Nathan gave her his widest smile.
"It's a miracle! They've been fixed!" She threw her arms around him and gave him a tight hug. "Nathan, I'm your grandmother!"
Helena hugged him again, then took Nathan by the hand and led him into her living room. A man sat on the couch, reading a newspaper. "Martin! This is Nathan! And he's no longer a physical deviant!"
"Isn't he a bit young?"
"I was frozen," Nathan explained.
"It's a miracle!" Martin set his newspaper aside, got up off the couch, and gave Nathan a hug. "We could never have antic.i.p.ated that you'd grow up to be such a fine young man!"
"It's hard to imagine that we told your mother and father to suffocate you," said Helena.
"You told them to...suffocate me?"
"Well, that or some other humane means of extermination. But you were a monster back then."
"I think I'm going to leave now," said Nathan.
Would he ever find them?
Nathan started to think that he should stop trying. Was he wasting his life with this fruitless search? What if they weren't even happy to see him? What if they said "You're the obnoxious biting boy who sent us to the Poor House!" and formed a mob to chase after him with pitchforks and torches?
It was a risk he'd have to take. He couldn't stop searching. If nothing else, he had to tell them he was sorry for all of the misery he'd brought them.
He walked and walked.
Literally thousands of people would later report having spoken to a sad little boy, but none of them knew how to find the women he was searching for. Some were kind and offered to drive him around, or gave him food, and some even let him sleep in their backyards for the night, and he thanked them, yet he started to wonder if perhaps Penny and Mary were trying not to be found.
n.o.body knows for sure how long Nathan traveled, or how many steps he took, but it was a very long time, and a great many steps. Sometimes he felt as if he were almost there, and other times he felt as if he were wandering in circles and wouldn't reach his destination until he was a powdery skeleton.
And then, one day, as he wandered into the town called Final Pa.s.s, things felt right.
He remained cautiously optimistic, because of course this feeling hadn't worked out for him the last time, but his heart raced and his pace quickened and he knew-he knew-that this was where the sisters lived.
A man dressed in rags stood on a street corner. Nathan hurried over to him. "Sir! Do you know if two ladies, one named Penny and one named Mary, live in this town?"
The man furrowed his brow and rubbed his chin. "They do, in fact. In a humble but well kept house at the far end of town, with a lovely garden from which I steal radishes."
Nathan forced himself not to get too excited. After all, he'd been fortunate enough not to have his hopes lifted and then crushed by finding women who shared the names of Penny and Mary but were not the Penny and Mary that he was looking for, and such a thing was bound to happen sooner or later. But the man in rags gave him directions, and Nathan ran the entire way.
There it was. A small house, with neatly mowed gra.s.s and a beautiful garden. A pie cooled on the window sill. Nathan closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Apple. His favorite.
His stomach churned. What if it wasn't them?
It had to be.
He looked both ways to make sure n.o.body was watching, and then crept up to the window and peered inside.
It was the same bookcase!
Mary, eleven years older but still beautiful, walked into the room, holding a sandwich on a plate. She didn't see Nathan. He knew that he should duck. After being gone this long, he shouldn't have their reunion start with them catching him peeking through their window like a criminal, but he couldn't bring himself to look away.
As Mary sat down on the couch and took a bite from her sandwich, Penny came in and sat down next to her. It was them! They were both okay! They both looked happy!
Nathan knew that it was time to let them know he was right there, but what should he say? What words could best express his elation after reaching the end of such a long journey? He'd always imagined it with hugs and laughter and tears of joy, yet he'd never worked out exactly what he'd say.
Did anything need to be said? Maybe his smile, his smile without fangs, was enough.
Penny patted the couch cushion, and a little boy ran into the room and sat down next to her.
He looked slightly younger than Nathan. Black hair. Brown eyes. His resemblance to Penny was unmistakable.
No. It couldn't be.
And then a man walked into the room. He also had a sandwich. He sat down on a recliner, and the four of them began to eat their lunch, happily talking.
He crouched beneath the window, trembling. It wasn't fair. He'd come all this way, searched this long, and the whole time Penny had a child of her own.
She didn't need Nathan.
He should have stayed in the orphanage. Stayed frozen in the block of ice. He brought nothing but tragedy to others. Jamison would still be alive if it weren't for him. He was better off just wandering into the woods and never coming out.
He stood back up and carefully peeked through the window.
They all looked happy.
Like a real family.
Even if they would take him back, Nathan couldn't return. They deserved to go on with their lives, not be stricken by whatever misery he would bring with him.
He stared longingly through the window for a few moments more, and then walked away.
Nathan did a lot of thinking as he walked out of the town of Final Pa.s.s.
Even if he couldn't be happy himself, maybe he could still make others happy. He'd gotten used to wandering from town to town, and didn't much feel like going back to school, so why not continue to do that, but do good deeds along the way? After all, even if he only spread a tiny bit of joy to each person he encountered, it would all add up.
And that, dear reader, is exactly what Nathan "Fangboy" Pepper did.
He started out performing small acts of kindness, such as giving a biscuit to a lost dog or sitting on the other end of a teeter-totter when a young child had n.o.body else to play with. He carried groceries out to the cars of elderly women. He closed mailboxes when the lids had accidentally come open.
Then he began to plant trees. He mowed lawns and asked nothing in return. He taught children to read. (Not much, because he had to be on his way, but each day he tried to teach a new child how to read five different words.) He tried to do ten good deeds a day, and he was right, they did add up quickly! In a month with thirty-one days, he could do three hundred and ten good deeds!
