Eli opened the door and smiled at his brother, Anthony. “Hey man!” He pulled his brother into a one arm hug.
Anthony backed away. “You really sure this is okay?”
“Dude, we’re family. It’s what we do.” Eli couldn’t even imagine what Anthony was going through. His brother called a week ago asking if he could stay with Eli and Sam after discovering his wife of almost a year had left him, and had been cheating on him since before they were married.
“Come on, sit,” Eli said, and led Anthony to the living room. He went to the kitchen and called out. “Need a beer?”
Eli handed his brother a beer and sat down. An uncomfortable silence fell between them. What did you say to a guy whose entire love life just fell apart?
At least Eli didn’t say anything stupid. The shouting of “Unca Antony!” broke the silence. Derek came running in and jumping onto Anthony’s lap. “You here!”
Anthony laughed and picked up his nephew. “That I am.”
“Daddy say you gonna live here.”
“Yay!” Derek jumped up and down in Anthony’s lap. “You wanna play? Pweeeeease?”
“Derek,” Eli said with a chuckle. “Why don’t you let Uncle Anthony rest for a bit. He just had a long drive. You two will have plenty of time to play.”
“Fine.” Derek climbed off his uncle and left, pouting all the way to his toys.
The silence fell again around the two brothers, but Eli finally broke it when it was just getting too uncomfortable. “Did the transfer go through to the SM State?”
Anthony nodded. “Yeah, it was the only thing this week that went smoothly. I start Monday, but tomorrow I got to go down there and get my uniform and sign some papers.”
“Anthony…” Eli hesitated. “Look, I can’t even imagine what you’re going through, but you aren’t going to go through this alone. I got your back, bro. So does Aaron, and Mom. Anything you need, man, just tell me.”
Anthony took a long hard pull of his beer. “This fucking sucks. We were together since college, and she had been sleeping around the entire time. If I hadn’t…shit, if I hadn’t gotten off early, I would have never found out.”
“It’s a good thing you did.”
Anthony shrugged. “Part of me wishes I was still oblivious of the entire thing. At least I wouldn’t have this heart ache following me around.” Anthony stood. “I’m going to go grab my things from the car, then probably crash. I’m exhausted.”
“Yeah okay. Let me help with your stuff.”
Once the two got Anthony’s luggage out of his truck, Eli showed his brother into the new nursery. They sat on the bed Eli had set up for his brother, beers in hand. Eli smirked over to his brother, and noticed Anthony checking out the nursery. “I know, I know. You don’t have to thank me. After all, pink is your favorite color. What’s a guy to do when his bro moves in? Paint it pink.”
“It’s nice, but you forgot the sparkles and glitter, bro.”
“Forgive me. Glitter come after your princess ceremony.”
Anthony and Eli laughed for a good while. Finally after wiping a tear from his eyes, Anthony said, “Sam’s having a girl, then?”
Eli snickered. “No idea. We find out soon though, but as you can see…she really wants a little girl. Every time I come in here, there’s something new.”
“And you? You want a girl?”
He shrugged. “It would be nice to have a sweet little princess in my arms, but either way, I’m just excited to have another one. Boy, girl, don’t matter.”
“She’d have you wrapped around your little fingers, bro.”
Eli laughed and stood. “True enough. I’ll let you get settled in. Take a nap. I know that drive had to be boring as fuck.”
Anthony heard voices coming from somewhere. It took a bit to realize where he was when he woke. Eli’s. His heart ached to be home. To be with Rachael. He should have never tossed his ring off. He should have fought or… or something! Dammit. By why couldn’t he have what his brothers had? Or his older sister?
He wiped his eyes of the tears he had shed before falling asleep a few hours before. He got up and headed out of the room to find Sam and Eli playfully fighting at the kitchen counter.
Stop,” Sam giggled.
“Just a bite,” Eli purred.
It was disgusting how much in love they were in. It hurt Anthony to watch. Him and Rachael were never that close, and they had been together long before Eli met Sam. Anthony cleared his throat, which pulled the two from their disgusting display of affection.
Eli took a bite of whatever when Sam’s attention was drawn to Anthony. She smacked Eli’s hand. “Elijah!”
Eli kissed his wife and backed away. “Sleep good, Tony?”
Anthony shrugged after sitting himself across from the two. “Not really. Hard to sleep right now.”
“Dinner is almost ready, Tony,” Sam said. She pointed a finger at Eli, “And you, go get your son cleaned up and ready.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Eli gave a half-hearted salute and left. Anthony noticed Sam’s belly as she made her way through the kitchen cleaning dishes and cooking. “How’s my little niece or nephew?”
“Good, though the baby keeps kicking my bladder in the most inconvenient times.” She leaned over and patted his hand on the counter. “How are you holding up?”
“Not well. I miss her, and I hate her, and I love her. I’m so…so conflicted. I just don’t understand how I didn’t see it before?”
Sam gave him a soft smile. “I’m so sorry, Tony. I really am. You don’t deserve this at all. You are one of the best men out there, and if she couldn’t see that, then she’s not worth your time.”
Anthony nodded. “I know.” He smiled up to her, though his heart wasn’t in it. “Thanks for letting me stay here.”
“You’re family, Anthony. It’s the least we can do. Stay as long as you need, okay?”
Anthony nodded. There was nothing else he could say.
Eli woke Monday, and prepared for work. He could hear Derek talking down the hall and wondered if Derek woke Anthony up. He headed out of the room and about ran into Derek and Anthony. He hated that he flinched at the sight of his brother.
“Shit,” he mumbled. “Am I gonna have to get use to seeing you in that?”
