Worth fighting for, p.14
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       Worth Fighting For, p.14

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
 
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  “Are you sure you have enough time? Don’t you need to shower and get changed?” she asked, looking down at my jeans and sweater.

  I waved a dismissive hand. I would be pushing it, but I’d just skip the shower and throw on my clothes after. “Plenty of time.”

  She sat at the dresser and we didn’t speak as I negotiated the front of her hair into a cute little French braid, tucking the ends under the rest of her hair and then picking up her curling iron and getting started on adding some soft curls to the back.

  “Are you leaving on Wednesday with Toby?” Kelsey suddenly asked out of the blue.

  I frowned, wrapping another segment of hair around the curling wand. “No. What made you ask that?”

  She shrugged, picking at the skin around her fingernails. “I just figured that once the funeral was done you’d leave as soon as you could.”

  I shook my head adamantly. “I’m here to look after you.”

  “Nana is here for that.”

  I frowned and set the curling iron on the dresser, squatting down next to her so we were basically eye to eye. “Kelsey, I’m here to take care of you, whatever happens,” I promised. “Is that why you’ve been so pissed at me, because you think I just flew in for the funeral and then was going to flit right off again after?”

  She shrugged, her hand going up to her mouth so she could nibble on her nail. I knew I was spot on. She thought I would abandon her at the first opportunity.

  “I’m not going to jet off again, I promise.”

  “What if Mom doesn’t wake up?” she whispered, her eyes wide, fearful. I could see the desperation there as her gaze locked on mine.

  “She will, I know she will,” I replied, trying to be more confident than I actually felt. The truth was that no one knew what would happen, not even the doctors.

  “But if she doesn’t?” she pushed.

  I smiled reassuringly. “If she doesn’t, then I’m here. That’s all you need to know.” I got to my feet, stooping to kiss the top of her head as I softened her curls with my fingers and then smiled at her in the mirror. “There. Beautiful.”

  A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth as her eyes met mine in the mirror. “Thanks, Ellie.”

  CHAPTER 15

  WHEN THE BLACK funeral car containing me, my sister, my grandmother, and my fiancé pulled up at the crematorium that we’d chosen to hold my father’s service, my lungs constricted with finality.

  Kelsey’s hand gripped mine so tightly it pinched. “I don’t think I can do this,” she muttered, shaking her head, her tears flowing again. Her words echoed mine of this morning.

  I twisted in my seat so I could look at her. “You can. We can,” I said confidently. “Come on. We got this.” I reached out and placed my free hand over my grandmother’s crinkly one and gave it a little squeeze. “We all got this.”

  Nana nodded and Toby opened the car door, stepping out first, then turning to help my grandmother as she scooted up the seat. I smiled over at Kelsey, letting go of her hand as she followed the other two out of the car. I took a deep breath, steeling myself, silently repeating the mantra that I’d been going over and over for the last hour.

  Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

  I raised my chin and climbed from the car, heading straight over to Kelsey, who was staring up at the ominous brick-and-glass building with evident terror. I placed a hand on the small of her back, and she turned and offered me a tentative smile, but I could see the pain in her eyes.

  Soft crying to my left gained my attention, and I turned to see that Nana was in bits, crying and dabbing at her face with a hankie. Toby had his arm around her shoulders, his expression solemn. My stomach coiled as I linked my arm through Kelsey’s, just needing to get this whole thing out of the way. Maybe once we’d said good-bye we could start to feel slightly better and begin to rebuild.

  “Come on, Nana,” I said, opening my other arm and beckoning her over to me. Toby’s arm dropped from around her shoulders and he mouthed the words “Love you” to me as Nana shuffled toward Kels and me. I smiled, my heart warming slightly at the pride I could see in Toby’s eyes as he watched me. Nana came to my side, pressing against me as she looped one arm around my waist, gripping a fistful of the black jacket that I’d changed into for the service. I raised my chin and the three of us walked as a unit toward the arched entrance to say good-bye to the greatest man I ever had the pleasure of knowing.

