Edge Of Friendship

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Michael hung back from the crowd of people streaming into the Minnesota Twins stadium. It was noon on Friday. Maybe he should have stayed at the office or headed home. He didn’t want to be part of this group. He didn’t want to hear everyone laughing because he knew they would be laughing at him.

But both his therapist and AA sponsor had advised Michael against withdrawing.

Today was MacBain Enterprises’ family day at Target Field. Every employee and their loved ones wore Twins caps and golf shirts with the company logo. As CFO, he should know what this party was costing, but he’d been indisposed when Mom and Dad planned the event.

Indisposed. In treatment. Drying out. Fucked up.

Kate, his sister, slowed and waited for him on the sidewalk. “How’re you doing?”

He hated that question. At least one family member asked him that each day.

“I should be asking you that question.” Kate was pregnant. She hadn’t told him until he’d gotten through treatment.

She stroked her belly, even though she wasn’t showing. “We’re good.”

Alex, her fiancé, set his hand on her shoulder. “Should I see if there’s some kind of cart for you?”

Kate laughed. “I can walk.”

Alex sighed.

Michael looked away. It was hard to be around Kate and Alex. He couldn’t believe his career-minded sister had fallen in love so hard and fast. Just watching them made him miss Sarah. If life had been fair, she would be by his side today.

Kate hooked her arm through Michael’s and then Alex’s. “Come on.”

“I don’t know why Mom and Dad insisted the whole company attend the game,” Michael said.

“Because it’s good for morale.” Kate tugged him a little faster toward the queue of people at security having their bags checked. “It’s a beautiful day, and we want our employees to know how much MacBain appreciates them.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Sometimes he didn’t feel like part of the family company. Ever since he’d come back from Hazelton, he felt even more removed.

“Then how about this for a reason?” Kate stuck a bony elbow in his side. “Mom and Dad want to celebrate her oncologist’s clean report.”

“What? Why didn’t I know this?” Michael held out his ticket for scanning.

“Sucks to be you,” Kate whispered.

Alex raised one eyebrow. “I didn’t know either.”

At least he wasn’t the only person out of the loop.

They followed the MacBain group to the concierge level.

Dad and Mom flanked the steps into their section, greeting all the people. Everyone was smiling.

His mother looked—healthy, not like she’d just finished her cancer battle. Thank God.

He bent and hugged her. “How come I have to hear from Kate that you got a clean bill of health from your doctor?”

He tried to keep it light, but hurt seeped into his voice. Hell, weren’t there any privileges with being the firstborn?

“She was in my office when I got the call. I’d planned on giving an update either good or bad at dinner on Sunday.” Her hazel eyes, so like his, glittered in the sunlight. “Cat’s out of the bag.”

His dad joined them and gave him a one-armed hug. “Great news, isn’t it?”

“The best.”

“Have fun today, Michael.” Mom squeezed his arm, concern on her face. “Try and enjoy yourself.”

Fun? He couldn’t remember having much fun in the last four years. Not since Sarah found out she had inoperable brain cancer.

As he stood in the concourse, he swore everyone held a beer. His palms perspired, and a line of sweat slid down his back. He swallowed, almost able to taste the cold, hoppy brew.

“Michael, there you are.” Becca, his assistant, came up to him. “I’d like you meet my fiancé.”

Another woman who’d gotten engaged while he’d been away in treatment. “Congratulations.”

The guy stuck out his hand. “Dave Benthal.”

“Michael MacBain.” Michael shook his hand, trying to come up with small talk. “What do you do, Dave?”

Becca shifted her feet.

“I’m a liquor distributor.” He gave a crooked smile. “It’s a family business, like yours. Genetic luck, I’d guess you’d say.”

Becca’s eyes were almost as large as saucers.

Michael set a hand on her arm. “I’m not going to roll him and steal any booze he’s carrying.”

Dave frowned.

“I don’t … I wouldn’t …” Becca stuttered. Apparently his assistant hadn’t given away his secrets.

“I just got out of treatment, well, two months ago,” Michael said.

