Jamal had seen the Mercer brothers for tats before, but they didn't usually come as a group without Jackie in their midst

Jamal had seen the Mercer brothers for tats before, but they didn't usually come as a group without Jackie in their midst.

Jackie was only recently legal to tattoo, barely nineteen and frequently looking much younger. But Jamal had been doing his ink since he was sixteen, with Mamma Evelyn's permission and Bobby's threats if he didn't service little brother.

"What is it today, boys?" he asked, smiling.

"Two gravestones," Jerry answered softly.

Jamal's head whipped up. "Two? I heard about your moms, but…" he trailed off. "No, man, not Jackie, no."

Bobby nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"Jesus." He shook his head. "What happened?"

"The shootout near Ma's house, he got hit," Angel rambled. "And we couldn't get to him fast enough."

"I couldn't get to him fast enough," Bobby interrupted. "He was yelling for me, and I said I'd be there and I wasn't."

"Oh, no, you are not blaming yourself for this, Bobby. He's our little brother, too," Jerry stated firmly, gripping Bobby's shoulder.

"He was screaming my name and I couldn't help him. I promised him I'd never let anything bad happen to him again."

"You didn't let shit happen," Angel snapped. "It happened and there wasn't nothin' any of us could do. So just drop it and let's get our fucking ink done, alright?"

Jerry outlined the specifics, and the brothers chose where Evelyn and Jack would be drawn on their bodies in permanent ink.

When Angel returned to the Marines, he told stories about his baby brother Cracker Jack, who he now carried around on his shoulder, and drank to forget.

When Jerry's tattoos healed, he told his girls stories about his wingman, his little brother Jackie-boy, and he showed them the RIP on his right forearm. If they sometimes kissed "Gramma Evie" and "Unka Cracka Jack" hello or goodnight, he wasn't going to stop them.

And when Bobby finally settled down and got a real job owning a hockey equipment store, with weekends spent as an underpaid lifeguard at the Y, he didn't like explaining why he had a man's name tattooed over his heart, not even to all the pretty young mothers and single sunbathers. The little fairy was his. And if touching Jack's name comforted him, well, he was an aging athlete with shitty dietary habits. Most people just thought he had acid reflux.