  Toby walked slightly ahead, pausing at the heavy wooden doors, waiting for us to walk in first. I swallowed, repeating my “don’t cry” mantra, willing myself to stay strong for them. As we stepped inside, my eyes widened in surprise. There were so many people here, so many of my dad’s friends and family turned up to pay their respects that they’d already filled every single bench. Off to the left, maybe another twenty or so people stood, all dressed to the nines. Some I recognized as friends, some were inevitably work colleagues and clients, people from all different backgrounds here for my father. A swell of pride and gratitude rose within me. It was a testament to his character how many people were going to miss him. He would be honored to know he’d touched so many people’s lives.

  We stopped at the entrance, taking one of the order-of-service cards I’d painstakingly designed from the person handing them out. Before we could get going again, the minister walked over, his smile sad as he reached out and took one of my nana’s hands in both of his. “I’m sorry for your loss. I think everyone is already here. We have everything ready, and I can play the first song whenever you’re ready.”

  “Thank you,” I replied.

  He smiled and let go of Nana’s hand, waving us forward. As we walked up the aisle toward the front bench that had been left empty for us, people nodded in greeting, their smiles sad and full of emotion.

  Off to one side, nestled among the standing crowd, my eyes lingered on a young black guy wearing a stylish gray suit and black shirt. His face was familiar, but it took me a minute to place him. He looked up and our eyes met, and it suddenly hit me: He’d been sitting in the sedan outside my house.

  And standing next to him...Jamie Cole.

  My breathing faltered for a second. I’d forgotten how good he looked in a suit. When he’d asked to come to the service, part of me thought it was just for show and that he wouldn’t turn up; part of me hoped that would happen. But here he was, in the flesh, looking impossibly handsome.

  I forced my eyes away, turning my attention to the coffin that sat on a large oak platform. Flowers framed the sides and rested on top. To the left and right of the platform were wooden stands with large photo boards on them.

  My legs were weak, but somehow we all made it to the front of the room and sat on the bench, my grandmother on my left, my sister on my right. Toby squeezed in next to Nana. Almost as soon as we were seated, Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” began playing. My father had said it was one of the greatest songs ever sung by the legend, who just so happened to be my dad’s hero, so I’d chosen it to open the ceremony.

  When the volume faded, I looked up at the minister and attempted to prepare myself for what was to come.

  During the ceremony, I tried to focus but my eyes kept drifting to the crack in the tiled floor at my feet as I fought to contain my tears. My hands stayed gripped in those of the women next to me as the congregation sang hymns I could only mouth and a couple of my father’s closest friends gave readings I barely heard. When the minister delivered the eulogy, it garnered a few laughs from attendees, as I had intended when I wrote it. I wanted it to be full of good humor and grace, as my father himself had been.

  But during the whole thing, I just sat there silently, numb and devastated. My chest had tightened to the point where it was hard to breathe, like a vise had been clamped around my torso. I was losing my battle to be strong; my strength was crumbling away as I looked up at that photo of my father with that smile that always reached his eyes. I couldn’t take it, I needed out, I wanted out of this room and away f
rom the flowers, the hymnbooks, and all these people sitting around. I wanted to scream and shout at the injustice of it all, throw things, smash things, ask why, why, why? My heart was drumming in my ears. I could almost feel my temples throbbing to the tempo of it.

  But just as I was about to lose control, Kelsey sniffed and tightened her hand in mine, leaning over to rest her head on my shoulder. Her other arm wrapped around mine, pulling it across her body as if hiding behind it somehow would protect her from what was happening. And in that moment, a calm settled over me and my chest loosened. She needed me. It was that simple. I couldn’t lose control because she needed me to take care of her.

  I raised my eyes to the dark wooden coffin and made a silent vow to my father that I would always be there to look after Kelsey. Always. No matter what happened with my mom. Then I silently told him it was okay, and that he could rest in peace knowing that we would be fine. Together.

  I sucked in a deep breath through my nose, blowing it out through my mouth slowly and deeply, repeating a couple of times, breathing through the anxiety attack that was brewing within me until I felt better.

