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Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Drama · #2313510
A son ponders over his father's addiction, a family member's visit and a dark secret.
It was odd to be in a room filled with people who all seemed to look up to my dad like he was some kind of hero. A part of me wanted to see him through their eyes just for a moment. I tried to picture him as a brave firefighter rushing out of a burning building with two infants in his arms, running over to meet the wailing parents in the distance. But the image didn’t stick. In fact, it seemed unlikely to picture my dad adorned in firefighter gear with sweat and soot caking his face. It just wasn’t possible.

Maybe a police officer? Nope. A soldier returning from a war raging in the Middle East? Nada. A steadfast lawyer defeating the opposing council in court and beaming with pride as the wrongdoer gets cuffed and dragged away? I nearly laughed aloud. As if! Dad wouldn’t be caught dead practicing law, let alone wearing a fancy suit.

In fact, if these people could see my dad behind closed doors instead of near the fake potted tree next to the kitchen, trying to impress them with his chatter, they would be appalled. Disgusted even. I’ve always known my dad to be a trouble-making jerk. The kind of person who preferred necking a fresh bottle of Jack Daniel's in front of a TV blasting the latest MMA match to pulling his son into the garage and teaching him how to change a tire. Also the kind to person to use the middle finger to signal how he felt about police officers, hit the nearest bar for a drink (or two) every other night, and show up to most events with a rosy face and slurred speech.

I hated him. My hate for him was still as fresh and fiery as ever. But there was also some pity mixed in. From when I was small child, he hardly ever spoke much about his parents. The only thing I remembered hearing was him not knowing much about his mother and how his father raised him throughout his childhood. I wasn’t sure about what happened between the two, but Dad seemed to have a lot of anger towards Grandpa. I tried asking him about it a long time ago, but that only resulted in me getting backhanded across the face and shouted at to “mind my own goddamned business.” I learned very quickly to care for myself, not be curious about things outside of my world and stay out of his way as much as possible.

So there I was watching him make a lame joke and having everyone laugh with him afterwards. None of these people knew the real Dad. They may never know him.

* * *

Weekends were Dad’s favorite. Since they weren’t work days, that meant more time for him to swallow down more Jack Daniel's and pass out in front of the TV. Of course I made sure to make myself scarce and spend most of my time in my room or outside. School days gave me the safe space I needed and I greatly missed those when the weekends came.

But something was different this time. The TV wasn’t on and the home was quiet. Almost too quiet. I was still in my room and I wondered if Dad had left the house to go somewhere, leaving me alone. The question was soon answered when he walked into my room (he never knocks) and told me that Grandpa was coming over to visit today. He’s not his usual gruff self this time, I noticed. Usually if guests were coming over, he would be the first to threaten me if my behavior wasn’t checked by their arrival.

His face was neutral, but his eyes held a mixture of disgust and … something else. Something I couldn’t figure out. But Grandpa’s arrival was enough to straighten me up and I nodded to let Dad know I heard him. He left the room and I sank back into the bed. I had a bad feeling that this visit was going to be way different than the usual ones and it made my stomach turn with knot after knot.

Grandpa arrived at 1pm. He looked the same as I remembered him the last time I saw him: wrinkles covering his face, graying wispy hair usually combed downwards, and his polished wooden cane that he used to half-walk, half-wobble himself around. His clothes were the same too; he preferred plain dark shirts, jeans and simple loafers over anything else. Something about wanting to "look friendly and approachable", he mentioned a time ago when I asked him. The truck he drove was how I remembered it: a black 1984 Ford Bullnose that saw better days and roared when it was turned on. Faded paint, dents and all, but Grandpa loved it like his own.

I ran forward and hugged Grandpa tightly, but Dad simply stood in the doorway, watching us. Once we made it up to where Dad was, Grandpa moved forward to give Dad a hug as well. But Dad backed away and stuck his hand out in a forced handshake. Grandpa looked at him with what seemed like disappointment before accepting the handshake. I shivered slightly. The tension was already starting to build between them.

