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I didn’t care what he said; it smelled like apple juice to me. It even looked like apple juice, if apple juice could sit so patiently in that little cup that could barely hold anything. I frowned.
“It’s bad,” Brady had said. “It’s not good for you.”
“If it’s bad, why are you drinking it?” I’d countered.
“Because it isn’t bad for adults.” He’d replied. I stared at it in the little cup. He tilted his head backwards and chugged it down in one swift sip. How could he do that without choking? Why didn’t he drink it slowly, and peacefully, like apple juice was supposed to be drunk? Why so quick, and all in one gulp? I’d seen my Mom do that once, with water. But she’d had a large Mike-And-Ike-looking thing in her hand, too. She’d swallowed the Mike-And-Ike thing without chewing. She swallowed it with the water. Dad said it was medicine. But it looked like candy. It looked like a giant Mike-And-Ike.
Now, I stared at Brady with his small cup that was currently empty. I frowned again. “I want some to drink, too.” I said firmly, prepared to throw a fit to get my way.
“I told you, you can’t have it.”
“What’s in it that makes it bad for you?”
“Nothing.” He said quickly, almost too quickly. He cast a swift glance my way. He refilled the tiny cup.
“What is it, then?” I asked, curious of how he threw his head back and gulped the liquid again, expertly.
“It’s apple juice, James.” Brady scowled, and his voice sounded different somehow. “It’s very good apple juice.”
“I’m allowed to have apple juice,” I squinted.
“This is a different kind. It isn’t for kids.” Brady refilled the tiny cup again. Why was he drinking it in tiny little spurts? Why didn’t he just drink from the big bottle?
“I’m not a kid.” I pouted.
“Yeah, you are. You’re seven years old. Now go play.”
“Go drink some water.” Brady refilled his cup again. It didn’t make sense to me. But I decided not to ask. Instead, I crossed my arms over my chest, and scanned the area. People were chatting everywhere. In the corner, there was a man at a table with shiny, colorful glass bottles. The liquids inside were colorful, like punch. A few were like apple juice. A few looked like water.
I marched over to the man behind the table. He raised one eyebrow, something I really wanted to learn how to do.
“Yes?” he said suspiciously.
“I’ll have some of that,” I said, pointing the bottle that held water in it. The man let both eyebrows fly into his hair.
“Excuse me?” he said.
“The water,” I pointed again. “Over there.”
“That’s not water, son.” The man sniffed disapprovingly. “Go play.”
That had been Brady’s exact response. I felt anger bubble beneath my skin. I didn’t “play.” And I was not a child. I walked back to Brady, seething in seven-year-old indignation.
Brady hiccupped when I reached him. I rested my head in my arms, which I placed on the table. Brady didn’t even look at me.
“The man didn’t give me any water,” I said, feeling I needed someone else to recognize this unfairness, to help justify the situation.
Then Brady giggled. It was a girlish giggle, something my sister might make. It was high-pitched and squealy, and for a second, I thought Brady was joking around.
“Brady,” I said, irritated, tugging at his sleeve. “Brady, I’m still thirsty.”
“Oh, yeah, yeah,” Brady giggled. “Thirsty! Tee hee!”
I stepped back, afraid. Brady stumbled out of his chair, and walked like he didn’t know how to move his legs. His voice was very different now, and everything I said made him laugh. His eyelids fluttered.
“Brady, are you okay?” I asked urgently, starting to feel worried. But he only giggled.
“Brady?” I prompted. “I’m still thirsty.”
“Oh, sure, have some of this,” he laughed like a girl, and shoved the tiny cup of apple juice at me. I took it carefully, not so sure now if I wanted to drink it anymore.
“Brady, you said this is for adults,” I looked at the shimmering liquid that smelled and looked like apple juice.
“Adults,” Brady chortled like the word was the funniest thing since Sponge Bob. “Tee hee, you’re an adult!”
Feeling important, I took a careful sip of the apple juice. It tasted awful, so I spit it back out.
“Yuck! That was yucky! That’s not apple juice!”
“Hey!” Brady’s face seemed to look angry now. “Don’t you dare waste that! It’s expensive!” Then his knees buckled, and he slowly, and with much effort, walked away. He swayed a few times, blinked, and was lost in the crowd of people. This made me feel even more important.
Because I was determined to prove to everyone I was an adult, I drained the icky glass. I didn’t know why Brady liked this stuff. But I wasn’t going to let him down. He had treated me like an adult; I wasn’t going to wimp out again.
So I hopped on his vacant chair, and reached for the big bottle of weird apple juice. And I poured myself another glass.
EIGHTEEN YEARS LATER
I reached for the bottle. I took a big sip. Suddenly, everything seemed lighter, and easier, and life didn’t seem so hard to face. But then I remembered the rent, and how I was short this month. I remembered my gambling losses last night at the bar. I remembered Shannon yelling at me, and me yelling back the last time I stumbled into the house with my voice slurred. I remembered I was out of pills…I had to buy more. But I had no money.
So again, I reached for the bottle.
San Jose, California
Bossier City, Louisiana
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