“Yeah.” I nodded and took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

The events that took place next seemed to occur in rapid succession. As we walked back toward the booth, I heard silverware flying and then a loud crashing sound. A crowd of people gasped before I caught sight of Bentley on the ground and Elec kicking the shit out of him. Bentley’s face was bloody, and Elec’s mouth was also bleeding.

“Elec, what are you doing?!” I screamed.

He continued kicking Bentley with all his might.

The restaurant manager ran toward us along with a waiter who assisted him in pulling Elec away from Bentley who was keeling over on the ground in pain.

I bent down. “Bentley, what happened?”

“That lunatic punched me for no reason and so, I hit him back. Then, he just started beating the shit out of me. I tripped, and he started kicking me when I was down.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“You don’t look fine.”

I helped him up, and he leaned against me. The two men were still holding Elec down as police sirens approached in the distance.

What was happening?

Victoria walked over to Elec. “What the hell is going on?”

He spit some blood onto the floor. “Do not let her leave with him.”

I looked over at Bentley. “What started this? I don’t understand.”

“Nothing. That freak just attacked me.”

“You f**king liar,” Elec spewed as he lunged forward to charge at Bentley again, but the men holding his arms restrained him.

Two officers walked in and began questioning each of the guys in separate corners. Victoria and I just stood at the sidelines, dazed and confused as to what could have possibly happened in the short time we were in the bathroom to have caused this. I’d wished I could have heard what they were saying to the officers, but they were too far away.

After they were released, Elec walked straight past Victoria and over to me. “Let’s go. You’re not getting in his car.”

“Who the f**k do you think you are, trying to take my date home?” Bentley shouted.

“I am her home, f**knut.”

CHAPTER 6

The cab ride with Elec and Victoria that night had been extremely uncomfortable. Bentley had freaked out and taken off in his car after he found out Elec was actually my stepbrother. The cause of what happened in that diner remained a mystery to me. The entire way back, Elec said nothing to either one of us. He sat in the front while we sat in the backseat.

When we got home and he went upstairs to his room, he slammed the door so hard, it made me jump. I’d thought about trying to talk to him, but my better instincts told me to just let him be alone.

By the time I woke up the following Saturday morning, Elec had already left to work the entire day at the bike shop.

My mother sat at the granite island in our kitchen on the stool next to me. “Do you wanna tell me what happened last night? Randy got a call from his cop friend saying that Elec was involved in a fight over at the diner and that you were with him?”

I put down my coffee and rubbed my temples. “We were having dinner…Elec, Victoria, myself and this guy, Bentley, from school. Elec and he got into a fight. We don’t know what started it because it happened when Vic and I went to the bathroom. So, I really don’t know much more than you.”

“Well, your stepfather is fuming, and I don’t know what to do about it.”

“He needs to just let it go. Guys get into it sometimes, and it may not have been Elec’s fault. You need to explain that to him.”

“There’s no talking to Randy when it comes to Elec. I don’t understand it.”

“Neither do I.”

***

I’d decided I was going to talk to Elec that night and had been waiting for him to come home all day. The bike shop closed at six, so I’d expected him back by seven, but he never came home.

Unable to sleep, a sinking feeling came over me. Finally, around midnight, I heard footsteps and the doorknob to Elec’s room slowly turn.

At least, he was home.

About a minute later, came the sound of his door busting open.

“What the f**k, Elec? You reek of alcohol,” I heard Randy yell.

I jumped up and plastered my ear to the wall.

“Hey Da-da,” Elec seemed to be slurring his words.

“Boy, you just continue to make me so damn proud. First, you start a fight and humiliate me in front of this entire community and now, you have the gall to set foot in my house tonight drunk? Well, you’re gonna wish you never came home.”

“Really? What are you gonna do? Hit me? That’s the one thing you haven’t done. I’m so ready for it.”

“You would love that, wouldn’t you? No. I’m not gonna hit you.”

“Right…you’re not going to hit me. You’re just gonna hate me…like you always have. Sometimes, I wish you’d just hit me once and for all then leave me the f**k alone.”

“You’re a loser, Elec.”

“Tell me something you haven’t before.”

“Okay, then, I’ve got news for you. I’m not going to help you pay for college after all. You’re on your own. I’ve made the decision tonight. I’m taking the money I would have allotted you and giving it all to Greta.”

What? No!

Randy continued, “I’m not wasting my hard-earned money on a f**k-up who wants to be a pansy writer. If you decide you want to have a real career some day, come talk to me. Until then, I’m not spending a dime on you.”

“You were never planning on paying for my college anyway, and you know it.”

“Why would I want to…for someone who’s done nothing but disappoint me from the day he was born?”

“That was the start, wasn’t it…the day I was born? I never even stood a f**king chance, did I? Because Mami never aborted me like you asked her to.”

“That’s a f**king lie. Did she tell you that?”

“Even if she hadn’t told me, I could have guessed it. Is that why you’ve been slowly killing me with your words my entire life to make up for it?”

My heart was breaking.

“Have I? Then why aren’t you dead yet, Elec?”

I gasped in horror. I couldn’t stand back and listen to this anymore. I ran into the next room and was even more horrified to find Elec sitting at the edge of his bed with his head in his hands. The smell of alcohol on him was pungent. His back was rising and falling with the heavy breaths that escaped him.

“Randy…stop! Please stop!” My stepfather stood there with his arms crossed, looking at me blankly. In that moment, the man standing in front of me might as well have been a total stranger. “He’s your son. Your son!  I don’t care what you convince yourself he did to deserve it, there is nothing that could ever justify talking to your child like that.”

