Second Chance StepbrotherBy: Penny Wylder
Then our parents are calling, Susan looking for Josh, Dad looking for me. We both spring to our feet. Trade one last long glance before we retreat inside those cabins for the last time. Close the doors between us and go to bed to dream about what just happened, what it meant.
Is this the end, or only the beginning?
I fall asleep with that question dancing in my head.
Six Years Later…
“I’m sorry, you did what?” I’m standing in the middle of my dorm room wearing nothing but a towel. It’s early, way too early for me to be shouting like this, I know. My roommate Becca shoots me a glare from beneath the pillow she’s planted over her face. But I can’t help it. This is an emergency. My father has lost his mind.
“Relax?!” I stomp across the room and start flinging clothes aside, trying to find something to wear because clearly I need to jump straight into my car now and drive home. I’m almost finished packing anyway—last semester of junior year ends tomorrow, and I’ll be moving back home for the summer. But I’m going a day early now, clearly. My tests are all finished anyway.
“Why are you so upset?” he’s asking. “This is a good thing. I’m happy.”
“How can you possibly be happy? You haven’t even dated anyone in two decades, now you just call me up and say you got… Can you repeat that? Maybe I’m hallucinating.”
“You aren’t hallucinating. And yes, I did get married. I’m sorry to tell you like this, but I didn’t want to distract you from your studies before now.”
“How is that distracting? ‘Hey Pau, I’m dating someone I like a lot.’ That is a normal conversation. How long have you known this person? What’s she like? Is she one of those Russian mail-order brides? Does she need a visa or something?”
Dad bursts into laughter. I relax, only slightly, at hearing such a normal sound. “Nothing like that, Pau. Don’t worry. I think you’ll like her, honestly.”
I run a hand through my hair. Blow out a sharp sigh. Across the room, Becca appears to have given up on sleep. She’s sitting upright mouthing questions at me. Married?
I pull a face and nod. She, at least, looks appropriately shocked.
It’s not that I don’t want my dad to be happy. I do. I’ve been trying to make him start dating again pretty much since I was old enough to start watching rom coms. Just because my birth mother was a piece of shit who ran out on us doesn’t mean he deserves to be alone forever. He’s basically the best guy ever, so I figured if he ever did start dating, it wouldn’t take long for him to find some willing ladies.
But this seems a little too fast, too willing. Like, suspiciously so. “I just want you to be happy, Dad,” I say, dropping onto my bed and pulling my knees up to my chest. “If you like her, that’s great. I just… It seems weird, is all.”
“I know, honey. It’s not as sudden as it all sounds. You’ll understand when I can explain in person. Just don’t worry. Your new mom is fantastic.”
Ugh. My stomach churns at those words. “Please don’t call her that,” I mutter.
“I’m joking. But really, you’ll see. You will love her.”
“As long as you aren’t doing this for me,” I scold him. “I don’t need some kind of hole filled, Dad. You’re the only parent I need.”
He laughs. “I know, Pau. And you’re the only pain in the ass I need too. See you tomorrow. Oh, do you mind if we go straight to the cabin from school, or do you need to drop anything off at home? I was thinking since I’ll be driving right through the Poconos on the way home, it’d be easier to go straight there.”
“As long as you don’t mind everything I own filling up the car, I don’t care.” I laugh.
“Should be fine. I don’t plan on driving anywhere else once we get there. A few straight weeks of relaxing. Right Pau?”
“Totally. So are you bringing the wife to the cabin? Do I get to meet her there?”
“She’ll meet us there, yes.”
I don’t like the way he said that. Slow and hesitant. “What else?” I press.
He laughs. “You know me too well.”
“Stop dodging the question!”
“It’s nothing! Just, she has a son, too.”
“Dad.” I glare at my phone.
“You’ll like him too! Your step-brother is a great guy. He’s around your age too, so—”
“Gotta run, Pau. See you tomorrow, okay?”
He hangs up on me, and I gape at the phone in shock.