Page 20 of Stepbrother Dearest

“I don’t know. There are things in there that would upset her.”

“Like what do you—”

“My turn to ask a question,” he interrupted.

“Okay.”

“What happened with the guy you were engaged to?”

“How did you know I was engaged anyway?”

“Answer me first.”

“His name was Tim. We lived together for a little while in New York. He was a good person, and I wanted to love him, but I didn’t. The fact that I wouldn’t consider moving to Europe for him when his job transferred him there proved that. Really, there’s not much more to it than that. Now, will you tell me how you knew?”

“Randy told me.”

“I thought you were estranged.”

“We still spoke from time to time. I asked him about you once, and he gave me the news. I assumed that meant you were happy.”

“I wasn’t.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Did you have any other girlfriends besides Chelsea?”

“Chelsea’s my first serious relationship. I screwed around a lot before that.”

“I see.”

“I didn’t mean…you. You weren’t part of the screwing around. What happened with us was different.”

“I know what you meant.” After a block of silence, I said, “I want you to be happy, Elec. If she makes you happy, I’m happy for you. You told me she was the best thing that ever happened to you. That’s great.”

“I didn’t say that,” he said curtly.

“Yes, you did.”

“I said she was one of the best things. So were you. Just in another time.”

Another time—a time that’s passed.

You get the picture now, Greta?

“Thank you,” I said.

“Don’t thank me. I took your f**king virginity and left. I don’t deserve your thanks.”

“You did what you felt you had to do.”

“It was still wrong. It was selfish.”

“I still wouldn’t change anything about that night if that makes you feel better.”

He let out a deep sigh. “You seriously mean that?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t regret one thing that happened that night either, only what happened after.”

I closed my eyes. We were both silent for a long time. I think the day had finally caught up with both of us physically.

“You still there?” I asked.

“I’m still here.”

I let those words sink in, knowing that tomorrow he wouldn’t be. I needed to get at least a couple hours of sleep before the two-hour drive back to Boston in the morning.

I needed to let him go.

Let him go.

“I’m going to try to get some sleep,” I said.

“Stay on the phone with me, Greta. Close your eyes. Try to sleep. Just stay on the phone.”

I pulled the comforter over myself.

“Elec?”

“Yeah…”

“You were the best thing that ever happened to me. I hope someday I can say you were one of the best, but for now, it’s only you.”

I closed my eyes.

***

Elec met me at the hotel registration desk where we both checked out.

We had each showered but were wearing the same clothes we’d worn to the club the night before. The scruff on his chin appeared to have grown out overnight and even though his eyes were weary, he still looked painfully hot in his club attire at 10 in the morning.

His words from last night rang out in my head. “I’m fighting the urge to back you up against this wall and f**k you so hard that I’ll have to carry you back to your room.”

We stopped at the casino Starbucks, and as we were waiting for our coffees, I could feel him staring at me. I’d been intentionally trying not to look at him because I was sure he’d be able to see the sadness in my eyes.

We ended up taking our breakfast on the road. The ride home was eerily quiet. It was like the calm after the storm. The whirlwind of the previous day had given way to a numb and helpless feeling this morning.

Light rock played on the radio station as I kept my eyes on the road. What felt like the weight of a million unsaid words loomed over us as we remained silent.

He said one thing the entire ride. “Will you drive me to the airport?”

“Sure,” I said without looking at him.

Clara was originally going to drive him, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the change of plans, which would prolong the agony.

We pulled into Greg and Clara’s. Elec ran in to gather his belongings while I waited in the car. Since we had a little extra time, the plan was to go to my mother’s house and check on her before we headed to the airport.

He’d left his phone on the seat and a text came through. The screen was lit, and I couldn’t help peeking down at it. It was from Chelsea.

I’m going to wait up. I can’t wait until you’re home. Have a safe flight. Love you.

I regretted looking at it because it solidified that this was really the end.

Before I could wallow in self-pity, Elec approached carrying a large black travel bag. He got in, looked down at his phone and sent a quick text as I put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway.

Mom wasn’t home when we got to the house. When I texted her, she said she’d gone for a walk.

It certainly wasn’t my intention to find myself alone with Elec in the house that held all of our memories together.

He leaned against the counter. “Hey, you got any of your ice cream lying around? I’ve been jonesing it for seven years.”

I’ve been jonesing you for seven years.

“You might just be in luck,” I said, opening the freezer.

Ironically, thinking I was going to need it, I’d made a batch with my old ice cream maker the night before the funeral and put it in the freezer. Of course, I never came home to have it.

I scooped it out into one bowl and took two spoons out of the drawer. We always shared the bowl and for old times’ sake, I kept to that tradition.

“You put extra snickers in it.”

I smiled. “I did.”

He closed his eyes and moaned upon taking the first bite. “There is nothing better than your f**king ass cream. I’ve missed it.”

I’ve missed this.

Being in this kitchen and sharing the ice cream with him made it really feel like yesterday more than any other moment up until now. I wished we could go back to that time for just one more day. He’d be right upstairs and not heading home to her. We’d play our video game. It was so simple then.

Then, memories of the night he made love to me started to flash through my mind at a tremendous pace. Not so simple. His leaving was starting to really hit me all of a sudden. The silence wasn’t working for me anymore, and I tried to make light conversation to mask my melancholy.

“What did Greg and Clara have to say?”

