It was a warm June evening. The man in the garage was going out for a beer. One of them had brows and assorted fish and was about to trade the company. Some Henry was walking home from work, tired. But he responded to his buddy’s call and sat down on the edge of the bench. He was in a losing mood and he didn’t feel like going home.
He had a few drinks with the guys first, then went back to the shop and bought a couple more beers. The guys had already left and it was quite empty behind the garages. Harry sat down on the bench and opened the lids on the edge of the table and swept it. It was a lucid day, and so was the mood.
Harry thought to himself and took another sip. Today is the birthday of his brother, his only sibling. But he won’t congratulate him or celebrate him because his brother is in prison. It is his fault. Harry can’t forget this for a minute. It is a burden that eats away at him, poisoning every day he lives.
Miles has always been his protector, his best Big Brother. Throughout High School, Harry never knew trouble, even though he was shy and weak. Miles grew up to be an athletic beauty. He was the captain of the boys’ soccer team, did martial arts, and lifted his dad’s weights. Five times with his left hand, and five times with his right hand, every morning.
Miles was the star of the school. For all his athletic accomplishments, he was also a good student. A straight A student in all subjects, except art. He didn’t like drawing as a child. He simply refused. “They drew everything perfectly well without me. Why? What’s not enough for you, Raphael and Michelangelo? I can’t even draw a black square. What do I need it for? I like to watch,” said Miles.
And he really didn’t miss any opportunity to admire paintings, to go to any exhibition. Especially when he met Vivian in his first year at University. She also started taking him to concerts. Harry had been jealous of his brother since childhood. His older, taller, and stronger brother with muscles and broad shoulders. Unlike the frail, skinny Harry, whom no one paid any attention to, especially the girls.
When Miles introduced his younger brother to the beautiful Vivian, he became envious. My brother is lucky. He fell in love with such a beautiful girl, as if she were Venus herself from Botticelli’s painting. As gentle and light as a Greek goddess of love. It was not for nothing that my brother admired those paintings. He picked a bride just like that.
Vivian was also modest, as if unaware of her classic beauty. She didn’t have the arrogance inherent in almost every beautiful girl. They were such a striking couple. Passersby on the streets would turn to look at them. It was unclear which of the pair interested people more, either the gentle Vivian or the seemingly handsome Miles.
Harry was left to stare enviously at his brother’s chosen one. But my younger brother was the most successful academically. Powersports didn’t suit him, so he excelled at chess, beating everyone and winning. He had no equal in the exact sciences. He participated in all kinds of Olympiads, taking only first places. Teachers had already heard about the talented young man.
But except for scientific achievements, Harry boosted nothing else. He was of interest only to teachers, but not to classmates, and certainly not girls. And his brother’s happiness hurt his eyes, especially Harry. From the first moments he met her, he was head over heels in love with his brother’s girl. He wasn’t just jealous of Miles; he was hurt, jealous, and tormented, and he couldn’t help it.
She paid no attention to him. It was as if he was nothing to her, but nothing did not exist in her frame of reference. There was only room for Miles, the beautiful and undeniable. They were so absorbed in each other that they didn’t notice their little brother’s gaze, or even his gaze at all, so it seemed to him.
After a few years, he was absolutely sure that this was the case. Even though Miles and Vivian always took him with them everywhere. To an art show, a concert, a disco, friends’ birthdays, they always went with just the three of them. But it hurt Harry to sit together all the time. But his brother didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand.
Anyway, he would take no for an answer and dragged his little brother everywhere. “You will see how many girls are there. You will pick one for sure,” he said and dragged Harry to another party. But he didn’t want any, he only wanted Vivian. She was the only one, and no one else, or rather, he was the only one no girl wanted or was interested in. And that made it all the more painful.
His brother’s happiness was even more hateful. Even now, just thinking about those times made his hands shake harder under the cold, dark glass. He sipped again, but he didn’t hurry home. Even though the same Vivian, so desirable, so inaccessible, unattainable, was waiting for him there. And now his wife.
Harry got down the rest of his beer from the bottle. It is time to go home. I will have another time to go home, drink at home. Or should I stay longer? I don’t want to go to the apartments and see your face and hair and body. Harry thought to himself, but here it is easier not to think about how they got into his life, how his whole life almost went down the drain.
