“Does it hurt?”
“Only a little,” his father said, rubbing at the recent scar on his chest that lurked underneath his winter coat. He massaged the area with two thick fingers. “I’ve been trying not to think about it. You should, too. You’ve got more important things to worry about.”
Patrick Sullivan slouched his shoulders and gazed out into the street, an ache now forming in his own chest.
A woman passed by him chatting on her cell phone, her breath forming small white orbs of mist. Across the street, a neighbour cleared away snow from last night’s faint dusting. It hardly seemed worth it. They had barely seen any of the white stuff this month, which meant they were long overdue for a pile of it soon. They’d be better served to just wait it out.
“Pat? Are you listening to me?”
Patrick cleared his throat. “I know, Pop, but—”
His father plucked his hand away from his chest and placed it on Patrick’s right shoulder. His grip squeezed in tandem with the words he spoke. “No. No buts, Pat. You know what you need to do, so you go on and do it now.”
“I know. But it’s hard, Pop,” Patrick said. Although, the words came out raspier than he intended. “I’m still not sure that it’s a good idea. I don’t like leaving you alone.”
Owen snickered. “You’re not leaving me, Pat. We can still talk. We’ll see each other again when the time’s right. But we both know that it can’t be right now. You need to go. It’s the only way you’ll be safe.”
There it was again. That word.
What was safe, nowadays? Was anyone ever truly safe in this world? In this godforsaken city?
They had lived their whole lives in Garden City, and in that time, Patrick had lost his mother and then much later, nearly himself. And now with his father one step closer to death’s door, it was starting to feel like the past was reaching for him again. Sure, the surgery had gone well, but he knew his father wasn’t out of the woods yet.
He’d never be able to live with himself if something were to happen to Pop and he wasn’t around to help.
The city was to blame for most of his troubles. It was nothing more than a cancer to many. It was the place itself that was ultimately responsible for his recent struggles. Pop had been the one to first suggest a move out of the city, but Patrick couldn’t shake the feeling that he was making the wrong decision. Being hasty. They were both foolish to think that simply moving out of town would solve the situation and somehow make right again a wrong.
“You need a fresh start, son,” Pop continued, the gentle breeze in the air beginning to pick up. “You know I’m right. You can’t stay here. Not anymore. Not after everything that’s happened to you.”
“What if you’re wrong?” Patrick asked him, fighting back the urge to… what, exactly? Cry? Lash out in anger? Whatever this feeling was, it was something new and foreign to him, and he wasn’t sure what to make of it. His heart pounded, thundering inside his chest, and his mouth ran dry.
What could he say to him?
Patrick turned to peek back across the street at the neighbour again. A toddler had now decided to join in on the fun, appearing at the front door, brandishing a short red shovel. The boy leapt into action, teetering down the front steps in winter boots that seemed too big for him, before finally settling at the foot of the stairs. He scraped away at the front steps, looking over his shoulder at, presumably, smiling dad. Mom watched from the door, behind fogged glass, a wide smile spread across her lips.
“So, what if I am?” Pop cut in. “You can come back and try to act like nothing has happened, that nothing has changed, but we both know it’s not going to be like that, is it? You’re a changed man, Pat. What they did to you… I… Well, I…” Pop averted his eyes and a hush fell between them. With his hands on his hips, he turned his back to him, and retreated a few steps away to a spot on the sidewalk.
Was he crying?
“Pop?” Patrick crept closer to him. “Hey?”
Owen circled back and spread his hands. “Look, when all this… whatever this is settles, you can come back and take care of this old fossil, all right? But I’ve got some fire left in me yet. Until that time comes, though, I need to know that you’re out there living your life the way it’s meant to be lived. There’s so much more out there for you, Pat. I know it. You just need to go an’ find it. Find a way to be happy again. For me. And for your mother. Okay?”
Patrick threw his hands up and cracked a smile. Pop was saying enough was enough and he was right. There’d be no sense in arguing. “All right, all right.”
“I’m serious, Pat.”
He chuckled. “I know you are, Pop. I’m agreeing with you, aren’t I? And I know you’re right. Just having second thoughts, I guess.”
“It’s agreed, then? You’ll take the apartment?”
“Yes. Besides, I’ve already given notice at work and Kaitlyn has started making some calls for me. Hopefully she’ll find something soon.”
“I’m sure she will. Your sister may be a lot of things but she knows how to get the job done. She’ll find you a place.”
Patrick stuck out his hand, but his father batted it away and instead, pulled him in for an embrace. Patrick’s face pressed up against his shoulder.
