Page 26 of Stepbrother Dearest

When I sat down at the table, my phone vibrated.

Why does it matter to you anymore if other guys hit on me? You’re not supposed to care.

Shit. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that she called me out on my behavior.

She was right.

I was being selfish. I wasn’t really afraid of some guy hitting on her. What scared me was the possibility that I’d have to watch while she returned the interest or entertained it. She was single, and I wasn’t. What was to stop her? I was just as jealous as ever, and I had no right to be. It was unreasonable and wrong. So, I didn’t respond to the text because there was no good answer.

I couldn’t concentrate on the game and kept losing. My mind was too focused on the text and more so on my unacceptable behavior. I took out my phone and swiped through pictures of Chelsea in an attempt to remind myself whom I belonged to. I scanned through the photos: our drive to San Diego, she and my mother cooking Ecuadorian food, she and I kissing, our cat Dublin…the ring she hadn’t seen yet. I tried to turn my attention back to the game, but Greta’s question kept eating away at me. So, I texted her a non-answer that happened to be the truth.

I know I’m not supposed to care. But when it comes to you, what I’m supposed to be feeling has never seemed to matter.

About twenty minutes later, I was down 200 bucks when she met up with me and waved a thousand dollars cash in my face. I couldn’t believe she’d won all of that money on the penny slots.

“Shit, Greta! Congratulations!”

When I gave her a congratulatory hug, I could feel how fast her heart was beating. I told myself it was because of her win and not the same reason my heart was exploding.

We decided to look for a place for dinner and opted for the steakhouse. All throughout our meal, I was obsessing over a strange text I’d received a little while earlier from an unknown number. It was the number 22 and had come in at exactly 2:22. February 22 was Randy’s birthday. I was convinced the message was from him, that it was his way of f**king with me from beyond. So, I was barely touching my food.

Greta, on the other hand, had no problem finishing off my steak and hers. She’d drowned the meat in A1 steak sauce.

I busted her balls. “How about some steak with your sauce?”

“I love it. It reminds me of my dad. He used to put it on everything.”

Watching her eat had made me smile. She couldn’t have known how much her being there for me that night meant. I’d only freaked out in a gazillion different ways yet she was still here…with A1 sauce all over her face.

She noticed me grinning at her. “What?” she said with her mouth full.

I took my napkin and reached across to wipe the side of her mouth. “Nothing, sloppy.”

It suddenly hit me: tomorrow could be the last time I ever see Greta.

My entire body tensed up. This day had put me through the wringer of every feeling imaginable. Something else also hit me: the answer to the question she texted me earlier, the reason why it bothered me if other guys came on to her. I was eventually able to let Greta go only because I thought she was happy and that she was with someone who loved her. Everything I believed to get me over her was a lie. Realizing that had now put my feelings back at square one even though I wouldn’t be able to act on them.

***

I lay my head back on the couch and let out a deep sigh. This glimpse inside of his head was killing me. I needed to take another break from the book because an incredible amount of anxiety was building about where this story was going.

I was running late for my friend’s 30th birthday party at Club Underground on top of that. I couldn’t exactly skip out because I’d been one of the organizers along with a couple of my co-workers.

I decided I would take a shower, get dressed then take my kindle with me to sneak in reading whenever I could tonight while I was out. My device showed that I only had 15-percent left in the book. I assumed I’d be fine to finish it in public.

You know what they say about assuming things.

CHAPTER 20

The night was unexpectedly chilly as I stood on the corner and tried to hail a cab. The thin red dress I was wearing was definitely fitting for Club Underground, but I probably should have taken a jacket.

Sully texted me.

Have fun tonight!

I’d tried to convince her to come out with me, but she said she had a date with an electric razor for her monthly “lady parts” grooming night. TMI for sure, especially when in reality, they weren’t lady parts at all.

We’d rented a small private room with a bar for the party. This would have seemed like an epic night were I not so preoccupied with finishing the book.

I finally caught a cab.

“West 16th Street.”

I slammed the door and immediately wasted no time getting my kindle out.

***

After we left the steakhouse, my funk was back in full force. Greta had gone to get us some drinks while I went to buy more chips.

I sat down at a table to wait for her when out of nowhere tears just started streaming down my face. It made no sense because there hadn’t even been a preceding thought. It seemed to just be the release of everything that had been bottled up. This was the last place I wanted to break down. Once the tears started, they wouldn’t stop.

In a self-punishing way, I added fuel to the fire and started to focus on things that made it worse. I sometimes blamed myself for coming into the world and making Randy’s life miserable. I wondered if he and Mami’s marriage would have lasted were it not for me. Deep down, there was always an underlying hope that things would turn around, that he and I could look each other in the eyes someday and see something other than hate—that he would tell me he really loved me even though he didn’t know how to show it.

That would never happen now.

I looked up to find Greta standing there watching me as she held a drink in each hand.

I licked a hot teardrop off my lips. “Don’t look at me, Greta.”

She put the drinks down and immediately pulled me into her.

In Greta’s arms, the tears were multiplying. My hands dug into her back in a silent plea for her not to let go yet. I eventually calmed down.

“I hate this. I shouldn’t be crying for him. Why am I crying for him?”

“Because you loved him.”

“He hated me.”

“He hated whatever he saw in you that reminded him of himself. He didn’t hate you. He couldn’t have. He just didn’t know how to be a father.”

It surprised me how close to being right she was despite her not knowing my secret. Randy hated what he saw in me that reminded him of Patrick.

“There’s a lot I haven’t told you. The screwed up thing is, after all the shit we went through, I still wanted to make him proud of me someday, wanted him to love me.”

I let out a deep breath because I’d never admitted that to anyone.

“I know you did,” she said softly.

