Brian Molongoski | Echoes of an Ill-Chosen Fate

RIGHT NOW

The drink was poured over a half hour ago. But the person who ordered it, the young man sitting in solitude at the mahogany bar, has yet to take a sip. To Will, the drink’s only purpose is to stare at the reflection of someone he distains. It’s 10 o’clock on Friday night, and the sports bar is already packed with locals ready to drink the week away. Pool games are in full swing, friends are filling themselves with beer and wings, and everyone either cheers or curses at the TVs broadcasting various sports games.

The mixture of sounds would drown out most people’s thoughts. But tonight Will can hear his just fine. In his mind he plays over and over the sound of his hand cocking the hammer of a revolver and the loud burst that follows.

As he clenches his fists hard enough for his nails to leave divots in his palms, Will is taken away from the trance when he feels a vibration on his right thigh. His cell phone is buzzing. He hesitates, then pulls the phone from his pocket and reads the front screen.

Incoming call: Jake.

The last person Will wants to talk to. He told him he wanted to be left alone after what happened. He ignores the call. Whatever Jake wants, he doesn’t care. He won’t find him here anyway. Will only recently started coming to this place alone. It’s a lot cleaner than the dives he was spending time in the last few months. He figures nobody would come here to look.

As Will puts the phone back in his pocket, the bartender approaches and looks down at his unemptied glass.

“Something wrong with that, pal?”

Will looks at the bartender and back at the drink. “No, it’s fine,” he says quietly. He takes a swig.

The bartender chuckles. “Thataboy. Drink ain’t gonna drink itself. Just holler if you want another.”

The liquor burns as it makes its way down Will’s throat. It’s a strong drink, but it’s not strong enough to save him from the haunting memory. Just as he feared, it only makes the pain worse.

TWO WEEKS AGO

The gunshot echoed through the deep forest, slowly fading until it was finally gone.

Three men stood where the gun was fired, their shoes half sunk in the snow and their black clothes silhouetted against the falling sun that painted an orange glow over the lifeless, winter woods. One of the men gasped and clamped his hands behind his head.

“Holy shit, you guys didn’t tell me we were out here to kill him,” Carl said.

In the midst of the three men a fourth man lay face down in the snow. There was a small red spot on the back of his head, and blood began pooling under his face.

Above the dead man was the revolver, which continued to let out a faint plume of smoke into the cold air.

Holding the gun was Will.

Next to Will stood Jake, a man he met almost a year ago. What was once a working friendship became a partnership in crime, and now it had gone too far.

The dead man, Roy, was the fourth wheel of their small crew. A recent argument over money between Roy, Jake and Will ended with Roy threatening to tell the police about a job they pulled a couple months ago. It made them rich, but Roy didn’t think he had a fair cut. Scared he would go through with his threat, Will and Jake decided to take desperate measures.

Carl continued to panic. “Fuck. I thought we were out here to rustle him up a bit. You know, just scare him. Why kill him?”

“Get a grip. You know Roy would’ve talked to the cops. We all would’ve been screwed,” Jake said.

“Jesus, Jake. Do you really think going to the cops would have done Roy any good anyways? Now we have to worry about his brother. What the fuck are we going to tell him?”

“We aren’t going to tell him a thing, got it? We were never with Roy tonight.”

“Oh okay, no problem, Jake. I’m sure that’s exactly what you’ll say when he has a gun to your head.”

As Carl and Jake continued to argue, Will stood over Roy’s body, gun still pointed outward. Their argument was drowned out by the loud ringing in Will’s ears. His whole body began to quiver and go numb. He felt a sickening sensation in his stomach as bile suddenly began to rise. He fell to his knees and fought the bile back down. His hand was still clenched to the gun. What have I done?

Jake walked over to Will and put a hand on his shoulder.

Will couldn’t speak.

Despite Will’s collapse, Jake didn’t want to waste time. He retrieved the duffle bag he brought along and unzipped it, revealing two retractable shovels. He unfolded them and handed one to Carl, who reluctantly took it and started digging.

He went back to Will and helped him to his feet.

Will still kept quiet. The shock had passed, but sorrow took its place. Instead of following Jake’s suggestion, he snatched the second shovel from Jake’s hand and joined in on the digging. As he drove the shovel into the snow and earth, his vision was blurred by tears that fell from his eyes and disappeared in the whiteness below.

