show "The Guardian". No money is being made from this story. Any resemblance of a character in this story to any real person living or dead is purely coincidental. Likewise, any resemblance between an organization depicted in this story and any such actual organization is purely coincidental.
Well, I think that should cover it, Barry, Burton Fallin said to the man seated across the conference table. If we run into any snags I'll let you know.
Great, Burton. I can always count on you. Barry Hamill glanced at his watch. Hey, it's after 5:30. You want to go for drinks? Angie's got her weekly card game with the girls tonight, so I won't be missed.
Burton looked at his old friend and client, and answered with a smile, Can't tonight, Barry. Nick's getting back from Europe and I have to get to the airport to pick him up.
Ah, okay, another time then.... Europe, huh? That's great. How old is Nick now?
My...God. Sixteen? Really? It seems like just yesterday you were telling me about his first Little League game.... Sixteen, that's amazing. Just shows you how time flies.
Yeah, it sure does.
Barry said again reflectively, and grinned. I remember when my own boy was sixteen, could barely keep him away from the cars and the girls. Seemed like those were the only things he was really interested in. He laughed and Burton joined in. Of course, I guess with Nick being away at boarding school most of the year that's not so much of a problem for you.
No, not so far, Burton said, and the two friends shared another smile.
Both men stood up, and Burton led the way out of the conference room and toward the lobby of Fallin and Associates. As they walked, Barry asked, So how long before Nick goes back to school?
Ahh, the Fall semester starts in about two weeks.
Guess it'll be good to have him home for a little while, huh?
Yes, it will, Burton replied with a smile.
When they reached the lobby, they exchanged handshakes, and said their goodbyes. Once Barry Hamill had started through the door, Burton turned and strode swiftly toward his office. At 52 (almost 53), Burton Fallin was still a man in the prime of his life. He was balding on top, and the gray in his dark hair was much more pronounced than only a few years before, but he was still hale and fit, and cut an imposing figure whether it be on the tennis court or at the office. He checked his watch for the time, and saw it was 5:42. Nick's flight was due in at 6:37, so he didn't have any time to waste.
Reaching his office, Burton reminded his secretary Ginny that he was leaving and asked if he'd gotten any calls during his meeting with Barry Hamill. Ginny followed him inside, and filled him in on the three phone calls that he had received while he was occupied. Burton was glad to see that none of them were urgent--he could return them all tomorrow. Pausing just long enough to light a cigarette, he gathered up his briefcase, then glanced quickly around the room to make sure he wasn't forgetting anything. With a quick goodbye to Ginny, he headed for the lobby doors.
Burton stood at Gate 27 of Pittsburgh Int'l Airport, craning his neck for a glimpse of his son. Nick had flown into New York from Paris, so he would have dispensed with all the hassles of clearing Customs at JFK. That's good, Burton thought. Then the two of them could just go straight to the baggage carousel, and on home. He knew Nick would still be on Paris time, so it would already feel quite late at night to him.
Nick's plane had pulled into the gate just a few minutes ago, and its passengers were now beginning to appear at the top of the jetway. Burton watched as people began filing out of the door. When it seemed as though the plane must surely be about empty, and there was still no sign of Nick, Burton began to feel a touch of anxiety. Nick would have been with his tour group up until New York, but after that he would have been on his own. Then in the next moment Burton relaxed as he saw a familiar figure with a mop of curly blonde hair appear at the top of the jetway. Nick was walking at a leisurely pace, behind an elderly woman with a cane. He was dressed in khaki shorts and a tee-shirt, and carried a small flight bag over his shoulder. As he emerged through the doorway, he began to search the crowd for his father. Burton raised his hand, and called out, Nick quickly located him, and returned his father's welcoming smile with a tired one of his own. As he walked up to stand beside him, Burton said with enthusiasm, Welcome home, son, and placed an arm around Nick's shoulders to give him a quick squeeze.
his father said teasingly, don't they have barbers over there in those foreign countries? What is all this, huh? As he said the last words, Burton reached out playfully for Nick's head, but Nick was too quick for him, and ducked out of his reach, saying reproachfully, Da-a-d, don't.
Okay, okay.... Well, how was the trip? Did you have a good time?
Yeah, it was fine. It was good.
Burton said with a smile. You think you want to go back to Europe again next year?
Sure, why not?
Okay.... You tired?
