“Never again, tequila. Never. Again. You're dead to me.”
“ARE YOU FUCKING serious? You’re still going?”
I lift my eyes in the mirror and lower the tube of lipstick in my hand.
Richard is standing in the doorway of our bedroom, leaning against the frame with half hooded eyes and flushed cheeks, looking pissed and a beer or two away from being full blown drunk. He takes a swig from the bottle in his hand, squints, and points it at me.
“This is fucked up, Ri,” he slurs. “Seriously. Way to back me.”
I sigh as an ache pinches in the center of my chest. “He’s my brother,” I remind him. “Honestly, what do you expect me to do?” I stand from my vanity stool and walk over to the duffle bag opened on the bed, further explaining, “I can’t miss Reed’s wedding. And Beth is like, my closest friend. I’m in the wedding party. I have to go.” I slip the tube of lipstick into my makeup bag, zip it closed and pack it inside the duffle. I grip the sides and look up at Richard when I’m finished. “I’m sorry,” I tell him, hoping my words sink in this time. “I’m kind of stuck. You know I want you there with me. I don’t want to go to this without you, it’s just—”
“It’s just your brother is a fucking dickhead and you’re backing him instead of sticking up for me,” he snaps, cutting me off. “Probably think he was right in firing me too.”
My shoulders drop.
“Don’t say that. You know that’s not true.”
“Yeah? Do I know?” His brows reach his dark hairline. Before I have the chance to respond, Richard straightens in the doorway and shakes his head, looking disappointed in me. “What-the-fuck-ever,” he grates, swiping his free hand through the air in a brush-off motion. “Go. Do what you want. I don’t really want you here right now anyway.”
I blink. “What? Why?”
He doesn’t really mean that, does he? Why wouldn’t he want me here? What did I do? I didn’t get him fired.
I move to offer some sort of comfort—my hand squeezing his or my arms wrapping around his back—needing to give it as much as I crave to feel it myself, but halt a foot away when Richard’s head jerks up and I see his eyes. Eyes that are burning now, heated with anger and bitterness and blame.
And it’s all for me.
“This is fucked up,” he snarls. “You’re my girl. We’re together and I don’t get invited to this shit?”
I bite the tremble in my lip. Tears threaten to build behind my lashes.
I can’t really argue with Richard on this one. I feel the same way. But what can I do? I can’t bring someone with me to the wedding who’s specifically not invited. That’ll just cause tension, and I don’t want anything messing up this weekend. That wouldn’t be right to Reed or Beth.
“I’m only staying tonight,” I announce, hoping a shortened trip will help smooth things over. “I’m leaving after the wedding. Right after it’s over. I’ll probably be back before you even have time to miss me. And then I’ll be home and we can look for jobs together. I’ll help you.” I take a step closer. “Okay?”
“No, it’s not fucking okay.” He narrows his eyes at me. “What the fuck? Are you seriously asking me that? You’re still going, Ri. You’re still taking his side over mine, so how the fuck can any of this be okay?”
“I’m not taking his side. I’m not taking anyone’s side. I’m trying to do what’s right, and I don’t really know what that is. But I’m trying. I’m trying, Richard. Please understand. I-I . . .” I fall apart shaking my head. The pain in my chest seems to spread out and out and out until I can feel it everywhere. It’s wrapped around me now. I take a deep, shuddering breath as tears roll past my cheeks. “I have to go,” I whisper. “I’m sorry. Please don’t hate me for this.”
A hard smile tightens his mouth. Richard lifts his beer and takes a chug, keeping his unforgiving eyes locked with mine. When he’s finished, he wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Trying to do what’s right,” he mocks, shaking his head. “Traitor.”
I flinch. “I told you, I’m not choosing sides. I’m staying neutral,” I remind him, wiping carefully underneath my eyes. “God, don’t you see how difficult this is for me? I love you, but he’s my brother.”
“Bitch, you shouldn’t be staying neutral. He fucked me over. Are you forgetting that? You should be choosing me. That’s the problem right there, Riley.”
I pull in a breath. I hear one word out of his mouth. One.
“What did you just call me?”
Richard shrugs and takes another swig of his beer. “You’re acting like one. Just calling it like I see it.”
My mouth drops open.
Richard’s never spoken to me this way before. Never. Is it the alcohol?
How many has he had?
“Take it back,” I whisper.
He stares at me. Eyes hard. “You still going?”
“I have to go.”
“Then no. You’re choosing him. You’re a bitch.”
I feel my jaw clench.
When people are angry, they say things they don’t mean. And when alcohol is involved, that only loosens the tongue further.
But excuses aside, I break. A person can only take so much.
“Yeah, well, you know what? You’re being a giant dick,” I hiss, emotion causing my voice to shake. “I get that you’re upset and mad at my brother, but you’re taking it out on me. And I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve any of it. I have done nothing but be supportive of you this past week after you got fired and this is what I get for it? No.” I shake my head as more tears fall. “I change my mind. I don’t want you coming with me this weekend. I’m glad Reed forbid you to be my plus one. And as of right now, I’m taking sides.” I stick my hands on my hips and tip forward. “His.”
“Get the fuck out of my house,” Richard growls. “Take your shit and go to that asshole’s wedding. Do whatever the fuck you wanna do. Please. See if I give a fuck.”