1. Be Grateful.
The first thing you think when you meet Brady Bernhardt, is that he's a brat. The second thing you think isn't a coherent thought. It's more a burning feeling, a sort of bubbling deep down in your belly, a tingling in your arm as you bunch up your fist and jam it right into his eye.
I got into a lot of trouble for that.
Our first encounter at eight years was a story that Brady still retold - a tale of a not so distressed damsel and an innocent little boy who happened to get on the wrong side of her. He thought that the story made him sound vulnerable, but not too vulnerable, abused but not abused enough to be crazy. In other words - his words, to my eternal disgust - it cast him in a favourable light with the ladies. His version of our meeting wasn't so accurate - he often left out the bit about him crying. Thankfully, most of the time, I was there to help him fill in the blanks.
"I love you Sophie Hamilton," he drawled sarcastically as I interrupted him mid sentence to interject a few words about what really went down. "You always say the nicest things." I didn't miss the sarcasm; it was very thinly veiled.
"Well, if you're going to chat up my cousin, I think she at least deserves to know the truth."
My cousin looked between the two of us, as she delicately dabbed her lips with a napkin and rose up. "Maybe I should..."
"No!" Brady and I dragged her back down into her seat by either arm. We received funny looks from the people seated around us, but we didn't care.
"Don't tell her what to do!" I hissed at him. "She's my cousin!"
"And I think she would argue that she's her own person," He calmly replied as he speared a stalk of asparagus, and nodded at a distant uncle of mine from across the room. "If she wants to go, then let her."
"Actually," injected my cousin.
"Shut up," said Brady and I.
"You always do this," I gave dagger eyes to Brady Bernhardt. "You always make me look like I'm the bad person." My voice was verging towards the higher notes now; a clear sign I was annoyed.
"Sophie, I don't have to do a damn thing; you do it all by yourself. You emotionally retarded freak."
"You STD ridden whore."
"You uptight bitch." My aunt across the table coughed. We ignored her.
"You..." My cousin crossed and uncrossed her legs, only to cross and uncross them again. The movement made her body shift so that I couldn't glare daggers at Brady Bernhardt without craning my head. I turned my attention to her and snapped. "What?"
"Can I go to the toilet? I think I'm going to pee my pants."
I turned back to Brady Bernhardt. "You smug little bastard."
"Please, can I..." my cousin meekly interjected.
"Go! Go!" Brady and I barked at her, but we did not break eye contact; neither of us willing to stop glaring at each other. She scampered, her red dress swishing as she made a hasty exit.
Having been at the other end of the table all night, my mother was under the illusion that everything was all right between me and Brady Bernhardt. "Everything alright there dearies?"
"Great Mother," I called back as Brady and I gave each other looks that could smite.
"How's the food?"
"Wonderful, Mrs Hamilton," Brady Bernhardt called back in light tones.
"You two enjoying yourselves?"
"Very much so," we replied in unison.
"It's so wonderful we could get together like a real family," my mother beamed. "We're so glad so many people could come! Of course, you're' welcome any time Brady."
"What's that?" My father called from the other end of the table.
"I was saying how great this dinner was. And of course, it's wonderful that the kids are enjoying themselves," my mother answered back, her voice lilted with something that sounded an awful lot like hope.
"Not that much Mother," I muttered under my breath.
For a woman who claimed that she was nearly old enough for grandchildren, my mother had very sharp hearing. "What did you say?"
"I was agreeing mother."
Brady Bernhardt, the bastard, sniggered into his hand.
My eyes narrowed until they were almost slits. "Don't laugh," I said under my breath. "They're on the verge of planning our wedding; don't make them start thinking of grandchildren's names."
All signs of life left his face as he turned pale under the soft glow of the chandelier lighting. "They're still hopeful huh?"
I broke our staring contest. "They're delusional."
We looked at each other and then looked away. "Totally."
The next time I saw Brady Bernhardt, was at a funeral. I remember him looking stricken, looking older than his twenty years as he marched down the aisle, a heavy load on his squared shoulders. He was grieving.
Beside me, my mother was a mess; a shadow of herself on a cocktail of drugs, adorned in rumpled clothing. I was next to her, handing her tissues as the sobs echoed throughout the almost empty church.
As the casket bearers laid down the coffin, I didn't tear up. I sat when the priest told us to, I kneeled, I stood and I sang. I didn't feel a thing.
Brady Bernhardt was kind as he left the church, no sight of his parents at all. They'd once been good friend of my fathers, a sentiment I now scoffed out. Friends turned up to other friend's funerals. "Don't be a stranger," Brady Bernhardt said as he squeezed my elbow gently.
"You take care," he told my mother as she sobbed into his arms.
I just looked at Brady Bernhardt rubbing soothing circles into my mother's back, and I looked at my mother falling to pieces and as I looked at the gravestone that bore my father's name, I still didn't feel a damn thing.