Page 16 of Stepbrother Dearest

Even though I knew that was the case, it really hit home when she said it.

“Thanks for the advice, but I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed.”

A tear fell down my cheek despite my attempt to seem unaffected.

“Clearly, for you it hasn’t.”

***

I could smell that he was right behind me. Even before that, my body could feel him there. The windows in the church were open, and a brisk wind blew the scent of cologne and clove cigarettes right into me. It was strangely comforting. The only other scent was the burning of candles that surrounded the altar and the occasional whiff of the lilies that had been transported here from the funeral home.

My mother and I were sitting in the front pew. I turned around to find Elec sitting next to Greg and Clara. They had arrived just a few minutes after us. Dressed in a fitted black satiny button-down shirt with no tie, he was looking down. Either he didn’t catch me watching him for those few seconds, or he pretended not to notice.

There weren’t half as many people here as there were at the wake. It was quiet except for the distant sounds of traffic and the echo of shoes as people walked down the long aisle to their seats.

An organist started playing On Eagle’s Wings, and the music prompted my mother’s tears to flow heavier.

The priest said the eulogy, which was generic and impersonal. When he referred to Randy as a “loving father,” every muscle in my body tightened. Technically, if Randy and Elec had a normal relationship, his son might have gotten up to speak. I couldn’t imagine what Elec would actually say in reality if he had the opportunity. Instead, he was quiet the entire service. He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t looking up. He was just…there, which I suppose was better than not showing up at all. I had to give him credit for that.

The service went by quickly and at the end, the priest gave out the address of the cemetery and announced that the family would like to invite everyone for a meal at a local restaurant following the burial.

I watched as Elec, Greg and a few other men who were Randy’s friends served as pallbearers and carried the coffin out of the church. Elec continued to show no emotion.

My mother opted not to use a limo, so we drove together in my rental car and followed the hearse. Greg, Clara and Elec were in the car behind us.

When we got to the graveyard, we gathered around the massive dirt hole that had been dug into the ground right in front of a granite headstone with O’Rourke carved into the front. The question of whether my mother would be buried in this same plot or with my father crossed my mind.

Elec emerged from the car and walked over to where I had been standing and looking down into the ditch. He was staring down into it just as I was. When he turned to me, the look in his eyes was one of panic.

It’s funny how fast you can set aside your pride when you truly sense that someone you care about needs help. I reached out for his hand. He didn’t resist.

“I can’t do this,” he said.

“What?”

“What if they want me to help lower the casket into the ground? I can’t do it.”

“It’s okay, Elec. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. I don’t think that’s something they expect you to do anyway.”

He was just nodding and blinking but not saying anything. He swallowed anxiously. Then, he let go of my hand, turned around and weaved through the people who were starting to arrive. He kept walking down the road farther and farther away from the burial site.

Without thinking it through, I jogged in my heels to catch up with him.

“Elec…wait!”

When he stopped, his breathing was heavier than mine even though I’d been running. If I thought he was having a breakdown last night at the funeral home, I was wrong. I was pretty sure this was the moment where he was actually coming undone.

“There’s just something about this part of it all that makes it final for me. I can’t watch them putting him in the ground, let alone having a hand in it.”

“It’s okay. You don’t have to.”

“I don’t think he’d even want me here, Greta. Either way, I can’t witness it.”

“Elec, that’s a perfectly normal reaction. We don’t need to go back. I’ll stay here with you.”

He just kept shaking his head no and stared out away from me. He was deep in thought.

A black crow landed near us, and I wondered what that symbolized.

After several seconds of silence, he started to talk. “It was during one of our worst fights, probably about a year before I met you. Randy had said he’d rather be dead and buried than to have to live to see what a f**k up I’d turn out to be.” He looked down at his shoes and shook his head repeatedly. “I said something back to him along the lines of, ‘well, then, I’ll be smiling the entire time they’re lowering you into the ground.’” He let out a deep breath as if he were holding it the entire time he’d been speaking.

I was starting to cry. “Elec…”

He spoke in a whisper looking up at the sky and said, “I didn’t mean it.” You could barely hear him, and I realized that was because he was talking to Randy in that moment.

He looked at me with his hand on his chest. “I need to get out of here. I can’t be here. I’m losing it. I feel like I can’t breathe.”

He suddenly started walking fast, and I followed him.

“Okay. Where? Where do you want to go? The airport?”

“No…no. You have your car, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Just get me the f**k out of here.”

I nodded my head as he followed me down the gravel road to the parking area. A crowd was still gathered around Randy’s grave several feet away. I fumbled with my keys, unlocked the car and Elec got in, slamming the door.

I immediately started the engine and pulled out of the lot, heading toward the exit.

“Where do you want to go?”

“Wherever the f**k the polar opposite of this nightmare is. Just drive for a while.”

Elec was leaning his head back on the seat rest with his eyes closed. His chest was rising and falling as he loosened the top three buttons of his shirt. When we hit a red light, I sent a text to my mother.

Everything is fine. Elec had something like a panic attack and I’m driving him around. Make sure Greg gives you a ride to the restaurant and let him know Elec is with me. Not sure if we’ll miss the meal.

I didn’t expect her to respond since the service was still going on but hoped she’d check her phone once she noticed we were gone.

He grunted. “Fuck.”

“What?”

“My cigarettes are in Greg’s car. I really need one.”

“We can stop and get some.”

He held up his hand. “No. Don’t stop. Just drive.”

