Three slouched figures huddle around a tiny plastic table in the cold night air. They sit in white chairs, the kind that nobody wants at garage sales, and rock slightly to the rhythm of the river. The bridge and buildings glitter prettily around them, pink and yellow and silvery white. The water is inky, tarrish black in the night with slivers of moon and flashing lights of the river city. People sift past them one by one like sand through an hourglass, slapping down bills and tips.
“I think it looks like molasses though,” JJ remarks thoughtfully. Will snorts in amusement.
“Today isn’t Friday, buddy. You can’t compare it to something as good as that.” JJ snuffles in response.
“I can’t lie, remember? I’m too busy--”
“Finding the truth of the universe, I know. Doesn’t mean you can’t be wrong.” Will pours more beer in his glass. “JJ, you’re too innocent. You put too much faith in this world, people are going to leave you all the time. Even the ones you think you love most.”
JJ sighs in misery. “You know that feeling? That feeling after heartbreak when you walk around and you think you see her, but she’s not there? And it’s all just part of your imagination?” He snaps his fingers. “Like a wisp of smoke.”
Cheney raises his hand as if he were in class.
“Yes, Mr. Cheney?” Will calls upon him politely, using a splintered twig as his meter stick.
“Me too!” Cheney says hurriedly, as if struggling to keep up. His beady eyes shift back and forth in their sockets. “After...after...” he slowly deflates after huffing and puffing.
Will applauds enthusiastically as if he just heard the winning line of a play. “I’ll finish it for you too. After Joy left you alone at the altar!”
Cheney wails like a wounded animal, and Will looks at him matter-of-factly. “It’s better to peel off the Band-aid all at once than wait slowly, you know?” He reclines back in his rickety chair, but enough so that it breaks. “See, I’ve already come to terms with myself.”
“Stop fooling yourself,” JJ retorts. “Look at yourself now, drinking away your problems. And don’t think…” He pauses to flick away at his chapped lips. “Don’t think I see you look at her going to the radio station everyday, looking at her as if she needs you in her life.”
“Don’t group me with your problems,” Will fires back. “I’ve got enough issues paying for all of you guys after you moved back in. Shut up if you still want your wifi.”
The two younger ones sober up immediately. The only sounds are the clinking of glasses against the table.
“Do you think she still loves me?” JJ finally pipes up, quietly. There’s a tremor of trepidation in his voice, and suddenly he looks ten instead of twenty. The original charisma of his chiseled jawline and marble-like features disappear in his childish fear. Will feels something painful, seeing him reduced to no more than a schoolboy with dashed hopes. “Do you think she’ll come back?”
Will hums to himself, devoid of emotion. “I don’t think so. She might really want to leave this town if she dumped you so spontaneously.”
JJ squawks with protest. “You don’t know her! She wouldn’t do that. She said...she said she hated guys who’re dishonest!”
“There are all kinds of people in the world. And more often than not, they don’t keep their word at all.” Will pats JJ on the back softly.
“I refuse to believe that too!” Cheney declares. “Joy wouldn’t do such a thing! We’ve been dating since college. If she didn’t want to marry me, then it’s definitely my problem, not hers!”
Cheney continues to mumble in indignation until people in neighboring tables start to gawk at him. Whispers accompany stares but Cheney rambles on and on, his voice starting to break.
“Whoa, calm down,” Will chuckles slightly, but with a tremor. “Everyone is-”
“Calm down? Me?” Cheney stares at him in utter shock. “You’re the one that needs to be more sensitive, Will. Feelings are cruel, you know. As much as you try to tell yourself that she doesn’t matter, it’ll always hurt here.” He taps his chest.
“I hate to say it too, but Cheney is right,” JJ says quietly. Will swivels to look at him; there’s both bittersweet hope and failure in his eyes. “Just think about it. Do you really want to forget her? What if just one day, you just walked past her and you didn’t know? And you just felt something missing? That’d be just sad, I can’t even bear thinking of it. How many regrets are you going to keep on building up?”
Will continues to stare blankly. A myriad of images swirl in his mind but no words come out of his mouth. All the memories he had with her, full of voices and full of action, spill out like polaroids from a shoebox.
He tries to grab onto them, but they slip from his slippery grasp and burn in the abyss.
Will sees himself from the outside as if looking through a window, but instead he looks at an empty shell, not a human.
“It’s just as you said,” JJ’s voice is almost a whisper. The crystalline quality of his voice illuminates his already ethereal features and blows wind to his naturally windswept hair. “People are going to leave all the time, especially the ones you love most. If you got the chance, why don’t you stop her from walking out of your life? You’ve got it easy; you see her everyday. And that’s why it’s going to hurt more when she actually leaves.”
“As dumb as you are,” Cheney adds on, breathy yet firm at the same time, “I really don’t want to see you actually become the most pitiful DJ in the world. Just think, Will. Who did you pass by today? And who did you lose today?”
After his last words, he gets up with JJ and they wander to get more chips from the main stand, leaving Will shivering at the dilapidated table himself.
Part of him wants to laugh; the other part wants to break down in sobs. He hiccups to clear his mind but tries to convince himself that it's just from the booze.
Then it all fits in like a puzzle piece.
“Such a shame,” he breathes, “when I tell the world that I’m the oldest one out of you bunch. Such a shame.”
He leaves the table before the other two get back, rummaging through his jean pockets for spare coins and scattering them along the plastic surface. Instead of taking the unpaved path home, he makes a beeline towards the radio station.
The building is dark, completely devoid of life. Will yanks out his keys from his wallet and wrenches the door open. The lights flicker on, and for the first time he’s happy that they do. For the first time he runs up the stairs instead of trudges. For the first time he has hopes in his abilities and not just as a failed DJ that gets mocked at work.
He slams himself onto his chair. There’s something besides blood that drums through his veins, loud and thunderous. Maybe it’s motivation, maybe it’s adrenaline, and maybe even love, he wagers. Maybe it’s a combination of all three.
But it’s that feeling that makes him grab his microphone and flip the switches. He can imagine the uproar the next morning, and the how-dare-you-make-a-broadcast-at-midnight lectures, but he inhales into the speaker anyways.
His sound, his breathing, and his voice ring throughout the country. For the first time, his voice has no shake, no sign of a joke, no sign of a man trying to feign courage after having his heart torn and stepped on.
“Who did you pass by today? And who did you lose today? And most importantly, whose world did you go through today?