“I hurt you,” he said, his fingers still locked around my skin.
“It’s okay,” I whispered. My eyes were still closed.
Elec quickly moved his hand off of me when we heard footsteps.
“There you are,” Chelsea said as she walked toward where we sat on the couch. “I don’t blame you two for wanting a breather. This night has been exhausting.”
I immediately got up and offered her probably the fakest smile I’d ever conjured up in my life. My heart was still racing from what I’d just experienced.
“The priest is getting ready to lead a prayer. I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it,” she said to him. “Are you feeling okay to head back upstairs?”
“Yeah…uh…I’m fine,” he said. “Let’s go.”
He gave me a quick look that was hard to read before turning around toward the stairs with Chelsea. I followed them and watched as he placed his hand on the small of her back, the same hand that had just been wrapped around my neck a minute ago.
After the wake, Greg and Clara invited a few people back to their house for tea and pastry. My mother felt obligated to go, which meant I needed to stay with her and drive her home.
Mom and I were the last to leave the funeral home, so by the time we got to the house, the dining room table was full of people. The house smelled like freshly made coffee and the blueberry scones Clara had just taken out of the oven.
I wished I could have just gone home and slept, though. Tomorrow would be another long day with the funeral. I didn’t even know when Elec was leaving to go back to California and assumed he wouldn’t be staying much longer than tomorrow.
Elec and Chelsea were nowhere to be found. Even though it was none of my business, I couldn’t help wondering where they were and what they were doing.
Just as soon as I’d had the thought, Chelsea appeared in the living room, carrying a scone on a paper plate. She had changed out of her black dress and into some casual shorts and a t-shirt. Her hair was tied into a loose ponytail, and she appeared younger without any makeup.
“Hey, Greta. Can I join you?” She sat next to me before I even responded.
“Sure.” I scooted over on the loveseat.
“I’m glad you came back here,” she said. “Greg and Clara’s house is really nice, isn’t it? I’m so glad we’re staying here instead of a hotel.”
“I hope to own a house someday, but with our salaries at the youth center, it’ll be a while before that happens. Our apartment back home is really small.”
“How long have you lived together?”
“Just a few months. We’ve been together almost a year. Elec was hesitant to move further away from his mother, but he eventually gave in. Pilar wasn’t well for a long time. You know that, right?”
“Yes. I knew she had issues.”
“Well, the past year has been a lot better. She actually has a boyfriend now…but when she found out Randy died, she took it really hard, so we’re worried she’ll have a relapse.”
“Where’s Elec now?”
“He’s just upstairs.”
“How is he doing?”
“Actually…he’s acting really strange tonight.”
“What do you mean?”
She looked around to make sure no one was listening to our conversation. “Okay…well, we left the wake a little early and came back here. He…”
She leaned in and whispered, “He wanted to have sex.”
I nearly regurgitated my tea.
Why in God’s name was she telling me this?
I coughed. “Is that unusual?”
“No, I mean…he has a huge sexual appetite, but this was different.”
Huge sexual appetite…
I did my best to play it casual and pretend I wasn’t sick to my stomach over this conversation, which I was pretty sure would traumatize me. “Different?”
“We got back here, and he immediately dragged me upstairs and started ripping my clothes off. It was like he was doing it to bury his feelings, to forget about tonight. And I understood that. But then, once we started, he couldn’t finish. The look in his eyes…it was like his mind was somewhere else. Then, he just ran to the bathroom, slammed the door, and I heard the shower running.”
“Did he say anything after?”
“It must have had something to do with everything that happened tonight,” I said.
And by that, I don’t mean him wrapping his hand around my neck, Chelsea.
“I can’t leave him like this,” she said.
“What do you mean leave him?”
“He didn’t tell you? I can’t stay for the funeral.”
“My flight leaves at nine in the morning. My sister is getting married tomorrow night. I know…a Friday night wedding, right? I guess having it on a weeknight cut the cost of the venue in half. But it still sucks for the rest of us who have to work or have lives. I’m her maid of honor. The timing couldn’t be worse.”
She was leaving.
“When is Elec going back?”
“His flight is Saturday night.”
She crossed her legs and took a bite of the scone. “Was he always this complex? I mean, when he was younger?”
“From the brief time I knew him, I would say so…yes. His writing books is a good example of that.”
She tilted her head. “His writing…books?”
She didn’t know?
“Oh…uh…just something he toyed around with. I shouldn’t have brought it up. It’s irrelevant.”
“Wow, I need to ask him about that. I can’t believe I didn’t know he liked to write. Books about what?”
How could he not have told her?
I started to panic. “Just fiction. Don’t say I told you.” I shook my head, urging her to drop it. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
His voice was cold. “No. You shouldn’t have.”
We both turned at the same time to find Elec standing in front of us.
The icy stare he gave me was all the indictor I needed that I’d made a big mistake. But it was too late. Now, he was the one that had to do damage control.
Chelsea patted the seat next to her. “Come here, baby. Why would you not tell me you used to write? That’s so cool.”
“It’s not really a big deal. It was just a hobby I had when I was a teenager.”
It wasn’t a hobby; it was a passion.
Why aren’t you writing anymore?
“I can’t believe you never told me,” she said.
He brushed it off. “Well, now you know.”
