“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.” - C.G. Jung

The cherry of his Marlboro cigarette glowed in the low light.

“So I used to steal wallets.” After taking a long drag he ejected the soft smoke from his lungs. “Back when I first discovered what I could do. I was somewhere around fourteen, I think – we could start there. Imagine being that age and learning that you were able to stop time—but only when you held your breath. No one could move but you, but moving was hard. Imagine trying to run underwater, it’s like that.” A chuckle, another drag, exhalation. “Yeah, that was me. I knew I was sinning.” Finger quotes when he said “sinning.” “Or whatever, so I tried to reduce the harm that I did by putting their wallets back after I took their cash. I had asthma back then too 'cause I was fat. It made holding my breath for long periods pretty hard.”

“I see,” I said, noting how he said ‘used to’ and yet. See, I wouldn’t have believed anything this guy was saying to me if he hadn’t just demonstrated his ability. I mean, would you? My wallet was still in his lap and I leaned against the brick alley wall with a bruise showing along my jaw.

“Yup,” Adrian uncrossed his legs beneath him and stood up. I hadn’t seen him grab my wallet at any point and truly expected it to fall to the ground but rather than that, it was simply gone. “Can you walk and listen at the same time? I’m going to buy us breakfast.”

“With my cash?” I nodded slowly and followed him from the alley while he laughed.

“Yup. IHOP suits me. Couple of blocks down.” He paused when I turned the wrong way. “This way. Don’t be a dumb tourist.”

Drunken crowds mulled around while Adrian and I walked in the gutter. He was silent for the first few minutes of the walk and I found my eyes drawn to the neon signs all around: “XXX,” “Cheap Drinks,” “SHOWGIRLS.” I’d planned to get away from women, not to be reminded of them. It was my own fault I suppose, it wasn’t as if I’d had a destination in mind after what had happened. I’d just sort of driven off.

“Where was I?” He finally spoke again just after we passed a particularly loud crowd outside of a bar. I could smell the alcohol. Some girls were barely wearing any clothing. I got distracted. Revenge would only cost a couple of drinks in a place like this, if that.

“Um,” I hesitated. “You were talking about being chubby.”

“Right, let me start at the beginning I guess, since we’ve got all night.” It was dark but I could still see how he turned his head back towards me a bit and gave a crooked wink.

I only had the sounds of the night to listen to until we reached IHOP and were seated by a young waitress with a small gap in her front teeth. Marie, that’s what her name tag said. I guess I was still looking a bit pallid; she offered me a lemon slice with my water.

“It’ll help your stomach.” She, like most of the people I’d encountered here besides Adrian, had an endearing southern skew to her voice. The way her ‘a’ sounds were deep and drawn out made me smile. I thanked her.

“First time was gym class,” Adrian said. I hadn’t really been paying attention but I looked up to meet his gaze. “Let’s see. Yeah, I was fourteen. Or fifteen. I’m not certain. Time gets confusing when you are always fucking with it.”

“Girls too,” I interrupted him, but he cackled and nodded wholeheartedly.

“So the ball is coming straight at me. If I remember correctly, I was hugging the wall along with the other shy kids, just trying to stay out of the way. It was a boy-only gym class and all the athletic kids were on the other side of the line. At least that's how it felt. You know those dicks with abs at fifteen who have diamond studs in their ears and wear their gym shorts around their thighs? Anyway, so the ball is coming straight at me full speed, on steady course to fuck up my face. I held my breath and just like that nothing was moving. Everything was frozen. It was like everyone was stuck in an ice cube or playing freeze tag. Except in freeze tag you get those people who inch ever so slowly. Well no one was inching around. I remember the smell of rubber and the shiny wooden floor. For a 
moment I was in complete shock, then I gasped and the ball hit my face.

“There was so much blood, I mean I’ve seen more since, but there was a lot. I felt sick, made worse by the knowledge the blood was coming out of me. I dribbled and dripped so much on the tile floor I thought for sure it would be impossible to clean it all up. So the school called my parents and then my father came to take me home. Somehow getting hit in the face with a ball provoked a punishment from him, as if I had done something wrong. So I was grounded over the weekend and I had a broken nose.”

Marie appeared to set down a pot of coffee and take our order. For a moment afterward Adrian was quiet, as if he’d lost his place.

“I met Allie the next Monday…

“Naturally I was pretty popular when Monday rolled around, which was interesting and different. Everyone wanted to talk to me and hear the story of how I had my nose crunched. It hadn’t clicked that holding my breath would freeze time yet, so I hadn’t experimented any more with that. I was too focused on my nose, and how nervous I was to return to school.