“Greta, you don’t understand our history…” Randy said.

“I don’t need to know anything to understand that the words that came out of your mouth tonight cut deeper than any weapon ever could. And I’m not gonna stand here and let you abuse him like that.”

Neither of them said anything. The room was silent. Elec’s breathing seemed to have calmed down and with that, so did mine.

I turned back to Randy. “You need to leave.”

“Greta—”

“Leave!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.

Randy shook his head and walked out of the room, leaving me alone with Elec who was still in the same position.

I ran to my room and returned with a bottle of water, putting it up to his mouth. “Drink this.”

He gulped it down in one sitting then crushed the plastic and threw it. I kneeled down to pull off his shoes.

He was slurring his words and muttering something I couldn’t understand.

I stood up and pulled his blankets down. “Lie down.”

He took his jacket off, throwing it clumsily onto the ground and crawled over to his pillow. He lay on his stomach and closed his eyes.

I sat at the side of the bed and was still shaken by what I’d walked in on. I felt so badly for Elec and was so ashamed of Randy. I knew I needed to talk to my mother tomorrow. How could she have not overheard and intervened tonight?

Elec’s breathing had evened out. He had fallen asleep. I ran my hand once through his silky black hair, relishing the ability to touch him freely without his knowing it. My index finger brushed lightly over the cut on his lip that he sustained from the fight with Bentley. It was right around his lip ring, and I shuddered when I realized that his lip must have torn.

The reason for the constant anger he exhibited was now clearer to me than ever, yet I still felt like I knew nothing about Elec’s life.

He looked so innocent in his sleep. Without the smirking or the glare of his eyes, it was easier to see past his harsh exterior in order to catch a glimpse of the boy hiding beneath—the same boy I now realized had been damaged by the man married to my mother.

A teardrop fell down my cheek as I adjusted his blanket before exiting the room.

Back in my own bed, I thought about how ironic it was that this guy who’d done nothing but try to chase me away and intimidate me was the one person in the world I felt like I wanted to protect.

***

By the time I got up the next morning, Randy and my mother had already taken off for an overnight trip out to the Western part of the state.

Mom had left me a note on the kitchen counter:

Randy surprised me in the wee hours of the morning with an early birthday trip to the Berkshires. He’d already packed the car by the time I woke up! I didn’t want to wake you. It will only be one night. We’ll be back late Monday. There are plenty of leftovers for you and Elec in the fridge. Call my cell if you need anything. Love you.

How convenient. I was sure my stepfather had arranged this to avoid having to deal with what happened last night. I immediately grabbed my phone and texted her:

Enjoy your trip, but when you get back we seriously need to talk about what’s going on with Randy and Elec.

Elec didn’t come downstairs until two that afternoon. He looked like death warmed over as he dragged his feet over to the coffeepot, his hair disheveled and his eyes bloodshot.

“Good morning, sunshine,” I said.

His voice was groggy as he whispered, “Hey.” He poured some coffee into a mug and nuked it.

“So, apparently, our parents took off on an overnight trip. They’ll be back Monday night.”

“That’s too bad,” he said.

“That they went away?”

He took a sip of coffee and said, “No, that they’re coming back.”

“I’m sorry abou—”

“I can’t do this.” He shut his eyes and held out his palm. “I can’t talk to you. Every time you speak, it sounds like a chainsaw.”

“Sorry. I get it. You’re hungover.”

“Well, there’s that, too.”

I rolled my eyes, and he winked, causing my heart to flutter.

I sat with my legs crossed on the sofa adjacent to the kitchen. “What are your plans today?”

“Well, first I have to find my f**king head.”

I laughed. “And then?”

“I dunno,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

“Would you want to get some takeout later?” I asked, trying hard to seem casual.

He looked apprehensive and rubbed the scruff on his chin. “Um…”

“What?”

He checked his phone. “No, actually, ugh…I have a date.”

“With who?”

“With, um…”

“You don’t know?” I laughed.

He scratched his forehead. “Give me a minute…”

I shook my head. “That’s sad.”

“Oh! With Kylie…yeah…Kylie.”

If Kylie only knew how interchangeable she was. I was just secretly relieved he didn’t say Victoria, because I knew she still had it in her mind to contact him despite the scene he caused on our “double date.” She’d texted him at least once yesterday, and her desperation really annoyed me.

Early that evening, I’d curled up on the couch with my book when Elec walked downstairs. I instinctively sat up and straightened my clothing. His cologne wafting through the room was enough of an aphrodisiac before I even turned to look at him. He was dressed in black pants and a fitted maroon shirt rolled up at the sleeves. His hair was styled into a controlled mess, and aside from the cut that remained on his bottom lip, he looked better than I’d ever seen him. Actually, even the damn cut was sexy. The energy in the room seemed to change anytime he walked into it. All of my senses were hyperaware of him.

I remembered his text from the other night: Have some self-respect. Ugh. I forced myself to return to my book since apparently, I couldn’t seem to hide my attraction whenever I looked at him. Just thinking about that text again had put me in a bad mood. I had kind of forgotten about my vow to never look at him again after everything that happened with Bentley and Randy.

He grabbed his keys. “I’m headed out.”

“Okay,” I said, making sure to keep my eyes fixed on the book.

The door slammed shut, and I breathed out a sigh of relief. It had been a long time since I had the house to myself and although the pathetic side of me wished Elec had stayed in, there was something to be said for privacy.

I ended up ordering some Chinese takeout to be delivered. Shortly after I opened the carton of shrimp lo mein, the text alert on my phone sounded.


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