Beth and Malcolm broke up right after their tumble from the top of Beth’s second-floor landing. Malcolm only remembered waking up at the bottom of her stairs, one on top of the other like two old rolled-up newspapers thrown by the paperboy.

“We got a couple of nasty bruises, but God only knows how we didn’t break any bones,” Malcolm said.

He remembered the nasty deep cut on Beth’s forehead and how the red liquid dribbled out of the gash, down the side of her nose and onto the corner of her lips. The blood dripped off her bottom lip like red syrup melting off a candy apple on a hot summer day, and he had wanted to lick it off with a kiss.

“Well, you know what they say, God watches over drunks, fools and children,” Tom said.

“I told her she should cool it with the hard stuff,” Malcolm replied, slurring a bit as he pushed himself up off the back of Tom’s well-worn leather couch.

Malcolm knew all about drunks, fools, and children. His often-absent father had been the town drunk for nearly forty years. Malcolm’s relationship with his father revolved around a barstool and a bottle of McClellan’s whiskey. Malcolm shook his head, knocking away cobwebs filled with his late father’s memory, and held his glass out toward Tom, and Tom obliged.

“When did she get out?” Tom asked.

“Last week, I think,” Malcolm’s thick voice trailed off as he looked over Tom’s shoulder toward the television, away from Tom’s prying, judging eyes.

“You handle your whiskey well enough, but wine and booze winds Beth up. It seems the only thing keeping you two tied together is the grapevine and hops.”

“That’s it, all right.”

“Do you care about her at all?”

“I sure do.”

“Then stay the hell away!”

Malcolm closed his eyes and touched his chin to his chest, letting his long black curls fall onto his face to hide any expression that might betray him. Then he acknowledged Tom’s warning with a sheepish grin and slumped his lanky frame so far back into the soft leather couch he wondered how long it would be before he fell asleep.

Fresh out of rehab on Monday, Beth hunkered down at home, and Malcolm had kept away. He knew damn well what was best for Beth, and it sure as hell wasn’t him, but still, he needed something from her he couldn’t satisfy with a shot of whiskey.

Malcolm opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling, trying to still his racing mind. But after six or seven pours from Tom, the alcohol swished around Malcolm’s stomach and head, wreaking havoc on his senses. A craving gnawed at him, but he couldn’t name it, and it made him so anxious that his right eyelid started twitching. Malcolm rubbed his hands up and down his thighs for a minute and then stood up. He needed to get out of Tom’s place fast before he crawled out of his skin.

“I’m gonna get going.”

“Alrighty then,” sighed Tom.

“G’nite, Tom”

“Good night, Malcolm. Stay cool and don’t be foolish.”

Malcolm winked and gave Tom a thumbs-up as he walked out of the apartment and then spilled himself onto the sidewalk, swaying a bit as he walked. A familiar neon light flickered on the corner, steadying Malcolm’s nerves as he crossed the street and walked into the liquor store.

Fresh out of supply, Malcolm grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels and headed toward the front of the store, hesitating for a moment before he scooped up a box of red wine too. He lined up his bounty on the counter and paid the clerk, regaining his sense of purpose. He gripped the package tightly against his chest as he left the store and stepped off the curb into the darkness, straight over to Beth’s.