My dad stares at us, not saying anything. Jordan keeps his distance but he looks ready to jump at any moment. I don’t make eye contact with anyone, I don’t know if my dad has sobered up at all in the past four hours, he never sleeps more than an hour or two.
“Who is he?” My father’s hoarse voice breaks the silence, pulling me to look at him.
“I’m Jordan, I’m a...” He gives me s quizzical look while he chooses his words, “Friend. I’m a friend of Rhea’s.”
My dad looks around, “What happened? Rhea are there any painkillers, my head is throbbing.”
“I got rid of the pain pills awhile ago dad, you asked me to last time you were really hung over.”
He looks sad, “Are you alright?”
I shrug my shoulders. I don’t know what to tell him, the truth or what he wants to hear. Jordan interrupts suddenly, sounding angry.
“Of course she’s not, she spent last night at my house because she was scared to come back! Monday she came to school with a huge gash on her head!”
My father’s gaze travels from Jordan back to me, his eyes are heavy and scared as he rises and comes over to me, he lifts my hair and sees the cut on the corner of my forehead.
“Rhea, baby,” His hands travels down my face. While I don’t want to I pull away, out of instinct, “How long?”
His question doesn’t surprise me, “Six, maybe seven weeks. I was able to pay the electric, air, and water bills but the internet and phone bills are coming up and there’s not much left unless I poke into the savings,” I don’t look at him.
“I can try to fight this Rhea, I can... Things can be good again,” His voice is hopeful.
“You should fight this Mr. Sommes! She deserves a life, you deserve a life! There are programs and medications and--”
“Jordan,” I cut him off, ready to cry, “He does this almost every month. He’s never made past five days, he’s tried, really,” I look to my dad, “There’s just too much pain to let go of.”
They both watch me. I wrap my arms around myself and take a few steps away from them. It’s bad enough I have this conversation almost every month with my dad, now I have to include Jordan in it. I brace myself for the coming difficulty, the coming denial.
“Dad, you have not been sober for more than five days since you started drinking. These next five days are crucial, these next five days are all we have for who knows how long. You have design requests piling up and you could probably get most done in those five days if you try hard enough. We should be able to pay for the missing bills in that time and our savings can stay focused on the roof. I know you feel awful about how you are when you’re drunk, but what’s done is done. You have five days to get as many projects done and get as many commission pays as possible, please try to resist spending the money on more drinks. I know it’s hard but please try.”
“Rhea honey, I can do this. This time will be different, like your friend said, we deserve better, there are programs! I can handle this, I can clear it all out of the house, out of sight out of mind.”
I can’t take anymore, “Dad last time you tried to do that you walked to Marlin’s Liquor bought a bottle of vodka, got wasted and hit me until I couldn’t feel my face and accused me of throwing away your booze!”
I stomp out of the room to my own, closing the door before collapsing against it. I put my face in my hands as I try to keep my sobs silent as I stare at my wall. I get up, quietly locking my door before digging in my closet, pulling down clothes and blankets I keep for colder months when we can’t pay the heating bill. I keep pulling until I hear a thud and see a box at my feet. Pushing away my tears, I sit with the box, opening it slowly. It’s been almost eight months since I last pulled down the box. The contents make it impossible to hold in my tears, seeing them again breaks my heart, my sudden need to see them makes me want to be committed.
I look at the pictures of my mom and dad, pictures of the three of us, pictures of my mom in the hospital, slowly over time withering away. I lift the pictures, moving them to the side to see the things under them, including an old x-acto knife and my moms old cancer medications. A small journal and pen sit underneath everything, I’ve started so many letters. Thankfully I’ve never finished one nor have I ever used anything in the box, even though the temptation is hard to ignore sometimes. I jump when I hear my door knob jiggle.
“It’s me, it’s Jordan babe,” His voice is gently, “Please open the door?”
I quickly pack up the box, shoving it back in my closet. Pretending I’m ok isn’t easy but I never don’t try, I wipe my eyes and try to control my breathing before going to the door.
Opening it, I see Jordan leaning on his arm which is pressed to my doorframe, his hand resting up by his face. His body seems relaxed while worry covers his face
“What are you still doing here? You should go home,” I don’t know how long I can keep from crying.
“Your dad is in his office working, I wanted to check on you. I’m sorry I interjected, it wasn’t my place.”
I nod, “I still need to get my truck, but I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“I was thinking maybe I could take you to dinner? I want to make sure you eat and maybe it’ll help you calm down. I want to make sure you’re ok,” He gently grazes my cheek with his hand.
As if sensing his offer, my stomach growls, loudly. I wrap my arms around my stomach, “I guess dinner would be nice. Thank you.”
He nods and ushers me out of my room, he reaches behind me and grabs my jacket. My father is staring intently at his computer when I pass by.
“I’ll be back in a couple hours, do you need anything?” I ask coldly.
