Looks like I’m gonna miss another Christmas. I guess you’re pretty pissed, huh. Course, you won’t tell me. Cus that ain’t what you do. You’ll just look at me with those big brown eyes and I’ll see the pain and disappointment in them.
Dunno why I’m writing this, it ain’t as though this letter will reach you before I do. The roads are as blocked for the mailman as they are for me. I guess I’m doing it cus the power is down an’ I can’t call you. Not that I’d say much if I could. I ain’t one for talking, you know that.
I saw a thing on TV about soldiers who wrote letters to their loved ones to be delivered if they died. Maybe that’s what I’m doing. Or maybe I’m doing it cus no matter what I say out loud, or what I do, you don’t believe I love you.
You know me better than anyone else. You know where I come from, and you know everyone I’ve ever loved. So why the fuck would you question me? Why would you never question my love for anyone else, but would question my love for you? Why would you question my loyalty? My fucking word?
Not sure you know how much your doubt hurts me, Beth. How fucking hard it is for me not to lose my shit with you over this.
You ask if I’m with you because it’s easy. I dunno how I’m supposed to answer that. Of course I’m with you because it’s easy. Ain’t that how it’s supposed to be with the person you want to spend your life with? Don’t mean I don’t love you, though.
I love you cus it’s easy to love you. Cus that’s how it’s supposed to be.
You think I loved M more than you. You’re wrong. I loved M different to how I loved you. I ain’t gonna pretend that what I had with her weren’t nothing. You were there. You saw how we were. You want me to love you like I loved her? I can’t do that cus you ain’t her. And don’t forget what I did to her.
You think I’m in love with Emma. You think I’m fucking her behind your back. Ain’t even gonna discuss that with you. You should know me better than that.
Emma is my friend, and yeah, I love her. She makes me smile and not many people can do that. Ain’t prepared to let that go. Sorry, Beth. I know that ain’t what you want to hear, but I need a little sunshine in my life.
I love my kids. I need them in my life. They keep the darkness away. I ain’t a good man and I’ve done shit that would turn a man’s stomach. Not sure I have the right to have a family, but I’m lucky, and I swear I would give my last breath to protect it.
I love my ma. I ain’t always been the best son, but I’m doing what I can to make up for it. I know getting extra care givers is expensive, and I know money is tight, but what am I supposed to do? I owe her, and while she’s alive, we ain’t gonna get a lot of quality time together. I know you want to spend more time with me. But I gotta work. I gotta take the jobs the club gives me. Cus I need to make sure that my family will never want for anything.
I love my brothers. Don’t expect you to understand the bond we have. Do expect you to accept it.
And then there’s you.
I put you last on purpose, cus that’s where you think you come. I know you don’t say it, but I know you, so I know that’s what you think.
You do come last, Beth.
After I’ve brought Emma down from her latest meltdown, once the kids are in bed, when I’m done fixing the shelves at Ma’s, when I finish work or get home from a run, there’s you.
Ain’t that how it’s supposed to be? You and me snatching a couple of hours on the sofa in the evening? Eating a meal together? Sharing a bed? Ain’t that what marriage is? You’re my ol’ lady. My wife. You’re the woman who’ll still be there when the kids are grown, my ma has gone and I’m too old to ride.
I love you. I could say it a hundred times, and I don’t think you’d believe me. I ain’t pretending I’ve never hurt you. But even when things were at their worst, I didn’t stop loving you.
All I want is to be the best I can be. The best father, friend, son and brother.
I wanna be the best husband, and I’m trying real hard to be, but I can only be who I am. I ain’t gonna give you roses, and I ain’t gonna give you pretty words, but I will be loyal, and a good provider. I’ll respect you and appreciate everything you do for me.
And I’ll love you till the day I die.
“Daddy! Mommy said you wouldn’t be home for Christmas.”
Joe folded the letter and slid it into his pocket then swept Abi into his arms. “The man with the snowplow cleared the road so I could get back to you.” It had been pretty hairy, and he was exhausted, but he could sleep later. “Where’s Mom?”
“She’s making a gingerbread house. I was helping and then I heard your bike.”
