It was an awkward moment for both of the brothers, Steve not knowing what to say and Jack not knowing where to start.
"I guess it's okay," Jack said. He turned and handed the toy dinosaur to Steve. "David was your brother too." The older brother sat down on the edge of the bed, his head lowered studying the interlaced fingers of his hands. Steve, sensing that Jack wanted to talk stationed himself in the desk chair opposite his brother.
"Steve, I'm not sure where I should start ... but I need to get this off my chest," he cleared his throat with a nervous cough. "What I'm about to say ... I should have said to you a long time ago." He was glad that his younger brother made no attempt to interject, but just sat there passively attentive.
Jack stood and walked across the room, suddenly not wanting to face Steve. "Steve, you were not responsible for what happened to David. I was!" He could see his brother's body grow tense, but then relax after a brief moment. "Listen Steve, I know we didn't always get along, and after you hear this ... if you don't already, you're going to hate my guts! David didn't follow you and Eddie to the quarry that night. He followed me!"
Steve had tried to let Jack talk without interrupting him, but he could sit quietly back no longer. "What do mean your fault? I was the one who was supposed to be watching him! Mom and Dad told me to watch David, not you?"
Jack shook his head and waved a finger, "Consider the one detail you've been overlooking all these years, little brother. How do you suppose David got there that night? The turnoff to the quarry from our house must be ... uh, two, three miles wouldn't you say?" He paused to study Steve's reaction to his point before adding, "That's quite a hike without a bicycle, or a pickup truck for that matter."
Steve was stunned. Jack was right. He'd never given a second thought as to how David might have gotten to the quarry in the first place. However, that fact did little to ease his conscience. "That doesn't change anything, Jack. I let Mom and Dad down. I was supposed to be watching David, not out gallivanting with Eddie!"
Jack was staring at him but said nothing. Steve was about to leave the room and bring the conversation to an end, but he felt a sudden dread fall over him. "Hey! Wait a minute! Wait one goddamn minute!" he roared. He sprung from the chair and walked over to Jack and poked a finger against his chest, "How did you know where I went that night? I never said Eddie's name! I never mentioned the quarry!"
Jack lowered his head and spread his arms, "You never mentioned seeing me either, did you? Well, I never mentioned seeing you, did I?" He watched Steve's eyes widen in surprise. "You know, if not for David drowning in the quarry that night, the whole thing would have been laughable. I mean, there we were, the two of us in trouble deep, trying not to rat on each other. Oh yeah, we didn't want the other to know, did we?"
Steve felt numb and could think of no reply to Jack's words. He took a deep breath , exhaled and nodded for him to continue.
"You see, Steve, I have been carrying a load of guilt on my shoulders ever since that night too. Looking back on it my motives were selfish. Don't think for one minute that my silence was an act of brotherly love. I had a lot to lose ... more than you had to lose. Sure, you were mercilessly beaten by Dad, but I figured bruises would heal after a few days. I had just gotten my driver's license, and if Mom and Dad knew I was up at that quarry and not at the burger joint... I would have been beaten and they would have taken my license away. Dad would never have let me use the truck after that ... ever!"
Steve was stone-faced and nodded again for him to continue. Jack swallowed hard and picked up his story where he had paused. "Anyway, I left the house two hours earlier than I told Mom and Dad I would be leaving. I never even bothered to check on you or Catherine or David. I thought you were in your room. Yes, you were told to watch David, but I was instructed to watch all three of you."
He was feeling at ease and grateful that Steve was listening to him. "I picked up that girl you saw me with and we went to the quarry. I was thinking I was going to get laid that night. When I heard something in the brush on the hillside and saw you and Eddie running down the hill, I nearly shit my pants! If we both were there then that meant no one was home watching David!"
Steve finally ended his silence, "But David wasn't at the house!"
Jack felt a tear forming in the corner of his eye, "No. I don't know when or how, but he must have crawled into the back of the pickup and hid under an old tarp. He must have followed me and the girl up the hill."
"Jack," Steve muttered as tears begin to well up in his own eyes, "How can you be so sure? How do you know he was in the back of the truck?"
Jack crossed the room and stood before the desk. He retrieved and held up the toy dinosaur before he replying, "Because I found this the next morning ... in the back of the truck."
Steve's thoughts were racing and careening around in his skull like the steel orb in a pinball machine. The showdown with Jack did not go as he had planned. He'd been certain that at some point he would have duked it out with him. He was convinced Jack could take him, but at least he would get in a few good licks.
Steve looked over at Jack who was standing silent across the room. He was clutching the toy dinosaur against his chest with one hand and was patting it as if it were a live pet with the other. Touched by the scene he felt the pent up anguish and guilt within him beginning to fade. Empathy set in as he realized that both he and Jack had been riddled with guilt. Both he and Jack had felt they'd been responsible for David's death.
His thoughts were a darkened cinema as the shimmering images of that night flashed upon the screen of his subconscious memories, evoking them forth. He saw his mother crying behind his father who was standing over him. He could almost feel the force of his open hands against his head. He could hear the spate of obscenities spewing from his mouth. All the while, there was Jack standing in the doorway. He spoke not a word. There was Catherine behind their mother. She was bawling and shouting something. What was she saying? It was me? Stop hitting him? She made me?She had been standing in the hallway listening to them. "Jack ... Steven," Catherine said announcing her presence. "David died that night ... because ... of me!"
Then his father grabbed his keys. He pointed menacingly and said he'd deal with him later. Then he left to go look for David. He never returned. They found him the next day. He had hung himself on the rope swing tied to the limb of the old tree. Floating in the water beneath his body was David's shoe and his favorite Jurassic Park cap.
( to be continued... Echoes of Eddie -17.