I trace the letters on the front of Godric’s helmet. It’s covered in soot smudges and damaged from all the smoke from the hundreds of calls he’d been on in his career. Russ asked me to carry it for him and there’s no way I could say no. Of course it was a closed casket funeral and I’m grateful for it. None of my memories have returned of the fire but I’m starting to think maybe Sookie was right when she said it was better I don’t remember it. I don’t want to remember Godric that way.
Herveaux told me two days ago that he was the one who pulled me out. I got lucky. There was too much debris in the way after the collapse to get to Godric in time, but he saved a woman’s life before giving his own. It’s the ultimate sacrifice– one we never hope we have to make but know it’s a possibility when we sign up for the job. It’s a catch twenty-two, really. One the one hand, I understand the guy’s decisions because I probably would have done the same thing. On the other, there’s a part of me that wonders what the fuck he was thinking by not getting out while he could.
It doesn’t matter now, I suppose.
I’m standing outside the church with his helmet in his hands as the pallbearers pass his casket up onto the engine running behind me. His last ride.
The bagpipes begin to swell behind me. The drums start. It’s a steady beat, a cadence to guide our course. The first drop of rain lands on my shoulder as we start to walk.
I feel like I’m in a trance, of sorts. I concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other because if I try to think of anything else, I’ll just fall down. It never gets easier.
Russ opted for a full service with all the bells and whistles, so there will be a military salute at the cemetery. I remember when I first started in the department – after I was accepted and made an official candidate – getting the paperwork for me to plan my own memorial if I was injured in the line of duty. It’s a startling reminder of how quickly it could all be taken away. I’m going to have to amend my plans. There wasn’t a Sookie in my life when I put all that together.
I’m not going to tell her about it, though, at least not right now. She’s having a hard enough time with all this. I don’t know if it’s because she doesn’t have much family or if it’s because it’s just a lot to take or maybe it’s some combination of the two. I know she’s been leaning on my mom a lot for support. I’m glad Mom’s taken Sookie under her wing that way. It’s important to have that kind of support.
I see my brothers’ faces as I walk, both of them in their dress blues, saluting us as we pass them by. I don’t know how Mom does it. Worrying about dad was hard enough, but then to have her sons get on the job too? That’s a tough woman right there.
After the procession, Godric’s helmet goes onto the truck for the rest of the ride to the cemetery. There’s a bit of confusion, like always, as people get to their vehicles. I find Sookie standing with Mom, the two of them leaning on each other. I can tell they’ve been crying and I won’t be the least bit surprised if they worked out a deal over who was going to bring the tissues. I’m also not surprised when Sookie gives me a tight hug. I don’t think she’s ever been to one of these before.
“You okay?” I rub her back while Mom gets in her SUV. I’m still not clear to drive thanks to the bump on the head.
“I will be,” she replies quietly. “How are you doing?”
“I’m okay.” Now’s not the time to talk about it.
“You look handsome,” she says, trying to hold back her tears.
“Thank you.” The dress blues aren’t really comfortable, but mandatory for these things.
“Come on; let’s get out of the rain.”
I nod and open the door for her so she can get in the back. My legs are too long or I’d sit back there with her. Sookie climbs in and then I get into the passenger’s seat. We follow the procession to the cemetery in relative silence. I can hear Sookie humming along with the radio in the back. Mom’s being unusually quiet. I don’t have much to say at the moment anyway.
When we get to the cemetery Mom gets two large, black umbrellas from the back of the SUV. She offers one to Sookie and me to shield us from the rain before opening hers. The three of us make our way over to the graveside ceremony that hasn’t quite started yet. I feel for Russell. He looks stoic, sitting before the casket in his dress blues. I don’t think there are words to express what he meant to Godric. With the way he grew up, Russ was really the only person who ever loved him the way a father should love a son.
There’s no telling who Godric would have become if he hadn’t met Russ when he did, but I think it’s also safe to say there’s no way of knowing where Russ would be if he hadn’t met Godric. I think they saved each other.
Sookie reaches for my hand and our fingers lace together as we listen to the priest read through the psalms and offer the final prayers before the honor guard removes the draping from Godric’s casket. The flag is folded and presented to Russ. Sookie jumps beside me when the shots ring out off to our left.
My only real comfort in all this is knowing that Godric isn’t too far away, watching all of this and plotting out how to haunt all of us. With that thought, I start to laugh quietly. Sookie’s head lifts and she looks at me like I’ve lost my mind.
“Everything alright?” she whispers, squeezing my hand.
“Uh huh,” I nod.
“Okay.” She gives me one more squeeze before looking forward again.