Well, let's go pick up your bags, and we'll head home. Mrs. Spencer is making lasagna for dinner. You like that, right?
Good, well let's get going then.
Father and son started down the concourse at a leisurely pace. As they walked, Nick thought about how good it was to be home. He'd enjoyed his time in Europe, but it was nice to be back in a place where everybody spoke your own language. And he was tired of sleeping in hotels and hostels. It would be nice to sleep in his own bed for once. He glanced over at his father, and realized he was happy to see his dad too. He and his father weren't close. There'd been too much water under the bridge for that. Nick held a deep-seated resentment against his dad for walking out on him and his mom, and even for sending him away to school when his mother died. Those things complicated their relationship, but despite that, this man walking beside him was his father--the only father he'd ever have--and it was good to see him.
Burton and Nick sat at the dining room table, enjoying Mrs. Spencer's delicious lasagna and garlic bread. Mrs. Spencer was Burton's housekeeper. She'd been with him since he'd divorced Nick's mother, Anne, some six years before. She came in three days a week to clean and make him home-cooked meals. She was getting up there in years, though, and had recently started to make noises about retiring. Burton figured that before long he would be looking for someone new to fill her position. He would be sorry to see her go. She was a hard worker--very dedicated--and a hell of a good cook.
Burton took a sip of his coffee, then said heartily, So, son, tell me about your trip. You must have seen a lot, what with being over there for...what was it...seven or eight weeks?
It was eight weeks. Yeah, we saw a lot.
So, tell me about it.
What was your favorite thing in Italy, for instance?
I don't know.
Well, think about it. What did you like?
Nick thought for a second. I guess the Roman Coliseum was pretty neat. And Pompeii, that was cool.
What about the leaning Tower of Pisa. You got to go up there, didn't you?
Uh-huh. It was pretty cool too.
Burton smiled, And what about the Eiffel Tower, was that cool' too.
Nick had returned his attention to his plate, but nodded and said,
Burton continued his attempts to pull additional information out of Nick while they ate. But it wasn't long before Nick had cleaned his plate, and was asking to be excused. Burton gave him permission to leave the table, and Nick took his plate, silverware, and glass into the kitchen, and placed them in the dishwasher. Then he wandered into the family room to watch a little TV while his father finished his own meal. Burton wished--not for the first time--that Nick would occasionally stick around the dinner table long enough for them to have a real conversation, but that wasn't his son's style. Nicholas always seemed to rush through his meals, leaving the table as soon as possible. Oh, well, Burton thought, dismissing the matter from his mind, and turning his thoughts to the work he still had to do tonight on the Anderson-Bingley merger.
As Nick walked into the family room, he flipped on the overhead light, then paused to look around. Everything appeared the same as when he had left two months ago, but then that wasn't surprising. After a moment, he walked over to the far side of the room where a collection of family portraits were hung on the wall. There were various 8 x 10 and 11 x 14 studio photos of himself alone or with his mother and father. After a moment, Nick turned his attention to the large 18 x 22 portrait that hung on the adjoining wall. This photograph been an especial favorite of his mother's. It had been done when he was about four years old, and included all three of them. His parents were seated, and he was sitting on his mother's lap. Mom had always said that it was good of her and Dad, but what she really loved about it was how it had captured his four-year-old self. He was looking directly at the camera and smiling mischievously. His mother had always said she could see the twinkle in his eye in that picture. She had been so pleased with how it had turned out that she had had it blown up and framed.
Nick stepped closer, and stared at his mother's image. She was beautiful--with her dark luxuriant hair, warm brown eyes, and lovely smile. Gazing on that smile, he felt himself smiling in return. But then his expression grew bleak. She'd been gone for more than four and a half years, but in some ways it felt like just yesterday that he had stood next to her open grave and laid that red rose atop her casket. Her loss had left a hole in his heart. It was a wound he feared would never heal. He still missed her terribly, and it was always worse when he was home--walking in the rooms she'd walked in, sitting at the table where they'd shared meals together. Sometimes he wished Dad would have sold this house when Mom died, rather than buying it back from her estate. Then he, Nick, wouldn't be subjected to these painful reminders of her presence. But given that was all he really had left of his mother, that and some photographs and a few mementos, he didn't really want to let them go, despite the pain they sometimes caused him.
