“Did you have his phone number?”
She looked over at her husband and said hesitantly, “Um…Greg’s kept in touch with him. We know he and Randy had a horrible relationship. Greg had tried to intervene some years back. Elec and he sort of bonded in the process. Randy actually never really knew about that.”
I looked over at Greg as if he were holding all in the information in the world that mattered to me. “What is he doing now?” My voice was shaky.
“He graduated from college, got his social work license. He’s working with disadvantaged youth. The last time we spoke was probably about six months ago.”
That was more information than I’d gotten in years. It made me both happy and sad at the same time to know that he was doing well—sad only because I didn’t know him anymore and hadn’t ever met the man that he’d become.
I cleared my throat. “So, you don’t know if he’ll be here?”
“No. He wouldn’t say,” Clara said. “I think he was in shock. I gave him all of the details so that he’d have them.”
My heart tightened in agony at the thought of what might have been going through Elec’s mind wherever he was at that very moment.
The smell of lilies made me sick. Everyone seemed to be sending the Stargazer kind that stunk the most. I offered to drive a bunch of the arrangements that had been sent to the house over to Thomas’ Funeral home.
The service would be starting at four, but before then, we were supposed to be going over to Greg and Clara’s again for a light lunch.
My mother accompanied me as we laid out the flowers in the corners of the room surrounding the spot where the coffin would go. We also dropped off pictures of Randy and us from over the years. It made me sad that there wasn’t one photo of Randy and Elec.
The funeral home smelled liked a mix of musty wood and air freshener. I wasn’t looking forward to coming back later and having to see Randy’s body or my mother’s reaction.
On the drive back to Greg and Clara’s, I held my mother’s hand. She was doing better than expected, although I was fairly certain she’d taken some Xanax to take the edge off.
When we got to the house, I was relieved that there were no cars that I didn’t recognize out front. That meant it would just be the four of us for lunch.
My relief turned to panic almost immediately when I entered the house and spotted a black suitcase outside of the closet in the foyer.
Clara hugged my mother as I looked around anxiously.
Too nervous to ask the question I wanted to, I stood in silence as my chest tightened. Then, finally, I took a deep breath in and out and asked, “Whose suitcase?”
“Elec is here, Greta. He’s upstairs.”
My heart started to pound furiously, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I suddenly needed air. “Excuse me,” I said, walking out the back door and into their yard.
Unprepared to face him, I stared over at the red tulips in the flower garden. A part of me truly didn’t think he’d be here because of his volatile relationship with Randy, although the dread I’d been carrying around the past couple of days was proof that another part of me was readying for it.
I didn’t know what I was going to say to him.
The cool spring air blew my hair around, and I looked up at the sky as if to shun the universe for dropping this bomb on me. Perhaps, I got my response because thunder rumbled in the distance.
Call it intuition or instinct, something made me turn around and look up at the French doors on the second floor balcony that overlooked the garden where I was standing.
From behind the glass, I saw him.
He stood looking down at me with a white towel wrapped around his waist. I always imagined what he might look like after seven years, but even my wildest dreams couldn’t have conjured up what I was actually met with.
His messy black hair had now been replaced by longish sexy waves that curled around his ears. He was wearing glasses.
He looked even sexier in glasses.
Even from here, I could see the piercing gray of his eyes through them.
His inked body was bigger, even more built than before.
He lifted a cigarette to his mouth and even amidst the shock of seeing him, disappointment set in that he was smoking again.
Elec blew out the smoke as his eyes stayed fixed on mine. He wasn’t smiling. He just looked at me intently. His powerful stare alone had put all of my senses on high alert, throwing my body out of whack.
My head was pounding, my eyes were teary, my ears were beating, my mouth was watering, my ni**les were hard, my hands were trembling, my knees were shaking and my heart…I couldn’t describe what was going on inside my chest.
Before I could process any of this, a woman with blonde hair came up from behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist.
Once I finally built up the courage to go inside, I sat at the dining room table and downed the water at my place setting. My mouth was still dry. It felt like the room was spinning.
“Are you okay?” my mother asked.
I should have been asking her that. I nodded, grabbing her water, too and drinking it all. Needing to be strong for her, I couldn’t allow myself to lose my shit today.
They hadn’t come downstairs yet.
After the mystery woman appeared behind Elec through the glass, he’d immediately turned around and disappeared from sight. It took me a few minutes to move from my spot in the garden.
He had a girlfriend…or a wife.
Even though this should have crossed my mind as a likely possibility after seven years, it wasn’t something that entered into the equation when I imagined seeing him again.
The sound of two sets of footsteps descending the stairs in unison caused me to stiffen and sit straighter in my chair.
When they entered the dining room, my body went into fight or flight mode as adrenaline pumped through me.
Maybe I should have stood up or said something, but I just stayed glued to my chair.
My mother walked over to Elec and pulled him into a hug. “Elec, it’s so good to see you. I’m so sorry about your father. I know you and he had a rough time, but he loved you. He did.”
Elec’s body was rigid, but he didn’t back away from her. He simply said, “I’m sorry for you.”
As he reluctantly let my mother hug him, his eyes darted over to me and stayed there. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but I was pretty sure it was along the same lines of what was running through my own head.
This reunion was never supposed to happen.
After Mom let go of him, Elec’s companion went over to hug her. “Mrs. O’Rourke, I’m Chelsea, Elec’s girlfriend. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Call me Sarah. Thank you, sweetheart. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m sorry it had to be under these circumstances,” she said as she rubbed my mother’s back.
