Seven Years Ago …
I remember the rain. It fell hard on the shiny black coffin and rolled down as the preacher said his words.
I remember Susan Rose crying quietly beside me, her face buried in her hands. She couldn’t look at me. She couldn’t look at the preacher. Arms went around her shoulders and a man whispered in her ear. It might have been her brother. Whoever he was, his cold eyes cut through me. Judgment. Blame. Persecution.
I couldn’t feel guilty. I couldn’t feel anything. I just remember that fucking rain pelting Scotty’s coffin and sounding a lot like the echoes of gunfire that took him down.
When the preacher stopped talking, someone else told us we could leave. They’d take care of Scotty now. I don’t know why they say that. To make you feel better, I guess. Mrs. Rose’s sobs grew louder and they had to drag her away from her son’s coffin. She dragged a flower arrangement down with her; its roses fell to the ground in a heap. It seemed fitting somehow.
“Come on,” Sly Cullinan said. He had a hand on my back, gently pushing me away from the crowd.
I met him eye to eye. Sly was the president of the Great Wolves M.C. He stood tall and silent, his blue eyes hard as he scanned the crowd. He took a risk coming here. Hell, the whole crew had. It mattered though. Scotty and I came up in the club together. No ... that’s not true. Scotty followed me when I started hanging around the Wolf Den when we were sixteen. He didn’t even have a ride of his own back then.
Mrs. Rose stood to the side, her eyes nearly swollen shut from crying. Scotty’s skinny little sister tried to put an arm around her but Susan pushed her away.
Take care of her. Scotty had coughed through blood to say those words to me as I held his head in my lap.
“Don’t you fucking leave me, man,” I had said. “You hold on. Sly’s coming. The whole crew is coming. We’re gonna get you help. Don’t you fucking die.”
But he’d been hit three times, rapid fire. It’s a wonder he wasn’t dead before he hit the ground. If I’d walked out of that bar first, it would have been me. It had been such a simple, stupid job. Collect the grand the bar owner owed the club for protection. He was a month behind and Sly wanted to send a message. Sure, the G.W.M.C. was mostly legit now, but that didn’t mean the club wouldn’t bring the hammer down when it was needed. As prospects, it was the first run Sly had trusted us solo.
Susan Rose went to her knees. Scotty’s sister tried to hold her up but Mrs. Rose was dead weight. I ran forward. Sly tried to call me back.
I hooked my hands beneath Mrs. Rose’s elbows and helped her to her feet. Her eyes went up and up until they met mine.
“Mrs. Rose …”
“Don’t.” She jerked away from me. “You did this. You took my Scotty from me.”
Her words tore through me.
“Mom, don’t,” Brenna said. She had long hair, pulled into a ponytail. Scotty had used the money he earned at the clubhouse to put braces on her. She wore her school uniform today and my heart twisted. Those were the nicest clothes Susan could afford. Scotty’s piece-of-shit old man came and went. It was better when he went. When he was around, he liked to beat on Susan and Scotty. I wondered where he was that day. Probably slumped over some barstool. That was for the best. Without Scotty to take the brunt of it now, things might get worse for Susan. I had to find a way to make sure that didn’t happen.
“Mrs. Rose,” Sly said over my shoulder. “I’m sorry for your loss. I know there’s nothing I can say that’ll take your pain away. Just know, the club will provide. If you need anything ... anything at all ... you call me.”
Susan wrenched out of my grasp. She staggered sideways. Brenna tried to grab her again. She shot Sly a desperate look, her own eyes filled with tears as she managed to take her mother’s hand. I couldn’t look at her. I couldn’t look at either of them. What happened wasn’t my fault. I knew that in my head. My heart felt something different.
“You piece of shit!” Susan got her strength back. She took a sharp breath then spit at Sly’s feet. “My boy’s death is on your conscience!”
“Mrs. Rose,” I said. I felt ten years old again. That’s when I first met Scotty. We’d cut class together on the first day of fourth grade. His old man had given him a black eye the night before. I showed him my crooked finger from the time my old man twisted it nearly off.
Her face softened as she looked at me. Susan Rose had made me lunch that day when we were ten years old. She saw my jeans were too small and the holes in my shoes. She gave me some of Scotty’s to wear. My own mother split when I was five. Scotty’s mom wasn’t perfect, but at least she was around.
“No more.” She pointed a finger at me. “What bigger sign do you need, Brandon? Huh? These men are thugs. Criminals.”
“Mrs. Rose, the club isn’t …”
She put a hand up. “No. I don’t want to hear any more. Make your choice, Brandon. You’re lucky I still have the heart to give you one. It’s only because I know my son loved you like a brother. So, save yourself. Take a look around. If you let them sew that patch on your jacket, I never want to see you again.”
Then she turned and walked away. Scotty’s little sister ran to catch up with her.
“Come on,” Sly said. “Give her time. She’s in deep grief.”
I stood there for a moment. Scotty lay in that box behind me. His mother turned her back on me. But Sly Cullinan and the brotherhood of the Great Wolves M.C. stood by my side.
The club will provide.
I dropped my head and said a prayer for Scotty’s soul then joined Sly and the others. We rode out together as the rain finally broke.