The following story is written as a companion piece for the very first Story a Week story, "Time and Regret." It is recommended that you read "Time and Regret" first, but "Time and Hope" stands on its own.
Hard times befall even the very best of humanity, and such was the case was for Hope's family. She was born into a destitute family where successes were few and far in between. Despite the coming and going of victories, tragedy always followed. Such was the case for the birth of Hope, for as she was born, her mother passed on. It would be so easy to accept despair in these times. Hope's father had nothing left but a mortgage, unemployment, and a child to raise on his own. Any more wavering man would surrender, but her father was truly indomitable. On a simple piece of paper, he wrote to his daughter on the day she was born:
“Hope, you're everything to me now. Your mother would have loved you very much and I'm sure if she can see you, she still does. We had decided early on to name you Catherine, but when she passed away, I decided your middle name was better. Your name is Hope because that's all I can have now. I don't want you or me to ever forget that. Times are tough, but there will always be hope. You're my Hope and I promise you right now that I'm going to fulfill everything you could hope for. I love you and you're going to have it better than your mother and I ever did. I promise.”
He fulfilled his promises. Working tirelessly at two jobs and caring for a young daughter, Hope's father overcame the insurmountable woes of depression and poverty. He never remarried because his focus was solely on his one true love: his daughter. Her dark hair and cerulean eyes reminded him so much of his befallen wife. That was all he really needed to move them out of their one-room apartment and into a three-bedroom house. All was against them, but the tables turned with the greatest outlook: hope.
With her experiences and a great father, she became her namesake. Hope was an indefatigable optimist and saw the best in everyone. She could never look back and believe in failure; she could only look ahead to the rising of the sun in the next day. Hope could empower others with her unwaveringly rosy reverie. She had the gift of encouragement because she could see the beauty in life that all others were blind to. Hope inspired and attracted many, but she waited until she found truest and purest love.
And she would find such love in Nick. What she saw in a Nick was her complete opposite. He was pessimistic and often cynical, but there was something about him that made him never look back. Nick proved as idealistic as Hope, except he saw the problems to be fixed rather than the strengths to be built upon. Their pairing was a beautiful one and they found their individual faults and qualities complemented the other with perfection. There was something strange about Nick, but Hope could never place it.
As autumn dawned, as they strolled through the most gorgeous of parks, and as their hands embraced, Nick took a knee. Hope knew what he would say. These four words are some of the most important a girl will ever hear. They are as follows, “Will you marry me?” But those aren't the words Nick told her there. In truest and purest love, he took the ring from his pocket and opened the case before her.
And before he could say anything, before she even saw the ring, she exclaimed with all impulse, love, sincerity, and hope, “Yes!” So they kissed.
They found themselves at the altar. Instead of listening to the old priest read the marriage vows, they lost themselves in each other's eyes. Both knew what they were going to say. And when they said those two words, when their matrimony was complete, the universe was suddenly made whole. Hope could not have been happier.
Hope's father felt his purpose fulfilled. He had given Hope all the love he could give and it was time for her to move on; time for her to share that love. His tears fell as she embraced him after the wedding. These weren't tears of pain, or tears of sorrow, these were tears of true joy. When a man puts his entire life into a singular goal, and that goal is fulfilled, then he is completed. Hope's father was completed.
They spent the next four years living together in harmony. Of course, there were the occasional mishaps and fights here and there; these are human things to do. And their true love would not be complete without fault. To live with perfection is to live devoid of humanity, devoid of purpose. To truly love is to love despite all fault. Love lives on despite all blunder and imperfection, but accounts for all quality and novelty. Love is a passing feeling, but a lasting choice.
While love has no limits, humanity does. Love cannot be broken, but the humanity behind it can be. It was after those four years that Nick screwed up. Hope had no choice but to leave him. This is not a choice she can be faulted with and she made it. Despair and depression overcame Nick to the point that she could only see him as crazy.
Hope moved away. After a month had passed, Nick came to her doorstep and begged her to come back to him. She listened to every one of his desperate pleas and she felt for him; she truly did. In her heart, she still loved him truly and deeply. But Nick had become a madman. Just as she was to take him back, he babbled on about a power to go in back time. He explained that regret gave him the fuel to do this and that she took it away because she gave him hope. Somehow it made sense. Somehow, what Nick said appeared as truth should appear. Nevertheless, the power to wind back time is incredulous. She couldn't believe him. And who would?
Nick told the truth. All of his life up until he asked her out, he been rewinding time and fixing his mistakes. He told no one; this power is impossible to demonstrate and even more so to believe. But he professed the truth to her. If he had not told her about his power, if she did not hear the truth, then she would have taken him back. Hope could only watch as Nick tore his life to shreds. He put himself in support groups and took medications of all kinds, but there was no helping him. Her lover faced despair. And it was all because of her.
Nick was suicidal; she knew this. And if he did it, if he committed the unforgivable sin, how could she live with herself? It might as well have been Hope who had killed him. But everyone around her told Hope to stay away.
She could not listen. She went to his home, completely unaware of her intentions. Maybe she would just check on him, maybe she could just see his face, maybe she could cure him. Hope always believed in the best in people. Nick was a great man, but he was a broken one. Broken men can be lovers, but there is a line too far. Sometimes people break into insanity. And that was how everyone saw Nick. But Hope still loved him.
Hope sat in her car and turned off the engine. His home was before her. She could go inside, she could fix this, maybe they could be together one last time. But no. No. He's insane. The man inside is broken beyond repair. Hope had to see him. She threw open her car door and resigned herself to just looking into his window. She hoped to see him and know how he was. She had to see the insanity, the cracking, the breaking for herself.