We entered the house and headed for the living room. The TV was still off and neither Dad nor myself made an effort to find the remote to turn it on. Instead we took our places in the room: Grandpa in the worn leather rocking chair, Dad and I on the uncomfortable, tacky sofa. A wooden table between us supported an open bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a used glass that had left a wet ring on the wood.

The tension felt at the front door had gotten stronger and I found myself unable to move out of fear of angering Dad. He then leaned forward to reach for the bottle, possibly to pour himself some courage. The same disappointed look Grandpa had before showed up again and he shook his head. Dad stopped, noticing the look, but decided that burning his throat with liquor was more important than what others thought about it. So the dark liquid filled half the glass and he took a long drink.

“I haven’t seen you in a while, son. How have you been doin’?” Grandpa asked him then and the glass left Dad’s lips for a moment. He swirled the liquor around in it, as if wondering how to answer the question.

“Busy with things, the usual. Work and stuff around the house,” he eventually muttered and took another sip. Another swig of that liquid courage to keep him steady… for now.

“I see you’re still drinkin’ that foul stuff again. Jack Daniel’s is what it’s called?” Grandpa’s frown deepened and he shook his head again. “I thought you said you would stop with it at some point.”

Dad scoffed and leaned back slightly. “Helps me deal with stressful times at work and around the house.” After a pause, “… and stressful visitors.”

“Don’t you think it’s about time you put the bottle down, son? I doubt it hasn’t done you any good...”

At this, Dad’s eyes flashed and he set the glass down on the table harshly. Oh no, not this again. I’ve seen this situation before. A past visitor had mentioned Dad’s love of Jack Daniel’s, concerned about something similar to Grandpa’s. It only resulted in a harsh shove and fiery words from Dad before the situation was broken up. There were a few things that angered him, but mentioning his drinking would definitely earn you his wrath. I twitched at the sound of him slamming the glass down, but stayed quiet to not draw attention.

“I’ll put the bottle down when I damn well please, old man! It’s my house and I’ll do whatever the hell I want to do!”

I flinched again and lowered my head. I just wanted to drown out another one of Dad’s outbursts and hope it would pass over quickly like it usually does. But at the same time, I was getting annoyed with him again. Why did he always have to get angry at such small things like questions or worry? Grandpa was just worried about him like the past visitor, that’s all. Why make it a big deal?

Grandpa must have noticed my slight discomfort because his eyes flickered over to me for a minute and then back to Dad’s scowl. Worry filled his eyes at me having to witness this (yet again like most times) and having to deal with it. He then gestured at me while still facing Dad.

“Would you calm down for God sakes? I was just worried about you, that’s all! There’s no need to scare your boy half to death here!”

Dad glanced over at me and it seemed like Grandpa’s words might have gotten through to him about his behavior. Then his eyes rolled and he faced Grandpa again, snapping at him about me “knowing my place in this house” and “knowing how to behave around people.” My annoyance flared once more. He wasn’t listening and I doubt he would listen now.

“Why did you even bother coming here anyway? Don’t you have something more important to do with yourself?” he demanded.

“I’m here to see my grandson and how he’s been doin’ for the past several weeks. I doubt it has been easy for ‘im since...well...” He trailed off and glanced at me. I felt a strong urge to tell him everything, my feelings, my thoughts, everything. But I said nothing. Not when Dad was here.

“He’s doing just fine. Staying out of trouble and focusing on his school work. Ain’t that right, boy?”

At the mention of me, I nodded quickly in the hopes that the subject wouldn’t be pressed further by Grandpa. But his concern only deepened. The only time I’ve received any kind of worry was from teachers at school or other adults there that were wondering how I was doing. Each time I wanted to tell them about Dad and his drinking, but I couldn’t do it. I knew he’d simply put up an act that things were fine and they’d probably believe him. Plus, I didn’t want anyone to get hurt by him.

My mind suddenly drifted to Grandpa’s words. Hasn’t been easy for him since. What did he meant by that? Was he talking about… Mom? About where she was? Curious, I sat up and decided to ask him.