“The lunch room was pretty large – all of the students used to sit in their own little cliques. There were a few tables outside that were often empty so I generally sat there. I took my lunch out to one of the tables. I remember it was raining a bit. I didn’t notice her at first. I kept quiet, just eating and listening to the rain clink on the metal overhang.

Hey,” she said.


I’m Allie,” she said. “Well, my name is Allison but my parents call me Allie and so does everyone else. But you can call me Allison if you want.”

My name is Adrian.”
What happened to your face?” She was staring at me. No, she was staring at the bandages on my face, under which my nose was buried, gasping for fresh air.

I got thrown out of a window. Face first.”

Oh my god, really?” she gasped.

No,” I laughed, “Mark Daley hit me in the face with a ball during gym.”

Is your nose broken? That looks painful.” She came over and sat at my table now.

Yeah, it’s broken. Not too painful unless I touch it. Breathing is weird.”


“I remember that conversation so clearly. Later that day was when I figured out what I am capable of, to a point. You might think I’m a dick for not being humble, but I can do things. That kid over there in that booth? I could stop him from falling in front of a car, just hold my breath and tug him back. Or that waitress that was giving you the eyes. I could pull her phone out of her pocket and read her texts to see if she has a boyfriend. I could set your wallet on the table and make it disappear forever.”
Then Adrian did set my wallet on the center of the table between our plates. My eyes dropped to it and I briefly considered snatching it up then running out. Of course it would be no good, Adrian could just breathe in and hold, then take it back and set it in the middle of the table.

I didn’t feel too sick anymore but my jaw was really hurting.

“I've never been hit in the face before.”

Adrian laughed while Marie came over from the kitchen with our food and put it on the table.

“Anything else?” she offered.

“No,” I said.

“I’ve already told you I first started to practice by stealing wallets,” Adrian resumed once she was gone. He chomped some bacon. “That isn’t completely true. I first practiced with a rubber ball on the basketball court in my backyard.

“I was standing around in the backyard thinking about Allison and bouncing a ball on the blacktop. I thought of the way she’d looked at my eyes after staring at my nose for long enough. My breath caught in my chest while the ball was in mid-air… and it froze. It dawned on me then that I’d done that, and I’d frozen the ball in gym. Of course it seemed too good to be true so I tested it over and over again. Every night for the next week I was terrified the ability would go away. I tested it on both of my parents as well. It worked on everything.”

“You had a basketball court in your backyard?” I asked.

“Yeah but don’t get the wrong idea. My dad is a dick and my mom is always working. Or she was last I saw her. When they found my stolen cash stash, they thought I was dealing drugs! They were going to send me to a reformatory school.”

He knocked over his own water while waving his arms and swore loudly. Marie seemed to appear out of nowhere with a rag and quickly cleaned up his mess before giving a brief curtsy and walking away. With a sudden afterthought, she whipped around and apologized profusely before retrieving his empty plate from the table. We both watched to see if she would turn around and come back to the table for something else but she didn’t.

“A reformatory school,” he said in an angry whisper, leaning over the table towards me. “Hey, are you going to eat that or what?”


“Hah,” he grinned and slid my plate to his side of the table. “So a reformatory school, I wasn’t going to have that. They were wrong, by the way. I wasn’t dealing drugs.”

“No, you were just emptying people’s wallets.”

“Do you want to hear my story or would you rather spend time judging me?”

“Sorry,” I offered. He said nothing. “But it is true. Stealing wallets is just as bad as dealing drugs if you’re talking about morality. Regardless, what happened? Did you go to the reformatory school?”

“No,” he said. “My dad took away my stash and was planning on getting me shipped out to Kalama-fuckin’-zoo post haste so I needed some cash quick, to make a getaway cause I was done with his bullshit…

“At this point Allie was my girlfriend. I was about seventeen, so I’d had a few years to work on my ability and build a relationship with this girl.

“I told Allie what had happened because I never kept a secret from her. Back when I first told her what I could do she didn’t believe me, just like you. But I proved it then too. Before you ask, no I did not stop time just to stare at her chest. Okay, yes I did.

“When I told her that my dad had found all the cash I’d been saving up, she didn’t react in a strong way like I expected. I remember her looking me square in the face and this slow grin spread across her face. It took her long enough to talk that I thought she was glad my Pops was going to send me away.

Just rob a bank.” Her smile widened.

