Authors: Elizabeth Reyes
“You’re out of your mind!” Alex sped up.
Brandon shook his head. “I won’t leave until—”
ex’s fist hit him just under the eye, and he stumbled back. “You won’t leave?” Alex roared as he landed another fist to Brandon’s mouth, making him fall back onto the hood of the parked car just in front of Sofie’s house. “You think I’m letting you anywhere near my sister, asshole?”
Brandon blinked, shaking his head again. He’d always thought the expression “seeing stars” was just that, an expression. But he was literally seeing stars or bright specs flashing as he continued to shake his head again, blinkin
g as he tried to clear his sudden double vision. Just as his vision was coming together and he could see straight, he noticed the amount of people who’d poured out of Sofie’s house. Sal, Angel, and some of the other men who were out there now held Alex back, but he could see it was a struggle.
“Get out of here, Brandon!” Sal yelled as Alex nearly came loose.
Even with the metallic-like taste of blood in his mouth, Brandon knew he was asking for it by staying, but he wasn’t leaving, not until he got his chance to talk to her. “I won’t leave!” he yelled, holding himself up against the car. “I wanna see Sofie!” He slurred, pounding on the hood of the car and pointed at the house. “Get her out here!” He turned up to the window on the second floor he knew was hers. “S-sofie!”
Alex came loose suddenly, and Brandon heard Alex’s mom cry out.
“Lo va a matar!”
“God damn it, Alex!” Sal reached out for Alex with both hands. “He’s not worth it!”
Alex grabbed Brandon by the throat, squeezing so hard Brandon’s ability to breathe was instantly blocked.
“She’s damn right. I am gonna kill him!” Alex growled as he slammed Brandon down against the car.
Between Sal, Angel, and several of the other men there, they finally pulled Alex off Brandon, and he held on to the car for dear life, gasping for air.
“Ya pues, hijo! Calmado!”
Alex’s dad tried in vain to calm him as they all held him back.
As Brandon continued to gasp and cough, he looked up at Alex. “H-hit me.” He gasped. “Hit me all you want!”
“You see. He wants me to!” Alex yelled, trying to get loose as they pulled him further away.
“I won’t leave until I talk to her,” Brandon said, rubbing his neck.
This time he said it with a little less conviction because he was beginning to feel as if he might pass out. Sal said something to Sarah, who rushed into the house.
The hope that maybe Sal had told Sarah to go get Sofie was squashed with the next words out of Sal’s mouth. “It’s not happening. Look around, Brandon.” Sal pointed at his brothers and everyone el
se out there. “Do you really think you’re gonna get to talk to her?”
“Like hell he is,” Alex yelled.
Brandon glanced around. It wasn’t just Sofia’s family out there anymore. Everyone who lived in her cul-de-sac was out in their front yards, watching the spectacle. Then he looked up the street and saw his mom standing there in tears with her hand over her mouth. Brandon’s shoulders slumped in defeat. As much as he felt like looking Sal in the eyes and telling him that he
talk to Sofie before he left, he wouldn’t give Sal another reason to make his mom cry.
Even as calm as Sal was acting compared to Alex and as drunk as Brandon still felt, he’d sobered up enough to know saying something like that to him right now would land another fist on his already ac
hing face. Some of the other guys in her family looked as if they were being held back now too. Brandon couldn’t care less about the physical pain. If his mother weren’t standing there, he’d gladly get pummeled just for the satisfaction of being able to tell all these fuckers he wasn’t giving up.
Pushing himself away from the car, he stumbled on his first steps.
“Brandon,” Sal said as he walked by him, his voice slightly lower and calmer now. Brandon didn’t turn to him, but he did stop. “Do
come back. You hear me? Stay the hell away from Sofia if you know what’s best for you.”
With a humorless chuckle, Brandon continued to walk but said nothing. Both Angel and Alex yelled out similar threats, but Brandon was done
listening. They couldn’t keep him from her forever.
Waiting by the pharmacy for his dad’s meds, Brandon stood there, feeling numb. When he’d taken the emergency leave to come home, he’d known his dad was bad, but he had no idea things had progressed this much.
His parents hadn’t even realized it either. When they put the house up for sale, the plan was they’d all move to Georgia together. Using the money they got from their astronomically-priced California home
, Brandon would buy a house in Georgia with cash. His mother would live off whatever was left from the sale and his dad’s pension. Considering the home prices in Georgia, there’d be plenty of money left over. Now his dad’s condition had taken such a turn the doctors said he was too ill to travel. The meds Brandon was picking up for him today were the last he’d ever pick up from a pharmacy for him because in a few days his dad would be admitted to a hospice where he’d live out the rest of what was left of his life.
Brandon wouldn’t even be there, since there was no way to know how long for sure his dad would be around and his leave was only temporary. Already strings had to be pulled to get a leave during the holidays on such short notice.
His reaction to seeing his dad’s condition decline so rapidly was not what he had expected. Brandon was certain he’d never felt his heart so heavy, not even through all he’d been through as a child. He’d always been able to just hold it all in and suck it up for his mom’s sake. She was going through enough as it was. She didn’t need to be brought down any lower by seeing his pain and fear.
