Page 24 of Stepbrother Dearest

I boarded a plane back to California the next morning.

A few months later, Randy had called the house for the first time in almost a year. I casually asked about Greta, and he told me she’d gotten engaged. That was the last time I ever mentioned her name.

It took me almost three years before I could really move on with someone else.

***

I had to stop. I threw my kindle across the room. My eyes were so filled with tears that the words were becoming blurry toward the end.

I closed my eyes tightly to see if I could recall anything that could have clued me into the fact that Elec was there. He was there. How could I not have known he was right behind me?

He’d come for me.

It still hadn’t fully sunk in.

I remembered that night.

I remembered Tim and I were still in the honeymoon stage of our relationship. Things were going well.

I remembered even though it was New Years Eve, we’d been out all day shopping for a new computer for me.

I remembered we stopped at my apartment to drop it off and then headed into Charlie’s for a late dinner before going to Times Square to watch the ball drop.

I remembered when the clock struck 12, Tim warmed me from the cold with his kisses.

I remembered wondering why in the midst of this magical night with a man who was seemingly perfect and who truly cared about me, all I wanted was Elec. All I had been able to think about was Elec: where he was at that very moment, whether he was watching the festivities on TV, whether he was thinking of me, too.

All the while, Elec was right there.

Fate had screwed us over.

***

In the next couple of chapters, he wrote about finding a career path that was meaningful, and how he came to settle on social work. He felt a responsibility to help others, particularly children who’d come from broken homes like he had.

I rushed through the following chapters detailing how he’d met Chelsea. It was the only part of the book I’d felt the need to speed through. The gist was that he met her at the youth center, they’d hung out a lot after work as friends. He was apprehensive about getting involved with her because he knew she was the type of girl who wanted a serious relationship. He wasn’t sure he was ready for that. Over time, she’d made him forget about me, made him laugh, and he grew to love and care about her. She was his first serious relationship, and he planned to propose to her…until—

***

It felt like my world came crashing down on that day.

Things were going better than they’d ever had in my entire life. My job was stable and fulfilling. Chelsea and I had moved in together, and I was planning to ask her to marry me at her sister’s wedding coming up in just a few days. A one-carat white gold solitaire had been stashed away for weeks.

Mami was doing a lot better. She’d been on a roll with new art projects. While she’d broken up with George a year ago and had a major relapse, she was now dating a new guy named Steve who’d once again taken some of her focus off of Randy. So, life was as good as it was gonna get—until a phone call from Clara changed everything.

“I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, Elec. Randy had a heart attack and died.” Those were the first words that came out of her mouth. Initially, my reaction was the same as if she were calling to tell me what day of the week it was.

Randy was dead.

It didn’t matter how many times I’d repeated it in my head that day; it wouldn’t sink in.

Chelsea had somehow convinced me to go back for the service despite my better judgment. Randy wouldn’t have wanted me there. I was still in shock and too desensitized to fight her pushing guilt on me. She didn’t know what kind of relationship Randy and I had. From her perspective, there was no excuse for my not attending. It was easier for me to just give in than have to tell her everything. I also knew that Mami couldn’t handle going. She wanted me to go in her place to represent the two of us. So, before I knew it, I was on a plane with Chelsea heading to Boston.

The stagnant air on the plane was suffocating. Chelsea kept holding my hand as I blasted the volume of my music. I’d almost managed to calm down when a flash of Greta’s face induced further panic. Not only was I going to have to deal with Randy’s death, but she would probably be there too with her husband.

Fuck.

I knew this was going to be the worst couple of days of my life.

When we got to Greg and Clara’s house, I was really on edge. Chelsea and I took a shower together in the guest bathroom, but it hadn’t done anything to pacify my nervous state. Before we’d left California, I’d picked up a case of the imported clove cigarettes I used to smoke. I took one out and lit it as I sat on the bed while Chelsea was still in the bathroom getting dressed. I was disappointed in myself for relapsing into smoking again, but it felt like the only thing holding me together at that point.

I had no motivation to get dressed and go downstairs. I lit another cigarette, inhaled deeply and walked over to the French doors that led to a balcony overlooking the backyard. The sky was overcast.

Looking down was a colossal mistake.

My fists tightened in a fighting response to the fact that my heart was beating so rapidly.

I wasn’t supposed to ever see her again like this. A part of me that died was coming back to life when it shouldn’t have. I didn’t know how to handle it.

Greta’s back was turned. She was staring out into the garden and must have just found out I was here. She was probably trying to plan her escape so she didn’t have to face me, or maybe she was just as angry at this predicament as I was. The fact that she was standing all alone out there told me that my being here was affecting her.

“Greta,” I whispered to myself.

It was like she heard me because she turned around. Suddenly, a tidal wave of emotions that I’d tried to bury since that night in New York came flooding out. I wasn’t prepared to see her face looking up at me.

I took another long drag.

I also wasn’t prepared for how angry this moment would make me. With one look into her eyes, I was starting to feel everything: the realization of Randy’s death, the painful reminder of my unresolved feelings for her, the jealousy and crushing disappointment of that night in New York, the twitch of my traitorous cock.

The level of rage building inside of me was an unpleasant surprise.

I was so confused.

I never wanted to see you again, Greta.

It’s so f**king good to see you again, Greta.

I felt like she could see right through me in that moment, and I didn’t like it. We just stayed looking at each other for probably an entire minute. Her previously dumbfounded expression darkened as soon as I felt Chelsea’s hands wrap around me.

I instinctively turned around and moved back, pushing Chelsea away from the window. I think I was trying to protect Greta’s feelings in that moment but didn’t know why I bothered. What the f**k did she expect me to do, sit around and pine for her alone while she married Mr. Wonderful? Still, I knew seeing Chelsea appear out of nowhere like that must have been a shock.

