A Chance for Love
by: Jeff Rivera
It wasn’t the first time I’d thought about killing my brother while he slept.
I gripped the pillow above his head, and this time I was certain I’d follow through with it.
For 18 years, Adrian had been stuck in my life like a bad rash. With my parents dead, there was no one else to care for him.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my little brother more than life itself, but because of him, I’d had put my own life on hold.
Gone was my high school prom. I was stuck home that night because he had the flu. I spent my nights working a janitorial job to make ends meet when other guys my age were partying it up on campus.
The college I’d dreamed of going to across the country, I couldn’t go to that either even though I had a full scholarship. Because who else would take care of him?
Instead, I tried to go to community college at night. But in the end my brother needed the money for his medical expenses, so I couldn’t do that either.
Most importantly, my one chance at marrying the love of my life was gone, too—and all ’cause of him.
It takes one heck of a woman to accept that my brother would never stop being a part of my life and, in the end, I just couldn’t put her through all of that.
I’d never have a normal happy life so long as Adrian was around.
I pushed open the door to his room and it creaked. The rude street light cast a searing glow diagonally across the room, revealing all the rug’s bare spots. Adrian cracked his brown eyes open in the dim night light and gave me that smile that told me I was his whole world. My heart stopped.
“Hi Pablo.” His eyes glinted but his words came slow and groggy. “I love you.”
That space between my nose tightened, and I bit my lip to hold back the tears. “Go back to sleep.” I wouldn’t—couldn’t —say it back.
But I was his whole world. His only family. His only friend.
And he was mine. We were all each other had, and may ever have.
Sure, I blamed him for missing out on so much in my life. But deep down inside, maybe the real reason I’d stayed with him is that it was all my fault.
The reason he had brain damage and couldn’t take care of himself at the age of 18? It was because of something I’d done.
I was going to lose my job if I was late again. I dashed down the street in the freezing rain and weaved in and out of the fall morning crowd, my fraying business case in hand.
I was by far the best customer service rep in my IT department. But any chance of a promotion—and the money we so badly needed along with it—would go out the door if I wasn’t at my middle cubicle in ten minutes.
It was my brother again, of course. Adrian refused to get dressed for the adult day care program. Said he should be able to stay home. He wanted more time with me.
Reason never worked with him. He never thought about the consequences of anything.
Without the program, I wouldn’t be able to work. To be honest, it was my only opportunity to interact with real people my age, and live vicariously through them.
No one knew about my brother. I kept that part of my life hidden. Why subject them to my problems? Whenever they invited me out, I always came up with some excuse. The plumbing was broken. I had to go out of town. Anything.
I had to keep my mind focused if I was going to make the midtown bus across the street. I should have been looking when I dashed for it.
Maybe then I wouldn’t have been hit by that red car.
I was knocked out cold for a good three minutes. When I came to, the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen was crouched on the street above me.
About my age, she was heaven embodied in a petite woman with a curvaceous body and the face of an angel.
“I’m so sorry. What were you doing running out in front of me?” Her eyebrows went from concerned to feisty—just the way I like them.
“What were you doing hitting a pedestrian?” I sat up a little too fast and rubbed my head.
The onlookers crowded around us. I hated when people stared. I put my hand on her chrome car bumper to get up. My knee hurt like heck.
What was left of the rain storm finished up, the last drops gently rippling the puddles around me, but the wind against my damp clothes had a bite to it.
The girl’s warm hand touched my arm and electric chills ran through my body. “Maybe we should call the cops so the insurance—”
I froze. The cops, that was the last thing I needed. “What time is it?” I asked, looking at what was left of my watch.
I should stay. I should get her number. Maybe I should even ask her out. “I’ve got to go. I—Are you okay? Is your car…?”
She scribbled something on the back of a paper. “Yeah, I’m fine. Take my number in case … You know, you need it.”
My hand touched hers as I took it, and the electric chills hit me again. The rain slowed and the chill wind turned warm. Cars honked in the distance and my breathing slowed to a stop. I was a map maker, charting her face. Her gorgeous eyes. The dimpled cheeks. That little nose.
I withdrew my hand, breaking the connection and unpausing time. “I better … See ya.” I hobbled across the street, my legs tight, my soul screaming at me to go back.
“Wait, you forgot your—” she started. I couldn’t make out the rest as the traffic drowned out the melodic timbre of her voice.
My goodness she was gorgeous.