“Grandpa, do you know how Mom’s doing? I haven’t seen her in a long time. Is she okay? Has she told you anything?”

At this, Grandpa shot a harsh look at Dad. He didn’t flinch or look fazed; he simply glared back as if daring Grandpa to do something.

“All this time and you still haven’t told ya boy ‘bout what happened to his momma?! He’s old enough to know by now.”

“He don’t need to know anything. All he needs to know is that his ‘momma’ left both of us and didn’t want to be around us anymore. That’s it.” He took another swig from his glass as if to seal the deal. Grandpa wasn’t buying it and neither was I.

“That’s what you told ‘im? His momma left ‘im? That’s it?”

I turned to face Dad this time. I had to know what was Grandpa talking about, what really happened to Mom and why Dad was avoiding the whole thing.

“Dad, where did Mom go? What happened? You said that she left us, but didn’t say where she went. I haven’t seen Mom in a long time and I miss-”

“I already told you, boy. She left us and didn’t want to be around us anymore. That’s all you need to know about her,” he cut in and leaned back against the sofa. I wasn’t buying it at all. No way Mom would just leave like that. She was my comfort when things got hard and wanted me to enjoy myself as much as possible. Even when Dad would get into one of his fits again, she would be there to calm him down with common sense and gentle words.

“So if you don’t mind,” he turned his attention to Grandpa, “You can either talk to your grandson here or you can get the hell out of my house. You two aren’t the cops, so I don’t have to say anything to either of you.” He ended his demand with yet another sip from that damned glass. This wasn’t new. Once he was finished with the issue at hand, he was a brick wall; no amount of pleading or reasoning would get him to budge. Grandpa was losing patience with him and so was I.

But my mind was somewhere else. The more I focused on what Grandpa said earlier, the more it seemed to pull something from my memory. Something that I had seemed to bury in the back of my mind a long time ago and didn’t address until now.

Grandpa had said something then to Dad about a “spat” between him and Mom, but I wasn’t really listening to the two of them now. Whatever they were arguing about seemed to fade away into muffled background noise as my mind now fixed itself on the new word Grandpa said. A “spat...”

Wait. Could he be talking about… No, he couldn’t be…

My eyes widened as bits and pieces of the buried memory came back. The fight between Mom and Dad. The Homecoming Night at my high school. The red and blue flashing lights through the windows….

* * *

Homecoming Night was here and my excitement was evident. I even went through the trouble of picking out the right outfit to wear with some classmates I knew were going to be there. But I needed a ride and walking was out of the question. I wasn’t fortunate like some students that had cars gifted to them at the magic age of sixteen.

But I knew Mom would do it. She would get me there. All I had to do was ask her and not Dad. So I rushed downstairs to meet Mom in the kitchen. She had just finished drying her hands after the dishes when I showed up.

“Mom, Homecoming Night is tonight and I really, really want to go! My classmates are gonna be there and I got the outfit ready and I just really need a ride over there so could you-” I couldn’t stop spilling it out. Mom laughed at how flustered I sounded and shook me gently.

“Take it easy, honey! Of course I’ll take you to Homecoming Night. You already sound excited to go, so why waste the chance to hang out with your friends? Go get ready and meet me back down here, okay?”

I gave her the tightest hug I could muster and raced back upstairs to get changed. My outfit was laid out on the bed and I hurried out of my shirt and pants, eager to slide it on. I was just buttoning the last few buttons when I heard something going on downstairs.

Curious, I crept outside my room and stopped at the top of the stairs to listen. It sounded angry and it seemed to be coming from Dad.

“Get over yourself, woman! That boy don’t need to be heading to some stupid dance or whatever the hell it is! It’s just a waste of time for him.”

“You don’t know that, Jason. Let our son have fun for once! He’s still young and his friends will be there! Surely you’ve had some fun in your younger days, right?”

Dread washed over my excitement like a large wave. No, not now. Not this. Dad can’t ruin this for me. Please just let me go to the event. Let me go meet my classmates and have fun like Mom said. Don’t do this to me.