“I was stunned silent. Here was Allie, this sweet girl with her big green eyes, telling me I should rob a bank. Then I started to think she might’ve been pulling a fast one. Just kidding around. Nope, she just held her smile and cocked her head to the side. She was a grade ahead of me, and just as tall. I admired her so much.”

Are you serious?” I asked her.

Dead,” she replied.

How? Which bank?”

We’re constantly walking by Smith Avenue, right? Why not hit the one right there?”

I can’t hold my breath that long.”

Just wait until they have the vault open or something. You know they do it as like a publicity thing. 
To show people where their cash deposits go.”

I’m not sure it is that simple, and besides, I’ve never been in the bank. Never seen the vault before. How would I transport the cash? Everything gets heavier, remember?”

Bus tickets to anywhere are only like a hundred fifty each. You could easily lift that in a day; I’ve seen you pull a grand. Remember the business conference? We walked behind that crowd of guys for like half an hour, you were so out of breath.” She laughed at the memory. “We could just go. Just go and rent an apartment somewhere, or something.”

You want that?” I was surprised. “With me? Just run away?”

“Allie didn’t say anything. She leaned in really close and kissed me. It was like she meant it to be just a peck at first, but it was more than that. Pretty much all the affirmation a confused seventeen year old boy needs to run away with an eighteen year old girl is a kiss. Boy was it a kiss, too. So she left to pack her things and I rode my bicycle downtown to start lifting some money. We agreed to meet at the bus station at ten that night.

“I was on fire, hitting wallets left and right. Maybe it was national carry-lots-of-twenties day or I was just picking the right people. I walked away with just shy of a thousand dollars. You have to understand: it might seem simple but everything is tougher and I’ve got to be holding my breath that whole time. I took a lot of breaks but after a few hours I was good to go. We met at the bus station and bought tickets. We were originally going to head west, but every kid heads west when they run away, don’t they? So we did the opposite.”

My plate was clean now too. Marie appeared right on cue to take it away. She looked a bit confused that he’d been eating my food but took the plate without comment. A few moments later she was back again with the bill, setting it gently in the center of the table.

“No, no, I insist.” He wryly slid my wallet and the bill over to his side of the table. After working out a nice tip and placing the cash in the center of the table, he leaned back. I chose to ignore his games about my wallet. It wasn’t as if I could just take it back. He’d steal it again. By now he was too intriguing, I was caught, I wanted to hear more of his story.

“Did you say goodbye to your parents? Leave a note or anything?”

“No.” His jaw was like iron. “They thought I was dealing drugs. They didn’t even bother to ask me where the money had come from. Hell, it wasn’t even a stash, I had it sitting neatly in a pile on my dresser.”

“How much money was it?”

“Four grand or so.”

“That is kind of suspicious for a seventeen year old kid to have, especially without his parents knowing.”

“Yeah, well, they didn’t know shit about me anyway. You ready to flip this joint?” He spread his arms on the back of the seat and gazed out the window.
I knew I’d asked the wrong question. He was defensive now, completely different from the Adrian who’d been telling me his story. I don’t know how I knew, but something told me if we left the IHOP at that moment, I would never hear the rest of his story, never see him again.

“No, I want pie. Let’s get pie.”

“She already brought the bill.” Adrian frowned at me.

“Never asked if we wanted dessert, did she?”


I didn’t want Marie to get embarrassed, and I tried to be as nice as possible when I asked for two slices of chocolate cream pie, but she still walked away blushing.

“What happened next?” I ventured.


“What did you do when you got to wherever you went? How’d you get here?” I was curious about where Allie was too, but I knew better than to ask about her. Every time I’d pressed thus far about more specifics, he’d become defensive. The way he spoke of her in the past tense unsettled me, but I figured it would probably be better to just wait and see if he would go on.

“Well we bummed around for a year or so. I fell for her pretty hard, she pretty much just told me when and what to steal, anything for her. That’s not to say she was malicious in any way or didn’t feel the same way. She was amazing—I remember one morning in particular.” Adrian was smiling. I hadn’t seen a genuine smile on his face until now. I could see why she’d fallen for him. “The way her dark hair looked against the beige sheets. It was winter and the hotel room wasn’t the nicest we’d stayed in. All the covers were bundled up around her.” He laughed. “She slept stomach down all the time with her head turned to the side. Her hair was over her face, thick and long loose curls, I couldn’t see any of her skin at all. She was just a bundle of hair sticking out of the blankets. It was really cute.”

