Authors: J. Roman
“He bumped his head on the coffee table. We had to take him to the ER and get him three stitches. He’s fine, just upset.” Uncle Mark handed over Christian, and a sense of rightness settled over me. I kissed his chubby cheek and petted his blond head. I’d always wanted siblings when my mom was alive, and it made me happy and ashamed to have rejoiced over gaining them with her passing. Christian, Danny, and Dean had become the brothers I’d never had, and I would do anything for them. Jason had joined that circle in recent months, but the love was different.
“You soothe him. He likes how steady you are,” Uncle Mark said, sounding impressed. “I’ll get your bag. Take him out to the car and buckle him in.” He waved at Rick behind me. “Hey, Rick. How’s it going?”
“Pretty good, Mr. Johnson,” Rick replied.
“Haven’t seen you around for a while. Everything going okay with your folks?”
“Everything is fine with Rick, Uncle Mark. Can we just go?” I interrupted before they could start up a conversation. We still had to pick up Jason, and I wanted to check on him. I suddenly had a really bad feeling about it.
Uncle Mark frowned. “Sure, Tommy. Is that your bag by the bench?”
“Yeah, and my book bag too.” Christian started crying again. His loud shriek of discomfort made my stomach flip over. Could I get a redo on this week?
TGIF my ass
. The weekend didn’t look any brighter on Friday than it had a few days ago.
The car ride to Jason’s work was awkward and silent. Uncle Mark concentrated on the road as we got on the highway before turning off at the exit and into the shopping center where Kmart sat. I frowned as I saw Jason swinging around a parking lot light by the handicapped parking. He was off early. My frown deepened. He never got off early.
“Oh good. We won’t have to wait too long,” Uncle Mark said, pulling into the parking space nearest the handicapped spots. This late, the lot was relatively empty.
“I’ll go out and get him,” I offered. Something wasn’t right. Uncle Mark waved me out. I released a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and ducked out of the car.
I tried to be causal as I walked steadily toward my boyfriend. “Jason?”
He raised his head as he made another round on the pole, though I couldn’t see his face because of the shadows. He giggled. “I got fired.”
Shock registered in my chest. “What?”
“Yep. My stepdad called and told them that I would no longer be allowed to work here. I convinced my manager to let me have a last shift.” He shrugged. “Didn’t get to finish it, though.”
“Why?” I asked, dreading to know the answer.
“Nathan and I drained a flask in the loading deck on break. I threw up in my register.”
My jaw cleaned. “You’re drunk?” It figured. It would explain why he was off early.
“Completely,” he said unapologetically. “But don’t worry. I can act straight.”
I stepped closer and took a deep breath. He smelled like whiskey and vomit. Great. We were so screwed.
He’s screwed. I don’t have to be
. It was a selfish thought, but there it was. “Come on. Uncle Mark’s waiting.”
I wanted to strangle him. Why did he have to do this to me? He was so selfish. It was ridiculous how selfish he was.
Prick. Asshole. Dickhead
. The words became a litany in my head. I called him all the vile things I could think of. In that moment, I hated him. It hadn’t even been a week!
If Uncle Mark noticed he didn’t say anything, for which I was grateful, though his grip did tighten on the steering wheel when we got into the car. The drive home was tense, and even though Jason and I sat beside one another in the backseat, we didn’t speak and barely even touched. I guess he sensed I was angry because when he put his hand on my thigh in the darkened back and started stroking my leg, I pushed him off. He huffed a little at that, leaning his forehead against the window, causing it to fog with his heat.
It was always sex with him. I knew it was a girly thing to think, but I couldn’t help it. Jason solved his problems in one of two ways: getting smashed or getting screwed. With me he always seemed to opt for touching. We had a fight, therefore he wanted to rub. He made a C on his midterm, blowjobs were good for that, too. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being with him, loved rubbing against him and finding that embarrassing/wonderful moment of bliss that required washcloths and cleanup, but he didn’t really want
. He wanted a distraction. Not for the first time, I was wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into.
