Alicia tightened the belt on her dressing gown. She took a deep breath then entered the living room to confront her ex-fiance.
"Hey, I'm sorry." Katie rose from the couch then tipped back onto Brad in a fit of giggles. "Really sorry."
"I'll deal with you later." Alicia added a glare to punctuate her promise.
"It's not Katie's fault." Brad rolled her sister onto the couch and covered her with a blanket. "I used her to get to you."
"Because you shut me out. You wouldn't let me explain - "
"Explain what? That you have a thing for my mother? My mother, Brad." She walked past him to the kitchen.
Naturally, he followed. "It wasn't what you thought."
"You weren't masturbating to a photo of my mother?"
"What do you mean no? I saw you. I heard you." She shuddered at the memory. "I think it would have been easier if I'd caught you in bed with my brother."
"What?" He reared back as if she'd slapped him. "I wouldn't cheat on you."
"But you did." She forced herself to at least appear relaxed. "Jason is adorable. Closer to your age than mine. It's not your fault if you're gay."
"I'm not gay."
"Honestly." She warmed to the subject. "Who could blame you?He's fun. Free-living. A heart as big as Alaska."
"An alcoholic." Brad interrupted her. "I'm not gay."
"It would be easier if you were."
"No, it wouldn't. I love you Leesh, only you."
She refused to soften because of the sincerity in his eyes. "You're hot for my mother. How romantic. That's exactly what every woman wants to hear."
She stepped away from him. "I knew had a thing for older women. I am 12 years older than you but my mother!"
He grabbed her hands to prevent her from leaving the room. "It was an old photo."
"That makes it worse."
"She showed it to me before dinner. She was younger than Katie in that picture. It was startling how much she looked like I imagine you did at that age."
"You imagine my mother was me?" She tugged on her hands but he only held tighter. "That's even more messed up than I thought."
"I've never seen you like that - young and carefree."
"You really should stop talking. And let go."
"No. I won't." He loosened his grip but held on. "I saw this photo of your mom and I thought about she had her youth but she stole yours. She threw the responsibility on your shoulders because she knew you'd take care of them. She can't face Jason's drinking, Katie's reckless attitude or your dad's gambling. She can't do it. You hold the family together. You do. Not her."
"Now I'm a martyr? Whatever did you see in me?"
With one hand holding her wrist, he reached into his pocket. She recoiled at the sight of the worn, crumpled photo.
"You," he answered. "I always saw joy in you. Love and sacrifice yes but mostly joy." He held the picture out and she turned her head. The counter could use a good scrubbing. A used mug sat at the bottom of the sink.
"I've heard you laugh with complete abandon, your head thrown back as if you couldn't hold all that joy in your body." His voice was low, husky and full of love. "I've felt you loose, generous, thrilled to be alive in the moment."
He dropped her hand. Her fingers were cold without his touch. She was cold without his touch. She straightened. Nothing he said would change what he'd done.
"It had been so long since you'd been like that I'd forgotten you knew how to have fun."
"Fun? Who has time for fun when they're keeping their siblings out of jail and the family from being homeless?"
"They let you. They don't do anything to fix their own problems because you're so much better at it." He dropped his weight back against the kitchen table. Shoulders bowed with defeat. "I know you love them. They're your family."
She watched sorrow chase shadows across his eyes. "I missed you, Alicia. So damn much. The longer I looked at that photo, the more I realized how much I missed you. Your scent, your touch." He looked her straight in the eyes. "Your laugh."
"I'm not that Alicia any more."
"You could be." He placed the photograph of her mother beside her on the kitchen counter. "For your sake, you should be. Don't let her steal the rest of your life."
Something inside her crumbled. He skimmed his forefinger down her cheek, followed the path of a tear she didn't know had fallen.
"I'll let myself out."
Alicia closed her eyes and let him go.