Marie set down the pieces of pie and once again apologized. Adrian was silent, probably lost in a memory, so I assured her it was nothing and offered a smile. She returned it before disappearing to attend to other tables or something, though the IHOP was pretty much empty. The late-night stoner crowd had come and gone by now. They’d now be passed out on couches, or idling their cars on the top of parking garages just listening to music. For a few minutes I was just imagining them, I don’t know why. Then Adrian spoke again.

“I thought you wanted pie.”

“Oh, right.” I took a bite and looked at him. “After bumming around for a year?”

“We took a cruise. She’d always wanted to, it was one of the things on her bucket list, I guess. She actually wrote one of those out. It was long, too. We paid for two really expensive getaway tickets and then packed up. I don’t want it to sound like we only did it because she wanted to, I was pretty stoked too…”

What do you want to be when you grow up?” She was lying on the floor, one with the soft rocking of the ship.

What?” I stopped spinning in the desk chair to look at her.

When you get older, what do you want to spend your life doing?”

I haven’t really thought about it too much. Why do you ask?”

I don’t know. It just seems like it might start to weigh on you, always having to steal.” She sat up.

Hey. You’re the one who suggested I rob a bank, remember? We’re on this cruise because I stole from people.”

Keep your voice down, I know that. I didn’t mean it like that, anyway.” There was beer in our room, I’d stolen it at her request, but I hadn’t tried one yet. Allie took a sip of one, grimaced, and then took another sip. “I just meant, deep down, don’t you want to earn something? I don’t see anything wrong with living off the wealth of the rich—god knows they have enough. I guess I can’t do what you do, so maybe I have a different perspective.” I didn’t say anything to that, so she pressed on. “I just feel sort of empty. I’ve had it ever since we ran away together. At first I thought I just missed my family, or felt empty with my time because school wasn’t there to fill it, but I don’t think it is either of those. Then I thought it was just what love felt like. Like I needed another person to fill that emptiness and it was you. I don’t think it’s that either. I want to do something, you know? I don’t do anything except just exist.”

Isn’t that enough? What do you want to do?” She’d often get in these deep conversations with me but this time I knew something was different. It was the way that she stared at the ground instead of at my eyes, the way she persisted with the beer even though she obviously found it disgusting.

I don’t know. I mean we’re both over eighteen, but we ran away. We don’t have our birth certificates, or proof of addresses, or anything. We don’t exist. It’s like this whole trip has been a lovely fantasy, only we’ve gone and gotten trapped in it. The only way out is backwards and I just can’t go that way.”

We could get birth certificates. We are over eighteen, like you said. I could steal enough for a few months’ rent someplace and we could both get jobs. We could… go to college or something.” I got up and gave her a hug. She returned it, then sat on the edge of the bed and drank more of the beer.

You’re right. But what about you? What if someone found out about you? You still haven’t told me what you want. This whole thing,” she made a wide gesture that almost caused the alcohol in the bottle to fly free, “has been about me. I love you, Adrian, but it can’t just be what I want. What do you want? Don’t you want more than just this?”

There I was on a luxury cruise with a beautiful girl with whom I was in love, and she was asking me what I wanted. I didn’t want anything – I was happy.

I don’t know. Here I can do this thing with time, with my breath, and I don’t even know how or why. Did God make me like this? You know I’ve never believed in that kind of stuff. If not Him then who? If I’m random, then why? I can’t answer these questions. No one can.”

Well, don’t you... aspire to do anything?”

Well, I guess, yeah. But you’d think I’m naïve. Especially with this past year that we’ve just lived.”

Tell me.” Now she put the beer in my hands. I took a drink. It was hard to swallow it, and it kind of burned after. I didn’t like it.

I was thinking maybe I could help people.”

Help them how?” She said, pushing the beer to my lips again.

As time has gone on, I’ve gotten stronger, and I can move stuff a bit easier when I’m suspended now.”

She nodded.

Well I could, well, save people. From stuff.”

Save people? You’d have to be in the perfect place at the perfect time,” she said.

Couldn’t it all be worth it, even if I only helped one person? Just one person.”

That isn’t how the world works. You’re too selfless, you can’t just think only about other people. You are always asking me what I want, what I think, what I want you to steal for me.”

Now I’m telling you what I want!” I shouted at her.

“I’d never shouted at her before, not once in all the time we’d known each other. That was the end of our deep,” more finger quotes, “discussion. Seems to me she just wanted to talk in circles; I’ve never been able to do that. Maybe my perspective and brain are different from hers after all. She started to cry. I felt so bad. I tried to hug her again but she just told me to go away. So I went for a walk.