Anthony chuckled. “It’s the uniform. I’m required to wear it.” He stood from where he was playing with Derek. “Why? You still have dreams about your COs?”
“More like nightmares,” he said with a shiver and walked passed his brother and toward the kitchen. He made himself a bowl of cereal. “Did you feed Derek?” He asked his brother, who was carrying Derek into the kitchen.
“Not yet. You hungry sport?”
Derek nodded hard.
Eli made another bowl of cereal, this time without the milk and handed it to his boy. Anthony made his own bowl. “So, you ready for your first day over there?” Eli asked.
“I think so. I got a good tour over the weekend of the place.”
“What unit you stationed in? Max or Gen-Pop?”
Anthony’s lips twitched, “Gen.”
“Ah, the old home. There’s some good guys in there. Roy and Nancy are some of the best guys I knew in there. Though, watch out for Kellogg.”
“Heard about him,” Anthony said with a nod. “Warden London pointed him out to me on Friday.”
“He’s a tough son of a bitch. Knocked me down a time or two. Watch your back, there’s some really tough guys in there.”
“Will do.” Anthony finished off his cereal and stood. “I’m off to work.”
“See ya man. Good luck.”
For the next month, Anthony and Eli kept running into each other in the morning, both getting ready for work. Each time Eli kept flinching at the uniform. It wasn’t that he hated Anthony’s career choice, it was that he constantly had a flash back of his time in prison, and Eli hated that feeling.
“You really don’t like the uniform, do you?” Anthony snickered one day.
“It’s not that,” Eli said and felt like an idiot for voicing what was really bothering him. “I just…I get flashbacks whenever I see you now. I feel like such a pansy-ass wimp for saying that. And it’s not even like the COs did something or whatever to cause me to respond like that. They were…professional in there. Not gonna say they were nice, but they weren’t mean either.”
Anthony patted his back. “I get it, Eli. And don’t be embarrassed about it. Loads of people have some kind of PTSD, and yes, that’s exactly what it is. Once I get myself an apartment, and I am working on it, you won’t ever have to see me in this uniform.”
Eli shrugged. “Don’t leave on my account. You know, you are welcome to stay for as long as you want. We aren’t ever going to kick you out.”
Anthony snorted. “You have a baby on the way, Eli. Sooner or later, you’re going to need the room back. But I know I’ll be long gone by then.” Anthony washed his dish. “Okay, I am off to work.”
Anthony stepped inside the apartment not sure what to make of what he volunteered to. A poker game sounded fun. His co-workers that he was tight with invited him to one a few weeks ago, and that had been fun. Now, he found himself hosting a game. He didn’t even think when he sort of offered, not until he got into his truck. What the hell was he thinking? He could not possibly host a game with his co-workers. Eli would kill him.
Anthony didn’t say a word about the poker game all weekend, or even on Monday or Tuesday. It was Wednesday, and Jordan reminded him about it. So, as Anthony sat at the dinner table with his brother and Sam, he worried his lip. Eli was probably going to kill him.
“So…” Anthony said. He couldn’t meet Eli’s eyes.
“So?” Sam asked with her sweet smile.
“So, you know how I got invited a few weeks ago to that poker game?”
“Yeah,” Eli said. “You liked it right?”
“Yeah.” Anthony rubbed the back of his neck. “So, here’s the thing…”
Eli paused with his fork halfway to his mouth.
“I may have, sort of, said I would host the next one.”
“Here?” Eli confirmed with a low whisper. “Like here?”
Anthony nodded, and he kept his eyes on his plate, worried to see Eli’s anger cross his face.
Sam, who didn’t see the problem, said, “Well, that’s fine. I can make sure we have plenty of chips and salsa and whatever else. Oh and beer.”
Eli didn’t say anything or even move. Finally, when Anthony got the courage to glance at his brother. Eli dropped his fork. “No. Uh-Uh. No way.” He shook his head. “Anthony, I love you. I respect you and what you do, but no fucking way.”
“Eli!” Sam smacked him. “He can invite whomever he wants. Anthony, ignore your brother.”
“Sam,” Eli growled. “Hell would have to have frozen over before any of those COs came into my house. It’s bad enough that Janet stops by every so often for me to take a piss test. But the prison COs? Come on! Why would either of you want to make me suffer like that?”
“You don’t have to be here,” Sam said. “Take Derek out to your mother’s for the evening. Or, if you want, take him to Dad’s.”
Eli rolled his eyes, and Anthony wasn’t sure if he ever saw his brother so upset. “Stay here and see a bunch of COs or visit your dad? Are you fucking out of your mind?”
Anthony winced at the shout. He knew Eli loved her, and probably would never yell at her like this. Anthony hated himself for ever asking. Maybe when he got his own place he could host the poker games.
“Hey,” Anthony said. “Dude, chill. I’ll tell them I can’t do it.”
“No, no. We’ll be more than happy to open our home to your friends, Tony,” Sam assured him.
Eli stood so fast his chair fell over. “There’s no way in hell, Samantha!” Eli turned onto his brother, and shook his head. “I fucking trusted you with how I felt, and this is how you’re repaying me? Fuck you, Tony.” And with that Eli stormed out of the dinning area. The door slam came moments later.
Anthony felt like the biggest asshole. He should have kept his mouth shut. He could have easily not volunteered, and not worry. But Anthony wanted to be one of the guys, he wanted to have friends in San Myshuno, and his coworkers were the type of guys he wanted to have as friends.
Anthony wasn’t sure what he was going to do. Either way, the choice would affect him.