Final chapter. Long. A/N in the end.
Chapter 16 - The brother
I stare at him, and he stares back, unfriendly, suspiciously. He seems stiff, asking me again why I'm standing here, and he sounds mad about it.
"Uh," I say, and that's all I can manage. His brother? Henry had a brother?
I can't take my eyes from his face. I can see the similarity to the man in my nightmares.
"You're dumb or somethin'?" he snorts. His voice has lost most of the edgy touch this time, and he suddenly seems more relaxed when he brush past me and sinks down on his knees in front of the grave.
He glance over his shoulder, meeting my gaze with those eyes. I shudder. He frowns as he studies me, up and down. I know I should go, but it's like my feet are stuck here. I can't move, how uncomfortable I yet feel when he takes in my appearence.
"What's your name?" he suddenly asks me, and I jerk at the sudden sound. My name?
I hesitate. He will know who I am if I tell him, there's no way he won't recognize my last name. He must know the name of the people in the car his brother rode in when it crashed. I shouldn't tell him. I should walk away from here and forget about him. I have start to move on. I have made progress since I told my brothers, progress to a normal life. We have start to try to leave it behind us, what we know and don't, and what we can't change. But another thought flies through my head as I stand here, a thought of a possibility getting some answers we never thought we could get, and then I quickly make my decision. Darry would scold me for it, I know, but he's not here.
"I'm - I'm Ponyboy." And then I add, "Curtis." I watch him, unsure.
The reaction to my name is obvious. It flies over his face- recognition, anger, sorrow, even hate, in a mix, but then he seems to collect himself, and he looks away. "Curtis," he repeats. Then he snorts, "I ain't gonna say I'm sorry."
It almost feels like a punch. He acts like it's my parents' fault his brother is dead, when it actually was him all along, Henry who did this, to them and himself. But then I get angry.
"Me neither," I tell him, with emphasis. I know there's venom in my voice. I want him to know that I hate his brother. I realize it may be stupid of me. The cemetery is empty of people, just him and me here, and if he is like his brother, I can be in trouble. He's much bigger than me. Even if I run, I'm sure he can catch up. But he doesn't move. He doesn't do anything else than sit there, his back turned against me. I don't know if I should say something more. I open my mouth a couple of times, but I don't know what to say. So instead, I slowly start to walk away from there.
Before the place comes out of my sight, I turn my head. He's standing up now, watching me go.
I drop my backpack on the floor, and when I walk into the kitchen, I see to my surprise that Soda is home, sitting by the table. The table top is covered with papers and open envelopes in front of him. He looks tired.
"What's that?" I pick up one of the papers. It's a water bill. "What are you doin'?"
"I'm just lookin'," he says, but I can tell he's avoiding me somehow. And Soda would never look at bills, he has never cared about our economy in the past. He takes the bill from me, put it with the rest all together in a stack, then throws them in one of the drawers under the kitchen counter. He close it, looking guilty.
"No reason." He scratch his nose. " You've been at the cemetery?" he asks me. I let him change the subject, not sure I really want to know why he suddenly act this way.
He eyes me with concern, like he always do nowadays. "You okay?"
I nod, avoiding his gaze.
"What's up, Pone?" He can always tell when something's wrong.
"It's... it's nothin' I guess." I bite my lip. But I know I shouldn't have secrets anymore. I know what secrets can do. So I look up at him. "I met someone."
Soda leans his back against the counter. His face suddenly hardens, like he already knows what I'm gonna say, but I think he just heard in my voice it probably won't be any good news. "Who?"
"Um," I start, "he- he wasn't... I mean, he didn't seem dangerous or anythin' but he was his brother." I stumble over the words. "He said he was his brother."
"You ain't allowed to go there by yourself anymore, Ponyboy."
"Yeah, but Darry-"
I sigh, staring at the pen in my hand. I'm writing on an essay, or should be doing, but it's kind of hard. I haven't come up with anything, and now Darry sits beside me in the couch, all worked up about the guy at the cemetery. Soda stands in front of us, his arms folded. I know I can't beat their arguments, but that's okay. I'm quite sure I don't want to meet the man again anyway.
