Authors: Lina Andersson
When I woke up I could hear Tommy and Felix talking, and it was once again about Zach. Felix loved hearing stories about our family, probably because we talked about them all the time. It had been the same when I grew up, and I could tell detailed stories about Dad and his siblings. He came from a big family with four brothers and one sister. I often felt sorry for her, because it couldn’t have been easy to grow up with Dad and my uncles as older brothers.
I’d asked Mom why she hardly ever talked about her family when I was in my mid-teens; she’d avoided the question then, but she’d told me later. She’d grown up in high society. As she explained it, no one had ever taken an interest in her opinions about anything, and meeting Dad had been an eye-opener for her. I could see why.
Dad had a ‘grab it by the throat’ attitude about things, and
was turned into a competition. It might sound insane, but it meant getting the firewood stacked along the woodshed was something fun, and it didn’t take much time. Mom had thought getting an extra lawnmower was stupid, until Dad gave one each to Zach and Tommy, asked them to start at opposite ends of the lawn and declared it a competition to see who managed to mow the biggest part of it. It would be easy to think that trick only worked once, but that wasn’t the case. He was the only one who never paid kids to mow his lawn. I had no memory of him ever hesitating to do anything. He never hesitated, but he owned up to his mistakes, too, because jumping into things meant he made mistakes.
Felix’s next question to Tommy made me take a deep breath.
“Were you and Mommy in love then?”
Tommy had been telling him about when we went to Niagara Falls.
“No,” Tommy answered with a laugh. “Think she hated me.”
That was true. It was when I was fourteen, and Tommy and Zach had been dicks the entire trip. I’d wanted to bring a friend, but no one had been able to come, so I was alone and they had each other. Dad had told me it would be fine, they’d include me, which they obviously hadn’t. They’d actually made an effort to keep me away, since they’d been cruising for chicks as soon as they were out of Mom and Dad’s line of sight. Those years, when I was between twelve and fifteen, had really sucked as far as Zach and Tommy went. Then it got better again.
“I did,” I said to confirm what Tommy had said and sat up. “They were mean.”
“Why?” Felix asked Tommy with big eyes.
“They thought I was childish,” I answered and walked over to his bed. “How do you feel?”
“Better,” he said. “Maybe I can go home soon?”
“I’m sorry, little guy. I don’t think so,” I answered and sat down on the chair next to the bed. There wasn’t any point in lying to him. It would just make it worse for him.
“The others will come and visit you,” Tommy said. “Someone will be here every day.”
I looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “The club?”
“Yeah. Leah was going to call Mel to let her know the rules. They’ll be here.”
He sounded very confident, so I didn’t question it, but I was skeptical. Besides, even if it was just once or twice, it would still be good for Felix.
“Travis, Jacob, and Adam?” Felix asked.
“Yeah. They’ll be here,” Tommy assured him. “I talked to Dawg, and he said that he’d bring Travis here as soon as he could, and Bucket was going to call Adam’s mom and ask her if he could come.”
I bit my tongue to not start talking about how carful they had to be and… I just shut up. Felix needed something to get him through the days, and lying in bed watching movies only got us so far. We’d been there so damn often I was running out of ideas on how to keep him amused and occupied between the hits of pain.
Dawg and Travis were the first visitors, and they came just a few hours later, while Felix was trying to eat his lunch. At first, Travis stood next to Dawg with his hand in a firm grip and big eyes. When Felix smiled at him, he let go of Dawg and walked over to Felix. He carefully climbed up on the bed and looked at Felix’s food.
“That looks yucky.”
“It tastes yucky,” Felix nodded. “Wanna watch a movie with me?”
“Yeah,” Travis agreed and, still very carefully, moved over to sit next to Felix. “Whatta you got?”
When a nurse came in to give Felix his medicine, Travis stared with big eyes at her and what she was doing, since she administered it through the button in his belly, but she hadn’t pulled the robe up completely.
“That goes into you?”
“Yes,” Felix answered. “I have a button on my stomach that goes into my stomach.”
Felix lifted up his robe to show Travis before I could stop him, and Travis stared with big eyes.
“So you got a hole in your belly?”
He stared for a while longer. “Cool.”
I noticed Dawg and Tommy trying to not laugh, and I bit my lower lip as well. ‘Cool’ probably wasn’t the word I’d have chosen to describe it, but kids had a tendency to see things differently.
When Dad arrived, he introduced himself to Dawg before sitting down next to the bed with the boys, and he was soon occupied with telling Travis about what different airplanes he had flown while he was a pilot.
I moved over to Tommy and Dawg.
“Thank you,” I said to Dawg. “This means a lot to him.”
He shrugged. “I mentioned it to Travis, and he wouldn’t fucking shut up until we went.”