“They were asking where we went. I told them.”

“Did they think it was bizarre?”

“I could tell Greg was a little concerned.”

“Why would he be concerned?”

He pulled the spoon slowly from his mouth and looked down in hesitation. “He knows.”

“Knows what?”

“About us.”

I put my spoon down and wiped the corners of my mouth. “How?”

“I confided in him a few years back. I knew he wouldn’t tell Randy.”

“Why would you tell him?”

“Because I felt like I needed to talk about it. I didn’t have anyone else I could trust.”

“It’s just…you told me not to tell anyone, and I didn’t for a long time until I finally told Victoria years later.”

“Greg is the only person I told.”

“I just didn’t think—”

He raised the tone of his voice. “You didn’t think what happened between us affected me in the same way it affected you. I know. Because I led you to believe that.”

“I guess it doesn’t matter anymore,” I said under my breath so low that I didn’t think he heard me.

Elec scowled as he took the empty bowl to the sink, washed it and put it in the strainer.

He looked back at me. “You’ll always matter to me, Greta. Always.”

I just nodded, refusing to shed a tear but feeling completely broken inside. This was different from the last time we said goodbye. Back then, even though I was an emotional wreck, I was young and suspected that my feelings might have been infatuation and that I would grow out of it.

Unfortunately, this time with the advantage of experience and hindsight, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was hopelessly in love with him.

***

The drive to Logan Airport seemed like it only took a few minutes. A pink hue lit up the sky, appropriate symbolism for sending Elec off into the sunset. Unprepared for how to say goodbye, I opted not to say anything at all during the ride, and neither did he.

As we exited the car at the curb just outside the entrance to his terminal, the wind was powerful amidst the deafening sound of jets taking off.

Clutching my own arms protectively, I stood across from him. I didn’t know what to say or do and couldn’t even look him in the eye. Now was not the time to completely freeze up, but that was exactly what was happening to me.

I looked up at the sky, down at the ground, over at the luggage handlers…anywhere but at Elec. I knew as soon as I looked into his eyes, I would lose it.

His tone was gruff. “Look at me.”

I shook my head and refused as the first teardrop fell. I wiped my eye and continued to look away from him. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me right now.

When I finally looked into his eyes, I was shocked to see them watering, too.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Go. Please. Text me if you want. It’s just…I can’t do a long goodbye…not with you.”

“Okay,” he simply said.

I leaned in and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before rushing back to the car and slamming the door.

He reluctantly picked up his bag and walked away toward the entrance.

When I saw the automatic doors finally close behind him, I leaned my head against the steering wheel. My shoulders shook as I let the tears I’d been struggling to hide fall freely. It was only a matter of time before someone told me to leave since this was only a temporary drop off area. I just couldn’t seem to move.

Sure enough, someone knocked on my window.

“I’m going. I’m going,” I said without even looking up. As I was about to start my car, the person knocked again.

I looked to my right to find Elec standing there.

I frantically wiped my tears and got out of the car, walking around to him. “Did you forget something?”

He dropped his bag and nodded yes. He startled me when he suddenly took my face in his hands and kissed my lips tenderly. It felt like I was melting in his arms. My tongue instinctively tried to enter his mouth, but he didn’t open for me. He just kept his lips pressed hard against mine as he breathed erratically. This was a different kind of a kiss, not one that leads to something, but a hard, painful one.

It was a goodbye kiss.

I pulled back. “Get out of here. You’re gonna miss your flight.”

He wouldn’t take his hands off of my face. “I never got over hurting you the first time, but hurting you twice…believe me when I say this was the last thing I ever wanted to see happen in my lifetime.”

“Why did you come back just now?”

“I turned around and saw you crying. What kind of a heartless ass**le would leave you like that?”

“Well, you weren’t supposed to see that. You really should have kept walking because now you’re making it worse.”

“I didn’t want that to be my last visual.”

“If you really love her, you shouldn’t have kissed me.”

I hadn’t meant to yell it.

“I do love her.” He looked up at the sky then back at me with anguished eyes. “You want to know the truth? I f**king love you, too. I don’t think I realized how much until I saw you again.”

He loved me?

I laughed angrily. “You love us both? That’s messed up, Elec.”

“You’ve always told me you wanted honesty. I just gave it to you. I’m sorry if the truth is a f**ked up mess.”

“Well, she has the home court advantage. You’ll forget about me again soon enough. That will simplify things.” I walked back around to the driver’s side.

“Greta…don’t leave like this.”

“I’m not the one leaving.”

I closed the door, turned the ignition and drove away. I only looked in the rearview mirror once and saw Elec standing in the same spot. Maybe my reaction was unfair, but if he was being honest with his feelings, then so was I.

All I could think about on the drive home was how life could be cruel. The “one that got away” was supposed to stay away, not come back and leave you all over again.

When I pulled into my driveway, I noticed an envelope on the passenger seat. It was the one thousand dollars cash I’d given him. That meant any money we’d spent last night was his. There was a note inside.

I just didn’t want you to gamble it. I could never repay you for everything you’ve given me, let alone take money from you.

***

Two months after Elec returned to California, I was finally getting back to a regular routine in New York.

My mother had come to stay with me for the first month after Randy’s death but decided that she wasn’t happy living away from Boston. With Greg and Clara looking out for her and my visiting every other weekend, she was adjusting as well as could be to her new normal.

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