“And who are you?” Johnny Bowers asked with a smile.
“You know who I am.” Brady’s smile faltered. “Don’t you?”
Johnny’s smile broadened as he tilted his head to the side, “Sure I do.”
“Dad?” Brady felt panic rise in his throat. “Do you know who I am?”
“You’re Brady,” Johnny said with a hint of triumph in his voice, “my boy.”
“That’s right.” Brady nodded. He had seen the moment when his father recognized him. It wasn’t until he had called him “Dad.”
Johnny stuck his hands in the pockets of his khakis, his shoulders slumped in that way that had always allowed Brady to identify his dad from a distance. The older man rocked back on his heels and gazed out the window toward the woods, content to stand in silence.
Brady left his dad in the living room and joined his mother in the kitchen, “Mama?”
“Yeah?” Leigh Bowers didn’t look at her son as she pulled a roast from the oven.
“Dad’s getting worse, isn’t he?”
His mother heaved a deep sigh as she set the roasting pan on the stovetop, but she didn’t turn to face her son. “What do you mean?”
“He didn’t know me.”
Again, Leigh sighed, her shoulders rising and then falling into a low slump. Brady felt bad for the defeat he saw in his mother.
“He didn’t recognize me until I called him “Dad.”
“He’s getting a little worse,” Leigh agreed. “More forgetful.”
“He’s never not known me.” Brady felt like a little boy. He tried to will the hurt and confusion from his voice before asking, “Has he ever not known you?”
“He called me ‘Sue’ the other day.”
“He thought you were his sister?”
“I don’t know,” Leigh shook her head. “He seemed confused. I told him I was Leigh . . . his wife. He just said ‘oh,’ and walked away.”
Leigh shrugged. “We’ve just got to remind him.” She rested one hand on Brady’s cheek before saying, “Don’t take it personally, Son. Your daddy loves you as much now as he ever has. That will never change, whether he forgets us or not. He’s still in there. He still loves you.”
“I know.” Brady felt like sitting down in the floor and crying like a little kid, but he gave his mom a tight hug instead. “What can I do to help?”
“Nothing,” Leigh said as she turned back to the meal she was preparing. “When I need more help with your daddy, I’ll tell you. I promise I will. But, for now, we are doing just fine just me and him.”
“Okay, Mama.” Brady kissed the top of her head as he passed by on the way back to the living room.
“Hey, Brady.” His sister had arrived for dinner while he was in the kitchen.
“Hey, Britt.” Brady flopped down on the same worn sofa that had been in his parents’ living room since he was in elementary school. “I didn’t hear you come in. Where’s the kids?”
“They’re with their daddy.” Brittany inclined her head toward their father, who was still staring out the window. “What’s up with him?”
Brady shrugged. “I think he’s getting worse.”
“He is getting worse,” Brittany replied. “That much is obvious.”
“Yeah. It really does. And it’s scary. What if he gets worse fast? What if he gets like Mamaw May did?” Brittany looked at her brother with tears in her eyes. “Does Alzheimer’s even work that way?”
“I don’t know.”
Changing the subject, Brittany said, “Dalton won’t shut up about Ms. Jones.”
“Yeah, Dummy,” Britany rolled her eyes, “Lexi. His teacher. I think he has a crush on her.”
“That’s normal,” Brady informed her. “I had a crush on all of my elementary school teachers.” He paused and then said, “Except for Mrs. Lungford. She smelled like cheese.”
“It’s not normal when your teacher is your aunt.”
“He doesn’t know she’s his aunt, though.”
“I’m going to ask for them to switch him to a different class.”
“Why?” Brady’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “If he loves his teacher and is doing well in class, that’s a good thing.”
“It’s weird.” Brittany used her thumb to rub a scuff off the toe of her red Converse.
“Maybe you should tell him.”
“Maybe you should mind your own business.”
“You’re the one who orchestrated this whole mess, Brittany.” Brady was tired and emotional. He wasn’t in the mood to let his sister talk down to him.
A long, pregnant pause hung between them until she finally said, “I was trying to do the right thing by Kyle. I didn’t want to get him in trouble.”
“But you could have told Lexi and their mom.”
“But I didn’t, did I?”
Brittany’s frustration was tangible. Brady saw it as the opportunity to say, “You could talk to Lexi about it. Explain what happened. Why you made the choices you made. She’s a great girl. I think you’d like her if you actually talked to her.”
Brittany held up her hand to cut him off. “I don’t want to talk to her. I made my decision years ago, and I’m not going to switch gears now. Dalton has two parents who love him and plenty more people to give him more love. He doesn’t need another aunt. It would just be confusing.”
“He has cousins, too.”
“Not just an aunt,” Brady’s voice was soft. “He has two aunts and two cousins. Who knows what other relatives they may have. He deserves a chance to meet the rest of his family.”
“I don’t want to talk about this.” In typical Brittany fashion, she left the room after uttering the last words.
Before Brady had a chance to call after her, their dad came and sat on the other end of the sofa. “How are you today?” he asked.
Brady could tell by the tone of his voice that his father didn’t recognize him.
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.