Honor me, p.15
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       Honor Me, p.15

         Part #6 of Men of Inked series by Chelle Bliss
 
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  conscience.”

  We both stood over him as he reached into the air like we were going to help him. We stared down at him, watching him gasping for breath before his hand fell to the ground and he grew silent.

  “He’s not my first kill, Joe,” James admitted and shook his head. “I know how to deal with it.”

  What do you say to someone when they admit they’ve killed people? Fuck if I know. “Thomas,” I whispered, turning my back on the bastard who had shot my brother.

  James and I took off, running toward the lights in the distance. “The ambulance is on the way!” Pop yelled before we were even within fifty feet of Thomas.

  Angel sat at his side, clutching his shirt and crying into his chest. “Thomas!” she yelled through her tears, gasping for air out of fear.

  “Fuck,” I said, feeling tears threatening to fall. “This shouldn’t have happened.”

  Izzy ran to James, wrapping herself around him in tears. “Is he going to die, James?”

  “I don’t know, baby. Let me look at him.” James untangled her, handing her off to me before kneeling down next to Thomas.

  His eyes fluttered open. “Angel,” he whispered, reaching up and touching her face.

  “Thomas!” she yelled, leaning over him and kissing his face. “Thomas, are you okay, baby?”

  “I don’t know.” He grimaced and closed his eyes again.

  “Someone give me a light,” James said, holding his arm in the air.

  Izzy pressed a few buttons on her phone and turned on the flashlight before handing it to her husband. “It’s a pretty big hole. We gotta get him to the house.”

  The sound of the ambulance going down the street that ran between the house and woods broke through the sobs and panic.

  “I’ll carry him,” James said, scooping his arms underneath Thomas.

  “I can do it,” I said, pushing him out of the way. He was my brother, and he took a bullet instead of me. When I lifted him, my legs started to shake, but I didn’t let it stop me.

  I walked quickly, trying to avoid hitting any branches on my way to the yard. When we emerged, the entire family stood around, holding their hands over their mouths in tears.

  “Joe,” Suzy screeched and ran toward me with her arms outstretched. “Oh my God, Thomas.”

  “I have to get him to the front yard.” My voice was strangled, and he had started to feel like a ton of bricks in my arms.

  “Thomas!” Ma yelled from across the yard, running in our direction.

  I didn’t stop and let her see him. It was too important to get him to the front yard when the paramedics arrived. When I rounded the house, the ambulance pulled into the driveway. Two men hopped out and started running toward us with their gear.

  I collapsed onto the ground, shielding Thomas from the impact. Laying him down, I scooted away on my ass and made room for the paramedics.

  The enormity of the situation hit me when Suzy wrapped her arms around me from behind and whispered, “He’s going to be okay, Joe.”

  I lost it.

  Tears streamed down my face and my entire body started to shake. I grabbed her hands, clutching them to my chest as I watched them work on my brother.

  “He’s critical,” the one man said as they lifted him onto the gurney.

  “Oh, God,” I said, staring up at the stars before sealing my eyes shut and saying a prayer. Thomas didn’t deserve to go out like this.

  * * *

  “Mrs. Gallo,” the nurse said, walking into the waiting room. She was met with five women who said yes. “Mrs. Thomas Gallo.”

  “Yes,” Angel said, pushing the others to the side.

  “They’ve taken your husband into surgery to try to control the internal bleeding and remove the bullet.”

  Angel grabbed her chest, twisting her shirt in her fist. “Will he live?”

  “It’s too soon to say, ma’am, but the doctors are doing everything they can.”

  Her legs started to give way, and Suzy grabbed her around the waist, catching her before she collapsed to the floor.

  “He’s strong, Angel. He’ll make it,” Suzy whispered to her and stroked her hair.

  Angel sobbed, walking backward toward the waiting room chairs with Suzy’s assistance. “I can’t lose him.”

  “I knew something bad was going to happen,” Mike said, smashing his head into the wall behind us.

