It’s 9:23 on a Tuesday evening, and I’m clutching a wine glass so tightly that I’m starting to wonder if it will shatter and send rosé down the bouncing leg I haven’t been able to settle since this date began. On the television, a man and a woman have grabbed hands and jumped into a pool. They’re kissing, a sculpted, shimmering tangle of limbs and tongues, and I want nothing more than to throw my glass at the television because the kiss is worth fifteen points and the shirtlessness is worth ten and both of these are worth more than what the contestant I picked in my fantasy Bachelorette league earned.
My brother snickers from the other side of the couch because this is his contestant and he knows that he’s going to surpass my five-point lead in The Shaw Family Rosé Ceremony, a league we created in fun but that, as with all things points-based, I’ve turned into a needlessly fierce competition. It’s the adult equivalent of asking your friend to see who can run up a hill faster, only instead of a hill there’s a reality TV show, and instead of running, you’re downing a five-dollar bottle of rosé and making sure not to cheer so loudly that you wake up your sleeping toddler two rooms over. A primitive, incorrigible desire to prove your worth.
The show cuts to commercial, and I raise the stemless glass to my lips, slurping the cheap wine while I reach across my wife’s lap to the plate of sea salt caramel chocolate chunk cookies on the table. I stuff one in my mouth, sending a few crumbs tumbling into my beard, and settle back into my spot on the couch. Two cushions over, my sister-in-law tries to humble my brother by telling him that Ben, the gentle hulk of a contestant who is from Indiana but selected Venice Beach for his hometown date, still isn’t going to get a rose. My brother shrugs because he doesn’t care about the cow, he says. He cares about the milk, and Ben is providing.
This continues when the commercials end and the dinner portion of the date begins with Ben popping a bottle of champagne (fifteen points) and calling the bachelorette his girlfriend (five points). I set my glass on the table, watch the condensation or sweat or maybe both trickle down it, and resign myself to second place in our fantasy league while my brother takes the first-place position I’ve held since the season began. My only hope is that Ben blows it by cursing (negative five points), getting naked (negative ten points), or running away (negative twenty points), but I know these won’t happen because Ben is from Indiana even if he claims California, and good-natured midwestern values don’t leave even if you do.
It’s a sinking feeling as I watch the episode unfold, reminiscent of so much of not just my year, but my life. Of watching Brandon Aiyuk catch an early touchdown pass on Monday Night Football to seal my brother’s victory and send me to our fantasy football league’s consolation bracket. Of furiously shooting at salmon after a late surge in a Big Buck Hunter arcade tournament, only for him to get more and eliminate me. Of my dad telling me that maybe my daughter will be gifted like her uncle. Of my family asking me about my brother’s career as a doctor and oh yeah, what are you doing again? Of constantly finishing second out of two.
The episode ends, and with it, this week’s edition of wine and cookies and vying for the top spot in The Shaw Family Rosé Ceremony. My wife goes to bed and my brother and his wife drive home to paint their soon-to-arrive baby’s nursery, and I know that none of them are thinking about what could happen next week, what predictions could be made from the artfully deceptive previews that mesh audio and video with such guile that you’ll believe the frontrunner is a cheater or the guy who went home is going to scale a wall and come back. I’m thinking about it, though, because my life has been punctuated by my shortcomings against my brother so often that I’m convinced that my best Tuesday night is to turn off the lights, pour another glass of rosé, and munch at the leftover cookies while sitting in the glow of a live chat recap of the episode so I can come away with a nugget of information that might just propel me, even in the stupidest of things, toward coming out on top.
Adam Shaw lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife and daughter. He holds an MFA in fiction writing from Concordia University, St. Paul, and his thoughts on books, beer, and everything in between can be found on his website at www.theshawspot.com and on Twitter at @adamshaw502.