“I hate funerals,” Mac grumbled as he yanked on the collar of his dress uniform.
Marcy looked at him disapprovingly as they walked through the cemetery on their way to Andy’s grave side service. He knew she was cutting him some slack by not elbowing him and telling him to behave. They were participating in the Military funeral service for his good friend. It hit them all hard when that IED took out his humvee in Iraq.
He looked over at his cousin. No one was hit harder by Andy’s death than Twitch. He had a rough life and those few that Twitch decided were family were the lucky ones. He made it his number one goal to protect them. To him, Andy’s death was his failure. The somber look on his face said it all. Mac could see the guilt and pain in his features. He reached over and squeezed his shoulder in an attempt to comfort him.
It was a weak gesture. He knew that more than anyone. How many times at his parents’ funeral did men come and clap him on the shoulder in an attempt to show condolences? Did any of it really make him feel any better? No. It didn’t. It was a gesture meant only to make them feel better. To console the young boy who became an orphan in a second. None of it was real. The weak gesture just made it worse for him now.
He felt useless for the first time in a long time. He couldn’t help Twitch. He couldn’t ease the pain of the man who went out of his way to protect them all. He looked down at his biceps remembering the tattoo Twitch had gotten the night before. “I am my brother’s keeper” is what it said and Mac had wondered briefly who would be his keeper. Who would keep his brother safe if he was always busy watching everyone else’s backs? He vowed then to no one else but himself and God that he would do whatever it took to keep Twitch safe.
They walked across the grass. Headstones were lined in neat rows some had flowers on them some didn’t. It was a beautiful spring day and the sun was shining bright. It almost seemed wrong for the birds to be chirping and happy on such a sad day. The large canopy held the bright sun off the few mourners that were already sitting in front of the casket that was draped in the red, white and blue American Flag.
Twitch stumbled but caught himself. Mac knew what was going on. It didn’t seem real until he saw the casket sitting there with a picture of his friend in his fatigues. His blue eyes were laughing as he sat stone faced.
He looked to the front row and saw Casey sitting alone. Her long blonde hair was pulled up in a bun on the top of her head and she was wearing dark sunglasses over her red puffy eyes. His heart cracked open when he saw her. She was sniffling to herself and Mac could just imagine the tiny baby in her stomach growing. She wasn’t showing yet but he remembered how excited Andy had been when he got her letter and the copy of the ultrasound picture. Now that tiny little life would never know his or her dad.
He would never be able to take them to the park or teach them to ride a bike. Mac knew all about parents missing out on their kids’ lives. He promised that no matter how things turned out between him and Marcy if they had a kid he would be there for them. His kids would always know their daddy loved them.
“This sucks,” Twitch said, his voice raw with emotion.
Mac cleared his throat, nodding his agreement. He felt Marcy’s small hand on his back and relaxed marginally.
“I’m so sorry, Casey,” he said choked up.
She looked up as if in a daze and smiled sadly at them.
“Mac, really? It’s not your fault. He loved you guys like brothers,” she replied, sad.
“We love him too. If you ever need anything don’t hesitate to ask,” Griffin said sadly.
Mac looked over at him. He hadn’t even heard him walk up. He had dark circles under his eyes. It looked as if he hadn’t been sleeping much. Mac knew nobody got much sleep these days. The things they had seen fighting a fruitless war had haunted each and every one of them.
Twitch choked on a sob and walked away. Poor Casey looked like she wanted to follow him. To try to comfort him in her darkest hour. He could see the tear tracts down her cheeks.
“Don’t Casey, I’ll go talk to him,” Griffin said and gave her arm a squeeze.
He walked over to Twitch and put a hand on his shoulder. Mac looked down at Marcy standing next to him looking thoughtful.
“Casey, this is Marcy, my girlfriend,” he introduced.
“Hi Marcy,” Casey said with little enthusiasm. “Andy used to talk about you all the time.”
“Hi, it’s nice to finally meet you,” she replied, distracted.
He didn’t know what was up with Marcy. She had been different since they got back. She had been the only survivor to get out of the humvee that day. Mac had pulled her out just seconds before the thing exploded and knocked Twitch unconscious. If she had moved just an inch to the left, she’d be dead right now. If the shrapnel that pierced her arm had been an inch to the right, she would be an amputee.
She was given medical leave and decided not to re-enlist so she was home much sooner than the rest of them. He was trying to be supportive but he could feel her pulling away. He didn’t want that. He had attempted to get her to talk to a counselor to no avail. She was strong willed and wouldn’t do anything until she was ready.
The minister walked up and the guys all stood at attention. Mac patted Casey’s arm and moved to the group of soldiers. All his brothers, who had been there the day Andy died.
The service was beautiful. The minister told stories about Andy that made them laugh through their collective tears. He even shed a tear for his friend. The moment he and Twitch moved forward to fold the flag was one of the hardest in his adult life. He was unable to contain the waves of emotion as he folded the flag and tucked the end.
He handed the flag to Twitch who took it to the front row and handed it over to a sobbing Casey. He whispered something to her and kissed her cheek before straightening and joining them for the twenty-one gun salute.
The sounds of the shots being fired were like a balm on his skin. They were comforting. He knew they were sending their brother off properly and he couldn’t be any more pleased that he was able to be a part of it.