What Could've Been, What Could Be

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

At every decision, choice, event, a branch occurs in the path of life. For the most part, we wander through life ignorant of them, blissfully unaware of the different turns in the road we travel... But occasionally, one stops to wonder: what if? If I hadn't trusted my fellow criminal, would I still be one of the richest men in Riverview? If I'd stayed away from my brother's girl, would he and I still be friends? If I'd never told her of her boyfriend's treachery... would she still be alive?

No, we may not focus on it in our daily lives, but for the Kanes, this question had become a daily ritual... And for Bradley, an obsession.

But sometimes, when we focus too much on what 'could've been', we lose sight of our current future, and start falling down a path we otherwise would not have chosen... It can be dangerous, living in the past, when there is still a present that requires living.

Still... What if we could change the past, create a different present?
What if we could change 'what could've been' into 'what is'?

The air felt crisp against his skin.

Bradley blinked, his eyes having trouble focusing on the things around him. Clearly, he'd just woken up from a nap; there was something crusty on the corner of his eye, and his body felt glued to his chair.

After a moment, he blinked several more times and brought the fuzzy horizon into perspective. Brad felt so incredibly groggy; where was he, again? Home, right... And where was home? Agh, who cares.

He closed his eyes again and breathed, a salty air that felt nice in his lungs, which needed a good stretch after that long nap he'd just awoken from.

The longer he sat there, the better he felt. He tried to put into focus how long he'd been asleep, but... He couldn't remember. All he could remember was that he'd had some sort of angsty dream; he certainly was in no hurry to get back to it, so he did his best not to fall back asleep.

He wouldn't have to worry about that, though. "Braaaaadd? Braad?! BRAD!!"

The voice got more urgent the closer it got. It probably wouldn't have, if Brad had actually responded, but he had a hard time doing so when he was so surprised to hear it. Wait. Who was that, again?

And, there she was.

"Brad, I asked you to take out the trash three hours ago. Where the heck have you been?!"

He blinked for another moment. Oh, right. Emerald, right. It was all becomingly clearer, slowly, but he still felt half-asleep. Man, he could use some coffee, right about now.

"Sorry, Em, I completely forgot," he muttered as he stood up from his chair, his legs aching. "I was reading this article about a robot they're developing in Simtasia and I just decided to shut my eyes for a couple minutes."

"Well, it's been a lot longer than 'a couple minutes', Bradley," she said scoldingly, although she didn't seem too angry by it.

"I'll go take care of it right away, I didn't mean to keep you waiting, Em," Brad replied, finally beginning to feel a bit more awake.

"Oh it's fine, not really a big deal," she said with a shrug. "I'd do it myself, but you know it's getting harder for me to walk up and down these stairs, right now... My back's killing me."

After a moment, he suddenly looked down at her belly, and exclaimed, "Oh! Yeah... The baby! She hasn't been giving you any trouble today, has she?"

He took a long, hard look at Emerald's quite obviously pregnant middle -- how could he have forgotten? Ugh, he always hated the grogginess of waking up.

Emerald laughed and shrugged. "She's just fine, silly. I'm actually feeling pretty good today, outside of these back pains... She better be ready to come out soon, because I'm getting tired of lugging her around all day. I think she is, though... She's been kicking quite a bit, today."

Bradley paused, before reaching down to place a hand against their unborn child, his other reaching over to hold Emerald's fingers within his.

"Feel anything?" she asked, the smile on her face seeming to make her glow in the outdoor light.

"Don't think so, I think she must be having a nap right now, too," he responded with a chuckle. "That's alright, there's still plenty of time for her to kick me when she grows up, right?"

"Of course." Emerald smiled, but placed her hand against his hip as she ordered, "But in the meantime, I need you to finish waking up and take care of what I asked you to. You're supposed to take James to the library for reading time later, too, remember?"

Remember... James? Wait, who's James?

Oh, right, James.

As Bradley picked him up from the crib, he slowly began to remember. He had her hair, her nose, her smile... But his eyes. How could he have forgotten? That dream must've really addled his brain.

But, something tugged at the edge of his mind... He had to get back to Emerald. Setting James down on the floor, he walked back towards her...


"It's okay, Brad, if you don't want to go out tonight... You had a long day at work," she said, reaching for his arms. They felt heavy, at his side, like he couldn't control them; that was odd. Maybe they were still waking up from sleep, too...

She gently held her hand against his. "So?"

"Well... I'm not really feeling myself, I'm kinda tired -- must be really worn out, today. You wouldn't mind taking him, would you?"

"Of course not, sweetie."

Emerald held his hand a little tighter, and though he felt it, he couldn't help but feel that something, somewhere else, was nagging at him... It didn't make sense.

"... Em?" He began, his eyes settling on the flowers sitting on their dresser. "Em, what're those roses doing sitting there?"

"What do you mean, Brad?" she stuttered. "You don't remember?"

