Eli stared at himself in the bathroom mirror. He’d gone through his closet, not knowing what to wear tonight. His palms were sweaty. He could do this. He needed to do this.
Sam popped her head into the bathroom. “Eli, Dad wants to know if you can grab some extra charcoal on the way. He thought he had some, and went to fire up the grill, and found out he doesn’t have enough.”
“Tell him I will.” He turned to Sam. “Do I look okay?”
“You look good. Why? Wait, you’re still not nervous about the poker game?”
Eli shrugged. “It’s not the game that I’m nervous about. It’s…it’s Anthony.” There, he admitted it. “I don’t know what’s changed between us. I haven’t seen him since I got out. I just don’t know how to feel about seeing him.”
Sam tapped on her phone quickly, and then put her phone down, giving Eli her full attention. She took his hand, and squeezed it. “First, there’s a reason Dad is holding the poker game and not Anthony. Dad knows you’re nervous, and so does Anthony. I think both of you are. Who knows if anything’s changed, but you have to see him. He’s your brother, and the kids’ favorite uncle. He’s been really good about keeping distances, but Eli, he’s still family. You two need to patch things up.”
Eli nodded. He knew that. But still, Anthony saw Eli at his worst. “What if we can never have what we had a few years ago back?”
“Then you two move forward with a different kind of relationship.”
Eli groaned. She was right. He only wished seeing Anthony would be as easy as his meeting to get his old job back with Marv went. Marv was so ecstatic to see him back, he quickly fired the guy that worked for him right off the bat.
“You must really miss me if you’re ready to fire the poor kid right away,” Eli joked.
Marv snorted, “He’s not even half the mechanic as the last guy, and that guy barely held up compared to the other two. Of course no one has been even remotely skilled as my favorite mechanic. So, yeah, I missed you, you fucking knucklehead.”
“Missed you too, old man.”
“Old man? Look who’s getting grey hair.”
Eli rolled his eyes. “Says the guy that has been coloring his hair for years.”
Marv laughed. “I am not admitting to anything. So, you’re back…for good? No more knocking over banks or punching out old ladies?”
“If I even think about throwing a punch, Sam would certainly kill me.”
Marv patted him on the shoulder, “Ah yes. Well, just remember, if you are in need to throw a punch, the next time make sure the cops aren’t sitting with you.”
Eli snorted. “Yeah, because that was my biggest issue that night.”
Eli just wished Anthony would be so easy to talk to. He checked the time on his cell, and knew he needed to get going if he was going to grab that charcoal for Grant and make it to the barbecue before the poker game started.
“Wish me luck.”
“You don’t need luck.” Sam kissed Eli, and he moaned, wishing he could stay. The one thing that was certainly an improvement since he’d been back was his sex life. Damn, but Sam and him were making up for the last four years. “I’ll see you later.”
“Naked, right?” he asked. “Naked, wet, and waiting for me?”
She smirked. “Maybe.”
Oh she was going to kill him with that smirk. He headed out, stopped at a gas station and grabbed a bag of charcoal before heading onto the freeway to head to Grant’s place.
Once there, Eli took a couple more minutes to compose himself. There were only a couple of vehicles in the drive. He recognized Grant’s, but not the red truck.
“Hello,” he called out as he entered the small house.
“In the back,” Grant called from the kitchen, but clearly he was outside. Grant met him just inside the kitchen, and traded the bag of charcoal for a beer. “Thanks for showing up.”
“Sam told me it would be nice to get into the swing of things. I’m still not sure, though.”
Grant nodded. “You need to adjust being back in the real world, son. That means, getting out of the house, and playing poker with your old buds.”
Eli knew Grant was just as right as Sam. He held up his beer, took a swig and followed his father-in-law out of the house.
Immediately, he was greeted by Grant’s dog, barking wildly at him—and loud too. Eli had heard about him, but had yet to meet the little thing. Sam hated him, and apparently the kids adored him.
Eli put his beer down by the barbecue, and knelt down to meet the dog. “So, this must be Ranger? Hey big guy.”
Eli laughed when Ranger jumped on him for more petting and attention. Yup, he was with his kids on this one. This dog was freaking awesome!
“Ranger, down,” Grant yelled.
