I stood at the counter of the corner store for several minutes, eyeing the numerous cigarette brands. The clerk was staring at me, wondering why I was taking so long to decide. I began to feel uncomfortable and idiotic. Why was I there? I don’t smoke; what am I doing?

“I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I don’t smoke anymore, I guess I was having a relapse.” I smiled weakly. I picked up a pack of gum from the front shelves and handed it to her. She took it and was about to ring it up but handed it to me instead, “Here, it’s on the house.” She smiled,

“I used to smoke, too. It’s a tough habit to break.”

“Thanks,” I muttered gratefully and turned to go.

Once out of the store, I popped two of the pieces of gum, ramming them in my mouth.

What the hell am I saying? I don’t smoke anymore; I’ve never smoked, I cursed myself silently.

Since coming out of the coma, I’ve been exhibiting unusual behaviour. Craving cigarettes; drinking whiskey (I used to drink the odd glass of wine, but whiskey?); going to the gym and doing weights (the most exercise I would do before was the occasional yoga class). It didn’t make sense. I didn’t feel like me.

“You’ve had a traumatic experience,” my friend, Ella said. “You were in a coma, for crying out loud; you lost your brother in the accident, no wonder you’re not yourself.”

I was in a coma for three months after the car crash. The doctors said I may have some brain damage, but apart from this weirdness I’ve been experiencing, all cognitive functions are normal. I tried not to think too much about my brother’s death. It was too soon and too emotional.

Christian was driving too fast. I remember asking him to slow down, but he was laughing. That was the last thing I remembered. Three months later, I woke up.

Christian and I had only recently got back in touch. We were estranged for a couple of years. He was into drugs and gambling. He wasn’t working, either, so he must have been doing some illegal shit to fund his vices. He got in touch out of the blue and asked to see me.

I was reluctant, as I thought he was going to ask me for money. Something he never did before, but maybe he was desperate; maybe he owed big to a loan shark or whoever. My imagination worked overtime, but I still met up with him. We met in a busy park nearby (at my request). I had my cell phone on hand in case I needed to call the police.

Christian looked good, better than when I saw him last. He had lost weight but looked healthy. Christian was tall, blond, and good looking; he had pale blue eyes and a nice smile. I gave him a hug which he warmly returned.

“You’re looking great, Chris,” I said as we sat on a bench.

“Thanks. It’s so good to see you. I’ve missed you.” He held my hand.

“Well, that was your doing, not mine.” I pulled my hand away defensively.

“I know, I know. I’m sorry, Beth. I really am.”

“What do you want?” I was reluctant to give in to his charms.

“I don’t want anything. I just want us to see each other again. I’ve cleaned up. No more drugs; no more gambling. I’m straight as an arrow.” He put his hand on his heart.

“Really?” I said. “How can I know that?”

“Oh come on, Bet [his nickname for me; he couldn’t pronounce the th when he was young], I know I’ve screwed up, but I need you around me now. I honest to God have changed. I’m in an AA program for drugs and gambling. I’m doing the steps.” Christian pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and lit one. I was going to protest, but decided not to.

He flashed his famous smile and waved the cigarette at me. “One thing at a time. I can’t give up everything. And before you ask, I still drink; not much, though, and it has never been a problem.”

I rolled my eyes but smiled in spite of myself.

“There ya go. You gotta smile more; it suits you.”

“Okay, so you’ve changed. I’m glad you’re going to AA. What about work?”

“God, you’re just like Mom. Always finding a negative.”

“It’s not negative. It’s a legit question. How’re you supporting yourself?”

“I’ve got a job in a warehouse. My sponsor helped me get it. This company works with people like me, ya know, people that’ve been in trouble and want to change their life around.”

I wanted to believe him, I really did, but it was hard to. We sat in silence for a bit. Christian put his cigarette on the ground and stamped it out.

“Come on, let’s take a walk.” He grabbed my hand and helped me up from the bench.

We walked through the park. The leaves were falling and it was getting cooler. I loved this time of year, though. When the sun was out in the cooler temperatures, I felt invigorated. The atmosphere lightened my mood. Perhaps, I was being too hard on Christian.

“Okay, Chris, I’m happy for you and I hope we can see each other, but any nonsense from you…” I couldn’t finish the sentence.

Christian didn’t say anything but turned to hug me; I saw tears in his eyes.

That was six months ago. We began seeing each other once a week, sometimes for a walk or sometimes a coffee or the occasional meal. I never saw him “high” or drunk and he never once asked me for money. We talked about superficial stuff in the beginning, but gradually we opened up about our personal lives. I had met someone through a friend and he was a nice guy. We started dating and I admitted to Christian that I hoped it would get serious.

He didn’t have a steady girlfriend but had dated a few girls here and there. Typical Chris. He always had girls around him, but not for long.

Christian didn’t have a car, so I drove when we met up, One nice day, on an impulse, I drove to the local cemetery. He didn’t question me and knew where we were going. I had brought a plant with me and took it from the back seat. We walked to the small headstone with the engraving:

Janice Rayburn 1969-2010 loving mother

Always in our hearts.

I put the plant on the grave and took away the old one. I would come once a month at least and leave a fresh plant.

