“Jen, are you okay?” someone was speaking to me, and I groaned. I opened my eyes partially, admitting the slightest bit of blinding light into my black world. “Jen, wake up.”
“Go away, Alex,” I muttered, knowing who it was without looking.
“Is that any way to treat the bereaved?” he asked.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that I’m taking this harder than you were,” I said, opening my eyes the rest of the way and easing myself into a sitting position. I was laying on the carpeted floor of the church, and he was kneeling beside me. “What happened?”
“As near as I can tell, you passed out while everyone else was leaving. You’re just lucky mom sent me back in here to look for her earring,” he said, glancing at his watch. “Damn it, she’s gonna kill me.”
“Why?” I asked, rubbing my head. “What’s the matter?”
“The procession has left the church,” he said. “And I was supposed to ride with mom. Left my car at her place.”
“My Jeep’s in the lot,” I said, hauling myself to my feet and swallowing back the wave of nausea. “You dry enough to drive?”
“You kidding?” he asked, taking my hand. “Mom hasn’t let me have a drop of the good stuff all week. She even took my hard lemonade.”
“You had hard lemonade?” I asked, a little surprised by this. He’d never really seemed like the kind of guy to drink any kind of mixed drink.
“Trust me, it’s better than it sounds,” he said, leading me out to the lot, where my Jeep was the only remaining vehicle.
As I slid into the passenger seat, I felt the sudden urge to cry. Sarah was the one about to be put six feet under, but here I was, talking about booze with her brother. Silently I handed over my car keys, and we were off.
“It’s not right,” Alex said, glancing at me with concern. “For this to happen. I don’t know how it’s even possible for everything that’s happened to happen.”
“Everything?” I asked, confused.
“Sarah getting shot, the complications, the funeral prep,” he said, staring at the road very fixedly. “Everything that’s happened.” Silence feel for a moment before he spoke. “What was it like?”
“What was what like?” I asked, a sinking feeling in my stomach taking precedence. I knew what he wanted to know, and I didn’t want to answer.
“What was it like to be with her that day?” Alex asked, turning into the cemetery and pulling up behind the slow moving procession. I didn’t answer immediately, staring at the bumper in front of us, the tears I’d been trying to suppress all day filling my eyes.
“Terrifying,” I answered finally. “She was with half of our squad, and I was with the other half. She was shot and screamed. I went running to help her. She was dying already when I got to her.” I choked. The tears were falling freely, and I could see the mascara I was wearing drip from my lashes.
“And then?” he prompted, pity and fear on his face.
“She’d lost too much blood. There was no chance of saving her when the medics arrived. They took her in the ambulance, and she died at the hospital,” I continued, sobs racking my body. “Oh, God, it was horrible, and I couldn’t do anything. I was useless. All I was able to do was sit there and watch my best friend die.” He reached out and gently squeezed my upper arm. The words were spilling out of me, and I couldn’t stop.
“They took her to the morgue, and then the doctor came in with the fax to preform an autopsy, and an order for me to stay in the waiting room, that an escort was on the way. I left the morgue and I spent a good ten minutes in the waiting room,” I continued.
“Wait, an escort came with you?” he interrupted, obviously bemused.
“I had broken two of the basic commands. When I left the van, and again when I rode in the ambulance up to the hospital with her,” I said, wiping the last of the tears from my face. “I’m on the MRO’s version of parole. If I behave everything will go back to normal. At least that’s what they say.”
By now the funeral procession had reached her grave site, and Alex quickly turned off my car and returned my keys before getting out. I followed him with a leaden heart.
“Didn’t think you were coming,” Jack whispered to Alex as he sidled up to the rest of his family.
“Couldn’t find the earring, but I did find something else,” he whispered back, shooting me an encouraging glance over his shoulder. Jack followed his gaze, shooting me a questioning glance, which I returned with a shrug as the ceremony began.
I followed the progress of the coffin as they lowered it into the grave with my eyes, and I watched as they began to shovel dirt into the hole. Each shovelful felt like someone was pounding nails into my heart.
Finally I could take it no longer and I made my escape back to my Jeep. Once I was safely behind the wheel, I pried off my high heels, trading them in for flats.
None of this is real, I thought. There’s got to be something going on here. None of this makes sense. One gunshot, one casualty. No one saw the target except for my commanding officer and Jenkins, and where were they when I got to Sarah? I sighed, frustrated, and slid my notepad out of my purse, doodling to distract myself.
A loud thumping noise came from the passenger door and I jumped, my pen sliding up through my sketches. Alex stood there, waiting outside of the car. I smiled slightly and leaned over to unlock the door for him.
“You okay?” he asked. “I saw you leave, but I had to stay there.”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I lied.
“Good,” he said, sliding in. “Cause I really need that drink now.”
“Let’s go get some booze, then,” I said. “And head back to my place, cause I need one too.”
“I thought you said you were fine,” he said gently, his lips twitching slightly. Without further comments, though, he directed me to the nearest spirits store, and he disappeared into it. About five minutes later he exited with a decently sized bag.
“You worry me at times,” I said, watching as he buckled in.
“What?” he asked, a disbelieving laugh startled out of him. “Why?”
“Well, think,” I said. “What did Sarah say when you’ve had drinking parties in the past?”
“It’s not healthy,” he said, miming her voice. Then he grinned at me roguishly. “But you can’t lecture me this time.”
“This time,” I promised, pulling out of the lot and into traffic.
I’m going to get drunk, and forget about all of this for a night, at least, I thought determinedly. I’m going to feel good tonight.