Dirty Scoundrel(3)

By: Jessica Clare

I rub my mouth and look over at the person next to me—it’s Knox, my younger brother. “What do you want?”

“You look like you’re gonna puke,” Knox comments, picking up a Bible from the back of one of the pews and flipping through it.

I snatch it out of his hand and put it back. Funny how Knox can read me—most of the time no one can tell what I’m thinkin’. Must not be that good at my poker face today.

“I wasn’t gonna take it,” he says, but it’s clear he’s amused by my actions. “And you still look like you’re about to upchuck. What gives?”

He’s a jerk, my little bro, but he’s a jerk with good instincts. I cross my arms and shrug, sliding down in my seat like I’m a little kid instead of a grown-ass man. “Just . . . fuck. Reminds me of Dad’s funeral from back in the day. Don’t it to you?”

Knox considers, then shakes his head slowly. “Nah.” He gestures at the front. “Lots of flowers. Dad didn’t have none.” He indicates the widow and her kids with another sweep of his hand. “Got family here that grieve him. Dad just had us. All his lady-friends didn’t show up.” He glances over at me. “And the company men are paying the expenses. So no, it ain’t much like Dad’s funeral.”

I hate that he’s right. I hate that our dad got buried in a cheap-ass coffin at an empty funeral. I hate that he didn’t matter to no one but us. Even after all this time, it still burns in my belly.

“Dad was a piece of shit, though,” Knox says. “I know what you’re thinking. That when you pass, you should be surrounded by loved ones, but Dad was a user. I mean, look at me and Gage.” He smiles thinly.

Yeah, I know what he means. Knox and Gage were born two months apart, two completely different moms. Dad was married to my mom at the time. He wasn’t a good guy, but damn. We all deserve someone that’s gonna love us until the end, don’t we? “I guess I’m just thinkin’ life is short, you know? Eddie was in his forties. Should have had a lot of good years ahead of him.” I nod at the three boys at the front. “See them graduate from college and all.”

“Mmm. So this isn’t about Dad. This is about regrets, huh?” Knox leans back and puts an arm on the back of the pew, and for a moment he looks wise beyond his years.

Is this about regrets, then? Is that burning fireball in my stomach because I’m picturing what my own funeral would be like? That I’m not imagining anything but a few employees and my brothers? I try to picture Natalie here, but yeah right. Her ass wouldn’t be here if wild horses dragged her.

The thought’s fucking depressing—both in that Natalie is disgusted by me, and that I’m still hung up on her after all these years. I must be an idiot. “You’re wrong,” I tell Knox. “I’m good.”

He ignores me, tilting his head. “So what is it you want out of life? Money? Success? You already have both.” He nods over to Ivy and Boone. Our brother has his hand on the small of Ivy’s back, and he’s gazing down at her as she speaks like pearls are dropping out of her damn mouth. Boone’s totally fucking besotted. It’d be funny if I wasn’t so fucking jealous. Not of him and Ivy—they’re perfect together. I just . . .

I rub my jaw again, feeling the bristles of my beard. I haven’t looked at anyone like that since . . .

Goddamn it. That’s twice now I’ve thought of Natalie in the same day. Must be getting moody. “Dunno what I want. Ain’t this, that’s for sure.”

“No one wants this,” Knox says with a shrug of his shoulders. “But it comes for all of us in the end. Question is, you gonna end up in that box with regrets?”

The knot in my gut returns. “Maybe.”

“That’s your problem,” my wise little brother says. He wags a finger at me like he’s scolding a child. “You ain’t ruthless.”

“Huh?” I squint at him like he’s crazy.

“You’re the nice one, Clay.”

“I am?”

Knox nods sagely. “You’re the one everyone goes to when Boone needs softening up. You’re the one everyone looks to for a laugh, or to smooth things over. Everyone’s friend. You don’t know how to be ruthless. You’re so busy making sure everyone else is happy and smiling that you don’t go after what you want.”

Is that who I am? Just a happy-go-lucky piece of shit who’s miserable on the inside? I don’t think that’s me, but then again, this ache in my belly might be telling me otherwise. I look over at Boone and Ivy. She’s got her head on his shoulder, and I know when they leave here, he’s probably gonna rub her feet or rub her belly or, hell, just rub her all over. And she’ll fuss over him and they’ll end up doing it on the sofa in the foyer and someone will catch ’em. Again. And they’ll just laugh like it’s funny and Ivy will blush, and they both won’t be able to stop smiling. They’re so goddamn happy.

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