Authors: Lina Andersson
“Sergeant Barlow,” she pointed at Jacob, who was picking his nose with a concerned expression. “Stop digging for gold and get us that tow truck, so we can get the cars from the tracks—stat!”
He came back with a tow truck, and the rescue operation began. Once all the cars were off the tracks, just in time to avoid the train, they all hugged and cheered.
“It’s late,” Dawg said. “Think it’s time for the Barlow part of the rescue team to get home.”
“Aww,” Travis muttered.
Billie got up. “Let’s clean all this up.” She looked at Travis. “I bet none of you can carry more than five cars at the same time.”
All four kids immediately tried to carry more than five cars at the time, and they were done impressively fast.
“I’m gonna have to remember that one,” Dawg mumbled.
“Actually, any kind of competition works,” Billie told him in a low voice. “Think it’s a penis thing.”
“You work with kids?” Dawg asked with a laugh.
“No. I work at a center for female veterans.”
Tommy realized he hadn’t known that. He’d never asked her where she worked or what she did.
“You should work with kids,” Dawg said. “Kids, say goodbye to Billie, Felix, and Adam.”
He watched as both the Barlow kids gave Billie a big hug and Felix a careful one. When Bucket came to collect Adam, he looked at Billie carefully. Adam was a pretty shy kid compared to the others. Possibly because he hadn’t been around as much as Dawg’s sons. It wasn’t until Bucket’s separation that he’d started bringing Adam to the family dinners and the clubhouse. When Billie gave him an encouraging smile, Adam finally gave her a hug before taking his dad’s hand and holding it firmly as they left.
“Guess we should be going, too,” Tommy said once the others were gone.
“You wanna go and say goodbye to everyone?” she asked Felix, who nodded. “Go with your dad, I’ll wait by the car.”
He did notice her saying goodbye to Mel and Eliza in the kitchen, though. They were quiet on the ride home, but once he stopped at their driveway, she turned to him.
“Wanna come inside and tuck him into bed?”
He didn’t really have anywhere to be. He’d told the others he might come back, but they wouldn’t care if he didn’t show up until later. He knew them; they’d be on Brick’s deck drinking beer for hours once the kids were gone. So he followed them inside, watched as they got ready for bed, and Billie told Felix they could skip the feeding, since he’d eaten so well at the dinner—which he had. When he leaned down to give Felix a hug, he got a kiss on his cheek.
“I had fun today. Can I come with you to another dinner?”
“Absolutely. As often as you’d like.”
Billie followed him outside to the car.
“I’m sorry I freaked out today,” she said. “It’s actually the first time I’ve tried to send him off with anyone but Mom or Dad. I didn’t handle it very well.”
“No, you didn’t,” he chuckled. He was really pleased to hear that, though. She’d at least been prepared to give him a shot, and that meant something. After seeing her with Felix earlier, he had to give it to her: she was an awesome mom. “It’s okay, though. I get it.”
“It’s more that I don’t like panicking in front of Felix. It worries him.”
“Why don’t you email me that list with what he can and can’t eat.”
“Sure. I’ll try to stay calm and serene next time.” She waved. “Goodnight.”
On the ride back to Brick, he couldn’t help thinking about her and especially her on the floor playing with the kids. He understood where Felix’s imagination came from, and why he always got so totally lost in whatever game they were playing. It was Billie who’d taught him that, and it made Tommy remember what it was like to play with Zach when they were kids. It was another one of those Jensen traits: if you’re going to do something, do it properly, and that included everything from brushing your teeth to invading a country.
That attitude obviously included him, too. So, now, when Billie had let him into Felix’s life, she was letting him all the way in, and he liked it.
When he arrived at Brick’s, the remaining men were still on the deck, and instead of going through the house, he went up the stairs on the outside of the house.
“Gotta give it to her,” Brick said while he handed him a beer, “she’s a good mom.”
“Yup,” he agreed and sat down.
“Your kid asked me if I could hide a hamster in my beard,” Bear said looking confused. “Is it me, or is that a weird question?”
“Can you?” Sisco asked.
Tommy leaned back and listened to the others talk. Billie might’ve done a shitty thing, but she was a great mom.
You Missed Something
“HI,” I SAID AND halted on my way out the door. Tommy was standing there and was just about to ring the doorbell. “I… I didn’t know you were coming today.”
“I talked to Leah earlier,” he said and pointed inside the house. “I thought she told you.”
“No, um, she didn’t.” We both stood still and stared at each other. “Well, she’s in the kitchen, and Felix is in his room with Dad.”
Since my outburst a few weeks earlier, Mom had been very careful about mentioning Tommy. She kept me informed, but keeping me informed didn’t really include telling me when they’d talked, or when he was supposed to come by for a visit. I knew he did it often, a lot more often than I’d expected initially. I also knew how happy Felix was about it because he was now the one who told me when Tommy had been by and what they had done.
Since the dinner with his biker friends, I’d talked to Tommy a few times. Mostly about his doctor appointments and how those were going. We’d have the result any day, but we already knew his blood type was the right one. Given Felix’s age and how sick he was, they wanted a very good match before they even considered a transplant, and Tommy had to be in shape for it, too. I wasn’t too worried about Tommy, though. I knew he’d already stopped smoking in preparation for the surgery, for example. He was committed.