The thing about it was that I was about to call her. I swear. I’d been looking at her phone number all the next Saturday morning. I’d only set it down to take a shower.
I came back, refreshed and ready. But it was gone. I looked everywhere for it. “Adrian, did you take the paper on my bed?”
“I cleaned!” he said. He was always trying to help, which usually meant him messing something up.
This time it meant that her phone number, along with all the real trash, was now in the giant dumpster outside our apartment.
Our apartment was small, a few pieces of furniture that my mother had thrown here and there before she died. A small kitchen that barely had enough room to turn around in, let alone cook.
It was meant for one person, so with the two of us, it got dirty quickly.
I wanted to get mad at Adrian. The rage built up in my gut like always.
His sad, wet eyes didn’t change that. No, it was when he looked at the floor and asked, “I do bad?” That’s when I just couldn’t.
I sat on the couch next to him and patted his knee. I found the remote and put on his favorite cartoons. The television was one of the few things that worked in our apartment.
I sighed. How could I get mad at him? He didn’t ’cause me problems on purpose. Anyway, it was for the best.
She’s a great catch. So why would I get her entangled in my messed up life? Not fair to her. Or me, because when she ran screaming, I’d feel even lower than I do now.
Yet still, despite my protests and the swarm of images on the television, my thoughts led inexorably to her.
Gotta be honest. When the cop showed up at my door the next day, I was nervous.
She was a large woman, her pistol at hand, the CB radio squawking. I didn’t know what to make of her. “Pablo Guzman?” she asked, her manner matter-of-fact but her eyes tense.
“Yes, officer?” Did Adrian get out of the house again? Something bad had better not have happened. I crossed my fingers behind my back, gritted my teeth and prepared for the worst.
“I understand you were involved in an accident the other day on Washington and 5th?” she said, flipping through her pad.
“Oh, I …” I didn’t want to get the girl in trouble. I’d lie to protect her if need be. I had no problem with that.
She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “Camera surveillance reveals a car hit you on—”
I cleared my throat. “Oh, that? It was nothing. I was late for work. I should have been looking where I was going.”
I mustered my most casual grin and laughed. But her expression told me it wasn’t funny.
She looked me up and down, then squinted over my shoulder. “Anyone live here with you?”
I frowned. That was an odd question to ask. “What?”
She poked her head in and looked around. “Married? Have a girlfriend? … Boyfriend?”
This was weird. “Huh? No, I’m single, just my—”
A small smile formed on her face and her eyes softened. “Good. I see you have no criminal record for us to be concerned about.”
Us? Did she say ‘us’? A police car zoomed down the street behind her, sirens blaring. It wasn’t the best neighborhood in the world, but it was affordable.
“… Valedictorian at your high school too. Same job for the last three years. Stability. That’s good.”
How the hell does she know that? I leaned against the doorframe and crossed my arms. “I’m sorry. Is that all in my record?”
She cut me off, her hand grazing her pistol. “But there is one concern. Leaving the scene of an accident … We may have to do something about that.”
With all of forty-eight dollars and change to name until my next paycheck, bail was out of the question, let alone an attorney. And leaving my brother to fend for himself just wasn’t an option. “Officer, I … I’m sorry. It really wasn’t—”
The corners of her mouth curled upwards, but she suppressed it, and the hard cop-face returned. “Did you find her attractive? The girl, Victoria. Is she your type?”
Those dimples. Those eyes. An echo of those electric chills hit me. I grinned and looked away, impossible emotion rising in my throat. “What? Of course, she’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever—”
“Good.” She handed me something—my driver’s license. “You left this at the scene of the crime. Victoria was right. You are cute.”
This couldn’t be standard questioning. “Thanks, but … What? Did you say…?”
She handed the paper to me. “This is where you’ll meet her tomorrow night at 7:15. And wear something nice.”
I looked at the note, dumbfounded. “She’s my sister and I’ll defend her to the end. You mess this up and I’ll end you.”
She walked away, and I chuckled. I should have known. I’d get to see her again after all.
Victoria. I loved that name.
I didn’t want to bring my brother to the date, but I had no other choice. I had a borrowed car and he promised to stay in there for a couple of hours, playing video games.
Once he started playing those things, he was lost in another world. So I figured I’d be safe stepping into the fancy restaurant.
I pushed through the great, frosted glass doors. Inside, dark wooden tables and a soft but engaging Latin rhythm greeted me.
