At the moment, everyone remaining at the Richardson house except Nick was sitting around the table trying to nail down the last of the funeral arrangements. Nick sat on a couch lifelessly nursing a beer. The fact that he’d not slept all night was now catching up with him and he’d long since tuned out the mundane ramblings of the people around him. Most of the townspeople had gone home by now and Nick was a little grateful for that, but at the same time that meant there was only Kevin and Kristin’s parents to play as a buffer between him and Brian.
Brian sat across the table from Kristin and instead of helping with the details, he was studying her. She reminded him of how he felt when his parents died. He supposed those were way different circumstances and he was a lot younger, but he was sure it felt very similar to the way Kristin felt now. She seemed empty inside, like she was simply going through the motions. And in a way, she was. Part of her spirit had died along with her husband.
The brochure for coffins and burial plots may have been sitting in front of her, but it was the four people on either side of her that were looking at it. She was looking right through it not hearing a word anyone said, and not caring either. The mere sight of her was enough to crush the spirits of even the happiest person and Brian had long since forgotten what it felt like to be happy. The pain she felt was so severe that you could see it radiating off of her and Brian and Brian fed off of her depression.
When he couldn’t bare to look at her anymore, his eyes turned to Nick. Nick was gazing out the window, wearing the same empty expression on his face that Kristin had. He looked lost and Brian knew that he probably was. He knew that Kevin was his closest friend in the world. That’s actually a lot of the reason Brian started having trouble with the two of them in the first place all those years ago.
Once upon a time Brian held the title of Nick’s best friend and he cherished it dearly. He came to Mercy after his parents died and aside from Kevin, Nick was the only one who never felt uncomfortable around him or tried to treat him special after he learned about his parents, at least not until he really got to know the whole gang. Brian asked him about it once and Nick confessed what it was really like for him in his sometimes-abusive household.
Nick knew what it was like to have people pity him and he felt he could always relate to Brian, so they had a special bond that Brian clung to all his life. But everyone deals with life in their own way and as they got older they chose different paths. Brian chose religion and Nick chose parties. Nick never got completely out of control, but Brian never went with him to the parties so he started spending more time with Kevin and AJ simply by default.
Then when Brian chose a life of service, the problems only worsened. Brian left for seminary and was soon replaced as Nick’s best friend by the only family he had. He felt somehow that Nick and Kevin were leaving him behind and it hurt. He felt betrayed even and like an outsider, so he started coming home less and less. He wanted to explain himself and patch things up with them so many times, but after their falling out six years ago, he lost that desire and never spoke to either of them again.
Brian watched Nick with a heavy heart. As a man of God he knew he was supposed to forgive and forget, but he was still human, and an emotional one at that. Brian felt guilty for the feelings of malice he had in his heart toward both Nick and Kevin and he knew he needed to overcome them. What made him feel the guiltiest though, was the way both Nick and Kristin looked. Their grief was obvious and Brian knew that he should probably look the way they did, but he didn’t.
Brian felt remorse for sure, but he was not destroyed the way Nick and Kristin were over it. He tried to tell himself that it was his faith in God and belief in a life after this that lessened the pain, but underneath it all he knew the truth. He was not close to Kevin the way Nick and Kristin were. He wasn’t a part of his life anymore. His own cousin, raised as a brother, and it took his death to make him come home. Realizing that made Brian loathe himself in a way he never knew possible and he knew that the grieving period would be long for him as he came face to face with him own sins.
Brian’s heart softened for a moment toward Nick and a piece of him wished they could set things right. Realizing that this might be his only chance, Brian got up from the table and very cautiously took a seat next to Nick on the couch.
Nick knew he sat down, but didn’t acknowledge his presence. He was waiting for Brian to say something about the beer in his hand or offer some scripture from the bible about how this was all meant to happen for a reason, and that was just the last thing he wanted to hear right now. Finally Brian broke the silence with a simple, “How are you?”
Nick gave Brian a disgusted smirk and replied, “A hell of a lot more messed up than you I see.”
Brian bit back his anger and said a silent prayer in his heart for strength and understanding before he spoke again. “We’re all grieving Nick, we just show it in different ways.”
Nick simply rolled his eyes at the comment and took another swig of his beer. He felt satisfied when he saw Brian frown out of the corner of his eye. “You really shouldn’t turn to alcohol when you’re depressed.” Brian said, “It only makes things worse.”
“Spare me your religious bullshit, father. You said it yourself, we all grieve in different ways.”
Brian sighed and slumped back on the couch. He’d seen people like Nick many times in his years with the church, and if a soul was not ready to be saved, then there wasn’t much could be said that would change their mind. They sat in silence again until Kristin startled everyone with a spontaneous outburst. “Enough!” she screamed slamming her hands down on the table and ripping up the brochure in front of her. “I can’t take anymore arguing! What does it matter the type of coffin he’s in? He’s DEAD! He’s not going to care if you get the extra padding on the inside!”
