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[ over coffee ]
by kHo

“Hey.  Mick.  Over here.’

Mick scans the coffee shop, his eyes resting on Johnny´s tense frame a moment before he walks over to him.  “Hey, Johnny,’ he says, lowering himself into the seat across from him.  “Am I late or something?’

“Nah,’ Johnny says, waving his hand and glancing away.  “I´m glad you could come.’

Mick frowns, leaning forward.  “You´re not on shit too, are ya?  Cause one cousin´s about all I can handle right now.’

Johnny frowns, glaring at him.  “No, man, I´m not on shit.’

“All right, sorry to offend,’ Mick says, laughing.  “You just seem… I dunno, jittery.’  Then again, Johnny always had been the more jittery of the two.  Always bursting with energy, his mind onto the third thing when his body´s still on the first.  “Nevermind.’

Johnny´s mouth twists into some amalgamation of a smile and a frown and Mick represses yet another sigh.  Something was up, he could tell that from the moment Johnny´s name showed up on his cell phone´s caller id.  Now it was up to the kid to actually spit it out.  “So what's going on?’

Mick looked up at the waitress, signaling for a coffee.  “Nothin´, Johnny.  Somehow I get the feeling I should be asking you that.’

“What the hell´s that supposed to mean,’ Johnny asks, scowl deepening.

Mick laughs, shrugging his shoulders.  “I don´t know.  Maybe it´s just cause the only time you or your brother call me is when you need something.’

Johnny´s eyes dart down and Mick just barely stops the apology from falling out of his mouth.  “Yeah.  Well.  I don´t need anything, Mick.’

Mick still has his doubts but Johnny won´t look at him now and he starts to feel that ugly fuckin´ guilt rearing it´s head again.  “So.  How you been?’

“Good,’ Johnny says quickly, nodding, fumbling with his keys on the table.  “It´s uh.  Ya know.  Can´t really complain.  Started seeing this real fine broad a few weeks ago.’

Mick laughs.  “And you call her a broad?’

Johnny´s smile has always been great.  “Not to her face.’

“Well,’ Mick says, smiling up at the waitress when she finally brings his coffee over.  He doesn´t bother to ask her for cream.  He has the distinct feeling she´s not gonna remember it, despite the fact that he´s come here every day for the past six years.  “I guess that´s the difference.’

“You know, it´s not that I only call you when I need something,’ Johnny said softly.

Mick raises a dubious eyebrow but doesn´t contradict him.  “Okay.’

“It´s not,’ Johnny says, and it´s amazing the way he still sounds like that ten year old he was thirty years back when he gets defensive.  “You were a goddamned preacher, man.’

Mick laughs.  “So?  I was your cousin first.’

Johnny rolls his eyes.  “Yeah.  And I curse like a fuckin´ sailor, and I bang broads I´m not married to, and I stopped going to church right around the time I started thinking about bangin´ broads!’

Mick shakes his head.  “That´s asinine, Johnny.’

“Yeah, well, regardless,’ Johnny says, his eyes flicking to the side again.

Mick sighs.  “Listen.  You obviously have a reason to have asked me here.  What?’

Johnny looks at him and chews on his lip.  “Ya know.  This was probably a bad idea.’

Mick shakes his head again and rolls his eyes.  “I´m sure it was.  But.  I´m here.  Out with it.’

Mick watches Johnny fiddling with his napkin now and wonders if he´s going to have to prompt him again.  He´s about to reach out and stop the incessant bouncing of Johnny´s leg when he finally speaks, leaning over the table and lowering his voice.  “You think he´s for real this time?’

Mick frowns.  “What?’

“Tommy, man,’ Johnny says, looking annoyed at having to clarify the statement.  Like Mick´s supposed to all of a sudden be able to read his mind.  “You think he´s actually serious this time?’

“About getting clean,’ Mick asks, surprised that this was the reason Johnny´s called him at midnight the night before.  “I don´t know, Johnny.  For now, anyway.’

“Yeah,’ Johnny says, looking away again and nodding to himself.  “That´s what I thought.’

Mick frowns, leaning forward.  “What´s what you thought?’

“This is like, some kind of fuckin´ game to him,’ Johnny says, the disgust in his voice obvious.  “Some kind of, clean up long enough to get the kids back, and then right back to the fuckin´ shit… fuckin´ game.’

Mick raises an eyebrow.  “You think Tommy getting his kids back is a game to him?’

“No, man,’ Johnny says, shaking his head.  “No.  I know how much he loves them.’

“Then what--’

“You know just as well as I do if he´s not serious about this, if he´s doing this just to get his kids back, or cause I pounded on him for a minute, he´s gonna go right back to it.’  Johnny shakes his head, his jaw clenching.  “Like the problem is that the court system wouldn´t let a drunk have his kids back.  Like it´s not that a drunk maybe shouldn´t have his kids back.’

Mick sighs, slumping in his chair, because this thought has crossed his mind many times over in the past few weeks.  “Maybe he´ll get sober and decide he really did have a--’

Johnny´s laugh is short and staccato.  “Yeah.  Right.  And I have neon green balls.’

