Second Chance Stepbrother

By: Penny Wylder


This is all too much.

I could understand the marriage thing. Maybe. I mean, Dad has always been a pretty practical guy, so if he finally met the right lady, he probably figured why not make it official? Why beat around the bush?

Maybe rushing headlong into marriage will help him finally get the life I’ve been telling him he needs to get ever since I left for college. He needs someone around to take care of him, make him eat breakfast and tell him when to go to bed and just… someone to hang out with. Ever since Susan moved away, and Dad stopped hosting his wine-tasting nights, his social life has been in severe medical danger. A wife might force him to have fun again.

And God knows he wouldn’t find anyone the usual way. He hates the internet, refuses any of my offers to set up an online dating profile. And he spends every spare minute of his non-work hours going on vacations, driving around Maine, going scuba diving in Florida or taking longer exotic trips, now that I’m out of the house, as he puts it.

But a step-brother? Ugh. I do not want to deal with some jerk running around ruining our vacation.

At least this summer we’re returning to basics. Step-brother intruder or not, I’m excited. It’s our first time going back to the Poconos, and we rented the same little cabin we did that one summer, six years ago now.

I pad out of my dorm room toward the showers, my clothes over one arm, towel still firmly wrapped around me. As I plunge my head under the warm shower stream, I can’t help drifting back to that summer. It’s still one of the best summers I’ve ever had. Because of my first kiss. Because of Josh.

Josh. I wonder how he’s doing. Where in the world he is now?

My chest aches, but it’s an old pain, a wound long healed over. After that kiss, I thought things would change between us. I thought he’d reach out, maybe visit me outside of our usual family get-togethers.

Instead, he pulled away. We had one last dinner party, two months after that summer—two months during which I heard nothing from him. I tried to corner him, make small talk, but everything felt awkward and strained. Then, halfway through dinner, Susan broke the news. She’d gotten that new job she wanted. In Georgia.

They were moving in a week.

Josh didn’t even hug me goodbye. He waved at the door, shot me one sad smile as Dad and I piled into the car, and that was that. Susan and Dad stayed in touch, but we didn’t.

Admittedly, I stalked him online for a while afterward. But I was never brave enough to take the leap again—be the one to message him on Facebook and ask what happened. He took the first jump off that bridge. Surely he should’ve been the one to follow up, if there was anything to follow up on.

I guess what hurt the most was that kiss. I thought it meant something. Clearly he didn’t feel the same.

But I can’t let that taint my memories of the cabin. Whatever happened next—even if we stopped talking and the only time I ever hear from him is when he posts a bland “Happy Birthday” on my wall once a year—that summer was still amazing. It remains one of my favorite memories. And maybe this year, who knows? I could find some new cutie in a nearby cabin to wash away the taste of those old memories.

I try not to picture Josh’s perfect abs when he dove into the lake from the shore, or remember the way his eyes would catch mine, seeming to see straight through me, because he always looked at me so intensely…

Damn.

I reach over to switch the shower to cold for the last minute. Then, sufficiently clean and shivering, I head back to my dorm room.

By the time I get there, Becca is up and dressed, tapping away at her computer.

“What was that all about?” she asks as I wrap my hair in the towel and set to work finishing packing my last few possessions.

“My dad is crazy.” I roll my eyes. “Went and married someone.”

“Well, he’s been single for how long?” she points out. “He had to move on eventually.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about. I’m happy he’s moving on. Just… Does it have to be so sudden?”

“He’s from a different generation than us, Paulina. At his age, it’s probably normal to marry if you meet someone you like. I mean, why wait around? He’s not getting any younger.”

“Ugh. Don’t remind me.” I sigh. “You’re right, though. It just…” I shake my head. “She’s got a kid. I have a…” I can’t even say the words. They sound so alien, so strange. “A step-brother,” I force out. “Ugh.”

Becca snorts. “What, don’t want to grow your family tree?”

“Hell no! I’m an only child and loving it, thank you very much.” I flip my hair over my shoulder in a faux-dramatic move. “Besides, I bet he’ll be annoying as hell. I don’t want to deal with some rando guy stinking up the cabin.”

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