I was waiting for him to look at me so that I could at least mouth a silent apology, but he never gave me the opportunity.
Clara walked into the room. “Elec, can I get you anything?” she asked.
“You got it.”
She returned with three shot glasses filled with some kind of amber-colored liquor. Elec downed the first two immediately.
Chelsea whispered to me. “See? Promise you’ll keep an eye on him for me, okay?”
Elec slammed the last shot glass down after finishing its contents. “She doesn’t need to keep an eye on me,” he spewed.
“You know how badly I feel about leaving you alone.”
“You shouldn’t. I’ll be fine. I’ll be home before you wake up on Sunday morning.”
He’d be gone again before I knew it.
She leaned her head on his shoulder. Elec had changed into jeans, and his feet were bare. That triggered a flashback to the night he initially opened up to me in my bedroom when I noticed for the first time how beautiful his feet were bare. I willed the thought away because when Chelsea had asked me to keep an eye on him, I hardly think she meant ogling him.
My mother walked into the living room. “Honey, I think I need to get home and rest up for tomorrow.”
“Okay, we’ll get going.” I couldn’t get off that couch fast enough.
Chelsea stood up. “Greta, I won’t see you again. I can’t tell you how good it was to meet you. I hope we’ll meet again.”
“Likewise.” I lied.
As I hugged her, I looked behind her shoulder at Elec and mouthed, “I’m sorry,” hoping he’d forgive me for letting the cat out of the bag about his writing. He just looked at me with an unreadable expression. While I couldn’t understand why he never mentioned it to her if they were so serious, that didn’t matter. I’d once again overstepped my boundaries when it came to him. Despite whatever that was between us downstairs at the funeral home, I had no real place in his life anymore. I made a vow then and there to keep my distance from him tomorrow unless he sought me out.
He doesn’t need me. He has her. That would be my mantra.
She hugged my mother. “Sarah, please accept my sincerest condolences again. I’m so sorry that I have to be in California for my sister’s wedding tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” my mother said. I could tell she was exhausted.
Chelsea whispered into my ear. “Thank you for letting me vent about that stuff earlier, too.”
Thank you for traumatizing me.
In another life, this girl could have been my best friend. I could just tell she was the kind of person you could call at any hour of the night to vent about all your problems. She was that nice, and I was that evil for the amount of relief I’d felt knowing that she’d be leaving on a jet plane tomorrow morning.
Now, the only hurdle would be getting through the next twenty-four hours. Then, Elec would be on a plane, too and out of my life again.
It didn’t quite turn out to be that simple.
It was a beautiful day despite the somber mood. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and I’d actually managed to sleep. But this wasn’t your ordinary beautiful spring morning in Boston. Today, my mother would have to bury a husband for the second time in her life, and Elec would have to bury his father.
I hadn’t realized until Chelsea told me she was leaving last night how much anxiety her presence had caused. Even though I’d have to face Elec again, today didn’t feel half as horrible as yesterday.
When I walked into my mother’s room, she was sitting on the bed holding a picture of Randy and her on their wedding day. She had been wearing a simple white suit for their ceremony at Boston City Hall. They seemed really happy together back then.
“He had a lot of demons, but he loved me,” she said. “That was probably the only thing I was certain of when it came to him.”
I wrapped my arm around her and took the picture frame from her grasp. “I remember that day like it was yesterday.”
“This marriage…it was like a fresh start for him, but he was never able to resolve his past or his anger over it. He never opened up to me about it, and I never pushed it.”
She continued, “I didn’t really want to know everything, I guess. After the pain of losing your father, I just wanted something easy. It was a bit selfish of me.” She started to cry. “I’d been prying lately, and it caused a lot of tension. I felt ashamed for never getting involved in the situation with Elec. I was living in a bubble.”
“Well, neither of them made it easy to figure out how to help,” I said.
She wiped her eyes and looked at me. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
“Me? Go through what?”
“Seeing Elec with her…with Chelsea.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know, Greta.”
“What do you think you know?”
“I know what happened between you and him the night before he left for California.”
I put the picture I’d been holding down on the bed to prevent it from accidentally smashing to the ground in the midst of my shock. “What?”
“I’d gotten up early that day. Elec didn’t know I saw him leaving your room to go back to his. Then, later that afternoon, after I came home from running errands, I went to check on you, but you had gone to the store. I found a condom wrapper in your room, and there was a little blood on your sheets. The week after he left, you were so depressed. I wanted to tell you I knew. I wanted to be there for you but didn’t want to embarrass you or get anyone in trouble with Randy. He would have blown a gasket. I kept telling myself that you were eighteen, and if you wanted me to know, you would have told me.”
“Wow. I just can’t believe you knew all this time.”
“He was your first…”
She held my hand. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.”
“It’s okay. Like you said, it was better that you kept it quiet.”
“Was it…just sex…or was it more?”
“It was a lot more to me. I think he felt the same way at the time. But that doesn’t matter now.”
“He seems pretty settled with that girl.”
“Yeah. They live together.”
“He’s not married, though.”
I squinted my eyes. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Just that if there’s anything left unsaid between the two of you, this might be your last opportunity to get it out in the open. With Randy gone, we’ll likely never see Elec again after today.”