Kristin began to cry and four pairs of consoling arms reached out for her but she screamed again in frustration pushing them all away from her. “Stop it! Just stop it!”
Everyone stood there in an awkward silence not knowing what to say or how to act. Kristin sobbed for a minute and then lifted her eyes to meet Nick’s. “There’s only one place Kevin would want to spend the rest of eternity.” She cried helplessly, “And it’s not Oak Park Cemetery.”
“Mercy?” Nick questioned.
Brian practically gasped as he repeated the name again. “Mercy.” He whispered faintly as if it were some sort of dream he was remembering from another life.
Kristin nodded and fell into Nick’s arms. “I want to do cremation. If Kevin wanted to go to Mercy, then that’s exactly where I’m gonna take him.”
Nick nodded his head with tears in his eyes and for a moment everything felt like it was going to be ok. It was the most perfect suggestion he’d ever heard and once she said it, there was simply no other option. Nick and Kristin each wiped their tears and then turned to face the others. When they saw the disapproving looks they nervously clasped hands and stared everyone down with determination. “You won’t change my mind about this.” Kristin whispered.
“Mine either.” Nick assured them.
Both Kevin’s parents and Kristin’s knew better than to question them, but Brian couldn’t hold back his concern. “But cremation is…” He began to say until he met Nick’s piercing stare. He swallowed nervously, but Nick’s anger only made his anger rise to the surface and he began again with more confidence. “Are you really going to defile his body like that?”
“His body’s going to decompose in the ground either way.” Nick said trying to remain calm for Kristin’s sake.
“But it’s just not right. The bible says-“
“I don’t give a fuck what the Bible says!” Nick screamed. “Kevin’s gone man! The most we can do is what we think he would want and Kristin’s right. We’re taking him to Mercy, end of story! You of all people have no fucking say in this.”
Brian didn’t reply. He supposed Nick was right in the fact that he didn’t deserve an opinion, not after six years. The subject was dropped and no one in the room moved a muscle. The tension was so thick that they were afraid to even breath and everyone was greatly relieved to hear a knock at the door. Mrs. Richardson happily took her leave to answer the door and the moment was forgotten when everyone heard her gasp. “Oh my heavens, is that little Alex McLean!”
Nick felt relieved and excited to know that AJ was really here, part of him believed that that morning’s phone call was actually a dream, but Kristin was just plain shocked. “AJ!” she screamed and then bolted across the room.
She leapt into his arms with so much force it knocked the duffle off his shoulder. AJ held her tightly and tears filled both their eyes as they desperately clung to one another. “Honey I’m so sorry.” AJ choked through his tears.
“Thank you AJ.” Kristin whispered through sobs of her own, “Thank you so much for being here. God it’s so good to see you again.”
AJ rubbed a soothing hand over Kristin’s back as she wept on his shoulder. He was practically a stranger now and yet she couldn’t let go of him. She’d never expected in a million years that she would ever see him again and yet here he was when she needed him, just like the old days. “God,” she said again completely bewildered, “I just can’t believe it, how?”
“Little Nicky here, actually,” AJ laughed as he glanced up at the man who towered over him in height. “I about fell over when my editor said there was a Nick Carter trying to find me.”
Kristin smiled gratefully and let go of AJ so he could give Nick a hug as well. “If I’d have known it would be so easy, I would have tried it years ago.” Nick laughed squeezing his old friend.
AJ’s eyes then turned to Brian who stood there starring at him as if he’d seen a ghost. AJ was so caught up in the moment that he didn’t notice Brian’s uneasiness. With a big grin he looked Brian up and down, tugging at the dark suit. “So you actually did it huh? You’re a full fledged holy man?” He laughed pulling Brian into his arms as well, “Good for you!”
It wasn’t until AJ hugged Brian and felt his body tense up that AJ noticed the look in his eyes. In an instant AJ ‘s happy mood vanished. Brian knew. AJ hadn’t expected that, but the look in his eyes said he knew exactly what AJ had done. AJ’s face paled and he felt sick, confirming in Brian’s mind that it was the truth. Neither of them wanted the massive secret exposed right then so they each forced tight smiles and ignored what they were both thinking.
Nobody else may have seen it, but Nick was already sensitive to the subject of Brian and he noticed the interaction right away. He was as much shocked as he was angry to see that Brian had even managed to screw things up with a man he hadn’t spoken with in twelve years. Nick didn’t say anything, but he made a mental note to ask AJ about it later.
