Authors: Renee Ericson
Tags: #General Fiction
“Well, I guess it’s getting late. Are you ready to go?” Brent asks.
On the way to my house we talk about the evening and I try to get some information about what he has in store for tomorrow, but he gives me nothing.
I guess I’ll just have to wait.
Brent pulls up my street and parks in front of my place because the driveway is filled with cars.
It’s always something over here.
“Looks like there’s a party going on.” He motions his chin to my uncle’s house.
“Oh, I’m sure my uncle is just having a few people over,” I say flustered, my eyes staring down to my lap.
From my peripheral vision, I see Brent’s body lean in my direction. His hand sweeps my hair behind my ear. With his hand near my neck, I turn to look at him. His fingers move to caress the back of my head.
“So, I’ll see you tomorrow?” He raises his eyebrows and swallows.
“Yeah, sounds good.”
“How about I come by around ten?”
My mind starts to trail off as I’m suddenly very aware of how small the space is getting between us. His eyes dart to my mouth and then move up to meet mine. He leans closer to me, and I wonder if he’s going to kiss me. I would certainly welcome it.
Looking into his eyes, I feel my upper lip tug in anticipation on one side. His dimples flash before I close my eyes, awaiting the inevitable. The heat of his breath skims across my face and lips before his mouth gently lands on my right cheek. I shudder slightly from the sensation of electricity thrumming through my veins. He pulls back, staring into my eyes.
Settling back into his seat, he releases his hand from my hair. “So, I’ll see you in the morning?”
I nod my head. “Yeah, see you then.”
I open the door and head up to my house. From my stoop, I turn around to wave good-bye to Brent. He waves back before he takes off down the street.
Standing outside of the house, I can hear the familiar clatter within Uncle Jas’s place.
Who knows how long tonight’s get-together will last?
I gather my patience before heading inside. My dad isn’t here, which doesn’t surprise me since his car isn’t in the driveway. Nothing seems to surprise me anymore. I don’t count on much when it comes to living here.
I sometimes wish things were different, but wishing doesn’t get me anywhere.
I go to my room to grab some gear, change into comfortable sleep clothes with a hoodie, and then make a stop in the bathroom to brush my teeth. Proceeding to the kitchen to gather a few snacks, I fill a bottle of water and grab the flashlight from the top of the fridge before I truck my crazy butt out the back door. As the door shuts behind me, I see two eyes in the darkness trotting in my direction.
“Hey, Dragon. You spending the night with me, boy?”
He falls in line with my pace as we head about forty yards into the backyard, stopping just under a tree. I drop my bag and reach for the tent secured in the straps of my pack. Dragon sniffs around for food in one of the bag’s compartments while I begin to set up in this familiar space.
After the tent is secured, Dragon and I climb inside with my stuff, and then I zip up the entryway to keep out the insects and block some of the cool night air. I roll out my sleeping bag and then tuck myself in with my phone and snacks while Dragon curls up on my side.
Luckily, most of my uncle’s parties take place during the summer, so this tent arrangement works out nicely. I figured this out when it was nothing but nonstop ‘get-togethers’ last summer. Yeah, it’s weird to camp out in my backyard at seventeen, but this way, I get the luxury of a quiet night’s sleep. It’s more peaceful out here anyway because there’s definitely no peace in the house no matter how I look at it. I think Dragon also prefers this arrangement.
After settling in, I pull out my phone to check the time and decide I better get some sleep if I want to be well rested for tomorrow’s “surprise.”
“Night, Dragon.” I give him a final pat on his head and then turn over for the night, falling fast asleep.
I’m in a dead sleep until a noise awakens me. Dragon is up on his feet, nudging my cheek with his wet nose. As my brain focuses, coming out of the haze of sleep, I realize my phone is ringing.
I move my hand in the direction of the ringing until I find my phone in my pack. The caller ID flashes
. Rubbing my eyes, I push the green button to accept the call.
“Hello,” I rasp.
“Hey, Ruby. Sorry to call you. I tried Jas, but there was no answer.”
Of course, he didn’t answer.
He’s likely passed out drunk or possibly stoned. Then, I wonder if he still does that, too.
“Nah, Benj, it’s okay. Is he all right?” I ask the bar owner of Ace’s.
