Rocky Road

“The Brewer’s Backstory”-Episode 22

July 2011

TBJ final cover

Coming January 2016!

Brad yawned and braked as the morning traffic pouring into downtown Denver slowed ahead of him. Thank God, he didn’t have that far to go. Last night’s graveyard shift had been nothing but routine, which had suited him just fine after three intense hours in class. There were times, like last evening, when he wondered if he could possibly cram so much information into his head. He didn’t have much choice if he was going to work full-time and finish the University of Denver’s MBA program in two years.

He took the Union Street exit and sailed by the opposing traffic, most of it headed onto the freeway and into downtown. Next month, he and Maddy would celebrate one year in the suburban home they’d bought after she finished law school and before he started grad school. It was one of those starter homes where dreams began. They had chosen it in part due to the proximity of a light rail station. Just as Maddy had planned, she passed the bar exam on her first attempt and a month later had a job with a large law firm in downtown Denver. Each morning, instead of fighting the freeway traffic, she drove five minutes, parked her car and took the light rail into town where it dropped her one block from work. That was Maddy: make a plan, set goals, bust her ass and everything works out. It seemed to Brad that the more he planned, the less things worked out.

Maddy was already gone when he got home. She hadn’t said anything about an early meeting today, but then, they hadn’t seen each other in twenty-four hours. There were times, like right now, when he wondered if their marriage would survive the eleven months until he finished the MBA.

He walked into the house and was immediately greeted by a barrage of meows that demanded attention. “Hey, Abby, how’s it going?” he asked the slender black cat.

Maddy had left a note on the kitchen table. “Trash pick-up today. Clean litterbox and get cans out ASAP.”

“Okay—and I love you, too,” he told the notepad. All he wanted was to eat, shower and go to bed. Instead, he shoveled out the cat’s box and swept the floor around it while Abby meowed and brushed against him.

Afterwards, he hauled the cans to the curb and returned to find Abby in her box, scratching an impressive spray of litter within a three-foot diameter. “Way to go, cat. Clean box for all of four minutes.”

In spite of the litter box, Brad liked Abby. She had been another of Maddy’s ideas. “Now that we have our first real house, we need a pet!” On her first night, one Brad didn’t work, her loud protests at being held prisoner in the laundry room got the kitten exactly what she wanted. She proceeded to work her way into their hearts almost as quickly as she had into their bed. Brad had built her a four-level cat condo that included two scratching posts which she worked diligently to shred.

He rummaged around in the fridge and came up with some leftover pasta that he microwaved and ate standing at the kitchen counter. He didn’t have class tonight. Maybe he’d take Maddy out to dinner before reporting to work. He showered just long enough to wash away the brewery smells before hitting the bed. By the time Abby jumped up and snuggled against his backside, Brad was asleep.

****

“Hey, babe, how was your day?” Brad asked from the kitchen sink where he was refilling Abby’s water bowl.

Maddy’s high heels clicked against the wood floor as she walked in. She wore a white blouse and a black skirt a couple inches above her knees. Brad was fairly certain he wasn’t the first guy checking out her legs today. She dropped her briefcase in its spot under the coat rack, straightened up and flipped back the long blond hair that had fallen over her shoulder. “Busy. I was in meetings or on the phone from seven a.m. until lunch, which was leftover pasta at my desk. By the way, you found the pasta in the fridge?”

“I did, thanks.” Brad set Abby’s bowl in the floor and went to kiss his wife. “You deserve at least one unrushed meal today. What do you say we go out to dinner?”

“I’m supposed to go to kickboxing class with Hannah, but I’m starving. Give me a few minutes to text her and change clothes.”

Brad, who was already dressed for work, looked down at his collared Coors shirt, jeans and work safety shoes and reminded himself not to take for granted the good things about his job. Abby meowed an impatient reminder that he still needed to refill her food bowl.