“Jason, stop being unreasonable and give me the keys to the car! He’s already getting ready and I’m not stopping him. He’s been focusing on his studies long enough; he needs a break. If you don’t understand that, then I can’t help you. But you’re being silly right now!” Mom had pleaded. A loud groan came next and I knew it was from Dad. He wasn’t going to listen to her. Not for this night.

“Fine! You want your damn keys? Then go get them!” A loud BANG and some jingling made me jump. He had thrown the keys against something and there was a bit of scrambling from below. Another sound hit my ears: a glass breaking. They were fighting and it was all over me wanting to go to Homecoming Night. Because he didn’t want me to go. Tears started to leak from the corners of my eyes, but I brushed them away and stayed quiet.

“Jason, you’ve completely lost it! I’m leaving to cool off and I expect you to do the same! But our son will be going to the event, whether you agree or not. But you will not stop me from taking him when I come back,” Mom had shouted and then a door slammed. The tears were now slowly dripping from my eyes, but I waited until I was sure Dad had left the area and crept down the steps to see how much damage was done.

On the faded wall paint was a fresh wet stain and several glass shards below it on the floor. A glass of that horrible liquid Dad loved had been thrown at the wall. The stench of it turned my nose up and I looked away from the mess. Mom was nowhere to be seen and from the large window near the front door, I couldn’t see the small yellow Beetle that she drove parked out front next to Dad’s truck. She left after the argument and it was just me and Dad in the house.

“The hell you doing, boy?! Go to your room and stay there! You aren’t going to some stupid dance like your momma wanted! I’ll make sure of that!” Dad’s voice roared from the living room on my left and it was enough to make me race up the stairs, reach the safety of my room and slam the door. My eyes burned with tears and I smashed my face in the nearest pillow, wailing my despair and anger at the whole situation. I wouldn’t be able to go like I wanted. And it was all because of him.

Time had passed and my tears had long stopped, but the pain in my chest hadn’t left. I didn’t hear the front door open or Mom’s voice from below. Curious, I opened the door and crept towards the top of the stairs. I could hear the TV blaring from the living room down below, but no other noise. It was dark outside, but still no sign of Mom. Where was she? Where did she go?

Several hard knocks at the front door startled me and Dad as well because the volume from the TV was suddenly turned down. “Who the hell is it?!” Dad barked at the door from the living room. I said nothing.

“Walters County Sheriff’s Department. We need to speak with you about an urgent matter, Mr. Carson, so could you come to the door please?”

Movement sounded from below and then Dad stormed towards the door, eager to rip it open and give the unwelcome officers what for. From the open doorway, I spotted dancing red and blue lights from behind them. The “damn cherries and berries,” as Dad had named them. Why were they here? What happened to Mom?

“I don’t know what you two want to tell me, but we takin’ it outside. Not in front of my boy,” he snarled and shoved past them. One of the officers gently closed the door and I heard no more. I ran downstairs and pressed myself against the window. No way was I going to be left out of this. First, I couldn’t go to Homecoming Night and now Dad didn’t want me to hear about Mom’s disappearance. My curiosity wouldn’t let me stay out of it.

Through the glass, I could see Dad speaking with the officers but the sounds were muffled so I couldn’t make out what was being said. His hands were in his pockets and he had a look of shock on his face. Rare for someone like him, but it sent alarm bells ringing in my head. No, it can’t be. Don’t tell me something bad happened to Mom when she stormed out. Please don’t let it be that.

After some time, one of the officers handed Dad a card before both slipped their hats back on and walked away towards the direction of the dancing lights. Dad stared at the card for a minute before stuffing it into his pocket and heading back into the house. The opening of the front door made me jump from the window and he noticed me standing there.

“What were you doing at the window, boy? I told you to stay in your room!”

I swallowed hard. “I just...wanted to know what happened to Mom and why the police were here. That’s all, I swear.”

Dad’s eyes darkened and I regretted asking him about such a thing. The next words from his mouth were words I would never forget.