He was determined, like all those times growing up, to be strong for his mom’s sake. Even though he’d been determined on New Year’s Eve to
see and talk to Sofie, in the last few days, watching his dad deteriorate before his eyes, he needed to focus now on his parents. He needed to get his dad situated in a hospice before he left. The house needed to be sold because his dad wasn’t going to be around for long. Then he needed to step up and look after his mom as his dad had asked him to when he could still hold a conversation without going into an agonizing fit of coughing.
It was all he was focusing on now, even though a small stubborn part of
him still wished he could’ve talked to Sofia one last time.
His number was called, and Brandon stepped up to pay for his father meds. He stared at the pharmacist as the man gave him some brief instructions, but Brandon barely heard anything he said. He pai
d and walked numbly through the store.
The moment he saw her car he froze. Sofie pulled into a parking spot and got out of her car. Brandon walked back into the store, not even sure what he’d say or how he’d approach her. All he knew was she was alone and
this could be his last chance ever to speak with her.
He stood behind one of the magazine racks so she wouldn’t see him immediately and watched as she walked in and passed him. Watching, he waited until she’d stopped somewhere. When he saw her stop in the
shampoo aisle, he was hit with brief reminder of how good her hair had smelled that day he kissed her. He’d come up from behind her, and, aside from how incredible it felt to have her body pressed against his, it was the first thing he’d noticed.
he walked toward her slowly. The closer he got, the more he knew exactly what he wanted her to know. After his drunken fiasco in front of her entire family, he knew if things weren’t impossible between them before, they were now. But he still had to tell her.
The moment she looked up at him she flinched. “Brandon!” Those beautiful eyes that had once smiled at him so warmly stared at him completely alarmed before looking around. “Did you follow me?”
“No, I was on my way out when I saw you pull in
“I can’t be around you. You have to understand—”
I know, Sof,” he said, cutting her off because he didn’t want to hear about her being so fucking forbidden to him anymore. “I just hoped I could speak with you before I left. Do you have a few minutes so we could go somewhere more private?”
“No!” She practically gasped.
Looking into her eyes this close again did something to him. She’d been the only one who could elicit these kinds of feeling in him. But now he felt something else—tortured. Any hope he had with her was gone. Yet he still needed her to hear what he had to say so he could just let it out and it wouldn’t be inside him anymore, tormenting him.
He glanced around, feeling desperate, and an emotion so unfamiliar began to overwhelm him. “Can you gi
ve me a second then, here?”
Sofia stared at him, still looking very apprehensive. “Make it fast.”
His emotions nearly betrayed him before he spoke, but he held it together and told her. “My old man is dying.”
The look of apprehension on her face was immedi
ately replaced with that of surprise then complete sympathy. Brandon told her all about his father’s lung cancer and how they’d be selling the house. Then he apologized for all the troubles he’d caused her and grief he put her family through on New Year’s Eve.
She didn’t comment on his apology; instead, she stared at him, her eyes completely distraught, and shook her head. “I’m so sorry, Brandon. I had no idea.”
He explained he was just there to pick up his old man’s meds, showing her the bag, but that he was glad he’d run into her because there was more he needed to tell her.
Sofie stared at the bag of meds for a moment then back at him a bit confused. “Tell me what?”
It felt wrong telling her right there in the middle of a drug store. “Are you sure we can’t go somewhere else to talk?”
“No way, Brandon,” she said immediately, and he knew there was no way she was going to budge.
He’d have to tell her here or forever hold it in. “I’m in love with you, Sof.”
The moment he heard
his whispered words he knew he’d made a mistake because he had to swallow back the giant-sized boulder in his throat that had been building the entire past week as he watched his dad slowly withering away. But it was too late now. It was too late to take it back, so he held it together, determined to finish. “I thought I was in high school. Last summer only confirmed it. I almost didn’t re-enlist because of that kiss.”
Her eyes welled up, but she said nothing. She didn’t have to. Her shaking head was enoug
h, but the expression of pity on her face was just another blow to his already aching heart.
“Don’t worry. I know it’s impossible. I just needed to tell you before I left.” He swatted the one fucking tear that escaped the corner of his eye away. “I needed
to say it to you if only once. I’m glad I got the chance.” He didn’t wait for her to respond. He couldn’t. He had to get out of there
but he couldn’t resist the urge to touch her just one last time, so he reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “Good-bye, Sof.”
That was it. He couldn’t stand there for even another moment and look into those stunned eyes, eyes that said without a doubt he’d been completely wrong. She’d never felt for him what he he’d been so delusional enough to think she might.
Pushing through the front doors of the store, he nearly growled. He was infuriated that he’d been so close to losing it in front of her, something he’d vowed years ago he’d never do, not when he’d had to watch his mother suffer at the mercy of his father’s rage, not when his dad turned that same rage on him, not even when he found out his father was dying, and certainly not over feeling his heart crushed by the only girl he’d ever had feelings for.
