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A man stares at his desk. It's a nice desk, mahogany and huge and really probably an unnecessary purchase, but the unmistakable sign of someone that is Doing Well. He stares at the things surrounding the desk in his office — the bookcases, the high school trophies, the row of medals, the plaques and commendations and awards. He stares a bit at the knickknacks and curios and things that he's collected in his forty-six years, three months, and seven days, and sighs a bit.

And then he looks at his computer — at his email inbox, updating in real time — 'because I want to be on top of things', he explained to someone that asked — at his to-do list, currently hovering at fifteen items, three of them due before EOD, at three or four unfinished reports that he's been churning out.

And then he stops looking at anything at all. Eventually, he also stops clutching the papers in his hands. He sets them down, smooths out the wrinkles, and looks down at the unremarkable, nondescript manila envelope, and takes the papers inside out.

He spreads them out, one at a time, page after page telling him both things that he already knows and things that he doesn't want to know but suspected. He keeps on reading until he's read every word on every page, until his home office desk is layered with these letters that will stay there for the next four weeks.

The man doesn't speak - there's no one to speak to, not here, and so he simply bows his head, closes his eyes, and lets the teardrops fall silently.

After a time, he shakes his head, and, without moving the papers, starts answering his email and working on the projects that are due.

-

A woman stares at her phone. A missed call, from a number that she knows but hasn't seen in so long. She alternates between incredulity and anger, with two questions that war in her head. How dare he?! Why would he?!

After all these years, after missed calls and missed letters and clearly, clearly a complete lack of effort, this, here, now.

And then a thought strikes her:

Is something wrong?

She picks up the phone, hesitantly, and calls the number back, and starts a conversation with a man that she hasn't seen in ten years, hasn't talked to in five.

"Why?" she asks, and he struggles to come with an answer.

"I thought...I thought it was time?" he said. "I wanted to... to know how you were doing," he finishes, lamely.

She wants to scream in frustration, but she doesn't. On some level, she marvels at the irony, because he was the one to teach her that, to approach things rationally.

"I don't think that's good enough," she says. "You've been out of my life for half a decade, dad, and you can't just walk back in. I'm married. I have a kid on the way. I'm a director in my company."

"And I'm sorry," he says, slowly, something that she never thought she'd hear from him, and it opens up enough of a door that they start to have a conversation. It's not everything: she's still angry at him, for years of neglect and lack of care, but she's not so angry that they can't talk, and so there's a measure of reconciliation, a dose of peace. She talks about her life, at length, and he offers comments here and there.

"You've never been this patient," she says to him, eventually, and he responds lightheartedly: "Better late than never, right?"

Eventually, she asks him, flat out, "Is everything okay?" And then she tries to soften it, "—not that it shouldn't be, but your call was kind of out of the blue, you know, and I was just wondering."

"No," he says, "Everything is just fine; I just wanted to try and patch this up before something does happen, you know?"

She agrees and the moment passes, and he, quietly, breathes a sigh of relief.

They know that they're never going to be the people they could've been; they'll never have the conversation that some parents and children have, but they've mended at least enough of a bridge to talk to each other again, a few times a year.

That night, though, she turns his words over and over again, and in her heart of hearts wonders.

He was always good at telling people what they wanted to hear.

-

After a week, he asks his boss if he can work from home for a bit: just a temporary measure, he says, inventing some excuse about watching his sister's children for a bit. His boss easily agrees, the approval coming over instantly: If anything, you should take a vacation, John, but your work has always been top notch. Let us know if you need anything.

-

A grocery store owner stares at John as he walks in — he's a regular at this corner grocery, someone who's been coming around for years now. In fact, he had been shopping there before the current owner inherited the store from her mother, and both of them consider him more a friend than a customer.

But she's worried: he looks a bit off today.

"How's it going, Mister Wilson?" she asks.

"How many times, Rosa, do I have to ask you to call me John?" he responds, smiling. "I'm good. In fact, I was looking for something new today, actually — do you have any suggestions?"

The request is a bit unusual - sometimes he'll deviate from his usual preferences and try something new — one time, he bought three pounds of carrots, and she made a joke about him turning orange — but he usually doesn't ask.

"Well, that's not very specific, sir - are you looking for a new dish, or a new sauce, or a new something else entirely?"