When we pulled into the driveway and Uncle Mark put the car in park, he turned around and looked at the two of us. “Tommy, take Christian upstairs and get him ready for bed. Jason, come talk to Charlie and me in the living room, please.” Dread filled me. I knew what that meant. He had noticed. Crap! It wasn’t really surprising, as Jason smelled like booze and vomit, but I had hoped Uncle Mark wouldn’t say anything
. Shit. Shit. Shit
I was helpless to stop the train wreck that was about to happen in front of me. I leaned over and pressed a kiss to Jason’s neck, silently pleading with him to be on his best behavior. In the mood he was in, it was an ice cube’s chance in summer sunshine on the panhandle.
I unbuckled the baby and gathered him up in my arms, along with the diaper bag on the floor beside his seat. Christian made a little gurgling noise as he rested against my chest. It was a happy little sound that was preferable to the shrieks he was making earlier.
Trying not to jostle him too much, I opened the door and then crossed the foyer, heading to the stairs. Dean and Danny were sprawled out on the couch in the living room watching some kind of sci-fi movie. It surprised me because usually they were glued to Dean’s Xbox, playing Call of Duty until bed. Uncle Charlie was nowhere to be seen.
I headed on upstairs and went straight into the nursery/Danny’s room. The left side was quietly declared as Danny’s and it looked like a solitary island of teen in a sea of baby, though even Danny’s comforter was a matching blue. I went ahead and put Christian in his crib, straining my ears for signs of trouble downstairs. Half paying attention, I stripped off his day clothes until he was down to his diaper. I threw his dirty clothes in Danny’s hamper and listened to Christian chirp out a string of nonsense words while I looked around for his binky. Where was the pacifier? I dug through the diaper bag to no avail. I was pretty sure Uncle Charlie stashed an extra one around the room somewhere for just this sort of emergency.
Christian made a little noise of distress, slapping his little hands against the wood of his crib.
“Don’t start, Christian,” I whispered, panic filling me. I grabbed the bear on the floor and walked it over to the crib, hoping it would entertain him for a second. He settled somewhat as I put it down beside him, and he wrapped his arm around it. I opened the nightstand by Danny’s bed. Success. There was an army of pacifiers inside. I grabbed one and popped it in Christian’s mouth.
“You don’t know shit!” The muffled shout was audible from the foyer, and the slamming of the front door made Christian whimper.
“Shhh, it’s all right, Chris. No worries. Jason is just being pissy.” Was it okay to say pissy in front of the baby, even if he couldn’t repeat it?
Jason! Dean, Danny, upstairs!” Uncle Mark’s shout didn’t make me feel any better. The boys’ feet pounded on the steps as they ascended them.
. I shushed Christian some more and turned on his Baby Einstein playlist of ocean sounds, hoping that would drown out any more noises from downstairs. I took his blanket and pulled it up to his chin before leaning down and kissing his chubby cheeks.
“Don’t worry, Chris. I’m going to fix this. I promise. No worries.”
Christian sucked his pacifier and looked up at me with a look of absolute trust. It must’ve been nice being a baby. Nobody was going to hurt you, and everyone was just another potential friend. I turned on his crib light, which was a little moving jungle thing that emitted a soft glow of green, blue, pink, and yellow in regular intervals that we used as a night light, before turning on the baby monitor and turning off the overhead light. I stood at the entrance to Christian’s baby room and longed for the moment to last just a few seconds longer. In there was safety, soft blankets, and warm smiles. Out there was Jason. I may have been whipped to think it, but I would choose his brooding ass every time.
“Night night, baby,” I whispered into the room before shutting the door. I turned around and saw Danny and Dean leaning over the railing, obviously eavesdropping on the conversation going on downstairs, or at least trying to. There was nothing to hear but mumbled voices. They must’ve migrated to the kitchen.
“Damn. I can’t hear shit,” Danny whispered.
“Me neither. What did Jason do now?” Dean asked, looking at me for answers. I didn’t want to give them.
“I dunno. Just back off. I’m going to go find out. You guys go play Xbox or something.” I stepped around Dean and took to the stairs.
“Want us to come with?” Dean called after.
I shook my head and paused to look back at him. “He’s my boyfriend, my responsibility. Just let me deal. Okay?”
“Okay, man.” Dean grabbed a very curious-looking Danny and dragged him toward his room. I breathed a silent sigh of relief. At least Dean didn’t pry.
I walked into the kitchen less than a minute afterward and was surprised to find Jason still there. He looked furious, red-faced, and utterly immoveable. That sneer he wore when he said something nasty was frozen on his lips, but at least he hadn’t stormed out yet.