He had been drinking heavily at one of those parties, wanting to get away. Miles was sober, and so was Vivian. They had literally had one drink each. Still, Miles didn’t want to drive home. Now he was planning on getting behind the wheel of his dad’s car again. As an athlete, he tried not to take alcohol at all. And if he did have a drink, he never got behind the wheel.
That was when he urged Harry to stay, hang out with the boys for a while longer, and then they would call a cab and get home in peace. He would pick up the car in the morning. But it hurt Harry to see Miles and Vivian kissing, not chastely and gently, but passionately and naturally. He couldn’t take it anymore, jealousy tormenting him, angry burning jealousy and anger. They added more fuel to the fire.
The boys noticed them kissing too and began teasing Miles about the wedding. Especially since everyone had thought they were a couple for a long time and could see that it was the only way. So Miles gathered everyone around, demanded silence, and lightly announced it. He had already proposed to Vivian, and she said yes.
They had already filled the marriage papers three days ago. The marriage was scheduled to take place in a month. The ground just fell out from under Harry’s feet. This is the end, and him, it is all lost, and there is no possibility and no hope. She won’t change her mind, and she will never choose him. This is the en seemed to him that he was not getting drunk, and that he could not stand on his feet because of the nervous shock, not the alcohol. He couldn’t stand those passionate, shameless kisses of the happy couple in front of everyone.
Harry convinced his brother to go home. After all, he hailed a cab and went outside to wait for him. It was drizzling with a light rain. Miles opened the car door to a white standing outside. He and Vivian sat in the back, and Harry said he would let them kiss and sit in the front. He didn’t remember how the keys ended up in his hands. He just got into the driver’s seat and started the car. He didn’t want to hear voices from the back, telling him to stop. He just drove wherever he could see, pushing the gas more and more.
The car drove obediently through the empty streets of the night. Harry got into his groove, speeding dashingly through dangerous corners. Where did that person in the crosswalk come from? Nobody knows, nobody will ever know. His body flew up like pins from a bowling ball. Harry hit the brakes, and when everything had already happened, he sobered up almost immediately.
All three of them jumped out of the car and rushed to the man’s aid. But it was absolutely useless. Even from a distance, it was clear that a living person would not lie in such an unnatural position. Of course, he was no longer breathing. Henry began to cry, his whimpering becoming hysterical. He realized that he had just crossed out, shattered his entire life. The entire brilliant future of a great scientist. He was only a year away from graduation, and if he went to prison, his whole life would be over. There would be no scientific activity, no great discoveries, and no life. It was unlikely that he would survive prison hell.
And Miles protected him, as always, from prison, from the imminent bullying in prison, from all the horror. He had decided to go through it himself for his brother. Living in prison, taking his place. But she dared not to deceive him. Seeing the determination in his eyes, Harry was relieved to agree. He confidently lied during the investigation, spoke at the trial, telling how his brother had decided to take them for a ride through the city and hit a man to death. He said that his brother had arranged the ride in honor of the announcements of his future wedding. He bragged to his bride.
He couldn’t even drive himself, he had been drinking to celebrate, and so had his brother. But he decided to take them for a drive. Vivian didn’t say anything, she just cried. That’s all she could do. She couldn’t lie, much less send the man she loved to prison with her lies. Her testimony wasn’t needed. Harry’s words and his colorful lies were enough, and Miles went to jail instead of his brother.
Harry had only been to see him once. Miles asked him to come, why would she? I mean, Vivian. “And I never got married, and I think it’s for the best. Why would she, a husband for a prisoner? Why would she wait so many years for me? That is not what I want for her, especially now.” Miles began.
“Did something happen?” asked Harry interestingly.
“Before the trial, she and I were together until they took me away. And now Vivian is pregnant. I don’t want to officially marry her, so the baby will be the son of a criminal. But it is my baby, it will be your own nephew. I don’t even know what is worse for him, growing up without a father or being the son of a prisoner,” Miles said.
“And what can you do?” Henry could not smile, said, understanding where his brother was going with this.
“That’s me, you. I have seen how much you like Vivian. Marry her instead of me, so the child can have our last name and a normal father,” Miles suggested, friendly.
“Well, you helped me out. I can’t say no,” Henry agreed. He didn’t even realize how unequal the exchange his brother’s voice represented. His brother went to jail for him, and he is marrying for his brother the most beautiful and desirable woman he’s dreamed of since the first seconds he saw her. He just takes away his brother’s destiny, his life of being free and married to Vivian.