He thoughtfully arcs an eyebrow.

"Have you seen Ratatouille?" he asks.

"As in, Remy, the rat that can cook?"

"Yup. There's a part in there where the food critic is waiting to test the quality of the food, and he says something really arrogant about-"

"—Wanting some perspective, right?" she finishes.

"Got it in one," he responds. "I was wondering if you had anything that might fit the bill."

"We-ell," she says thoughtfully, breaking it into two syllables as she ponders, "Speaking of ratatouille, have you ever had it?"

"The peasant dish?" he asks, imitating the line from the movie for a moment. "Is it going to bring me back to my childhood? Because that's a rather high bar."

She laughs, and shakes his head. "No, but my mom found a good recipe from a French friend of hers. I haven't tried it yet, but she swears by it."

"If it's good enough for your mom, it's good enough for me," he says, watching her scrawl the recipe down, and grab the ingredients for him. "Send your mom my regards, okay?"

"Alright, Mister Wilson. She asked about you the last time I saw her, so it'll be good to know that you're well." She's not quite fishing, she thinks, though he sees right through it.

Instead of answering, though, he simply hugs her — she accepts it, hugging him back, though it's another sign that something is off to her.

"Is... everything okay?" she finally asks.

"Just getting a bit of perspective," he replies, smiling, and then waves and heads into the night.
-

A doctor stares at the test results, frowning.

"How bad is it, Doctor?" he asks, and the doctor purses his lips.

"Six months," he starts, and is interrupted, something he's used to by now.

"No longer?"

"Maybe eight, if you're lucky," he says. "Your platelets are low, and getting lower, and the treatment that was supposed to stall it—" he starts, and the rest is lost on John, who's stopped listening.

Eventually, though, he realizes that the doctor is looking at him.

"No longer?" he asks again, and the doctor just shakes his head.

John goes home, and stares at his email, at his to-do list, at his five-year plan.
-

With every day, he walks a bit slower, talks a bit less, and finds it a bit harder to get out of bed. Eventually, it gets bad enough that he cancels his meetings, now, writing letters of apology, rescheduling them for later.

"Just a brief medical thing," he writes, and they wish him well.

He still works, every day, on things that he knows he won't see the launch of. But what else is there to do? Even when he can't get out of bed, he still works, writing emails, proposing solutions, troubleshooting problems.

Eventually, he calls his daughter, again.
-

"Why do you keep working?" she asks him, and she knows that she isn't just asking about the here and now.

"Because everything in my life has been about achieving a goal," he says. "I had a five-year plan when I was ten. I knew what college I wanted to go to, what I wanted to study, where I wanted to work, I knew what my life should look like, and I just never stopped pursuing it."

"And as a result..." she says, waiting for him to finish.

"And as a result neglected you more than I should have. As a result, didn't go to your soccer games, didn't pay attention to where you were going in college, and didn't talk to you for five years, and I'm so, so sorry for that," he says, and she knows that he means it, and simply hugs him close.

"What about mom?" she asks him, later in the day.

"She— she was the only thing I didn't plan for. It just...happened, really. It was a whirlwind romance, and she was the love of my life."

"Not part of the plan, though," she says, and he knows where she's going.

"No, but she fit in. I can't just not do anything, you know? I need to strive for something, or what's the point in living? I can't just sit around and..."

"Dad, you're dying," she says, sharply, and he exhales a breath he didn't know he was holding.

"I...well, yes. But I can't just sit around and die, you know?"

"But you're not going to achieve the goals you had. Whatever you thought your life was going to be, dad, it's not."

"Direct, aren't you?" he asks.

"I'm my father's daughter," she says, softly, and he smiles and closes his eyes.

"So is there any goal that you think you can still accomplish?" she says, after some time.

He shrugs, staring at the ceiling, and then slowly turns to her.

"I always wanted to go to space," he says, and she knows what he's asking.
-

She stands there in the early, pre-dawn light, digging into the sand with her bare toes and listening to the seagulls start to call. Any second now, she thinks, and she's rewarded with a flare in the distance, a flare that casts deep shadows and overwhelms the light of the not-yet-present sun. The rocket climbs into the sky and she watches as the ship arcs upwards, carrying her father's ashes into space, fulfilling one final goal.
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