Five hours later, I was jogging through the woods in the back of my house. I checked the voicemail Ethan left as soon as I got out of finals. He had a big order for a ritzy frat house requesting half and half of two of our finest products. I needed to meet him at the park around two. I changed out of my uniform and into a pair of basketball shorts and a T-shirt. I completed the look with a baseball cap. Since I was in a time crunch, I picked up my pace. I made sure I never took the same route to the woods more than twice a week so as not to draw my parents’ suspicion. Regardless of how preoccupied my parents might have been, I was sure they’d notice worn paths in the backyard leading into the woods.
As I approached the clearing, I saw someone standing by my greenhouse. Holy fuck! I put the brakes on my feet and wiped the sweat from my eyes. Who was standing in the field? Shit! How the fuck did he find my crop? I ducked behind a bush, momentarily observing my father inspecting the greenhouse. I sat for a few seconds, having an internal debate with myself. Should I proceed or should I leave? I have a huge order to fill in a few hours. Huge orders equal big bucks. Big bucks equals plot of land closer to campus to expand my operation. Fuck it. Man up and face him! I took a deep breath and headed toward my father. As I drew nearer, my heartbeat quickened, my breath became shallower. I was nervous as hell. To say I was unprepared for this encounter was putting it mildly. Just as I was about to tap his shoulder, my father spun around. Matching hazel eyes curiously stared at each other.
“Jesus Christ, son! You about gave me a heart attack! What are you doing out here?” I saw the relief wash over his face as his mind processed my facial features. Before I could respond, he added, “Did you know that there’s a shitload of fucking pot growing in that big-ass greenhouse? Holy hell! There’s got to be thousands of dollars worth in there!”
“I agree. What are you doing back here?” I watched my father survey the woods while absent-mindedly swatting at bugs.
After the initial shock wore off, he turned to face me again. “I wanted to go for a walk. I got tired of hearing about Owen’s sentencing trial on TV.” He paused. “So how long have you known all this pot was back here?”
I debated before answering. “Awhile.”
My dad gave me an incredulous expression. “Come again?”
I cleared my throat. “It’s my weed, dad. I planted it. I organize it, prepare it, package it, and sell it. It generates a hefty profit for me.” I had no idea why I was telling him all this. I guess this is what Dr. Alice would call a “cathartic moment.”
My dad took off his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. “Why? Why would you do this when you know the kind of shit I’m dealing with? For God’s sake! You don’t even need the fucking money! We give you everything you could possibly need or want!” Dad screamed. He was so pissed there were veins sticking out of his forehead and neck. “I mean, is that fucking fortune you drive not enough? Why would you put your family in this situation?” Dad belted out, his voice continuing to crescendo. “Why would you put me in this situation? Do you realize just how dangerous this is?”
To be honest, I really didn’t have an answer, at least not one he would readily understand or accept. Before I knew it, I found myself saying, “It’s because you guys give me everything.” Where the hell did that come from?
“Excuse me?” My dad stepped closer to me. “I beg your fucking pardon?”
I took a step back and said, “I’ve never had anything of my own. You and mom give me everything. When I started growing this, I thought it would be an easy way to make a little extra money for myself. After I realized how much money I can make in a day, let alone a month, it became, well… I don’t know, addictive, I guess.”
“Jesus, AJ! Why in the hell didn’t you just get a legitimate job or come and work for me if you wanted some money of your own? Why in the hell do you think I make you analyze properties and markets all the time? You know you can make excellent money buying and selling real estate.”
“If I’d gotten a legit job, I still wouldn’t be making the amount of money I am now. And if I worked for you, then I’d currently be unemployed.”
“This is not the time for your smart-ass mouth,” Dad said, giving me a dark look. He then closed his eyes and rubbed his temples with his thumbs. “Jesus, son! People can die when it comes to selling drugs!” Dad pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger. I reflected on Dad’s last comment. I’d been involved with the crop for about two years, and so far—knock on wood—it was all good. I rolled my eyes. My father was just being dramatic. I turned and walked toward the greenhouse, my father in pursuit.
