“Hey,” she called after him. “My laptop!”
“I’m straying from routine,” he said.
He’d no sooner slid behind the wheel of his truck than Sam pulled up behind him.
Then Tanner in front, the two of them blocking him in.
“Been looking for you,” Sam said as he opened Cole’s passenger door and got in. Tanner helped himself at the driver’s door, forcing Cole over so that he was sandwiched between them, coming into such a close and personal relationship with the gearshift that the two of them should have gotten a marriage license first.
Tanner hit the autolock, as if Cole could possibly even move to escape without climbing out over the top of one of them.
“You know,” Tanner said conversationally, “when you’re alive, you answer your phone.”
“There are at least six ways to get ahold of me that don’t involve me having to speak to you,” Cole said. “Try one of them next time.”
Sam and Tanner exchanged a look, and Cole ignored it. And them. A mean feat given that they were practically in each other’s laps. Cole tipped his head back and stared up at the ceiling of the truck. “Am I…rigid?”
“I don’t know, man,” Tanner said. “But I’m really hoping not.”
“In general,” Cole said with a clenched jaw. “Am I rigid, as in unbending. Unforgiving.”
“Okay, that question makes a lot more sense,” Tanner said, relieved.
Sam started coughing to hide a laugh.
Tanner didn’t try to hide anything, he just grinned.
“Shit,” Cole said. “Somebody let me the fuck out.”
“Not yet,” Sam said. “First things first. We give you shit about being rigid and unbending, but it’s just that. Shit. Your sister lied to your mom, and you helped her anyway. Tanner and I kept this from you, and you’re here speaking to us.”
“Barely,” Cole said.
“My point,” Sam said, “is that you’re not completely rigid and unbending.”
“Gee,” Cole said. “Thanks.”
“And secondly,” Sam went on, much more seriously. “There wasn’t a memo to fuck you over.”
Cole squeezed his eyes shut. “I know.”
“We only found out by sheer dumb luck about a week before the fire,” Tanner said. “Gil was at the bottom of a bottle. It was killing him. He was going to tell you. He didn’t because I stopped him.”
Cole looked over at the guy who he believed would always have his back, no matter what, to the end. “I’m trying to imagine under what circumstances you could have possibly believed I was better off not knowing,” he said with what he felt was admirable calm. Especially because he was imagining rearranging Tanner’s teeth.
“We were in the gulf,” Tanner said. “And in case you don’t remember, you were in the middle of upgrading the entire safety system and having a rough go of it. I told Gil that while we were on the rig wasn’t the time to tell you. That only a selfish asshole would assuage his own guilt right then.”
Cole tried to absorb that.
“Telling you would have cleared his conscience,” Sam said, “but it’d have wrecked you. And that was bullshit. Tanner convinced him that waiting was best.”
Cole took in Tanner’s hard expression and wondered exactly what the “convincing” had consisted of. “The week before the fire,” Cole said, remembering. “He showed up one morning with a black eye and fat lip.”
Tanner didn’t move, didn’t blink.
“That was you,” Cole said.
Tanner lifted a shoulder, the only confirmation Cole was going to get.
“We told Gil that he could damn well wait another two weeks until we were all on a three-day break,” Sam said.
Only that break had never come because there’d been the fire…
And then Gil had been gone.
He let his head fall back. Two years and it still didn’t feel real. “I’ve been an asshole.”
“No worries,” Sam said. “It was your turn.”
“Maybe it can be my turn next,” Tanner noted almost wistfully.
“You are due,” Sam noted.
“I went to Olivia’s,” Cole said. “She wasn’t there. I need to find her.”
“She came looking for you after you left,” Tanner said. “I told her that even ass-hats deserve second chances after detonating the best relationship to ever happen to them.”
“You need to fix it with her,” Tanner said. “She’s good for your rigid ass.”
“Says the guy who avoids relationships like the plague,” Cole said.
“At least I know a good thing when it hits.”
Cole thought of how he felt when he was with Olivia. He called her Supergirl, but the truth was, she made him feel like Superman. With her he wasn’t just the guy who could fix anything, navigate, repair, referee, or mitigate.
With her, he was a better version of himself. “I need to find her,” he repeated.
“Maybe if you said please,” Sam said.
Cole stared at him. “You know where she’s at.”
Sam cupped a hand around his ear. “Did you hear ‘please,’ Tanner?”
“Nope,” Tanner said.
Jesus. “Tell me where she is and I won’t kill you both with my bare hands,” Cole said.