the pearl


She knows she's supposed to be grateful that they've given her a flag and his dogtag, but, right now, all she wants to do is throw them in their fucking faces.

She'd known something like this would happen, that one day, Lin wouldn't be coming back, but to do this — with cameras hounding her every time she leaves her house, with the Army refusing to tell her anything, with this grunt giving her a flag and a dogtag and not his wedding ring, and, to top it off, his damn baby growing in her... She wants to scream at them, wants to tell them that there's no way he could be dead, because he would just not do this. He might have done some fucked up things in the past, and she knows that she'll never get the full details on what exactly he's doing in the Army, but he would not get shot to pieces in a chopper filled with children.

The men are looking at her worriedly, expecting her to cry or to thank them or whatever honorable widows are supposed to do, but she just glares and repeats herself. "Where. Is. His. Ring?"

"Ma'am, I'm terribly sorry, but no one found a wedding ring in the wreckage..." He continues to talk, but she's tuned him out already, waving her hand dismissively.

"Fuck you," she says, her voice cracking with anger. "Fuck all of you and your fucking flag and the WHOLE FUCKING ARMY!" She screams the last part, and turns away from the table, already striding furiously towards her rental before she even realises she's still holding that damned flag. She stops, and looks down at the burnt dogtag in her hand.

"Goddamn you, Linwood," she says angrily as she starts to sob again. "God damn you to hell."

"Mrs. Porteous?" a soft voice says behind her.

She turns around, wiping her eyes. A woman stood there, tall and thin with short-cropped hair, holding the hand of a small girl. The girl holds a matching flag in her other hand, like a security blanket. Jolene's heart breaks just a bit further and she wipes her eyes again. "Yes?" she finally says.

The woman hands her a tissue. "I'm Jack, Jake's sister?"

Jolene frowns at her. "Jake?" She looks at the woman, and it suddenly dawns on her who she's talking about. "Oh! Jensen." She's immediately grateful for the tissue, for something to do with her hands as it wells up again — not just for Lin, but for the whole team as well.

The woman nods. "Yeah, sorry, I forgot that they..." Her voice broke off a bit. "They all call — called — him Jensen." She looks down at the little girl, then back up at Jolene. "We, um, Jess was feeling hungry, and I could use a cup of coffee before driving back home, and maybe you'd like to join us?"

Jolene looks down at the little girl, who looks back up with solemn blue eyes and nods. "Yeah..." Jolene says. "Yeah, I'd like that."


They find this small diner just outside the base, where the staff have obviously dealt with this sort of thing before. The waitress quietly serves coffee and an ice cream sundae for Jess, who eats half of it before getting distracted by a video game in the corner. Jack hands her a few quarters, then turns back to Jolene. "She'll be there for at least an hour," she says, smiling faintly. "She's always been great at video games — just like her uncle..." Jack closes her eyes for a moment and takes long, deep breaths. "Sorry," she whispers. "Sorry."

Jolene nods, reaching out her hand. "It's okay..." They sit there in silence for a few seconds, then Jolene turns to look at Jess. "How old is she?"

Jack smiles again. "She's turning eight next week." She gestures towards Jolene. "When are you due?"

Jolene reflexively wraps a hand over her stomach, protecting this final reminder of her husband. "April," she says softly. "We were..." Her voice trails off and she wads another napkin into a ball with her hand. "I'm sorry," she gasps, her voice high. "I don't..."

It's Jack's turn to hold her hand, comforting the other woman with a soft voice. "It's okay, it's okay, you can get through this. We both can." She looks down at their hands, then chuckles sadly. "All these years they were working together, yet we've never met... I don't know what Jake was thinking."

Jolene smiles. "The least he could have done was take you to the wedding... Tiny chapel in Vegas, and the only guests were the rest of the team." Her smile grows wider as she remembers. "Cougar ended up being my maid of honor."

Jack actually laughs at that, a strange silent laugh where her eyes crinkle up and she hides her mouth behind her hand. "Oh..." She puts her hand on her chest, against her heart, and sighs. "Cougs was like another uncle to Jess. We asked them if we could take his effects home with us, but, not being family..." Her voice cut off. "Dammit boys," she finally says, her voice sharp.

Jolene holds her hand tightly, her other hand on her stomach, and both of them say nothing.


They separate after Jess finally runs out of quarters. Jolene's plane back to Springfield is later in the evening, and Jack and Jess are hoping to get as far as Newark tonight. They stand outside the diner, keys in hand, and Jack hands Jolene a card. "It's got my email and my cell number," she says, somewhat sheepish as Jolene looks at the mass of fake blood splatters and rough type that reads 'Jensen Killer Design'. "It was Jake's idea when I went freelance..." She shakes her head. "Seems kinda wrong now, doesn't it?"

Jolene shakes her head. "No, no..." She looks at Jack and smiles, sadly, before engulfing her in a hug. "Thank you so much," she whispers. "I'll call you."

Jack sniffles slightly into the hug, then turns to Jess. "Say goodbye to Mrs. Porteous, Jess."