I scanned the crowded tables for her face and our eyes met. Those eyes, those gorgeous dimples. That was her. The scent of spicy Mexican food filled my nostrils, but my eyes were on Victoria.
My feet took me to her of their own accord. She looked at me, shaking her head but smiling. “Sorry I’m late.”
“Late?” She looked the other way. Her sister sat next to her, out of uniform this time but her presence overbearing nonetheless.
“I guess that’s my cue to leave,” her sister said with a smirk. She stood up, motioned to her chair and walked over to me. “Remember what I said, you lucky lug.”
“You set me up on a blind date?” Victoria asked, her mouth hanging open.
Her sister looked back and grinned. “You wouldn’t stop talking about how cute he was. And you’d never go out with anyone else otherwise. Thank me later.” She hustled away and was out the door.
I blushed. I hadn’t meant to impose, but goodness she looked good. “I’m sorry. I can leave if you want me to.”
“No, just … take a seat. We can at least have a drink together before we both leave.” She looked away and at the floor, annoyance in her voice.
I sat down and pulled my chair in. “You look gorgeous.” That dress, that figure, that face.
“Thanks. Just something I threw on.” She looked down, blushed and took a gulp of water. Enchiladas and refried beans filled our evening as much as the margaritas and conversation.
We talked nonstop for hours about everything from her cop sister Cynthia, to her career as a medical student to her past relationship.
I could have listened to her for hours. I picked up one sentence where she left off, and she did the same for me. It was as if we’d been cut from the same cloth.
“So tell me about you. How is it you don’t have a girlfriend?” she asked, the straw from her drink tracing her full lips.
I wanted nothing more than to kiss her in that moment, but I had to be a gentleman.
“Oh, I …” I wanted to tell her everything about my brother and about how I took care of him. About how I’d put my whole life on hold for Adrian, but then I saw it through the restaurant’s great glass front window.
The video game came sailing out the driver’s side window. My brother got out, slammed the car door behind him and stomped his beloved game. I wanted to ignore it, I wanted to stay. I wanted to hope he would calm down on his own. But I knew it’d only get worse.
I cleared my throat, feeling guilty already. “I … I have to leave, I’m sorry—”
She blushed. “No, I didn’t mean to take so much of your time.”
That’s the last thing I wanted her to think. “Not at all. I could talk to you forever, it’s just—”
She smiled. “Yeah? Me too. Call me?” Her voice went up an octave before she caught herself and looked away.
So, she liked me as much as I liked her. I smiled back. “Of course. Oh and let me text you my number,” I said, watching my brother from the corner of my eye yell at a passerby.
“Sounds good to me,” she said, and gave me the most beautiful smile in the world.
She made me feel normal. When I was with Victoria, there was no other world and I had a glimpse into the life that we could have together.
Maybe there really was a chance for love.
It was her birthday evening and I’d promised to give her a great time. We’d spent hours on the phone every night talking since that night of our first date.
She had this amazing chuckle that made me feel like we’d known each other for years. Victoria and I had texted back and forth during the day so much I hardly got any work done.
But she was worth it. She fit me like a glove. How had we made it this far?
Her last boyfriend—who stood her up and disrespected her on a regular basis—had ultimately broken her heart. She’d sworn off dating for years.
I promised her I’d never hurt her and told her that she deserved nothing but the best—it was true, after all. A woman like that didn’t come around every day. A woman like that demanded the best of a man, if he was to have any chance at her.
I was going to give her my best. I may not have had money or dressed as fancy as the crowd she was used to. But I could make her feel special. I could make her laugh. I could show Victoria that she was my world like no other.
I pulled open the front door. I’d pick her up and take her to her birthday party. It was going to be our best— A bloodcurdling scream sounded behind me.
I ran through the living room, nearly tripping over a video game controller and pushed my way into the kitchen. My brother stood at the counter, blood pouring from his hand, dripping onto the floor, a half cut carrot on the counter in front of him.
“I told you never to—!” No, it was no use. I grabbed a towel and wrapped his hand up tight. I’d unplugged the stove—just in case—so why didn’t I lock up the utensils, too?
I’d hoped he’d just stay in his room playing video games. But I should have known he’d ruin this for me.
I parked the car outside the hospital and rushed him into the chaotic emergency room, the scent of Clorox and ammonia assaulting my nostrils. I didn’t like hospitals. They reminded me my time was running out and they reminded me of the night my parents died.
