"Dad. Time to get up."

The door to the bathroom spilled cold light into my room. RunningHammer, due to both being a few inches taller than when he went to bed and the wild hurricanes of curls radiating from his head blocked most of it, but I fumbled for the clock and saw I had another ten minutes before my alarm went off.

"I'll be up. Your math is there on the desk. Get started on it and I'll be out in a bit." An entire two weeks of vacation, and he's doing corrections on homework an hour before school. It was a good thing I checked it despite his insistance that every problem was correct. Simplifying polynomials. Unfortunately, he completely flaked on at least half of them because he didn't change the signs when subtracting. On others, he got the answer correct despite doing all the calculations completely wrong.

Late the night before I asked him, "How did you manage to do this?"

"Well, the last day before vacation I wanted to drown out all the idiots in my class so I put my earbuds in and was cranking some music and went totally ham on it."

"So you just wanted to get it done so you wouldn't have to worry about it during vacation, right?"

A resigned nod. Then I showed him what he had done compared to what the correct answer is. That slowly emerging "ah-ha" moment. I went back to checking all the problems then reminded him more times than he thought necessary that he'd need to get up early to redo the wrong ones.

"How about if i get up early and get it all done, we hit Starbucks on the way to school?"

I agreed. The promise of caffeine and food gets that boy moving like nothing else.

I heated up a cup of coffee for myself while putting his lunch together. Meaty turkey and ham sandwich with mustard and Swiss. Oreos. Fritos. A bit of guilt as I zipped it up without including fruit. That'll be fixed tomorrow after a resupply mission. I called from the kitchen. "Make sure you check your work with mine so you have everything correct."

"I am!"

"And get the exponents in order. I bet your teacher is looking for that."

"I am. He is."


I finished my coffee and logged onto work. Pages of emails. Some holiday wishes slipped under the door. Year-end housekeeping announcements. All heading eventually to the trash bin.

"Done, Dad. Let's go."

Seasonal weather hit Florida about 10 days too late but we are grateful regardless. A few stars faded in the deepwater blue sky. My old truck started on the first turn. Despite his school bus stopping in front of our house, I drive Ham to school every morning. The bus thing only lasted a week as it made us have to wake up over an hour earlier than we do now, and since he's doing four- to six-hour workouts six days a week on the rowing team, the boy needs his rest. So do I.

The truck rattled and squeaked on the brick roads. Hammer punched the radio for the heavy metal channel. Good morning, Disturbed. A few joggers and dog walkers warmed the sidewalks. Everyone still had their Christmas decorations up, and we came by early enough to see the tree in the middle of the lake we have to drive around still lit. Two cars and a lawn crew rig drove down the main street of the tiny downtown. Curbside parking was plentiful.

A quartet of runners chatted at a table near the door. We waited to order until the guy with the impressive beard and less impressive gauges finished restocking cups. "Go ahead," I told Hammer. "It's your breakfast." He's getting older, and I'm not going to be around forever.

Between slurps of a caramel brulee frap and mouthfuls of some sort of meat-and-cheese breakfast sandwich we discussed the upcoming semester and what he needs to do to succeed. His first high school semester was not the shining success we had hoped. Some his fault (how do you just forget to turn stuff in?!). Some not (a revolving cast of substitute teachers instructing honors science course). He knows to stay on the rowing team he needs a good GPA. I refrained from pontification. Treading that fine line between Bloviating Old Man and The Dad of Wisdom. It's a gamble every time I open my mouth. Experience with previous children in no way guarantees success with the ones that come along later. Most days my confidence level is just a couple of notches above Please-Oh-Please-Don't-Fuck-Up. I checked my watch as he finished and jerked my thumb toward the door. He dropped his empties in the trash on the way out. The runners were still chatting.

From the Starbucks, it takes just a few minutes to get to his school. More brick roads. A smidge more traffic. Five Finger Death Punch on the radio. Getting to school this early avoids the free-form madness at the drop-off lot. We didn't talk much. I muttered something to the driver of a Lexus who jumped her turn at a four-way stop, my crumpled little truck invisible to her. At the school I pulled into a spot at the curb. Old and new buildings mingle on the sprawling campus, mushrooms and pine cones. Hammer hopped out and retrieved his crippling backpack from the bed.

"Bye Dad."

"See you later, pal. Have a good day."

"I will. See ya."

"See you this evening. Make sure you turn that math in."

"I will. Bye. Have a good day."

"Thanks. You too. Do your best. Pay attention. Love you."

"I will. Love you too. Bye."

I watched him trudge to class. I didn't back out of the space. There was traffic, anyway. He looked back and waved. I waved in return through the windshield. A few more steps. He turned and waved. I waved back. One last time before he turned the corner. We waved to each other. Gone. On his own for the day.

I wrestled the truck into reverse and tried not to hit any Beemers on the way to the structured freedom of the side streets. The radio spewed commercials so I turned it off, not ready to punch it to NPR. A slow day of work waited for me, and I was in no hurry.

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