Growing quiet his fingers shift through my hair then run down my back. “My family isn’t like your family, baby, and my brother and I don’t have a relationship like you and your sisters have. I’ve tried with him, tried over and over throughout the years. I knew he was fucked up from how we grew up, understood the reasons why he did the shit he did before, but he’s not a kid anymore, and I won’t make excuses for him. I won’t allow you to feel bad for him.”
“I want you to listen,” he cuts me off before I can suggest that maybe his brother needs help, real help, and not the kind prison offers. “I want you to hear me when I say this. It’s going to sound cold, but this is the truth. He’s never going to change. He’s going to use our childhood as an excuse for his fucked-up behavior for the rest of his life, and that shit is on him.”
His thumb presses over my lips and his face dips even closer to mine. “Don’t. I love you, baby, and I know you. I know you see your family and the way they are, and you think that’s the way it is for everyone, but it is not. Some people have the same blood running through their veins, but that blood doesn’t mean shit at the end of the day. When shit went down for you, I didn’t once think of calling my blood. I called my brothers. And the minute I did, they rolled out. That’s loyalty. That’s love and respect. That’s a bond stronger than blood. You get me?” he asks, and I nod in the dark. “Good.” He removes his thumb.
“How did you meet up with Wes and the guys?” I ask, referring to my sister July’s husband, who also happens to be the president of The Broken Eagles MC club. The men Evan obviously considers his brothers. July explained to me that Wes and his boys were all in the military together. They ride on weekends, work on their own bikes and cars, and do the same for friends. Wes came here to visit his mom, who lives in Nashville, took one look at the beautiful state of Tennessee, and decided once they were all free from the service, they’d move here, settle down, and start their own bike and car repair business.
“Soon as I got back stateside and discharged, I looked up a friend of mine, Colton. He was in our unit, but had gotten sent back stateside for surgery after being shot once in the chest and once in the back two weeks before we lost our unit. Colton was in New York at a rehabilitation center, but he put me in contact with his dad. Their family owns a biker bar near Chattanooga. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just knew that whatever I did, I needed to be away from Alabama, my mom, and my dad,” he says, holding me a little closer. “I also didn’t want to risk seeing you.”
That stung. I understood why, but it still hurt. I can still remember the pain I felt when I found out he was in Alabama and hadn’t come to me. I remember it so accurately, it feels like it was just yesterday.
“We’re moving forward, baby,” he whispers, and I squeeze my eyes closed and nod. “I had been working at the bar for a week when Harlen came in. We talked the whole time he was on the stool. Before he left, he gave me his number, and we talked some more. During one of our calls, he explained that he was part of an MC, and that most of the members were Vets. He invited me to come out for the weekend and I took him up on his offer. It wasn’t long after that, that Wes introduced me to Jax.”
“I’m glad you have them,” I say softly. I’m glad that after his messed-up childhood and what happened to him when he was in Afghanistan, he has guys he considers brothers, people to depend on and lean on.
“Me too, baby.”
“And Colton, is he okay now?” I ask, wondering if his friend realizes his life was also spared because of what happened to him.
“He is now, but wasn’t before. He may have been gone, but he also lost men he thought of as brothers. Had to learn how to walk again, spent a year in rehab. His longtime fiancée broke up with him while he was going through that shit, so he wasn’t good, but he’s back home, settling in, and working at his dad’s bar. Last time we spoke, he sounded happy.”
“His longtime fiancée broke up with him while he was learning how to walk again?” I breathe, not even beginning to comprehend that.