“Yeah, he’s fine. He just can’t seem to move off of the bar.”
“Okay. Do you have his keys?”
“Yeah, I had him give them to me when he got here.”
“All right.” I sniff and rub my eyes again with the back of my hand. “So, do you need me to come get him?”
“Yeah, that would be great. Thanks, Ruby.”
“Okay, I’ll be there soon,” I say, blowing out a lungful of air as I end the call.
Looking at my phone, I see it’s just after two in the morning.
It’s almost closing time for Ace’s. Wiggling out of my sleeping bag, I slip on my sneakers before I crawl out of the tent. Dragon follows close behind me as I head toward the street. With only a few cars left in the driveway, it looks like the party at Uncle Jas’s has died down.
That’s a good sign.
“You up for a little walk, Dragon?”
He looks up at me and wags his tail.
“Good ‘cause I could use the company.”
Ace’s is only about a mile up the road. I could run there in less than six minutes, but hell, it’s two o’freakin’ clock in the flipping morning. At this hour, it’s gonna be more of a pedestrian pace.
About fifteen minutes later, I arrive at the bar. It’s a crappy hole-in-the-wall type of place tucked away next to an empty lot and a field that hasn’t been mowed in a decade. The façade has no windows, and its paint is peeling. I look around the dirt lot and spot my dad’s car near three others.
Since it’s close to closing time, I’m not too worried about any of the locals making a stink about a minor entering the bar.
Who am I kidding?
That’s what “normal” people would do. At this place, I’m usually offered a drink with a wink and a smile.
Stepping inside the door with Dragon by my side, I notice the beer-and-feet stench immediately. I wonder if there’s a no-bath requirement to enter. If that’s the case, I probably qualify for entry since I was basically pulled out of bed to be here. Walking over to the bar area, Benji nods at me as I approach, but then he gives me a sour look when he sees Dragon.
“What’s up with the mutt?” Benji asks.
“He’s with me. We’re outta here in a minute anyhow. So, where is he?”
C’mon, Benj, we’re beyond small talk.
After handing me the keys to my dad’s car, Benji points to a booth behind me. I turn around and see my dad with his head on the table, spinning a bottle next to his face. I walk in his direction as I would carefully approach an unfamiliar animal. Dragon follows suit, but he seems to assess that the situation is okay as he begins to lick my dad’s elbow.
“Hey, Dad,” I whisper, placing my hand on his arm, “I’m here to take you home.”
I stare at him, hoping he’ll start to move so we can get out of this hellhole. His eyes look up at me while his fingers continue to flip the bottle round and round.
“Do you think you can walk to the car?” I shake his shoulder. “Dad?”
Well, this is going nowhere.
“Hey, Benji!” I yell over my shoulder. “You think you can give me a hand?”
Benji walks around the bar, standing at the end of the booth where my dad is basically lying on the table.
“Hey, Jerry, time to go. Ruby’s here,” he says to my dad.
My dad refuses to budge.
“All right, let’s go,” Benji says. Reaching for my dad’s arm, he swings it around his neck.
My dad doesn’t put up a fight. He mumbles some unintelligible things, but other than that, he says nothing. I’ll never understand why Benji lets him get like this.
After I follow Benji out the door while he’s helping my dad to the car, I open the back driver’s side door. He eases my dad in as gently as possible, which is saying a lot when handling a 180-pound limp noodle. My back hurts just watching the maneuver.
“All right, girlie,” Benji says as he shuts the car door.
“Yep, see ya, Benji,” I say, opening the driver’s side door. “C’mon, Dragon. Let’s go.”
My dad doesn’t make a sound on the way back to our house. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I can see his chest rise and fall while his eyes are closed. He’s either fighting off nausea associated with the movement of the car, or he’s simply passed out. I hope it’s the latter. I don’t want to deal with the smell of vomit for any amount of this car ride.
Pulling into the driveway close to three in the morning, I find that all of my uncle’s guests are gone. I get out of the car, not even attempting to remove my dad. I know my limits, and in his current state, he can sleep just as easily on the backseat as on the bed. I head into the house to get a few items to make things more comfortable for him while he sleeps off another binge.