“It was late, so not too many people were out. I made my way out to the deck and just watched the water for a bit. There were night staff around, probably making sure no one jumped off or anything like that. When I finally turned away from the water, there was this old couple in the center of the deck. There was no music, yet they were dancing. They moved slowly and I watched as they twirled past the dimmed tiki-torch lamps. They were both wearing white pajama suits, but the old woman had pink slippers on, whereas her husband was barefoot. After a couple of minutes, I think the old woman saw me, because she said something to her husband and they stopped dancing. I would’ve apologized for staring. Hell I should have gone and apologized, but I wanted to dance with Allie like that. I wanted to show her how many stars you could see from the deck.

“When I got back to the room, there were three empty beer bottles on the bed. The covers were all messed up. Allie had this thing where when she was stressed she’d just completely cocoon herself in the blankets, even pulling up the sheets sometimes too. I heard her in the bathroom. She was puking.”


Hey.” She wiped her mouth.

I’m sorry.”

Me too.”

“She hugged me this time and then swiftly returned to the toilet to puke again. I sat next to her and rubbed her back but she didn’t feel better all night so neither of us slept.”
I was grinning. Adrian had long finished his slice of pie and now began to eat the meager amount of mine that remained.

“What are you smiling about?” he asked.

“I just think that’s cute.”

“Oh. Yeah, I guess so. She was definitely cute. More than that.” He set his fork down, pie relinquished.

“You keep saying was.”

“Well, we capsized.”

“What?” My eyebrows were up, my jaw was down. He said it so nonchalantly.

“What? What? The boat sunk. Stop staring at me.”

“How? What happened?” I asked.

“You didn’t read the papers? Watch the news?” He spoke dryly now.

“I did. I want you to tell me though.”

He looked me in the eye. It was quiet for a minute and we just stared at one another. I don’t know why. I could see that he wasn’t lying about what he was saying. Everything he’d said was true. His poor heart beat for that girl, but where was she now? Did he even know?

“It was a few nights after our fight. Both of us were asleep but I fell off the bed. The boat was tipping. Literally tipping. I was jarred awake, my knee hit something hard but I’m not sure what. I’d gotten used to the waves at this point but this sort of tipping was different. I could feel something was wrong. Like a pit of despair in my gut. I can’t explain how I knew, but I did. I woke Allie up and we went out to the deck. It was raining, and the wind was blowing really hard.

“There were a lot of people on the deck. The loudspeaker blared on and they told us we had to get off the boat onto these life boats that they were presently lowering into the water. Staff was going around to people’s rooms now to wake them up. Everyone would be fine, but we’d have to move quickly. Something was broken in the ship. The wind was loud; Allie was holding onto me so tight. She spoke into my ear but I didn’t hear what she had said. The old man from before, the one who’d been dancing with his wife, caught my eye.

“He was up against the rail, holding on tight. Then the wind gusted. I know it didn’t gust strong enough to blow him over the rail. Wind doesn’t blow that hard right? He must’ve jumped. He went straight over, I saw him and his white suit jacket plummet to the waves. Allie didn’t see him; at least I don’t think she did. Right then I remembered what she said about not being able to save very many people. I thought of his wife and the way they’d danced and held one another.

“Right after the gust of wind hit there was this huge wave. I’ve never seen a wave so big, hell I’ve seen more things in my life that are smaller than that wave than I have seen things larger. It hit the ship and there was a lot of screaming. Allie let go of me and hung onto the rail. I was free. I just ran and jumped. She screamed, I’d never heard her voice scream before and I doubt I’ll ever forget it.
“One thing about being a fat kid, Peter: You float. You get used to being buoyant. I’d lost weight in my time with Allie. I hit the water. Somehow I thought it would be like a swimming pool. It wasn’t. I was being pulled this way and that, and a wave hit me right away.

“I hate rain. Played with it a bit after discovering my ability, but besides that I'd often stay in on rainy days. Why go out at all if you're going to get wet? When that wave hit me and I was pushed under the water, I held my breath. Everything froze. Remember how I told you everything gets heavier when I go into suspension? Well, so does water. I couldn’t move. I was trapped. I flailed but nothing happened, nothing moved.

“You know I’d gone swimming in the lake when I was younger, I was on the swim team in middle school. But it occurred to me in that moment that I’d never been swimming since that day in gym with the ball and Mark Daley. I don’t know why I am the way I am or how I suddenly became this way on that day. I do know that if I am a superhero, water is one of my weaknesses.

