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The service for Coop was one of the most emotional things I had ever experienced. All of the boys wore their Dress Blues, and they looked breathtaking. I wasn’t even shocked to see Asher sitting front and center in a uniform of his own. All of the guys took their seats next to Asher, and all five of Coop’s ‘brothers’ sat stoically. They didn’t flinch when the rifles went off, not a twitch in their faces when the bugle started playing, and when Asher was presented with the flag that had been draped over Coop’s casket, they each kept their faces forward and eyes on Coop.

They didn’t move until the last person had walked away from the gravesite. It wasn’t until Izzy grabbed my hand to draw my attention across the graveyard that I watched those strong men crack a little.

I hadn’t seen Sway since that day. I knew that he had watched the kids for Izzy and Melissa when they came to the hospital, and that he closed the salon for the last two days out of respect for Coop.

Watching Sway walk across the grass, weaving to avoid stepping on any markers is almost too much. Gone is his normal flamboyant garb, and in its place is a perfectly tailored black suit. His trademark blonde wig is gone, and his normal hair which I have never seen before is buzzed close to his scalp. There is nothing about this version of Sway that I have ever seen before.

He did this for Coop.

I know he waited for the service to end and the crowd to clear before he paid his respects. Melissa reaches over and takes my other hand, and we sit here waiting to see what happens next. From where we are, we have the perfect view of the scene playing out. All five of the men watch as Sway walks up to the casket and sets a single mason jar on top. It has a beautiful red, white, and blue ribbon tied around the top, and when my eyes take in the contents, a sob bubbles out before I can stop it. He presses his hand against the wood next to the gold, glitter filled jar and dips his head. He takes a few minutes before he pats the top twice and stands back.

At this point, all of us are sobbing uncontrollably, but what is most shocking to me is that all five of the men across the way have finally cracked. Obviously, Coop had filled his brother in at some point about the whole glitter prank because even his eyes are shining despite the small smile playing his lips. These big, strong, proud men aren’t even trying to stop the tears that are falling as they look at Sway with small smiles.

Sway dips his head before he walks back off in the direction he came. His shoulders are bent and his soft cries trail behind him. He makes his way to his car and drives off. There isn’t a single dry eye left as we all take in the beautiful glass jar full of the simmering of happiness.

Chapter 29

It’s been two weeks since we said goodbye to Coop. Some days are harder than others are, but things are slowly starting to pick back up to normal. Asher has taken up the other guest room at Beck’s, and between him and Chelcie, things are a bit awkward. She hasn’t told anyone other than me about the baby, and I respect her wishes that I keep it to myself but that doesn’t mean I feel good about it. Asher should know that there is a part of his brother that will live on, and for better or worse, Chelcie needs to let him in her life so that her child will know a part of their father.

Beck has been to speak with Dr. Maxwell three times now, and I can tell it’s really helping. We’ve spent almost every night lying awake in each other’s arms just talking. I feel closer to him than I ever have before. He’s been here for me when I wake up in a cold sweat when the events of that day play out in my dreams. His soft words and warm embrace are the only things that I want when those dark moments come back. There are times when I catch him staring off into space, and I know those are the times when he’s thinking about Coop.

No one really knows how to completely move forward from this. Whenever the group is all together, there’s always that moment when someone checks the door, waiting for Coop to come barging through with some hilarious comment. We can’t stop wishing that we could just see his blue eyes twinkling with humor one more time.

Grief is such a bastard.

Asher’s decided to stick around for a while. I know he’s taking his brother’s death the hardest out of all of us. There have been a few nights when he’s come home, drunk out of his mind, and stumbled into his room. The sound of his agony echoing through the walls is overwhelming, and I have no idea how to ease his pain. One thing’s for sure, he’s not healing, and at this point, I’m not sure he wants to.

Today, we’re moving Chelcie into my apartment. The one thing that Coop’s death has driven home is that tomorrow is never promised, and there should never be an excuse to not live your life to the fullest. No regrets and no fear of the unknown. So today, Chelcie will start a new chapter of her life in Georgia, and I will start mine with the man I love.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay another night, Chelc? You know you’re always welcome here.”

She smiles weakly but continues to pack up the last of her clothes. She doesn’t have much, just the two suitcases of clothes she brought down, and a box of things that she didn’t want to leave behind.

“No, I need to be alone right now. I need to figure out where I go from here.”

“Are you okay? I know we’ve talked about it, but how are you dealing with all of this?” I sit down on the bed and still her hands when she goes to pack some more. I know she’s just trying to avoid this conversation that we need to have.

