In the Middle: Ch. 10

 Two months after Brad’s father left the family for his mistress, Brad and I had dinner plans. 

His father had left without a trace, not even so much as a phone call, and Brad had made it his mission to track him down. His drinking got predictably worse, and a thick cloud of anger had begun to take over his mood. 

“If you don’t stop, I’m going to break up with you and tell your mom what’s been going on,” I said one day after a particularly scary night.

Brad had gotten so drunk, he’d been hurling into the toilet all night, his skin pale, and soaked with a feverish sweat. The blood vessels in his eyes popped from the strain of his body forcibly eliminating the poison from his stomach, and his lips were dry and cracked, caked with vomit the next morning. I’d stayed by his side the whole night, crying silently at his agony and my inability to help him, scared that he would die if I left him alone.

“Okay,” Brad had said, his eyes filled with sympathy and that haunting pain. “I’ll stop. I promise.”

A week later he told me he had a special dinner planned.

“Wear that dress I like,” he said.

“The white one?” I asked. He nodded. “Where are we going?”

“You’ll see,” he said with a wink.

I couldn’t stop smiling the whole day. My cheeks felt like they were going to fall off from the strain of my lips pulling them back into a grin. As soon as I got home, I began to get ready for the night. I took a long shower, and spent extra time doing my hair and makeup. I put on the white, frilly lace dress that Brad loved to see me in, and even painted my nails and toenails a seductive red. 

He had kept his promise so far, and I had hope that maybe Brad was finally healing from his family’s separation. Maybe he was coming back to himself.

I didn’t even mind when he picked me up half an hour later than planned. This was Brad, and Brad was rarely on time. He didn’t show any signs of being intoxicated, and he had even cleaned his car. He held my hand as we drove into town, and our smiles mimicked what I thought appeared to be a mutual excitement.

“Where are we going?” I asked when we drove past town, watching our towns welcome sign fade in the side mirror.

“Just wait,” he said, lifting my hand and kissing my fingertips.

The farther away from town we got, the more I started to squirm. My palms began to sweat, so I wriggled my hand out from underneath Brad’s to wipe my palms on the frill of my dress skirt. Without thinking, I started to chew on the nail of my thumb, and a piece of nail polish chipped in my mouth. 

The sun was starting to set as we pulled onto a dirt road that bumped and scraped us into a trailer park. Brad squinted his eyes, reading the numbers on the houses as we passed by. I watched as a little boy slithered down a basketball hoop, and ran into the road, screaming when Brad slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting the child.

“Brad, what the hell! Where are we?” I asked.

I’ll never forgot the look in Brad’s eyes when he said, “I found him, Sarah. I found my dad.”

I felt my throat drop into my stomach as I swallowed my urge to cry. Things would not be better. Not at all.

Eventually, he pulled into a gravelly space next to a red sports car that looked like something out of a James Bond movie. The trailer was white with brown siding, and more dirt than paint, and the wooden steps creaked as we stepped up toward the screen door, and knocked.

“Come in!” his dad’s voice called over the sound of a television playing some action movie.

Brad looked back at me for the briefest of moments, begging me with his eyes to follow him into this house in a way I couldn’t refuse. He held out his hand, and I limply placed mine in his palm.

His dad was sitting in a torn brown leather recliner in front of a big-screen television when we walked in. A cigar was dangling from his lips, and an open whisky bottle was half-empty on the coffee table next to him. 

He smirked when he saw us walk in, and said, “Son? Is that you?”

“Yeah, dad,” Brad said, “It’s me.”

“Well, shit.”

“Is that all you have to say?”

His dad chuckled. I noticed Brad’s fists tighten in anger, and I felt my stomach curl in anxiety. 

His dad picked up the whisky bottle, and held it out for Brad. “Have a drink. Take a seat,” his dad said, the liquid sloshing in the bottle a little as he used it to gesture toward the second worn recliner on the other side of the coffee table. “If you want to talk, you’ll have to loosen up a little.”

Brad sat down on the recliner, grabbing the bottle of whisky from his father. I watched with abject horror as Brad proceeded to tilt his head back and finish the remainder of the bottle in one long gulp. 

His father laughed so hard he started coughing. 

“Thatta boy!” his father cheered when he caught his breath again. 

His grin faded as his eyes landed on me, and the horrified expression on my face. He stuck the cigar in his mouth, and looked away, taking a long drag. 

“You been taking care of my boy here, young lady?” he asked me without looking at me.

“As best as I can,” I said, “considering the circumstances.”

His dad smirked, and nudged Brad with his elbow, winking at him. “I’m sure you are, little lady. I’m sure you are.”

“Leave her alone, dad.” Brad said, his words cut sharp. 

“What are you doing here, son?”

The two locked eyes for a blistering moment of tension. Brad’s eyes drooped slightly when he said, “I want to know why you left.”

His father chuckled again, but when he saw the look Brad was giving him, he cleared his throat, and then looked back at me.

“Fetch me that bottle on top of the fridge, will ya girl?” he asked.

I thought about saying no. I looked at Brad and saw the pleading look in his eyes, that hopeful puppy dog look, and sighed as I stormed over to the fridge and retrieved the bottle. I handed it to his father, and ignored the once-over he gave me. I hugged my arms over my chest, and slunk onto the cooler by the door. 

His father opened the bottle, and took a long gulp, handing the bottle to Brad with one hand, and wiping his mouth with the other. 

I could only watch as Brad followed his lead until the bottle was empty.

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