Though Kristin didn’t see the tension between the two, she noticed that Brian suddenly seemed as if the life was drained from him. She saw the pain he was trying to hide and realized that no matter what was wrong between him and Nick, he was still hurting and didn’t deserve such harsh treatment. He was Kevin’s only family and now with Kevin gone, Brian was, in a way, all she had left of him. She needed to at least try and gain back a piece of the relationship she’d once had with him. She watched him closely as he cleared his throat to address the crowd. “It’s getting late.” He said sadly, trying not to glance AJ’s direction, “I think I’m going to turn in for the night.”
AJ couldn’t take his eyes off of him as he left and Mrs. Richardson jumped up to make sure that the bed in his old room was made up and he had everything he needed. Brian smiled what little smile he could muster and then retreated to his room feeling defeated and more alone than he ever had in all his life.
Nick yawned and realized he too should probably try and get some rest and AJ was quick to follow his lead. “You have a place to stay?” Nick asked as he and AJ both headed for the door.
“I was just gonna check into the motel in town.”
“Forget that, I have an extra room.”
AJ smiled at the idea and Nick picked up AJ’s duffel as he stepped out onto the porch. Kristin gave AJ one more hug and then threw her arms around Nick. “Are you gonna be ok tonight?” he asked, “Because you know I always have room for you.”
“Thanks.” Kristin replied and then looked toward the hallway Brian had just wandered down, “I think I’m going to stay here tonight. I’ll be ok. Maybe we can all go to breakfast in the morning though?”
“We’ll be there, eight o’clock.”
When Nick and AJ were gone, Kristin sent her parents back to their house and told her in-laws she was turning in, but then headed straight for Brian’s old room. She knocked gently and when she didn’t receive any answer she slowly pushed the door open. She found Brian sitting on the edge of his old bed mindlessly fiddling with the cross he usually wore around his neck. He didn’t even notice the intrusion until Kristin said, “Can I come in?”
Brian jumped nearly falling to the floor but shrugged when the question finally registered in his brain. Kristin sat down next to him and then slid an arm around his back giving him a gentle squeeze. Brian became emotional because the simple hug was the most sincere gesture he’d received from anyone since he returned home. Even Kevin’s parents, thou they’d been the one’s to call him, were very angry with him and trying their best to put on a smile.
Kristin released a soft sigh and then said, “I’m sorry about this morning. I really am glad that you came. I know it must have been really hard for you.”
Brian was quiet for a moment as he choked back a few tears. “Thank you.” He finally whispered, never looking up from the trinket in his fingers.
“You broke his heart Brian, you really did. But had you shown up two days ago I know he would have welcomed you back in a heartbeat, and I should have done the same.”
“I never got the chance to say I was sorry.” Brian muttered letting a tear escape down his cheek.
Kristin wrapped both her arms around him this time and he gratefully relaxed into the embrace. “I’m sure he knows.” Kristin said trying not to become choked up again, “He would have gladly given his life to reunite you with all the people who love you. He worried about you so much you know. How could you say what you said to him?”
“I knew it was wrong, but I was so hurt and so angry. I wanted him and Nick to suffer. I wanted them to feel the pain I felt.” More tears trickled down Brian’s face as he recalled that horrific day. “What kind of person can have those kinds of feelings and still call himself a man of God?”
“The human kind.”
Brian finally broke down and let the floodgates spill open. “I am so sorry Kristin.” He cried, “God I am so sorry.”
“I appreciate that Brian, and I forgive you, but I think it would do you well to say that to Nick.”
Brian got his sobs under control and looked sadly down at the small cross in his hand again. “I can’t.”
“Because I wouldn’t mean it. I hate him for what he did to me.”
Kristin tried to hide the shock and the hurt that come from his comment but her voice gave her away as she pleaded with him. “That’s not true.” She croaked, “You don’t hate him and he doesn’t hate you. Deep down you both still really care about each other. You couldn’t still be this angry all these years later if you didn’t care about him.”
Brian sat in silence and Kristin began to get frustrated. “What did he do that was so awful? To be honest, I don’t think he even knows.”
“It’s not important.”
“How can you say that? Whatever happened between you guys, not only destroyed your friendship, but it destroyed your relationship with your entire family! Six years Brian! Not a single phone call to anyone. You gave up on all of us.”
“You don’t understand.”
“You’re right I don’t. And neither does Nick. This might be your only chance to fix things and I hate to say it, but if you don’t at least try to talk to him and explain yourself he’s never going to say he’s sorry.”
Kristin stood up to leave, but she stopped in the doorway and sighed heavily. “I would hate to see that happen. I want you back in my life Brian, I love you, but if you and Nick can’t work things out that’s never going to happen.” She said and offered a weak smile as she said goodnight.