People started to take notice, and the news spread.
"That's him!" the residents would often say when Nathan marched into town. "It's the boy who does all of the good deeds!"
And the funny thing was, knowing that Nathan was in town made other people want to do good deeds of their own. Sometimes there would be so many good deeds happening at once that it would be an almost bewildering sight. Even loathsome criminals, the kind who might stab you in an alley just to watch you bleed, found that they stabbed less frequently when Nathan was in town.
Years pa.s.sed, and some people expressed concern that there might not be any good deeds left to do. But Nathan kept going, helping build new animal shelters, establish orphanages where none of the children were ever beaten, and even putting an art museum on the burnt ground where Professor Mongrel's Theatre of the Macabre once stood.
"We love you, Nathan!" people would shout. Some of them were pretty girls, and Nathan found that he enjoyed this attention best of all.
But on the day of his eighteenth birthday, he went back to visit Beverly. He'd decided that he would not make her honor her agreement, because doing so many good deeds had brought him so much joy that he didn't want to undo any of it by making her leave her husband, which upon reflection he'd decided would be a rather despicable act. But-good fortune indeed!-she had never married. She had been waiting for him all this time.
Hundreds of people for whom Nathan had done good deeds donated one coin each, which gave him enough money to buy Beverly a shiny engagement ring and a new house. But he didn't need the house, because they planned to continue walking the earth together, and so he bought her an even shinier ring.
As they shopped for a wedding cake, a boy of about seventeen came up and tugged on Nathan's sleeve. He looked apologetic as it tore away.
"h.e.l.lo," he said, looking at the floor in a very shy manner. "My name is Gary. I'm sort of your brother, and I'm supposed to invite you to dinner."
Nathan had no idea how to respond. And before he could speak, he saw them: Penny and Mary, standing in the doorway to the wedding shop, beaming at him.
All of them, Nathan, Beverly, Penny, Penny's husband Adam, Mary, Mary's girlfriend Yvette, and Gary, went out and had a lovely dinner.
"For twenty-two years we wondered what happened to you," said Penny. "Why didn't you come back?"
And Nathan told them the whole story. And they all laughed at how silly he'd been, because though, yes, he'd brought some tragedy to people he'd come into contact with, he'd always been a good person who tried to do the right thing.
They complimented him often on his new teeth. Nathan joked about how someday he might buy a set of false fangs to wear, just for the sake of nostalgia.
They spoke well of poor Jamison, and had no cheese with their dinner in his honor.
They also spoke of Will, the boy whose arm Nathan had bitten. He had gone on to immense wealth and power as the chief operating executive of a large corporation, and one day when the auditors showed up for a surprise inspection of the books, he had excused himself to his private executive restroom and slashed his wrists. Everybody spoke of this incident in somber tones, and n.o.body seemed willing to come right out and say that this might have been a positive or even delightfully amusing moment, so they changed subjects.
The next day Nathan and Beverly were married, and though by now Nathan had a great many friends, the wedding was a simple affair. Afterward there was much music and dancing, and it must be said that even the guests who did not particularly like weddings had a grand time.
As Nathan sat at a table, resting from all of the dancing, Penny sat down next to him.
"I have two things to give you," she said. She handed him a small box. Nathan lifted the lid. "That is the first tooth you lost. I kept it in the secret drawer of my keepsake shelf all this time. I don't know if giving it to you is a touching gesture or a mildly disgusting one, but I thought you should have it."
"Thank you," said Nathan.
"And also this."
Nathan gazed at the piece of paper, which read Certificate of Adoption.
"This is dated twenty-two years ago!"
"Yes. I knew I'd made a mistake in not properly adopting you, and do you know the very first thing I bought with my first post-banishment pay? Even before my insulin? I bought this certificate, Nathan. I made you my son for real."
"I can't believe it!"
"Oh, how we searched for you. And when I met Adam, he helped me search for you as well. Not effectively, obviously, but we did search. And after Gary was born, we told him that he had a long-lost brother. He helped us search-again, not with the greatest of skill, but with true pa.s.sion. Finally, we decided that we should build a house and wait for that special day when you found us, because we knew that you must be searching as desperately as we were. And you did. And then you left. So I'm very thankful to Beverly for getting in touch with us. That was sweet of her."
"I love you, Penny," said Nathan.
"And I love you, Nathan."
When it was time to leave, Nathan and Beverly bid everyone a tearful goodbye and promised to keep in touch at least once a week.
As you probably know quite well, Nathan and Beverly are still out there, bringing happiness every single day. Perhaps you were personally touched by their kindness, and perhaps it encouraged you to do a good deed as well.
On that note, the tale of Fangboy draws to a close. It is hoped that you found some valuable lessons contained within, as well as a moment of entertainment or two. Perhaps there will be other adventures in their future, in which case we promise that an expanded version of this text will be made available for your purchasing pleasure, or perhaps even a full sequel, should enough adventures stockpile to make such an endeavor worthwhile.
We thank you for your time, and hope you have a good night.
"I think we should do eleven good deeds today," says Nathan, as he and Beverly walk hand in hand toward the next town.
"Eleven? That's madness!"
"Or perhaps twelve!"
"We'll be exhausted!"
"Yes, I was only kidding. We wouldn't really do twelve. But I think we should do eleven. That would make four thousand and fifteen good deeds a year."
Beverly smiles. "Then we'd better get started."
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