I wandered down the hall in case Mum was awake. The door to her room was open. I stood there. Maybe Dad was telling the truth, maybe she had just gone to bed and was waiting to hear how my first day went. I stepped into the doorway. A thickness in the air hung still and stale.
She didn't see me. How could she under all those covers?
"Yeah, thanks Mum," I whispered. "School went okay."
Suddenly I was sucked deeper into that long black tunnel, the memories of Fin and Daniel and how we once were, and the worst thing, the knowing. Knowing more than anything I'd ever know that things would never be the same.
Somewhere in the bush, hard to say how far away, I could hear the painful sound of groaning, retching sobs. It was Daniel but I couldn't go to him. Part of me wanted to, the other part didn't. I knew I had to stay with Fin, stay with the mess Daniel had made. Yet a voice inside of me was screaming, "He's alive, he's alive. Daniel's alive."
Brendan didn't want to say how bad Fin really was because it'd upset Dad and it wasn't his fault. But then Dad couldn't tell Brendan, or probably anyone for that matter, what state Daniel was in because the general consensus was that Daniel deserved what he got.
The thought of Dad hurting and the possibility that he could drop his bundle at any moment was too much for me to swallow.
Wasn't his life worth more? But that's exactly why he was here, because a life was worth something, and Daniel took two away. Whichever way I turned, my questions only found another one, always worse than the last.
There were so many times when I just couldn't believe this'd happened, happened to me, to my family. This sort of thing happened to other people, not the Brennans.
"But remember your fellow man, Daniel, because life is more than just a one-man show. Everything we do in this life affects others. Did you think of that the night you got behind the wheel, your trusting passengers the loved ones of others? We think probably not."
"It gets him out of the mainstream for a while, gives him a bit of breathing space," explained Brendan. "He finds the visiting hard. I mean, it's his lifeline, but the guilt resurfaces every time. That's what strangles him."
I mean, it was bad—it was all bad—but even after the worst visits, there was still hope when you left him, some hope in the realization that one day Daniel'd be getting out of there, a free man.
But Fin would never be free, and that was too enormous to swallow.
Once, probably not that long ago, I'm not sure I could've gone back at all. But here I was sliding the drawer open.
"You could have told me. Do you think I couldn't see you fading away those first few weeks? Living on cereal, my goodness, you silly thing."
Bennie's just wasn't the same. Everyone got along, and there was no one person you'd call an arsehole, and they had team unity—you couldn't deny them that. But what they didn't have was technique, and that's what put them on the outer next to teams like St. John's that could play the game in their sleep.
"But we can't undo what's done. Bennie's is giving you a chance and, as pathetic as it may seem to you, it's still a chance." Again I heard his swallow, loud and dry. "No one's above anyone, surely you know that by now."
Since Dad's rave I'd been giving it all a fair bit of thought, but I couldn't exactly put my finger on it.
"You know, Dan, they really enjoy playing. It's not just about winning."
"Can't see the point," Dan frowned. "I mean, it's all about winning. Isn't it?"
"The best thing about playing in the firsts at St. John's was playing with you, Dan." As I said it I realized that towards the end it had become the worst thing too—trying to carry him as his game slipped and he stopped caring about us, the Brennan brothers.
"We were fighting all the time. The new young players were shit-scared. If you had a bad game you were dead meat. It wasn't about us, it was all about the Wattle Shield. We stopped looking out for each other."
"They couldn't control Dan. They were scared of him. Well, scared of the consequences if they tried to pull him into line [...] Maybe Daniel was always going to do something like this. Maybe he had to fall this far."
Before, Brendan had been someone who was just always around. Someone I never really thought about. Mum's little brother. My uncle, that was about as far as it went. But that's when life was simpler.
Now Brendan wanted me to see him. See who he really was. This was probably the way Daniel saw him and now I did too.
I hadn't enjoyed the last season at St. John's, that I knew now. It hadn't mattered how good my game was, the pressure, the disgruntlement, the unpredictability of Daniel just didn't add up to good footy. It added up to frustration and division.
Now I knew differently. Bennie's first fifteen had taught me plenty. When I'd needed it most, Bennie's had reminded me that the game was better when a team was united and loving it.
We were. The three of us, like brothers.
Now it was hard to believe that. Blood's thicker than water, so what's the difference between your brother and your cousin? I didn't know. I'd never know.