Cole didn’t trust Garvey. He didn’t trust anyone who wasn’t afraid of him.
“Justice should heal, not punish. If you kill my cat, you need to become more sensitive to animals. You and I need to be friends, and I need to forgive you to get over my anger. That’s Circle Justice. Everybody is a part of the healing, including people from the community—anybody who cares. But healing is much harder than standard punishment. Healing requires taking responsibility for your actions.”
“Other animals come here for water, too,” Edwin said. “How would you feel if a bear made its den beside the stream?”
Cole shrugged. “I’d kill it.”
The potbellied elder nodded with a knowing smile. “Animals feel the same way. Don’t forget that.” [...] “You aren’t the only creature here. You’re part of a much bigger circle. Learn your place or you’ll have a rough time.”
“Will Peter be there?”
Garvey shrugged. “It’s up to him. He may not be ready to forgive you.”
“I don’t care if he forgives me.”
Garvey rubbed the back of his neck, then glanced up toward the ceiling. “How come everything is always about you? This forgiveness isn’t for you. Unless Peter forgives you, he won’t heal.”
“If the Driscals realize that the Circle allows them to have a voice in decisions, and that forgiveness can help Peter to heal, they may also join the Circle.”
“You mean they might help decide my sentence?”
Garvey nodded. “Maybe.”
“They’ll hang me,” Cole said. “I’m dead.”
“I think you’ve already hung yourself,” Garvey answered.
Cole studied Peter. Peter hadn’t sounded like this before. Cole wiped his sweaty hands on his pants. It wasn’t like he had meant to hurt anyone. Besides, this wouldn’t have happened if Peter had kept his mouth shut.
Cole felt no regret for having burned the supplies and the shelter. Nor did he regret hurting Peter. This was all somebody else’s fault. If it weren’t for his parents, Peter, and the stupid Healing Circle, he wouldn’t even be here. Somebody would pay for what was happening. He would get revenge, especially against those who had wanted him in jail. People like Peter’s lady lawyer. He hated her.
Cole tried to gather his wits. The mauling didn’t make sense. In the past, everything had always been afraid of him. Why wasn’t the bear scared? A bear with half a brain would have turned tail and run. Instead, this dumb animal had attacked. Now it wandered out in the woods somewhere, the mauling little more than an inconvenience to its morning.
Cole’s gaze wandered in a big circle around him. All of the landscape, the air, the trees, the animals, the water, the rain, all seemed to be part of something bigger. They moved in harmony, bending and flowing, twisting and breathing, as if connected. But Cole felt alone and apart. His soaked clothes chilled his bones. The hard ground pushed at his wounded body like a big hand shoving him away.
Wincing, he wiped at his mouth with his left hand, then stared at the glistening red on his knuckles. It reminded him of the bear’s blood on the knife blade beside him. It also looked like the blood he had seen on the sidewalk after beating up Peter. The blood looked identical. This thought drifted about in his head but failed to gain meaning. Blood might look the same, but Peter was a loser and a jerk.
The storm raged on as Cole lay trembling, his eyes frantic. The explosion had shocked his mind awake. Never in his life had he felt so exposed, so vulnerable, so helpless. He had no control. To this storm, he was as insignificant as a leaf. Cole blinked in stunned realization. He had always been this weak. How could have ever thought he truly controlled anything?
As Cole stared at the tiny bodies, sadness flooded through him. The sparrows were so frail, helpless, and innocent. They hadn’t deserved to die. Then again, what right did they have to live? This haunted Cole. Did the birds’ insignificant little existences have any meaning at all? Or did his?
Frantic, Cole struggled to fly, but he couldn’t escape the nest. All he could do was open his beak wide and raise it upward toward the sky, the action a simple admission that he was powerless. There were no conditions, no vices, no lies, no deceit, no manipulation. Only submission and a simple desire to live. He wanted to live, but for that he needed help; otherwise his life would end in the nest.
“I did care about you. But helping others is how I help myself.”
“You need help?” Cole asked, surprised.
Garvey nodded. “I see a lot of myself in you. When I was your age, I spent five long years in prison for things I’ll go to my grave regretting. I lived my early years here in Drake, but no one cared enough to take me through Circle Justice.” He shook his head with a sad smile. “Take my word for it, jail scars the soul. And I was never able to help those I hurt.”
“Ever wonder why your dad beats you?”
Cole looked up, surprised. “I’ve never done anything to him.”
“I didn’t say you did.”
“He just whips me ‘cause he’s mad.”
Garvey smiled. “Remind you of anybody we know?”
“Your father isn’t a bad person, but when he was younger, he had parents who beat him for everything he did. That’s all he ever knew. When I saw him start doing it to you, I kept telling myself things would get better. Drinking helped me ignore reality.” She shook her head. “It took a divorce and you ending up in the hospital to wake me up. I realized I couldn’t change your father, but I could change me. I’m sorry you’ve gone through all you have. Can you ever forgive me?”
“I just know that my dad’s not going to ever come back to say he’s sorry. Even if he did, he couldn’t change what he did. He couldn’t take away all the memories.”
“So you think this is all his fault, huh?” asked Edwin.
“No,” said Cole, his voice trembling. “Mom said his parents beat him up, too. I don’t know where the anger all started. All I know is I don’t ever want to have a kid and beat him up.”
So, unless I go somewhere and freeze every morning, I’ll keep getting mad, huh?”
Edwin smiled but shook his head. “You only look at the left end of the stick and at the cloudy sky now because your experiences in life have made that a habit. Happiness, like anger, is also a habit. You learn to be happy one day at a time. But habits change hard. This pond will help you.”
“I just realized that I’m not a bad person. Nobody is,” he said. “People are just scared and do bad things. Sometimes people hurt each other trying to figure things out.” Cole gazed into the flames. “I hate what Dad does to me, but he must be just as scared as I am. He doesn’t want to be mean; he just doesn’t know any better.”
“There’s still something missing. It isn’t enough to be sorry and forgive. Somehow I have to figure out a way to help Peter. Until then, I’ll never be able to carve anything in the blank space. That’s what I had to discover before I could heal, wasn’t it?”
Edwin smiled slightly and nodded. “How to help Peter heal is something that will haunt you and stay in your thoughts like a sliver under your skin. The harm you did to him will fester and pain you all your life unless you’re able to make up for it.”
“How is Garvey?” Cole asked excitedly.
“He said that last week Peter tried to commit suicide.”
“Suicide!” Cole caught his breath. “Why?”
“If someone is treated as if his life is worthless, he begins to believe it.”
“But his life isn’t worthless,” Cole protested.
Edwin stood, and with one motion opened the door and flung the last of his hot chocolate outside.
“I never told him he was worthless,” Cole argued.
“Smashing his head on a sidewalk is a funny way of telling Peter he’s valuable.”
The next morning Cole hiked alone to the pond. He soaked as long as he could, his calmness shaken by how terrified Peter was of him. How could he have once wanted someone to feel that way? No matter how deeply he breathed, soaking failed to take away his troubled thoughts.
“I think it’s a matter of pride. He thinks he can always get his way and doesn’t want anyone or anything to win out over him.”
Cole traced the eraser of his pencil across the table. “I used to be like that.”
“I know you did.”
“Do you think he’ll win?” asked Cole.
Garvey shook his head. “Over my dead body.”
Cole fought back his own tears. “I’m part of some big circle that I don’t understand. And so are you. Life, death, good and bad, everything is part of that circle. When I hurt you, I hurt myself, too. I don’t think I’ll ever heal from what I did to you, but I’m sorry, Peter. I really am sorry.”