The next day Burton and Nick shared breakfast, and then Burton left for the office. Nick spent a couple hours knocking around the empty house (Mrs. Spencer was off that day), then when he thought it was no longer too early to call, he phoned over to the McMullans. The McMullans had been living next door when the Fallins moved into the neighborhood about eight years ago. They had a son--Charlie--who was only a year older than Nick, and was also an only-child. The two boys had become fast friends, and when Nick was home from boarding school, he tended to spend a lot of time with Charlie
Charlie answered the phone, and the two boys talked for a while before Charlie said, Hey, why don't you come on over? Mom's gone shopping. We'll have the house to ourselves.
Nick replied. I'll be right there. Nick went upstairs, and grabbed his house key, and then hurried out of the house, stopping long enough only to lock the door behind him. His dad was a stickler about that.
Charlie was opening the front door as Nick walked up. The two young men exchanged hellos and mock punches, and then went inside. Charlie led the way downstairs. On one side of the finished basement was a game room. On the other, a bar area. Charlie walked over to the refrigerator behind the bar, and offered Nick a soda. Nick accepted. Charlie pulled two cans of Coke out of the refrigerator door and a can of Pringles from below the counter, and the two boys collapsed onto a nearby couch, and started catching up.
After a while the boys started to play pool, and Nick quickly beat Charlie two games out of three. When lunch time rolled around, they went upstairs to the kitchen, and made themselves some roast beef sandwiches. Nick felt almost as comfortable in Charlie's house as he did in his own, so had no problem making himself at home there. They took the sandwiches downstairs, and played a few more games of pool.
It was getting close to 3:00PM when Nick put down his pool stick, and said, Hey, I'm tired of this. What else can we do?
Charlie thought for a second, then gave him a sly grin.
Nick said, recognizing Charlie's Are you ready for trouble? smile.
His friend just waved his hand at Nick in a follow me gesture, and led the way upstairs to his second-floor bedroom. Shutting the door, Charlie walked over to the bed, and reached back behind the headboard and removed a small, well-crumbled paper grocery bag that had been taped to the headboard with masking tape. He unrolled the bag, and showed Nick the contents: a sandwich bag filled with marijuana, some squares of paper to roll joints, and a lighter. Nick looked at Charlie, and smiled, Is it good stuff?
The best. I got it from Rick Franzel. He's the go to' guy at school now. He's always got the primo grass.
Well, what are we waiting for, Nick asked with a wicked grin. Let's try some.
Okay. Let's go out back, though. I don't want to stink up the house.
As they walked down stairs, Nick, trying to exercise some caution, asked, You're sure your mom won't be back anytime soon?
Na-a-ah, after she went shopping she was going over to my grandma's, she never gets away from there until Grandma has had time to run down her list of complaints for the week. That always takes a while. We're safe.
Nick and Charlie went down to the first floor and through the back patio doors to the covered deck. It was quite warm out, but luckily the humidity was fairly low today, so in the shade the heat was bearable. The back yard was enclosed with privacy fencing, so they knew they should be safe from observation by any of the neighbors that happened to be home. Charlie opened up the baggie, and quickly rolled a few joints. He put one into a roach clip, and handed it to Nick. Nick picked up the lighter, placed the joint between his lips, and lit it. He took a toke, then passed the joint to his friend. Nick held the smoke in his lungs as long as he could, and then exhaled. Charlie did the same. In no time, the two young men were feeling no pain. They joked and laughed together, and from time to time one of them would say something that the other found so hysterical that they would both end up in fits of laughter. It was during one of these laughing fits, that Charlie's mother walked out of the house and onto the deck. In an instant, she'd taken in the rolled joints and open bag of marijuana on the glass patio table, and the lit joint currently in her son's hand. she said loudly. Both young men looked up, suddenly realizing they were toast, but feeling too good to really care (yet). You're, you're smoking dope? she continued. My God! And Nick... Charlie, you put that down this instant, you hear me! Slowly Charlie laid the small unsmoked stub of the marijuana cigarette onto the patio table. Mrs. McMullan picked it up by the roach clip, dropped it onto the deck, and ground it out with disgust. Then she picked up the sandwich bag of grass and unused joints in one hand, and helped Charlie to his feet with the other. She looked at Nick. Come on, Nick. You too. Get up. You're going home right now.