“When the exhale finally came I was free. I breathed out slow and for as long as I possibly could. My head popped above water and I sucked in air like a baby taking its first damned breath. There was rain in my eyes and I couldn’t see his suit jacket anymore. I heard screaming from the boat far above but it was a general cacophony. If Allie’s voice was among the noise I couldn’t make it out. I got shoved under again and played the waiting game. The water was cold, even blinking took effort.

“I was facing the ship when I came up again, and as though it hadn’t hit me before, the terror of the situation got to me. The ship was tipped so awkwardly in the water. The screaming was still happening and I couldn’t see any of the lifeboats in the dark. The next wave pushed me down again but this time I opened my eyes under water.

“There he was. No more than five meters from me, suspended in my still world like a paused television screen. There were tiki-torch lamps too, like fireflies, or streetlamps on an empty street. They stretched on quite a ways back. I had no idea there had been so many. They illuminated the sinking mass of ship some meters away. I couldn’t close my eyes. His were closed. His face was so relaxed. It was like he felt free, both of his arms and both of his legs outstretched loosely just floating there. He had a slipper in one of his hands. It was pink. I was sure he hadn’t been holding it before. Then I knew why he had jumped. His wife, who’d he’d been dancing on deck with earlier in the night, had been wearing pink slippers. Had she fallen overboard? Why had I jumped? What made me think I could save him in this storm? What made him think he could save his wife? Why had I just left Allie like that? I felt like I’d been in the right place at the right time…”

I could see Adrian’s eyes getting all moist. Hell, mine were too. I swallowed and then took a drink of my water. Adrian was collecting his thoughts, obviously. He’d been getting a bit emotional with those questions that neither he nor I could answer.

“I had to exhale...

“I had no choice. I couldn’t hold it in forever. When I did, I was unfrozen. He still looked like a drifting angel last I saw him, but I had to swim up. My head broke the surface again. I could see the life boats now. Someone aboard one was holding a tiki-torch lamp. I could see many heads but from the distance I recognized none of them. Then something smashed into me and I blacked out.
“It must have hit my head. Probably one of those lamps or something I’d bet. I woke up in a hospital bed. Some people on a lifeboat dragged me aboard I guess. Reporters came and wanted to take my picture but I wouldn’t let them. They asked me some questions but I had no answers. I know nothing about boats. They wanted to know why it had sunk, what my experience was. I told them to fuck off.”
Adrian slowly traced his finger around the rim of his cup. He was staring at the ice cubes and the small amount of liquid that was left at the bottom. I didn’t know what to say. Was he done? Was that it? What about Allie? Had she been rescued?

“Was Allie rescued?”

“I don’t know,” He looked at me. “How am I supposed to know?”

“Wouldn’t they have like a manifest or something? Couldn’t you just ask the police? ‘Hey, my girlfriend was on the cruise with me, is she alive?’ I mean don’t you want to know?” I asked, leaning forward over the table a bit.
He just stared at me.

“I mean come on, man, you are in love with her, right? There is a good chance she survived! She’s probably alive, and wondering about you.”

“What if she’s not?”
He was scared. Scared to death. Adrian would rather live not knowing for certain. He’d rather hold that tiny flame of hope than accept despair.

“You’re scared. What if she is too?”

“She could read about me in the paper… find me.”


Adrian was silent again, just staring at me. The gears in his head were working. Behind his tear-reddened eyes, he was calculating. I tipped the final domino.
“You owe it to her. If she is alive, I bet she wants to know where you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re scared. If she’s not alive then you’ll just have to live with that. Can you live with not knowing? Can you live with the chance that she is alive, saw the headlines, and knows you never came to find her? Can you let her last mem-“

Then he was gone. My wallet was sitting on a plate in front of me, beneath it a napkin. I glanced around and heard the bell over the door ring. He was gone. I lifted my wallet and stood, but something on the napkin caught my eye. I moved the plate over.

“Thanks, Peter. I’m going to find Allie. Go home.”

I pocketed my wallet, then fiddled with the wedding ring on my finger. Had Adrian seen it? I hadn’t told him about my wife, the fight we’d had before I left, or anything. Yet he was telling me to go home. Grinning despite the pain in my jaw, I exited the IHOP. I’ll never understand why Adrian didn’t just steal my wallet and be off. Instead he’d followed me down the alley and mugged me like a normal person. Maybe he’d just wanted someone to talk to. Someone to tell him what to do.