“Your momma decided to leave us behind, boy. She didn’t want to be around us anymore. Guess the bitch got sick of us or somethin’,” he trailed off and I swore I saw hurt flash in his eyes. But it was gone instantly and his eyes shifted once more. “But it don’t matter now. She’s gone and you aren’t goin’ to that stupid event like I said before,” he finished with a slight smirk as if he won the argument.

Tears flooded my eyes again and I raced up the stairs, not wanting him to see my pain. Once I was safe in my room again, I stuffed my face in the pillows and wailed. So that’s it. Mom was gone and she wasn’t coming back. And I wasn’t going to Homecoming Night. The realization made me sob even louder than before and my pillows were my only source of comfort from the torture of it all.

* * *

As quickly as the memory filled my mind, it disappeared, but not without leaving my vision blurred by my tears. Dad and Grandpa were still arguing, but I didn’t hear them anymore. I remembered what happened that night. All of it. Mom was gone and I couldn’t go to the dance. All because of Dad’s usual tantrum. All because of him...

Something else was building up inside of me. Something besides the sadness from the memory of that night. A fiery rage had filled my chest, making my heart beat faster and my hands curl into fists. All because of Dad and his stupid rage and that damned liquid. No way Mom would just leave us like that. She loved both of us and wanted the best for us. Dad had to be lying about the whole thing. He had to be! And he was going to tell the truth whether he wanted to or not. Being on my best behavior be damned. To hell with it all!

I found myself standing up from the sofa and facing towards Dad, my chest burning, my breathing rapid and my eyes wet. At my sudden movement, both men had stopped arguing and stared at me in shock. I didn’t care how I looked to either of them. It was now or never.

“I remember now! I remember everything! It happened right on Homecoming Night! You didn’t want me to go and Mom wanted to take me instead! You said it was stupid and a waste of time and Mom was still going to take me!” The words shot out before I could stop myself. But I couldn’t. Not now. Not after everything I’ve been through. Dealing with Dad’s anger, Mom disappearing, all of it came pouring out of me.

“Now just a goddamned minute-” he started, but I cut him off with a harsh “NO!” Don’t you dare try to shut me up now. I want answers and I want them now.

“Mom would never leave me like that! She’d never leave us like that! Where did she go? What happened to her?! Why won’t you just tell me what happened?!” The tears overwhelmed my vision again and I sobbed, unable to shout anymore. Dad said nothing; he was completely frozen. Was he deciding on whether to spill the beans about the issue or punish me as usual? I didn’t know, but I didn’t care anymore. He could hurt me later, but after he told the truth.

Grandpa had watched the whole outburst and remained a silent spectator. Deciding that this was now a good time to ease the tension, he cleared his throat, grabbing my attention away from Dad.

“Son, I understand your frustration at this whole mess, but jus’ give me a chance to explain everythin’ to ya,” he murmured and gestured for me to sit back down. I did and wiped my eyes so I could see him clearly. He took a deep breath and sighed heavily.

“On that night, the night your momma was s’posed to take you to the event at school, she was involved in a car accident. She...she didn’t make it, son,” he sniffed and tears started to come out from his tired eyes. “It was at an intersection. Officer claimed it was a pickup truck that flew through the red light. Never saw it comin’. Had no time to react. Said the driver smelled like cigarettes an’ booze. No insurance either.”

He paused to wipe his eyes. “Your daddy called me the next day an’ we talked about it for hours. To tell you the truth, I ain’t never heard your daddy sound the way he did that day. Also, we almost never talk, so it sure as hell shocked me to hear from him.” He shot a glance at Dad who still remained frozen, but was now staring at the table in front of him.

“But your momma loved you very much, son. She loved both of you and it just… She had no chance to move or anythin’…”

The tears had overwhelmed him at that point and he lowered his head. In all the years I’ve hung out with Grandpa, I’d pictured him as a strong, kind man who hardly cries over things or people, big or small. And yet here I was, watching the tears cut down his wrinkly face as he tried to pull himself together.

So that was it. Mom was gone, truly gone and was never coming back. All because of a stupid driver that hit her on the street. All because of that stupid argument between her and Dad. If only I didn’t ask her about the Homecoming Night. If only Mom hadn’t chosen to go out that night…

She would still be alive.