So, that’s what I did. For two hours straight, I drove on the highway. It was the middle of the day, so traffic was light. Elec was quiet the entire time, mostly looking out the window.

I had to stop at some point; otherwise, we’d be heading out of state. Sure enough, fifteen minutes later, the Welcome to Connecticut sign greeted me. He’d told me to take him to the polar opposite of a graveyard, to make him forget. I suddenly had a brilliant idea and knew exactly where we could go.

“Just about another twenty minutes then we’re gonna stop somewhere, okay?”

He turned to me and spoke for the first time in hours. “Thank you.”

I wanted to reach for his hand but resisted. A few minutes later, it looked like he’d fallen asleep. I remembered Chelsea saying he hadn’t been getting any sleep since finding out Randy died.

My phone rang, and I picked it up.

“Hey, Mom.”

“Greta, we’ve been worried. The meal is over. Is everything okay?”

“Everything is fine. We’re still driving. We’re gonna stop soon. Don’t worry, okay? I’m sorry I had to leave you.”

“I’m alright. The worst is over. I’m with Greg and Clara for the night. Just take care of Elec. He shouldn’t be alone.”

“Okay. Thanks for understanding, Mom. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

We were approaching our destination, so I nudged Elec. “Wake up. We’re here.”

He rubbed his eyes and looked over at me as we continued down the long driveway.

“Are you taking me to visit the magical Wizard of Oz?”

He was right. The approach to the building kind of reminded me of the yellow brick road with the massive castle at the end.

“No, silly. It’s a casino.”

“We escaped from a funeral so that you could take me gambling? What the f**k?”

When I turned to look at his face, I expected to see a confused expression, but instead, he was giving me that rare genuine smile that I’d only seen a few times—the one that told me he was just messing with me. It was the same look that always made my heart flutter.

Then, he started laughing hysterically into his hands. I think he was delirious.

“You think it’s distasteful?”

He wiped his eyes. “No, I think it’s f**king brilliant!”

When I pulled into a parking spot, he was still laughing.

“Well, you told me to take you to the polar opposite of a graveyard, Elec.”

“Yeah, I was thinking maybe a Zen Japanese restaurant or I don’t know…a beach?”

“You want to leave?”

“Hell no. I would have never thought of it myself, but shit, if there’s one place where you can drown your sorrows, this would be it.” He gazed out the window then turned to me with a look that gave me chills. “So, help me drown my sorrows, Greta.”

***

The influx of cigarette smoke when we entered the building had nearly choked me.

I hacked. “You’re not gonna have a problem finding your cancer sticks in this place. In fact, everyone might as well be smoking here. The second hand is just as bad at this quantity.”

“Try to have fun, sis.” He shook me jokingly. My body’s reaction to his strong hands on my shoulders wasn’t surprising. If he kept touching me like that, this was going to be a long day.

“Please don’t call me that.”

“What would you prefer I call you here? No one knows us. We can make up names. We’re both dressed in all black. We look like mafia high rollers.”

“Anything but sis,” I shouted through the dinging sounds of the hundreds of slot machines as we entered one of the casinos.

“What do you like to play?” I asked.

“I want to hit one of the tables,” he said. “What about you?”

“I just do the penny slots.”

“The penny slots? You’re going wild today, huh?”

“Don’t laugh.”

“You don’t go to a casino like this to play the slots, especially the penny ones.”

“I don’t know how to play any of the tables.”

“I can show you, but first we need drinks.” He winked. “Always liquor before you poker.”

It took me a second. Always lick her before you poke her.

I rolled my eyes. “God, some things never change. At least you’re back to making dirty jokes. That means I did something right today.”

“Seriously, this idea…” He looked around. “Coming here…it was perfect.”

After we bought some chips, I followed Elec to a room with dimmed lighting where people were playing table games. There was a bar in the corner.

“What are they playing?” I asked.

“Craps. It’s a dice game. What do you want to drink?”

“I’ll have a rum and Coke.”

“Okay, I’ll be right back. Don’t go winning anything without me,” he said, walking backwards with a smile.

The grin on his face made me truly happy even though I knew all of this was only a temporary diversion from the pain he was experiencing earlier.

As I waited for Elec to return with our drinks, I made my way over to one of the tables and stood just behind the players who were standing. A red-faced inebriated man with a Southern accent and a cowboy hat smiled at me before returning his eyes to the game.

Not understanding how the game was played, I daydreamed and stared at the table until everyone started clapping. When the drunk guy found out he’d won, he turned around and grabbed me by the waist.

“You, pretty lady, are my good luck charm. I haven’t had one win tonight until you showed up out of nowhere. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

His breath reeked of beer, and sweat soaked through his shirt.

I smiled at him because it all seemed pretty innocent. That is, until he whacked me on the ass…really hard.

When I turned to walk away, Elec was approaching with two drinks in his hand. He was no longer smiling.

“Tell me I did not just see that f**king slob smack you on the ass.” He didn’t wait for my answer. “Hold these,” he said.

He grabbed the guy by the neck. “Who the f**k do you think you are putting your hands on her like that?”

The man held up his hands. “I didn’t know she was with someone. She was helping me out.”

“It looked like you were helping yourself.” Elec dragged him by the neck over to me. “Apologize to her right now.”

“Look man—”

Elec squeezed his neck harder. “Apologize.”

“I’m sorry,” the man choked out.

Elec was still irate and wouldn’t take his eyes off the guy.

I gestured with the drinks in my hand. “Come on, Elec. Please let’s just go.”

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