My eyes landed on her French-manicured nails. She was petite, and her body shape was similar to mine. Her long blonde hair cascaded down her back in beachy waves. She was gorgeous.
Of course, she was.
My insides felt like they were twisting.
Elec slowly walked toward me. “Greta…”
The sound of my name rolling off his tongue had momentarily taken me back seven years in an instant.
“Elec.” I got up from my chair. “I…I’m so sorry…about Randy,” I stuttered, and my lips started to tremble. It felt like all of the breath left my body when he stood in front of me, and I inhaled the old familiar smell of clove cigarettes and cologne. So much time had gone by, but emotionally, it still felt like yesterday.
The only difference was that the person who left my bedroom that day was still essentially a boy, and the person before me now was clearly a man.
I looked up at him and marveled at how he’d grown even more handsome. My favorite characteristics were still there but with some changes. His gray eyes still glowed, but now it was through those black-framed glasses. He still wore his lip ring, but had a little more facial hair now. A black pinstriped shirt that was rolled up at the sleeves hugged his chest, which was now bigger, even more defined.
He just stayed looking at me. I finally reached out to hug him and felt his warm hand on my back. My heart was beating so fast, it felt like it might stop altogether. One thing that apparently hadn’t changed was the way my body instantly reacted to his touch. Just as I closed my eyes, I heard a voice from behind him.
“You must be Sarah’s daughter. You two look like twins.”
I separated from him suddenly and held out my clammy hand. “Yes…hi, I’m Greta.”
She didn’t take it. Instead, she smiled sympathetically and hugged me. “I’m Chelsea. It’s nice to meet you. I’m sorry about your stepfather.” Her hair smelled as I expected it would, a clean, delicate scent to match her apparently sweet personality.
“Thank you,” I said.
The tension in the air was palpable as the three of us just stood there in awkward silence.
Clara walked in carrying a pot roast that she’d garnished with asparagus spears on an oval plate. I used the opportunity to escape from the situation and offered to help her bring in the rest of the items, leaving Elec and Chelsea standing there.
My nervous hands fumbled with the silverware Clara tasked me with gathering from the drawer in the kitchen. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before reentering the dining room.
Greg was talking while I walked around distributing the flatware. A case of the butterfingers got me good as forks and spoons kept slipping out of my trepidatious hands.
With nothing left to do, I then sat down across from where Elec and Chelsea were sitting. My eyes stayed glued to the reflection of my face on my plate.
“So, how did you kids meet?” he asked them.
I glanced up.
Chelsea smiled and looked adoringly over at Elec. “We both work at the youth center. I head up the after school program, and Elec is a counselor. We started off as friends. I really admired how good he was with the kids. They all love him.” She placed her hand on his. “Now, I do, too.”
I could see from the corner of my eye that she leaned in and kissed him. The black dress I was wearing suddenly felt like it was suffocating me.
“That’s very sweet,” Clara said.
“Elec, how is Pilar taking this?” Greg asked.
“She’s not doing well,” he said abruptly.
I looked up upon hearing him speak. He hadn’t spoken the entire time since saying my name.
Chelsea squeezed his hand. “We tried to get her to come, but she didn’t think she could handle it.”
She was close to his mother.
This was definitely serious.
“Well, it’s better off then that she stayed back,” Clara said.
Probably uncomfortable at the mention of Pilar, my mother took a long sip of her wine. She knew she was the number one reason for Pilar not showing up today.
Chelsea turned to me. “Where do you live, Greta?”
“I live in New York City, actually. I just came into town a couple of days ago.”
“That must be exciting. I’ve always wanted to visit.” She turned to Elec. “Maybe we could visit her sometime? We’d have a place to stay.”
He nodded his head once, looking extremely uncomfortable as he played with his food. At one point, I could feel his eyes on me. When I turned to look at him to confirm it, our eyes met for a quick second before he shifted his gaze back down to his plate.
“Elec never told me he had a stepsister,” Chelsea said.
He never mentioned me.
My mother spoke up for the first time. “Elec only lived with us for a short time back when they were teenagers.” She looked at me. “The two of you didn’t get along too well back then.”
Mom knew nothing about what really happened between Elec and me. So, from her perspective, that statement was an accurate one.
Elec’s deep raspy voice cut right through me. “Is that true, Greta?”
I dropped my fork. “Is what true?”
“That we didn’t get along?”
Surely, the hidden meaning in his question was meant for only me to understand. I wasn’t sure why he was taunting me in the midst of what was already an uncomfortable situation.
“We had our moments.”
His eyes seared into mine, and his voice lowered. “Yeah, we did.”
Suddenly, I was burning up.
His mouth spread into a smile. “What was it you used to call me?”
“What do you mean?”
“‘Stepbrother dearest,’ was it? Because of my glowing personality?” He turned to Chelsea. “I was a miserable f**k back then.”
A miserable “fuck.” He didn’t mean it that way, but I couldn’t help where my head went with that.
“How did you know about that nickname?” I asked.
I smiled. “Oh, right. You used to eavesdrop on me.”
“Sounds like those were some fun times,” Chelsea said as she looked innocently back and forth between Elec and me.
“They were,” he said, glaring at me with a look that was hardly innocent.
Chelsea and I helped Clara bring the dishes into the kitchen. In forty minutes, we were scheduled to be at the funeral home for the viewing hours.
Her voice startled me. “What do you do, Greta?”
I didn’t feel comfortable getting into the details of my job right now, so I kept my response generic. “I work in an administrative position in the city, just mindless stuff, really.”