Failure (Orig Pub April 17, 2019)

Jamie looked down at the crumpled body at his feet. It was an old man with white streaking through his dark brown hair. His face had the vestiges of a beard that was half-shaved. The bathroom sink still had foam in it.

“Hey, kiddo,” a gentle voice said, “time to go.”

Jamie’s head swung around. “Will’m?” He wrapped the older man in a hug that might have been a shade too tight. The patted the back of Jamie’s head. “Liam told me a bomb took you.”

William huffed a laugh at that. “Liam, huh?”

“Figured me and Julie deserved to know the truth, even if no one officially told us. And we were friends, of a sort.” Jamie eased out of the hug. Liam had held him when he cried that night and offered him whiskey when he finally sat up. They’d never been at each other’s throats the way the rest of the crew had thought they were. They fought in courthouses and newspapers, but at the end of the day, they’d known each other too long to hate each other.

William felt real and whole, and warm. He looked exactly the same as he had the day he’d disappeared. “I never blamed you for leaving,” Jamie pressed. It was almost a compulsion to spill it out. “I know that losing Sean and Red broke your heart. You needed time.”

“I didn’t mean to break your heart.” William’s voice was low and gruff from the smoke inhalation he’d suffered as a child. He ran a rough padded thumb over Jamie’s cheek.

“Julie’s got a grand-daughter now. Cute thing. Makes me remember the day she whispered into my ear that all she wanted from life was to be a mother. Like she was telling me something wrong or dirty. Like I was going to be disappointed in her.” Jamie sniffled. “I feel like we failed her, Will’m. She didn’t know that all we was fighting for was for her to be free to do what she wanted. When I told her it was between her and her lover she ended up crying on my lap. That broke my heart. That she thought me, and you, and Sean, and Red, that we’d hate her for not being a fighter. For knowing when the war was over and it was time to start making a life.” Jamie wiped at his tears with the palm of his hand.

“But she did it and she came out right in the end. And you raised her and Billi up until they could take care of kids themselves. And they’re all happy now. You didn’t fail her. You stood by her even when she walked away from the business. When she told us she was getting married and having or adopting as many kids as she could afford. When she and Red had a screaming match about duty and responsibility, you were the one who walked between them and told Red to shove it. That there was nothing to fight for if people weren’t going to have families to benefit from it. You were the voice of reason between her and her parents. And when.” William stopped. “When we left her, you were the one that kept her.”

William reached out and gathered Jamie’s hand into his. “But it’s time to let her go.”

“No, I have to say goodbye. To finish the washing.” Jamie looked back at the crumpled figure. He made a half-step toward it, but William’s grip stopped him.

“It’s time to come home, Jamie. You done good, kid.”

“Will’m.”

“Come on. The battle’s done. It’s time to go home.”

As they walked away from the scene, they could hear the rest of the morning rush starting. Julie and Billi’s home was never empty. The coffee was brewing and Jamie looked wistfully over his shoulder as they passed out of the kitchen door and into the yard. Julie was fussing over the littlest kid in the pack. A four year old she’d just gotten the adoption papers signed for. She never looked up.

The sun swallowed them.

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