I sank back into the sofa, sobbing quietly. I felt empty. Nothing really mattered to me at the moment. I felt like running up to my room, hiding under the covers and wishing that it didn’t happen. That none of it happened.

The fight, the accident, none of it.

That Mom was still here, ready to comfort me with hugs and kisses. Ready to tell me it was alright.

That everything was alright.

That there was no fighting between her and Dad. “A minor disagreement,” she would have called it.

And the night would have gone back to normal.

“She just up and left me and him. That bitch just left...” Dad had suddenly spoken and both Grandpa and I looked over at him. He was still staring at the table with a blank expression, but his voice sounded hollow.

“Didn’t even bother to say goodbye or tell me where she was goin’. Just up and left me and the boy. Like it didn’t matter. Like we didn’t matter.” He snorted and I noticed his hands trembling as if he was fighting the urge to breakdown like Grandpa and me.

What was he talking about? I just heard what happened to Mom. She didn’t leave us; she died in a car accident. What was he mumbling about? Why was he making this about him...again? My anger flared once more, but Grandpa beat me to it before I could reply.

“She didn’t leave you, son. Didn’t you hear what I was sayin’ before? It was a horrible accident. She really did love ya an’ cared about-”

“The bitch DID leave!” Dad had slammed his hand on the table at Grandpa’s response. The glass wobbled, but he grabbed it and glared over at Grandpa.

“If she didn’t want to be with me anymore she should’ve said somethin’! Not just leave us here and then lose her life to some… bastard with a truck…!”

CRASH! Dad had crushed the glass in his hand and blood was leaking from the cuts onto his lap. But he didn’t care. He let out a horrible wail and clutched his head as if in pain from it all.

Grandpa pulled himself up from the chair completely and reached over to touch Dad’s shoulder to calm him down, but his hand was smacked away. Dad glanced up then, his eyes red and burning with fresh tears. The blood from his head had streaked the side of his face, adding on to his frazzled look.

I remained still the entire time, but remorse was creeping in. I suddenly felt bad about screaming at him and demanding the truth from him. But I had to know what happened to Mom. Now that it was out, I realized that I wasn’t alone in my pain. Dad was suffering too. He was hurt by everything that happened.

But he chose to deal with it the worst way… and he hurt me in the process.

But he didn’t want to hurt me with the truth…

I felt torn between remorse and pity for my father. My anger still burned from the inside at all of his behavior and treatment of me all this time. But he was hurting and Grandpa couldn’t comfort him now. Plus, the fear of him lashing out at me instead of Grandpa kept me frozen on the sofa, my eyes watching him.

Dad had others plans though. “Old man, you… you betta get out of my house… like right now,” he heaved and Grandpa merely shook his head at him. Compared to Grandpa, he looked like an insane person who committed the unthinkable.

“Son, I know you hurtin’ on the inside from it all. We all are hurtin’. It’s okay; you can tell me like you did on the day after…” Grandpa’s tears came again, but he wiped them away. “But you don’t need to be actin’ like this in front of yo’ son.”

At that sentence, Dad’s face darkened and he moved threateningly towards Grandpa as if he was going to hit him. My eyes darted around for a nearby phone or some object I could use. I was not looking forward to see Grandpa getting hurt. Or anyone getting hurt by Dad.

“Don’t you start that goddamn therapist bullshit on me, old man! Maybe I told you what happened to her on that day, but I don’t need to tell you anymore! Now, get out of my house or I’ll make ya.” He took another step towards Grandpa and I stood up immediately. He’s not going to hurt Grandpa. I have to distract him.

“Dad your hand is cut and it’s bleeding. Don’t you want to do something about it?”

At my suggestion, he snapped his head towards me. “My hand is the least of my goddamned problems so stay out of this, boy! And you...” Turning back towards Grandpa, “I don’t see or hear you leavin’ my house yet.”