“I love that you’re worried about me, Dee, but I’m really okay. I just wish I would’ve had a chance to tell him, you know? We didn’t have that kind of relationship, but that doesn’t change the fact that he would have been a great father.” She sits down next to me and fidgets with the shirt in her hands. “I’ll make sure that our child knows who their father was and that he died a hero… every day, Dee.”

I have to choke back the emotions that threaten to sneak past the lump in my throat. God, I miss him.

“I think you need to talk to Asher. He’s spiraling out of control over this, and he needs something to hold on to. Something that will keep him pushing forward. This little baby will be a part of his brother, his nephew or niece. He needs to know that there is something positive.”

She doesn’t speak for a while, and right when I’m ready to just give up on my newest round of ‘convince Chelcie’, she shifts on the bed. “I will. Let me get settled in the apartment, and then I’ll have him over one night. I think it’s something that needs to be done away from everyone else.”

We continue to pack the rest of the clothes and head out. Asher’s door is shut tight, but I know he’s in there. He came in around four this morning and hasn’t come out since. I checked on him around breakfast time but he was passed out. His room had the unpleasant stench of stale smoke, booze, and cheap sex. I pulled his shoes off and covered him with a blanket before leaving his room.

Beck is waiting outside for us when we finally come down. He takes my breath away every time I see him. Plain and simple, he is perfect. He’s wearing cargo shorts and a USMC tee shirt. His University of Georgia ball cap has his eyes shaded, but I know he’s looking right at me. I walk over to Chelcie’s car and throw the bag that I’m carrying in the trunk. She doesn’t waste time with hellos or goodbyes, just drops her bag in, jumps in the driver’s seat, and takes off.

“Where are you headed, Handsome?”

His crooked smile has my panties on fire.

“Nowhere. Waiting on Maddox. Apparently some shit went down with Emmy last night.” He drops his eyes, but not before I see how worried he is.

Truth is, we’ve all been worried about her. She hasn’t spoken to anyone, and not for our lack of trying. She spent the whole time at the hospital in Maddox’s arms but when we went to leave, she crawled out of his lap and walked over to Melissa. She and Melissa have always been the closest out of us girls, but I’m still surprised she left Maddox. Even at Coop’s funeral, she didn’t speak to anyone. She stood next to Melissa and never took her eyes from the casket.

“What’s going on? Please don’t keep it from me because you think I can’t handle it. Me and you now, Beck. I need you just as much as you need me, so don’t lock me out because you’re worried about how I’ll handle things. I’m stronger today because of you, so let me help you when you need me.”

He doesn’t say anything for a beat but lets out a rushed breath, looking away before turning back to me. “She’s gone. He went over to check on her and she was gone. It looks like she left in a hurry, but she did take the time to leave a note. He didn’t tell me the details about what she said, but he’s on his way over so we can figure out what to do next.”

“What?” The whole time he was talking, my mind kept wondering and twirling about what he was really saying. Emmy is gone? There’s no way. She wouldn’t leave her family.

“This is why I didn’t want to say anything. I know you’re going to get upset about this, Dee. Just trust us to take care of everything, okay?” He takes me in his arms, and I breathe in his woodsy scent and try not to panic, thinking about Emmy out there alone and scared.

“You have to find her, Beck. You just have to.”

“We will. I promise you, we will find her.”

I smile weakly and go to leave when his voice stops me short of my car. “Hey, let me get Ash and let him go with you? I would feel a lot better about you running around town if you had him with you. I would go myself, but this needs to be handled.”

Chelcie is going to flip when I show up with Asher, but I just nod my head and wait for him to run up to wake the bear. Ten minutes later, a frowning Beck and a pissed off Asher come walking out. He doesn’t say a single word on the fifteen-minute ride to the apartment; hell, I’m pretty sure he passed out the second I started driving.

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After leaving Beck, I make my way over to the apartment to help Chelcie get unpacked. It doesn’t take long to get her settled in, and in reality, I’m not sure she even really needed me there. All of the furniture is staying and we have already moved all of my clothing and personal items over to Beck’s, my new home. Ash throws himself on the couch the second we walked in the door. Chelcie looks horrified that he’s here, but when his light snoring starts echoing around the room, she calms down.

Chelc being tired makes it easy to just do as little as possible, but we still manage to get a few hours of work in before we call it quits for the day.

Before I leave the spare bedroom that I’ve had set up as an office, I turn and address the giant elephant that’s currently passed out on the couch. “Think about what I said, okay?” I give her a quick hug, hoping that she will at least think about it. I just know that deep down, Asher needs this. I don’t know him well enough to know for sure, but I know for me, knowing that Coop is still around in anyway helps the pain.

“I promise I’ll think about it. Will you… will you let me know how he’s doing? Just keep me updated?” She doesn’t meet my eyes, which isn’t like her at all.

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