“When are you coming back?” he asked.
I assumed he wanted to know so he could be out before I came home. I understood it, but it still hurt a little. Since that talk with Mom, I’d started missing the old days more, and having him avoiding me so deliberately felt sad.
“If I wait, could we have a talk? Just you and me.”
Well, obviously I deserved whatever contempt he held for me, since I still thought he was more of an ass than he actually was.
“Sure,” I smiled. “I’ll call if I’m late.”
He nodded and went inside. I stood there, staring at the closed door for a while, before I sighed and went to the car.
I had no idea what it was he wanted to talk about, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know, either. The worst fear was, of course, that they’d found out he wasn’t a good enough match, or just that something was wrong regarding the transplant, but I didn’t think that was the case. It
have been the case, because someone would have told me. At least that was what I was telling myself.
Work was… as usual. When the meeting had already started, a woman came up while I was manning the reception. She didn’t want to go inside to the others, and at first I thought she was just one of those who needed a few attempts before she’d gathered up the courage to walk into a room full of people and say the words ‘I was raped.’ Some women had never said those words out loud before they stepped foot at the center, and I understood the feeling. Saying it out loud meant that it had happened.
Then the woman, Lauren, started talking to me, and I sat down and listened. I figured that was all she really wanted, for someone who believed her to listen, and I believed her. There was nothing she could say that I hadn’t already heard.
Towards the end, she took my hand and looked me dead into the eyes, and it was the first time she’d done that.
“I still love the military and my country. Is that strange?”
“No,” I answered and gently shook my head. “It’s not strange.”
That was something it had taken me quite some time to accept. I hadn’t been able to get those feelings to match my anger. Because while I loved them, I was still so angry with everyone in the military, and I felt so betrayed. Then I decided that one bad person wasn’t going to be allowed to ruin something I had believed in since I was a kid. Obviously, I knew it was more than one bad person, but still, that was how I rationalized it in my own head and reached some sense calm.
When I started working at the center, I’d found out that I was far from the only one who felt that way. Not all of them did, but more than a few, so Lauren wasn’t alone, not in any way.
Tommy was in the kitchen with Mom and Dad when I got back home, and I’d actually managed to forget that I’d promised to talk to him when I got back from work. A quick glance at my watch made me also realize I was late, and I hadn’t called him. The three of them were smiling, but when Mom saw the look on my face, she stopped smiling and stood up.
“Yeah.” I gave her a hug. “I’m fine, though. Is he asleep?”
“Yes,” Dad answered and stood up as well. “We’ll leave you two alone.”
I turned to Tommy once they’d left, and they left quickly.
“What did you tell them? Should I be worried?”
“No,” he smiled. “They just asked why I was staying behind, and I told them I wanted to talk to you. They might’ve read more into it than it was.”
“I’m sorry, I forgot to call.”
“Leah told me that sometimes someone wants to talk, or that a meeting took longer than expected. I assume that standing up in the middle of someone’s rape story and leaving is a bit… tacky.”
“Or assholey,” I laughed.
I took a cup and sat down to pour myself some coffee. Given the late hour, I should probably not have had too much, but I needed a tiny kick to prepare myself for whatever it was Tommy wanted. He watched me and then reached for the pot. It reminded me of when the two of us and Zach used to sit up late at nights, drinking coffee and chatting for hours. Sometimes, how much I missed Zach rolled over me like a wave, and I was never prepared for it.
“Definitely assholey,” Tommy agreed. “I was thinking about taking Felix to another family dinner on Sunday. I read up on his diet, and Leah’s been helping me, too.”
“I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
I wasn’t sure at all, but I was sure he was man enough to admit it if he had problems and call for help. Not me, but Mom. He obviously knew what I was thinking, because he smiled.
“I’m not as convinced as you are, but I’ll figure it out. Also, I wondered if I could take him to a park or something, someday. Just the two of us. I just…”
“I get it. It’s a bit limiting to only be with him here.” I’d actually thought the same thing. “As long as he doesn’t miss his medication, I’m fine with it, Tommy. But for nights—”
He didn’t let me finish. “I know, and I’m not prepared to try that, yet, but maybe later, when I have a good place to take him, and he has a new kidney.”
“Maybe,” I said, and then I smiled. “I don’t think I’m ready for that.”
“I know. He’s a bit young.” He cleared his throat. “Speaking of, he said his birthday is soon.”
“Not really. It’s over four months, so not that soon.”
“Oh, okay. He was very proud, though, because it means he’ll have to use
hands to show how old he is.”
I laughed. “Yeah, he’s said that a couple of times.”
“I’m going away next weekend, and I’ll be away for a week, but I’ll call him every night. I’ve told him, so he knows.”
“You’re learning.” For Felix, it was important to, as far as possible, prepare him for what was coming. There were so many surprises in his life as it was, so preparing him for foreseen changes made life a little easier for him.
“Leah is drilling me. I thought your dad had tough boot camps, but your mom is even worse. Thought she’d fucking slap me on the mouth when I cursed in front of Felix today.”