"I... I remember, but-- It doesn't make any sense..."

"They're from our wedding, remember? My bouquet?"

But that didn't seem right to him. Suddenly, everything felt like it was unravelling -- he quickly grabbed her, and held her tight to him.

"Em, why don't you just stay in tonight? Let's just stay here... Forget about the library, forget about taking out the trash... I don't want you to leave..."

But as his words trailed off from his mouth, Emerald gentled pulled away, placing her hand against his cheek.

"Brad, you know I can't. You know this isn't real."

Suddenly, Emerald was gone. Bradley could feel the cold morning air whistling between the cracks on the bench, could feel the dew that was settling on the hair that rested against his hands.

He gently lifted himself up from the bench, but as he did so, he swore he saw something, something far in the distance...

... floating out away from the graveyard, towards the edge of town as the sun rose against it's shape.

"Emerald.... Wait.... WAIT!"

But as hard as he ran, he could not reach her -- by the time he reached the edge of the hill leading steeply towards the beginning of the shops below, whatever ghostly form he saw was already long gone.

"You have to trust me... It's your only option."

The rest of the gang looked to Marta, but Marta looked to Jebidiah, the man in whom their faith may now be resting entirely.

"At least hear me out," he asked, his finger still tapping against his temple. "Once you hear more of what I know... You may be a bit more partial."

The next few wee morning hours were spent in hot debate -- the flames mainly coming from Sinbad, with whom this whole "plan" just wasn't sitting right.

"We're talking about undercutting our own fellow criminals. And not even fellow criminals -- the best criminals this town has seen in years. Even the cops don't feel like messing with the Lemans... There's no point. They've got their connections housed deep in the political office, with that Mayweather kid -- they've basically got Twinbrook in the palms of their hands, at this point."

"Yeah, and Carolina's got half the police department 'tween her thighs. She don't have much of a heart, I hear, though that Thomas's so head over heels for her he don't give two simolie's whether she sleeps with his best friend er not." Shark shook his head, looking worried. "I don't even trust m'da' anymore, he's been befuddled just like all the other sucker crooks in this town into working for them. They've got a plumbbobbin' monopoly on this town."

"And that's why it's so brilliant," Marta said with a sly smile. "Whoever can show the Leman's who's boss of this town takes over the entire industry in one motion. It's not foolproof, but... It's daring. I like it."

"Well, I'll give you all time to think it over," Jeb said, all eyes still resting on him. "It won't be happening for another couple weeks, and I still have a fair amount of investigating to do to get all the specifics... But you've heard the plan, you know the basics. You're either in, or you're out... There's no second guessing this."

Sinbad grumbled as he crossed his arms over his chest and rolled his eyes. "You seem pretty over-confident that the four of us will actually be able to pull this off."

"Just because they've got numbers doesn't mean they have skill," Jeb said with ease. "I've seen stronger monopolies crumble with one weak link, before... Strength in numbers in crime doesn't mean what some people think it does."

Sinbad grunted, before mumbling a quick 'whatever', and stalking out of the junkyard building without looking back.

As the door slammed behind him, Marta approached Jeb with concern. "Look, he'll come around... He always does. Sinbad's been loyal to me ever since I came into this town, he just has trouble trusting outsiders."

"Well, that's going to be a big problem if we actually want this to work."

"I know, I know," Marta said, clutching her head in frustration. "He just has a hot head, is all. Can you blame him? We've all been down this road for a long time, being beaten in the dirt by people like the Lemans... You can't expect him to believe that you've actually found the golden ticket, this time."

Jeb shrugged, raising his hands in angry defeat. "Well, I don't know what you expect me to do, Marta. I can't win him over, when he's like that. And if you can't, then we're one man short, and we can't pull this off. You may be putting your faith in me to plan this, but I have to put all my faith in you to actually be able to pull it off... Do you really want me to be happy about how this is shaping up?"

"I'm sorry, I'll just--"

"Look," Jeb said, cutting her off. "I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but I'm putting my ass on the line here more than yours. I'm chancing a lot more than just a couple months in prison, I'm chancing my entire record catching up with me if I get caught. And I'm chancing someone like Sinbad not going turncoat and telling the police department who I really am."

"I know he's a pain, but you have to know that Sinbad would never do anything like that, Jeb," Marta said with urgency. "If you can trust me, than you can trust him. He'll come around.... You'll see."

Later that day, as Jebidiah tried to puzzle through whether this was worth it or not, he was surprised to hear not only the doorbell ring, but to see who it was standing outside.

Jeb grumbled as he backed away from the window, hoping that his visitor hadn't seen his prying eyes peeking through the glass. "This woman is bloody persistent," he groaned as he stalked out of Meredith's workroom and around to the front door, to let this 'woman' in.