He was sitting at the kitchen table, checking email on his phone when Maddy returned, wearing jeans and an old CU t-shirt. She pecked his cheek and slid into the chair opposite him. “How’s my baby Abigail?” Maddy cooed as the cat gobbled kibble. “Leland announced this morning that he’s having a barbeque for the firm at his house Saturday afternoon. Apparently, attendance is assumed—for employees and spouses.”

“Bummer,” Brad said. “Saturday afternoon is my presentation for the homebrew club.”

Maddy’s lips parted. Abby gave a soft meow and jumped into Maddy’s lap, distracting her for a moment. She kept her head down, focused on stroking the cat. Brad knew she wasn’t going to let him off the hook easily. But she knew where the homebrew club stood on his priority list. The last meeting he’d missed had been because of their honeymoon, three years ago. And he was the speaker this month. He had the PowerPoint ready to go. No way he was ditching his homebrewing buddies to spend a Saturday afternoon with a bunch of asshole lawyers who all thought they were better than him.

The cat was purring on full volume when Maddy finally spoke. “This barbeque is important for my career. Can’t you get somebody else to do the presentation?”

“Can’t you just get somebody else to take one of those cases you’re working on?”

Maddy pulled Abby into her arms and tickled the cat’s ear. “You know that’s a completely faulty comparison.”

“I’ll grant you ‘faulty,’ but not ‘completely.’ This presentation is a big deal for me. I told you about it three months ago, hoping you’d go, but you said no, remember?”

“Maybe you did tell me but I forgot about it since it wasn’t on my calendar. What if you do the presentation and then come to the barbeque?”

Brad held off on responding. If he said what he was thinking, he’d regret it down the road. Work was boring as hell, always brewing the same beers. Grad school was stressful as hell. At home, it seemed like Maddy was always getting on his case these days. Even the cat complained. Jesus, the homebrewers were the only ones not getting mad at him. His life had tuned into a rocky road with no end in sight. “Remember the Coors barbeque and homebrewing competition last summer?”

“When your beer won first place? What does that have to do with Leland’s barbeque?” Maddy said in a wary tone.

“And when you told me how you didn’t want to be around people like Derek and Carl.” That was as tactfully as he could say it. She had acted like a spoiled brat going on about deep and unhealed wounds and generally hating on his coworkers.

Maddy held the cat against her chest. She might as well have yelled, “It’s us versus you!” This conversation was getting more ridiculous by the minute. “Will you get to your point?” She had probably scared the hell out of more than a few defendants when she snapped those words at them in the courtroom.

“My point is that while you don’t like spending time with Derek and Carl, I don’t especially care to spend time with your coworkers, either.” Boom. He’d dropped the bomb. Now came the explosion.

Abby squirmed in Maddy’s arms. She jumped to the floor and scampered out of the room. Brad wanted to do the same. “Damn it. Your logic is making no sense today. You’re comparing old blue-collar workers, who may not have finished high school for all I know, with some of the most intelligent, motivated and successful people in Denver.” She got up and stood behind the chair as though it provided protection.

“All I’m saying is that I don’t enjoy spending time in the company of your esteemed colleagues.”

“How did you arrive at that conclusion? You’ve hardly been around them.”

“Have you forgotten the three times I met up with you and a bunch of them for drinks after work? They’re smart, but they’re also brown-nosing hypocrites. I’ve heard you say that yourself. Have you ever wondered what they say about you when you’re not around?”

Maddy raised her hand. Neither of them had ever hit the other, still Brad braced for the slap. She appeared to reconsider and slammed her palm against the kitchen counter. “Brad Peters, those are fat, ugly lies, and I won’t listen to anymore!” She stormed off to their bedroom and slammed the door.

Abby ran back into the kitchen and jumped into the litter box. How the hell had that conversation gone so wrong? Brad grabbed his laptop and started for the door. He could get a beer and something to eat at the burger place down the street. He’d just hang out and study there for the next four hours until work. As he walked by the litter box, Abby sent a volley of the stuff his direction. “Damn animal!” he said on his way out the door.

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