HOPE LIVES ON
By Teresa Kander
Hope trudges out the back door of the diner. The long shift had her head spinning, her legs weak. After she unlocked the car, she sensed someone’s presence. She turned, blinking twice, not believing what she saw.
“Will?” She was barely able to make the words come out of her mouth. “What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
He pushed his blonde hair away from his twinkling green eyes and his mouth formed what Hope had once thought of as an impish grin. “You know what I always say--where there’s a Will, there’s a way.”
She opened the car door then turned back to face him before getting in. “I’m sorry you wasted your time. I’ve got nothing to say to you.”
Hope’s mind was racing during the drive home. What did he want? How had he found her? What was she going to do? The knot in her stomach was growing, and the tears in her eyes threatened to spill over.
She sighed, recalling her teen years in Ohio. She had dreamed of a career in the music industry, of being a pop star someday--but those dreams were broken and left behind, thanks to a disastrous relationship with Will. They fell in love, he introduced her to drugs, and her life went downhill from there. Now she was fresh out of rehab, working as a waitress and trying to put together a new life. She hadn’t seen Will since they were arrested, and she had certainly never expected to see him here in Arizona.
She had to pull herself together. She was no longer the girl she used to be. No way would she let herself be moved by one short encounter. She knew she was stronger than that.
By the time she got home, she had calmed her nerves and formulated a plan. She knew what had to be done, and just who could help her.
As soon as Hope got inside her apartment and locked the door behind her, she picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number. The instant someone picked up, she had two words to say.
“Are you alright, Hope?” The male voice the other end of the line was full of concern. “What happened?”
Hope described her brief conversation with Will, then asked “So what do I do now?”
“Just go on with your daily routine, as long as he doesn’t threaten you. I’ll be there tomorrow, and we’ll take care of the problem.”
Sleep came in fits and starts that night. Every little sound had her wondering if Will were outside watching her. This was no way to live, for sure.
The next day was Hope’s day off, so she didn’t have to worry about Will lurking around the diner. Mid-afternoon there was a knock on her door. Looking through the peephole, she breathed a sigh of relief and threw open the door.
Anyone seeing Hope with the man standing in her doorway would have known in an instant they were family--same dark skin, same brown eyes, same shiny black hair. Her father had arrived, ready to take care of his little girl.
Hope hugged her father, then ushered him inside the apartment, once again locking the door behind them.
“It’s so good to see you, Daddy. I just wish it was under better circumstances.”
“Don’t worry, honey,” he said. “We’ll take care of this problem in no time.”
Hope smiled at her father and took his hand, leading him toward the sofa. Sunshine was pouring through the windows, so she could almost forget the fear of the night before and begin to relax. Just having her father with her made her believe that everything was going to be fine.
He turned to her, his only child, a somber look on his face. His eyes were dark and foreboding. It was time to get down to business.
“You know what we have to do now, don’t you, Hope?” His voice was cold and stern, and she was taken aback.
“Yes, Daddy,” she answered quietly. She was once again reminded of the chasm between her father’s life and the life she longed to create for herself. If she went through with what she knew he was planning, she would be drawn into his world again, and she might never be able to break free.
Before he could continue, she spoke once more. “Daddy, I know what you have in mind for Will, but I want you to let me try something first.”
But convincing her father wasn’t going to be an easy task. He had obviously formulated his plan before leaving Ohio, and he was determined to see it through.
“I don’t want you to get hurt, Hope. My way, we know for sure he’ll never bother you again.”
Hope twirled a strand of hair around her finger, just as she’d always done as a child. No matter how old she was, her father could always make her feel like that little girl. She often wondered if that was how he kept everyone in his life toeing the line--by that strong intimidation.
“Dad…” She hesitated before going on, taking a deep breath to steady herself. “At least let me tell you what I have in mind before you dismiss it totally.”
Reluctantly, her father agreed to listen to her idea. By the time she finished laying it out for him, he had to concede that it just might work, but he still had his fears and doubts. One area where he absolutely refused to compromise, however, was when Hope insisted he go back home to Ohio. He made it very clear he was staying with her until this situation was resolved.
After another night of tossing and turning, Hope set off for a day of work and of putting her plan into action. She had convinced her father to stay at her apartment, out of sight. If Will saw him, it might arouse his suspicions and ruin everything.
As usual, the diner was buzzing with activity through the early morning hours, so Hope barely had time to think. When she took her break, she went out the back door, looking forward to the quiet as well as the fresh air. To her surprise, Will was waiting there for her, leaning his lanky body again the building. His blonde hair looked as though it hadn’t seen a comb in days, and he was wearing his usual black t-shirt.
“Good morning, gorgeous.” He behaved as if their most recent conversation hadn’t ended on such a sour note. “Did you miss me?”
“Of course I did.” She forced a brief smile, then looked contrite. “I’m sorry about the other day. I was just so surprised to see you, you know?”
“No problem, babe. I was hoping for a more enthusiastic welcome, naturally, but I’m willing to let you make it up to me.” He opened his arms, obviously expecting her to step into them.
