“Get off my back,” Todd barked, reaching for his beer stein.
“Do you know what you even want to do with your life?” Jeremy asked.
“Damned if I know!” Todd’s words reflected the fiery rage gleaming in his brown eyes.
“‘Damned if I know,’” Jeremy repeated, then sucked his teeth. “So the game plan is to just sit here, sulk, and drink your life away?”
Here was the Lighthouse, an Irish pub popular with the Georgetown locals. But for Todd, it was more than a pub. It was the place where he could, drunk, chase away his demons. The place where, drunk, he could look himself in the mirror and not feel repulsed. The place where, drunk, he felt safe against a world crushing him.
Todd tapped the bar counter twice and, when the bald bartender looked at him, signalled for another beer.
“Really?” Jeremy shook his head. “Do you really think you need another?”
Todd drained his drink and set the beer stein to the side. “Why the fuck do you care if I have another?”
“Because you’re my brother and I care about you,” Jeremy said, turning slightly to his right on the bar stool. “I want to help you, Todd. I really do. But this…” He pointed at the beer the bartender had just placed in front of his brother. “You need to do something besides … drink.”
“If you’re not going to help…” Todd bit down on his lip. “Why are you here?”
Jeremy bristled. “Why am I here?” He pulled a folded piece of paper from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and held it out to Todd. “Here.”
“Why I’m here,” Jeremy spat. “Take it, Todd.”
Todd, holding his brother’s gaze, eventually took the paper and unfolded it. “Is this a joke?”
“You said you needed money for your rent, so I made the cheque out to your landlord.” Jeremy cupped his hand to Todd’s shoulder. “I’m not paying for you to drink your life away.”
Todd crumpled the cheque into a ball and hurled it behind the bar.
“Fuck, you’re an ass.” Jeremy polished off the last bit of scotch in his glass, then flagged down the server and settled the tab. He slid off his stool and looked down at his brother. “I’m not doing this again. Don’t you … remember what drinking did to Dad?”
“Don’t!” Todd took a large swig of his beer. He didn’t like talking about their father, or being compared to him. Drunk, his father beat him with whatever had been in arm’s reach — a belt, a frying pan, a beer bottle. Drunk, his father couldn’t stay sober long enough to work, and lost his job and his home. Drunk, his father passed out while driving and crashed into a concrete utility pole. No, Todd wasn’t his father and wouldn’t become him. He had his drinking under control. That was what he told himself.
“It doesn’t have to be like this,” Jeremy said.
Todd set his beer down on the bar with a hard clunk and locked his gaze on Jeremy. “You have no idea what it’s like … always living in the shadow of the great Jeremy Miller. Author. Professor. Person extraordinaire.” Tears banked in his eyes. “I was fifteen, and you left me there … in that house … with him. Every day after you left Dad used me as his punching bag. Every day for three years, until the accident, I suffered. Where were you? Where was my big brother?”
“I got out,” Jeremy shot back. “I told you to get out, too. Did you listen?”
“Where was I supposed to go?”
There was a silence.
“I’m sorry.” Jeremy ran his hand over his mouth. “I stayed as long as I could. And I tried to protect you…”
Todd looked down. That was true. When their father started beating on him, Jeremy always threw himself between them. Jeremy took the blows without crying until their father got bored and walked away.
“It can be different now,” Jeremy said cautiously. “If you want it to be.”
“Really?” Todd raised his head. “How?”
“Come live with me.”
“Me … live with … you?” Todd, rubbing his eye, laughed. “What would Aiden think?”
“Doesn’t matter. You’re my family. Back then…” Jeremy slipped his hands into his pockets. “I let you down once. I won’t do that again.” He paused. “But I have two conditions.”
Todd sucked his teeth. “There’s always conditions with you.”
“You stop drinking and see a therapist.”
“Can I finish this beer at least?”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
Todd picked up his beer, chugged until it was gone and then let out a loud belch.
“This is so fucked up.” Todd leaned forward, rested his elbows on the bar and hid his face in his hands. He’d been crashing on his friend Dylan’s sofa after being evicted six weeks ago, and testing the limits of their friendship. He’d lost his job, too, because he never showed up on time, if at all. He uncovered his face and winced at the acidic taste in his mouth. Christ, maybe I’m exactly like my father.
“So?” Jeremy shook his head. “I know you were evicted, Todd. Dylan called me last week.”
“Then why…” Todd stood. “Dylan’s a good guy and I’m driving him crazy. So I guess I don’t have a choice.”
“Maybe this is the moment when you figure out what you want to do with your life,” Jeremy said, throwing his arm around Todd’s shoulders. “And I’ll be there to help.”
They started for the exit, and for the first time in his life Todd felt the misery cloaked around him starting to fall away. Could things really be different?
Maybe … if he could stay sober.
Sober, he stood a chance of remaking himself and his life.