Opening the back door of the car, I lay a blanket over him, considering the night is somewhat cool and his body might start to shiver and sweat from the alcohol. I cover the floors with a trash bag and some old towels, just in case anything decides to come up. Then, I place two bottles of water in plain view within his reach. I lift his head to cover as much of the seat as I can with another towel. Before heading back to my tent for the night, I crack all the windows for ventilation. That’s about all I can do for now. I know I’ll be up at dawn, so I can check on him then.
Dragon and I head back to the tent. Trying to fall back asleep, I close my eyes and think about the look on my dad’s haggard face. I start wondering if he’s ever going to snap out of this or if this is a permanent condition. I miss him. He’s not who he used to be, so we aren’t who we
to be. I lost my mother so long ago that I never needed to mourn that relationship. This though, this thing with my dad, is like a long tortuous death. Laughing in my face on a daily basis, it taunts and teases me with small rays of hope before it reminds me of its opposing darkness.
What a shitty lot.
I have been going through the motions for the past year, and now, I realize he really is gone. He’ll never truly be who he once was. I hate this feeling. Moments like tonight always remind me that sometime since we moved here, my father turned into the child, and I became the responsible one.
I sniffle and rub the moistness coming from my eyes. Dragon must sense my distress because he nudges my hand before licking my cheek.
“It’s fine. I’m fine. I’ll be out of here soon. You can come, too, if you want.”
I pull myself together a bit, trying to calm myself into sleep. Dragon cuddles closer, occasionally nudging my body into a sense of security. After a few lung-filling breaths, I fall sound asleep, looking forward to a day with new possibilities.
The noise from the tent zipper opening wakes me from my sleep. The exhaustion I feel is telling me to keep my eyes shut, but somebody has a different idea. Dragon licks my nose, so I surrender and get up. I don’t care how much I love him; a wet tongue on the face is just gross when I’m not expecting it. Blinking my eyes, I open them and see it is morning.
“Wakey, wakey, Pubies,” Cody chants with his face in the tent’s entry.
“Hey,” I croak and then clear my throat. “What are you doing here?”
“I stayed at my dad’s last night.”
“Oh, what’s up?” I rake my hand across my eyes.
“I took your dad in the house.”
“Oh!” He’s caught my interest. “Thanks. You didn’t have to do that.”
“Yeah, yeah. So, do you want some breakfast?”
Huh? Really? What is up with him?
Narrowing my eyes, I look at him, trying to gauge his motive.
“I got Mickey D’s!” He taunts, putting forth a bag of food.
He’s got me. I love McDonald’s breakfast.
“Thanks,” I mumble in gratitude.
“Scoot over. I’m coming in.”
He crawls inside, sitting next to Dragon and me, and pulls out two breakfast sandwiches and hash browns, handing one of each to me. We eat a few bites in silence, but I can tell something is on Cody’s mind.
“So, what was up with Mr. Audi?” he asks through a mouthful of food.
I look in his direction and roll my eyes. “I knew you wouldn’t let that one go.” I finish eating my food and crumble the wrapper, placing it in the bag. “What’s wrong with Mr. Audi?”
“Nothing! Damn, girl. Don’t get your panties all in a bunch, or maybe you should because I bet that douche wants nothing more than to just get in your pants. Mr. Suave and Moneybags seems like a bit of a tool to me. I bet he even plays guitar or some whiney ass shit like that.”
“Ya know, not everyone’s actions are based on raging hormones.”
“Yes, yes they are, especially guys. Some just hide it behind nice cars and douche-bag hair.”
“Oh man, do they also have good manners and chivalry? Because I thought that was an anti-douche trait. Since when do you care who I date?” He’s seriously pissing me off now.
“Whatever,” he says, throwing his hands in the air as he shakes his head.
He grabs his bag of fast-food breakfast and crawls out of the tent. Standing up, he turns to face me before reaching into his pocket, pulling out his wallet. He pulls out two wrappers and tosses them in my lap.
What the hell? Condoms? Really?
After one date, my cousin thinks he can have a sex talk with me.
“Just make sure to use those when the douche makes his moves. Remember, no glove, no love,” Cody says, pointing to the individually wrapped condoms in my lap before turning toward the house.