Aaron gathers together the empty beer bottles on the living room floor. They clink against each other in his hands and he swears, double checking to make sure Dad is still asleep. The two of them haven't been getting along lately and, whenever he gets the chance to, Dad yells at Aaron. He might not like the clothes Aaron is wearing or the music he's listening to, or he doubts whether or not Aaron is actually taking his medication. Their fights have gotten so out of control that Aaron dodges Dad whenever possible, slipping out the house early and not coming back until late at night. Then, like now, he's responsible for cleaning up the mess Dad made. He grabs a wet rag and scrubs at the beer stains in the carpet. His wrists buckle and he lets out a long, exhausted sigh.
"We have to get him upstairs." He tells me.
I shake my head. It's one thing listening to Dad yell at Aaron. It's another when he staggers drunkenly up the stairs, hanging on to us for support, and demanding that we toughen up. "The two of you have it easier than you might think." He says. "When I was your age..."
At that point, Aaron interrupts my thoughts.
"Please, Chad." He begs. "I can't do it by myself."
I watch as he drapes Dad's left arm over his shoulders and struggles to lift him off of the sofa. His body sags toward the side and he looks like he's going to topple over. I don't want to, but I race over to where they stand and grab Dad's other arm. He's heavier than I remember. Aaron and I drag him to the stairs and set him down, his head flopping against the wall like a rag doll's.
"Shit." I grumble. This is turning out to be a lot harder than I thought it would.
Aaron sits beside Dad and drops his head into his hands.
"This was a bad idea." He groans. "But you know how he gets."
Unfortunately for my brother, I do. Dad won't remember tomorrow morning how much he drank or how he got to his bedroom, but if the living room is a mess or he wakes up on the sofa, the fighting between him and Aaron will be even worse. It's like when he realizes how out of control his behavior has gotten, he gets even angrier than usual and is nastier toward Aaron, who is a carbon copy of Dad at seventeen. The two of them have so much in common it's scary. And yet Aaron is expected to be the more responsible of them. He's taken over the role of a parent.
I doubt he can do it for too much longer. It's only a matter of time before I have to fill in his shoes.