She tried not to miss any opportunity to see Miles. She went on every date he was entitled to. He had long pursued, backed, ordered her to give up the idea of waiting for him, not to pay his future for his passions. And in the end, he pursued her. She promised and did. They got married in the seventh month of pregnancy.
After all, there was no ceremony, no crowds, no champagne. Harry just drank vodka and passed out. On the occasion of the wedding, he went on a week-long binge. Vivian tolerated it. She knew that Harry knew about her dislike for him, about the first marriage. So he drank, even though it wasn’t really necessary.
Harry moved into Vivian’s apartment. He rented out his and his brother’s apartments. He set up a mini-dorm for students. Three hall rooms. It was a nice extra income. Vivian had to take it. She was going to have a baby soon, and she needed the money.
Harry hoped that living under one roof, he could convince her, get close to her, become her husband in every way. But at first, the pregnancy got in the way. And after giving birth, Vivian nursed Alex with breast milk for almost a year. All the time she was with her son, as if shielding herself from her husband’s harassments.
The worst thing was that she categorically insisted on writing down on the child’s birth certificate not Harry, but Miles as the father. There was a great scandal about it, despite the marriage certificates. She still managed to do it. So he was the only nominal father and husband to the neighbors and the parents in the kindergarten group. On paper, he was not his real father at all.
The child looked nothing like him at all, and neither did the mother. Alex was a carbon copy of his father. He was the same big, dark-haired brunettes with piercing blue eyes. Even without papers, people looked at him askance because of his dissimilarity between the child and his nominal father. To those who saw his papers, the baby’s middle name made their family problems even more interesting.
Harry was absolutely not happy. It would seem that his dream came true, kids and use his brother’s not an obstacle. Vivian was even officially his wife, and there was a child to influence her. But for some reason, it didn’t work. Miles has been behind bars for more than a year now. He keeps visiting him, bringing him packages. But why can’t she get over him? Why would she want a convicted felon? What would she do with him when he gets out, or rather, if he gets out? It is not a sanatorium. Many people have died there. Why should she wait for him when she has Harry, her lawful husband whom she married of her own free will?
Harry would do anything for her. He was so worried about the first year of their life together. He got drunk after the wedding, and not only then. When she was in
labor, he went on a month-long binge, not even coming home for days at a time. Vivian and the boy checked themselves into the hospital and came home in a cab. At home, they were greeted by a terrible mess and signs of lifelong binge.
Harry had become so upset that he had absolutely slipped in his studies and graduated with one of the lowest grades in the history of the department. Now, because of all the family turmoil, he was someone else’s child. Harry was no longer in the spotlight for his reverence and brilliant academic career. And despite all these sacrifices on his part, they continued to live in separate rooms. She and the baby in a small bedroom, and he in a large specialist room with a balcony.
Friends, almost all of them, had somehow drifted away. Though many of them had young children and they could have become friends on that basis, Vivian didn’t want to go into the details of Alex’s paternity. Many understood the timing of the pregnancy, and without that, the child’s bright appearance gave away his real father.
But no one spoke to Harry at all after the trial. Everyone knew Miles’ principled nature and his attitude towards drinking and driving. Everyone remembered that Miles had called a cab that ill-fated night. But since Miles didn’t object, but only repented and regretted that it had happened that way, so that was it.
But why was Vivian silent then? And many people I knew were pretty sure that that wasn’t really how it happened. Especially the two guys who had seen them get into the car through the window. At that time, they couldn’t confuse at all broad-shouldered Miles kissing Vivian with the skinny Harry.
All these suspicions, conclusions, theories, and hypotheses about that creepy incident were keeping Harry awake. And Alex’s undocumented appearance brought all the friends back to the subject of Miles and worldly injustice. And Harry couldn’t stand it. He went on a bench and once he raised his hands to Vivian. Then when he sobered up, he saw the bruises on her face and couldn’t understand where they came from. The memory came back, and he remembered that unexpectedly pleasant feeling. And he gave vent to all his negativity, all his resentments against life, and even his former jealousy.
Vivian forgave him and didn’t kick him out after that. The first time. But it wasn’t long before he drank another binge. He raised his hands on his wife again, in front of Alex. Vivian had to stay home because of the bruises, and the child was crying. He could have played outside in the kindergarten, and his wife’s bruises were living proof of that.