Hope surprised herself by what she saw. Nick sat in there on his couch with a weary smile, but a hopeful one. There was just something about that smile that told her all she needed to hear. Hope believed then that everything would be alright, that they could move on. Life could change. Perhaps Nick would mend and he could live without her, just as she was doing. Hope had learned to live a better life. Or she thought.
The next day brought tragedy. Hope's father passed away. He had been fighting heart disease for a very long time and finally, it overtook him. Hope couldn't be there for him, she couldn't hold his hand as he died. He was at work, sitting in his office, when the attack came. He fought and fought, but lost the battle. His doctors would later tell Hope that his dying words for her. As Hope's father fought for his last moments, he cried out her name. His battle was hopeless and he died with his daughter, his one true love, in agony over her lost husband. But her father lost his grip on life. He fell into the abyss of death.
As Hope drove to the funeral home, she answered a phone call from a disgruntled Nick, “I'm sorry. I can't do this anymore. I love you.” And at that he hung up. Those were his lasts words.
When she arrived at the funeral, there were so many people. They all smiled, but all sorrowed over this lost man. Hope's father was a great man. A man giving a eulogy made note of his triumph over poverty and despair. He told them all about how he brought hope to everyone he met. There was something about this man; something about his very being that drove people, that inspired people. That both literally and figuratively, the man lying in that casket had brought Hope into the world. She kissed his aged forehead before they closed the casket. They came to the disturbed dirt at the hallowed ground and echoed their goodbyes from before.
In her shaking fingers dangled a folded page.
“What's that?” the man to her left asked.
“Oh, this? Nothing,” Hope answered politely. The man lost interest and that was her chance. Just as the casket hit newly-broken earth, Hope threw the paper into the dirt. This was just something that she had to do. It was that one last deed for her faltered father. It was a useless gesture. Dead men need no gestures; the living around them must give gestures to the dead because men need conclusion. They must do the last deeds so that all ends are met. All there knew that the only end left was Hope. She was alone. Her husband was a psycho and her dad was dead. The people there offered Hope comfort and encouragement, but these words are hollow. Hope doesn't need any of that. She needed her love back.
But duty came first. She drove to her father's house to go through his belongings. In this she found so many cherished memories; even some she had long stored in her heart, but lost in her mind. There was everything, from her impoverished yet jovial childhood to her father's eventual success. Even her wedding with Nick was well-documented in all of it. She put the things to keep in boxes and the rest she left as it were. These things were to be sold; gone forever. Like her father.
There was a trunk in her father's bedroom which Hope had never opened because her father had forbid it. All of her life she wondered what could be inside. Hope almost left it shut and would move the trunk to storage, but she had to know. What would her father keep from her? The mystery's answer was not quite as stellar as her childlike imagination had led her to believe. Inside were scraps, memories, and pieces... of Hope's mother. There were pictures, random trinkets, letters, poems, and more; all things only valued by those who cherished them.
But there was also a box; a black box. Hope snapped it open and inside she found a revolver. It was small, silver, and loaded. Somehow as she held it in her hands, she felt cold. And afraid. In her mind, she heard whispers. They were in a strange voice, but audible nonetheless. They said, “Take me.”
Without resistance, she slid the pistol into her purse.
That evening, when darkness of night stood fullest, her phone rang. Somehow, Hope knew she was about to hear some horrible, horrible news. And, of course, she was right. The call came from the police department, who called simply to inform her that Nick had put a bullet through his brain and was dead. No. She saw him. He had been fine the other day. No, no, no. This could not be. But it was. And hope knew that this was all her doing.
If she hadn't left him, he might still live.
If she had believed him about his power, he might still live.
If she walked through his door to be with again, he might still live.
If she had never met him, he might still live.
Despair took hold of her being. Hope lost all of her namesake. She heard the revolver's calling once more, “Use me.”
But Hope resisted. She could go on; she would have to. At the end of every night, there is day, is there not? There is an end to every madness, is there not? Every road, no matter how long, how dark, had to turn at some place. Hope would wait for this sunrise; she would find the turn in the road. Her father had done the same, so she must have it in her.
Doubt is a slow, silent predator. For days, doubt crept through her mind, feeding her despair. She looked in all places to find her her namesake, but doubt and despair choked her being. There was no one and nowhere she could turn to. Because of doubt, she had walked so far down the path of darkness that she could see nothing. She could see nothing except for one small light in the distance. She knew what it was.
This road was death.
Hope crept towards death. She went to her end slowly, only toying with the idea as she held the gun in her fingers. Of course, she told herself in her mind that this was something she could never do. Her thumb pressed against the hammer. Only crazy people like Nick actually do it. Click, whispered the hammer. Ha ha, this is all a just a joke or merely a dream. The cold steel pressed against her temple.
Far off down in her father's grave rest the paper Hope had buried with him. On it was written, “Hope, you're everything to me now. Your mother would have loved you very much and I'm sure if she can see you, she still does. We had decided early on to name you Catherine, but when she passed away, I decided your middle name was better. Your name is Hope because that's all I can have now. I don't want you or me to ever forget that. Times are tough, but there will always be hope. You're my Hope and I promise you right now that I'm going to fulfill everything you could hope for. I love you and you're going to have it better than your mother and I ever did. I promise.”
Why did it have to come to this? How had it come to this? What went wrong?
No. She could never again bear to think through it ever again. The trigger pulled, the hammer fell, the powder lit, the bullet spun through the rifling and into her skull. Her limp, lifeless body fell to the floor.