  “We all made the decision, Mike.” I stood, needing a bit of space. I couldn’t believe we were here again. Too much time had been spent in hospitals.

  Ma was around the corner, leaning against the wall for support.

  “Ma,” I whispered and pulled her into my arms.

  “No mother should outlive her children, Joseph,” she cried, burying her face in my chest and fisting my T-shirt in her hands.

  I held her head in my hands. “Shh, Ma. He’ll make it.” I promised her something I knew I couldn’t deliver.

  “You don’t know that,” she whispered, peering up into my eyes as tears streamed down her face.

  If we lost Thomas because of tonight, I didn’t know how I’d hold it together. Without him, we might just fall apart.

  Saying Good-bye

  Joe

  “I can’t go in there.” I pointed toward the church.

  “Come on, baby. We have to.” Suzy grabbed my hand and squeezed.

  I shook my head and stared at the ground. “I just can’t, Suzy. That’s my brother in there.”

  “Joe.” She straightened my tie and peered up at me. “You’re strong. You can do this. Just breathe. Everyone is waiting for us.”

  I rested my head on hers and tried to control my breathing. “How am I supposed to look at him in a—” I couldn’t even say the word.

  “We have to do this. Do it for him and for your family.”

  I still hadn’t gotten over the trauma of the entire experience. I was always the strong one. The one who never crumpled under pressure, but watching my brother take a bullet had changed me.

  I wiped my face and shook out my hands before I pulled on the collar of my suit. “I can’t breathe in this fucking thing.”

  She popped open the top button and loosened my tie. “Better?” she asked, giving me a sorrowful smile.

  I pressed my lips to her forehead and let her smell and feel calm me. I couldn’t walk in the door of the church without her. “Yeah.”

  “Come on, baby.” She wrapped her arms around my back and ushered me toward the doors to the church.

  I walked slowly, unable to take my eyes off Thomas’s lifeless body. His pale face devoid of emotion and lying motionless in the casket made my heart seize and beat out of rhythm.

  I wanted to wrap my hands around the neck of the bastard that did this to our entire family and watch them gasp for their last breath, begging for mercy they wouldn’t receive.

  My mother wept in the front pew, dabbing her eyes and staring straight at her son. “I just can’t,” she whispered as I sat down next to her. My father held her hand so tightly that both of their fingers had turned white.

  I put one arm around Suzy’s shoulders and the other around my mother’s. This was the same church where Suzy and I were married and each of my siblings had said their vows. So many happy memories in a place filled with so much sorrow. I held them tighter, bringing them closer to me as I stared at Thomas, unable to take my eyes off of him.

  The priest walked out and made the sign of the cross before beginning to speak. I tuned out, unable to listen. I sat in silence, holding my ladies and thinking about all the stupid shit I’d done in my life that could’ve put me in the casket instead.

  I wasted so much of my youth acting like a fool, feeling invincible, without a care in the world. How quickly my life could’ve ended never entered my mind. I certainly didn’t think about how it would’ve affected my family.

  Suzy settled me down.

  She grounded me.

  I never had anything to lose until I had her and my girls.
<
br />   I glanced over at Angel, sitting on the other side of my father. She was frozen, her eyes glued to her husband. Silent tears streamed down her face, stopping near her open lips before falling off her chin.

  The mass was a blur. I didn’t hear anything the priest said or James’s speech about Thomas. None of it mattered.

  When everyone in the pews stood, I did too. When they knelt, so did I. I followed their motions like a robot lacking all emotion. There was something mechanical about the motions. I’d shed too many tears in the last week—so much sorrow that my heart couldn’t bear another moment without bursting.

  When everyone started to murmur and file out of the church, our row finally stood and followed. There were no words that could be spoken, no more emotions left to give.

  I hung back with Sam, James, Mike, Anthony, Bear, Morgan, Frisco, and Tank to carry the casket and place him in the hearse to head to the cemetery.

