“You know I would never expect special treatment. You don’t owe me anything.”
“Your writing blew me away long before this career. I believe in you. We’ll work together. If nothing comes of it, then at least we tried.”
“If nothing comes of it, I’m still the luckiest man in the world.” He whispered to himself, still thinking of my admission. “That’s wild.”
I got up to straddle him and brushed my finger over his side. “Speaking of lucky, I noticed this new tattoo right here.”
He started to tickle me. “Oh, you did, did you?”
It was a small Lucky Charms cereal box with the words Get Cereal above it.
How cute but bizarre.
Even though it went along with the Irish theme of all the other tats, it made me chuckle. “What’s the significance of this?”
“Honestly? I just got this recently. It reminds me of you and the horseshoe up your ass. Also, you’re my lucky charm. More than once in my life, you turned something miserable into something magical for me. He pulled me into a deep kiss then said, “And if you scramble the letters of Get Cereal, you get our names.”
Oh my God. I loved him.
“That’s my favorite anagram you’ve ever come up with.”
“It was either that or Rectal Gee, which made no sense. Then I would have had to get an ass tattooed on my side. That wouldn’t have worked.”
A few months later, it was Christmas in New York. This was my favorite time of year with all of the lights and decorations adorning the city. This Christmas was like no other because Elec and I were experiencing it together in love for the first time.
We’d be going out to San Francisco to spend the actual holiday with Pilar. Per Elec’s suggestion, he had me speak to her on the phone to take some of the edge off. She was surprisingly cordial to me, and it made me feel a lot better about the trip. Things would never be perfect between us, and I was sure she would have preferred him ending up with Chelsea. At least, though, with Randy gone and through the passage of time, she was able to accept me.
A few days before we were set to fly out west, Elec and I were invited to a Christmas party at Sully’s.
Sully’s apartment was very classic New York, lots of dark wood crown molding and a hefty built-in bookshelf lined from top to bottom with books ranging from erotica to military history. She’d gone all out, hanging plastic mistletoe and white lights all throughout the apartment. There was even a gold banner that read, Eat, Drink and Be Mary. She also set out a table of spiked eggnog and assorted appetizers. Elec and I were feeling pretty good after a few mugs of the eggnog.
He looked so sexy in a velvet Santa hat when he led me to a private corner of the room.
I pulled on the fuzzy ball at the end of his hat. “You know you’re the sexiest Santa I’ve ever seen, right?”
His slid his hands down my waist. “Lucky for you, I’ll be coming way more than once a year.”
I wrapped my arms around his neck and leaned into him. “And I’ll be giving you way more than cookies.”
“I wouldn’t mind spreading some cheer in that bathroom right now,” he said.
So, that was what we did.
When we emerged, it was time to open presents. Sully gave Elec his first. They’d actually grown pretty close and were constantly busting each other’s balls.
“Oh, Sully. You shouldn’t have.” The room burst into laughter as Elec lifted a t-shirt that displayed the photo of his bare-chested self, holding the cardboard f**kface sign. There was also a mug and mouse pad featuring the now classic image.
Sully laughed. “With all this book stuff, I just didn’t want you to forget your roots.”
Elec took it in stride then accepted his actual present, which was a gift certificate to Starbucks where he spent a lot of time writing after work. We’d recently inked a publishing deal for Lucky and the Lad and a yet to be written sequel he was developing now. He was still working at the middle school during the day.
Elec’s present to me was the last to be handed out. I was surprised he even brought something for me since we agreed to exchange gifts in California. Let’s just say, once I opened the box, it made total sense. This wasn’t my actual gift. It was the last pair of underwear he’d stolen from me all those years ago. They were turquoise lace. I remembered them well and shook my head.
“I can’t believe you’ve held onto this all these years.”
“It was the one memento I had of you for a long time.”
I whispered in his ear. “You’re lucky my ass still fits inside these.”
He whispered in mine. “I think I’m even luckier because I fit inside your ass.”
I punched him lightly on the arm. “You’re so nasty. I love it, though.”
“You didn’t read the card,” he said.
I opened it. It had a picture of an old couple kissing by a Christmas tree. It was one of those blank cards where you could write your own note inside.
This Christmas will be the best of my life.
Because of you…I:
Am at peace.
Am excited for the future.
Am in love.
Because of you this Christmas…I:
It didn’t register at first until I saw him getting down on one knee and reaching into his pocket.
Am Merry=Marry Me.
“I didn’t know what love felt like until you, Greta, not just giving it but receiving it. I love you so much. Please say you’ll marry me.”
I covered my face in shock. “I will. Yes. Yes!”
Everyone in the room clapped. Sully must have been in on it because a bottle of champagne popped in the air.
When Elec placed the ring on my finger, I gasped. “Elec, this is the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen, but there is no way you could afford it.”
The diamond was at least two carats and channel set with small stones all around the white gold or platinum band.
He stood up and pressed his nose to mine. “This ring is the one that Patrick gave Pilar all those years ago. Money was no object to him. Mami stopped wearing it after Patrick died but didn’t want to part with it. She held onto it all these years. I hadn’t ever seen it before, but she showed it to me just before I moved here. I immediately asked if I could have it, knowing I wanted to give it to you someday. She gave it to me, but I insist on paying her back eventually. This ring once represented a lot of pain for my family, but I don’t look at it that way now. If it weren’t for all of that, there’d be no us, and I couldn’t imagine that. This ring is an indestructible piece of light among all the darkness that was my past. It reminds me of your love for me. It is the ring for you.”
