"Her date," I took great joy in informing him. "Is a lawyer. And they've been dating for a year, man. Pull your head out of your ass before it's too late."
The muttering on the other end of the line was incoherent, but I knew I'd struck a chord. I just hoped that it wouldn't take him too long to get his act together. Kennedy, as much as I loved my little sister, was a pain in the ass. And having her be in love with one of my best friends for her entire life was an even bigger pain in the ass than she was.
"I've gotta go," he said suddenly. "I'm supposed to be picking something up for my mom before breakfast."
"It's three in the morning."
"Yeah, I forgot to get it before I came on shift last night. Do you think your dad'll care that I shoot over to the convenience store on shift?"
We both laughed at that. Chief Townsend didn't give two fucks what happened or where his officers went on shift, as long as they got their shit done. Linc might be annoying as fuck, too, but he did the job and did it right.
"I'll talk to you later. Don't forget to check in on Parker," I reminded him needlessly.
If I knew Linc at all, he'd already sent a mass text to both his parents, his little sister, and my sisters as well, to let them know about Boo and to check in on her.
"Yeah, yeah." He hung up without another word, and I smiled despite myself.
"Come on, Daisy," I said while turning the cruiser toward my house. "Let's go home and get some rest."
Her bark, a quick and happy one, told me that she was just fine with our plans. When we got to the house, she sat dutifully at her door, waiting to be let out until I pulled into the garage.
"You're the best woman I know." She practically preened at me when I opened her door. Then she proceeded to bolt out her dog door in the side of the garage and take off into the backyard to do her business.
I went inside and took off my utility belt and state police uniform for the last time. After a few days of much-needed rest, I'd be starting at the Birch Police Department, where I'd actually wanted to go to work when I got out of the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, my father didn't play favorites and there hadn't been openings for both me and Linc at once, so I got one with the Maine State Police. Three months in, and one of my father's officers quit unexpectedly. That opened the door for me, and I took hold of it with both hands. After all, Birch County ran through my veins.
Daisy went where I went, and thankfully, she'd be coming along with me to Birch PD.
After I secured my gun and stuck my phone on the charger, I sat down in the living room with a beer in hand. Just like every night, I stared at the picture on the wall.
Me, Linc, Danny, our sisters, and Parker all stared back at me. We were younger, happier, and ready to take on the world in that photo. Me and the twins were all wearing our dress blues, and the girls were in varying stages of dressed-upness. All except Parker, who looked like she'd just crawled out of bed.
I remembered her not even wanting to go, she'd been so afraid for us.
That was the morning after I'd told her to give Danny a chance. The morning after I'd cut my heart out and handed it to her.
After his death, my mom had the photo blown up for me, and I hung it in every room I’d had. The frame was black and heavy, and I'd had more than one commanding officer try to have me remove it from my barracks wall while I was enlisted.
But I kept it up, and eventually they stopped harassing me about it. Either that, or one of the other men in my unit made sure they knew exactly why that picture was hung up.
Every night, I talked to Danny.
Every single night.
"Parker's dog died," I told him. Just like I'd told his brother. "Boo. He got hit by a car."
I took a long swig off the ice-cold beer in my hand and waited for Danny to answer me. He never did.
"I escorted her and Nox to the emergency vet. Man, your son looks just like he was picked out of your ass. I don't know what's in the water for you Hayes boys."
Again, there was nothing but silence until Daisy plodded into the room, shaking off and lying at my feet. Like she always did. Then she put her head on her paws and stared at the same picture I did.
"I don't know if I can keep my promise, Danny. Seeing her hurts, man. I see her, and I want to run in the opposite direction. How do I tell her it's my fault? How do I tell her that I couldn't stop you from dying?" I'd told Danny a hundred times, maybe even a thousand, since he died that I couldn't keep my promise.
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