  When the front doors closed and the church was empty, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

  “Do you think they fucking bought it?” James asked, peering down at Thomas.

  His eyes opened and he grimaced when he sat up. “I hope so.” He climbed out, holding on to the edge because he was still weak and sore from the surgery. “I had a cockroach crawling on me for the last thirty minutes. I don’t ever want to go through that shit again.”

  “You’re a tool,” Mike muttered and punched him in the arm.

  “Why does everyone look so damn sad?” Thomas stretched and cracked his neck. “It’s not like your asses were pretending to be dead.”

  Even though it was a ruse, it still sucked. Seeing my brother lying there, even if he was alive, was harder than I thought possible.

  “Even though you were pretending, it didn’t make it any easier, ass wipe.” Anthony closed the lid to the casket and started to buckle the locks.

  “All that matters is that the leftover assholes from the MC think I’m dead.”

  “I think Ma’s cries and Angel’s weeping were enough to sell it to any jury.”

  “Good.” Thomas laid his hand on top of the coffin. “I’m happy you’re not burying me today. I’m not done raising a little hell yet.”

  “I plan to grow old with you, brother,” I told him and nudged him in the shoulder.

  “Now, go before anyone gets suspicious. I’ll hang with Father O’Toole until tonight and head back to the house when we know the coast is clear.”

  “You have to lay low for at least a week, Thomas. The guys and I will handle work. You just recover.”

  “I plan to do nothing but stay in bed. Scout’s honor.” He made the sign of the cross over his heart, but we all knew he was full of shit.

  “Let’s go.” I grabbed the handle, waiting for everyone else to do the same. We lifted it in unison and carried it to the doorway, leaving Thomas behind us.

  I glanced over my shoulder as he disappeared behind the altar. When the doors swung open and we saw the rear of the hearse open and waiting, we all pretended that the coffin was heavier and that my brother was still inside. After we set it down and the mortician moved it inside, we headed toward our cars and our waiting family.

  “I think the coast is clear,” James said, sliding in next to me.

  “That was so hard,” Ma said, dabbing her cheeks. “I don’t know if I can do that again at the cemetery.”

  “You can do it, Mar.” Pop held her close and kissed her temple. “It’s almost over.”

  “Seeing Thomas in that casket, even knowing that he wasn’t dead, almost broke me, Sal.”

  “I know, baby, but he’s okay. We’re all okay.” Pop looked at me, giving me a sheepish smile.

  Suzy curled into my side and placed her hand over my heart. “Life isn’t boring in this family. I’m just happy everyone is okay.” She smiled up at me and I smiled back.

  “I know, sugar. I love you,” I told her, covering her hand with mine.

  “I love you too, Joe.” She rested her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes.

  I couldn’t help but think about how close we’d come to this being a real funeral. I realized how much I liked boring. I wanted it. The adrenaline rush of people chasing me had worn off.

  I was ready for it all to disappear.

  Maybe now that the members of the Sun Devils MC thought Thomas was dead and another member of their crew was gone, we could live in peace.

  What’s Normal?

  Suzy

  “So it’s over?” I asked Joe after shaking the last guest’s hand as they walked out of Angel and Thomas’s house.

  We had to do everything as if Thomas had really passed. After the burial, all of the members of the family were invited back to Angel’s home for a meal. I never understood why, though. Why did the grieving family have to feed everyone for coming to say good-bye?

  “It is.” He kissed the top of my head. “Thomas said based on intel and the death of Cowboy, we’re in the clear.”

  “For now,” I mumbled and buried my face in his shirt.

  “Forever.” He stroked my hair softly, soothing me.

  “We’re Gallos. Trouble seems to find us.” I smiled into his chest.

  “Look who’s alive,” James said when Thomas walked through the back door.

  “You’d miss me if I wasn’t here, buddy.”

  “I would, asshole.” James smiled at him.

  “Who wants a beer? I could fucking use one after a day like today.” Thomas headed toward the kitchen and whistled.

