The slamming of a car door nearby brought Jax out of his stupor of memories and regret. Feeling the coolness of the breeze against his face, Jax wiped at his cheek with his ringed fingers, surprised to find it wet with his tears. Seeing Piney Winston lumbering towards him out of the corner of his eye, Jax squeezed his red-rimmed eyes tight and used his thumb and index finger to do away with the rest of his tears.
"Now how did I know I'd find you here?" Piney grumbled as he stopped directly over Jax, who was sitting on the ground with his back against a headstone.
"What? You came lookin' for me or is that just an excuse to come cruisin' for widows, old man?" Jax teased as he lit the cigarette now dangling from his lips. The tequila-sodden rumble of laughter that escaped Piney was soon followed by a coughing fit.
"How's he doin' today?" Piney gestured toward the grave Jax was resting on.
Taking a deep drag, Jax slowly exhaled before answering sadly. "Still dead."
Piney nodded soberly. "You know, I hear that happens."
In spite of himself, Jax chuckled.
Sobering up, Piney looked down at Jax with rheumy eyes and shook his head slightly. "I still miss him too, you know. I come up here and talk to him all the time," Piney's voice was rough with unshed tears. "But Jackson, you are slowly losing yourself in a sea of booze and grief and I need you, son."
Surprised by the emotion in the old man's voice, Jax looked up at Piney. Suddenly feeling self-conscious under the scrutiny of the intense gaze behind the old biker's weather-beaten face, Jax ran both of his hands, his battered knuckles caked with dried blood, through his mop of greasy and unwashed blond hair.
Jax shook his head. "I'm not lost, old man. I'm right here."
"Could've fooled me." Piney replied sardonically. "You haven't been present, especially at the table, for the past six months."
Jax's eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared, his mouth pulled into a tight grimace. "That's not fair, old man. I've been handling my shit just fine. Don't hear anybody but you complaining."
"I'm not complaining, Jax. I'm just worried."
Jax laughed bitterly. "Since when have you given a shit about anything except seeing the bottom of a bottle of Patron?"
Now it was Piney who was surprised, reacting to the bitterness and thinly-veiled self-loathing Jax was oozing through his pores the only way he could. Piney laughed, a big, booming and hearty sound that shook his ample belly.
Pressing on the tube in his nose that provided his diseased and decaying lungs the breath of life he carried around in a cross body shoulder bag, Piney inhaled. He needed to get through to Jax and taking the bait the very angry young man was throwing at him was not the way to do it.
"I probably deserve that, but after 40 years of living and surviving the Life, I'll be damned if I'm gonna let the still wet-behind-the-ears Prince of Charming call me out on it. You haven't earned that privilege yet, boy." Piney retorted, getting the reaction from Jax he was looking for as his blue eyes flashed angrily at him.
Jax resented being called the Prince. Not only did most of those who called him that mean it as an insult, but the title itself insinuated that his destiny was written in stone. And after recent events, Jax wasn't so sure that this was the life he wanted, for himself or his own son.
"Now is not the time to start questioning your place in this Club, Jax." Piney said as if reading the young biker's mind. "You may not want to hear it, especially now, but your place is at the head of that table. Clay has gone unchecked for far too long and I know you know exactly what I mean. I need you with your head in the game, so stop questioning your place and start questioning the direction SAMCRO is heading in. And I'm gonna get you started." The old man said as he pulled a manila envelope from the back waistband of his jeans and held it out towards Jax. "You can only change the course of the future that will ultimately destroy this Club by knowing its past."
Jax looked at the envelope in Piney's outstretched hand without taking it. A date was written on it in black marker, "Original 3/15/93". Aside from the year itself, the date had no significance for Jax whatsoever.
Jax took another drag from his cigarette. "What is it?"
The grizzled biker looked like he was about ready to whack Jax upside the head with the large, somewhat heavy-looking envelope. "You never really knew your old man. Not like I did. He was my brother even before we were First 9. I can only tell you stories about JT, but these pages hold the truth of who your father really was, what his vision for the Club really was, and it's not what you might think. The wrong man has been mentoring you all these years, Jax. You are at a crossroads. Everybody can see that. Fatherhood makes you question your own existence. Now is the perfect time for you to learn the true meaning of brotherhood as seen through JT's eyes. Only then will you be able to save SAMCRO."
Slowly reaching out, his eyes still locked on Piney's, Jax took the envelope from the other man's slightly shaky hand.
"JT never wanted this life for you," Piney continued. Sadly, he couldn't say the same about himself and Opie. After all, SAMCRO was all Piney had by way of an inheritance for his son. "But if he could see where the Sons of Anarchy are headed, he'd want you to have this."
Flipping the envelope over, Jax could see that the seal had been broken.
"I had to read it again, just to remind myself not to give up when that's all I wanna do." Piney explained sadly.
Taking one last drag from his cigarette, Jax flicked the spent butt far enough to hit Piney's truck parked down the hill on the road inside the cemetery. Using his free hand, Jax pushed himself upright, trying in vain to dust off the dirt and grass stains on his light wash jeans.
"You look like shit." Piney laughed. "When was the last time you showered? And dousing yourself in Jack Daniels don't count neither."
"Shut up, old man!" Jax lightly nudged his best friend's father on the shoulder as Piney headed back down the hill, his gravelly laughter ringing in Jax's ears.
Before following Piney down to his bike, Jax turned towards the headstone he had been leaning on and tapped it a couple of times before bumping it with his fist.
"Miss you, bro." Jax said probably for the millionth time in the last six months to the grave marked,
Harry "Opie" Winston
Beloved Husband, Father and Brother