Smugness — little ideas to get you writing
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21

The Hidden Bottle

I had just lost the game and he loved it.

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I knew that look he gave. I had seen it about a thousand times and each time it aggravated me. The worst part was that he knew it too. He did this every single time he won something, which was often, considering he liked to make competitions out of everything. I couldn’t really spite him for it but it bothered me nonetheless. We had know each other for eight years and spent most weekends together like this, just sitting in his room playing the latest video game while a half crumpled bag of chips lay in the corner and the bottle of whiskey just barely stuck its neck out from under the bed.

I never drank from the thing. But I imagine that after all the crap that life threw at him, that was his solace. Most people in his situation wouldn’t even be here today. The fact that he made it out alive is a miracle in and of itself but I do sometimes wonder if he would still have this problem if he hadn’t been in that accident. It seemed to take it all out of him. During the day he was indistinguishable from any other average high schooler. He got great grades, was the star of the football team, and always had all the girls at his beck and call. But I knew him. I knew what actually happened that night and how it affected him. Some nights, I could hear silently sobbing in his room. Stuff like that takes a toll on a person.

He continued to give me the same “I totally owned you” look as we restarted the next game of NBA 2k15, but I knew the end result would probably be the same. I was never very good at this game but I had recently gotten in the habit of letting him win even more so. He needed it more than I did. It seemingly validated every feeling of inadequacy and blame in his mind — if only for a moment.

“I have to take a piss. I’ll be right back.” he announced.

He quickly jumped up and ran out of the room. I couldn’t help thinking about that glaring bottle sitting under the bed. He thought I didn’t know about it but he doesn’t really hide it well.

As seniors in high school, we had our whole lives ahead of us to plan. Where we were going to go to college, what we were going to do with our lives, and even who we were eventually going to marry. I knew that bottle was going to get in the way of everything he used to dream of. I hesitantly grabbed the bottle from under the bed. I sat there and stared at the domineering black label and slosh of liquid inside of it. I looked up and saw him staring back at me from the doorway. I solemnly met his gaze and looked into the bright blue eyes that has slowly dimmed over the years. Deep down I knew this had to happen. I knew that the smugness of his winning of trivial, made-up competitions would only provide temporary relief from all the things he stashed away in his brain. With a shaky voice I heard myself murmur those words I had wanted to say for so long:

“Carson, we need to talk.”
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