Really, Tom could never have asked for a finer son. Kevin was intelligent, level-headed, and damn good at hunting, and nothing could make Tom more proud of him.
But if Kevin had one fatal flaw, it was hubris. He liked to be very involved, be it with sports teams, school activities, or service projects. And all too often, he got in over his head because he didn’t trust anyone else to complete necessary tasks to his satisfaction.
It was a regular occurrence for Kevin to be leading so many clubs and committees at once that Tom barely saw him for weeks at a time, but his schedule became especially demanding during the spring of his sophomore year.
“What are you still doing up?” Tom demanded he walked into through the front door late one Tuesday night after a meeting with Mayor McCoy.
Kevin didn’t even glance up from the poster he was creating. “Hey, Dad. You want me to make you some dinner?”
“Thanks, but I already ate with Sierra.” Tom glanced at the sink, noticing it seemed void of dishes. “You ate dinner, though, right?”
“Wasn’t hungry,” Kevin said, still absorbed in his work. At Tom’s disbelieving scoff, he added, “I can go without meals, Dad. It’s fine.”
“You need to be eating regularly,” Tom scolded him gently. “Especially as busy as you are.” He crossed over to appraise Kevin’s work. “Looks good. What club is this for?”
“Student government,” Kevin said, adding the final touches to the lettering. “We’re letting everyone know about our class fundraiser.”
“Terrific.” Tom glanced at the clock. “It’s almost midnight, though. Shouldn’t you get to bed?”
“Will do,” Kevin answered mechanically. “In fifteen minutes, okay?”
But sure enough, fifteen minutes later, Kevin hadn’t moved from the table, and Tom had to all but drag him up the stairs.
Kevin’s routine continued that same way for nearly a solid month, with late nights, early mornings of rushing off to some meeting or another, and fretting over some sort of printout during each and every meal they ate together. He was constantly in a state of high stress or low level panic, and he refused to listen to Tom’s advice to take a break; any delays just seemed to bring him more anxiety. It was like living with some sort of Wall Street investment banker, and Tom was growing thoroughly tired of the effect the intense schedule was having upon Kevin.
“Sweetheart, enough is enough. You’re wearing yourself too thin,” he said worriedly one Thursday morning when he was drinking his first cup of coffee. He wasn’t even ready for work yet, but Kevin was about to run out the door.
“Today is the final day like this,” Kevin said distractedly, grabbing the box of canned goods he was taking in for the school food drive. “Once today is over, the only thing I’ll really have to worry about is track team. And since I don’t have anything after practice, I can make you a special dinner when I get home tonight, okay?”
“Don’t worry about dinner. I’ll cook,” Tom told him, frowning in concern as he observed his son. “Good Lord, Kevin, you look exhausted. And speaking of food, did you eat breakfast?”
“Not hungry.” Kevin shouldered his backpack.
“Oh, for God’s sake. Here.” Tom strode to the pantry, grabbed the two remaining granola bars in the box, and brought them both to his son. “You need to eat, all right? Especially when you’re doing as much as you are.”
“I’ll be fine.” Juggling the box to one side, Kevin leaned in to give Tom a quick, one-armed hug. “Don’t stress, Dad.”
“It’s not my stress I’m worried about,” Tom said, taking him by the shoulders and looking straight at him, struck with guilt at the bruise-like dark circles beneath his eyes. “Promise me you’ll take it easy this weekend.” He tilted Kevin’s chin upward to get a better look at him. “You look absolutely beat.”
“I promise,” Kevin assured him. “Besides, I have tomorrow off, remember? It’s an in-service at school. I’ll have three whole days to rest.”
“Hmm.” Tom walked with him to the door, holding it for Kevin so he could carry the loaded box to the truck. “You make sure you do that.”
Unless he was out on a call, it was routine for Tom to remain at the sheriff’s station until seven in the evening, with longer hours when there was a breaking investigation. But whatever time he arrived him, Kevin usually had a hot dinner and a cold beer waiting for him the moment he walked in the door. Tonight, though, since he was cooking, Tom decided to call it a day early and pulled into the driveway at six sharp.
“Hey, Kev!” He called out as he walked through the door, frowning when there was no reply. But then he shrugged and continued through the house into the kitchen—maybe Kevin was down in the basement, or listening to music with headphones.
