If it weren’t for the whole funeral thing, today would have scored an eight in Sabrina Barton’s journal entry. Maybe a nine. She forced one more smile, accepted one more hand clasp, one more token embrace, and whispered one more thank you to the next someone who offered condolences.
When the flow of mourners stopped at last, Sabrina gazed over the crowded room. Men in uniforms. She assumed they had served with her brother John in his Ranger days. The ones in dark suits she guessed were the security people he’d worked with before he died. Sabrina had vague recollections of people reciting names, their connections to John, but frankly, everything was a blur.
She and John had fallen out of touch after he’d joined the Rangers, not that they’d ever been the sort for weekly phone calls or even emails. And although she didn’t condone his career choice—killing people didn’t sit well with her—estranged wasn’t the word for their relationship. Indifferent was more like it. Besides, she’d been twelve when he’d enlisted. When he’d quit, he’d settled in San Francisco. She’d moved from their home in Iowa to Albuquerque for college and had settled there.
John had used the army as his way of saving lives. Sabrina had chosen an entirely different approach. She’d started a cooking school, a place where she gave the less fortunate a set of skills they could use to get off the streets, make their own contributions to society. And even knowing Renae, her partner, was covering Sabrina’s classes, Sabrina couldn’t wait to get back to her normal life.
How much longer did she have to stay? She was John’s sole living relative, and not even blood at that. They shared a last name, but not much else. Yes, she cared about him, but she hadn’t been part of his life in a long time. They’d both been orphaned, both adopted out of the foster care system, and their foster parents had died years ago.
Why’d you have to die, too, John?
She’d always assumed he’d have died a noble death in the army. When he left that life for what she considered a smarter, safer choice, she’d been relieved. But to die in a hit and run accident? That was so wrong.
A chill snaked down her spine.
You’re the only one left.
With the room closing in around her, Sabrina claimed her coat and went out to retrieve her rental car.
As she wound her way through the hilly San Francisco streets to her motel, she battled her conscience.
You shouldn’t have left.
Why stay? You don’t know those people.
You could have listened to the stories. Found out what John’s life had been like.
You have your work. You need to get home.
In her motel room, she worked her cell phone, searching for a flight. After putting herself on a standby list for one leaving in three hours, she finished packing and checked out of the motel.
At the airport, she gave a silent thank you to the travel gods who had bestowed a seat upon her. On board, she found her row and shrugged out of her coat. As she did, something crinkled in the pocket. An envelope, folded in half, with her name printed in neat, block letters. Her childhood nickname. The one her brother used.
How could this be? Fighting tears, hands trembling, she opened the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of folded, yellowed paper.
June 7, 2002
We’re supposed to write these letters before a mission. Just in case we don’t come back. Here goes: If I ever made you feel bad when we were kids, I’m sorry. Before you came, Mom and Pop had fostered a bunch of other kids, and none of them stayed, so I didn’t think much of it when they brought you home. Besides, I was ten, and you were four. And you were the first girl. When they said they were going to adopt you, the way they had me, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I didn’t want to play your girlie games, and none of my friends wanted a tagalong kid, especially one who constantly peppered us with questions. I’m guilty of following their lead, and I never meant to hurt your feelings.
That’s it, Bree. Sarge is calling, and that means I’ll be jumping out an airplane soon. Oh. One more thing. If you ever get in a jam, go find Derek Cooper. He’ll take care of you.
Your annoying big brother,
Sabrina replaced the paper in the envelope, then exchanged the note for a travel packet of tissues. Tissues she hadn’t needed at the funeral. But she’d be damned if she was going to break down now. She sniffed, daubed at the few tears she hadn’t been able to control, then tilted her seat and closed her eyes. Who was Derek Cooper? Had he been at the funeral? And who’d put the letter in her coat?
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