"Remember this place?" Rick clapped Brody on the shoulder as they entered the bar.
"I don't know—wait." Brody looked around. "Is this the place you took me when I turned twenty-one?"
Rick grinned. "The very same. Although I remember it as the place where you barfed in the parking lot when we left."
"Thanks for bringing that up."
"You're not going to do that again, are you?"
"No. Jesus." Brody aimed a punch at Rick's shoulder but his older brother easily dodged.
"Come on, man," said Rick. "Let's grab a table."
They wound their way back to a table in the corner. Rick waved at a couple of patrons as well as a couple of the waitresses. Brody wondered just how often his brother was here that the staff would recognize him. On the other hand, there weren't that many places to choose from. Rick gestured at a small round table and Brody nodded. As he took a seat, he looked around again.
"What do you think?" Rick asked.
"I think . . . it looks like a bar." Brody grinned and picked up a menu. "And I wouldn't mind a drink. And a burger."
"They still don't have decent burgers in Washington?"
"Sure they do. Five Guys is the best. I'll have to take you there next time you come East. The kids would love it, too."
Rick gave a non-committal shrug and turned his attention to the menu. Brody ordered a cheeseburger with onion rings and a beer. Rick went for the bacon-cheeseburger and French fries.
The beers arrived first and Brody watched as his brother downed almost half his bottle in one go. Had he always done that?
"So, how's it going, Rick?"
His brother raised his eyebrows. "How's what going?"
"Everything. Come on, man. Mom's worried about you."
"When isn't she worried about all of us?"
"True, but right now I think you're at the top of the list. How are you?"
"I'm okay. I'm adjusting." Rick downed more of his beer. "How's everything with you? That was a tough game last night. Is your shoulder okay?"
"Oh, yeah, it's fine. You know how it is. You get hit enough you don't even notice some of them." Brody rolled his shoulder, pleased when he felt nothing more than a twinge. "Would have been better if we'd won." He frowned. "The ice there sucked; I caught a rough spot and fell. If I hadn't done that, the pass never would have gotten by me."
"You can't do everything. And isn't that what your defense is for?"
"Yeah, I know." Brody shrugged. "Anyway, we're not here to talk about me."
"What do you want to talk about, then? The Tigers are looking good."
Brody was saved having to reply when the food arrived. He tried to organize his thoughts, buying more time by drowning his onion rings in ketchup. "Nice try, man. How are you doing, really?"
"What do you want me to say? I come home one day, the kids are at Amy's mom's, and Amy's telling me she thinks we need to separate. Now I'm living in a crappy apartment and scheduling time with my own kids." Rick signaled for another beer before he started on his burger.
"Sorry, Rick. That has to be rough."
"It sucks. Everything sucks right now. I have to talk to a fucking stranger about what happened in my marriage. Some goddamned shrink with papers up on the wall saying she knows how to fix marriages. And you know what?"
"She's not even fucking married. Can you believe that shit? I guess that's fucking irony for you."
Brody waited as the waitress delivered Rick's beer. She asked Brody if he wanted another, but he declined and asked for water instead. As the waitress walked away, he turned his attention back to his brother. "So, ah, is the counseling helping?"
"Are you kidding? The shrink's on her side, so of course everything is my fault. Amy says I'm not around enough and she's tried to work it out but it wasn't working. She says I'm not listening. Ha." He took another swig of his drink. "Like I ever do anything else; it's not like she ever stops talking."
Brody made a sympathetic noise and reached for his glass of water.
Rick went on. "Every day I'd come home and she was badgering me about where I was, what kept me so long. For Christ's sake, I'd go for drinks with the guys after work once in a while and she'd acted like I'd been gone for a month."
"She was probably just upset. Maybe tired, too."
"I mean, is it so much to ask that after a day of hauling heavy shit around, I grab a few beers before going home?" Rick shook his head, drained his beer, and indicated he wanted another.
Brody searched for a comment. "Well, she works hard."