By the time they were finished, the sun gave off its last light, allowing darkness to take hold.

RIGHT NOW

A light tapping on Will’s shoulder brings him back to reality. Startled, he snaps his head to the left to see a woman sitting on a bar stool next to him.

She places her hand over her mouth in surprise. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.” It takes a second for Will to digest the sudden interruption, but his attention focuses when he takes a good look at the woman. Dark, wavy hair with a faint touch of blond from highlights that were at one time more clear. And behind a small pair of frameless glasses, bright hazel eyes glimmer in the light. She takes the hand away from her mouth to reveal a thin face with a welcoming smile outlined by thin lips.

Before he catches himself staring for too long, he clears his throat. “It’s no problem. My fault. Off in another world I suppose.”

“I suppose so,” the woman says. “Must’ve been something important. You’ve barely taken your eyes away from that drink since you got here.”

“Actually, no. Nothing important.” Will allows his curiosity to make way. “You’ve been watching me?”

“I know, a tad creepy. I’m sorry for that too. Allow me to explain,” the woman says. “I’m here with a few friends.” She points to a table near the door where two more women are sitting. One smiles and waves while the other laughs and hides her face. “A few days ago when we were here, we saw you exactly where you are now doing the same thing; sitting alone, miles deep in thought, occasionally sipping a drink. I guess it made us curious. The one on the left thinks you’re cute, but she’s too shy, so tough luck for her, I guess, because here I am.”

Will chuckles. “Oh, I see. ‘To the victor goes the spoils’ kind of thing?”

“Something like that,” the woman says. “Don’t worry though, I won’t ask what it is you’ve been thinking about.”

Will gives a fake smile. I wouldn’t tell you if you did. “Like I said, nothing important.”

“So what are you drinking?” she asks. “Or have you forgotten already?”

“Just bourbon over ice.”

She orders the same. As she takes a sip, Will notices a sparkle on her left hand. A diamond ring reflects the dim light from above her. Is she engaged?

He looks back at her two friends in the corner.

She chuckles and takes another sip of her drink. “If she wanted to find out herself, she could have. I’ll admit, I do agree with her, but more importantly, considering the state you appear to be in, you look like you could use a little company.”

For a moment Will is compelled to tell her to leave him be. But he’s taken in by her charm. She has a way about her; a level of confidence that makes her irresistible. And her beauty makes it even more difficult for him to ignore her. He holds out his hand to introduce himself.

“I’m Will.”

“Ronnie,” she says, shaking his hand.

Will raises an eyebrow in puzzlement.

She laughs. “It’s okay, I get that look a lot. It’s not an everyday girl’s name.”

Afraid he might have offended her, Will clears his throat again and makes a quick recovery. “You know what? I like it. It’s different. Easy to remember. But you must’ve given your parents a lot of shit for it growing up.”

“Surprisingly, no,” Ronnie says. “I learned at an early age I was better off getting used to it sooner than later.”

Will looks back at the ring and puts his instincts to the test. “Well, it looks like a name like that hasn’t stopped someone from noticing you.”

Ronnie looks down at her hand and gently moves the ring back and forth. Her cheeks turn red, and she lets out a faint sigh.

“I see. What happened?” Will cringes for asking so bluntly. He thinks she’ll be insulted, but she’s quick to give an answer.

“He died a few months after he proposed.”

Will feels like he was punched in the gut. He tries to find the right words, but all he can come up with is a dull “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, don’t let that scare you off. It happened over three years ago. I shouldn’t be wearing it. It doesn’t do me much good when meeting new people. I guess I’m just too used to it.”

“Who can blame you? It is quite beautiful,” Will says.

“It is,” she says quietly. Memories of her former fiancé start pouring in like a flood. Before she’s consumed, she changes the subject.

“You bet. Born and raised right outside the city. How about you? I’m assuming you’ve only lived here a little while?”

“Good guess. I used to live up north but moved here a few years ago. What gave me away?”

“Just a guess. What brought you here?”

“It’s a nice city. Figured it was a good place for a fresh start. A job offer had something to do with it too though. I’m a criminal psychologist for the FBI here in the city.”

Will’s eyes widen. You’ve got to be kidding me. “A-ha. That explains a lot,” he says with a grin. “Now I see why you were just itching to know what was going on in my head before.”

