Jared still acted like the twentysomething who’d given Don his first drink – spiked eggnog at Christmas dinner. The biggest difference was that he’d abandoned his frosted-tipped hair. While Don dedicated his life to the future, this man rooted himself in place.
Jared stood in his tiny kitchen alcove. He opened a cupboard, revealing a line of mixers where most people would have kept spices. Aside from the drinks, the cupboard was bare. As he opened the fridge for orange juice, Jared saw its almost bare interior. The interior only contained beer, ginger ale, juice, and some leftover Chinese takeout.
After he finished making his vodka and orange juice, Jared lifted the juice jug. “You want some OJ? Ginger ale?”
“Ginger ale, please.”
Don relaxed. He hadn’t had a drink since Jared’s DUI, but his family kept offering. They seemed to forget that this charge had led to the dissolution of his first marriage. It’d drained his account. Don had witnessed his uncle break down in that time. In the moment, when the man who’d offered him more encouragement than anyone else need him most, he hadn’t been able to honestly say, “You’ve got this.”
That feeling of powerlessness stayed with him. The sight of a broken Jared still frightened him. That awful moment was tied to the taste of alcohol.
Yet, whenever he refused a drink from the rest of the family, they always seemed disappointed when he said, “I don’t drink, but thanks for the offer.”
“Looky here,” his father had said the day before. “College boy’s got too good for a beer with his old man.”
Only Jared seemed cool with it. Sure, he kept forgetting, but Don only needed to give a gentle reminder. Jared was also the only guy who didn’t give him hell for being vegetarian. At the previous day’s gathering, he’d been the first to try the stuffed portobello mushroom caps.
Jared had given a loud “Mmm! Tell you guys what: you can miss out if you want. More for me.”
The smile never went. The family called Jared a disappointment, claiming they were only ribbing him, but they loved talking with him. The man with no future – the guy who brought homemade jello shots to Thanksgiving – had natural charisma. This ‘deadbeat’ and ‘dropout’ made questionable financial decisions and concerning romantic ones. Yet, they loved him.