Rick scoffed. "Yeah, works. Double-shifting all the damn time." He drank some more. "Like I don’t make enough. I mean, yeah, I know I've had some slow periods, but what the hell—the economy sucks for everybody." Another drink. "So she works more and more. I didn't even want her working in the first place, you know?"
Brody looked up from his meal. "Seriously?"
"Yeah. What, I can't take care of my own damn family?" Rick drained his beer and looked for the waitress. He caught her attention, indicated he wanted more, and turned back to Brody. "She doesn't need to work."
Rick waved a hand. "Yeah, I know. Women work all the time. Feminism, choices, blah fucking blah. She told me she always wanted to be a nurse and she was going to do it, so it's not like I kept her from doing that." The waitress dropped off the beer and Rick drained half the bottle before she'd gone ten feet away.
"Anyway," Rick continued, "I figured once the kids were born, she'd stop. We talked about it; she said she thought she would like staying home with kids. Then when she was on maternity leave she told me she wanted to go back."
"Lots of women change their minds about that."
"I don't fucking care about 'lots of women.'" Rick glared. "She didn't have to go back to work. She could have stayed home with the kids and gone back later."
Brody chose his words with care. "Not every woman wants to stay home with kids."
"We talked about it and she said she would. Then she changed her mind. Now she's working overtime, talking about taking courses so she can earn more money. What, construction money's not good enough for her?" Rick snapped up another bottle.
"Maybe she just likes it."
"Yeah? Maybe she just likes talking to those doctors. Doctors make plenty of goddamn money."
Brody stared at him. "What the hell? You think she was cheating on you?"
Rick shrugged. "She probably thinks I'm too dumb to notice that she had lunch with Doctor What's-his-name five times in a month."
"No, man." Brody shook his head. "Amy wouldn’t do that. I just can't see it."
"Oh yeah?" Rick raised an eyebrow and gestured at Brody with his beer. "You telling me you never worry about Ryan and all those guys in the other bands?"
"No." Brody hadn't given it a thought.
Rick threw his head back and laughed. "Brody, you are . . . look, think about it." He leaned across the table. "You can honestly sit there and tell me you don't give a shit about Ryan going on tour, surrounded by—by—all those guitar players?"
Brody relaxed back in his chair. "She's been working with Nate and Mitch for years and as far as I know, nothing ever happened. Why should I suddenly start worrying about guys she hasn't even met?"
Rick gave a mirthless laugh. "'As far as I know.' Yeah, that's what I thought. When Amy was looking for a job I figured, hell, she's been in school with men, what's the difference if she's working with them?" He finished his beer, signaled for another. "Let me tell you, man, there's a difference."
After the next beer arrived, Rick challenged Brody to a game of pool. Relieved not to have to continue the conversation, he accepted. The rest of the night was uneventful, although Rick drank at a rate that surprised Brody, especially since his brother had to work in the morning. When he made a comment, Rick waved it off and said he had it under control.
Back at his hotel, Brody tried to put it all aside. He was beat from the game and from the extra travel, and he had an early flight the following day. Even so, sleep didn't come easy.
At last, on the plane, Brody let himself think about his time with Rick. He hadn't seen that side of his brother before and he didn't much like it. Presumably it was exacerbated by the beer—Rick had downed six or seven to Brody's eventual two—but one thing he knew about alcohol was that it didn’t give a person new personality traits. It just magnified ones that were already there, and in Rick's case it appeared anger and bitterness were prominent.
That was why Rick had said those things about Ryan, Brody decided. He was just projecting. Brody supposed it was a risk that Ryan might meet someone in the music business, but he didn't worry about things that hadn't happened. What was the point? Besides, things with Ryan were good.
On the other hand, everyone had thought things were good between Rick and Amy, too. Including Rick.
He shook his head. No sense worrying about things over which he had no control. Rick was going through a tough time and that was making him pessimistic, but it didn't mean Brody had to be.
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