Curtis Groffle had left the office disgruntled about having been assigned work that kept him there until the bell. He had been doing it for so long he could work quickly and had, just barely, enough respect to forgo the pleasantry that was staying at his desk until 5:00 p.m. Unless some “additional, last-minute” responsibilities came his way.
This is what he chose to complain to himself about during the first two beers of the night. Then, he knew, as the beers kept coming, so would his past.
Curtis spun his longneck Rolling Rock around on the coaster between each sip. Here in the depths of The Brown Room, his drink of choice was considered middle of the road. Not that great, but also not too shitty, but, then again, there was no such thing as “too shitty” at The Brown Room.
With about a quarter left in his second bottle, Curtis signaled to Amy he was ready for another. He downed what remained to make room, and she leaned over the bar to swap out the empty one for its replacement, getting out of the way just before he belched.
Curtis took another lengthy pull and set it on the bar top harder than he meant to, startling the patrons a few stools away from him. Who he failed to notice.
The third beer was when the memories of the last thirty years kicked in, starting back when he had had so much promise.
The beautiful wife.
A new house.
Thick, healthy hair.
In good shape.
Oh, how things had taken a turn.
The company had experienced a down year when their sons were four and six, and every decision Curtis made after that only made things worse.
Customers leaving for the competition.
More angry banks.
Investors pulling out.
Not qualified to refinance.
Expensive bar tabs.
Good employees leaving.
Forgetting about his sons’ baseball games.
Forgetting about his sons.
Curtis used to think about ending the clusterfuck that was his life, but he was far too cowardly.
His sons were forced to take care of the only parent they had left at very young ages. They did what they could to help their father, but, as they quickly learned, you can only do so much for someone who doesn’t want to be there. They had begged Curtis’ parents, siblings, old business partners, and anyone who would listen to help save him, but the response was, regretfully, “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do.”
Curtis remembered his sons first approaching him with a heavy heart, but when they were teenagers and had had enough, it was their anger he remembered. They would verbally abuse him when he stumbled home at all hours of the day and night. His eldest would try to teach him a lesson by leaving Curtis bloody and bruised on the front porch, but he would just wake up and do it all over again.
Then came the accusations about their mother’s suicide being his fault, which became more frequent the more they learned about his downfall.
Curtis never admitted it, but he blamed himself, too.
Like clockwork, a man wearing a hat low over his face took a seat in the corner of the bar. He was there every evening, and Curtis had never seen him order more than one Rolling Rock. On account of both being regulars with the same drink preference, Curtis would often nod his way and lift his glass to him. The man would nod back, and that would be it.
Curtis had almost mustered up the courage to approach him a couple of times before deeming it useless.
Close to ten beers in, Curtis closed out his tab and told Amy bye. The man’s go-to booth was on the way out, and when Curtis passed by the man said, “When are you going to stop playing with fire?”
“Excuse me?” Curtis said.
“You drink a twelve pack every night and drive out of here. How long do you expect to keep getting away with that?”
“Hopefully not much longer.”
The man shook his head and muttered something under his breath.
“Cheers,” Curtis said.
The man said nothing.
Curtis had been gone for about ten minutes when the man received a text message.
How is he tonight?
The man responded, “Same old dad. I finally said something to him.”
“Did he recognize you?”
“What do you think?”
“Just give up man. He’s not worth it.”
The man typed out and erased multiple messages before sending back, “I wish I could.”
His older brother had been begging him to let their dad go for years, but if he truly didn’t care, he wouldn’t be so curious.
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