“They do that, don’t they?” I laughed, and I realized that I very rarely laughed when we were at the hospital. That made me laugh again. “Still, thanks. It’s usually hard for him to get friends. Meeting Travis and Joshua has meant a lot to him.”
“It’s not like it’s a sacrifice for any of them, and especially not Trav. He likes him, and he’s old enough to understand about being careful. And kids don’t see other kids as ‘the sick kid’ or shit like that. They see another kid they have fun with, and that’s all they give a damn about.”
That actually touched a nerve, because I’d thought the same thing about myself. That I so often thought of him as a ‘sick kid,’ and I’d wondered if I was holding him back more than was needed. The urge to protect him was so strong the entire time, and I knew he needed to be careful, but when was being careful stopping him from living life as well as he could? I didn’t know, but I’d often wondered if I was shielding him from life instead of just protecting him.
A few hours later, Felix was asleep, and it was just Tommy and I left. He’d gone to get us a cup of coffee, and I decided it might not be the best time to bring up the question about custody, but I didn’t want to wait. If Mr. Naylor got the ball rolling, it could mean someone would contact Tommy to let him know, and I wanted him to hear it from me.
“There’s something I want to talk to you about, and I know this might not be the best time, but… I’m not sure how long it can wait. I went to see our lawyer a few days ago.”
“So you still have a family lawyer?”
“Yeah. You know Mom.”
“I know Leah,” he confirmed. “Why?”
“Well, you’re not named on the birth certificate, and I thought that you might want to be, and then there’s the thing about custody. I have some information from him, and if you want that, there’s a lot of papers we need to fill out and… things we need to do.” I looked at him. “You don’t have to do this, but I’d be willing to. If you just want visitation rights, I’d agree to that, too.”
He stared at me. “You’d… agree to joint custody?”
“Is there any reason I shouldn’t?”
“No.” He shook his head and rubbed his eyes. “I… I’ve been thinking about it, but I thought it was working as it was for now. Guess I didn’t want to rock the boat.”
“While he’s still sick, I… I’m not sure I want him to stay the night with you.”
“No. I understand.”
“But we can have something called joint legal custody, which means you have the same legal rights as I do.”
He studied me. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. “If you’re only doing this because you think you owe me, or if it’s to make sure I stick around, there’s no need. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Maybe I’m doing it because I trust you?” I suggested. “Might be because I think I owe you, too, but mostly because I trust that you
sticking around, and I trust you with Felix.”
“But not to stay the night?” he asked in a suggestive way.
“Would you want that while he’s sick? You said you didn’t.”
“No,” he admitted.
“That’s why I trust you with him. And maybe I want you to trust that I’m not going to take your kidney and run with it.”
He laughed. “Okay. Thank you.”
“No need to thank me,” I shrugged.
“Yeah, Billie, there is. Thank you.”
“I have all the papers at home. You can have your own lawyer take a look at it.”
“No need,” he said. “You’re a Jensen. You know, tell the truth and shame the devil. You might’ve kept things—big things—from me, but I trust that you’re telling me the truth whenever you open your mouth.”
It felt good to hear him say that, and he was right. I wouldn’t lie to him, and I really wasn’t out to stiff him on the custody. It would still feel good if he talked to a lawyer of his own, but I doubted he would.
I Don’t Climb Trees Anymore
TOMMY HAD SEEN A lot of horrible shit during his active years, but nothing had prepared him for watching his own kid in terrible pain. Nothing. He hadn’t known Felix for long, hadn’t even known he had a kid until recently, but he’d still somehow immediately developed fatherly instincts. He could fully understand why Billie had ended up punching a nurse, because Tommy wanted to punch the fucking world every time Felix cried.
The first morning, he’d thought Felix was getting better and that Billie was a pessimist, since she’d seemed to be waiting for things to turn around. They had, though, and when they did, she’d been two steps ahead of everyone on how to handle it—including some of the doctors. In general, his amazement with Billie had increased steadily during the four days they’d been at the hospital. He had to force her to sleep by literally holding her down until she passed out.
He was equally amazed by Felix. He’d gotten every ounce of the Jensen bravery, and he never complained. He kept them informed about how he was doing, but it was never complaints. When it got too much for him, he cried a little, holding on to Billie, but then he took a deep breath and kept struggling. The first time that happened, Tommy had been forced to leave the room to not roar out his anger and desperation, and Leah had come after him.
“I wish I could tell you it gets easier,” she’d said and gave him a hug. “But it doesn’t.”
“He’s asleep now,” Billie’d said when she came out, too. “Dad’s with him. Let’s get a coffee.”
They’d talked for about an hour, about everything but the situation they were in, and it had felt… like home. Like old times, and they’d done that every chance they’d had since then. It was a breather for them both, and Billie had admitted that she needed it, too. He wondered how she’d been able to get breathers before, but he didn’t ask.
On the fourth day, Brick and Bull came while Felix was having breakfast.
