Stepbrother Dearest

Page 14

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She smiled, and I felt like a jerk for liking that she had some laugh lines and the beginnings of crows feet around her eyes.

I was stretching here.

“Sometimes, mindless can be good. Working with kids is fulfilling but exhausting. There’s never a dull moment.”

We both glanced out through the sliding glass door. Elec was standing in the garden alone, deep in thought with his hands in his pockets.

“I’m really worried about him,” she said as she looked out at him. “Can I ask you something?”

This conversation was making me uncomfortable. “Sure.”

“He won’t talk about his father. Did something bad happen between them?”

Her question caught me off guard. It wasn’t my place to talk to her about Randy and Elec’s relationship. I knew almost nothing myself.

“They used to argue a lot, and Randy could be very disrespectful toward Elec, but honestly, I still don’t know what caused it all.”

That was all she was going to get from me.

“I’m just worried that he’s bottling stuff up. His father just died, and he’s hardly shown any emotion. I mean, if my father died, I’d be a mess.”

I know.

She went on, “I’m afraid it’s going to all hit him at once. He’s not okay. He’s not sleeping. It’s bothering him, but he won’t talk about it or allow himself to cry.”

My heart ached hearing her say that, because I was worried about him, too.

“Have you tried talking to him?” I asked.

“Yes. He just says he doesn’t want to talk about it. He almost didn’t come here for the service. I knew he’d regret it, so I pushed and pushed and finally, he gave in.”

Wow. He really wasn’t going to come.

“I’m glad you did.”

“I really love him, Greta.”

I had no doubt that she did and while hearing her say that had made my stomach hurt, the more logical side of me was happy that Elec had found someone who cared about him like that. I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t exactly tell her I might have felt the same way.

I cared about him, too.

Maybe that made no sense after so long, but my feelings for him were just as strong today as they were seven years ago. And just like before, I’d have to harbor them.

She put her hand on my arm. “Will you do me a favor?”

“Okay…”

“Will you go out there…see if you can get him to talk about it?”

“Um…”

“Please? I don’t know who else to ask. I don’t think he’s going to be prepared for everything tonight.”

I looked back out at Elec and his strong stature as he stood in the garden. This could have been my only opportunity to talk to him alone, so I agreed.

“Okay.”

She hugged me. “Thank you. I owe you one.”

In that case, I’ll take Elec. I couldn’t help my thoughts, which were out of control.

That embrace had made me realize that it was absolutely possible to genuinely like someone that you were insanely jealous of.

I took a deep breath and made my way through the sliding glass doors. The sky was turning gray as if it were about to open up into a thunderstorm.

It was not the appropriate time to notice how incredible his ass looked through the fitted black dress pants he was wearing, but nevertheless, I did. A breeze blew around the sexy black waves of his hair.

I cleared my throat to announce myself.

He didn’t turn but knew it was me.

“What are you doing out here, Greta?”

“Chelsea asked me to come talk to you.”

He shrugged his shoulders, his laugh full of sarcasm. “Oh, really.”

“Yes.”

“Were you two comparing notes?”

“That’s not funny.”

He finally turned around to look at me, blowing out the last of the smoke from his cigarette before promptly throwing it on the ground and crushing it with his foot. “You think she would have sent you out here to talk to me if she knew the last time before today that you and I were together, we were f**king like rabbits?”

Although it shocked me, hearing him acknowledging that sent a shiver through my body. “Did you have to put it like that?”

“It’s the truth, isn’t it? She would freak the f**k out if she knew.”

“Well, I’m not going to be the one to tell her, so you don’t have to worry. I would never do that.”

My eye started to twitch.

He lifted his brow. “Why are you winking at me?”

“I’m not…my eye is twitching because—”

“Because you’re nervous. I know. You used to do that when I first met you. Glad to see we’ve come full circle.”

“I guess some things never really change, do they? It’s been seven years, but it seems just like—”

“Like yesterday.” He repeated, “It seems like just yesterday, and that’s f**ked up. This whole situation is.”

“It was never supposed to happen.”

His gaze fell to my neck and then back up to my eyes. “Where is he?”

“Who?”

“Your fiancé.”

“I’m not engaged. I was…but not anymore. How did you know I was engaged?”

He looked dumbfounded then stared down at the ground for the longest time before dodging my question. “What happened?”

“It’s kind of a long story, but I was the one that ended it. He moved to Europe for a job. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

“Are you with anyone now?”

“No.” I changed the subject off of me. “Chelsea is really nice.”

“She’s wonderful; one of the best things that’s ever happened to me, actually.”

Punched in the gut.

“She’s really worried about you, because you haven’t shown any emotion. She asked me if I knew what the story was between you and Randy. I didn’t know what to say because there is so much I still don’t even know.”

“You know more than she does, and that wasn’t my choice. The bottom line is, he was a crappy father and now, he’s dead. Seriously, that’s all my mind can process right now. This hasn’t even hit me yet.”

“It was such a shock.”

“My mother is taking it really hard,” he said.

“How was she doing before this?”

“Better than she was back then, but not 100-percent. The verdict is still out, though, on what Randy’s death is gonna do to her mental state.”

The wind suddenly intensified, and misty raindrops started to fall. I looked up at the sky then down at my watch. “We have to leave in a few minutes.”

“Go back inside. Tell her I’ll be in there in a minute,” he said.

I ignored him and stayed standing there. I felt like a failure. I’d gotten nowhere with him.

Fuck. My eyes were starting to water.

“What are you doing?” he snapped.

“Chelsea’s not the only one who’s worried about you.”