He looks up at me, “No... No I don’t need anything. Um, have fun? I’ll probably be up when you get home, I’m going to work through the night.”
I nod before heading towards the door. I freeze at the next words my father calls out.
He hesitates, “I love you, Rhea!”
Jordan glances at me as he leaves the house, standing a few steps away watching me, “I love you too dad.”
I don’t wait another second before walking out and slamming the door. Taking in a deep, shuttering breath, I march past Jordan at to his car.
“Rhea,” He calls out gently as he tries to reach for my arm. Tonight is a night I feel I just will break down and cry if I’m not careful.
“After dinner can you take me to the library for my truck?”
He nods solemnly, making his way to the car and opening the door for me. Closing my eyes, I rest my head back against the seat, hoping to ignore these painful feelings away. Jordan doesn’t speak as he gets in the car, neither of us do and I don’t move, I focus on the humming and movement of the car while we drive. While the silence calms me, it gives me too much time to think. I debate sleeping in my car tonight, or sneaking out in the morning so I don’t have to see my dad and disrupt his work. Neither are very feasible, my dad likes to check on me between projects when he’s sober enough.
His graphic designs keep him busy, as people are always sending in requests even with the long wait time. Most assume he’s busy working on older projects or he just takes his time. If only even half knew it’s because he’s too drunk to care. The job pays well, and his years of experience help him keep clients, but it is time consuming. He spends maybe an hour of the average five days of sobriety talking to me, the rest he’s working. He won’t sleep much, that is a constant, and it will also be part of what pushes him back to drinking.
If I put a few blankets in my car, a few changes of clothes, I could use the school showers...
I derail my own train of thought. It’s insane and it’s risky. All it will take is one patrol cop and everything will unravel. It’s not worth the risk, and I’m too tired to fight against anything new.
The car stops humming, I open my eyes to see us outside a Denny’s. Jordan is already getting out and coming around to my door.
“If you want I can get something for you to take home to your dad, food might help the hangover and his focus.”
I nod, past the point of caring. It’s been intense weekend and I honestly just want to eat and sleep.
“Can I kiss you?” He whispers.
Ok... Food, sleep, and Jordan’s lips on mine are all I want. I start to think I’m only capable of nodding. I don’t care because at least it gets the point across.
His lips brush mine, feeling like a phantom presence before he pressed his lips against mine. He slowly puts his hands on my arm and let’s his fingers travel up to my shoulders and up to cup my face.
“God I can’t wait until tomorrow so I can kiss you in front of everyone,” He chuckles against my lips.
“Baby steps... Please?” I squeak.
“Of course, we’ll take it slow. You tell me what you’re ready for and when,” He moves to the side and we walk together into the restaurant.
It’s not busy, just a few older retirees in the back. We are given a booth next to the front window, and together we mull over the menu.
“What would your dad like? I know when I’m hungover I like a big burger but I’ve known people who can’t stand grease after a binge night,” He tries to make conversation, catching me off guard.
He looks around, “Every now and again. I might steal one of my dad’s beers or drink at a party, it’s a very rare thing. I’ve only ever gotten wasted once and I woke up to instantly regret it, I thought my brain was going to explode! Never making that mistake again,” He laughs it off but it still concerns me. I try to let it go.
“My dad isn’t a fan of burgers most of the time. He never really was,” I look at the menu carefully, “Maybe a breakfast thing, he’d like that. I don’t really know what I want though so I can’t be sure about him.”
“I’m sorry if I was crossing a boundary earlier, I didn’t know this had happened before. I got hopeful that maybe things could be better.”
I look up and give him a gentle smile, “It’s ok, I understand. You had good intentions. I don’t want to think about right now, right now I want to eat.
We order, me a chicken fried steak, him a burger, my dad we order a lumberjack slam. The food is warm and filling, enough so to give me that tired feeling you get from eating too much. At the end of dinner, Jordan surprises me with lava cake for dessert and then takes me to my truck. With a quick, gentle kiss we part ways and I go home.
My dad is still in his office, so I bring him the food, “Interesting project?” I ask.
“No not really, someone wanting a header for a website, I see them all the time. How was dinner?”
I shrug, “Fine, I guess.”
My dad stops his work and turns to face me, “Jordan seems like a nice guy.”
“He seems to care about you a lot.”
I blush, “Yeah,” A smile spreads over my dad’s face.
“Is he good to you? I don’t know how long you two have been--”
“Just a couple days dad, but... Yeah, he’s being good to me.”
“I’m glad, I know I haven’t been giving it, but I do want the best for you. If he treats you well and makes you happy, then I’m happy,” He looks exhausted as he stands and hugs me, I flinch slightly, “Thank you for the food dear. Go rest.”
I nod as I pull away. Slowly I walk out of the office and to my room, listening to the fading sound of his keyboard clicking.