“Hey, Champ,” Brick said with a smile when he sat down next to Felix. “What’s for breakfast?”
Felix leaned over the tray. “I’m not sure.”
“That’s not a good sign. You should know what you’re eating.”
Felix eyed Brick. “Do you have something?”
“You know it, Champ,” Brick laughed and handed him a Tupperware container.
Felix took it and opened it without confirmation from Billie. Mel had sent him something at least once a day, so by now Felix knew it was something he could eat. This time it was fruit and some kind of biscuits, and Felix seemed to like it. Although Tommy assumed that any food that wasn’t hospital food would make him happy.
Brick and Bull sat and talked to Felix for a while, and then nodded to Tommy to indicate that they wanted to see to him in private. It had struck him as odd that the two of them came to visit. It was usually a grownup and a kid, or at least a slightly younger person.
“What’s going on?” Tommy asked once they were outside on the parking lot.
“Any word on when he’ll get out?” Brick asked with a nod towards the hospital.
“No. They did some tests yesterday.”
“And about your stuff?”
“It’s all good. Still some stuff before they can do the surgery, but… Think they’re still waiting for Felix to be able to handle it.”
“How are you holding up?” Bull asked.
“It’s tough,” Tommy admitted. He took a deep breath and let it out in a tired laugh. “It sucks.”
“I bet,” Brick said. “Can’t fucking imagine watching one of my kids like this. He’s a fighter. He’ll pull through.”
“I know.” He looked at Brick. “Don’t think this is why you pulled me out to the parking lot, though.”
“No,” Brick admitted. “I’m not gonna pull you away from here for mundane club stuff, but you might have to proxy some votes, and if there’s something important, we might need you for a couple of hours.”
“That’s okay.” He knew no one would force him to come in if it wasn’t important. “Anything you know is coming up?”
“Nope. Not at the moment, but there’s a run coming up. Some other shit, but nothing you need to worry about just yet.”
“Think he’ll be out of the hospital in time for the run. Billie said these things usually take a week.”
“If he’s not, you can sit this one out,” Brick said. “It’s just a run, and I’m not gonna pull you from your kid’s hospital bed for that. Might be an important thing coming up, though.”
“I know, prez, and I’m in. Only thing is the surgery.”
“A surgery to save your kid’s life,” Bull chuckled. “That’s not something we’ll keep you from. My concern is safety.”
“Safety?” Tommy asked.
“We’re kicking the hornet’s nest here,” Brick explained. “It’s not gonna take long before other clubs start taking notice, and we can’t say for sure how they’ll react. We need to keep everyone safe, and that includes you and yours. I assume the baby mama can handle a gun.”
Tommy laughed. Billie could handle a gun. “Yeah. So can the baby grandparents.”
“Both of them?” Bull asked.
“Yeah. Wouldn’t fucking surprise me if Felix can, too. At least the basics.”
“How’s the security here?” Bull continued.
“I haven’t really noticed,” Tommy answered with a shrug. He hadn’t even thought about it. “I… I’ll check it out. Do you really think anyone would attack a hospital for kids?”
“Probably not.” Bull sighed. “Is this where they’ll do the surgery?”
“If things get heated, you need to figure out what to tell them, because we’ll keep an eye on all of them, and I don’t think the grandpa’ll miss what we’re doing.”
“No, he won’t,” Tommy agreed. “Not much he misses.”
“He struck me like that kind of a man,” Brick said. “We’ll keep you informed.”
Bull gave Tommy a hug. “Take care of your kid.”
He watched them leave and then walked back into the hospital. Clyde was waiting for him outside Felix’s room.
“No,” he answered. “Just an update.”
“He’s sleeping. Sit with me,” Clyde said and pointed at a bench. “Think we need to talk.”
This was a conversation Tommy had known was coming, and he wasn’t looking forward to it. The fact that he was in a biker club hadn’t been mentioned once, but he had no doubt that they all, and Clyde especially, had an opinion about it. If it had been any other guy, Tommy would’ve just told him it wasn’t his business, but Clyde wouldn’t accept that, and he still had a lot of respect for the man.
“I’m not gonna beat around the bush with you,” Clyde started. “Are you putting my daughter and grandson at risk?”
Tommy would’ve liked to say that he wasn’t, that nothing would ever happen to them, but he remembered seeing Mitch’s old lady Anna with a gun against her head through the scope. There was no way of ever guaranteeing the safety of the people around them. It was always a priority, and they did what they could, but people got hurt.
“I honestly don’t know, sir,” he said. “In general, no one wants civilians involved, because no one wants civilians to be fair targets.”
“But it happens. I’m not gonna lie to you.”
Clyde nodded with his eyes on the opposite wall. “I know you won’t. That’s why I’m asking.” He turned his head and looked at Tommy. “I want you to keep being straight with me. I don’t need the details, but I need to know when... when I need to be on alert.”