“She’s the only one that has a right to be. You don’t need to be worrying about me. I’m none of your concern.”

It had stung harder than anything he had ever said to me.

In that moment, he’d violently thrown back and stomped on whatever piece of my heart I’d given him all those years ago. It disappointed me that I’d idealized him all this time, compared all my boyfriends to him, put him up on a pedestal when clearly he didn’t care about my feelings.

“You know what? If I didn’t feel so sorry for what you’re going through right now, I’d tell you to kiss my ass,” I said.

“And if I wanted to be a dick, I’d say you were asking me to kiss your ass because you remembered how much you f**king loved it when I did.” He brushed past me. “Take care of your mother tonight.”

The past couple of hours had been an emotional roller coaster of shock, sadness, jealousy and now…anger. Pure anger. The tears started to pour down my face in a stream that matched the intensity of the raindrops now steadily falling after he left me speechless in the garden.

***

“I didn’t know Randy had a son.”

I couldn’t count the number of times someone visiting us in the receiving line had said it. It made me feel really bad for Elec despite his crushing me earlier.

The smell of flowers mixed with the perfume of a dozen random women was suffocating.

Most of the people who showed up to the wake were either Randy’s work friends from the car dealership or neighbors. The line curled around the corner, and it was a little unsettling to see people having easy conversations, sometimes laughing as they waited to visit the coffin. It was like a cocktail party without the alcohol, and it was pissing me off.

I stood next to my mother who’d broken down completely after seeing her husband’s lifeless body for the first time since the heart attack. I rubbed her back and replaced her tissues and did whatever I could to help her hold it together long enough to make it through until the end.

Chelsea had convinced Elec to stand in the family lineup despite his initial resistance. I think he was just too worn out to fight it.

The makeup caked onto Randy’s face made it look stiff and almost unrecognizable. It was devastating to see him lying there and brought back flashbacks of when my father died.

Elec wouldn’t go up to the casket or even look at it for that matter. He just stood there, stoic and robotically shaking hands while Chelsea responded on his behalf as people repeated the same phrase.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

Elec looked like he was about to break, and I felt like I was the only one who knew it.

I had to go to the bathroom at one point, so I let my mother know I’d be right back. I hadn’t been able to find it and eventually made my way downstairs to an empty seating area. It smelled a little musty, but it was a relief to escape the noise of the crowd.

Upon entering the quiet of the lower level, I finally saw the sign for the bathroom at the other end of the room.

When I came out, the hairs on my body stiffened at the sight of Elec alone on one of the couches. He leaned into his knees with both of his palms plastered to each side of his head. When he lowered his hands, he was still looking down. His ears were red, and his back was rising and falling from the heaviness of his breathing.

This was a private moment, and I was inadvertently intruding on it.

Perhaps it was the breakdown I’d seen coming earlier by the look on his face upstairs. Nevertheless, I didn’t want him to see me. The problem was I had to pass him in order to get to the stairs.

Despite his upsetting me earlier, the need to comfort him was overwhelming, but I knew after what he’d said to me, that it wasn’t my place.

So, I walked slowly past him.

When I got to the hallway where the stairs were located, the sound of his voice startled me. “Wait.”

I stopped in my tracks and turned around. “I need to get back upstairs to Mom.”

“Give me a few minutes.”

I brushed the white lint off the black material of my dress and walked toward him, taking a seat next to him on the couch. The warmth of his body with his leg pressed against mine was not lost on me.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

He looked at me and shook his head no.

Squelching the urge to hug him, I placed my hands firmly on my lap.

It’s not your place. 

Then, every part of me felt it when he put his hand on my knee. That one touch undid any progress I’d made in the hours since our altercation in the garden.

“What I said to you earlier…I’m sorry,” he said.

“Which part?”

“All of it. I don’t know how to handle this…Randy…you…none of it. It all seems surreal. On the plane here, I prayed that by some miracle you wouldn’t show up.”

“Why?”

“Because this situation is hard enough.”

“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again. I certainly didn’t expect it to be this hard, to feel like this after seven years, Elec.”

“Like what?”

“Like no time’s passed. For me, it’s because I’ve held onto it all. In my mind, I’ve never let you go, and it’s affected my relationships and my life. It was manageable before, though...before this. Anyway, I really shouldn’t be getting into it. It doesn’t matter anymore. You love Chelsea.”

“I do,” he said abruptly.

Hearing him confirm it so vehemently had caused my eyes to unexpectedly well up. “She’s a good person. But seeing you with someone else after the way we left things is still really hard for me. Seeing you in pain is even harder.”

I had completely thrown up my words and said exactly what was on my mind because once again, I wasn’t sure if it would be the last time we’d be alone together. It was important that he knew how I felt. I shook my head repeatedly. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said all that.”

The people upstairs sounded like they were a million miles away. You could have heard a pin drop where we were all alone.

I was looking down when his hand startled me as it landed on my cheek. He slowly slid it down and wrapped it around my neck.

“Greta…” he breathed out with a level of emotion I’d only seen from him one other time before—seven years ago.

I closed my eyes and realized that for a moment we were back in that place. I was with the old Elec—my Elec. This was something I never thought I’d get to feel again. He kept his hand on my throat and lightly squeezed it. It was innocent, but there was a fine line being drawn with every second that passed. His thumb brushed back and forth over my neck slowly. The feel of his rough, calloused fingers warmed my entire body. I didn’t understand what was happening, and I wasn’t sure if he did, either. I prayed that no one came downstairs because the second he snapped out of it, my Elec would be gone.

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