“I wish I could come stay with you,” Pop said, his voice muffled. “I just wish it didn’t have to be like this. Call if you need to, but otherwise, take care of yourself.”
“You too,” Patrick mumbled into his father’s shoulder. “I’ll miss you, Pop.”
“Me too, Pat. Me too.”
Patrick slipped out of his father’s arms and got into his car parked curbside. He sat in the seat for a moment, his thumb and a finger placed on the ignition key. He stole one last look at the neighbour and his young boy horsing around in their front yard, laughing and throwing snow at one another, and he suddenly began to envy them.
They seemed happy. They were all together. A unit. A family.
They’d somehow found a way to keep it together even amidst all this chaos. What was his excuse?
Nearly a week had passed since his heart to heart with Pop on the sidewalk before he left the city for good. Before he set course for the place he’d now call home. The small historic town wasn’t far from the city but it was far enough. Far enough to forget all that had come before or, so he hoped.
Under different circumstances, Pop would be coming with him as well, just as they had when he was growing up, but this was not a trip for pleasure. Nor business. This time it was much more complicated than that.
He approached the stop light at the corner of Mary and Mississauga, and twisted his neck from side to side, shifting in his seat, unable to get comfortable. He knew it was the jitters, but thoughts of self-blame and flashes of the past cycled before him while he waited for the streetlight to change colours.
Flashes of pain and anguish. Flickers of fire. Visions of blood.
One thought stuck out more than the rest though. A memory from before those fateful last few weeks. An image of that detective from back in the city. The one named Joseph Berlin.
Patrick wasn’t to blame. It was all that detective’s fault. Him and his bright idea about taking those silly pictures.
The surveillance photos.
If only it had been that simple. If only it hadn’t gone so wrong. If only…
A car horn blared from behind him and whisked him back to the present.
“Let’s go!” a man’s voice crowed from the other car. “It’s greeeen!”
Patrick snapped out of his daze, looked up, and found the light had indeed changed to green. He gave an apologetic wave with his left hand as he cocked the wheel and turned onto Mississauga Street. He’d had every intention of stopping into the coffee shop in the plaza on his left, but now with the irate man giving him the stare down in the rear-view mirror, he was having second thoughts about that, too. Plunging ahead, he passed modest one-story homes, and below the branches of trees that stuck out over the road like an old man’s fingers, long stripped of their leafy coverings.
It was January, and the weather had taken a sudden turn in the last week. They’d seen another green Christmas last year, but now? The wind howled and the streets resembled more of an Arctic tundra. The snow twirled on the surface leaving only minuscule traces of dirt and gravel spotting the road underneath the snow. Fallen tree branches sullied the road, collecting near the gutters, exposed and out in the open, forgotten like a children’s play toy, where they were ground into a fine pulp by oncoming traffic. He struck one of these branches with his tire as he admired the large estate with the black wrought iron fence on his right. The car skidded to the right toward the curb and he readjusted the steering wheel, but not without stealing another look at the two-story mansion with white siding, black shutters, and dual chimneys. The property took up nearly an entire city block all to itself.
That’s Old Town for you. Lavish and sprawling estates. Where rich and famous actors come to seek refuge away from the lights and cameras of Hollywood. Where they come to hide and try to forget who they’ve become.
Deep down, he had missed it. There was no denying it. Before his father’s open-heart surgery—when he was healthier—they had taken many day trips into town over the years. Just the two of them, wandering the main strip on Queen Street, stopping in the shops, grabbing a bite to eat or even to catch a play at the local theater. The historic old town held a sway over him he’d found. Calling to him with its irresistible charm, and a feeling of nostalgia long forgotten by so many other surrounding communities and towns. What other place could boast they had a Christmas store that was open year-round? Or, if you were into the sort of thing, horse-drawn carriage rides that transported you to another time and place?
It was a town full of bed and breakfasts, high-end restaurants and wineries, and houses that dated back to the early 1800s.
Beyond the town, pristine countryside dotted with vineyards made for breathtaking views.
No, as he turned onto Queen Street and the main road that led into town, he knew he was right where he wanted to be.
Where he needed to be.
Right alongside the ghosts that walked the streets of Old Town for he, too, was a ghost now. He’d follow in their spectral footsteps, with a focus on rebuilding just like they had done over two hundred years earlier when fire had swept across their town and destroyed almost everything. But this time, the tables would be turned. It’d be up to him to pick up all the pieces and try to put everything back together again.
It was time to forget the past and move on.
It was time to find a way to forgive.
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