“Is this too much for you?” Beth asked me, furrowing her brow as she propped her hand on my upper arm.
I shook my head and gave her a smile. “Happy Birthday. You’ve just turned nineteen. You don’t need to be worrying if the alcohol is too tempting for me,” I said. “I am good. I promise.”
“My birthday wouldn’t have been the same without you. You keep forgetting that we’re friends now, Hunter. ” She searched my face, uncertainty reflected in her deep blue eyes. “And you didn’t have to tell Scott that it was cool that he brought beer when it isn’t. He knew the rules.”
“I already told Chase not to make a big deal about it. I’ll be right over in a minute.”
Beth’s hand fell to my wrists and she firmly pressed it before she grinned at me in return and left me in order to meet Chase at the middle of the bar. Chase and I looked at each other for a slight second. Turning away from me, he wrapped his arm around her, taking her to a big table where a bunch of people and others surrounded it, talking, laughing, and having drinks. Alcoholic drinks. Since I’ve been in recovery, I’d been to many places where there had not only been alcohol, but also a cocktail of drugs. I hadn’t had to pay for any of it, either. Should I have gone? No. But I had. Some customers had usually invited my co-workers and I to go out with them as an extra thank-you for their tats. Lasting Impressions Tattoo Studio offered the best rates and quality ink. I was proud to be an artist there. While I'd been in inpatient and outpatient treatment, the warnings from the professionals and from other people who could relate to me had been the same no matter the modality they believed promoted long-term abstinence; always watch for people, places, and things that can influence me to use again. For the most part, I’d been very cautious, but there had been times that I could have gone backwards, in a deeper shit hole than I’d been in when I was seventeen. Perhaps, I had gone backwards by being at those places, or sitting at a table where the smell of stale beer and sweat overpowered the cleaning agents used to make La Floridita look correct for tonight.
I’d decided not to come to La Floridita after I’d finished work. Jake and Chase had each called me and said that Beth would be upset if I didn’t come. Chase, Jake, and Mariska had tried to plan a surprise birthday for Beth without her finding out, but she knew what they were up to. Apparently, she didn’t like surprises, even nice ones. As soon as Beth found out that they were going to close down the bar/restaurant at her uncle's hotel, The Paloma and throw her a surprise party there, she’d changed it to here and emailed invites. She'd said that there wouldn’t be any alcohol at her party; I’d told her that it wasn’t fair to prevent others from drinking and she’d argued that they could drink afterwards or not attend altogether.
Beth had become a part of my life serendipitously; she’d been staring at me while I was talking to Mike, a client of mine out in Franklin Parks. Even before Mike had said that she was checking me out, I’d known. The only thing was that she wasn’t trying to hook up with me. She was my twin brother’s girlfriend and she’d had no idea that Chase was a twin or about our past until he’d had no choice but to tell her about it, or lose her for good. Despite the fact that they’ve only been dating for a few months, Beth was going to my sister one day. Without her, it probably would’ve taken longer for Chase and I to talk and see if we could be brothers again. It was no fairytale. There were moments when Chase looked at me like the stranger that I was to him. The other night when he’d come to my apartment for the first time he’d admitted that he sometimes he hated me for cutting the side of his face. I’d hate anyone if s/he did that to me. I'd try to get back at him or her. More surprising than Chase’s admission was when he’d said that he’d thought of me as a dead, as lost, and that he’d told himself that I never was repeatedly so that he wouldn’t consume himself with not having the man he used to admire, even from a distance, wasn't in his life anymore. I’d been speechless. When he’d tried to forget about me. And that shit fucked me up. I’d felt like going to the bodega and buying a bottle of whiskey. Say to hell with trying to be clean when I’d always be that drunk and coke head to everyone. To myself. And yet, I’d opened up my textbook and started reading a chapter from my Greek Civilization textbook.
As I headed towards the table, I could see most people’s smiles fading. One of Beth's friends, Rylan was a little tipsy, but I was a buzz-kill for everyone else who wanted to get drunk. Beth stopped talking to Jake and Mariska when Chase gave me a club soda. He took one gulp from his own club soda and I’d noticed that he and Pierce hadn’t had an alcoholic beverage while all of us had been here. It made me feel marginally normal because I wasn’t the only one not having a beer.
“Let’s make some room for Hunter,” Chase told Mariska, who gave me a nod, and then looked at Bri, another friend of Beth's, who was sitting beside Jake. Beth was in between Jake and Mariska, her best friends since childhood and she gave me an encouraging smile. I sat down next to Mariska when Chase went to help Emilio and another employee with the platters of food coming out.
I stood up. “I can help.”
“You don’t get away that easy,” Beth said and Jake laughed as she crossed her arms. “Gavin is also helping Emilio. We have more than enough helping hands.”
Acquiescing for the birthday girl, my shoulders sagged and I resumed my spot next to Mariska, who briefly glanced at me with a polite expression, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that she wouldn’t be breathing in the same air as me if Beth didn’t want us here.