Big trouble loomed. Jeff could feel it coming as he raced back to the gym. He usually managed to be early so he could be nonchalantly leaning against the wall, looking bored, when his father arrived. But tonight he'd forgotten his watch and got back late.
It was a weekly ritual, playing basketball and then heading down to the river for a smoke behind the boat shed. Jeff had his father fooled. He told him they practiced for an hour then played their game from nine to ten. He knew his dad would never find out; he was always too busy to come and watch a game.
There had to be something good about having a father who worked fourteen hours a day. It had been the same for as long as he could remember - Dad gone when he headed off to school and Dad still out at dinner time. It was Mum who drove him around except for this Tuesday pick up.
His backpack was his disguise pack - chewing gum, toothbrush, toothpaste and an old jacket, to hide the smoke smells. It worked.
He rounded the corner just as his Dad pulled in. He raced to the car, taking a deep breath as he opened the door and clambered in.
“Where have you been, son?” barked Dad. “I don't have all the time in the world, you know.”
His time! That's all that matters. Jeff scowled in the dark.
“I was just helping Tommy get home. He just lives round the corner. He sprained his ankle,” lied Jeff. His father couldn't see his face.
“Good game, was it? Did you win?”
Dad's swallowed the lie. Danger averted.
“Yes, easily; sixteen to ten.” Another lie. His dad couldn't stand losers.
I just keep playing his game.
Jeff put his earphones in and that was that. No more conversation.
He's fallen for the wrong end time trick for a whole year so why change tack. He obviously doesn't suspect anything. He deserves to be be lied to. He doesn't really care what I do.
His mother liked his dad doing the Tuesday pick-ups. Good father-son bonding she called it.
As they pulled into the drive Jeff's hand was already turning the handle. He bounded into the house to stow his backpack and get his clothes into the laundry basket while his father closed the garage doors. But he tripped over something in the hallway and sprawled himself across the floor spilling everything from his pack.
“You okay, Jeff?” It was his mother, there in an instant. “I shouldn't have left that bag there.” She scooped up the things strewn across the floor.
“You take a toothbrush with you, and toothpaste! I didn't know you were into such dental care!” She picked up his jacket and wrinkled her nose. “This pongs!”
“Give it to me, Mom. It's just my old jacket,” Jeff almost yelled. But mothers aren't so easily fobbed off.
“You've been smoking!” She wasn't asking; she knew.
Jeff's father was in the room now so Jeff braced himself for an avalanche. But his father was silent.
“Well, Matt, aren't you going to tell him off? We've never condoned smoking.” She searched for anger on her husband's face.
“I've known for a while,” he said at last. “I've been smelling it every time I've picked you up, Jeff.”
Jeff and his mother stared at him.
“I didn't want to ruin my one night with you, Jeff. I wanted us to get along. I don't like you smoking, but all boys have a go some time. I don't like your lies either but I've let them go. I'm trying, Jeff. But you just put those earphones in and switch off to me.”
Jeff turned on his father.
“Dad, I want to get along with you too, but one ride together each week isn't enough. When have you ever come and watched me play? When did you last kick a ball around with me? Come to think of it, when were you even home for dinner?”
Matt bristled, then turned and looked at Jeff, properly.
“Sorry, Jeff, I'll do better. I'll be there to watch you next week. I know the real start time and the end time.”
“Great!” muttered Jeff.
I'll believe it when I see it.
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