  The ceremony was drawing to a close now; the last reading had just been done and now there was just the closing and the final song left.

  “So make sure you talk about him often, share stories about silly things he did, remember him often. For when you do that, a person’s spirit lives on through us and they never really die,” the minister said before smiling over at us. “Michael’s family would like me to tell you that the wake will be at their home and that all are welcome to attend. I’m sure the family joins me in thanking you all for coming today to say your farewell to Michael. As you leave, the family has chosen a song that I’m told is Michael’s all-time favorite.” He turned, seeming a little hesitant as he nodded to one of his staffers, who must have cued up the song.

  A loud, beautifully sung harmony cut through the air.

  The person behind me snorted a laugh as they realized what song it was.

  Moments later, guitars and loud drums kicked in as Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” reverberated off the walls. I smiled despite the pain I was feeling inside. My father had had a bold range of songs in his repertoire. This one, however inappropriate for a funeral, was his favorite song by his favorite artist. I couldn’t have not played it for him one last time.

  Next to me, my nana chuckled, releasing my hand, and started clapping along to the beat. I grinned over at her, seeing people doing the same, smiling, tapping their toes to the beat, their shoulders swaying a little, a few even mouthing the words to the song. All of us had probably seen my dad do air guitar to this song at least once in our lives. No one left the room until the last beat had been dropped.

  When it was finally finished and people started to stand, the mood in the room was significantly lifted, as was my own.

  My dad’s friends, our family, neighbors, and his coworkers all started slowly walking past us to get to the side door, which led to the gardens on the side of the crematorium. Some stopped to say how sorry they were for our loss, some complimented us on the choice of song, and one of my father’s friends even laughed and told me that he could almost see my dad whipping his head to that song from heaven. I smiled and nodded, thanking people for coming, telling them I would see them back at the house for a drink and some food.

  “Such a lovely service,” Great-Aunt Shelly noted. “The eulogy was perfect for Michael. I remember him as a child, such a naughty boy, but he had the cheekiest smile, so you could never tell him off.” She laughed to herself and my nana nodded in agreement.

  I reached out, placing a hand on Shelly’s arm because she looked a little unsteady on her elderly legs. “Thank you for coming. Are you coming back to the house for a bite to eat?”

  “Oh yes, I’ll be there. I’ll have to have Errol follow your car back to the house, though. I can’t remember the way and he’s never been,” she replied, nodding back to her new boyfriend—well, he wasn’t exactly a boy, he was eighty if he was a day.

  My eyes wandered to the left while she told me about how slow Errol drove and how long it had taken them to get here today. Jamie was in the line, filing out behind a group of my dad’s work friends. I bit my tongue, my eyes meeting his, and everyone else there seemed sort of insignificant as all my attention now went to the boy who broke my heart. He nodded slightly, but I saw it and it was enough for me to get the meaning. He was thanking me silently for letting him attend. I nodded back, praying he wouldn’t approach me. With Toby standing just three feet from me, it would be überawkward and something I wasn’t prepared to deal with today at all. But true to his word, Jamie silently walked past, heading toward the door with the crowd.

  I breathed a sigh of relief and tried to ignore an inappropriate stab of disappointment. Part of me had wanted him to come over, to be close enough that I could smell his cologne and feel the heat radiating from his body. Part of me had wanted him to wrap his arms around me and whisper in my ear that everything was okay and that he’d be here to help me through this. Part of me longed for him like I had when I was eighteen. That part of me, however much I had wanted it to, had not diminished over time.

  I forced my eyes away from him as I felt heat flush my cheeks, my mind wandering to the kiss on Tuesday night and how it had created sparks of desire that threatened to ignite us both.

  I turned to see Toby, who was offering Nana and Great-Aunt Shelly an arm each so he could help them navigate the winding path back to the parking lot. My heart squeezed painfully at the sight and a wave of sadness and guilt washed over me like a bucket of cold water. Toby was such a good man, and I wished things were different. That I was different. That I hadn’t been so broken when we’d met, that I hadn’t allowed myself to believe I was fixed, because really, seeing Jamie again, I realized I had just been fooling us both. I wasn’t over him, not even remotely, and I despised myself for that.

