The Marine in Unit A (Mockingbird Place Book 1)

By: Kris Cook

A Mockingbird Place Novel

Chapter One

Even though the sun is shining and there isn’t a cloud in sight, darkness threatens to suffocate me. I hold the urn tightly, concerned that I might drop it since my hands are shaking. It contains the ashes of the man who rescued me six years ago when I was only fifteen.

Malcolm Rivers.

How am I to survive without him? I have no clue. God, I’m not ready to say goodbye.

I stand next to Candy and twelve of my neighbors, though they are more than just neighbors to me. They are my family, like Malcolm and Candy. And he was family to them, as he was to me. I’ll never forget his definition of family. “Blood isn’t thicker than water, Oliver. Love is. That’s what makes a real family.”

Along with being a friend, a mentor, someone I looked up to, he was like my dad, much more than my biological father has ever been, though in truth Malcolm was old enough to be my grandfather.

Was. What a terrible word to associate with a person. So final. So permanent. So awful.

This memorial ceremony in our courtyard next to the pool is to honor one of his last requests. Most would find the 12-unit, U-shaped, Mediterranean complex where we live a poor excuse to hold such a solemn observance, but not us. Sure, it could use a fresh coat of paint and the rain gutter above the laundry room could be tightened. But Mockingbird Place is special, unique, and warm. And on this day it’s a very sacred space. It is his home and ours.

“Oliver, it’s your turn.” Martha is Malcolm’s cousin and lives in Unit I with her partner Sarah.

“Give me a second.” I try to compose myself but can’t. I’m a wreck.

“Take all the time you need, sweetie,” Sarah tells me.

Now that Malcolm is gone, Martha, Sarah, and I are the new owners of Mockingbird Place. He left it to us. Since I’m still in college, Martha and Sarah will manage the complex for us until I graduate. At seventy-two, both are as young at heart as Malcolm ever was.

They have been together for decades and want to get married. They could have already gone to one of the states where same-sex marriage is legal, but they want to be married in our courtyard surrounded by us, their friends. Their family.

The Supreme Court will rule on marriage equality this week or next. God, I wish Malcolm could have been here when the decision comes down. He was so excited about the case before the court. He believed they would rule in our favor and same-sex couples would have the right to marry in all the states, including ours—conservative Texas. I’m cautiously optimistic. We’re going to have a barbeque Friday just in case the decision comes down and we have something to celebrate. Even if it doesn’t and we have to wait until next week to find out, we’re still going to get together. We always have fun when we do.

But will we still? Without Malcolm? I don’t know if I can.

His will, which isn’t written in typical legalese, says all that needs to be said about us, including Martha and Sarah. They are the biggest ducks in the puddle at pool parties. And what can I say about my dear boy Oliver. He’s very special to me and I know he’s going to succeed in whatever he pursues. I want him to be happy. Martha, Sarah, and Oliver will take great care of Mockingbird Place for me. I couldn’t leave my home in better hands.

I stare at his Rolex he also left me.

On paper, my friendship with Malcolm doesn’t make sense. He and I are from very different backgrounds. He was born nearly sixty years before my birth. He came from a Catholic home with nine siblings in Philadelphia. I’m from small town Winters, Texas. I grew up in my parents’ hell-fire-and-damnation Baptist church. And I don’t have any siblings. I’m an only child.

But despite all that, Malcolm and I have a connection, deep and unbreakable, that comes from both our hearts. Not comes. Came. Damn those words.

This is the last of several memorial services for Malcolm, though there is nothing religious about this one or the earlier services. His month-long send-off began with a dinner party the night after his death followed by many festive gatherings at all the clubs on Cedar Springs. Over five hundred of his friends from around the country attended last night’s affair. He was a man who had quite an impact on many people during his life. Today’s much smaller ceremony, once again ordered by Malcolm, is for the thirteen of us, the current residents of Mockingbird Place.

“You need each other, my darlings, now more than ever. I wish I could have lived longer, but my work here is done. You are my last family, my last legacy. Be happy, that’s all I ask.”

The paperwork we found in Malcolm’s nightstand was very clear with what he wanted—me giving the final speech about his life and the musical trio in Unit G singing an upbeat song. Malcolm wanted to make sure everyone had a good time. Absolutely no tears. He stated in all caps that we were to celebrate his life, not mourn his death.

I clear my throat, thinking what to say about Malcolm, the self-declared gay mayor of Dallas. He is…was…flamboyant, bigger than life, and enjoyed every day to its fullest. Everyone loved him, especially me. His absence will leave an unimaginable void in us. Gray. Empty. Lonely.

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