Second Chance StepbrotherBy: Penny Wylder
He couldn’t pick literally anyone else on the planet?
Dad’s standing now too, joining the hug, and I’ve got my arms around both of them, trying to keep myself upright. “I… Congratulations, you guys. I’m… I didn’t…”
“See this coming?” Dad finishes for me. He laughs a little. Draws back. “Neither did I, to be honest. Susan and I have been friends for so many years, I never thought…” They break off to smile at one another, and ugh, if they kiss right now I’m going to die. I side-step away from the hug-fest and cast another glance at Josh.
It hurts almost physically to look at him right now. My step-brother. My first kiss. The guy I daydreamed about for years. The guy it took me ages to get over, the guy who still makes my chest ache because of the way he ran from me. The guy who has only, unfortunately, gotten ten times hotter with age.
He’s watching me too. For once, I can’t read the expression in his stormy gaze. If I didn’t know better, I’d almost say he looks concerned, maybe sad.
At least one person here knows how to react appropriately, then.
“Wow, you look so wonderful. I can’t believe how long it’s been.” Susan is watching me too, patting my shoulders again as though making sure I’m real. “You’re a woman now, Pau. And gosh, doesn’t she look beautiful, Josh? Look how lovely she’s become.”
Josh’s gaze never wavers. Never breaks from mine. “She looks great,” he says, voice low and full of an energy I can’t read.
My cheeks burn, red-hot. It worked for Cersei Lannister, I think, unbidden. Shut up, inner Becca, I scold myself immediately after.
This is not happening. This cannot happen.
“Well.” Dad claps his hands. “Now that the awkward part is over with—” I resist a horrible urge to laugh out loud at that, “—should we do a bonfire on the beach tonight?”
“I’ll go buy some firewood,” I volunteer at once. “The corner store still sells those bundles right?”
“Last I checked,” Dad says.
“I’ll go with you.” Josh catches my eye again, and my stomach sinks. That was exactly what I’d been hoping to avoid.
But I can’t exactly turn him down, not with Dad and Susan standing right here, so much hope in their eyes. They want this to work. They want us to be friends.
We’ll have to learn to be more than friends, if we’ve just become family.
So I nod, and swallow the mix of fear and, admittedly, a small dash of excitement in my throat.
“You remember the way?” Dad asks, but it’s a rhetorical question. Josh and I walk off the porch without bothering to dignify that with a response—of course we know the way. We walked to this store almost every single day the summer we all stayed here. Mr. Johnson used to give us free sample-sized slurpees from the ice machines and let us read the magazines without paying as long as we didn’t fold the pages.
Josh and I fall into step on the dark road. There aren’t any street lights out here, so we navigate by the porch lights of the other cabins, most of which are occupied at this time of year. It’s the start of summer, so everyone is excited to get away from the city, head out to their cabins for this first breath of warm air.
We walk in silence for the first few hundred yards. Every time I glance over at him, I catch Josh staring at me from the corner of his eye. But every time I open my mouth to say something, break the tension between us, which is so thick you could probably cut it and serve it for dessert, he turns away again.
My throat feels tight from nerves, every muscle in my body on high alert. Whenever he looks away, I can’t help letting my eyes drift over his body. I can’t get over how different he looks now—he’s not the scrawny boy I remember in my distant daydreams. He’s a man now. And what a man.
But at the same time, I can still see the old Josh in there. Mostly in the cant of his head, the way his long, narrow hands tap out a pattern against his jean pockets as we walk, a habit he had back then too. He walks the same way, almost a strut, like he owns the whole place, like he doesn’t have a care in the world.
He probably doesn’t. I mean, look at him. How many girls does he have falling all over him on a daily basis at home?
Where does he live now? I can’t remember. After a year of way too frequent Facebook stalking, I blocked his posts from my feed in an effort to forget about him. It worked, until now. I don’t know where he went to college—he’s a year ahead of me, so he probably just graduated. I don’t know what he’s doing with his life, what his plans are. All I remember is what 16-year-old Josh told me years ago. Back then, he daydreamed about becoming an architect. I don’t know if he’s still on that track or if he has some new dream now, if he changed his mind. I know I changed mine—I used to want to be a painter. Now I’m studying for a hospitality degree so I can try working abroad when I graduate. It seemed like the thing to do. Pick a practical career.