Ronnie laughs. “Don’t worry, I never take my work out of the office. Your thoughts are safe, I promise.”

“Good to know.”

“How about you Will, what is it you do?”

TWO MONTHS AGO

The minute hand on Will’s wrist watch struck 6:56 a.m. Only four minutes until show time. Sitting behind the wheel of the grey SUV, parked along the curb in the middle of downtown, his heart thrashed in his chest as if it wanted to escape.

Across the street an armored truck was finishing up its drop-off at the bank. It was a bleak morning, and the pouring rain obscured the car windows, making it nearly impossible to see. But the heavy rain would give them good cover when it was time.

A man sitting next to Will in the passenger seat patted him on the shoulder. “You nervous, Billy?” Jake asked.

Will thought it was a dumb question. “What the fuck do you think?”

Behind Jake and Will in the back seat, Carl had a shotgun across his lap, and Roy was loading his pistol.

“Well you better buck up once we get in there,” Roy said. “There’s no room for mistakes in this one.”

The truck was unloading what was thought to be a few hundred thousand dollars in cash, combined with what was already inside the bank, it would be a good haul. And with help from Roy’s brother, finding out when the drop-off was scheduled wasn’t a problem. The plan was to keep the truck in front of the bank doors once it opened at 7 a.m. Once they swept the inside, they would make their way to a getaway car on the other side of the building. A quick in-and-out.

Jake, Carl and Roy had all done this before, except this was their biggest job yet. But that didn’t seem to make them nervous. If anything, the three of them were excited. Unlike Will, who still kept a hard grip on the steering wheel. There was a time when he was as eager as the others, but now that the day had finally arrived, he wanted out. His instincts told him to put the car in drive and gun it down the road, saving the bank staff from the trauma they were about to suffer. But he knew that wasn’t an option. It was too late in the game to turn around. He had no choice.

He looked back at his watch. Two minutes.

Jake was more reassuring than Roy. “Relax. We’ll be in and out in a flash. Just stick to the plan, and we’ll be good.”

Will still didn’t feel any better. He heard a loud click and looked over to see Jake snapping a magazine into his assault rifle. It only made him more nervous.

One minute.

Quietly, Will took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds, and let it out. Just stick to the plan.

As the clock hit seven, the four men simultaneously put their black ski masks over their heads, exited the car, and sprinted across the street toward the bank.

RIGHT NOW

“Is that something you always wanted to get into?” Ronnie asks.

The question startles Will. “Huh? I’m sorry, get into what?”

“Iron working. Is that something you always planned on doing?”

Will forgot he’d already given away his day job, something he never brags about. He considered lying to her, but he’s in no mood to come up with a complex lie on the spot.

“I wouldn’t exactly say it was something I always wanted, but it was what I grew up with,” he says.

“Someone in the family did it?” Ronnie asks.

“Yeah, that was Dad. He spent most of his life building bridges. It never brought much money in, but he loved it. More than I ever did. My mother died when I was three, so it was just me and him growing up. We spent a lot of time together, mostly at work. He took me along a lot.” A memory flashes before his eyes.

A memory of being high above a river, his father guiding him along a path of narrow steel rafters.

“So you followed in his footsteps?”

“Pretty much. I mostly work building construction, though. Factories, skyscrapers, that sort of thing.”

“Must be tough work.”

“It can be. But I’ve been doing it for nine years now, so it’s gotten easier.”

“How about your father? Does he still work?”

Will knew the question was coming, so he already prepared himself.

“He actually passed away just last month.”

“Oh god, I’m so sorry.”

He tells her it’s okay and explains how he finally succumbed to the cancer that plagued him for the last six months. Decades of chain smoking had finally caught up with him.

“I’m sure it’s been a rough month,” Ronnie says.

“It’s been tough, but I’ll be honest with you. We didn’t have the best relationship over the last ten years or so.”

“Can I ask why?”

Will debates whether to say no, but he decides to just come out with it. the idea in my head.

“I see,” Ronnie says with a concerned look.

“I know. It’s not the most heartwarming father-son story. It isn’t something I normally share,” Will says.

Ronnie shakes her head and smiles. “I wouldn’t sweat it. I hear far worse stories on a daily basis. Anyways, you’re only what, twenty-something? It’s not too late to make a change.”

“Maybe. But I’ve come to accept the fact that some things are just meant to be.”