Jess waves goodbye, and Jolene walks to her car. She drives to the airport and sits in the terminal, waiting, holding the flag in her arms.


After that horrific day, calling Jack becomes a regular thing. They talk about work, about pregnancy, about Jess, about what they saw on TV or read online, and other trivial things.

Jack talks about Jake, about being his twin sister, hyperactive whiz kid terrors speeding through life. She tells stories of his childhood, of his teenage years, of those first few years in the Army before he met Lin, when it seemed like every other day was a day he spent in trouble, and how he met the team.

Jolene talks about Lin, how they met, their dates, their wedding, their arguments. She tells Jack how Lin got his nickname, how he finally stood up to a sergeant who never gave him a chance, and how happy he was in the team.

They both talk about the team, meeting them for the first time, how Clay tried to hit on Jack (and Jake's subsequent freak-out), how Roque gave Jolene a thousand dollars as a wedding present (not mentioning it was from a year of winning bets off of Lin), how Cougar read bedtime stories to Jess and helped to paint Jolene's living room. And how Jensen always fixed Jolene's computer and Lin always fixed Jack's car.

They spend hours on the phone each week, the only two people who remember.


"So, did you book your 22-week ultrasound?"

Jolene moves the phone to her other ear and opens up her planner. "Hello to you too. Yes, Jack, it's on the 17th. 3pm. Happy?"

"Fabulous." Jack pauses for a second. "You know, I was digging up in the attic for the Christmas decorations, and I've got piles and piles of baby stuff left over from when Jess was a baby. We could totally drive it down right before your scan, if you want it."

Jolene laughs. "What if it's a boy?"

Jack scoffs. "Like any of it is girly — remember who you're talking to. If it wasn't me buying neutral tones, it was Jake buying dinosaurs and aliens. Jess didn't even have a baby doll until she hit preschool." She pauses. "I just thought you might like to have someone there... Jake was there for mine, and..." She sighs. "Hell, if anything, you'd be doing me a favour. And I know the Army's dicking you around on your benefits — you'll need that extra bit of cash once the baby's here."

Jolene closes her eyes and smiles. "Yeah, that'd be brilliant. I'll make it up to you, you know."

"I know." There's another long pause. "There's something else I wanna talk to you about too."

"You're talking to me now."

"No, like, not over the phone."

Jolene frowns at the tone of Jack's voice. "Jack...what's going on?"

"Don't worry about it. Just a few things I'd like to run past you." Jack pauses. "Anyways, I'll need to dig that stuff out of the attic. Jess gets out of school on the 12th. Say we start driving on the 13th, and get there on the 15th?"

Jolene looks at her planner again. "Sounds about right." She grabs a pen and makes another note in an already stuffed planner.

"I'll call you when we hit Springfield." Jack pauses again. "Did I tell you what they want to call Jess's soccer team?"


Jack and Jess show up with a U-Haul filled with boxes. Jolene takes one look at the collection and shakes her head. "I thought you said a few things!"

Jack shrugs, smiling. "Yeah, well, I got through the baby clothes, then the bedding, then the furniture, and then I found the toddler stuff, and I figured, hell, I'm not having another one, let's just bring it all." Jack opens one of the boxes and pulls out a tiny t-shirt decorated with glow-in-the-dark skulls. "Besides, surely you want the coolest baby in all of Springfield, right?"

Jolene laughs, and reaches for a box.


The scan appointment goes without a hitch, and, in the car ride back to her place, Jolene stares at the print-out, tears in her eyes. "I'm going to have a boy," she says again, her voice soft. "A boy." She drops the print-out on her lap and balls her fist against her mouth. "Damn it, Linwood," she whispers. "God damn it."

Jack keeps her eyes on the road, but reaches over to hold Jolene's hand.


Jess is asleep in the spare bed, and Jack is finishing loading up the dishwasher while Jolene sits at the kitchen table, staring at the scan. "I guess I'll have to pick a name soon," she says to Jack.

"Not naming him Linwood?"

Jolene laughs. "God, no, I promised Lin there'd never be a Linwood Porteous the Third. He used to get so much shit from the other kids at school..."

Jack laughs. "Yeah, he should've tried being Jacqueline and Jacob Jensen — god, it's like our parents just wanted our asses kicked."

"And yet you named yours Jessica."

Jack turns around and shrugs. "Seemed like a good idea at the time, but I was on some pretty strong drugs — besides, Jake wanted to name her Amidala, so I figure I won." She grins at Jolene's laughter, then turns serious. "Jolene, there's something I gotta talk to you about."

Jolene straightens. "What's up?"

Jack thinks for a second, then holds up her hand. "Hang on, let me get my laptop."

Jolene sits there, frowning, until Jack brings in her computer. In the brief seconds while it cycles through the start-up, Jolene watches Jack.

She's obviously nervous about something, gnawing on a hangnail while the laptop starts up. There are circles under her eyes that could be from three days of driving or from something else — Jolene's not sure. When the system loads up, Jack types a few things. "So you know how Jess has that online video channel, right?"