“Are you okay?” Chelsea asked. She hadn’t seen Greta.

“Yeah,” I said dismissively.

Needing to be alone, I walked to the bathroom and shut the door to gear up before I had to face the music.

***

She was sitting at the far corner of the dining room table when we got downstairs. She wouldn’t look at me.

I hate when you do that, Greta.

Sarah got up and hugged me. I gave her some brief greeting, told her I was sorry about Randy, but the entire time I was thinking about what the f**k I was going to say to Greta. I glanced over at her, and now, she was looking at me. I stood back as Chelsea hugged Sarah and gave her condolences.

I needed to bite the bullet.

I walked over to her and barely got her name out. “Greta.”

She hopped up nervously like my saying her name had lit a fire under her ass. She stuttered a little. “I…I’m so sorry…about Randy.”

Her lips trembled. She was discombobulated—a mess, I told myself. I didn’t want to admit that she was even more beautiful than I remembered, that new highlights in her hair brought out the gold in the hazel tone of her eyes, that I’d missed the three small freckles on her nose, that the way her black dress hugged her br**sts reminded me of things I needed to forget now.

I couldn’t move, just stood there taking her in. The familiar scent of her hair was intoxicating.

My body flinched when she reached out to hug me. I had really tried not to feel anything, but here in her arms was the epicenter of it all. Her heart was beating against my chest, and mine immediately responded by matching the rhythm. Our hearts were communicating in a way that our egos wouldn’t allow with words. The heartbeat is the purest form of honesty.

I put my hand on her back and could feel the strap of her bra. Before I could even process what that did to me, Chelsea’s voice snapped me out of it as Greta ripped herself away from me. The space between us felt infinitely vast.

I couldn’t believe this was really happening: my past colliding with my present. The one that got away was face to face with the one who got me over it.

Greta’s left hand was bare; there was no diamond. Where was her fiancé or husband? Where the f**k was he?

Engrossed in my thoughts, I didn’t even hear what they were saying to each other.

Clara saved the day when she walked in with food, and Greta went to help her.

Greta reentered the dining room and started placing the silverware down around us. She was so tense, and pieces kept slipping and clinking around as she fumbled with them. I wanted to joke and ask her when she started practicing playing percussion with spoons. I didn’t.

When she finally sat down, Greg asked, “So, how did you kids meet?”

Greta looked up from her plate for the first time as Chelsea explained how we met at the youth center. When Chelsea leaned in to kiss me, I felt Greta watching it, and the mood became very uncomfortable.

The subject changed to my mother, and Greta was back to pretending she was engrossed in her plate.

My body stiffened again when Chelsea asked her a question. “Where do you live, Greta?”

“I live in New York City, actually. I just came into town a couple of days ago.”

“I” came into town, not “we.”

I wished I had a camera to capture the look on Greta’s face when Chelsea suggested we visit her in New York.

The mood got quiet again, and I’d snuck some glances in when she wasn’t looking. When she caught me, I shifted my attention back to my plate.

“Elec never told me he had a stepsister,” Chelsea said.

I wasn’t sure whom the statement was directed toward, but I wasn’t touching that subject with a ten-foot pole. Greta still refused to look at me.

Sarah spoke up. “Elec only lived with us for a short time back when they were teenagers.” She looked at Greta. “The two of you didn’t get along too well back then.”

For some reason, the uncomfortable look on Greta’s face got under my skin. She was still looking down and not acknowledging her mother’s statement, not acknowledging me. An unexplainable need for her to acknowledge to me, to acknowledge what we had, overtook my better judgment. I reverted back to my old ways for a moment and started to taunt her to get her attention.

“Is that true, Greta?”

She looked frazzled. “Is what true?”

I lifted my brow. “That we didn’t get along.”

Her jaw tightened, and her eyes never left mine as they silently warned me not to push it.

Finally, she said, “We had our moments.”

My voice lowered to a gentler tone. “Yeah, we did.”

Her face was turning red. I’d pushed it. I tried to do damage control by lightening the mood. “What was it you used to call me?”

“What do you mean?”

“‘Stepbrother dearest,’ was it? Because of my glowing personality?” I turned to Chelsea. “I was a miserable f**k back then.”

I was for a while…until Greta made me want to be a better person.

“How did you know about that nickname?” Greta asked.

I laughed to myself, remembering how I used to snoop in on her phone calls to her friend.

It was good to finally see her crack a smile as she said, “Oh, right. You used to eavesdrop on me.”

Chelsea was looking back and forth at us. “Sounds like those were some fun times.”

I wouldn’t take my eyes off Greta. I wanted her to know that those days were some of the best of my life.

“They were,” I said.

***

The only good thing about focusing on my unresolved feelings for Greta was that it took my mind off of Randy.

When I escaped to be alone in the backyard after dinner, though, the fact that he was gone started to hit me.

He and I would never have a chance to make amends now. It was interesting how making amends never seemed to matter when he was alive, but in his death, it was haunting me. At the very least, I’d wanted to prove him wrong, make something of myself. Now, he was somewhere in another dimension possibly coming face to face with Patrick.

Thinking about it without distraction for too long f**ked with my mind. I grabbed a cigarette and tried to just meditate. It didn’t work because my emotions had only gone from sad to angry.

I heard the glass door sliding open and footsteps behind me. Don’t ask me how I knew it was her.

“What are you doing out here, Greta?”

“Chelsea asked me to come talk to you.”

What the f**k were they talking for? It just rubbed me the wrong way. Chelsea could not find out about what happened between Greta and me. I let out a sarcastic laugh. “Oh, really.”

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