"I won't," I promise them.
"I'm gonna look up this guy," Darry says. "What was his name?"
"He never said it. It's not like I talked to him."
Darry sighs and rubs his eyes. "Don't go near him. Not until we know more."
He rise and walks into the kitchen. Soda throws a glance at me, then hurries after.
"Dar, can I talk to you?"
I have a bad feeling in my stomach, but I try to ignore it. They talk too low for me to hear, and I can just hope it's not about me.
Soda drops the bomb two days later. It's Saturday. I don't have any homework, but I do have an English test on Tuesday, and since I'm still a bit behind in school, I sit in my bed with my textbook in my lap, writing down small notes on a piece of paper. My brother doesn't knock, just open up the door and hesitates for a moment. I look up, watch him take a step inside and carefully close the door behind him again.
"Can I talk to ya?"
He doesn't sit down. He looks nervous. "You're gonna be upset," he tells me. "I... uh..."
I force my gaze away from him, stare at my notes instead. Suddenly I know what he's gonna say. How the bills on the table fits in, why he looked so tired. Why he hang out at the DX so much. I know what he's thinking of.
"Don't drop out!" I hear myself say. "Please, Soda!" The next moment he sits next to me.
"Pone," he says, pleading. "C'mon." Then he says," I'm sorry, okay? It ain't just about school. The other day when you got home from the cemetery, remember?" He awaits for me to nod, so I do. "I did some counting. Yeah, I know I'm bad at math." He makes a grimace. But then he continues, "We can't afford the bills, Pone. You know how much Darry's workin', and I think he's plannin' to start to work on Sundays too."
I don't say anything.
"And that still wouldn't be enough. Besides, how long do you think he would be able to work seven days a week without gettin' sick? I have to help him."
I swallow. "You can work part time like Steve." My voice is almost failing me. I close my textbook. "It doesn't mean you have to drop out. Steve goes to school too."
"Pone," Soda says and I know he already has decided. I throw the book off my lap and rise.
"I'm goin' for a walk," I snap.
I'm so mad at him. I can't believe he's doing this now. I really struggle to be able to move up a year despite everything that has happened, and now Soda won't be at Will Rogers when I finally start there after summer. I can't stand it. He just can't leave school.
But then I feel ashamed. Darry had to, or chose to, not going to college just to take care of us. And I don't want him to work all that much either. It's not his fault his salary is not enough. It's not fair. Nothing is.
And there's only one person to blame for it. Sometimes I think it's me.
It's cold where I stand. In front of my feet are two graves. One belongs to my parents. On the other's is Henry's name written. I turn around. My parents stand there, watching me silently.
"I'm sorry," I tell them. They turn around.
They start to walk away. I run after. "I'm sorry!"
No matter how fast I run, I can't catch up.
Soda stands next to me, shaking his head. "I'm sorry," I plead him. "I didn't mean to."
"It doesn't matter, Ponyboy."
He and Darry watch me with hollow eyes. "Look what we do for you. Look!" In their hands they holds money. The dollar bills rain to the floor. I sink down, picking them up.
"I don't want them! I don't want them..." I try to give them back, but they refuse to take them. "I don't want them...I want Mom and Dad!"
"Please," I beg them.
"They killed me," Henry whispers in my ear. The bills turns to bugs, and I drop them. I can't scream, no sound comes out.
"You know what they do in places like that?" Henry says. "They dig holes. They make you bury your parents if you killed them."
I don't know where I am. Only me and darkness and voices.
"You know what happened? You killed them, Ponyboy!"
"It was your fault!"
"Your fault, Ponyboy!"
"Ask him what happened!"
"You killed them!"
I put my hands to my ears, flying up to sit.
Soda hugs me. I stop screaming, and he gentle pulls my hands off my ears. He stroke my hair as I pant.
"Soda?" My voice is small.
