As Jonathan Dylan paced the front sidewalk in front of Crestman University, he stared at his phone and hoped for a response to the text he had sent minutes earlier.

“Come on, where are you?” He raked his hand through his hair and knew that before too long, the place would be filled with students headed to their afternoon class. “Dammit, Alice!”

He was starting to regret ever getting mixed up with the girl and had surely never expected the turn his life had taken since they got together. He was miserable and didn’t think it would get any better as long as he was mixed up with her. He needed to get out, but he felt he owed her one last chance to change his mind. She was, after all, the only girl he had ever loved.

Finally, the phone rang in his hand, and he answered after seeing her name on the screen. “There you are. I’ve been waiting to hear from you. Did you get the message I sent you?”

“Yes, Mr. Impatient. I got your message. That’s why I’m calling. Now calm down and tell me what’s wrong. I thought we had everything settled.”

“I feel like everything is falling apart! And nothing has gone as planned lately.”

“Whoa, slow down. Do you mean what we talked about? We have a whole future ahead of us, Jonathan. Don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts now. It’s a bit too late for that, don’t you think?”

“I know. And I know that this is what you want, but I just can’t. I’m done, Alice.”

“Done? Excuse me? You can’t just quit on me. We’re stronger than that. Your strength is what attracted me to you in the first place.”

“I didn’t sign up for this, Alice. I thought it would be different.” He had thought that once they got serious, things would be better for them and for their world, but nothing had changed. It had only gotten worse. “If you want me to be honest, I will.”

“Of course, I want that. I thought that we agreed our relationship would be built on trust.”

“We did. But I just can’t help but think that you’re hiding something from me, and it’s driving me crazy.”

“Ah, so you don’t trust me?” The hurt in her voice cut him deep.

He let those words rattle around in his head a bit before responding. Did he trust her? He wanted to. There was no doubt about it. But the past few weeks had shown him a different side of her, a different side of himself, and that was something he couldn’t ignore. No one made him feel like she did, and no one had ever given themselves to him the way she had. But it wasn’t enough. Nothing was ever going to be enough.

He felt like he was about to lose everything anyway, including her. He better get out while he could. “I just don’t think it’s going to work. Not like we dreamed anyway.”

“Nonsense. It’s all in your head. I wanted you and loved you because I thought you were stronger than most men. And that you wanted the same things as me. We can’t end it now. You believe in our future, don’t you?”

Their future included things that he could only dream of. Together they were going to be wealthy and powerful, at least according to Alice. But at what cost? He was starting to doubt everything she had ever said to him. “Our future is all I think about. It’s all I want. But I need to see you again to know it’s real.” It had been weeks, and he was starting to need her reassurance in person.

“I told you. I can’t get away right now, babe. Besides, you said you could handle things without me for a while. You sound like a child who needs his mommy. You’re not yourself right now.” She was growing impatient, and her tone always changed to one that gave him chills when that happened.

“Don’t talk down to me. I just feel like everything is imploding. I don’t know why you can’t understand that. I just don’t want everything to spin out of control.” She wasn’t there to keep him grounded.

“We’ve been careful. I told you how things would be so you knew what to expect.”

“Yeah. But people are going to start to wonder about us, don’t you think?”

“I told you that you’re overthinking this. Why complicate things?” Now the anger was undeniable.

He had trusted her always but was starting to second-guess everything she had said to him. “I just feel like we’re fucked. I mean, how long can we do this?”

“Trust me. You don’t have to worry, Jonathan. Just trust me for once. We’ll be fine.”

He wanted to believe her, but he was starting to think that she was only using him. She talked of big plans, but now it all just sounded like she was stringing him along for her own needs. Nothing he wanted mattered anymore—if it ever did. And it was time to put his foot down. “I need to see you tonight. I can come wherever you are, so you don’t have to come here. Just tell me where to go.”

“You can’t come here. I’ve already told you that. Besides, I am with my parents tonight.”

He didn’t believe that at all but was going to push the topic to see how she acted. “That’s fine. I want to meet them anyway. Now’s a great time, right?”

“It’s too soon for that. And, anyway, judging by the way you sound, I don’t think you’re up for it.”

“It’s been months. I need to know this is real, Alice. We’ve only met once in person, and you said four months ago that I’d meet them soon anyway. If you want this to work and for us to be together, I need us to actually be together, Alice.”

“I just think it’s a bad time, Jonathan. I’m not ready, and you know I don’t like to be rushed into anything.”

He could tell by her tone that she was growing impatient with him. “Okay, tomorrow then?” There had to be something that worked for her. But she had always given him some excuse. And he was sick of hearing them.

