Story inspired by the following prompt: An old friend has come back to town with a vision for the future.

“It’s been years. Years since we’ve talked, old friend.”

The man in front of me raised his eyes and peered into my own. He had let his beard grow scraggly where it had once been shaved clean, the hair on his head unruly where it had once been combed, and his shirt had wrinkled where it had once been ironed, . He looked neglected. Forgotten.

“Indeed it has. You still think of me, then?” His words came slow, like someone unaccustomed to speaking. He had once been so loud. So excited, and passionate.

I paused, studying him. I had to be cautious speaking with him- he carried many old memories, memories I wasn’t sure if I wanted to unearth. Memories of the future we could have shared together.

“Sometimes,” I responded, and the words felt hollow, like a betrayal.

“But you haven’t called in?” He asked, wincing.

“No. You know how it is. Busy, focused on work. I found this the other day though. It was yours, and it made me think of you.”

I held up a sketchbook, edges worn and ragged from years of use, and flipped through it. The drawings started rudimentary, then advanced, growing in skill, confidence, and beauty with each page, reflecting the maturation of their creator. I paused on a particular piece, one half finished, and spoke.

“I’d forgotten how good some of your drawings were. You really had a talent for this. Why didn’t you pursue it? Become a designer, or a painter. It’s always been your dream.”

“You know as well as I do. It doesn’t pay. The wife, the kids.” Then he said something under his breath, a reason that bore more poison than the others, “And maybe I was foolish to try. Maybe I couldn’t make it. Maybe I wasn’t good enough. ”

“I always thought you were,” I said, and his eyes brightened. There was a spark still there. It would need kindling, but my stomach leapt as I saw it.

“You know, it isn’t too late.”He said, speaking before he could restrain himself. The words hung in the air, tantalizing, “I could still have a shot. I’ll need your help, of course.”

“Is it money you’ll be needing?”

“Some. You won’t be as well off as you are now. I’ll need your time, and your effort. And I need you to need to let me stay here. Might be tough convincing your wife to let that happen, but you know your kids love me. Think about how they smile when I visit- remember the occasional Saturday afternoon? When I’d sit with them, and draw, and then I’d play with them for hours afterward. Or the unexpected times I would stop by? They know you’re happier when I am here.”

As he spoke, the wrinkles fell from his shirt, and he seemed to grow taller. He looked hopeful. He was begging. I shook my head.

“It’s been too long. It’s too late to start now.”

“Come on, Phil. You never gave me a chance. Give it to me now. Who knows what the future holds?”

I frowned, and a tear welled up in my eye. It was unfair, unfair that life had beaten him, forced him from pursuing his passion. It had pushed him away from me, replacing him with the mundane monotone of an average life paired with a soul crippling day job as an accountant.

I wanted to help him. We had known each other since children, but too much now stood in the way.

“Feed a starving artist,” he said, pleading, “Don’t let me die, Phil.”

I heard the voice of my wife then, calling out from the kitchen two rooms over.

“Honey? Phil? It’s time for dinner.”

“Don’t forget me. I’m part of you Phil, and you’ll always wonder what would have happened if you let me free.” Whispered the man, pleading, as I turned away from the mirror, leaving my sketchpad on my dresser along with my dreams. As I departed, so did the man in the mirror- the friend who I had abandoned so long ago, the piece of me that still longed for my past aspirations.

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