“No lessons?” Tommy had expected more than that from Clyde. He’d half expected Clyde to rip him a new one. “Not even a little one?”
“You’re too old for lessons. I might call you
, but I know you’re gonna keep doing this anyway.” He took a deep breath. “I told her to contact you. That it wasn’t right to keep him from you.”
That explained the lack of lessons. Clyde felt bad, and Tommy wasn’t surprised that he’d wanted Billie to do the right thing. He was very much about ‘doing the right thing.’ Tommy still hadn’t fully figured out why Billie hadn’t told him, but he had a feeling she didn’t know for sure herself. Seeing her the last few days at the hospital had shown him a completely new side of her, though, and he understood her a lot better now.
“It’s okay. Well, not okay, but I get it.”
“Really?” Clyde smiled. “Wanna fill me in?”
“I think she had a pretty full plate. She’s...” He laughed. “We didn’t part on the best terms. I don’t know if she told you about it.”
“No. She just said you had a bad argument. I assumed it involved Zach and what happened.”
“It did,” he admitted. “It’s...” Tommy had no idea what to say.
“As opposed to Billie, I’ve been in a war, more than once. I know how different things can seem in retrospect. I know you, and I know you did what you could. I’ve never doubted that, Tommy. Not for a second. And I’ve
Tommy took a deep breath. He’d never even known how badly he needed to hear those words from Clyde. “Thank you.”
“Keep my daughter and grandson safe, and help me keep them safe.”
“That includes keeping her informed, too. I think we both know that no one is more fit to make sure Felix is safe than she is.”
“That’s probably true,” Tommy said. “I’m not sure how to tell her, though.”
“She knows. She’s no idiot, and she knows. And you know her, keeping things from her just makes her more pissed.”
A few memories of Billie being pissed at him flashed before his eyes, and most of them were from when he and Zach had kept things from her. Like when they hadn’t told her about a party, or about having applied to the Marines.
“I’ll be as honest as I can.”
At the same time he knew he couldn’t tell her everything. There was just no way. He could give her a general update about when they were at risk, but not what they were up to and what was going on. Not simply because she was the mother of his child.
BY THE TIME WE’D been at the hospital for four days, I was more than glad Tommy was around. I knew seeing Felix in pain was getting to him, but he hung in there. The situation we were in was bringing us closer, too. We were talking again, and not only about Felix. It was like getting an old friend back, and also like I had someone with me, on my side, when it came to Felix. I’d had Mom and Dad, but it was still different with Tommy.
Tommy’d kept talking to Felix about Zach, and I’d actually heard some stories I hadn’t known about. I was in a lot of them, but there were some stories from after the time I stopped tailing them that Tommy’d told Felix. I was glad he kept the worst things from him, though. Most of them were quite innocent, and I knew there had been some not-so-innocent things going on. Tommy’s interest in easy pussy wasn’t something that had started when he joined a biker club, and Zach had been the same. They’d always been so set on the military, neither of them had wanted to get tangled up in girlfriends who might hold them back, but they’d always like easy sex.
Having Tommy around apparently meant having the other members around as well, but that was good. Felix was thrilled about the number of visitors he was having. They’d come by two at a time, since that was the maximum amount of visitors allowed inside the room besides the immediate family. Travis or Adam was one of the two visitors at least once a day. I was impressed because both of them, but especially Travis, seemed to catch up quickly on how Felix was doing each day and adapt to it. I was also really surprised that it didn’t seem to matter to Travis who was taking him to the hospital. He seemed quite comfortable either way, and it obviously didn’t matter to his mom or dad.
That day, Travis came at lunch, and I hadn’t seen the girl who was with him before. She was around eighteen, and when she noticed my confusion, she took my hand.
“I’m Eliza,” she smiled. “Brick’s daughter.”
“Ah, okay. Nice to meet you.”
“Travis wanted to come here directly after school, and since everyone was working, I said I’d take him.”
“That’s really nice of you.” I tried to remember what I had been like when I was that age, and taking younger kids to meet other kids at the hospital had probably not been high up on my list of things I’d like to do. “Travis’ visits are usually his favorite part of his day.”
“I figured they’d be. It’s a club kid thing. We take care of each other,” she said with a shrug, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
It wasn’t. The few friends Felix’d had tended to freak out when they saw him like this, and they thought it was scary. Travis had never even blinked, he’d just adapted, and Adam had been almost the same. When Felix had a really bad day, they just lay next to him and watched a movie with him. It might seem like nothing, but I knew Felix liked to have someone with him. Someone his own age.
“Club kids?” I asked.
“Yeah. Kids of the members. Travis is the oldest of the younger generation, so he’s used to taking care of them. Aren’t you?” she said with a nudge at Travis’ arm when she sat down next to him. “Remember what your mom said—be careful.”