“Do you really believe that?” Ronnie asks.

“Well, when someone writes your destiny for you, it’s a little hard not to, right?” Will says.

“Hm, I guess,” Ronnie mutters. She starts twirling her finger around the rim of her glass. Will sees it as a sign that she disagrees.

“You don’t believe in fate?” Will asks.

“Can’t say I do.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’ve never been a fan of the idea of blaming something other than ourselves for the paths we take.”

“But what if our paths are set out for us by something out of our control?”

She raises an eyebrow and shakes her head. “Excuse me for being blunt, but I think that’s bullshit. That’s like saying there is no such thing as free will, like choice is an illusion.”

“Well, I wouldn’t call choice an illusion, but maybe we make our choices for a reason.”

“Sure, but we decide what that reason is.”

Will tries coming up with a counterargument but can’t. She had him there.

“Here, let me tell you the real reason why I still wear this ring. I’ll admit, getting over him hasn’t been the easiest, but there’s more to it.” Ronnie says. She stiffens her back and clears her throat as if she were about to give a speech.

“My fiancé was a photojournalist, and three years ago he finally got his chance to report in the Middle East. It scared the shit out of me, and I honestly hoped he wouldn’t get it. It was a dangerous job, but it was his dream. He knew the risks going in. So I didn’t stand in the way. The day he left, right before he got on the plane, he gave me this ring and promised me he’d come back.” She pauses and lets out a sigh. “Three months later, someone came to my door to tell me he was never coming home.”

Ronnie caresses the ring again. “There was a period where I blamed everything and everyone, myself included, for his death. But then I started to realize he didn’t die just because it was ‘meant to be.’ It was his choice to take the job despite knowing the risks.”

“So you’re saying he chose to die?” Will asks.

“I’m not saying he deliberately chose to get killed, but that’s what came of his choice. So I wear the ring to remind me that choice matters. We decide what happens. Not anyone else. Not even fate.”

They both sit in silence for a few moments until Ronnie breaks it.

Will shakes his head and smiles. “No need to apologize. You’re right. I never—”

He’s cut off by his phone vibrating again. He has a bad feeling about who it is, and his fear is confirmed when he sees it’s Jake calling for the second time. He presses the ignore button and pockets the phone.

“You can answer that if you want,” Ronnie says.

“Nah, it was nobody. Probably had the wrong number.”

FOUR MONTHS AGO

Will drove the car through the night until he reached the city, where the night was replaced by a mixture of blue, orange and yellow lights that whooshed by as he drove on. In the darkness of the backseat behind Will, Jake sifted through the large bag of firearms they collected from a drop-off point in the city outskirts, checking to make sure everything was in order. They were bringing the guns back to their hang-out in a bar downtown called Gerry’s where they would be resold out onto the streets.

“I’m surprised, you know,” Jake said.

“About what?” Will asked.

“You’ve warmed up to this kind of thing so quickly.”

“What made you think I wouldn’t?”

“Never figured you for the type.” He sounded suspicious.

“Uh-oh, should I be worried?”

“Only if you think you should be, Billy.”

Will met Jake some time ago when they began working the same construction jobs in the city, but it was only three months ago they started spending more time together outside of work. It didn’t take long for Will to figure out Jake had a little more going on in his life than ironworking. But instead of walking away, Will joined in.

Jake persisted. “Really though, why do this?”

“Same reasons you do it.”

“No way. I don’t buy that. I mean, money’s everything, but definitely not to you.”

Will was silent for a moment, trying to come up with a straight answer, but he couldn’t.

“Right, more. More what?”

Will rolled his eyes. “I don’t know Jake, does it really fucking matter? Just… more.”

Jake laughed. “Well you picked a hell of a way to find ‘more,’ pal.”

When they made it to Gerry’s, Jake dragged the enormous green bag of guns out of the backseat and carried it inside. The place was filled as always with inner-city lowlifes, drunks, and dealers. Jake took the bag to the back meeting room while Will waited at the bar. He ordered a beer and managed to take a few sips when Jake suddenly came up behind him.

“Billy, can you stick around for a few more minutes? There’s something me and the guys want to run by you.”

Will nodded, and they both walked to the office in the back of the bar. It was a small, dank room with a round table in the middle where they had their weekend poker games. Sitting at the table were Roy and his older brother Mark, who owned the bar. Leaning against the wall to the left was Carl, taking a long drag from a cigarette. Mark looked up, took a long look at Will, and turned to Jake.