Since then, Harry has tried not to drink as much. He knew he was prone to snapping in that state. He didn’t know where his fists flew, in the face or in the head, in the arms or in the back. He just hit her and got a strange, perverse sense of satisfaction out of it. He was no longer seeking intimacy with Vivian. He just beat her for refusing to be with him, for disliking him, for the painful jealousy that never went away. After all, he knows she keeps seeing Miles. Not often, but still.
Harry got up from the bench and wandered home. He decided to drink the second bottle at home. Vivian knew from the doorstep that he was drunk again. Today, not as usual, without the usual vodka to spare. And he only glanced at the boy who had sneaked into his room out of his sight.
And again, the drinking thoughts of his brother swirled in his already befuddled brain. “What are you looking at? Where is dinner? Where is dinner?” he tossed to his silent wife.
“You shouldn’t have been drinking tonight. I wanted to talk to you seriously,” Vivian began.
“None of your business! At once and I drink! I have the right to rest and celebrate. Or have you forgotten what day it is? Now I can see it in your eyes. You are thinking of him, aren’t you? You must be going to see him again,” said Harry angrily.
“Harry, I didn’t want to talk about Miles. I wanted to talk about you and me. We’ve been trying again. About you and me, how you put it. Where are you and me?” the woman said quietly.
“Oh, let’s break up. You mean you want us… let’s break up? To separate?”
“Yes, just like that. You want me to pack my stuff and get out of your apartment?” asked Harry indignantly.
“Not from the apartment, but from my life. It is for you, first and foremost. You are not happy with us, I can tell. That is why you drink all the time,” Vivian said confidently.
Harry’s thoughts and emotions picked up. His suitcase and left the apartment. He walked the same way he had walked the day before and was also carrying the suitcase, only swinging less and moving smoother and faster.
While still in the courtyards, he noticed an ambulance near his front doorway. He approached cautiously but saw no one, only the driver. Harry walked closer to him and with a completely indifferent look wondered who the EMS were after.
“Yes, the grandmother alone got sick. They are going to put her on a stretcher and carry her out,” the driver replied indifferently, wiping the windshields with a rag.
Harry calmed down and went upstairs. He only calmed down on the outside, inside his heart was pounding so hard it could have popped. He reassured himself that everything was okay. The door to the apartment was open, not wide, but only a crack. Harry peered into the hallway, no one was there, only traces of yesterday’s events on the wall and on the floor. In the hallway where Vivian had been lying, she herself was nowhere to be seen.
Harry felt hungry and went into the kitchen, but he saw their stunned expressions, to the point where he couldn’t get a word out. First at the table over an uncut cake, sat his brother Miles, looking directly at Harry with the eyes of this major male, hardened by prison life. Harry knew that his brother knew all about Vivian’s beating, and maybe not just about last night.
There were policemen standing in the hallway, they had just come back from the driveway, walking around, interviewing the neighbors. They told me what a great mother Vivian was, that they had known her since she was a little girl, and how her nightmare had started when her husband arrived, about his constant drinking and beating. People can see and hear everything. The bruises on Vivian’s face and body, the crying of a child during Harry’s drinking screams. The police looked at Harry and his disheveled appearance, at the suitcase in his hands and the blood on his shoes, which he did not even think to wipe off. There was plenty of evidence without the witness’s testimony.
“You want to know where the woman who beats up here was yesterday, in front of her kids?” his brother’s stern voice clarified behind him.
Harry hurriedly drew closer to the police. He suddenly realized that he was going to jail, and that he was facing prison, and that prison might be his salvation. As soon as Harry was let out of the apartment in handcuffs, Miles rushed through the hospital to see his bruises. They wouldn’t let him at first, but then they let him go.
And only now, watching his brother’s back in handcuffs, he felt resentment and anger. If only Harry hadn’t let himself go. If he hadn’t laid a finger on Vivian, if he hadn’t scared her and the baby so much, if he hadn’t done what he had done to her and the baby. If only he hadn’t threatened to beat her. If only he hadn’t beaten her, then it would have been different now. If only he hadn’t hurt his own child and hadn’t been the cause of all these unfortunate events. If only he hadn’t hurt himself.
And the thoughts that had been spinning in his head for years, that had come back to him after his conversation with Vivian and had spun in his head with all the force and speed of a hurricane. Only now did he realize that all of this was a punishment for his brother’s betrayal. If only Harry hadn’t let him go to prison for him.
If only he hadn’t lied, if only he hadn’t been saved. If only Miles hadn’t had to stand in for him, then it would have been different now.
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