“Soon, I’ll be a macabre figurine, dead on the ground,” the man on the screen said with a disconsolate look. “I have become a target of Calvin Woodland ever since I stole a few hundred thousand from him.”
Hope’s father looks intensely into the screen with eyes brimmed with remorse.
“I am at the lowest point in my job, for I have trusted the wrong people. I’ve landed myself in a situation only a fool would be in because of the atrocious consequences my actions behold. He made me choose between you and your mother. You are a child, naive and oblivious to anything that could happen in this ruthless world. Although I love your mother, I am sure she doesn’t feel the same anymore. We started drifting apart, and in a short time, I felt as if our future route faded as well.”
He forced himself to look into the screen with feigned confidence. “It is you who came into our lives and showed us our direction, but it wasn’t long before your mother chose Calvin over me for all the erroneous reasons.”
I squirmed closer beside Hope, who seemed disinclined and disconcerted to know of her father’s past, especially since he was already an absent figure in her life.
“Calvin found out about the culprit who stole his cash, and I have two days to return it. However, I don’t intend to give him anything. I’m assuming my death is in a week, in the hands of that ruthless man. He’ll most probably kill me more diabolically, but I’m not frightened.”
The father’s eyes wander like they had minds of their own before fixing them back to his audience. He seemed to remember a crucial point, “Keep this in your mind, Hope. Do not ever, under even the most vital circumstances, show this video to anyone. It is my last wish.” I pursed my lips as awkwardness settled.
Hope looked, concentrated on the video her father took before his death, with an indecipherable mixed expression. But I could point out like blazes that suffering was one of them. It is lucid that she is involuntary to watch any more of the video.
“Calvin Woodland is anything but magnanimous. Keep a vigilant eye, Angel. His intentions are never pleasant,” he warned, looking back like he was expecting someone to appear behind him before confessing, “I stole the money for you.”
Beside me, I could hear Hope’s previously stable breathing hitch. I rested a reassuring hand on hers.
“We can stop if you want to,” I told her, directing her attention to me instead of the video, missing out some information about why he stole the million dollars for her.
“No, I just…it’s peculiar hearing his voice. I miss him a lot.” She sighed. “What if I never found this disc my father left for me? Would it be better if I never knew the reason for his death?”
I offered a smile. “Fate,” I said simply and shrugged.
We turn back to the screen, where the man was, with the stubble beard and a shade of dark blue eyes which matched Hope’s. I could almost feel his intense eyes like razors piercing into the depths of my soul. Under his gaze, I was assured his next sentence was essential.
He took a moment to shut his eyes before saying, “Don’t believe anything my brother, your Uncle Clyde says. He had done something horrendous and had been using lies to cover the truth.”
“He had been working with Calvin,” he revealed, “I…saw him.”
I was quick to catch the disquietude which flashed through his eyes, how it flickered, along with how he dithered.
Suddenly, I was conflicted between who was the liar. They both seem suspicious, but the man Hope approached this afternoon, Clyde, and her father, are nothing but mere strangers to me.
“You must have received the money from my good friend since you’ve gotten this compact disc.” For the first time, I saw a smile form, a sincere and appreciative smile. “I want you to know that you’ve changed my life as a miracle in disguise. I can’t imagine life without you,” he said, about to tear up.
“I love you, Angel. Don’t forget that.” The tone he summoned was like he was silently apologizing because the father was sure that he’d not be returning. “If it means you’ll have a fruitful and prosperous future, I don’t mind not having mine. It’s selfish, but I don’t regret a thing. I wish I can watch you get married, have a child, live your life. Unfortunately, that wish will be ripped from me. You’re everything to me. You’ll be my last thought when I die.” He choked up, and a tear slipped, followed by another, then another.
“Take care of yourself, don’t trust anyone but yourself and always have hope.”
The screen then shuts into pure darkness, leaving both of us still staring blankly at the television.
“Can I use the shower? I want to digest all the information.” Her voice was eminently brittle, and her face was poignant.
I granted permission with a brief nod. I headed to the front of the living room, about to remove the compact disc when the video abruptly started again, first with a sudden flash of bright light.
I realized the video had yet to finish.