Hesitantly, Hope moved toward him and tried not to stiffen as he pulled her into his embrace. But when he moved to kiss her, she turned her head so his lips brushed across her cheek.
“Okay, okay,” Will smiled. “I got it. You don’t want to rush right back into things. It’s been awhile, so I can understand. You want to start out slow.”
Hope smiled and agreed with him, then realized she had to get back to work. Before she went into the diner, she agreed to meet Will at his motel after her shift so they could talk.
Five o’clock came much too soon for Hope that day. As she got into her car, she made a quick call to her father, to let him know she wouldn’t be home until later. He again expressed concern for the plan she was putting into action, but she assured him she would never let her guard down.
When Will opened the door of his room and almost immediately suggested dinner at a nearby restaurant, she was glad she had taken the time to change out of her uniform before leaving the diner. Her skinny jeans and purple silk blouse seemed a much better match for the man who stood before her. His hair was combed back, and along with what looked like practically new jeans, he wore a pale blue long sleeved shirt that actually had a collar.
Will led her to a quiet table for two near the back of the restaurant. They made small talk until they ordered dinner. Then he finally got to the reason he had invited her to this meeting.
“I need your help, Hope. I know it’s crazy, me asking you for help, but you’re the only one I could turn to at this point.” He looked honestly scared, and she realized it was the first time she’d ever seen that emotion from him. “Before we got arrested, I stole some money from my supplier, and he still hasn’t forgotten that. He wants his money back, or me dead, whichever is easier. And Hope, I hate to have to be the one to tell you this...but the guy I worked for was your dad.”
She was torn between anger and revulsion. “My dad? Are you serious? Are you SURE?” She knew her father was involved in some rather unsavory ventures, but if this were true, in some ways it was because of him that she had been arrested, gone to jail, and had to give up her dreams. This was just too much to handle at one time.
Will continued to talk, giving her proof that he’d been working for her father, and that her father now wanted him dead. Hope listened, but remained in a fog during dinner. She had never expected to hear anything like this when she started to put her plan into action.
“Will, I want you to come back to my apartment with me right now. My father is there.” She paused as she saw the shock on his face. “I know it probably sounds like a setup, but I promise you that it’s not. I just think the three of us should sit down and try to work this out before something terrible happens.”
Even though Will was less than enthusiastic about her idea, she was finally able to convince him to go home with her. When they arrived, she opened the apartment door and, with Will still standing outside, called out to her father.
“Dad, can you come here, please? I need to talk to you.” Hope did her best to keep the anger and frustration out of her voice.
Her father came out of the guest room with a gun in his hand. “This is going to be even easier than I imagined,” he said to Will. “I was sure I’d have to trail Hope to find out where you were staying. But instead, here you are, threatening the two of us, forcing me to shoot you.”
Hope couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “So it’s true then? You were Will’s drug supplier all along? While you were lecturing me on my drug use, and on my arrest, you were the one behind it all? What a hypocrite!”
“There’s a difference between family and business, and he…” Her father waved his gun toward Will, “He was the one who blurred the lines between the two. And then, to add insult to injury, he tried to steal money from me.”
Hope put her hands on her hips. “And that was the real problem, wasn’t it? Not that he introduced your only child to drugs, or even that my relationship with him led to my arrest. No, what you cared about then, and what you still care about five years later, is your money.”
He ignored Hope and stood in front of Will, still brandishing the gun at him. Will firmly shoved Hope behind him, attempting to shield her from harm. The two men stood nearly toe to toe, staring each other down.
Her father sneered. “So, Will, do you have my money?”
“No, afraid I don’t,” Will told him. “But it sure helped my mom live comfortably while I was locked up.”
Her father didn’t say another word. Instead, he rapidly fired six shots into Will’s chest, then watched him fall to the floor and smiled cruelly. It was as though he had completely forgotten Hope was in the room.
But she was quick to remind him of her presence. As Will’s lifeless body hit the floor and his blood spread across the room, Hope pulled her own gun out of her purse and pointed it at her father.
“Don’t move--don’t even think about moving. Just stand there and listen. Do you think any of this was a coincidence? I found out about your drug business from the cop who arrested me, but I knew I had to bide my time. When Will got out of prison, I knew it wouldn’t take long for him to find me. And I knew the mention of his name would be enough to make you come running. Now I’ll be rid of both of you, and I’ll be able to take control of my life!”
As she finished speaking, she mimicked what her father had done to Will moments earlier, firing six bullets into his chest. His body joined Will’s on the floor, and Hope completed the scene by wiping her prints off the gun and putting it into Will’s hand. Now it would appear the two men had shot one another. No one would ever suspect a third person’s involvement...especially since the apartment had been rented in her father’s name.
Back in her car, heading into the night and toward Ohio, Hope congratulated herself. Once she got home and told her story, there would be no questioning the fact she was now the woman in charge. Daddy’s little girl had found her place in the world.