“Alcohol?” Dave asked.

Michael nodded, hating this. “I’ve been sober for thirteen weeks.”

“I’m sorry.” Dave swallowed. “Is it tough to talk about?”

“No,” he lied. “Today will be a test, being around other people drinking.”

A whiskey to steady his nerves might help him get through the afternoon. But he was done with that.

“Congratulations on your sobriety,” Dave said. “We’re in the business, but we’ve had our share of alcoholics. I’ve seen what you’re going through and I wish you luck. One day at a time.”

“Thanks.” More like one hour at a time. “You two have fun. Looks like the game’s about to start.”

“It’s so great that your parents decided to do this,” Becca said as she and Dave headed down the steps.

Becca was right. His parents were great. He moved down the stairs and found some empty seats, taking the one on the aisle and tugged his cap lower. He was like—oh what was that book called—Stranger in a Strange Land? He didn’t feel part of any of this.

A server stopped next to him. “What would you like to order? Everything’s on the MacBains today.”

He wanted a Jameson on the rocks. “Ginger ale.”

“You got it.” She entered the order in a handheld computer. “Let me know if you need anything else.” She flipped her blonde ponytail over her shoulder before moving to take another order.

“She’s cute.” His brother, Timothy, slid into the chair behind him.

“All yours.” No one could replace Sarah. “How come you’re late?”

“Stephen and I waited for the Moonlight Square inspector. The guy was two hours late.”

“That’s terrible.”

The Twins were taking the field, the Milwaukee Brewers at bat. A fierce rivalry existed between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Even now, he could see the stands had more than the average number of opposing team fan gear.

“We got the certificate of occupancy—finally.” Timothy clapped as the Twin’s pitcher threw the first strike.

Michael tried to remember what had hung the CO up. “You and Stephen convinced the inspector the fire exits were up to code?”

“The guy was jerking us around. We didn’t have any issues this time, and we didn’t change anything.”

The Brewer at the plate swung and missed. The crowd cheered.

“Is that seat taken?” Liz Carlson stood in the aisle pointing at the seat next to him.

Her company shirt was tucked into a pair of khaki shorts, and the ball cap stuck out of her purse. Michael gazed into familiar deep blue eyes, the most unusual eyes he’d ever seen. When she’d first joined MacBain, Kate had warned him and his brothers to stay away from her.

“Of course. Hi, Liz.” He slid his legs sideways and she squeezed past.

Once Liz settled next to him, she turned to Timothy and said, “I hear Moonlight Square is a go.”

“It is,” Timothy said.

“I just found out.” Michael frowned. “Why am I the last to get information?”

“Stephen called when he got the go ahead. I notified the signed tenants that they can finalize their move-in dates.” She nodded to him. “Now that we have an occupancy date, I’ll re-run the financial models.”

“Yeah, good.” Michael should be thinking of those things first. But it took so much energy.

While Liz and Timothy discussed the newly built strip mall he tuned them out, watching the crowd and the action on the field. That was another thing that had changed while he’d been gone. Liz wasn’t Kate’s assistant any more. She was now the leasing manager.

The company had gotten along fine without him. Probably better than when he’d stumbled around trying to figure out his place in the family dynasty.

His ginger ale arrived. Wonderful. Now everyone would wonder what he was drinking. As he set the cup in the holder, even his brother stared.

Liz glanced at him and ordered an iced tea.

“You don’t have to abstain because of me,” he whispered.

“It’s a little early for alcohol.”

Michael waved his hand at the group. “You’re about the only one.”

“I’m good.” She clapped as the pitcher threw a strike. In a low voice, she said, “If you need to talk to anyone, you can … talk to me. If you … need a friend.”

“Thanks,” he said. With her reluctance, it hadn’t sounded like she wanted to make the offer. “I appreciate that. Not many people know how to act around me right now.”

“I get that. I’ve … attended some co-dependency classes.” She tipped her head. “I know how hard this can be.”

“Thank you.” Exhaustion stopped him from asking why she’d been at classes.