“Don’t you threaten me, son. I don’t want to have to hurt ya with my cane or restrain ya. Don’t let this old body fool ya,” Grandpa shot back, straightening himself up with his cane. “But if you want me outta here, then I’ll go.” He then turned and headed towards the front door. Probably smart to leave before things got really ugly.

He pulled it open and started to leave, but not before turning back to Dad and giving him some parting words about “wanting to check up on him later” and “doin’ somethin’ about his busted hand.” I suddenly found myself running after him as he made it to his truck and was pulling the door open.

“Grandpa! I… I’m sorry about this. I really did want to see you today and I had no idea about Mom and I just wanted the truth about it… I didn’t want you to get hurt by Dad…” I started to cry again and Grandpa reached over to pull me into a bear hug. It only made me sob harder as I wished Dad was the one giving me the hug. Why did he have to be the way he was now? Why couldn’t he be more loving, like Grandpa and Mom?

“Son, your daddy let his temper get the best of him like always. But he’s hurtin’ right now like us and I tried my best, but he hasn’t learned how to reel it in,” he murmured and gave my body a gentle squeeze. “Sometimes, you gotta let some folks figure it out by themselves and just be there for ‘em.”

“But he didn’t have to…” I choked out. He didn’t have to act that way, like he usually does. Grandpa pulled back to stare at my face with sad, yet comforting eyes.

“I know, son. But all I can tell ya is that your momma loved you and your daddy so much and never planned on leavin’ either of ya. It was a horrible accident that took her away from all of us. That’s why I came down ‘ere, to see how my grandson was doin’. Not to ruffle feathers an’ all that.”

He then grinned and ruffled my hair with his hand. “You still doin’ alright in school? Behavin’ and gettin’ good grades an’ all that?”

I nodded and he patted my head again, pleased with my answer. He turned and eased himself into the driver’s seat. After the truck roared to life, he closed the door and rolled down the window to give me some final words.

“Just promise me this, son. Be there for your daddy an’ take care of ‘im. He’ still goin’ through it and even though he’d neva tell ya, he needs someone to be there for ‘im. He’s no soft boy, but he really does love ya and I do too. Be strong, son. For your daddy. For yo’self.”

With that, he pulled away onto the street and with one final wave, I watched his truck disappear down the far left.

Be there for your daddy an’ take care of ‘im.

After everything that happened, I was not set on being Dad’s caretaker for the time being. His drinking, the rages, the argument that caused Mom’s death… All of them had me wishing I was living with Grandpa instead. He was more loving, more caring, more so than Dad. But how would that go if I said such a thing?

I sighed and turned to head back into the house. I need to be alone. I don’t want to deal with Dad right now.

Dad was rinsing away the blood from his hand under the tap when I walked in. One of Mom’s favorite washcloths was draped next to him along with the same bottle of Jack Daniel’s from before. The blood on the side of his face had dried, staining his face.

He glanced over at me but said nothing. His eyes were still red from tears, but they seemed to hold something else. Regret? Remorse? Not sure, I said nothing, not wanting to start with him again. Grandpa told me to care for him, but I was going to give him some space first after everything.

He stared a little longer before turning back to continue rinsing his hand. He then picked up the Jack Daniel’s bottle and poured some of the liquid onto his hand, wincing as he did so from the burning sensation. I left for the nearby bathroom for the first aid kit. Dad needed real help, not what the bottle could give him.

Once I secured the kit, I returned to the kitchen and sat the case next to him on the counter. He glanced at the kit, then at me as if wondering why I bothered getting it for him. He looked… ashamed. Embarrassed possibly. I suddenly felt the urge to wrap my arms around him in a tight hug. Grandpa’s words rang in my head once more.

Be there for your daddy an’ take care of ‘im.

Recognition set in and he nodded, understanding why it was there. As he turned the water off and started to open the kit, I left for my bedroom upstairs. Privacy was what he needed now.

I let myself fall back against the sheets and pillows. It would be a long while before Dad’s rage would go away. Mom wasn’t here anymore to comfort us anymore. It was my turn now. And if through my efforts everything would calm down, then that’s what I will do.
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