Mick raises an eyebrow.  “You should get that checked out, I don´t think that´s healthy.’

Johnny´s smile is small but real, and it lasts exactly two seconds.  “He´s just gonna fuck it up again.  He´s gonna get them back, and then he´s gonna fuck it up again.  And I´m not saying he´s not suffering, but… so are his kids.  And like.  More than him, okay?’

“So you´re saying you think his kids would actually be better off without him?’  Mick kind of can´t believe that´s what Johnny means, but the look on his face pretty much erases any doubt.  “John…’

“I don´t know, man,’ Johnny says softly, his voice barely audible over the low din of the coffee house.  “All I know is that it´s fuckin´ hell to watch your brother go through this shit.  You shouldn´t have to watch your parent go through it.’

“We´re Irish, Johnny--’

“Oh, that is such a bullshit excuse, Mick, and you know it,’ Johnny hisses, leaning forward.  “Did you become an alcoholic cause you were Irish, or did you become an alcoholic cause you fucking let yourself become one.’

Mick´s not used to having that thrown in his face like that, but he´s pretty much come to expect that from the Gavin side of the family tree.  Blunt honesty and politeness don´t generally go hand in hand.  “That´s not what I was saying.  I was trying to make a joke, Johnny.’

Johnny shook his head, sighing and reaching up to scrub at his face.  “I know.  I´m just not in a joking mood right now.’

Mick sighs.  “Listen.  You want the truth?’  Johnny nodded, and Mick took a deep breath.  “No.  He´s not doing it for the right reasons right now.  He´s doing it for his kids.  And I could make an argument that that in and of itself is a reason, but both you and I know it´s not.  Not for Tommy.  As soon as he gets his kids back, if that´s all this was about, he´s gonna be back on it.  Do I think he´s serious about getting sober?  Yeah.  I do.  Do I think it´s gonna last?  Only Tommy can answer that.’

Johnny nodded, holding Mick´s gaze.  “Yeah.’

Mick leaned forward.  “Why are you so worked up about it?  Aren´t you used to this shit from Tommy?’

Johnny laughs, looking away.  “If I´m not, I´m a blind idiot.’

Mick laughs.  “Never thought you were a stupid guy, Johnny.’

“It´s just… he´s supposed to be my older brother, you know,’ Johnny says, looking down at the table, stirring the spoon in his coffee.  “You know?  My older brother.  He´s the one who´s supposed to have his shit together.  All the stories you hear are how the kid brother is the one that screws up.  Except I´ve spent half my life cleaning up his shit.  Cleaning up his puke off my rug.  Getting his record swiped clean.  Looking up shit for him.  Protecting him.’

Mick nods.  “I know it.’

“I know,’ Johnny says, closing his eyes.  “I´m an enabler.  I fuckin´ know it man.  You don´t gotta tell me.’

Mick sighs, kicking out his leg and making contact with Johnny´s shin.  “Did I say that?  I don´t think I did.  Wasn´t planning on it either.’

“But I am,’ Johnny says, looking up at him.  “And I´m fucking sick of it.’

“So quit,’ Mick says, shrugging.  “Stop doing it.’

Johnny shakes his head.  “I can´t.  Cause I keep telling myself he´s not worth it.  If he wants to fuck his life up even more than it already is, that´s his business.’  He shrugs, looking out of the window at the people passing by.  “Except every time I think this is it, this is the end, I think…’

“What,’ Mick asks.  “What if this is the time he goes and gets himself killed?’

“No,’ Johnny says, shaking his head.  “No.  I think what if I turn my back on him and he falls so far down the hole that by the time I realize it, it´s too far for me to reach?’

“Aw, hell, Johnny,’ Mick says, shaking his head.  “He´s not your responsibility.’

“Yes, he is.’  Johnny nods and leans forward.  “Yes, he is my responsibility.  He´s my brother, for Christ´s sake.  I already lost Jimmy, and Ma.  I don´t want to lose my--’  He breaks off and Mick thinks for a second he´s about to see his cousin cry for the first time in thirty years.  Instead he just squares his jaws and looks up at the ceiling.  “I can´t turn my back on him, Mick.’

Mick nods, because if there´s one thing he can understand it´s sacrificing yourself for the things you love.  If there´s another thing he understands it´s that Johnny doesn´t want him to acknowledge that he was that close to breaking down.  “You can´t turn your back on him, but you can pound on him outside the police station.’

Johnny´s smile is a little wider this time and then it´s an all out grin.  “Damn straight I can.’

Mick laughs and takes a sip of his coffee.  “Oh,’ he says, cocking his head to the side.  “What´s this I hear about there being another Priest in the family?’

Johnny´s smile falls into one of aggravation but Mick´s not worried.  Johnny and aggravation go hand in hand.  Aggravation is what Johnny does best.  “Alright, you ready for this?  Listen to this shit--“

They spend the next hour laughing.

All feedback much appreciated!
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