The nurses took one look and hustled us back to where I handed Adrian off to the doctors. I stepped out of the room and reached for my phone. Great. Not only did I have no reception, I had no power either.
I sighed. Adrian must have unplugged my phone yet again.
I racked my brain trying to remember Victoria’s phone number so I could call her from the hospital, but it was to no avail. And I couldn’t abandon Adrian there. The doctors were having a hard enough time as it was.
I’d stood her up on her birthday and I could only hope she’d forgive me.
“Why are you ashamed of me?” my brother asked me one day out of the blue. Victoria wouldn’t return my calls and I’d been in a funk for days, time passing but not feeling it.
Roses. Letters for weeks. Everything was returned unopened. I’d hurt her. I’d give anything to make it up to her, but she’d had enough.
“What are you talking about?” I turned my back to him and started flipping through the sports section of the newspaper.
He yanked my newspaper away and glared at me. “Why can’t I meet Victoria?”
He must have overheard me talking to her before because I’d never mentioned her to him. He was a lot smarter than I gave him credit for.
I sighed, wishing I was anywhere but here but mostly because, as much as I wanted to deny it, I was indeed a little ashamed of him.
He embarrassed me. I never went anywhere in public with him except the adult daycare center. I never spoke about him to anyone.
He was a dirty little secret that I hoped no one ever found out about. And still I couldn’t admit it.
The buzz of the old refrigerator filled the silence between us. I had to think of something.
“What do you say we go to the arcade tomorrow night?” He always liked that.
“When nobody else is around?” He glared at me.
My face got hot. Didn’t he appreciate the sacrifices I’d made, that I’d given up any hope of a normal life? I couldn’t even hold onto a girl I was really feeling—‘cause of him.
But I didn’t want to get into it. “It’s cheaper after midnight, remember?” I said, looking back towards the newspaper. “Remember when Dad used to—”
“I don’t want to talk about him. I try. I try real hard, but I can’t—”Adrian beat his hands against his temples until I pulled them away.
“Try what, buddy?” I asked, swallowing around the lump in my throat.
He looked at me with tears in his eyes and lips quivering. “I wish I could be a normal brother for you.”
He broke away from me, running into the living room and breaking my heart.
As much as I wanted to pretend I was over Victoria, each day away from her got harder, not easier.
I wanted to move on with life, and yet she tugged at my heart like an extra-large burrito I’d eaten too fast.
I sent her notes. I sent her flowers. But nothing worked. Nothing would bring her back into my life. I paid for my last try, the last bouquet of red roses I’d likely ever send her, and stepped through the front door, my hands full with groceries.
“Yes, it’s true. And he loves you a lot. I can tell.” Adrian was on the phone in the bedroom. But he never used the phone.
I’d only been ten minutes. He couldn’t get into any trouble unsupervised for that long. Or so I’d hoped.
“Who are you talking to?” I asked, shaking my head with a smile. It was probably one of his imaginary conversations.
“Victoria,” he said, smiling from ear-to-ear.
I rolled my eyes and put my grocery bag down. I needed to start dinner. He knew I’d kill him if he ever did that.
Besides, he didn’t have her phone number, unless he’d scrolled through my phone contacts and …
“You have a sister? What’s her name? Cynthia? … Like a real cop?” he asked.
I snatched that phone away from him so fast that I practically knocked him over. My heart leapt to my throat. “Vic … Victoria?”
I told myself to relax. I tried to sound macho and calm. But I’m afraid I croaked like a frog.
She chuckled—that one that I loved so much. My heart melted and my knees buckled. “Was that your little brother?” she asked.
“Uh, yeah,” I said, raising my fist at him. I’d whoop his butt when I got off the phone. Adrian flashed me a devilish smile and left the room.
“Why didn’t you tell me you had a special needs brother?” she asked, sounding both amused and cross.
I didn’t know if I was being chastised or what. I didn’t know how to answer that question. I sat down on the edge of my bed. “Oh, I … it never came up, so…”
“You’ve been taking care of your brother the whole time, all these years by yourself?” she asked, her voice somewhere between disbelief and admiration, with a distinct note of shock.
“Yeah, I … we manage.” I was ashamed now that I hadn’t brought it up before. I took a deep breath, but the shame remained. Maybe it was me that’d screwed this up? God, what an idiot I was.
I needed to tell her everything I’d bottled up inside for years. “It was my fault, you know?”