  “I think I’m going to be sick.” Angel covered her mouth and ran from the room.

  My heart ached for her. Even though it was a lie, I couldn’t imagine seeing Joe in a coffin.

  “I’m going to go check on her, baby.” I touched his cheek, running my fingers against the tiny stubble that had started to form.

  “I’ll be here waiting. We can leave when you’re ready.”

  “Let’s stay a while. I think everyone needs some family time.” I patted him on the chest, holding his hand as I walked away until distance separated us.

  “Angel,” I whispered and pushed open her bedroom door to find her in a ball on the bed. “Oh, sweetie.” Lying down next to her, I pushed her hair away from her face. “Everything is okay, sweetheart.”

  “I couldn’t breathe all day, Suz.” She turned on her back and stretched out. “I just kept picturing him in that casket for real. I don’t know what I’d do without him.” Her eyes roamed around the ceiling and she started to hyperventilate.

  I grabbed her hand, squeezing it. “He’s fine, Angel. Relax.”

  “I was so close to losing him. More than once, we’ve almost been torn apart. My heart couldn’t survive without him.” Tears started to trickle down her cheeks, plopping onto the bedspread.

  “I can’t imagine losing Joe either. Somehow, other people survive when they lose the love of their life.”

  “I’d die of a broken heart,” she whispered, wiping her face with the back of her fingers.

  “We’d help you through it. We’re all going to be there sometime.” I frowned. I’d probably die of a broken heart too. Joe was more than just my husband—he was my everything. “We’d make it through it for our kids.” I turned on my back and stared up at the ceiling, watching the fan as it turned.

  “Angel,” Thomas said from the doorway. “Are you okay, baby?”

  “I’ll let you two talk,” I said, scooting off the bed.

  Thomas smiled as I walked past him and whispered, “Thanks.”

  “We’re doing shots, Suzy Q. Want one?” Izzy held up the bottle of tequila and smirked.

  My stomach turned at the thought of getting wasted, especially on tequila. “No, I’m good.”

  “You’re never any fun.” She poured another round before pushing them across the counter to everyone else.

  “I have infants to take care of when I get home,” I told her, feeling like a party pooper.

  “I’ll give you a pass this once.”

  I
’d probably had fifty passes over the years.

  “Let’s do a toast.” Anthony held his shot glass in the air and waited. I grabbed a bottle of water and joined everyone with my bottle high above my head. “To the Gallos, one kick-ass family that even a gunshot doesn’t stop.”

  Mia cleared her throat and grinned. “Gunshots, punches, and everything else, but don’t mention a vasectomy without them scurrying away like little rats.” She raised her glass higher.

  “Salute,” everyone murmured, not willing to make a comment after that.

  “What a bullshit day,” Anthony said, pulling a stool up to the counter and making himself comfortable.

  Max stood behind him with her arms wrapped around his neck. “I kept waiting for Thomas to move and hear someone in the church scream.” She laughed, nuzzling her face into his neck.

  “That would’ve been kick-ass,” Anthony said, turning his face to kiss her forehead.

  Izzy leaned on the counter and wound her fingers with James’s. “Don’t ever make me go through that.”

  He grinned. “I have it in my will that you’re to be buried with me like the slaves in Egypt. You’re coming to the afterlife with me, baby.”

  She punched him in the gut and he hunched over. “Bull-fuckin’-shit.”

  He laughed and held his stomach. “I thought you’d love the idea.”

  I giggled and glanced over at Joe, who was digging his fingers into his eyes.

  “Where did Ma and Pop go?” Thomas asked as he walked back into the kitchen with Angel under his arm.

  “They were exhausted and headed home,” Izzy told him and picked up the bottle of tequila again. “Shot?”

  “I think I’ll stay sober tonight.”

  Izzy’s mouth fell open and she gawked at Thomas. “Why?”

  “Just fuckin’ with ya. Pour me a shot.” He laughed and nudged Izzy in the shoulder.

 
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