Rounding the corner into the kitchen, his heart nearly stopped when he saw Kevin kneeling on the floor, gritting his teeth and clutching his temples, obviously in pain.
“Kevin!” Tom rushed over, taking a knee beside him and immediately checking for injuries, his stomach churning in worry. “What happened? Are you hurt?”
“Just . . . dizzy,” Kevin managed. He was shaking, his face white. “The room—spinning around me.”
“Any trouble breathing?” Tom demanded, knowing the answer would determine if Kevin needed to go to the emergency room.
“No,” Kevin grated out. “I can breathe fine. It’s just—the floor keeps tilting.”
Then it was likely exhaustion and low blood sugar. Tom took a deep breath, feeling a spike of anger toward himself for not being more insistent on Kevin taking care of his health, and also at his son for being so damn stubborn. But he pushed the frustration aside; Kevin’s wellbeing needed to be his top priority at the moment.
“Okay.” Tom wrapped a steadying arm around Kevin’s shoulder and hooked one of Kevin’s arms over his neck. “I’m going to count to three, and then we’re going to walk into the family room so you can stretch out on the couch, okay?”
“Yeah,” Kevin said weakly.
“Good. One, two, three.” Tom gently but firmly pulled Kevin up from the floor, and then wasted no time in guiding Kevin to the sofa in the other room and having him lie down.
“I’ll be right back,” Tom informed him. “I’m going to get you something to eat and drink.”
“’Kay,” Kevin rasped.
Charging to the fridge, Tom grabbed an individual bottle of Gatorade, suddenly grateful that it was the favorite drink of Reggie Mantle, his son’s best friend, and that Kevin insisted on keeping it stocked for him. Tom eyed the sugary beverage critically; it would suffice to give Kevin’s blood sugar a boost, but some solid food would be helpful, too.
Remembering the basket of candy Betty had given them for Easter, Tom yanked open the baking cabinet, where he found the entirety of the basket’s contents untouched—neither Tom nor Kevin had much of a sweet tooth.
Grabbing a quartet of foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies, Tom brought the candy and the Gatorade back to Kevin in the family room.
Kevin still looked terrible, and, never one to stay down for long, had already pushed himself into a sitting position. A rush of impatience and fresh concern surged through Tom when he saw that Kevin’s trembling had only worsened, likely due to his refusal to stay still.
“Can’t you ever just listen to me?” Tom asked as he sat down next to Kevin and arranged him so he could lean against Tom for support. But even in his worry, the words were more fond than exasperated.
Kevin let out an amused huff. “Can’t make things too easy for you, can I, Dad?”
Tom snorted. “You’re telling me. And here you go.” He twisted off the Gatorade cap and handed the beverage to Kevin, helping him with the bottle until he was sure Kevin could handle it himself. “Small sips, but I want you to drink that down to the label, okay?”
As Kevin swallowed the sports drink, Tom ripped open the package of candy and unwrapped one of the chocolate pieces, keeping enough of the foil on so that Kevin could maintain an easy grip. Once Kevin had consumed the instructed amount of Gatorade, Tom switched out the drink for the candy, setting the bottle on the coffee table before them and passing the chocolate to him. “Eat this. It’s chocolate.” He checked the package. “Double crisp, apparently.”
Not even protesting the confection he usually found unappetizing, Kevin silently took the candy from him and began taking small bites of it.
Tom gently rubbed circles on his back. “You’re staying in this weekend, you hear me? I’ve been telling you all along you’ve been pushing yourself too hard.”
“Sorry,” Kevin apologized. “I don’t mean to worry you. I just want to do a good job, you know?”
“Sport, you already do a great job,” Tom reassured him. “You just need to pace yourself and take a break every once in a while, and you’ll be fine.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Kevin replied, his tone weary, but grateful. “For taking care of me, even if I do make it difficult sometimes.”
“Hey.” Tom squeezed Kevin’s shoulder, noticing with relief that Kevin was no longer trembling. “No matter what happens, I’ll always be here for you.”
Pulling his son close, Tom could feel himself calming by the second, soothed by the sound of Kevin’s even, steady breathing. He would begin fixing dinner a few minutes, but for now, he just wanted to hold his son.