I decide to have a warm bath after ordering food for tonight, to remove the overload of information I had just received, which Hope is still oblivious to. I would only hide things that have to stay hidden. However, the time will come when the truth comes out itself like the scars and bruises under her mother’s sleeves. I’ve not apprised her about the fact. I figured it would be better if I knew more, before spreading news which could be a mere misinterpretation.
Hope sat outside, incessantly nodding with fascination at something Grayson had announced while Josh sat beside her with an engrossed smile on his lips. I joined them and had a seat beside Gray.
“What’s the joke?” I asked.
“Gray’s telling us about the time he used his computer knowledge to enter the school’s system,” Josh gave a summary.
I shrugged in response, having already known the story the moment it happened.
“What are we having for dinner?” Grayson changed the subject, his eyes illuminating at the topic of food. “I’m famished.”
“It’ll be here soon,” I replied, leaning back comfortably. As my eyes scanned around the room, it found Hope. I could not help but feel glad that she looked cosy in my house, which welcomes her anytime. My mind raced, floating with a fact. She is a magnificent person to be with, despite her vengeful personality.
Behind the animosity was a fragmented girl who’s fighting to stay strong. I respected that. She is fighting even though she felt vulnerable. I believe it was something I could learn from her.
“Something unusual happened not too long ago,” Josh starts a conversation, attracting all our attention. “I’m unsure, but I have a brief idea.”
“Are your adoptive parents involved?” Grayson asked, knowing about their fluctuating relationship. A phenomenon happened to Josh when he was much younger; he arrived in the lives of a couple wanting a child but was too frightened to go through the process. Josh was bolting away from his biological father for an unknown reason when his adoptive parents came in the picture.
They fed him, took care of him, before having the courage to conceive their own child. I learned that they still see Josh as their son, but now that they had a daughter, he felt a little neglected. They get into fights now, but Josh did admit that he sees their daughter as his sister.
“Not really, my parents have been absent in my life for the last few months,” he said before explaining his ‘unusual’ situation. “I think I saw my biological father hanging out in the streets.”
He rolled his eyes in dissatisfaction, “I don’t think he deserves to be a father; it’s his fault my mother and sister died.”
“Wait, wait. You had a sister?!” Gray had his jaw dropped. Even I had to stifle a gasp. He had never spoken once about anything besides his adoptive parents’ daughter.
“Yeah, it’s a touchy subject. It’s my dad’s fault she died,” he said, but no anguish displayed in his expression. “My mom and sister weren’t killed right in front of me, that’ll be messed up, I doubt anyone would live after witnessing that.”
Beside him, Hope had a rigid posture, having to go through the nightmare. I wondered how my friends would feel if I randomly told them of a secret that I kept my whole life.
“I excused myself from this road trip that day because I was not fascinated in sitting in a car for the whole day since it made me sick to the core,” he said. “Guess that was a phenomenal idea since they got into a car accident. My dad was unconscious and in efforts to get him out. They caught in the flames of the car.”
“It’s unfair how he got to live. After the man told me everything, I never looked at him the same again.” Josh’s story had everyone filled with scepticism. No one expected him to have such a bitter past.
His lips curved into an ironic smile. “It’s funny how my dad thinks I died in a fire, too.”
The room was a hole of silence after his explanation, all at a loss of what to say next. He had just confessed something he had held onto for a long time, not towards one, but three people. Hope’s eyes fixated on his face, an expression of shock and recognition.
She attempted to approach me casually, then whispered in a low tone, “He’s Ian Carson’s son.”
I froze as realization dawns. The man’s last name and familiar face match like the final piece to a complex puzzle. My mind was unwilling to think or accept the fact as I gaped at Josh. “I want to talk to him privately,” she told me in a low tone.
I nodded in response, about to speak when the doorbell rang. I shot Hope a look that indicated ‘hold on’ before heading to the door to grab the ordered food.
A conversation seemed to start, most likely by Grayson when we returned. He always has been someone who eases the tension by his horrible sense of humour or his unlimited topics in communication.
As Gray turned on the television and started watching while eating, I leaned between Hope and Josh behind the couch where they sat.
“Josh,” I called, pausing for a moment and phrasing my words in my head. “Hope wants to have a word with you.”