Hi folks, another week, another tale of love gone wrong. I'm still shocked that I got away with naming the hero of last week's story Daniel Boone and no one caught it. As A warning I have to tell you that this one includes some violence. But in the end it's only a story. Only imaginary people were injured during the story and even they got back up and went home after it ended. So for those of you who don't like to see things like that, this one probably won't be your cup of tea.For the three or tour of you who are still here, enjoy. Thanks as usual to the truly great Mikothebaby for editing this. Here we go.
As I drive through the sculptured lawns and dignified monuments, the first thing that goes through my mind is how similar this cemetery is to the golf course here in town. Of course, the golf course is three miles in the opposite direction but, maybe they'd been laid out by the same guy.
It seems so strange being back here in the town I grew up in and spent most of my life in, for the first time in more than eight years. I always thought that I'd live here for my entire life and finally die here as well, but it wasn't to be.
I guess the strangest thing about coming back here is the circumstances. I'm back here for the funeral of a man who was as close to me as a brother for most of my life. Growing up, there were four of us. They called us the Musketeers, because we were always together and it was all for one and one for all like the Musketeers. If you messed with one of us, you had to deal with all of us.
Now, of the four of us, I was the only one who wasn't crippled or dead. It's really surprising when you consider that we're all the same age and none of us is over forty. I probably wouldn't have come back for this funeral either, if Jeff's mom hadn't gotten my number from some mutual friends and begged me to come and say a few words.
I'm not sure what it'll be like facing some of my old friends and the people I knew when I lived here. I have doubts about the way they'll feel about me. Any reservations I was thinking about go away as a hand reaches out to caress mine on top of the gear shift knob. I take my eyes off of the road for a split second and see the smile break out on my wife's face.
Her smile is contagious and I can't hide mine. "It feels weird to be going home after all of this time doesn't it?" I asked.
She nodded at me and smiled again. Before she could form words to express her thoughts, we both heard the wisdom of the ages from my Mustang's tiny back seat.
"This isn't home, Daddy. This is some other place. But it has nice grass. Can I play on that grass?" asks my five year old daughter.
I pull in behind the line of cars and see that even though we're here early there are already a few people here. Strangely enough, you'd expect there to be many more. After all, Jeff lived his entire life here in town. You'd have kind of expected everyone to come out to bid him farewell. Since Jeff had started out as a doctor you'd have expected there to be a lot of people here just to acknowledge all of the good he'd done. But then his last few years probably weren't spent in the medical field. I wonder what he'd done after he got out of jail?
I got out of the car and walked around to open the door for my wife Amanda and my daughter Aimee. I could feel a slight buzzing at the back of my neck as the hair stood up on it. I looked up and noticed that most of the people in the small crowd were staring at us.
Amanda grew up here too. She was just away from the town for most of her life after the first two years of college. Ours, in a way, is a second marriage for both of us. We each grab one of Aimee's hands and start toward the crowd. As I near the gathering, Reverend Brady starts to introduce me. It's almost as if they'd been waiting for me.
I step up to the small podium they have erected for Jeff's funeral and begin speaking. I talk about the tragedy of loss of life. I talk about holding on to the people you love because we never know when they'll be taken from us and I talk about the value of living life to the fullest because again we never really know how long we have. Then I step down to a generous round of applause, a few puzzled faces and a couple of faces caught in open mouthed shock.
The two caught in shock are the people here that I know best. One of them, Bert is the only other one of the Musketeers beside me, who's still alive. He leans heavily on a cane and one of his legs is twisted badly. The arm that holds the cane seems to be larger than the other one. His left arm is barely functional and the muscles have shrunk due to atrophy. He also has trouble breathing. I, of course, know that this is because he had several of his ribs that were shattered and so his capacity to enlarge and contract his ribcage isn't the best. He looks at me and I have trouble reading the emotions behind his gaze.
The other person that seems shocked to see me is a woman. She seems to be far older than she should be, especially when you consider that we're the same age. Her complexion and the look in her eyes speak of a history of alcohol abuse. Her slack jawed gaze locks onto me as if she's imploring me to notice her. She's bent over at the waist slightly and her skin is ruddy. She's thicker than I remember in the torso yet her limbs appear spindly. As she looks at me, trying to decide whether or not to approach me, the two women in my life make themselves known.
Amanda puts herself protectively between me and the other woman, as if telling her that to get to me she has to go through her first. Then my daughter's voice booms out in the way that only a five year old can get away with. "Daddy, is that a witch?" she asks. "Is she an evil witch like the ones in my story books? She looks like one."
Another voice, this one far older and still filled with love comes from the other side. "Liam, you spoke so well," she says. I look to see Jeff's mom talking to me. "You aren't leaving so soon are you? We're having a get together at the house after the ceremony. You haven't been back to town since you left. Don't you want to go over and say goodbye to Jeff before they ... I can't say it," she starts to break down into tears. I hug the woman who except for my own mother had the most to do with raising me.
I pull her into me and gently squeeze her to let her know that I'm there with her and that I feel her pain.
Her husband, who's also very broken up, comes over to relieve me of her. Another woman, this one younger, looks me straight in the eye. "Well played Liam," she smirks. "I did notice if no one else did, the con game you just played. Your words WERE very beautiful and very inspiring, but they were also very generic. You didn't say one God damned thing about Jeff himself, did you?"
"That didn't sound at all like a man who was as close to being a brother as anyone Jeff had. You guys grew up together and spent most of your lives looking out for each other. I guess I was expecting something more personal, unless..."
"Unless what?" I asked. Paula was Jeff's ex-wife and the mother of his two kids.
"Unless you hated the bastard as much as I did," she smirked. "But it doesn't matter really. It looks like you did okay in the end and everything ended up the way it should have from the beginning." She waved at Amanda and then turned to leave.
Before she got out of earshot, she threw a last barb over her shoulder. "No matter what his mom says, don't go and look at the body. He doesn't look anything like he used to. His life was hell for the past eight years and he looks like it. And if you're anything like me, you won't be able to resist the urge to spit on the bastard's face. After all he deserves this."
Paula's display of feelings for Jeff has given Bert the time he needs to hobble his way over to me.
"Liam," he gasps. "You're looking well."
I give him a curt nod. "How long are you going to be in town?" he asks.
"Not long," I say.
"Do you think that I could have a few words with you before you go? There are some things I need to get off of my chest and I'll probably never have another chance. You're doubtlessly going to be the last of the Musketeers alive. If you wait another eight years before coming back I'll be gone by then for sure," he said.
"I'm going to drop Mandy and my daughter off to visit my mom and dad," I said. "They haven't seen her since they were in Chicago to spend Christmas with us. Where would you like to meet?"
"Mulligan's" he said. "Thanks." I just nodded again.
The woman my daughter thought was a witch has been listening to the entire exchange. She turns to leave after another lingering glance at me. I'm sure she'll be there too. There are probably things she'll want to say to me without Amanda present.
I rejoin my wife and child and head back to my Mustang. I deprive myself of the chance to say goodbye to Jeff and also as his ex-wife said, the chance to release bodily fluids of one kind or the other on his corpse.
Less than an hour later, I'm sitting at the table the four of us, lifelong best friends always sat at in Mulligan's. Old man Mulligan is still running the place, although his sons seem to actually be in charge. He tells me that of the four of us, I'm the only one who hasn't changed and I smile.
As I wait for Bert to join me, I remember back eight years ago when the friendship of a lifetime ended and with it my innocence.
.... There is more of this story ...