“No. I can’t get out tomorrow,” she said. “Look. Just calm down and give it a few days. I’m going to make it right. You’ll see. Just give me time.”

To him, it was just more of the same runaround with her. Maybe everyone had been right. She was nothing more than a catfish, and he was her fool she could play with and use for her whims but never his own. “Yeah, I’m sure you will. You know, this isn’t me, Alice. It’s not the way I do things. I need more security and reassurance that I’m not about to make a big mistake that can ruin my life.”

“Of course, you’re not. I promise you. It’s all going to be worth it in the end. I’m worth the wait, aren’t I? I’m worth all of this?”

“Yeah, you’re worth it,” he lied. He shook his head, knowing he didn’t believe those words anymore.

“I’ll call you later when I have time. But you can message me online if you want to. Always, Jonathan.”

“Always,” he said, knowing it would be the last time he ever said it.

As she ended the call, he knew that telling him to message her online was her way of telling him not to call her on the phone again. Everything they had arranged had been online, and it wasn’t exactly the type of situation he wanted with the girl of his dreams. The one night they had spent together had been insane. And it sealed the bond they had together. That one night had made it seem real. But now he wasn’t so sure.

Meeting someone you were crazy about online made things tough, especially when they were miles apart.

As he headed into the building, a voice called out to him.

“What’s up, Jonathan?” He turned and spotted his estranged friend, Chris, who was his roommate before he decided to leave the dorm life and move home the year before.

“What’s up?” he responded. “How are things going?”

“They’re okay, man. Hey, did you hear about that chick who died the other day? That was fucked up, man. It’s like there’s something in the water around here. That’s the third one, dude. They always say it happens in threes. Maybe that means we’re safe.”

“Yeah,” he said, feeling a hollow feeling in his chest. The sadness had been overwhelming him since he had heard about it. “I knew her from class,” he admitted. “It’s crazy. It really makes you reevaluate things, you know?”

“Yeah, man.” Chris looked over his shoulder. “Well, I have to get to class, but I’ll see you around. Hey, take care, man.”

“Yeah, I’ll see you around.” He gave Chris a wave and walked in the opposite direction, feeling like shit. He hadn’t spoken with the guy in months and only waved a few times across the yard.

He wasn’t worth more than a few minutes to anyone these days, not even his own family. He had, for some time, felt like a temporary person in everyone’s life. Alice was all he had, and now that was growing shaky with the way she played with his emotions and the things she asked of him.

He didn’t even feel human anymore.

Something had to change, and if there was no hope, so be it. There was only one way to find out if there was something better.

He walked around the corner and took a pill from his pocket. If he was going to change his world, changing himself was a good place to start. What if it was all he had heard? What if Alice was right, and they could have more? There was only one way to find out.

He popped the pill into his mouth and decided to let the cards fall where they may. Maybe he would be one of the lucky ones. And if not, what did he really have to lose?

Jonathan took to the stairs, and by the time he got to the top, he could feel the drug taking effect. He started to sweat on the third-floor landing, and by the time he walked down to the music hall, he was overwhelmed with doubt.

What had he done?

The overwhelming sadness began to weigh on him as he sat down at the piano in the conservatory. He touched the keys and closed his eyes to play.

He let his fingers glide across them, making sounds that drowned out all of the worries that were taunting him. It was too late now. It was time to give in to the will of the pill and hope for the best.

He listened to the music he played. It was the only thing that had made things better for him when he was down.

Music had been his first love ever since he could remember. His relationship with it had never changed and had only grown better. There was no ugliness or manipulation from the instrument. It spoke to him in its own sweet language and never expected more from him than he was willing to give.

With music, he knew who he was. Who he wanted to be. Who he had been before.

But when the song was over, there was no joy left, and the overwhelming sadness was unbearable. It was painful, eating away at his soul until he knew there’d be nothing left.

He began to play again, wanting the pain to stop. But he couldn’t play forever. As much as he wanted to, that was simply not possible. There was no fooling himself otherwise.

And he was left with a million thoughts in his head. Questions about life, about himself. But instead of being muddled as they came so fast, he understood each one.

The song would always end, and with it would come the void of his existence. There was no right path in sight. His life would always be this way. He began to cry uncontrollably and lay across the keys, washing them with his tears.

When he opened them again, the sun was shining through the window, and a large beam landed on the keys before him. He got up and walked over to stand in the warmth and wished that life would always be that peaceful.

And then he thought about who he was and what he had become. And all of the shame and sadness crashed back with such force that there was only one way to make it stop. There was only one way to make it right. He turned to the piano, but only to say goodbye.

He opened the tall window and stepped up to feel the wind on his face.

It kept blowing as he fell. It was only when he hit the ground that he realized, once again, he had let himself down.

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