The three made their way into the house where Mrs. McMullan deposited Charlie on a sofa. You sit right there, she said sternly. Don't move an inch. I'm walking Nick home, and then I'll be back to discuss this. She took Nick's arm, and escorted him to the door. Once outside she let go of his arm, but walked with him across her yard and then his own, and on up to his front door. Attempting to turn the knob, she found the door locked, and said, Where's your key? Nick fished his house key out of his pocket, and Mrs. McMullan took it, and opened the door. Are you going to be all right? she asked, her voice showing some sympathy for the first time. I'm going to call you father about this, Nick, but I was going to wait until he was home from work. Unless you want me to call now and have him come home?
No, no, Nick protested, alert enough to know he had no desire to hurry the impending explosion. I'm fine. I'll be fine. I promise.
Mrs. McMullan looked at him closely, and then sighed and said, Okay. But I want you to promise me that you'll go inside, and lie down. Will you promise me that, Nick?
Nick said with a nod.
Well, all right, but I *will* be calling your dad about this. You might prefer that he hear it from you first, but I'll leave that decision up to you.
Nick nodded again, and then walked inside. Mrs. McMullan watched until he closed and locked the door, and then, with another sigh, went back to deal with her own son.
Nick walked into the family room, and threw himself down on the couch, face up. Gradually the enormity of what had happened was seeping past the euphoria brought on by the grass he'd smoked. Christ, Dad's going to kill me, he thought to himself. He's going to have a royal fit when he finds out about this. Nick briefly wondered if there was any way to prevent his father from finding out, but knew that was a lost cause. Even if he sobered up enough to go plead with Mrs. McMullan to keep the news to herself, it would never work. He wouldn't be able to sweet-talk Charlie's mom into not ratting him out. No way. He was dead meat. That was all there was to it.
Nick lay on the couch for a few minutes, gloomily contemplating his fate. Suddenly his stomach growled, and he realizing he was starving. Well...he might as well go and raid the refrigerator. The condemned man still had a right to eat, after all. Nick walked into the kitchen, and opened the fridge. He pulled out a couple Cokes, and then found some leftover pork roast, and made short work of several slices of that. Next he opened the pantry in search of junk food. Dad didn't keep much of that kind of thing in the house when it was just him, but Mrs. Spencer tended to stock up on chips and snacks when she knew that Nick was coming home. Just as he'd hoped, there were a couple bags of different types of chips sitting on the shelf. Nick pulled out a bag of Fritos, and retreated back to the family room.
It was almost 6:00. Two discarded Coke cans and the nearly empty bag of Fritos were sitting on the coffee table. Nick realized that he probably still had an hour before his father would be home, but you never knew. The buzz from the pot he'd smoked was beginning to wear off, and he decided he needed something else to take the edge of the upcoming confrontation with his dad. He walked into the den and over to his father's liquor cabinet. He stared at the array of bottles, then picked up the vodka, and poured a little into a tumbler. He threw back his head, and tossed the vodka down. It burned his throat, and he coughed. He poured some more, and drank it down just as quickly. He returned the vodka bottle to its place, brought down the gin bottle, and repeated the process. He'd done this before. Normally, he'd take a little from several of the bottles, figuring that way his father would never notice that the level of any one bottle was lower than it should be. But after smoking the grass earlier, Nick really didn't think his stomach could take mixing the light and dark liquors. After replacing the gin bottle, he took the glass into the kitchen, washed and dried it, and returned it to the stack on the liquor cabinet. Then rather than returning to the couch in the family room, he decided to go up to his own room. He'd wait there for his dad to get home, and the clock on this latest time bomb to start ticking.
It was 7:10 when Burton Fallin walked into his kitchen. He was glad to be home. Work had been one crisis after another today. He was looking forward to having dinner with Nick, and then putting his feet up with a glass of Scotch. Coming into the house, he listened for the sound of the TV or the stereo, but didn't hear anything. Nick must be upstairs, he decided. Or he might be over at the McMullan house. Nick spent a lot of time over there.
Burton placed the mail on the counter, and then walked upstairs, loosening his tie, as he went. Reaching the hallway, he stopped at Nick's door, and knocked, before going in. Nick was sitting on his bed, back to the headboard, with a book in his hand.
Hi, son, Burton said.
Nick replied, not looking up.