Looking into her eyes reminded me that I was staring into the soul of the first person who’d ever actually succeeded at making me feel loved. For that, I would be eternally grateful to her.

“Where would I be tonight without you?”

“I’m glad I got to be the one with you tonight.”

“I’ve never cried in front of anyone before. Not once.”

“There’s a first time for everything.”

“There’s a bad joke in there somewhere. You know that, right?”

We laughed. I loved her laugh.

“You make me feel things, Greta. You always have. When I’m around you, whether it’s good or bad…I feel everything. Sometimes, I don’t handle it too well, and I fight it by acting like an ass**le. I don’t know what it is about you, but I feel like you see the real me. The second I saw you again for the first time at Greg’s when you were standing in that garden…it was like I couldn’t hide behind myself anymore.” I touched her face. “I know it was hard for you to see me with Chelsea. I know you still care about me. I can feel it even when you’re pretending you’ve stopped.”

It was the most honest thing I’d said to her all night. Greta always wore her heart on her sleeve, and even though she was trying not to make it obvious, her discomfort around Chelsea had been evident. (Although, Chelsea seemed to be oblivious to it.) I couldn’t have imagined how I would have handled it if the situation were reversed.

My tears had finally dried. As we continued to sit in the wake of that embrace, her lips were begging me to kiss them. I wished there were a magic eraser that would have allowed me to experience it just once and delete the consequences immediately after. Of course, that would never be possible. I didn’t think there was anyone worthy of those lips anyway, least of all me. So, I just stared at her mouth, wanting to kiss her but knowing I wouldn’t.

Maybe she read my mind, and I scared her off, because she got up like a bat out of hell.

The next thing I knew, she’d run off to the roulette table, slapped some of her money down on the number 22, and the rest was history. This girl had a major horseshoe up her ass.

***

Nineteen-thousand dollars. I didn’t know what shocked me more: that she won for a second time tonight or that she’d managed to turn my evening around with that awesome play on 22. The mysterious text wasn’t preoccupying me anymore. Instead, I was once again stoked to be here and vowed that for the rest of the night in these final hours together, we’d have the time of our lives.

She made me take a thousand dollars cash. I had no intention of spending it. I’d been using my money the entire time. I didn’t care if I spent every red cent I owned on her, I couldn’t have ever repaid her for being there for me that night. I’d done nothing to deserve it.

We ended up at one of the casino clothing stores, and that was where the mood for the evening shifted to a place we couldn’t quite come out from under for the remainder of the trip.

I’d picked out a dress that I thought would look perfect on her, and she’d gone into the dressing room to try it on. I played with my phone to distract from the thought of her undressing just feet away from me.

She was taking a really long time, so I asked, “You alright in there?”

She said her zipper was stuck, so without thinking, I moved the curtain to the side and stepped into the dressing room. “Come here.”

The second I got one look at her gorgeous back in that dress, I immediately realized that putting myself in this position was a big mistake. My fingers tingled as they gripped her hair gently, moving it over her silky skin to the front of her shoulders.

As I pulled at the material, her breathing became more rapid. Knowing that my touching her was the reason for it made me breathe faster, too. I was losing control. Salacious thoughts invaded my brain. One in particular had me breaking the dress apart in one violent rip and taking her from behind while I watched her face in the mirror.

They’re just thoughts, I told myself. Focus on the task at hand.

“You weren’t kidding,” I said as I tried my best to fix it so I could get the hell out of there. Finally, it budged. “Got it.”

“Thank you.”

I didn’t have to lower it a few inches but couldn’t resist a glimpse of the milky skin of her back. “All set.”

It reminded me of every other part of her body that she’d once given to me fully and completely for one night. It may have only been once, but in my gut, I knew a part of her still belonged to me. Her body language proved it and made me wonder if I was the first and last person who’d ever truly pleasured her.

My hands wouldn’t leave her shoulders. She was looking down, and I knew she was battling her feelings, too. This was the first time since our reconnection that I truly realized how much Greta still wanted me sexually. Our desire for each other was so powerful in the confines of this tiny space that you could taste it in the air.

I kept looking at her in the mirror until she looked up and met my gaze. When she turned around suddenly, I wasn’t prepared. Our faces were just inches apart, and I’d never wanted to kiss her more than that moment. My eyes dropped to her mouth, and I counted in my head to keep myself in control. The counting wasn’t working so I closed my eyes.

When I opened them, I no longer had the urge to just kiss her. It was far worse. Thank God she couldn’t read my mind because the image of f**king that beautiful mouth was so clear in my head that I felt myself getting hard and prayed she didn’t look down.

I needed to leave but couldn’t move.

Chelsea.

Chelsea.

Chelsea.

You love Chelsea.

Having these feelings is okay as long as you don’t act on them, I told myself. This is natural. You can’t prevent what your body wants, only whether you follow through with it. And I deserved a big shiny trophy for resistance. Instead of the “mirror ball,” we’d call it the “blue ball.” 

The store attendant came by. “Is everything okay in there?”

“Yes!” Greta shouted.

But I knew in her voice it wasn’t. This was messing with her mind, and I’d be f**king damned if the night ended in her getting hurt.

Even though we hadn’t acknowledged what was happening between us verbally, I instinctively said, “I’m sorry.” Then, I slid the curtain and left.

***

We decided to spend the night at the hotel since we’d been drinking. After we’d both separated to shower before heading to the casino nightclub, I met Greta back at her room. When she opened the door, the sight of her in that fitted burgundy dress knocked the wind out of me again. Her hair was still sopping wet, but she looked amazing.

“Wow,” I breathed out, not intending to have said it out loud. The word had left my lips before my brain could warn me not to seem so obvious. I needed to make a joke to offset my slip. “You definitely can’t pass for an old lady in mourning anymore.”

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