A year later, on New Years Eve, Elec and I had a private ceremony officiated by a justice of the peace. I wore my hair up. He was happy about that.
A big wedding wasn’t necessary; we just wanted to make it official. We chose New Years Eve as a way of sticking it to fate.
After a nice dinner alone at Charlie’s Pub following the wedding, we joined the crowd in Times Square.
When the ball dropped, Elec lifted me into a passionate kiss that more than made up for our lost opportunity here five years ago.
When he put me down, I whispered into his ear and gave him the surprise of his life.
Later that night, he’d put his head on my tummy, and cleverly joked in typical Elec fashion about how we belonged in a reality TV show: he’d now officially become his brother’s bastard child who impregnated his stepsister.
The Final Chapter: True Romance
“Are you baby O’Rourke’s father?”
An unfamiliar twinge developed in my heart upon the nurse’s use of that term. “Yes. That’s me. I’m the father.”
My whole life had seemingly been defined by being the antithesis of father. I was the son: bastard son, bad son, estranged son. But now, I was the father. It was my turn to be…the father.
“Can I check your identification please?”
I lifted my arm and showed her the plastic bracelet locked around my wrist. I wanted to wear it forever. Gangrene may not have even been a good enough reason to cut that thing off.
“Follow me,” she said.
I’d missed the birth. I’d been visiting Mami in California when Greta called me to say her water broke. She was only thirty-four weeks along, so I thought it was safe to take a quick trip out there before my time became more limited than ever.
I immediately packed up and started driving to the airport once I realized she was likely in labor.
The next thing I knew, Sully was calling me to say Greta had been taken in for an emergency c-section. I panicked because I wasn’t even on the plane yet. I knew I wouldn’t make it in time. The worst kind of helpless feeling came over me. I prayed probably for the first time ever. It’s funny how you can spend your entire life wondering if there’s a God until suddenly in a time of crisis, you’re begging Him for help as if you’d never doubted He existed.
Sully sent me a text shortly before I boarded. It was a picture of my son.
I remember I’d been walking out of the bathroom and just froze, staring at my phone in awe. I looked around me as if everyone should have known that this was the most monumental moment in the history of the universe. The message said the baby was taken to the NICU but was fine. Greta was fine. They were fine.
Thank you, God. I swear I’ll never doubt you again.
Tears stung my eyes as I looked down at the picture while I walked through the gate and onto the plane. I think I must have stared at the photo for the entire six hours.
When I finally arrived at the hospital, Greta was sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake her, but I couldn’t wait another minute to meet my son.
The nurse led me to where he was asleep in the incubator.
If I thought the photo made me emotional, there was no comparison to seeing him in person, watching his little chest rise and fall.
“He’s breathing on his own, and all his vitals are good. He should only have to be in here five to six days.”
“Can I hold him?”
“Yes. We just ask that you wash your hands with the antibacterial soap over there and put on one of these masks.”
I wasted no time heading to the sink, lathering my hands and placing the paper mask over my mouth.
She took him out and handed him to me. His warm body was swaddled in a blanket and felt light as a feather. Suddenly, I became terrified, not only of keeping him safe for the rest of his life but worried even about the ride home through the city. He was so fragile, and yet this tiny being comprised everything in the world that now mattered to me. Talk about holding the world in the palm of your hand. I wished I could carry him home in a breathable non-destructive display case with a lock. I wanted to shield him from everything this crazy world had to offer.
Looking down at his little face made me truly realize that everything I’d been through in life was supposed to happen exactly as it had. It couldn’t have transpired any other way if it meant that this little person never came to be.
He had Randy’s nose, which was also Patrick’s. It was uncanny. With his lighter hair, he looked even more like them than I did. How ironic that through all of the hate, love was spawned in their likeness.
Chills ran through me when I realized today—his birthday—was the 22nd but didn’t let it bother me one way or the other.
“Hey, little buddy. It’s Daddy. I’m your daddy.”
His eyelids flickered, and he started to squirm in my arms.
“You don’t have to wake up. I’ll still be here. You won’t be able to get rid of me for a very long time.”
He opened his little hand, and I watched his tiny fingers close around my pinky. I wondered where any of my inspiration to write even came from before him. I knew that from now on, every last bit of it would be derived from my son.
Letting go of all lingering anger from the past was going to be more necessary now than ever. There would no longer be room for any of it in my heart. I needed all the room for him. It was in that moment holding my son when I knew I had to truly forgive Patrick and Randy. They’d schooled me on what not to do as a father. I’d make up for their mistakes by giving my own son more love than he’d know what to do with.
It may have seemed strange, but I quietly thanked Randy for what he had given me. In life, he led me to my one true love. In death, he made it possible to find her again.
Through death there was life. Through hate there was love. I looked down at my son. “In the end, there was you, and that made it all worth it.”
In the same way that you can easily switch the letters of a word around to see another hidden meaning, such is life. A life can be defined by its hardships or its blessings. It’s all a matter of how you look at it. So, while this book was once setting up to be a tragic tale, it turned into a love story, an imperfect but unconventionally epic romance.
Scramble the letters of romance, you get Cameron. Greta came up with that one all on her own. It was her very first anagram.
I love you, Cameron.