Fate - 2
To Emily, my "soldier girl," I LOVE that I had you "shaking in your combat boots!" ;)
The demanding knock on the door should’ve been his first clue that something was wrong. Brandon stood from where he’d been sitting staring at his ailing, sleeping father and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. It couldn’t be his mom. She had a key, and she always came in through the garage door anyway.
Glancing out the door window, Brandon was surprised to see who it was. He opened the door and smiled. “Hey, Sal.” He started to unlatch the screen door. “Damn, how long has it been?”
Sal pulled the door open roughly. “This isn’t a social visit, Billings.”
The murderous glare in Sal’s eye surprised Brandon. Of Sofia’s three brothers, Sal had always been the calmest one. They all lived up the street, and he’d known them most of his life, but he had a feeling what this was about. So he stepped out onto the porch, closing the door behind him.
“Okay, so why are you here?”
“I think you know exactly why I’m here: that stunt you pulled on my sister last summer.”
“That wasn’t a stunt—”
“Bullshit!” Sal stepped closer to him, and again, the anger radiating off him came as a total surprise. Sal wasn’t even the bulldog of her brothers. What had Sofie told him really happened? “You knew the moment you invited her back to your house what your plans were.”
“No, I didn’t. I just—”
“Yes, you did!” Sal’s raised voice, startling Brandon further, and he hoped this conversation wouldn’t wake his dad. “You knew damn well that because of Angel, Alex, and me she’d never been put in that kind of predicament.” Moving even closer, Sal got right in his face. “You took advantage of my sister, motherfucker, and I swear to God you’re lucky it’s not Angel or Alex here having this conversation with you. But know this: just because I’m not doing to you what they wanted to do doesn’t mean I won’t. It’s in the past now, and even so, I’m here instead of them because if I’d let one of them do this, you’d end up in the hospital and I’d be bailing them out by the time this was all over. I don’t know how long you’re in town this time, but get this straight, Billings. You get one warning. One. You stay the fuck away from Sofie, or I’m coming after you personally.”
“Sal, I swear to you—”
“I don’t wanna hear it.” Sal said, already walking away. “I don’t give a shit what your reasons were. Bottom line is she told you she was in a relationship. So you knew what you were doing wasn’t right, but you did it anyway.”
“Does she feel this way too?”
Sal turned around at the bottom of the porch steps. “Do yourself a favor, and forget about what my sister thinks about anything where you’re concerned. She knows I’m down here right now, and she knows after today your ass will stay away from her or you’ll be answering to me.”
Brandon watched Sal walk away, knowing full well he meant every word. Even before he’d come back to this godforsaken neighborhood with all the memories of his fucked childhood, the reality of knowing he never had a shot at the only girl who’d ever pulled him out of his bitter existence had been a tough pill to swallow. He knew this was the final nail in that coffin. Not only did he have to finally accept that he and Sofie would never be but her brothers were making him out to be a monster who took advantage of her.
He walked back in the house, closing the door a little harder than he should. Fuck Sofie and her brothers! He’d never given a shit what any of them thought of him, and he wouldn’t start now.
Finally, Brandon’s mother gave up trying to coax him out of his room. He swallowed down another swig of good ole Jack Daniels straight from the bottle, and Brandon’s mind repeated the same thing it’d been repeating for the last hour. He’d been sitting there, reflecting on his miserable life on that New Year’s Eve. The only home he’d ever known, aside from the ones he’d lived in since he enlisted, was being sold. In less than a week, he’d be moving away for good. The father he’d lived to impress his entire life, and never had until just recently, had only a few months, maybe weeks, to live. He and his mother would be alone soon as he’d wished for so many years growing up; only it wasn’t what he wanted now. Damn it.
He’d finally proven to that man that he was worthy of his love. His dad had finally said the words he’d yearned to hear his entire life. I’m proud of you, son. And now he was dying? This was bullshit!
He’d never been one to cower down, no matter how bad things got. And no matter how fucking unfair his life had always been, he wasn’t one to feel sorry for himself, but in the last few days, he’d been close to breaking.
The image of Sofie’s beautiful face came to him, reminding him just how unfair life really was. The kiss they shared last summer hadn’t been just a kiss, and he couldn’t stop wondering how different things might’ve been if he’d just taken it slower.
Growing up, Sofie was the only one, aside from his mother, who’d shed a little light on his wretched existence. His senior year they’d grown close. He lived for that one hour each day he got to spend with her in his Geometry class. Being a loner his whole life, because he dared not get close to anyone who might ask him about his personal life, he’d never made a bond with anyone—until Sofie.
Senior year he’d been certain he felt something from her—seen it in her eyes when they spoke all through class. She felt what he’d been feeling.
But she was too young, and his loser ass was in no way good enough for her. Besides that, she’d been, and apparently still was, surrounded by her three older, ridiculously overprotective brothers, who would make sure he knew it. He never forgot her, not even when he left to the Marines for years. He thought of her the whole time, thought of what might’ve been. So last summer when he came home on his leave, he’d decided since she was older and he’d made such an about-face with his life he’d go for it. He was determined to prove to her and her brothers that he was worthy of her.