“Your fault?” she said, sounding confused.
I bit the inside of my lip, trying to think of the best way to say it. I couldn’t hold anything back anymore. If she was going to like me, I wanted her to like all of me, even the ugly parts.
“The accident. My family was on their way to my high school football game. My brother didn’t even want to go, but they made him.”
The words spilled out of my mouth faster than I could control them. I’d dammed them up. For years, they’d silently sought release behind the wall. Now, I could finally give it to them.
“I …” I held back the tears as much as I could. “It’s only ‘cause he was wearing a seatbelt that he didn’t die like my parents.”
I sobbed like a baby. I felt so weak. I lay back on the bed, looking up at the stucco ceiling until I could hear her sobbing on the other end. My chest lightened and a wave of happiness whipped through me. Finally, I had someone I could tell everything to.
She took a deep breath from the tears we’d shared between us. “I’m interning in the neuro unit at the hospital specializing in brain traumas. That’s my passion.”
“Oh,” I said, not knowing what else to say. She really did understand. She was one heck of a woman.
“You’ve been doing this all by yourself, no help? No personal life, too, I bet. Must be lonely,” she said.
I don’t know if it was what she said, or the way she said it, but her words made my nose sting and I had to fight more tears from coming. I cleared my throat several times. “A little bit.”
“Doesn’t have to be lonely you know,” Victoria said. The silence hung heavy between us and I tried to think about what she was saying.
“What do you mean?” I swiped the tear that had made its way down my cheek.
“Do you like spaghetti?” she asked, sounding upbeat.
She was sick of the tears and needed to change the subject. I could understand that. What a mope I was. “Yeah, sure. It’s our favorite, why?”
She almost sounded authoritative as she said, “I hope you have clean pots and pans at your place ’cause if there’s nothing I can’t stand …”
It dawned on me and I stood up, smiling from ear-to-ear. “Sure, yeah. We’ve got everything.”
“Good, I make the world’s best spaghetti,” she said. I could hear the smile on her face. I had to see it again in person, too.
I couldn’t wait to hold her in my arms and kiss those lips the way they deserved to be kissed.
We were married on a Saturday evening. Victoria had said she didn’t want to get called into the hospital in the middle of the ceremony.
I stood across from my bride and looked deep into her eyes. I’d found my soulmate. It takes one heck of a woman to know that my brother would be a part of my life forever.
In our life forever—and she was that woman.
We said our vows, and I took her soft face in my palms. I kissed her lips. Soft Christmas lights twinkled above, lighting up and down the aisles.
Sweet-scented white roses matched our lavender and cream outfits.
Adrian and Cynthia were the loudest in the wedding party, louder than our large crowd of family and new friends, cheering us on as we walked down the aisle into the waiting limo.
There were Victoria’s hospital friends, my new friends—from the corporate IT job I’d landed after taking those accelerated college night courses—and then there were Adrian’s new friends from the special school we’d gotten him into.
Cynthia had arranged a police escort for us, of course. We drove away from the little church where we’d exchanged our vows, illuminated by the candlelight, and I realized I hadn’t said goodbye to my little brother.
That’s when the CB radio buzzed.
Victoria snatched it before I could. “CB1 this is CB 2, come in.” She was like a big kid, stuffed into her large, laced wedding gown.
Sometimes I didn’t know who was the bigger kid, Cynthia or Adrian.
“CB 1,” Adrian said on the other end. “Just wanted to wish you a good honeymoon.”
“Thank you CB2. Here’s CB3.” She handed the radio to me as I smiled. My hands graced her manicured fingers and I kissed them first, knowing I’d spend the rest of my life entwined with hers.
“CB2 this is CB3, come in,” I said. Victoria leaned her head on my shoulder, flicked my silky bow tie and nestled closer to me.
“I just wanted to say that I love you, big brother,” said Adrian. “Go on and make some babies now.”
I laughed. “We’ll do our best, little brother.”
“I did the wedding ring thingy all by myself,” he said. “Are you proud of me?”
He’d been our ring bearer and wore that duty with a badge of honor. My heart warmed as I prepared to say what I should have told him years ago. “Yeah, I’m proud of you. Real proud… Always been… Now, don’t drive Cynthia crazy while we’re gone.”
“I won’t. We’re going to go out on stakeouts and everything!” he said.
“Have fun. Love ya,” I said, looking into my wife’s eyes.
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