Nothing had ever been so clear and so fast. He felt like a complete
idiot now. All this time, he’d secretly been banking on the possibility that, deep inside, what he thought he felt from Sofie last summer had been real. Even when she’d taken it back just before he left again, making it clear she’d only been curious, his delusional heart was convinced she was just covering up—clearing her conscience.
The painful truth had never been so infuriatingly clear. She’d only been curious about what it’d be like to be with someone like him, someone she’d never take seriously in rea
l life. So she’d used the opportunity with his desperate ass to indulge that forbidden curiosity.
Throwing his dad’s meds on the passenger seat, he banged on the steering wheel. He’d almost done what he held back from doing all his life—something he’d prom
ised his dad he wouldn’t even do at his funeral—for a girl who never gave a shit about him. He’d almost broken down.
He finally understood what his father had meant all those years. That kind of deep emotion—the kind he felt suffocating his heart at that m
oment—was sacred. It was something that should remain deep inside.
had a right to know you were feeling it but yourself. Showing it was a sign of weakness. That’s exactly how he felt at that moment, like the weakest most pathetic idiot on the planet. At that moment, he vowed once again he’d never let anyone—no matter what—witness this side of him again.
It wasn’t even a week after he’d reported back to Georgia when he got the call. His dad had passed, and just like that, Brandon was back on a plane to attend the services. As expected, not too many people showed up. His father had never made many friends, and as hardened and difficult as he’d become over the years, any acquaintances he did have once upon a time had distanced themselves from him long ago.
Brandon took solace in the fact that he and his dad had finally begun to actually have a real father-son relationship, even though his dad had passed too soon afterward. He and his mom would move to Georgia permanently and start all over again. Mayb
e now he could rekindle that bond he once had with her. His mom had been the only one in his life to ever show him love. He’d felt it from her through and through. Brandon was determined to turn his life around—take away all the negativity that had built up all these years and live a normal happy life. Now that it was just he and his mom, he knew that could happen. She’d been waiting for this change as long as he had.
Days after the services, they somberly finished packing up the U-Haul truck with all their
belongings. Brandon would be driving it across the country. He wished that on such a long drive he and his mother could be in the same car. It would be a perfect way to start getting to know each other once again—talk about their new life and the neighborhoods they’d be shopping for their new home—but his mother would be driving their mini-van across the country.
Brandon had been tempted to rent a trailer and just haul the van as well, not just because he was looking to really talking to his mom but becaus
e she’d always been a nervous driver. The longest drive she’d ever made was just over two hours up north to Los Angeles. Still, she insisted she’d be fine.
“We’ll just take it nice and slow,” she smiled, squeezing his arm before getting in the van.
She wasn’t kidding about the nice and slow part. Eight hours later they’d barely made it a little past Tucson. He had a week to get back to the base. At this rate, it was going to take them twice that long.
As the clerk at the hotel they’d be staying at for the n
ight looked up the room, Brandon leaned against the counter. “Maybe I should rent that trailer, Ma.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m fine.”
Brandon shook his head. “It’s not that. I think it would speed up the trip. I only have until Monday to report back. At the rate we’re going, it’ll be at least Thursday before we get there.”
“You think so?” His mother frowned. “We had a bad start today. Tomorrow we’ll get up super early and see how far we get. If you still think we have to by the end of the night, we can rent one.
Exhaling, he gave in with a nod. After getting their things in their room, they left again to grab something to eat. During dinner, his mother told him about his father’s last dying wish. “Aside from the hope that someday you’d forgive him, he wanted gra
Chuckling humorously, Brandon shook his head as he scooped up a spoonful of mashed potatoes and ate them. He wouldn’t say it because he was determined to leave that darkness behind him. Saying that was a joke, considering what a rotten father
his dad had been his whole life, would definitely darken the mood. His father had taught him nothing about being a man much less a father. While he’d be eternally grateful to his superiors in the Marines who had showed him what honor and integrity were and had turned him into the man he was now, it wasn’t enough, not enough to erase the only example of a father he’d ever had. It didn’t take away that his father’s blood ran through his veins and the fact that he may very well turn into him someday.
he knows you never really got to experience what a bond between a father and a child should really be, so he wants you to experience it with your own child.”
Fighting the bitterness he felt over that statement, he almost gave in to retorting like he wanted
to. “Yeah, well just ’cause he fu—”He cleared his throat, taking a deep breath, and decided to start over instead. “I don’t think that’ll happen, but—”
“Why not?” His mother touched his hand and smiled weakly. “I’d
love grandchildren too. And honey,” she paused until he’d look her in the eyes, “despite what you remember of your father, he did have a heart. I know it’s very hard for you to understand why he was the way he was. He had so many personal demons he was fighting, but he did love you. I know what you’re thinking, Brandon.” She squeezed his arm. “You
your father. No matter how bad things got, you were always such a loving little boy, so mindful and sweet. Remember how you used to tend to me when I wasn’t well?”