He opened the door slowly, wary of any flying projectiles Marta may have poised to attack. Although it was Sinbad and Jeb that were having a disagreement, Jeb wasn't going to put it past Marta to pull the "angry woman" card to try to get them to resolve their differences.

Luckily for Jeb -- or rather, Jeb's face -- she was pulling the pouty woman card, instead. Probably more annoying, but at least he didn't have to explain any bruises to Meredith later.

"Isn't there any way we can compromise? Do the job, but wait for the Leman's to leave first? We're chancing an element of surprise here, that Sinbad may be right to find a little sketchy..."

Jeb shook his head. "You don't understand, Marta. I obviously didn't make it very clear, to all of you... This job isn't about the money."

"Well I know it's not about the money, Mr. Kane, but Sinbad couldn't care less about your little 'scheme' to sort out the balance of power in Twinbrook. He just wants his cut. And at this point, we may lose him if we don't compromise on something..."

"... And I don't know what. I've tried to think of anything to convince him," Marta continued. "But he won't budge. He says it's either his way, or no way."

"Well, if money is that important to him, then," Jebidiah said with a smirk and an offering hand. "Tell him he can have my share. No strings attached. Just don't tell Shark, so we don't end up having to split it in half."

Marta hung her head for a moment, but nodded. "That might work. I'm not sure, but... I'll give it a try."

"If all else fails," Jeb said with a laugh. "You've always got your hips to back you up."

She laughed, shaking her head. "Well, I ain't no Carolina, but... I'll see what I can do."

As the front door closed behind her, Meredith paused in surprise to see that she was not the only person in her house. She thought she might've recognized her, but the name and place were failing her -- so, when the woman failed to notice that she was standing there, Mere opened with a rather squeaky, "Hello?"

But, the woman seemed pretty absorbed in thought, and didn't respond at Meredith's first greeting. "Uh, miss? Can I help you?"

As if being jolted with a shot of electricity, Marta shot up from the chair, and immediately began to apologize. "Oh, I'm so sorry Mrs. Kane, I didn't realize you were-- I was just on my way out, your husband just said I could finish off my drink before I got on the road..."

"It's nothing to worry about," Mere said with a laugh. "I just... Well, I'm sorry, but I can't quite remember your name."

"Oh, it's Marta. Marta Tomasi," she said quickly. "Your husband is helping me with -- er -- a case... Really complicated and a bit private, so I hope you don't mind that I'd rather not talk about it."

However, though the two women did not talk much about Marta's "case", they soon got swept up into conversations after conversation, and were soon falling over themselves laughing; between Meredith's humor and Marta's rather 'interesting' livelihood, they had plenty to joke about... Mere had to admit to herself, later, that she was rather surprised she was getting along so well with someone so much younger than her.

"Well, Mrs. Kane, I'd better be off," Marta finally said after wiping a loose tear from her eye. "I've got a lot of -- things -- I need to take care of today. Let your husband know that I'll be in contact with him as soon as I have the information he needs, if you would..."

"No problem, Marta," Meredith said with a nod. "And it was nice meeting you."

The two shared a parting exchange of ridiculous faces...

... before Marta finally was out the door, leaving Meredith feeling a little bewildered -- but pleased -- at the chance encounter with such a strange, but entertaining, woman.

"And that's when I thought of it, Em."

As Bradley stood before his almost-lover's grave, he had a hard time containing his excitement. It was the first time, since her death, that he could actually feel his heart beating fast, and that he had a hard time containing a smile on his face.

"I know you might think it sounds risky, but I'm willing to try. This is the first time I've felt really confident that I'd be able to pull this off, you know? I know I can do it! If anyone can, it's me."

"Now, I know you might not approve," he continued. "But you always told me that you wanted me to be more brave... And I think, I think I can handle this. I'm prepared to take the risk, for you..."

"... so please, when all is said and done, I hope that you can forgive me. It's for the best, Em... And there's no other way. I've tried everything else... And if no one is going to help me, than I'm going to help myself. I'm gonna fix this, Em. I'm gonna make it right."

"You have to admit, too, it's a pretty brilliant idea... If I can pull it off, I might just be able to make millions once I prove it can work. Then, even my Grandmother will have a hard time not admitting I'm a genius. Ha, even Travis might actually stop being such a fool!"

"But Em..." He said, with his expression stern once again. "I'm not doing this for the money, the fame, or even to make my brother forgive me... I'm doing this for you. Even if you don't like it, even if you don't think it's a good idea... This is my decision.'

"It's my only option left."

Yes -- for some of us, 'what is' is no longer good enough. We obsess about our mistakes, and even moreso over their consequences, desperately striving for anything to make us erase it so we can move on...

... while some of us look to the future, curious about what the choices of the present may lead to in the future, leading to 'what could be'...

... but in the end, it is the obsession with 'what could've been that may finally drive us to desperate ends, focusing on a bitter-sweet fantasy...

... the only comfort, the possibility of making it a reality.


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