“I know it was tough for you when she died,” I said, “You were still so young. I did my best to help you, but it was hard. I needed help myself.” Tears began rolling down my face. I couldn’t look at him. Christian took my hand and squeezed it. Neither of us spoke as we stood in silent grief.

I found myself thinking about our times together. I didn’t want to dwell on Christian’s death, but I wanted to remember those last three months when he had finally turned his life around. He was so focused on the two of us getting close again. It was so nice to be able to call him or see him. Christian didn’t seem bitter or angry, just remorseful. He said to me not long before he died, “I want to make up for all the lost time. I was just existing, ya know, so angry and hurt. All the drugs and the gambling; I did it to fill a void. And I hurt so many people, like you…I just want to live now, really live, honestly and fully; experience some love and happiness.”

It sounded kind of corny to me as I had become somewhat cynical after our mom died, but I could see Christian was sincere.

My boyfriend, Colin, wants me to see a therapist to deal with all I’ve been through. We haven’t been getting on as well as we were. He has been so patient with me and stuck by me when I was in the coma. Ella said, “He was there almost every day, Beth. He talked to you, held your hand. You can’t ask for a better guy.”

My feelings for him are different. I don’t feel the same attraction, which makes me feel terrible. In fact, when we’re making love, I feel shame and repulsion. What’s that all about? I was crazy about Colin before the accident. If he had asked me to marry him, I would’ve. Now I can’t bear it when he touches me. Before the crash, we were talking about moving in together, so I’m so glad we didn’t. He just thinks it’s to do with losing my brother. In fact, when I go to the gym, I find myself looking at some of the women working out. I get flushed and turned on.

I was never attracted to women before. Did the coma turn me gay?

Thankfully, I’m okay with my work. The school kept my job open as a Special Needs assistant and I seemed to click right back into place with it. I love working with the kids. I could see Chris working with these kids. I was doing that a lot lately, still thinking he’s here or wishing it.

My dreams are filled with Christian. I dream about him almost every night. I feel him close to me even when I’m awake; it’s all consuming.

I met up with Ella for a walk in the park. The same park that Christian and I used to walk in.

We brought a coffee with us. It was well into spring, but there was still a crispness in the air. It reminded me of my first meeting with Chris.

I was silent for a good while. “Penny for your thoughts?” Ella poked me in the ribs.

“Sorry, I’m just thinking about when I met up with Chris; ya know, the first time since we were estranged. I can’t stop thinking about him, Ell; I feel almost suffocated by it.”

“You should really see someone, Beth. It’s not good. You’ve changed quite a bit.”

“What do ya mean?” I asked, hurt.

“Well, I don’t mean this nastily or anything, but you’re different…you seem more…determined, I guess the word is, like you’re making up for lost time. Everything is on your terms. When we go out, we have to go to these seedy bars.”


“Yes, and you drink whiskey like it’s going out of style…you dress different, more manly; even your voice is lower…it’s kind of creepy.”

I was dumbfounded. I didn’t speak for a bit and Ella could see I was hurt. She put her arm around me, “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings…I got a call from Colin.”

I pushed her away from me.

“What! You guys talking about me now? Is he telling you I don’t like the way he fucks?” I raised my voice and people turned to look at us.

“Beth, shush,” Ella grabbed my arm and pulled me along.

“That’s what I mean. You’d never swear like that. And Colin never mentioned anything about your love life. He’s concerned about you, that’s all.”

I started to cry, I mean like really cry. It seemed like all the anguish I had inside me, decided to come out, right in the middle of the park’s trail. I blubbered incoherently as Ella tried to soothe me. She gently guided me to a bench. We sat down.

“Look, I didn’t know your brother. I only met him a couple of times when you guys were together. He seemed like a nice guy and you had an up and down relationship with him. I remember all the aggro he caused when he started using drugs. It was tough for you—your mom had died, you were in college—then he turns up and everything is great and boom, he crashes your car, dies, and you end up in a coma. No wonder you’re confused and acting out after all that’s happened.”

Even in my emotional state, I didn’t feel I was “acting out,” as Ella put it. It felt like this is the way I should be, but I knew it wasn’t right. I couldn’t speak still, but the sobs were becoming less.

“I know a therapist. My sister went to this guy when her marriage broke up. He’s a bit out there, but very good. They did some talk therapy; hypnosis and energy work. It made a huge difference to Evie. I’ll give you his number and you can make an appointment. Not sure if it’s covered on your benefits, but Colin said he would pay for it.”

Fucking Colin, I thought to myself. Him and Ella seem tight. As soon as I thought it, I regretted it. He was only trying to look out for me, as was Ella.

“Okay,” I whimpered.

Ella texted me the details. I left shortly after that, feeling drained and depressed. Ella called me a few times, but I didn’t answer.  She left a message on my voicemail saying she didn’t mean to upset me and hoped I was okay. Bit too late for that, I thought bitterly, but I did leave her a text telling her I was okay but needed to be alone for a bit. Ella was right, though; I was different, not like the old Beth. I decided I would see the therapist, but be damned if Colin was going to pay for it!


For all installments of “Brotherly Love,” click here.