Uncle Charlie raised his eyes to me. “Tommy, we’ll talk to you in a bit. We’re talking to Jason right now.”
“Whatever you say to him, you can say in front of me,” I said sternly. I wasn’t about to leave Jason alone.
Uncle Charlie’s gaze narrowed. “You know better than that. Our problem is with Jason and his behavior lately. You have nothing to do with this conversation.”
“I’m his boyfriend.”
“I don’t care if you’re his spiritual guru. You are not his keeper.” Uncle Charlie’s voice allowed no room for argument. He pointed to his bedroom door on the other side of the kitchen. “Go to your room. Now.”
I balled my hands into fists at my sides, furious at being denied the opportunity to defend my boyfriend. I wanted to hit something, hard.
“Are we going to have a problem, Tommy?” Uncle Mark asked. He motioned to my clenched fists. “I know you’re not thinking about hitting somebody. Your momma would beat you senseless. She taught you better than that.”
Pain lacerated my heart. Why did everyone use her as a weapon against me? She was dead. Why wouldn’t they let her stay that way? “I wouldn’t.”
Uncle Mark nodded, and his expression softened. “I know, Tommy. You’re a good boy. Go to your room.”
“You know, you people use guilt like a damn guillotine,” Jason sneered. “Everyone in this family does it. No wonder y’all are so stuck on being good.”
“Jason, that’s enough,” Uncle Charlie said. “Tommy. Go.”
I did. I slinked away and shut the wooden door quietly behind me. I looked at the still-unopened boxes of my old life and felt the weight of them settle on my chest. I missed my mom. I wanted her to tell me what to do, what to feel, how to go on. Jason was so complicated. I was lost in how to make him better, how to help him.
I crossed to the bed and flopped down on the mattress, hugging my pillow, burrowing my face in the soft cushion like a little kid. I shut my eyes and concentrated on breathing. If Uncle Charlie and Uncle Mark didn’t back off, Jason was going to snap. If they’d just let me deal with him, I could calm him down, bring him back to his normal self.
“We’re not asking you to tell us everything that is going on in your life. We’re not even asking you what you went through to get to this point, but we’re asking you to talk to someone. This isn’t like you, and we can’t help you if you don’t let us,” Uncle Mark said from the kitchen. I held my breath, waiting on Jason’s answer.
“I’m not talking to some child-shrink, Mark. There is nothing wrong with me. I like to drink, and I like to fuck, and I like to do what I want to do when I want to do it. I just don’t like your rules, and if you don’t like it, you can bite my ass,” Jason drawled, that nasty grin in his voice.
Shit. Please, stop, Jason
There was a long pause from my uncles. I was surprised that it was Uncle Charlie who laid down the ultimatum. “Jason, you really think if you shove that chip on your shoulder in our faces that we can’t see you? You’re scared, and you’re hurting, and we’re probably the only people other than Tommy who give a shit. We want to help you, and we want to make you family, but you have to decide to
our family. Either you go to counseling and learn how to be a part of this family or, as much as it will break our hearts, you will leave. You have until tomorrow to decide what you want to do.” My stomach roiled.
“Yeah?” That word was deadly. “I don’t need time to decide anything. I’m out of here.” The scrape of the kitchen chair against the linoleum had me rolling to my feet and striding across my bedroom to throw open the door.
“Jason, wait!” I shouted, nearly tripping over myself to catch him before he took off out the back door. My uncles shot me identical looks of pity, but I ignored them. I couldn’t let him walk out, couldn’t let him leave. He made it to the second step before I caught up with him.
Without thinking, I grabbed his shoulders and hauled him backward, knocking our balances off so that we both crashed to the deck in a tangle of limbs.
“Get off me!” he snarled, thrashing like a trout on the end of a fishing line. My beautiful drunk boyfriend had hatred etched in stark lines in the dim light of the porch lamp. “You don’t get to stop me, Tommy! They don’t want me. Back the fuck off!”
want you!” I screamed, shaking him hard in an effort to get him to understand. “They don’t understand. God, Jason, you’re drunk. Why not wait until tomorrow? Everything is so intense right now. Please, baby, please. Give this a chance.” I knew he didn’t need much of a reason to bolt, but I also knew he had nowhere to go. Ugly triumph welled up inside me. I was the only option he had. He wouldn’t go back home. He had to stay.