I placed the bottle against my lips, the same way Gabe used to press his fingers against my lips. Then I squeezed that bottle tighter, the same way Gabe used to squeeze my hands as we strolled through town, criticizing everyone's houses and planning out what our dream one would look like.
I tilted my head up, pretending that his fingers were lifting my chin for a kiss. But instead, all I felt was the liquor slide through my throat, burning a trail down to my stomach.
"Shailene. Don't you tell me you're drinking again," my older brother, Brian, said as he elbowed his way into my room.
"I won't tell you, then."
Tissues littered my rug along with invisible tears splatters, so he had to tiptoe to my bed to take a seat. "I don't know how the movie theater hasn't fired you yet."
I rolled my eyes. He knew that I never drank on the job. After catching a glimpse of a movie ending, where the happy couple kissed and said their vows and had their babies, I'd sometimes hide away in the bathroom to cry, but I'd never drink. Not until I got home. Not until the loneliness hit.
"You've got to stop thinking about that douche," Brian said, glimpsing at the photographs of Gabe I still had hanging on my wall. "You have money. Friends. Hobbies. Some would even say you have the looks, although I strongly disagree."
I didn't laugh. Didn't respond. I just stuck my tongue out, the same way I did during our first snowfall together, except this time I was trying to catch the last drops of liquor that clung to the bottle.
After Brian pursed his lips at me for a ridiculously long time, he said, "Alcoholism runs in our genes, you know."
"Oh, shut up," I said, climbing off of my bed so I could rummage underneath it for a second bottle. "I'm nothing like Dad."
"Why? Because you're still alive?"
When I finally found the bottle and pulled it from the bed, he reached down and grabbed my wrist. "You're done with this, Shay," he said, his voice lower than usual.
"I'm upset," I said, overly enunciating the words. "It's not like I do this all the time. I never even drink at parties. I'm usually the designated driver. This is a one-time thing. It's helping me cope."
"It's a one-time thing that's been going on for a month." He yanked the bottle away and held it out of reach. "If you get wasted every time you're sad, you'll kill yourself. Life sucks. You'll always have an excuse to drink."
"So then why should I ever stop?"
"Alcohol doesn't take away the pain. It just takes away your ability to think about it." He headed toward the door, but continued to talk. "Gabe is gone. If you want to get him back, alcohol isn't going to help. You need to get off your ass and call him. Even if you don't get back with him, you can call up another dude. Or focus on finding a real job. Or on making yourself whole by, I don't know, taking up knitting."
When he reached the door, it looked like he was going to slam it, but he lingered instead. Then he said, "If drinking doesn't ruin you life like it did to dad, it'll at least keep you stuck in one place. And you deserve to move forward."
With that, he left, holding the bottle.
I couldn't stop my train of thoughts about Gabe. Couldn't even bring myself to tear his pictures off the wall. But I did manage to absorb everything Brian had just said.
I had another bottle hidden under my bed, but I didn't reach for it. I let it collect dust, so that my dreams didn't have to.
** That's the end of the story! Thanks for reading, darlings! **