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   As a senior in high school, Brian Quinn quietly had a thing for a pretty girl named Hannah, even though his friend Jack Kelly was her boyfriend.  One day, Brian stepped over to Hannah’s locker and asked her out.  He assumed she’d say no.  He was shocked when she said yes.

     When Jack found out, he was devastated.  One day, he didn’t show up at school.  That evening, Brian learned that Jack was in the hospital.  He’d slit his wrists.

     Brian blamed himself.  He wanted to visit Jack but felt too guilty.

     Jack never came back to school.  He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.  Brian couldn’t bring himself to visit.  He was still too filled with guilt.

     That fall, Brian left for college.  He had nightmares about Jack.  He couldn’t sleep.  He began missing classes.  His grades slipped.  He started drinking.

     After his freshman year, Brian dropped out of school and got a job on a construction crew.  That summer, he heard that Jack was leaving for college out of state in the fall.

     Once he’d left for college, Jack didn’t come back to town much.  Brian never left.  He never went back to college.  He never got married.  For the next 40 years, he worked on construction crews.

     After college, Jack moved to Minneapolis, where he joined a restaurant group as a market analyst.  Jack was bright and hard-working.  He rose through the ranks and, at 47, became CEO.

 

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     Nearly 50 years after graduating from high school, late one night, Brian’s car was hit by a truck.  Brian had crossed the centerline.

     Three days later, he woke up in the hospital.

     “You’re awake,” someone said.

     “Who’s there?”

     Brian heard the footsteps of someone approaching his bed.  He looked up and saw a man he assumed was a doctor.

     “What happened?” Brian said.

     “You were in an accident.”

     “How bad?”

     “You’ll be here for a while.  But you’ll live.”

     Brian noticed the man at his bedside wasn’t wearing white.

     “Who are you?”

     “Don’t you remember me?  I’m Jack Kelly.”

     Brian felt his heart skip a beat.  It was Jack!  Brian began to cry.

     Jack took hold of Brian’s bandaged hand.

     “It’s okay,” he said.

     The two men talked, sharing their life stories.

     Then Brian said, “I’m sorry.”

     “For what?”

     “For taking Hannah away.  For causing you to almost take your own life.”

     “Oh, Brian.  You didn’t cause that.  I was mentally ill.  Cutting myself was a cry for help.  After that, I finally got the help I needed.”

     “But you’re so successful.”

     “Yes, but that’s only because I’ve had lots of help,” Jack said.  “I decided to help others too.  I made addressing mental illness our corporate cause.  Did you know that?”

     Brian shook his head.

     “Yeah.  We’ve made a big difference, and it wouldn’t have happened without you.  I’m only sorry it’s taken me so long to thank you.  When I heard about your accident, I came right away, hoping I wasn’t too late.”

 


 

Don Tassone is the author of five short story collections and two novels. He lives in Loveland, Ohio. Visit him at  www.dontassone.com  or @tassone_don

 

Photo by Vitaliy Mitrofanenko from Pexels

 

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2 thoughts on “Free”

  1. Guilt is a powerful player in a human being. What a lesson to learn that we have no control over many things in life. Your story is a wonderful reminder and beautifully written.

  2. Oh, the ironies of life. And the guilt. Some are lu key enough to get help with the tough parts while others don’t..lots to chew on here, Don. Thank you.

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