You hungry? I figured we could just have leftovers tonight. There's the lasagna or there's pork roast from the other night. What do you feel like?
I don't care; whatever, Nick replied, still refusing to meet his father's eye.
said Burton. Well, then I say we have the roast. I'll throw a couple potatoes in the microwave and open some green beans, and it should be ready in about, uh...ten minutes. Okay?
Burton backed out of the room, and shut the door, wondering as he did so what it was that had his son out of sorts tonight.
As his dad closed the door, Nick dropped the book back down to the bed. He hadn't really been reading, he'd just wanted to look like he was doing something when his father came in. He still hadn't decided if he should bite the bullet, and tell Dad about the pot himself. He knew time was running short because he certainly expected Mrs. McMullan to call by 8:00. Finally he decided he would keep quiet. He couldn't see that fessing up under duress would cause Dad to go easier on him, and that way they both might have a chance to eat a peaceful dinner before the fireworks began. Shit.
Nick and Burton were just finishing up when the phone rang. Nick had been even quieter than normal at supper, and Burton knew that something must be up. But so far he had no idea what. However, when he saw Nick's reaction to the ringing of the phone, his heart sank. Damn, Nick must have gotten into some kind of trouble today, and this was his, Burton's, notice about it. Crap! That's just what he needed tonight.
Burton walked into the kitchen, and picked up the phone, keeping one eye on Nick. He wasn't surprised to hear Lily McMullan's voice on the line. If Nick got into trouble, Charlie was usually involved too. Burton listened silently to Lily's recital, his face growing darker with each word. Finally he said, I appreciate your calling me, Lily, and I can't say how sorry I am that the boys were involved in this.... Yes, I know. I appreciate that.... You can count on it. Thank you, Lily, and again, I'm sorry.
Burton hung up the phone, and drew in a deep breath. Nick and Charlie--the young idiots--had been smoking marijuana. Marijuana! That's just what Nick needed, to get involved with drugs. Shit!
Burton walked slowly into the dining room. Nick's head was bent, and he was staring at the table cloth.
Nicholas, look at me. Nick reluctantly brought his eyes up to meet his father's. I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that was Charlie's mother on the phone. Nick remained silent. Do you have anything to say for yourself, son? Nick bit his lip and lowered his eyes back to the table. Burton gave way to the anger that had been building up inside him every since he'd heard Lily McMullan use the word marijuana'.
Why the hell would you do something as stupid as smoking pot?! Can you tell me that? You're a straight-A student, Nicholas. You're on track to attend an Ivy League school, and you want to screw it all up with drugs! Drugs?!
Burton ran a hand across the top of his thinning hair, and looked at his son. Nick's head was still lowered, his shoulders hunched, ready to absorb his father's next verbal blows. Burton stared at his son's down-bent head for a moment, and then said in a level tone, Charlie admitted that the marijuana was his. So what I want to know is, is this the first time you've tried this shit?... Nicholas? When Nick didn't answer, Burton said, I suppose I have to take that as a . He folded his arms across his chest, and sighed wearily, staring at his son with deep regret. Finally he said, Go on up to bed, Nick. We'll continue this discussion in the morning. Go to bed.
Nick got up from the table, and without looking at his father, turned and headed for the stairs.
Burton lay awake for a long time that night. Sleep eluded him. He realized he shouldn't have lost his temper with Nick, but the thought of his son getting involved with drugs, risking everything he was working toward--college, a profession--it was just so damn stupid. And what was it all those anti-drug advocates would say, when people would argue that marijuana wasn't habit-forming, was actually safer than alcohol and should be legalized? They'd say that marijuana was just a...a stepping stone, that was it, a stepping stone to other drugs, to hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. Burton felt a shiver run down his spine. Cocaine or heroin, my God. He hoped like hell he'd caught this thing early, that Nicholas was doing no worse than experimenting with smoking a little pot. He'd just have to make him see how unwise it was to mess with drugs of any kind, how important it was to stay focused on his goals. His son couldn't risk his future for an occasional high.
And what if it hadn't been Lily McMullan who had caught them yesterday? What if Nick and Charlie had decided to go for a little drive after smoking that shit, and been pulled over by the cops? Even worse, what if they'd gotten into an accident and hurt themselves or someone else? Burton felt his pulse quicken. The possibilities for catastrophe were endless. No, this couldn't continue. He'd just have to make Nick see that, make him realize that he was flirting with disaster.