“Damn it, son, I won’t have you ruining your life for this stupid pot business you have going on.”
“I don’t see how you can call an average of six grand a month tax-free stupid,” I said, unlocking the greenhouse. My father’s jaw dropped. As I walked inside, my father stood cautiously in the doorway, as if he expected the Feds to come crashing through the roof at any moment. “Anyway,” I shouted over the hum of the generator, “I have people who depend on me now!”
“So, you’re a distributor!” my dad shouted back.
I gave him an expression that said, “It is what it is.” There was a moment of silence between the two of us. The hum of the generator was the only sound in the greenhouse. My father appeared lost in his thoughts as I busily packed product.
“How many people depend on you, and what are you doing with all of that?” my father inquired.
“I have a guy who sells for me, a local college student looking to make some quick, easy cash,” I said stuffing the last of the product into a duffle bag. “What do you think I’m doing with all this, dad? I’m getting ready to sell it.” My dad looked at me as if a light bulb went off in his head.
He snapped his fingers and pointed in my direction. “That Ethan kid we met once,” he said, shaking his finger at me. “You’re not tutoring him in shit! This is why he comes over here! I thought that was a load of horseshit then! Is he the one that got you involved in this?”
“No, dad,” I sighed. I headed toward the door, product in tow. “When I started growing, I told Ethan about it and asked if he wanted to make some extra money. Obviously, he accepted my offer.”
“Do you smoke this stuff, too?”
“Nope! I mean, I’ve tried it, but it made me feel too paranoid. Besides, smoking this is like smoking money. People pay good money for this shit.”
My dad chuckled, returning to his somber state. “Don’t do this, son. If the cops find out about this, you could do some serious time.” My dad looked me square in the eyes. “I don’t think I could stand seeing you locked up behind bars, especially in the prime of your life.”
Slightly caught off guard by the sincerity in my dad’s eyes, I placed a hand on his shoulder. “They won’t know.” I gave him a reassuring smile as I approached the threshold. “Excuse me, dad.” He stepped outside with me. I turned around, closed the door, and locked it, double-checking the padlock.
“Secrets always have a way of coming out, AJ. Besides, have you thought about rival dealers? What if they come after you for encroaching on their market?”
“I’ll cross that bridge if I ever come to it.” I hefted my gear over my shoulder and headed out toward the clearing and the path. My dad kept pace with me. I looked over at him. He seemed highly displeased. “Dad, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. If it makes you feel better, I promise to stop selling once I start school in the fall.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. The stacks I’d saved would help me relocate my operation to a bigger and more discreet locale.
My dad hurried after me. “Wait, AJ. Slow down.” I paused and turned around. He was rubbing the back of his neck. He took a deep breath. “I want you to know that I don’t condone any of what you’re doing.” He looked off into the distance. “But listen, I need to ask a favor of you.”
“Ok. What’s up?”
My father held up his hands. “Look. The less you know, the better. I need to borrow some money, just a few hundred dollars.”
“Wow. You must be in some kind of shit. Why can’t you borrow the money from mom?”
“It’s complicated, son. Like I said, the less you know, the better. Besides, you know how your mother is.” He hesitated. “I wouldn’t be asking you for this if I had any other options. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m begging you, son. I’ll pay you back once I get on my feet again.”
I sighed as I reached into my pocket to check the time on my cell. I needed to book it in order to meet Ethan on time. “Jesus, dad. I have some money saved up in my closet under some floorboards. Take enough to get out of whatever bind you’re in.”
A look of relief washed over my father’s face. “Thank you, son! You have no idea how much you’ve helped me.”
“Yeah. No problem. I gotta run. See you tonight.” I jogged toward the woods, lost in the aftermath of my father’s request. What pickle could he have possibly gotten himself into that could warrant him borrowing drug money from his son? Whatever his predicament, I suspected it didn’t involve his situation with Owen Chandler; otherwise, he could talk to Dr. Alice about it. Only one thing made sense: my father was keeping something a secret.