"It's... what do ya think had happened if..." I swallow. I lie down again, hiding my face in my pillow. "I should've told them." I feel Soda's hand on my back. I think he knows what I'm trying to say, because he moves it up to my shoulder, shaking it a bit.
"Don't talk like that, Pone. You couldn't have done anythin'."
"But you can't know that," I say, muffled. "What if I could? What if I could but didn't?"
"Hey!" He grabs me harder, turns me around. "Don't talk like that, I said. Okay? It wasn't you, Pone. It was him."
It was him. I know that.
I just wish I could believe things had been the same even if I had acted differently.
I sit down on the bench. According to the timetable, it's only five minutes to the next bus. I know I shouldn't. Maybe he won't even be there. But I hope he will. I've gone to the cemetery three days in a row after school, despite what Darry said, in hope to see him again. I have thought about it. I just want to talk to him, that can't do me any harm, can it? If he had wanted to do something, he already had when we met the first time. I say to myself that I just want answers. That I owe that to my brothers, for what I am putting them through. But my reasons are more selfish than that, I know.
Someone comes from behind, puts their hands over my eyes, and I nearly scream, jumping up. Even though I know Henry's dead, I'm still jittery when I'm out alone. I'm so used to being scared that it seems to never get better. But when I turn around, I realize I should have known who's grin I would meet.
"Hey, Pone!" Two-Bit climbs over the back of the bench to sit down on the place I just left.
"Damn it, Two-Bit," I curse at him, putting a hand over my racing heart.
"Sorry," he offers me, and his grin disappears for a moment. He knows everything. Everyone in the gang does, I know my brothers told them. But we never speak about it. At least they don't when I'm around. I guess they talk when I'm not.
Two-Bit looks at the bus-sign, then at me. "Goin' someplace?"
"To a friend," I lie.
Two-Bit looks up at the bus-sign again. "Funny. I could've sworn this bus goes by the cemetery," he says, easy-going, an eyebrow cocked.
I try to look innocent. "It does?"
"Knock it, Pone. It's me, good ol' Two-Bit. I know what you're up to."
I sigh at that. There's no point in hiding it. "Okay. I'm goin' there, but-"
He frowns slightly. "Didn't Darry say-"
"Yeah," I interrupt him."That's why you ain't gonna say anythin' to them."
He looks at me sternly. "You know I got no problem with lying, Ponyboy. But I ain't sure-"
"I am," I interrupt him again. I see the bus coming down the street. "C'mon. I just wanna visit my parents." I know that the card I play is unfair. Two-Bit has a bigger heart than he will ever confess, he won't deny me this. "I've done it lots of times already. He's not there. He never shows."
"Maybe I should come with ya, " Two-Bit offers, but I shake my head.
"I wanna be alone. Please, Two-Bit!"
He doesn't look sure, but the bus has stopped and opened its door, and I climb in. "It's all right," I say. "I promise."
I can wrap him around my finger.
I don't know what I'm doing. I can pretend, but I don't. Sometimes Darry says I'm not using my head, and I guess he's right. The only thing I can think about right now is that it's all my fault. I started this. If I had told my parents what was happening when I was little, they had known to be careful. They would have done something. At least they would never invite Henry into their car, and they hadn't crashed and died.
And then Darry had been able to go to college and Soda hadn't felt the need to drop out to start working. I know there's no way to fix this. Our parents are gone. Money will always be an issue.
I don't want an apology, that wouldn't help anyway. I guess I just want some sort of closure. What I have now is not enough. I hit the stop-button. Maybe he will be there today.
I smoke through a whole pack before he finally shows, just in time. I have just decided to go to be home before my brothers when I see him coming down the gravel. My heart speeds up where I stand leaning against the church wall, but I don't think he sees me. Not yet.
Like the last time, he sits down in front of the small headstone, bowing his head. I don't know if I should feel sorry for him. He looks sad. He lost someone too, even if his brother was a crazy killer. It's possible he never knew Henry's plans. Or maybe he did, and tried to stop him. If so, he's a victim too.