Thunder rumbles overhead as the casket is lowered into the ground. One last prayer is given and then the service is over. There’s a luncheon thing happening at a banquet hall not far from here. I really want to go home and get some sleep, but I can’t do that quite yet. Sookie and I head back to Mom’s SUV and I stop when I see my brother Scottie and his current wife. Shit, I can’t remember her name…
“Hey,” Scottie greets me as he approaches. “You remember Crystal.”
“He was at the wedding, Scott,” Crystal says with a hint of annoyance.
“Of course I remember. She was the bitch in white,” I reply before I can stop myself.
Sookie tugs my arm.
“Hi, I’m Sookie,” she smiles and thrusts her hand out, trying to quickly move past my comment.
“Nice to meet you, Sookie,” Crystal says, reaching out to shake Sookie’s hand.
Mom comes over to give Scottie a kiss on the cheek and she hugs Crystal, even though I know she’s probably rather hug an Ebola riddled monkey.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Sookie. Mom speaks highly of you,” Scottie nods.
“Likewise,” my girl smiles.
“Are you going to the lunch?” Mom asks them.
“Nah, I’m going to get Crystal home. She’s not feeling well,” Scottie tells her.
Oh fuck, she’s not pregnant, is she?
Four heads all turn to look at me at once. Shit, I said that out loud, didn’t I?
“We should go,” Crystal says with daggers in her eyes. Scottie doesn’t look happy either.
“It was good meeting you,” Sookie says cheerily.
“Yeah. Mom, I’ll call you later.” Scottie takes Crystal’s hand to leave.
I just keep my mouth shut as they walk away.
“What the hell was that?” Mom asks me once they’re gone. “Not that I don’t agree with you, but…”
“I’m claiming it was the head injury,” I reply and Mom shakes her head.
“Eric, how are you feeling?” Sookie asks.
“Tired,” I answer honestly. “But I need to go to the lunch thing.”
“Are you sure? You’re still coming off an injury, I don’t think anyone would fault you for going home,” she points out.
“I know. I’m not going for them; I’m going for me,” I assure her.
“Okay. Just let one of us know when you’re ready.”
“I’m fine, babe,” I assure her. I know she’s worried and I am tired but I’m fine.
“Yes, that must be why you’re letting out your internal monologue,” Mom says.
“I’m just following your and Dad’s lead,” I shrug, earning me the stink eye from Mom. Neither of them has ever been very shy about saying what the think or how they feel. Why should it be a surprise if I just blurt things out after watching them do it for decades?
“No fighting today,” Sookie sighs. “Let’s go so we can get you home.”
“Who’s fighting? I’m not fighting.” I follow Sookie to the SUV.
“No, but you will be if you keep talking back to your mother,” she states.
“I’m not talking back,” I argue.
“Sweetie, you need a nap,” she sighs.
“Or maybe I don’t need to be babysat twenty-four hours a day.”
She gives me a look I can’t really decipher. “I’ll stay in the car during lunch until I don’t want to pop you in the back of the head anymore.”
“Suit yourself,” I mutter.
Mom gives me one of those warning looks but whatever. I’m not in the mood right now. There’s more silence on the way to the banquet hall and when we get there I don’t bother trying to talk Sookie out of staying in the car. If she’s determined to stay in there and have a shitty afternoon, fine. I have other things to worry about right now. I’ll deal with her later.
We’ve never fought. This is a first for us. Of all the days for it to happen, it has to be the day I bury my best friend. Figures. When it rains it pours, right?
When Mom drops us off early that evening, Sookie marches straight back to the bedroom and slams the door shut behind her. It’s a clear signal that she’s pissed at me but being the silly man I am, I follow after her. She’s angrily yanking off her clothes when I open the bedroom door.
“Are you giving me the silent treatment?” I ask even though the answer should be obvious since I’ve only gotten dirty looks from her for the last five hours or so.
“What was your first clue?” She gets stuck trying to pull her top off, letting out a little grumble.
“Want some help?” I offer. I’m guessing it’s a no but it can’t hurt to ask.
“I don’t want anything from you right now.” She gives up on her fight and bends to unbuckle her shoes.
“Sookie, come on…”
“Look, I know you don’t feel well and today was a really shitty day, but you’ve been an asshole to everyone. I don’t want to talk to you right now, Eric.”
“Fine.” I turn and leave the room, slamming the door behind me. I don’t really feel like being in the house with her if she’s going to pout and slam things around so I grab my keys and walk out of the house altogether.
I can’t drive so I start walking toward my old rehab house. I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to get there on foot, but whatever. At least I can keep myself busy for a while. I just don’t need this shit with her right now, I really don’t.