“You cursed in front of Felix while Mom was in the room? The balls on you,” I said and shook my head.
“Not gonna happen again.”
“What did Felix say?”
“He just giggled, ‘Daddy, you used the f-word, again.’ I think it was the ‘again’ that got to Leah.”
I couldn’t stop myself and started to laugh, a laugh from the heart, and it was just what I needed. Once I’d started, I couldn’t stop, and tears were running down my cheeks when I finally managed to gather myself and look at Tommy again. He was laughing, too, and shook his head.
“Seriously,” he said, “how the fuck do you stop yourself? You used to be the worst of us.”
“I had the chance to practice before he was old enough to understand what I was saying.”
“Guess that’s it.” He emptied his cup. “There was actually something else I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Okay,” I said and dried my eyes. I braced myself and hoped it wasn’t anything too bad. “What?”
“I’ve talked to the doc who’s doing my checkups. He says that if Felix gets a new kidney, he should be fine. He’ll take pills for the rest of his life, but he’ll… He’ll be better than this. A lot better.”
“Yes, he will,” I answered. “He’ll be sensitive to infections, but he’ll be pretty much like any other kid. He’ll most likely need another kidney later in life, though.”
A transplanted kidney wasn’t like your own, and Felix would need at least one more kidney during his lifetime, and that was if he was lucky. It was more likely he’d need two or three more of them. If he was really unlucky, his body wouldn’t accept the new kidney at all, and he’d need another one immediately. That was the worst case scenario, and why it was better if he got one from a live donor, preferably a family member, since it drastically increased the chance that his body would accept it. A sibling would be the best possible option, but he didn’t have siblings.
“He told me that, too,” Tommy said, but he smiled. “Let’s worry about one kidney at a time.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “I just thought you should know.”
“What I wanted to tell you was that I’ve talked to Dwayne, and he said he’d test himself, too. I don’t know how this shit works, but if he’s a better match…” he shrugged. “Also, if something happens and his body refuses mine, it’s probably good to have another option lined up.” He stopped when he looked at me. “What?”
“I’m just…” I didn’t know how to say how thankful I was. I didn’t have words for it. Dwayne was a firefighter, and even if he could work as one with only one kidney, it was a high-risk job. “That’s… a lot his offering.”
“He knows. It’s just an option,” Tommy said. “He’s coming here next week, and I hoped he’d get to meet him.”
“Of course,” I nodded. “How is he doing?”
“Good. He’s good. Got a girlfriend, or a fiancée—they’re engaged. She’s some hotshot on Wall Street. Tends to be on the phone most of the time when I see her, but he likes her.”
“Well, that’s what’s important.”
“I guess,” he said and stood up. “Anyway, I wanted to tell you about Dwayne and my trip. I thought it might… make you a little calmer. I’ll come by the day after tomorrow, and I’ll call on Sunday to hear if he’s well enough for dinner.”
He didn’t have to say it, I wasn’t coming with them this time, but I didn’t mind. It hadn’t been that nice anyway, and if Mom had been drilling him, he knew what he needed to know. I followed him to the door, and we said goodnight.
Then I went up to Felix’s room. He was sleeping, but I lay down on his couch to read. I tended to need some time in his room when I’d been working, and it didn’t really matter if he was awake or not. I just needed his presence.
I fell asleep, and when I woke up, Felix was on the couch with me. That happened pretty often, and it was my favorite way to wake up.
“WHATTA YOU GOT COMING with the docs?” Brick asked him at church.
Tommy was mostly trying to not think about everyone else smoking because he’d had to quit. He’d never been much of a smoker, but smoking during church had been one of his habits, and the fucking gum Leah had bought him didn’t seem to be doing shit—besides making his jaws ache.
“Some tests, but not much more until we get the last results and the date.”
“They’re not doing it immediately?” Bucket asked.
“No. I’m not sure about all the crap involved, but it’s his health, too. There’s a… I don’t know. He has to be ready for it, too. That’s pretty much all I know.”
“When do you know if you’re a match?” It was Bear asking, but all heads turned towards Tommy with great interest. He was kind of touched by how much they all seemed to care.
“They know I’m a match.” He’d found out the day before, and Leah had stared crying. That had freaked him out a little, but he was relieved, too.
“How long do they think it’ll take before they do it?” Bull asked.
“Months, probably. There’s a lot more tests. Like I said: it depends on the kid, too. He has to be in shape for it, and I have to… prepare and shit. Clean my body, or something. They’ll go through it all with me. No smoking, though.”
“So that would be why you’re chewing the shit outta that gum?” Dawg asked with a big smile just before taking a long, deep drag on his smoke.
“Okay, no fucking with the father of the year candidate,” Brick laughed. “Ya’ll know we’re going to Wyoming to visit the fifth club, the Blood Paradigm MC, and can we please leave the comments about their name out of the discussion this time.”
That had taken a good hour of the meeting before, and about half of the table had thought it was a pretty cool name, while the other half thought it was the most stupid fucking name they’d ever heard for a biker club. Which in turn, of course, meant that the room had been flooded with examples of more stupid names of biker clubs.