I leave my spot.
The gravel crunch under my shoes, and he hears me, sees me, flies up to his feet.
"What are you doin' here?" he hiss at me. He looks mad again.
"I'm... I just wanted to talk," I stutter. "I..." I don't know what to say. There's an awkward silence.
"Talk about what?" he growls at me after a while.
I stare down, licking my lips nervously. "Your brother-"
"Don't talk about my brother, Ponyboy Curtis!" He spits my name. I flinch. But I'm determined. I want to know if someone had been able to stop Henry. If there had been anything I could have done. I hope he will say no.
'No, Ponyboy. He had done it anyway. You could've told the world, he had killed them anyway.'
I want those words. That's how I'm selfish. I don't want to feel guilty anymore. Somewhere I know it wasn't me, that I was just a little kid, I couldn't have done anything, and my brothers tells me that too. But feelings aren't always rational. I want him to say it too. He can know for sure.
"You know what he did," I urge, taking a step back. "He..." The words won't come out so I change them. "It wasn't an accident. They - they died because of him."
"So?" he bites back.
That simple word makes me shudder. Suddenly I feel cold. Dizzy. I hug my arms around my body, swallows.
"So he really did it?" I whisper. "Hen-Henry killed them."
He smirks at me, gestures at the stone. "Can't you fuckin' read? It says Matthew."
I blink. "But - but he changed it."
The man in front of me doesn't deny it. He taps his pockets, picking up a pack of cigarettes. Lits one.
"You're here for the truth?" he says, his voice mocking. I don't trust my voice, so I just nod. The truth. I've searched for it so long. When I first stumbled upon a part of it, I didn't want it, but now, I do. I'm scared of it, but I need it.
"I ain't hidin' it," he says. "I don't really care if you know."
A small wind is blowing, making the smoke whirl my way. I can hear the traffic in the background, cars and buses and people outside the cemetery, but in here, it's like the time has stopped. It's only me and him. And the shadows of my parents and Henry, linking us together.
"Why?" I manage to choke out.
"Why I don't care? Why the hell should I?"
I shake my head. "No. Why did he do it? Why couldn't he... what did they do? They were my parents! I need them. I miss them." I hadn't planned to cry in front of him, but suddenly I feel hot tears running. It's strange, though. I don't care if he sees them.
"They were friends," the man says. "They betrayed him. Simple as that."
I shake my head again, more furious this time. "No! It wasn't like that. Just because my dad didn't want to do a robbery-"
"You don't know a damn thing!" He spits on the ground. "They deserved to die because of what they did to... Henry. Your dad... it could've been him that sent him to prison, damnit. He stood him up. If they had stuck to the plan, they had made it. But your pa thought your ma was more important to please." His eyes are burning. "You know what happened to him there? In prison?" He doesn't wait for my answer. "I think you do. Or you don't wanna know."
I wipe my eyes. I can't believe he blames my dad for his brother's actions. "It was his own fault!"
The punch comes so quickly I don't even notice until I lie on the ground, blood dripping from my nose and mouth. At first I only move to curl up, scared and in pain, waiting for the next hit, but it doesn't come.
Slowly I sit up, stare up at him in fear. I'm so, so stupid. I sob quietly, catching the red drops with my hand. Carefully I feel after my teeth with my tongue, sure to find a gap, but they are all there. My mouth taste metallic.
Henry's brother has backed away. It's several feet between us.
"Say that again," he threats harshly, "and I will do more than just punch you." I cringe, knowing it's true.
I want to go home, but I'm too scared. I close my eyes, hoping he will be gone when I open them again, but he's not. I shouldn't have come by myself. I should have brought Soda. Or Two-Bit when he offered. I shouldn't have come at all. But it's too late now.
"I'll tell ya the truth. I hope it hurts," the man says. "It was so fuckin' easy. Your dad's so naive." He flicks away his cigarette butt on me, it bounce against my arm and falls on the gravel. Then he lits another one.
