The Jungle

by Song Birdy

Part Fifteen

author's notes: I've just returned home from Arkansas, and on the fourteen hour drive home, I got a good bit of inspiration for this chapter. I'm forewarning you that Part Sixteen will probably be the last part. This one though, I adore. I love the parts with Ryan. Oh hey, play "Come Downstairs and Say Hello" when you read the part about Ryan and his father, and you'll so understand my inspiration.

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Part Fifteen: Funeral for a Friend

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It's raining on the day of Jacob Cross's funeral.

His mother is drinking in the morning, his father is pacing in the entryway of their home - a broken family long before their son's suicide, and they stand to stare down their own mistakes.

She's crying in her funeral clothes when she whispers to her husband, "What did we do wrong?"

And Mr. Cross, who is staring out the window as the rain falls says, "I think.. we just didn't notice that anything was wrong."

"No," Mrs. Cross whispers, her voice trembling, "We didn't notice anything at all."

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In his mind, Ryan Evans is the protagonist of his own story, and he's not quite sure if his father is the antagonist or not anymore. So many new factors contributed to his actions, and he was beginning to see that it was never black and white to begin with -

His hands are shaking as he knocks on the door to his father's study.

"Come in." calls his father's cool and calm voice, always under control.

As he steps into the sunlit study, where so many assignments have been handed to him in the past few months, Ryan's heart begins to pound in his chest, louder than ever before -

"I have -" He pauses, chokes, he's frightened -

"What is it, boy? Spit it out." His father is pouring over papers, "I haven't got all day."

Ryan Evans, in his black funeral suit feels like he is about to throw up - no no no no, hold it in, you have to do this, you have to let go -

There is a pile of acceptance letters on his bed upstairs - to top theatre schools, to every conservatory he could have auditioned for - there is a pile of scholarship letters, letters that say that he can leave all of this behind and become who he always said he would be, do all the things he always said he would do.

His voice is shaking when he says, "I have to tell you - I'm not doing it anymore."

His father peers up at him over his glasses and raises an eyebrow, "Ryan -" such a child, "You have been loyal to your family thus far - you will remain loyal to your family."

He swallows his fears and opens his jacket pocket, slowly setting three items on the table - a bag of cocaine, a bottle of whiskey, and the gun.

"I will always be loyal to this family," He says, disconnected from his own brain - this couldn't be him saying these words, he would never have the courage - "But not the way you are, sir. I'm not you. And I refuse to become you. I'm not a killer, and I'm not a hero either. I don't know what I am - but it's not this. So thank you - not for making me become you, not for anything but showing me what I don't want to be - you."

Sharpay, outside the door, used her one functional arm to cover her mouth when a little scream escaped her mouth as she heard Ryan's body slam against the wall and his let out little cries of pain for the next few minutes - the screaming that would forever change her image of her father -

The silence that reigned over the scene as she stood in the open door and her father caught sight of his only daughter's look of disdain as she ran to her brother - the silence holds so many unanswered questions.

Crouching in a black dress and heels, she wiped the side of her brother's face and whispered, "Are you okay?"

Ryan let out a little tired smirk, "I will be."

And she pulled him out of their father's study for the last time - and her eyes could murder her father's soul as she turned and looked at him -

And a forty seven year old man's heart slowly broke.

Outside, she awkwardly straightens her brother's suit and tie, and then looks him up in the eye - something soft in her that only he ever sees is shining through her eyes, "What did he say?" She half- whispers.

"That I'm not a man," Ryan answers gruffly, "Not his son."

She bites her lips into her mouth and says, "But you are a man, Ryan, more than he can ever be. You know where?" Her spare hand slips over his heart, "Where it really matters."

The tears that well up in Ryan's eyes are sincere - and he almost tells them to stop, that Evans men don't cry - but he lets them fall, and pulls his sister to him, kisses her forehead lightly -

And just like a miracle - the rain begins to let up.

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Sometimes, you make a meal and then you don't want to eat it anymore - it's perfect, each step you've planned is in tune with the next - each dish following the other in perfect harmony -

Kelsi Neilson doesn't attend Jacob Cross's funeral services.

She watches from the side of the cemetery - flowers and pretty music and everything she'd decided on with Jacob's mother -

And she cannot stand to be there - she cannot stand to be the one who tipped Jake over the edge.

Sometimes when she looks in the mirror - that's all she sees: the girl who broke his heart and drove him mad. She should have been able to see better, to see what she would have done for him, maybe she could have -

No, she could not have done anything.

And, she thinks, that's the part that hurts the worst.

---

Chad Danforth gave the eulogy at Jacob Cross's funeral - he wasn't sure what to say at first - could he have said that he would have shot him if he had a gun that day - could he say that he would have ended his life for him?

No.

"I'm not sure what to say - I didn't write a speech."

Could he say that he hadn't spoken to Jake for months before he died?

"I couldn't, you see. Because there's something about Jake that seemed like - he wouldn't want much of a speech."

It was hard not to repeat the words that Jacob had said to him - that he was a lapdog -

"He and I.. we had our falling out. But he wasn't himself then. And I don't think he'd want us to remember him like -" He choked, "Like that."

His eyes caught Zeke Baylor's on the third row - holding onto Sharpay Evans's hand tightly - "I remember our first day at basketball tryouts in the sixth grade. It was going to be me, Troy, and Zeke - and we were going to be the stars of the team, all the way up though high school," he laughed a little bit and loosened his tie, "Well of course we had it all planned already, we were in sixth grade. But then came along this little skinny white boy telling us he was going to be the star of the team - he and his family had just moved to Albuquerque and we thought - what a little snot."

The congregation laughed, "But we found out that he was really good. And really cool. And soon it was obvious - Troy, Zeke, Jake, and me. We were going to be the stars of the team. And we were. But it was more than that. We were friends. We spent so much time pushing each other to the limits - so far that we'd fall out on each other's beds after a workout and just sleep their all night without even eating or showering or anything - And then Jake would wake up the next morning before all of us and want to go again -" He laughed slightly, "And I think that's how I'd like to remember him. That guy who could make me want to be better. Not just at basketball but at everything."

And he looks out at the congregation and he sighs, "Thank you."

Nobody mentions the shooting that day - it doesn't seem right to mention it at all.

He was a good kid - I'm sorry for your loss - Wish we could go back and help him -

But that's all it is - wishing. You can't change the past more than you can fix the present before it's gone. Troy Bolton pats Chad Danforth on the back as they lower Jacob Cross's body into the ground and Chad begins to cry. Taylor McKessie holds his hand just a little tighter, and Zeke Baylor understands - he wipes tears from his own eyes.

Because they are all wishing they'd given their friend one more chance.