How could she understand what he was going through? To never have another drink? That was why they talked about one day at time. Forever was exhausting.

By giving up drinking, he’d lost contact with Sarah. He’d never told anyone why he drank. Never told them about Sarah.

He pretended to focus on the game but felt out of sync. He hadn’t paid much attention to the Twins this season.

“Do you play sports?” Liz asked as the teams changed sides.

“Basketball. Football.” Or he had. His therapist had told him to get physically active. He just didn’t have much desire.

He did play pick-up b-ball games with the family. And he didn’t do that very well. Everyone hated having him on their team. Or they had when he was drinking. Maybe that was a bright spot in being sober. He wouldn’t be picked last anymore.

Liz had asked a question. He supposed he should reciprocate. “Do you play sports?”

“I wanted to dance, but farm life …” She paused. “I played basketball and ran cross country in high school and college.”

Because she wanted to talk, he asked, “Do you still run?”

“Treadmill. Elliptical when I can.” She smiled. “My neighborhood’s not the best to run in, so I use the company gym a few times a week.”

“Good. I’m glad people are using it.”

He didn’t ask the natural question—Where do you live? The noise of the game filled the silence between them. He’d depleted his daily conversation quota.

Timothy punched him in the shoulder. “You heard Mom’s good news, right?”

“When did you hear?” Michael half-turned in his chair.

“Just now.” When he leaned forward, Michael smelled the beer on his brother’s breath. He inhaled the scent.

“Is your mother okay?” Liz asked.

She’d turned toward them, bringing their three faces way too close.

“All clear from the doc.” Timothy pretended to wipe sweat from his brow.

“That’s wonderful!” Liz’s smile lit up her whole face.

“It’s great,” Michael agreed.

“I’m glad for your family and your mom.” Liz broke eye contact. “Will she spend more time at the office now?”

“Don’t know. Guess we’ll find out on Sunday.” Timothy clapped. “Double play. Go Twins!”

It went on like that. Short conversations during each inning. Timothy left, his brother, Stephen, took his seat. Michael went up and chatted with his family and some of his staff. They’d seen him at the office enough that they didn’t stare at him like he was dying.

But other employees avoided him like he had a fatal disease. Death by drunkenness. He went to the bathroom, and someone turned with a full beer in his hand and spilled it on his shirt.


“Sorry. Sorry.” The guy was half-lit.

Michael tried to wash out the spill, but the smell stuck with him. He couldn’t wear this all day. He headed for a shirt concession and bought a jersey. In the bathroom he changed and shoved his beer soaked shirt into the bag, rolling it down so he wouldn’t smell the appealing aroma of hops.

“You weren’t wearing a jersey when you left,” Liz said with a smile, a dimple at the corner of her mouth.

“Just my luck, an idiot spilled his beer on me.”

Liz faced him. “Your luck’s not too good today.”

Stephen poked him in the back. “You’re on the kiss-cam, man.”

“What?” Michael asked.

He glanced over Liz’s shoulder and their faces filled the video screen. The camera looked like it was eavesdropping on an intimate moment between him and Liz.

The MacBain section clapped and chanted, “Kiss, kiss, kiss.”

He raised his eyebrows.

She shrugged.

This was stupid.

They leaned in.

Their lips met.

In the background applause broke out through the stadium.

He put his arms around her and tipped her lower, playing up the drama.

She laughed and tapped his back.

He pulled her up and set her back in her seat.

Her eyes flashed open and she looked up at the screen and laughed.

On the screen another couple in their sixties were on camera.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. His fingers were tangled in her hair. Her clip was half off. “I’m really sorry.”

She faced the field. “It’s fine. Just part of the … game atmosphere.”

She dug in her bag and retrieved a small brush. Then she pulled out her clip and ran the brush through her hair. Her fingers flew as she whipped her hair back into the claw.

Hair in place, she looked at him. Her apricot-flavored mouth creased into a smile.

“You two looked good up there.” Stephen’s knee nudged his back.

Michael ignored his brother and stared at the field as the players returned to the field. That was a mistake.