  CHAPTER 16

  JAMIE

  SHAUN’S WEDDING WAS in full swing. The ceremony had gone without a hitch, and it was now the evening reception. They’d opted to go low key with it all, no sit-down meal but a huge buffet and an open bar instead. It was pretty much how I would have planned a wedding too—more emphasis on celebrating rather than formalities. A few people from my crew had already taken advantage of the free bar and were a little tipsy, but then again, most people were, especially Shaun.

  “So you don’t miss it?” I asked Shaun, watching him lean heavily on the bar and slurp his drink.

  He shrugged one shoulder. “I miss some things. The guys. And the money.” He sighed wistfully. “But I don’t miss prison.”

  “You sure you don’t want back in? I can use you on my team,” I offered.

  Shaun laughed and turned to me, his eyes glazed over from too much alcohol. “Can’t. It’s hard being broke and having to live paycheck to paycheck, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I get to wake up every day to my little boy and my beautiful girlfriend...oops, wife,” he corrected, glancing down at the new gold ring on his finger. “They’re two things money can’t buy, so I’ll just keep pushing on and saving up for shit I want.”

  “Good for you, I’m happy for you.” I smiled and patted him on the shoulder. I respected that. To be honest, when I’d had Ellie in my life things like money and cars hadn’t mattered to me, either. I guess when you love someone more than anything, everything else becomes a little inconsequential. I missed that.

  “Thanks, man,” Shaun slurred.

  Ray and Enzo walked over then, Ray slinging his arm around Shaun’s shoulder as he spoke. “You want to take it easy on the booze, there, Shaun. You want to be able to consummate the marriage tonight, don’t you?”

  “I can consummate anytime and in any state,” Shaun boasted, grinning lopsidedly.

  Ray turned his attention to me. “Are you ready to leave, Kid? I gotta be up early tomorrow,” he lied.

  I took the hint. It was time to go. The boost was waiting.
“Yeah, sure thing. Thanks for inviting us, Shaun. And congrats again on the ball and chain,” I joked, holding out my hand for him to shake. “Come to the club anytime, there’s always no cover for you and the missus.”

  “Thanks, Kid. I will.”

  After Ray and Enzo had said their good-byes, we headed out to my car and back to the warehouse to get tonight’s boost started. It was only a short drive, and the whole way there Ray was talking about Shaun and how good he looked. I had to admit, being a family man suited him. I tried not to acknowledge the jealous feeling that swirled in the pit of my stomach. If I hadn’t been arrested, that could have been me and Ellie getting married today. If only I hadn’t done that fucking job, my life would be so different.

  Dodger, Chase, and Ed were already at the warehouse and ready to go. Dodger and Chase were busy moving the three shipping container trucks into place, ready for when we brought the cars back.

  I grabbed my boosting kit from the workbench and walked over to talk to Ed while Ray and Enzo went to change.

  “Listen, when you’re outside Ellie’s tonight, be extra careful. She saw Dodger yesterday, and I’m pretty sure she made him at the funeral because she was looking at him funny. I don’t want her to know anything about this, so park a little farther away and be extra vigilant,” I told Ed, setting my bag down and sorting through it, checking that everything I would need tonight was in there. “Oh, and don’t take the sedan, take one of the other cars in the lot,” I added as an afterthought, nodding toward the front door where five cars sat ready and waiting. I’d purchased them for my crew to use when they saw fit. They weren’t anything special, but some jobs were better done with an unmarked car than one that could be traced back to someone. It was prudent to be prepared, and they’d come in handy with the people watching Ellie for me, too.

  “Okay, Kid.” Ed sighed, plopping himself down onto the empty stool at the end of the workbench. “Are you sure you don’t just want to pull the surveillance on this girl? If the Salazars were going to make a move, they would have done it by now.”

  “Not yet,” I answered, removing my bolt cutters from the bag
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