Like Sentinels on Guard

February 8, 2013

sentinelsI never liked riding in limousines. It was uncomfortable, like the first time you get your teeth cleaned after two years. Even after all the time I’d spent in them it never got any easier. Today was really no different.

Except for the fact that after today no one would feel the same again.

Except for the fact that I was missing the last six weeks of my life.

Except for the fact that I was on my way to bury my best friend.

The drive was interminable. A short six miles from my home. It felt like six hundred.

The sky was virtually clear of clouds, a bright fall blue washing sunny resilience across every reflective surface in sight: chrome bumpers, mirrored sunglasses, plate glass windows and coated plastics. It was a nice day for St. Louis in the end of August. Not much humidity, heat not too bad. The lamb skin gloves on my hands didn’t look as ridiculous as you’d think. Over the years, as my finances had improved (listen to me, I sound like my mother) the gloves had felt more and more natural. Well, at least as natural as having a second skin could get. There were actually times when I forgot they were on.

Jimmy pulled into the cemetery, the gates wide open; stark black iron girders, pitted and weathered, built long ago to keep the dead in their places.

Hell, Ian, why’d you have to go?

I could see the funeral procession across the hills. The cemetery was large, hills and dips peppered with varying sizes and shapes of headstones. Roads wound through the fields, little pathways to the land beyond. Small copses of budding trees dotted the roadsides and hillsides like sentinels on guard. But you couldn’t miss Ian’s procession. There were so many cars and trucks and limousines and vans it looked like the entrance to one of the band’s venues. A sea of people surrounded the spot, chosen by the team. It made me smile. Ian was loved, that was certain, and I could slip in without being noticed. I didn’t want today to be about anything else but him. About honoring possibly the bravest man I’d ever known.

“Put the gun down, Lance. It won’t solve anything.”

Tears streamed down my face, mixing with the rain. “I can’t do it, Ian. I can’t. I’ve lived with this for too long. I can’t stand it anymore.”

Ian’s face was strong, lined and chiseled from the ice that surrounded him, hugged him close. He held a hand up between both of us, turned it one way then the other. His gaze shifting only briefly to stare at the hand and then coming back to me. “I understand, Lance, believe me, I do. You’re afraid to get close to anyone.”

He paused a moment, the rain around us pelting the roof top and dancing in puddles making white noise. Then he lowered his hand, his crystal blue eyes stark against the muted grayness of his icy skin. “Buddy, I can’t do what I know I have to do alone. I know you don’t want to be apart of it all. I know you want a normal life. I can’t give that to you. And you have no idea how sorry I am that I can’t. But I can stand between the rest and give you some piece of mind. I just need your help. I need you to just live. To just go on with everything else.”

He sat down now, on the roof right there in front of me. Even with the thermosuit, the puddles around him crystalized like tiny ice skating ponds. I stood there helpless, aware for the first time in my life that the world didn’t revolve around me. I was twenty three years old, I had been to the top of the world, practically a household name, and I was a selfish prick.

“Lance, you’re my voice of sanity. Leadership is hard. I never wanted it, but I’ve got it. I’m responsible.” He smiled sadly, and held out his hand again. “Now give me the damn gun.”

The limo pulled to a stop. Jimmy looked over his shoulder as he swung his door open. “No, Jim, just stay in the car, I’ll be all right,” I said, the knot in my gut growing proportionately larger with every passing minute. “Just…give me a moment.”

The quiet was breath taking. There was no rustling from the crowd. The light, almost absent breeze, whispered across clothes and flags gently with no echoes. My fingers, tapping absentmindedly against the door handle sounded like gunshots to my ears, but no one turned to look. Every eye was focused on the deliberate and gentle steps of the uniformed procession that escorted a tall figure carrying a simple urn toward an even simpler, large headstone.

Ian Keith. Frostbite. 19– to 20–. Leader. Hero. Beloved Friend.

The procession stopped. The tall figure bent down gracefully and placed the urn reverently into the base of the headstone. The sconces lit to either side flickering hypnotically.

I took a deep breath and climbed out of the car, quickly before I changed my mind.