As Burton's thoughts returned to the worrying question of whether his son might have been using drugs for some time, he shifted uncomfortably in the bed. He hadn't seen any signs of this, but knew it was still a possibility. What if Nicholas were more deeply involved than he suspected? What should he do then? This question led Burton to reluctantly consider whether Nick might have a genetic predisposition toward addiction. After all, Anne had been addicted to prescription drugs and his own father (Nick's grandfather) had been a boozer. After he'd lost his job at Clayton Steel and been blackballed for his support of his son's attempts to unionize the plant, John Fallin had practically lived his life in a bottle. Burton prayed that he and Anne hadn't passed something along to their son that would cripple him in that way. God....
After a moment, Burton decided it was no good considering imponderables. What he needed now was concrete steps to deal with this thing. What he would have to do first was find out how long it had been going on, and to what extent Nick was involved. Since Nicholas had all but admitted that today was not the first time he'd smoked pot, it seemed likely that someone at the school was supplying him with drugs. Burton knew drugs were everywhere these days, but as much money as he was paying to Hamilton Academy, you'd think they could manage to keep dope out of the damn school. He frowned, and then resumed his train of thought. If Nick did admit to using at Hamilton, then the thing to do was to get him to name the boy (or boys) who were supplying the drugs, and report those kids to the school authorities. Of course, it would mean Nick would be subject to disciplinary action himself, and probably (far worse in his son's eyes) be seen as a snitch by his peers, but this was too important to worry about Nick's feelings. Confident that he had something of a plan of action, Burton finally drifted off to sleep.
Burton opened the door to his son's room, and walked in. It was 7:00AM, and already bright sunshine was streaming in from between the cracks in the curtain. Nick was asleep, lying on his side, one arm under his pillow. Burton's face softened as he saw how very young his son's face looked at this moment. Barry Hamill was right. Where did all the time go? He allowed himself a minute to reflect on this, and then said firmly, Nicholas, wake up.
Nick stirred, opened his eyes, and saw his father. As the memories of last night came flooding back, he closed them again. Burton said once more. Get up, son. I want you downstairs in ten minutes. He waited until Nick had sat up in bed and was rubbing sleepily at his face before he walked out of the room.
Burton was standing up, smoking a cigarette while sipping his first cup of coffee when Nick came into the kitchen. He hadn't showered, had just thrown on a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt. He was still yawning, and his hair was a jumbled mess. The thought ran through Burton's head--again--that Nicholas really had to get that hair cut before he went back to school.
Burton said, placing a glass of orange juice on the counter beside Nick. His son picked up the glass, and took a couple of gulps. It tasted good, and he was thirsty. Bring that on in to the dining room, Nicholas, his father continued, picking up his coffee cup, and leading the way. Nick followed reluctantly. He knew his father was about to lower the boom.
Father and son sat down across the table from each other. Burton began slowly. First I want you to know that I shouldn't have lost my temper last night. I'm sorry about that...but you have to understand, son, you're playing with fire here. Experimenting with drugs...not only are they illegal and dangerous, but you can't afford to lose focus on the things that are important to you--a good education, a good job. You're a bright kid, Nick. You've got a bright future ahead of you. You can't let yourself be sidetracked by something as...as insidious as drugs. They could ruin your life. They have ruined the lives of lots of people. Trust me on this.
Burton waited to see if Nick had anything to say. When his son didn't speak, he continued. Nicholas, I need to know when and where this all started. Have you been smoking pot at school?
Nick said quickly.
Burton asked, surprised.
Well then, where?
Nick didn't reply.
Nicholas, answer me, son.
Nick shifted his weight in his chair. We met this guy in Italy...in Venice...he shared a couple joints with us.
Me and another kid on the tour.
What's this other boy's name?
Nick's mouth set in a stubborn line, and Burton could see he wasn't going to get this information out of his son, so he let it go.
So, what, you met this guy', and he just offered you a joint?
Yeah, pretty much.
Burton sighed in frustration, and raked a hand through his hair. And you accepted? Why?
Nick didn't answer.
Burton couldn't keep his voice from rising a little bit, Do you realize what could have happened if you'd been caught smoking dope in a foreign country? Do you? He got up from his chair, and started to pace. In a moment, he stopped, ran his fingers across his mustache, and looked at his son again. So, you're telling me that yesterday was only the second time you've ever smoked pot?
