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When Phil saw the burned-out trailer on the news that night, he threw on a pair of sweatpants and jumped in his beat-up F-150. Several near-collisions later he arrived at the scene, tumbled out of the cab, and wove his way through what remained of the crowd of onlookers. The reporters were packing up, Jason was sitting on Ida Blaine’s front porch with his head in his hands, and a young cop stood over him with a notepad. The old woman stood by in silence, holding a glass of water in her trembling hands. One look from her and Phil knew with certainty that his sister and Dale were both dead.
As he ran up to them, the officer looked up from Jason, and held up a hand. “Sir, you need to stay back.”
“Outta my way, Captain America,” he growled. “That’s my nephew.” He pointed at the remains of the trailer. “And that was my sister’s house.”
The policeman bristled, but closed his notepad and wandered a few feet away. Phil noticed he remained within earshot, however.
Sitting beside the young man, Phil waited. He hesitated, then wrapped an arm around his nephew. Jason looked up, clear confusion and pain in his eyes. Phil knew at once this was not the same man he spoke with earlier. This was a completely different Jason, and he had no memory of the conversation the two had only an hour before. That Jason was gone.
“I just got home, Uncle Phil, and everything is just… gone.” His eyes were red, but the tears had dried.
Phil looked up at the old woman. “Do they know what happened, Ida?”
She shook her head. “I heard an explosion…” Her voice cracked, and she seemed to just notice the glass she held. She took a sip, then nodded at the car by the road. “Kathy was visiting.” Ida leaned over to Phil and whispered, “I… I don’t think the boy was with her.”
Phil let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. He recognized the car when he drove up, but wasn’t sure what it all meant. Now he knew.
“They tell me Kathy’s dead, Uncle Phil.” Jason was looking at the trailer, lost in his grief. He turned to the only family he had left. “I always thought there would be time for us. You know?”
“Yeah, son. I do,” Phil mumbled. There was more his nephew needed to know, but now was not the time.
“Sir?” The police officer, one hand resting on the weapon on his belt, held up his notepad and stepped closer. “Unless you have anything to add, I think we’ve got everything we need for now.” He looked down at Jason. “I would like him to come in tomorrow or the next day to give us a complete statement, though.”
“Sure,” he looked up at the intruder, allowing the irritation to show in his face and voice. “I’ll bring him by tomorrow afternoon.” He turned away, dismissing the man with a wave of his hand.
“Thank you,” he said, then nodded at Jason. “I’m sorry for your loss, son.” He looked up at the woman. “Ma’am,” he said, tipping his cap, and walked away.
Phil watched him go, almost wishing he could go with him. Shoulda gone with the other Jason, you goddamn coward. That one was adrift, lost in the tangle of realities without hope of finding a friendly shore. I made damn sure of that, didn’t I? All Phil had to do was teach the boy to find his way in the in-between, and he was too afraid to do even that. Maybe I can make up for some of that here. He snorted at the thought he could ever help anyone.
He wasn’t good at this stuff. Most days he couldn’t console himself, much less a kid he rarely saw. He thought about shifting over; let another Phil sort this out. But he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t leave another man to do his work, even if it was still himself.
He looked over at his nephew. This Jason had some hard days ahead of him, that was for sure. Soon, Phil would have time to grieve for his sister, but today—today he had to help his nephew.
Phil struggled to his feet, knees creaking, and put a hand on Jason’s shoulder. “C’mon son. I’ve got a spare room you can use for as long as you need,” he said, then turned to Mrs. Blaine. “Can you make a few calls for me?”
Ida frowned, then tried to smile. “Sure, Phil. I think I know what you need. I’ve got the numbers inside.” She looked down at Jason, who still hadn’t moved. “You just take care of him for now.”
Phil nodded. “Thanks, Ida.” He reached down and pulled at Jason’s arm. The young man didn’t resist, but rose slowly to his feet. Phil put an arm around his shoulder and led him to the old truck.