“You told him yet?” he asked Jake.

“Not yet.” Jake said.

Mark leaned back in his chair and looked back at Will. “Good, because before we even tell you anything, you gotta agree to come on board.”

“Come on board with wha—”

“You don’t get to ask questions until you answer mine. It’s just a simple yes or no. What’ll it be?”

Will looked at Jake, who was still standing next to him. He nodded.

Will nodded back and met Mark’s glare.“Yeah, sure. I’m in.”

RIGHT NOW

The place is almost empty now. Ronnie’s friends are gone, and the laughter and conversation that once filled the bar left with them. Except for a man and a woman still sitting at the bar, talking away as if they were long-lost friends.

Will and Ronnie’s conversation has turned away from their deep discussion and into the more light-hearted area of favorite sports teams and TV shows.

They are both lost in the abyss of their own conversation, so lost they don’t realize it’s quarter after midnight until Ronnie checks her watch.

“Oh boy, I better head out. I have to be into work early.”

“You work on Saturdays?” Will asks.

“Oh yes, I don’t get many days off with this job.”

Before she gets up to leave, she retrieves a black pen from the bag slung over her shoulder and grabs a nearby napkin. She quickly scribbles something and puts the pen back in her bag.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve done this,” she says, sliding the napkin over to meet Will’s hand on the counter. The napkin stops at his fingertips, but her hand continues and moves over top of his.

“I’m glad I met you tonight, Will. I like talking to you, so give me a call sometime,” she says, nodding to the napkin. She lets herself down from the bar stool and starts walking towards the door.

Will looks down to read the napkin. A phone number is written across the top, and under the number is a name: Ronnie Chase.

He looks back up at Ronnie, who is just about to exit the bar.

“Do I have a choice, Mrs. Chase?” he asks her with a grin.

She turns around quickly. Her mouth opens, about to answer his question, but it closes. Instead, it simply breaks into a smile. She opens the door and steps out into the winter night. But before she leaves for good, she turns back to Will. “By the way, it’s Miss Chase.”

Will looks back down at the napkin. He laughs, shakes his head in disbelief, and reaches into his pocket for his cell, intending to program her number into the phone.

He flips it open and a white screen pops up. Before he’s able to open his contact list, a message awaits him. It’s a voicemail from Jake.

Will lets out a sigh. He had forgotten about Jake’s repeated attempts to contact him. What is peculiar to Will is that Jake left a voicemail, something he rarely does. He takes a deep breath and puts the phone to his ear to listen.

“Billy, I don’t know where the hell you are right now, but wherever you are, you need to get the fuck outta there and lie low NOW. Roy’s brother knows you killed him, man. Carl talked. He’s been looking all over for you. He’s got his goons out looking for me too. I’m on the road right now. Let me know where you are and I’ll come get you. Call me back soon.”

The message finishes, but Will still has the phone glued to his ear. His eyes widen and his heart starts beating rapidly. Oh my god. He scans the bar. Only two people and the bartender are still there. He pulls a fifty out of his wallet for the bartender and hastily puts his coat on. However, his escape is cut short.

Just before he gets up, the bar door opens, and three men walk through. One of the men takes position in front of the door while the other two walk in toward Will. As they come closer, Will recognizes one of the men. Just as Jake warned, it’s Roy’s brother, Mark.

Will’s heart starts pumping harder. He knows it’s too late to make a run for it. It’s all over.

Mark thumps down on the seat next to Will while the other guy stands behind him, gun drawn.

“You’re a tough man to find, Will. I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you why I’m here.”

Will stays silent, avoiding eye contact with Mark. He looks down at the napkin with Ronnie’s number.

Mark moves closer.

He grabs the back of Will’s neck in a tight, painful grip and leans in closer to his ear.

“I had a family once. A beautiful wife. Two beautiful daughters. Until one day when two men came knocking on my door to settle a score with me. The only thing is, I wasn’t there. So they thought up a worse punishment for me to endure, and they murdered all three of them. Naturally I went looking for those men, and eventually I found them. But Roy stopped me from killing them. I hated him for it at first, but he was right to do it. Those men were connected to some worse people, and that would’ve put Roy and my friends at risk.”

“But I’ll tell you, letting those men go was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. God knows they’re still out there somewhere, walking and breathing.”