Seeing her for the first time in years had been breathtaking. She was even more beautiful than he’d remembered. Then she dropped the bomb. He was too late. She was already in a relationship. It made sense too, who she’d ended up with. Eric was her brother’s best friend since they were all kids. He’d had access to being around her by default all those years. Of course the guy had staked his claim on her the moment she was allowed to date.
Not only had Eric always had a better chance because of his friendship with her brothers he had something else—he was Hispanic. Brandon didn’t think Sofie or her brothers were racist against white folk or anything, but he’d seen it all through high school. Girls like Sofie tended to stick to their own kind. Her family was very traditional. At all the parties they’d thrown all year long, there had been mariachi bands playing traditional Spanish music. Hell they owned and ran a Mexican restaurant. If her family had a choice between the rich college Hispanic guy they’d known and trusted all their lives and the loner white boy from that house up the street where the cops were often called for domestic disturbances as a suitor for their little princess, naturally Eric was the hands-down winner.
Still, even as she’d told him about her and Eric, Brandon was convinced he saw something deep within her. There was something still there. He’d seen it in those big beautiful eyes and felt it when he’d finally kissed her last summer. She’d been as willing as he was. That’s why a few days after Sal’s visit he’d followed her to the beach where she ran. He had to make sure she didn’t believe the bullshit her brothers were trying to feed her now.
He’d gone there with a tiny bit of hope. Maybe if he got the chance he had last summer to get close to her, he could do it differently. He’d take it slower this time. He was certain he saw the possibility of her falling in love with him—the possibility that maybe he could convince her to leave Eric for him. It would be worth not reenlisting and staying here to fight for that chance. If he thought there was even the faintest hope, he’d do it in a heartbeat. So he’d offered to apologize to her brothers and to Eric—try and get on their good side so that he could at least have a chance.
Even though she assured him she never told her brothers he took advantage of her, that it was the conclusion they came to on their own, she did agree with her brothers that what she and Brandon had done was wrong, a mistake, and that he needed to stay away from her now. But her response to him wanting to try to make amends with Eric and her brothers had left him once again with uncertainty and a bit of optimism.
“The damage is done, Brandon. We had a chance to be friends, and we blew it. Eric was actually okay with me running with you until . . .”
As tiny as it was, Brandon was still clinging to that glimmer of hope—hope that maybe she was regretting having blown their chance as much as he was.
Taking another swig of the whisky, Brandon pondered that. Maybe if he told her how he felt about her, she would admit to her forbidden feelings as well. Was her response her way of cryptically trying to tell him she blew it too?
We blew it.
“We blew it,” he whispered bitterly.
But would she be saying that if she knew how he really felt? Would she be so quick to dismiss any further chance if he told her?
He sat up, his head spinning a little, and he laughed stupidly then immediately frowned. How the hell was he supposed to tell her now when he had to sneak around and follow her like a creeper just to have a conversation with her? Even she had cut him short the other day at the beach.
Flinging the pocket knife he’d been flipping open and shut across the room, he stood up. Life sucked! Out of nowhere, Sal’s words suddenly slammed into him. Stay the fuck away from Sofie, or I’m coming after you personally.
“Fuck no!” He took another swig of from the near empty bottle. “No, Sal. I won’t stay away from her, not until I tell her how I feel!”
He set the bottle down on his desk and charged out the door. The entire hallway moved from side to side as he walked through it.
“Where are you going?” His mother’s anxious eyes searched his.
“To see a friend,” he said, walking past her.
“Brandon, you’re drunk!”
For some reason that made him laugh. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
“You shouldn’t go out like this.” His mother warned.
“Don’t worry. I’m not driving,” he said as he pushed through the front door.
The cool fresh air hit him like smelling salts, and he shook his head. Until that moment, he hadn’t realized how buzzed he really was. Even drunk he knew this was a bad idea, but he continued his long strides with even more conviction. The entire cul-de-sac where Sofie lived was packed with cars. Of course, he expected nothing less. At every party her family had ever had, they’d had a ton of people. A New Year’s party for them would be huge.
There were a few men just outside her front door as he walked up the circular driveway. He recognized Sarah, Sofie’s brother Angel’s girl, tying balloons around the mailbox out front, so he approached her.
She turned, and he actually saw the color in her green eyes pale. “Brandon?”
“Can you get S-sofie for me? I need to talk to her.”
She shook her head. “She’s not here.” Turning to the front door, she glanced back at Brandon, quickly lowering her voice. “You shouldn’t be here, Brandon.”
He knew this wouldn’t be easy, but he was determined. “I know she’s here.” His struggle to keep from slurring was pissing him off. “You guys are having a party. Where else would she be? Can you . . .? Can you just get her for me? I—” The sidewalk suddenly shifted underneath his feet, and he stumbled sideways but recovered quickly. “I need to talk to her before I leave.”
“I’m telling you the truth. She’s at the restaurant.” She gasped, looking behind him. Just as he turned, he saw Angel turn back toward the garage. “He almost saw you. You better go. I’m serious. They’re all here, and they do not want you around Sofia.”