"That night. They were at the parking lot outside that fancy restaurant. Don't know how they could afford it though. Maybe your Mom worked for'em."
I know he just tries to insult her, but his words takes its hits. But I don't say anything. I've learned.
"We tapped their car of gas, so they didn't make it far. Of course we came to save them." He smiles. "At first your dad was actually happy. Start talkin' about the past and pretend he fuckin' cared about Henry. So Henry says to him, 'Hey, Darrel, how's your sons?' And he starts ramblin' about how fuckin' proud he is, so we interrupt him and says, 'As soon as we've taken care of you we'll take care of them too.'"
I know I'm already pale, but his words makes it hard to breathe. He helped him. The man in front of me is as guilty as Henry.
He smirks at me, and I know he can read me. "Your pa says 'What?' and you should've seen his face. It was hilarious." He shakes his head. "But a little hit to his temple put him out pretty quick. Not so tough then, huh? Your ma screamed but we told her to shut the fuck up, and she was smart enough to do it. Henry took the wheel. We put your parents in with no seatbelts of course. I knew the perfect spot. We didn't wanted any witnesses ya know. Then he just speed up and bam. " He claps his hands together, the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. The sound makes me jump. "It went even better than we thought, when they all flew out of the car. Everyone just assumed your pa was the driver. That it was a fuckin' accident."
His words feels like knifes.
"I don't know how you figured it out it wasn't, though," he says to me. "Not that I care." He takes a step closer.
He's gonna kill me. I can't breathe. I can't warn my brothers like I couldn't warn my parents. It's all my fault... my fault... In my daze, I suddenly hear him laugh.
"Don't worry," he says to me. "We just wanted to scare them. Make them suffer before they died. I leave town next week. You'll never hear from me again. I won't touch you or your brothers." He walks to me, sits down on his heels in front of me. His hand grips my wrist, jerking my hand away from my face. It's red with blood.
"You see the hole in my story?" he asks me. When I don't respond, he shakes my arm until I shake my head. I don't know what he means.
"What would you do for your brothers?" he asks me. "Would you kill for them? Die for them?"
I open my mouth, but I'm unable to speak.
"He had a brain tumor, ya know. They gave him two months when they discovered it. There was nothin' they could do. They couldn't even treat it."
Somehow I find my voice. "Henry had cancer?" I whisper. Was that why he killed himself in the crash? He should die anyway.
The man laughs again. It's not a happy laughter. "No, stupid boy. Luke. My brother Luke!" He looks me in my eyes. "You sure have grown since we saw each other last time, Ponyboy Curtis."
It's not until then I finally realize who he is. My eyes widen as he rise.
He puts a finger to his mouth, then points at me. "I know you can keep a secret." He's still laughing when he starts to walk away. He doesn't turn around once.
*Chewing on my nails* First of all, I really hope you like this chapter and the end.
Second, I hope the plot seems realistic. I really want it to be, but to be honest, I didn't do research if it's even possible to "take" someone elses identity after the person has died. But my thoughts was, if there are two brothers who are alike each other (I haven't planned them to be twins), and you put the others identification on the one that will die, and later, after a wreck, the brother who's alive make an identification and says it's "him" - should it be possible? I don't think they take fingerprints and always does autopsy's on every traffic killed victim - I hope. This is also back in 1966 - without the knowledge about DNA. Maybe it was possible then, even if it maybe isn't possible today. If you think it's not realistic at all, I'm sorry. But even if I always prefer to write realistic, this is still fiction ;) and I wanted to end the story this way. So I did.
If you wonder why Henry didn't recognized Pony if he had watched him in town before - the man who watched Pony was just a coincidence and Pony's paranoid thoughts.
To my Guest anonymous reviewer: I'm sorry, I can't PM you since I don't know who you are. But if you read ch 10, you will know what happened in the park.
Thank you to all who has read, reviewed, added this story. I really loved writing it, more so thanks to your support! So thank you so, so, so much! If you want to leave a final thought, you will make my day!