Mark’s grip tightens, and with his other hand he pulls a pistol from his jacket and presses it hard against Will’s temple.

“And now, Roy, the only family I had left, is gone too. So, tell me, Will, who’s gonna stop me now?”

SEVEN MONTHS AGO

Over 400 feet above the Earth, atop an enormous skyscraper still under construction, a crane lowered a large metal beam between two vertical, parallel beams. As the beam carefully approached its target, Will, along with several other workers, stood on the steel framework below ready with sledge hammers, power drills, and bolt guns.

When the beam fell into place, the workers immediately went to work snapping it in with the rest of the frame like a puzzle piece. Within just a few minutes, the beam was snug in place, completing an outer frame for a new floor to be constructed.

With the job done, Will removed his hard hat for a moment to wipe the sweat away from his forehead before it dripped into his eyes.

He felt a sudden grumble in his stomach. He took off his glove and looked at his watch. It was 4 p.m. He’d been working for five hours straight. Though he didn’t feel tired, his stomach was protesting. He could use a quick bite.

Will used a ladder to climb back down the 35th floor, the nearest floor that offered cover from the heat. It was a particularly hot spring day, and the shade of the vast concrete ceiling took the burden of the heat away as he made his way past other workers going about their jobs. The constant sound of power drilling and jackhammering that echoed between the concrete floor and ceiling would be enough to make one’s head throb. But Will grew used it over the years, making it no louder than the sound of the wind that would often gust through the building.

He reached his work bag and retrieved the small cooler that contained his lunch. Nearby, a group of men were indulging in their meals on a makeshift table, laughing and joking with each other. Instead of joining them, Will walked over to an empty, open spot on the edge of the building overlooking the city skyline. He sat and let his feet dangle over the edge. Before he opened his cooler, he was suddenly captivated by the view before him.

Evening was approaching, and the sun was just starting to make its way down from the sky, giving the clouds a slight orange hue. The city reflected its light, creating a pattern of flares that shined bright across the windows of surrounding buildings. In the distance, a flock of birds took flight and made its way into the blue sky fused with wispy clouds and jet plane contrails that stretched for miles. To top it off, a soft, cool breeze swept in and caressed Will’s face. He took a deep breath, taking it all in, and slowly exhaled.

For a single moment, perhaps less than a second, Will felt as if he were in absolute tranquility, as if he had found his own little piece of heaven. For once, he felt perfect, relieved, free.

But the moment was interrupted by someone nearby.

“Enjoying the view, Billy?” Jake asked. He was squatting near the edge a few feet away.

Will was annoyed by the intrusion, but he kept it to himself.

“Take it in while you can. That right there is probably the only good thing you’ll get out of this shit job.”

Will met Jake a few months ago while working on another project. The two quickly developed a friendship when they discovered they shared similar pasts. Their fathers had both been ironworkers, and they were there to fill their shoes when the time came. Because they felt forced into the job, they both held distain for it. Will at least tried to see its better aspects. Jake had a more somber outlook on life.

“You know, as I look out at this mighty fine view, I can’t help but ask myself, ‘is this really as good as it gets for us?’” Jake said.

Will just shrugged.

“Food for thought, I guess.” Jake stood back up. “Well, you enjoy your view for a little longer. Shift’s over for me, so I’m outta here.” He leaned over and gave Will a hard pat on the shoulder.

“Take it easy, Billy. Oh, I almost forgot. Me and some buddies of mine are having a few beers at Gerry’s pub downtown tonight around nine or so. You should come join us. Take a load off.”

The offer was tempting, but Will already planned on taking care of a long overdue visit to his father in the hospital. In the years before he fell ill, his father had rarely spoken to Will despite his persistent efforts to spend more time with his estranged son. But, his admission to the hospital made it difficult for Will to keep avoiding him. He turned down Jake’s invitation.

“If you change your mind, you know where to look,” Jake said.

After he left, Will continued to replay Jake’s question in his head. Something about it hit him. It made him cringe with embarrassment, as if he had made an irreversible mistake.

Is this really as good as it gets?

Sadness washed over him. Hopelessness. He thought about his father and realized Jake was right. This was it. The road was at an end. How could he go further?

Will took a long look back at the city skyline, trying to find the same feeling of peace he felt before.

But it wasn’t there. It was long gone.

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