"Wow. What happened to you?” The words flew from my mouth the minute I stumbled into my bungalow and laid eyes on my brother. I should have wondered why he was there at all, but I’d downed an entire bottle of whiskey and was working on my second.
“A whole hell of a lot, little brother.” Jackson at a small dining table, bare chested, a large blood soaked bandage on his shoulder.
“When did this happen?”
“We got trouble.”
“Tucker?” The guy was a major pain in the ass. I swaggered across the room and flopped on the bed. Too intoxicated to care. Feeling like a teenage boy. Swatting off my troubles as if they were barely more than exchanged threats and pranks.
“A mosquito compared to this.” Jackson waved his hand. “Bolivar took control.”
“Of what?” I chuckled. What could he possibly take that I would hate to lose? “I really don’t care, Jackson.” I propped up against a small mountain of pillows, crossed my ankles, placed an arm behind my head, and brought the whiskey to my lips. “I’m enjoying myself where I am.” I sighed. “It’s small. Quiet. One way in and out. I could hire a couple guys to watch the dock … maybe buy this resort … build a house …”
“You’re daydreaming? The shit is neck deep and you’re fantasizing?” Jackson lit a cigarette and blew out an irritated puff.
“It’s not a fantasy … it’s a plan.” I set down the bottle clumsily on the nightstand and reached for a pack of smokes on the far end, painstakingly holding myself from falling off the mattress. “I admit, it sounds irrational. It wouldn’t sound that way if I were anyone else.”
“Maybe.” He agreed. “I’m done playing cop, little brother.”
“No, not yet. I still need you on the inside. Listening. Covering lose ends. For a little while longer.” I could read my brother’s mind without him saying a word. I always knew where his true alliance laid and I knew he’d drop his badge to fight beside me the moment he felt it necessary. He obviously thought it was necessary.
“So what happened?” I chuckled. “Did he finally find out how I do it? Did he find the caves? The warehouses?”
“What do you think happened, Sean? He stormed De’Bris with his goons. They shot the place up … and a lot of people too.”
“Jessie.” Her name immediately fell from my lips. The jolly mood faded and reality rushed back.
Jackson held his lips tight. Staring and I didn’t want to read what I saw in his eyes. “Is she okay? Is she alive?” I stared at that screen. “Damn it, Jackson! What are you hiding?”
“No … no. I want to know now what you’re hiding. I see it in your eyes.” The worst went through my mind. I imagined her shot. Bleeding. Fighting for her life. “Is she hurt? Is she in the hospital?”
“Man.” Jackson shook his head. “Why did you have to fall for her.” He whispered. “Of all the women in the world ... I don’t know how to tell you this.”
“Just say it!” I plucked out a bottle from the nightstand, downed it and braced myself for the news.
“First. Tell me how much you care for this woman. Is she just someone to pass the time or do you love her?”
“If she’s dead, just tell me!” I snapped, closing my eyes.
“She’s not dead … Do you love this chick?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yeah, this is pretty major and I don’t know if you would want to know it.”
“She took off and she’s not coming back?” The longer she stayed in my life, the worst her world got. Now she’d dodged bullets. “Right?”
Jackson stared at me.
“She never left,” he stated slowly. “She’s here. Matt put her up in a bungalow. Tina and Mickey too.”
“She’s at the age where she doesn’t do everything you tell her to do. What can you do?” He shrugged.
“So, what’s the problem?” I didn’t think anything else could be worse than Jessie banning me from her life. Well, other than death. She was on the island. Everyone I cared about was near and safe.
Jackson bit his lip. “It’s nothing man. She’s just a little shook up, that’s all.”
I clasped my hands in front of me and let out a deep breath to calm down. “I’m a fool for trying this again.”
“Trying what again?”
“Bolivar won’t stop… he’ll just keep coming. And he will hurt anyone that is close to me.” I stood up and paced. “I shouldn’t have let her close to me. The women I love always lose their lives because of me. I killed our mother and Sara …”
“You did not kill our mother and Sara was not your fault.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, but I didn’t believe it. “But I’m still letting it happen again.”
“You’re acting like a lunatic.” But I wasn’t paying attention. I took long strides, turned and walked the space again. Back and forth. Mumbling to myself.
“Are you listening to me, little brother?” He slammed his hand on the table. “Hey!”
I paused and stared blankly into his eyes. Fighting with the two people inside my own mind. The decent man I truly was and the aggressive criminal life forced me to be.
“You have to be careful right now, Sean and you don’t need some chick messing up your head.”
“Hell, I tried. I dumped her. I tried to walk away, but I can’t keep myself from wanting to see her.”
“You think she’s using me? You think she cares about the money? You’re wrong. She has never asked me for anything, besides if she was pretending, I would know. Wouldn’t I?”
“Oh, man. I wasn’t sure I sure tell you this…But I don’t think there’s any way around it. Sean, Jessie…”
“I don’t want to hear…”
“Nothing is going to change the way I feel…”
“It doesn’t matter!” I calmed myself, wiped a hand over my face and took a breath. “You’re right, Jackson. I need to stay away.”
“No. You need to keep her close!” He growled. “She can’t stay in Demora!”
“You think Bolivar will come after her?”
“Why do you think I brought her here? She’s associated with you and Bolivar has his sights set on her!” He growled angrily. “You can’t leave her on her own. Not right now. So you’re just going to have to suck up the what if’s and bullshit and keep her safe!”
“I’m not sure she’ll want to be with me.” Thoughts contradicted. Weaved in and out. Happiness. Hope. And utter despair. One thought after the other. One good. One bad. It made my head hurt and I couldn’t decide what to do. Or what I needed to do.
“Do you want her to live?”
“Then find your balls and be who you are, bro.”
“I don’t know who I am.” I admitted.
“You are exactly the man you want to be and you are the man who does what it takes to keep yourself and the ones you love alive. Life made you who you are. Accept it! Embrace it! Stop thinking you’re a worthless criminal!”
“I’m tried, Jackson.”
“Then go to bed!” He snarled, stood and snatched the bottle out of my hand. “If you want something, you have to work your ass off for it. What do you want, Sean?”
“Nothing will ever be perfect – but it can always be better.”