He kissed his daughter on the cheek and set her back on the ground. “I’m kinda hungry, how about you go and find me something to eat, while I throw my dirty laundry into the machine.”
Abi rolled her eyes. “Mom’s already heating some soup, silly. She said you’d be hungry.”
“Well in that case, you can help me with the laundry.” He opened the saddle bag. “Put my stinky stuff in the machine.”
As Abi loaded the machine, Joe took the letter and dropped it into a drawer with his Harley manuals. Maybe he’d give it to Beth once they were alone, or maybe he’d give it to someone to keep safe until…”
“Good girl.” Joe took her hand, and walked from the garage into the kitchen and the arms of his family.
“Hey.” Beth touched the top of the headstone with the tips of her fingers, then walked over to the bench and sat down. She opened her purse and pulled out the letter.
“Lottie found this the other day. It was in a box of old Harley manuals.” She laughed. “It would still be there if Luke hadn’t discovered how much they would sell for. I’d wanted to throw them all away. I wanted all trace of you gone, but Spike rescued them, and they wound up at Samson’s place.”
She unfolded the yellowing paper. “It’s been a long time. And I spent a lot of years wanting to hate you. If I’m honest, I’m not sure this makes any difference. I stopped trying to hang on to my anger, a long time ago.
“I’ve learned a lot over the years. Stuff about myself… and you.” Beth looked down at the neat handwriting. “I didn’t realize how much I was hurting you, and I’m sorry for that. You’re right, I should’ve believed you when you told me you loved me. But the sad thing is, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Because this was never about you. It was about me.”
Beth sat up a little straighter and looked out across the deserted cemetery. “Do you know, I have no memories of my life before loving you. Don’t you think that’s a little odd? I know life wasn’t great, but you’d think there’d be something, but there’s nothing. So you see, I didn’t know what it was like not to want to be loved by you. I thought…” She shook her head. “I thought if you loved me, it would be how you loved Maria. I wanted you to look at me the way you looked at her.” She sighed. “But of course you couldn’t. I understand that now.”
A gentle breeze caught the corner of the letter and Beth gripped it a little tighter. “I was always jealous of Emma. Even before you and her got close. She’s so comfortable in her own skin, so brave. Even after what happened to her, she never lost that spark. I’d watch her and Samson, and wish that I could have love like that.” She smiled. “And I don’t care what you say, you had the biggest crush on her. But I do believe you, I know you’d never cheat, and I’m glad you found a friend in her. I’m glad she made you smile and brought sunshine into your life, but I wish I could’ve been the one to do that.
“You were a great dad, Joe. The kids brought something out in you that no one else saw. And you were a good son.” She folded the letter and pressed it against her lips before slipping it back into her purse. “You were a good brother—the best according to Spike—and you are still spoken of in the clubhouse.”
She stood and walked back to the small, unassuming grave. Beth crouched down. “You were a good husband, too. I was just so wrapped up in my own insecurities that I couldn’t see it.” Her fingers traced his name. “I’ve had a good life. Henry is a wonderful man and I love him deeply. The kids are all doing great. Abi’s living in New York with her husband, and Alice is writing for a living.” She chuckled. “Imi is still going out of her way to piss the world off, but she’ll be fine. And Luke…” She shook her head. “Well, I didn’t see that coming. We’re all okay, Joe. We’re all happy. But… But I still miss you.
“I think about you every day. Something will trigger a memory, or I become aware of the ache in my chest that never really goes away.” She sighed. “I do have regrets—things I wish I’d done differently, but I don’t dwell on them, and most of my memories are good. We were good, you and me.” She smiled. “And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.”
Beth straightened up. “I said, a long time ago, that I wouldn’t come here again. And if this letter hadn’t been found, I probably wouldn’t have. I’m only in Seattle because Lottie and Luke are leaving for Europe in a few days—Samson is not dealing well, as you can imagine. Poor guy is convinced he’ll never see Lottie again, and is seriously considering burying Luke in the wilderness—I doubt I’ll come again, but I will always carry you in my heart.”
Beth kissed her fingertips and pressed them against the headstone. “Sleep well, Joe. And you, Amy. Take care of him.”