And you haven't used any other drugs?
Are you telling me the truth about this, Nicholas?
Burton stared at his son. Nick hadn't met his eyes when he'd said that, but then he'd looked anywhere but at his father during this whole conversation. Burton allowed himself to feel a small sense of relief. Maybe he *had* nipped this thing in the bud before it had really gotten started. He walked back to the table, and leaned on the back of his chair. Okay, you know you have to be punished for what happened yesterday. Nick looked up at that. You're grounded for the rest of your vacation. You're not to leave this house unless it's with me. You can go out in the yard, but that's it. You're not to have friends over, and you're not to see or speak to Charlie for the rest of the break. His mother and I both agree on that. Is that understood?... I said, is that understood', Nicholas?
Nick nodded sullenly.
All right. Well, then, we won't say any more about it. Nick just sat there, and in a moment Burton added in a conciliatory tone, You, you want some breakfast?
Nick answered, getting up to leave the room. He was almost to the doorway when he turned around, the light of anger shining brightly in his eye. How's it so different? he asked in an accusatory tone.
Burton asked, confused. He had already turned and started for the kitchen.
How's it so different? Nick said again louder. Charlie and me relaxing with a little grass and you, you unwinding' over your two Scotches every night. How's that so different?
Burton was dumbfounded at first, but quickly recovered. How's it different? For one thing, the last time I checked alcohol was still legal in this country. And I'm a grown man. I'm not a sixteen-year-old boy---a sixteen-year-old boy who isn't allowed even to drink yet legally. That's the difference.
Nick shook his head, and said with a sneer, Alcohol is a drug, just like pot. It's a mind-altering substance'. The only reason it's still legal is because it's the drug of choice for all the powerful, old men who run this country!
Burton was taken aback. It was rare for Nick to argue with him like this. Still, he rallied. Is that right, powerful old men'?
That's right, Nick replied defiantly.
Well, I'll tell you something, son, you're right, it is a bunch of powerful old men' who run this country, run the whole god-damned world for that matter. And that's something you'd better get used to, because it's a fact of life. The young agitate for change, but it's the old who wield the power. Burton drew in a deep breath. But the fact remains, we weren't talking about me, or whether marijuana should be legal. We were talking about you. About how this...experimentation with drugs could mess up your life. That's what's important. That's what I care about.
Nick's face contorted in rage at these last words, and he yelled his retort, You don't care about me! You've never cared about me. All you care about is how it would look if Burton Fallin's son turned out to be a pot-head!
Burton was stunned into silence, both by the charge itself and the ferocity of Nick's attack. By the time he recovered enough to at least utter his son's name, Nick was already out of the room, and running up the stairs. Seconds later, Burton heard the slamming of his son's bedroom door. He stood there a moment as his eyes grew wet with emotion. he said softly, at a loss to put his feelings into other words.
Upstairs, Nick threw himself headlong onto the bed. He was so angry. He hadn't been this angry with his father in a very long time. Gradually, his breathing slowed, and he began to feel calmer, more in control of himself. After a little while, he rolled over onto his back, and threw one arm across his eyes. He couldn't believe he'd actually said those things to his dad. It was almost like they had come out of somebody else's mouth. Wow. Maybe it was just the whole situation, lying to Dad about the drugs--he had shared a joint with that guy in Venice--that was true--but he'd smoked pot at school plenty of times too, and he had tried other things, mostly pharmaceuticals his friends would filch from their parents' medicine cabinets.
Nick wasn't given to self-reflection, but he realized as he lay there that maybe he'd struck out at his dad just now because he was feeling bad about lying to him. He was feeling bad, and he wanted to make Dad feel bad too. Maybe it was as simple as that. He was just glad his father hadn't followed him upstairs. He *really* didn't want to have any more conversation with his dad this morning.
Nick tensed about twenty minutes later when he heard his father coming back up the stairs, but luckily he went on to his bedroom. He was in there maybe four or five minutes, then came back out and walked right past Nick's door, and down the stairs. In another few minutes, Nick heard the garage door open and the car starting. Dad was leaving. That was a relief. He had another...probably eleven hours before he had to face his father again. Getting up, he realized he was hungry. He decided to go downstairs and see what he could find to eat before Mrs. Spencer got there.