Bobby, the oldest of the four Mercer brothers, having recently been cut down to three, sat down on the snow covered ground with his back leaning up against the brand new gravestone which attested once and for all that their youngest brother was indeed dead, despite how much Bobby kept praying that Jack's death was nothing more than a terrible nightmare he couldn't shake from his mind. Even though he was frozen from the cold after sitting like that for almost an hour and soaked to his skin, Bobby felt numb as he took a swig of beer from the glass bottle in his hand once again as he stared out ahead of him at nothing, having spaced out completely lost in his thoughts. When he went to take another sip and found that the bottle was empty, Bobby leaned forward as he hurled it hard against the tree that stood in front of him, beside the grave belonging to their mother.
Finally, Bobby spoke up as he leaned back again, speaking to no one except for to his brother, even though the older man didn't actually believe Jack could hear him, saying, "I probably should have grabbed more than one, huh? Ma wouldn't be too happy to learn that I've started drinking so much again like I used to, but I think she would understand. After all, I was the one that got my kid brother killed."
He paused for a few minutes as he felt several tears fall down his cheeks and almost freeze until he quickly wiped them away, then he softly, wearily continued, "God Jackie, why'd you have to go and answer the door? I realize that our argument that afternoon must have really bothered you, especially since we were actually blaming Jerry of having something to do with Ma getting killed, and it's no wonder that you got up, but… Damn it, I shouldn't be blaming you. You getting shot was my fault, not yours. I was the one who started the war against Sweet. You kept asking me to quit being such a hothead. I didn't listen. I should have. God, I'm so sorry, Jack. I'm sorry that I didn't protect you."
"What are you talkin' about, man?" a voice suddenly called out from behind him, startling Bobby enough to cause him to jump as he swiftly turned around to look for the source of the voice, strangely finding his little brother standing there lighting a cigarette, just as he had seen his mother once he had finally accepted she was gone too.
"Jack, you can't really be here?" Bobby replied as he stared at him while Jack blew smoke from his mouth, then moved to sit on top of the gravestone.
The youngest smiled only slightly and then answered, "I'm not, but you're drunk off your ass right now, so me coming to you like this is easy. I just hope you can remember what I'm about to tell you later when you finally sober up. You always protected me, Bobby, just like Angel and Jerry did. If anyone's to blame for me getting killed that day, it was Victor Sweet. You know that."
Bobby scoffed and shook his head, then responded, "You're nothing more than my conscience trying to play games with me. I never listened to it before, I'm sure as hell am not going to start now."
"Okay then, think of me as whatever you want," Jack replied sadly. "But try to think back to when we all first came together. I was real messed up back then. None of you knew me, but from the moment we met, you all became my protectors without knowing anything about me and as you've said so many times, I was a real degenerate bastard, way more than I was, even before I died."
"Weren't we all?" the oldest stated in frustration as he tried to focus as the illusion of his brother asked of him, despite his drunken stupor.
Seven years ago…
Evelyn and Bobby walked inside the corner store where they usually shopped for most things such as groceries and supplies. Winter had begun with a snowstorm that knocked out the power throughout a lot of Detroit, including at the Mercer household, and when it was finally over, the kind foster mother told her three boys that she needed to go out in order to restock their food supply. Despite being busy with hockey, Bobby was the only one of the boys who finally agreed to join his mother, to help her out with the bags, while Jeremiah told her he had plans to go out with his girlfriend and Angel simply refused to go outside in the cold. Evelyn didn't argue with them. Instead, she just smiled and followed her oldest son out to the car, then Bobby drove her.
Not long into their shopping, Bobby had separated from their mother to get a few things for himself, while Evelyn continued gathering the groceries needed. While he was still off on his own, Evelyn reached for some toothpaste to replace the near empty tube left at home and as she did, she spotted a tall young man wearing nothing more than worn out sneakers with laces that were frayed, a ragged pair of jeans, and a baggy black sweatshirt with a hood that was pulled up over his head, as he nervously reached out for a toothbrush, then quickly shoved it into one of his pockets, which she could tell were stuffed with other things as well, not noticing that Evelyn was now watching him sternly.
The young man was about to reach out for something else, when he suddenly became startled as Evelyn spoke up saying, "It is never right to steal, young man. Surely your parents would have taught you that."
He quickly turned to face her, but said nothing as he stared at her with wide, eerie eyes that frightened Evelyn to her core, seeing a look of pure terror upon what she could now see was his bruised and battered face and before she could say anything more, the young man bolted and ran out of the store. Evelyn stared after him as sadness swept over her, wishing that she had said something different, anything else that might not have scared the boy off.
Bobby finally rejoined her and upon seeing the distressed look on his mother's face, he asked worryingly, "Ma, are you alright? What happened?"
"I am not really sure," she answered sadly. "There was a boy in here only a minute ago, stuffing his pockets full with anything that he could carry I think, including a toothbrush."
"You've stopped a few kids from stealing from here," Bobby responded in confusion. "So, what's the big deal?"
Evelyn turned and looked up at her son as he moved closer and replied, "That poor child was terribly frightened, Bobby. And it was obvious that he's been badly beaten and is half-starved."
Bobby shook his head sadly and then answered, "That's a real shame, Ma, but there's nothing more you could have done. There are plenty of fu… messed up kids in this world, in and out of the system. And you've helped a hell of lot of us, but even you know that you can't help everyone."
"I do realize that, sweetheart, but it doesn't help me to feel any less disheartened to see a child in so much pain," she replied dejectedly. "And thank you for holding back using that kind of foul language around me. Did you get everything you needed?"
"Yeah, I think so," her oldest said as they headed to the front of the store. "If not, I can come back after practice tonight. Or maybe you can order Angel off his ass to come. Sorry, Ma. I'm really trying."