I catch Jack’s eye across the table and jerk my head towards the door. When he nods, I lean over and kiss Barbi on the neck. “I’ll be right back,” I say. “I just need a moment.”
I weave my way between the tables, exchanging greetings and pleasantries and smiles until my jaw aches and I escape outside. Jack’s waiting for me, leaning against the brick wall between two faded concert posters.
I pull my cigarettes out, offer him one, take one out for myself. I don’t light it. Instead I roll it between my fingers and watch flakes of tobacco drift to the ground.
“I should have gotten you something,” I say. “You’re my best man.” And I wouldn’t be here, if not for him. I don’t even need to say it.
He grins. “It’s okay, really.”
“No, I mean it. Look. I have a brother. And a sister, Jo.” I give him a sideways glance. “Josephine. They made it clear a long time ago that they don’t need me around. And that’s fine. Whatever. There’s the family you’re born with, and the family you make, y’know?”
The door to the Mink opens and a trio of girls walk out, music and laughter drifting behind them like perfume.
Jack’s face is carefully neutral. “Yeah.”
He knows. I know he knows. That’s why this is so important.
“Lemme see your knife. I know you have one.”
“In the alley,” he jerks his head. “Not here. I don’t like that church.”
It’s not a dirty alley. It’s just a really narrow road, overlooked by balconies and edged by parking spaces for the apartment buildings here. Wooden fire escapes straggle down the backs of brick buildings.
Jack’s pocketknife looks like an antique. That’s got to be real ivory in the worn handle.
I turn it over in my hands, test the edge with my thumb. Before I can think too hard about it, I grasp the blade in my right hand and pull, parting the skin like butter.
It hurts. It really hurts. It burns with an icy intensity. I shove that aside. “I swear this to you, Jack O’Roe. I swear it on my own blood. Whatever you need, whenever, as long as it doesn’t directly harm my… my wife or child, whatever it is, it’s yours. Like family.”
The blood wells up in my fist, drips on the sidewalk by my feet. Two weeks ago this would have felt absurd. Overblown, like a bad movie. But right now, tonight, it feels right. Like I’d been waiting to make this promise my whole life.
I made a vow to Barbi, on my grandmother’s name. But this was different.
Jack nods. “We’ll do it the old way.” Out of that space that isn’t space he pulls the everpresent bottle, and a short wide glass. He pours an inch of honey-colored liquid into the glass and holds it under my hand. Blood threads into the Scotch in thin ribbons. He trades me the glass for the knife, taking a quick shallow breath before plunging it into his own palm point-first. He spreads his hand over the glass, wincing, as he watches his blood join mine.
“Communion,” he says, “From before there was such a thing.
I don’t know the rituals. I’m working purely on instinct here, like I do everything else. For better or for worse.
“Cheers, then,” I say. “To family.” I tilt the glass, tasting sweet-salt on my tongue.
Jack takes the glass, nods. “Family.” And takes a healthy hit.
He closes his eyes for a moment, then pours the rest on the ground.
I expect to feel different, somehow, after this. But I don’t. Which only reinforces the rightness of it in my mind.
“Careful,” I say. “Kyna’ll kill you if you get blood on your shirt.”
I hold out my hand to take his, wait, to see if he lets me.
He raises an eyebrow. “So maybe you should heal it then. Or we’ll worry the girls.”
He laces his fingers through mine, palms together. It’s still new to me, this ability. I hesitate, the blood slick and warm on our hands, then look inside, find the parted flesh, and knit it together with a thread of something that feels for all the world like that whiskey tasted. First him, then me.
Jack smiles and lets go of my hand, cleans his up with a handkerchief dampened with Scotch.
I do the same, grimacing at the mess I make of my own handkerchief, the one Barbi very specifically picked out and placed in my pocket.
I look at my hands. I bear a ring on the left, a scar on the right: very physical manifestations of the two promises I made today. But they’re not shaking. For the first time in days, it seems, my hands are not shaking.