Eli stood up after playing with the dog for a few minutes and grabbed his beer. He turned and froze the second he spotted Anthony. Shit. No warning. Fucking Grant couldn’t warn him? Asshole.
Anthony stood from where he was sitting on the couch. Neither spoke.
Grant cleared his throat. “I’m going to see if I left…something.”
Anthony and Eli only stared, even after Grant left the two of them. Eli was sort of grateful that Grant gave them some privacy, but a part of him wished Grant would stay and be the buffer.
“I think one of us is going to have to say something, Eli.”
Eli snorted. “At least you remembered my name.”
“It wasn’t personal, you get that right?”
“Yeah, sure. Tell that to the rest of the guys in there. You do realize not all the C.O.s treat the inmates like that right? You are a fucking asshole in there!”
“Yeah, and guess who gets paid more? I am head C.O., and have been told by Grant, the Warden, and a few other heads that I am in line to take over once Jack retires in a couple of years. I am an asshole in there because that’s my fucking job, and I do my job well.”
“Yeah, well, fuck you for doing your job.” Eli said. It sucked that he was so proud of his fucking brother. Warden? Fuck, but that would be a great promotion for Anthony.
Anthony laughed. “That’s all you can come back with?”
No, what he really wanted to do was sucker punch him. The jerk had it coming too. After all the shit he put Eli through. “You’re lucky I don’t kick your ass.”
Anthony snorted. “I thought we established that you can’t take me. But hey, you can try if that’ll make you feel good. But be warned, I will have you back on your ass.”
Dammit, but Anthony was right. Eli could never take his brother. Not since he got the training and the muscle. “I fucking hate you.”
“I know. I love you too, inmate.” Anthony chuckled.
This time Eli flipped him off, laughed, and rather throwing a punch pulled Anthony in for a hug. It was awkward, but Eli knew if he could just find a way to be friends again with his brother he would. “I’m sorry I put you through hell,” he apologized.
Anthony patted him on the back. “Yeah, me too, bro.”
Eli took a step back. “It couldn’t have been easy with me there. I am sorry if I ever put you in a difficult position.”
“It was my choice, and you never did. Like I said, I do my job, and I do it well. We good now? Water under the bridge or whatever they say?” Anthony held out his hand.
Was it really that easy? “I don’t know if we’ll ever be good, but it’s a start.” He shook his brother’s hand. “Still brothers?”
Eli agreed. Grant came out just as they parted, along with Nathan and Leroy. They both gave Eli a hug and a pat on the bat. “Man, it’s been too damn long,” Nathan said.
“Yeah. Sorry we couldn’t help much,” Leroy added. “We tried.”
“No, what we should have done is stop Eli before he went Mahammad Ali on us,” Nathan said. “We were too fucking shocked I think, though, or drunk.”
“A bit of both,” Anthony said. “We all were.”
Eli held his hands up. “Guys, it’s okay. That night was not my finest night. It was none of your fault. Senator’s son or not, I shouldn’t have punched the kid.”
“And this is why I like you,” Grant said. Eli almost rolled his eyes. “You at least admit you did wrong.”
“Eventually,” Eli said with a laugh. “Though, I am still denying that I ever knocked up that fifth liquor store.”
“It was you, and I proved it. Case fucking close.”
Eli sighed. It was the one real disagreement he had with Grant. Ever since they had a real heart to heart one drunk Christmas and discussed Eli’s armed robberies. Grant swore Eli did all five of the robberies, and though Eli did admit to the fifth one for a plea deal, Eli knew he didn’t do the fucking crime. Whatever. The plea deal was better than going to trial and getting stuck with twenty to life, or some insane kind of sentence.
By the time Marv showed up, Eli was more comfortable around his old friends. He didn’t hold it against Nathan or Leroy about that night at the bar. Sure, any one of the guys could have stopped him before he tossed the first punch. Even Marv. But Eli knew that he also didn’t see himself throwing that punch until after he did it.
With the food in their stomachs, and a couple of beers in their bellies, Eli found himself around the table with his friends playing poker as if he never left. Sure, Anthony and him didn’t joke, or even spoke much to each other. That wound would take more time to heal than the other friendships Eli needed to mend. Like Grant and him. Their trash talk was force, but there. Still, Eli figured it was going to be okay. Hopefully. Maybe. Time would tell.