"So she could send messages to Jensen, yeah."

"Around two weeks ago, I heard her talking in my room. When I went in, she was recording another video, telling Jake about the Petunias, and her classwork and everything."

"Jesus," Jolene says. "Did she think..."

"No, no, she knows what death means. She thought that maybe he'd get Internet access in heaven and wanted to make sure he knew what was going on. But, then, I saw this." She turns the screen around, pointing at a section of the page.

Jolene shakes her head. "I don't know what this means, Jack."

Jack started gnawing on the hangnail again. "Someone viewed this video."

Jolene's stomach reacts before her brain catches up, and she reaches for her ginger ale. "Maybe Jess rewatched it after she was finished?"

Jack shakes her head. "No, no, that wouldn't show up as a view."

"But we're watching it now. Does that show up as a view?"

"Yeah, and that's what I thought at first, that me viewing it would bump up the stats, but I've only watched this once. And then, with this one, it's twice. But here — " Her chewed fingernail taps the screen. "It's been viewed three times."

"But who would—?" Jolene's eyes grow wide and she shakes her head. "No. No. No, someone else has to be watching it."

"No one else has the password! Jake and I made very clear to her that no one was to see it except for him and me."

"Jake's entire life focused on breaking passwords! You don't think someone else could've done the same?"

"I don't know, Jolene!" Jack's eyes fill with tears, and she turns away. "But why would someone bother to hack into the video feed of an eight-year-old talking to her dead uncle, unless..."

Jolene stands, wavering slightly as the nausea hits again. "Jack, you can't. You can't do this to Jess, and you can't do this to me." Her voice is low and agonised, her heart twisting just a bit tighter as the baby turns inside her. "If Lin was alive, he'd be trying everything to come home to me. If Jensen was alive, he'd be calling you. I..." She gasps for air. "I can't do this."

Jack stands. "I'm sorry, Jolene, but I..." Her voice breaks off and she looks down at her feet. "I have to know."

Jolene looks at the computer screen, and that little number on the page, and shakes her head. "Just...don't tell me, okay? Don't tell me until you have evidence. Because if you're wrong...Jesus, if you're wrong..."

Jack nods. "I know."


It only takes a few months for the evidence to build. As her body swells with Lin's baby, as the snow slowly melts and is replaced by tiny shoots of green, Jack sends her emails, screenshots, photos.

A t-shirt from the Petunias website sent to an address in Bolivia. IP addresses from Miami visited the Durham Girls' Soccer League statistics obsessively during what the news networks called 'a major incident'. Then in Houston. And Los Angeles.

Jack has become obsessed, spending Jess's soccer games flipping through stats on her iPhone while the other soccer moms cheer their children on. She calls Jolene every night with more information, each time trying to prove to Jolene to not give up hope.

Jolene is wearing her wedding ring on a chain around her neck, and each time Jack calls, she holds it in her other hand, like a sacred relic, and that sick feeling in her stomach slowly gets replaced with something like hope.


She's on the phone to Jack when her water breaks. When she hangs up the phone to call the ambulance, Jack calls the airlines.


When he appears, she wonders why she ever doubted Jensen's sister. After all the times he proved her wrong, after all the things he said, the fact that she doubted Jack seems ridiculous.

Because he's here, holding her hand, kissing her forehead, talking her through it even as the pain tears through her. Even after all these months, he's able to make a joke about traffic, and she would laugh if her entire body wasn't focused on reaching that final painful agonising release.

Her son's first cries are echoed by her own, even as Lin kisses her tenderly.


Lin refuses to leave, keeping his hand attached to hers as they bring her son (their son) to her, swaddled tightly and snuffling.

The curtain opens and Jack strides in. "Jolene!" she says, stopping suddenly when she sees who's with her. She pales, blinking a few times. "Jesus..." she whispers. "Pooch?"

Lin looks up, just for a second, and smiles, tears streaking his cheeks. "Hi Jack," he says quietly. "Turn around."

Jack turns, and sees her brother — her baby brother by all of one minute — standing in front of her, holding his niece tightly. "Jack," he says, stroking Jess's hair. "When did she get so big?"

Jack is sobbing, trying desperately to catch her breath. "Christ, Jake," she chokes out between sobs before clutching at him.


Lin and the team pack up Jolene's house while she's recuperating. Jensen finds the boxes of Jess's baby clothes and spends a good hour pointing out each t-shirt, onesie and tiny pair of socks to Cougar, who nods at the appropriate time and takes down furniture just as quickly as his rifle. Clay and Aisha sit down with Jolene and Jack and, despite his decades-old habit of trying to keep things as obtuse as possible and her inability to sugar-coat the truth, explain what happened, what's happening with the team, and what's going to happen to them.

And Jolene agrees to move to New Hampshire, away from her house, her neighborhood, her work.

But, as she holds her son, hears Jack's pointed questions, and watches Lin order Jensen and Cougar around, with Jess repeating him, she knows that she will never be without friends.

This The Losers story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at And you can feedback her at