• February 28, 2024

Debt – A Drama Short Story by John K Adams – Reedsy Prompts

Ryan peered over his newspaper as Jesse entered the coffee shop and walked to the counter. Hating surprises, Ryan always sat where he could see the door.

‘What’s he doing here? Does he never stop?’

Ryan knew his nemesis always appeared without warning. Though it sometimes felt there was no escape, he prided himself on always finding an out.

‘Look at him. He can go anywhere, any time, and savor a rich, extra foam cappuccino, while I pinch pennies on the go. So unfair.’

In no hurry, Jesse stood as if modeling his tailored suit, awaiting his turn. He could afford the few minutes spent to get his coffee made to order.

When his creditor addressed the barista, Ryan took his chance to slip out the door.

Hood up, he huddled against the wind and sipped his black coffee as he jaywalked to the park. ‘He won’t be there. Who would go there in this cold?’

Ryan found a tree and leaned against the downwind side. He kept his eye on the coffee shop so no one could sneak up on him.

‘This sucks. How can I enjoy a simple coffee in the morning?’ Ryan chuckled. ‘Of course, I could pay my debt. Or fly to the moon? Just as easy… No guarantee he wouldn’t follow… or be there waiting.’ He shivered against a blast of wind. ‘…Bet the moon is warmer, though. No wind.

He thought about his missteps leading to his current quandary. He’d never been a gambler, but a juicy opportunity came along. He’d have made a killing if… That sure thing would have set him for life.

Too good to pass up, he’d borrowed what he needed from Jesse, his best friend, to be repaid within the year. They’d once been closer than brothers. That was two years ago.

But it all went south. Everything. The economy dived. Ryan lost everything, job, girlfriend, respect. Now he scraped by on unemployment and odd jobs. Who could see that coming? ‘Damn!

He couldn’t pay. Humiliated, Ryan broke from Jesse and his whole circle of friends. It was too much. ‘How they must laugh together while living the high life.

He spent his days here and there, looking for work. Trying to survive. Once a highflyer, like his friends, he had no references. Any job he sought, he risked meeting someone from his past, a friend of Jesse’s. He felt his life drawn into the eddy of a slowly draining sink.

Lately, it seemed he spent more time hiding than anything. Getting creative, Ryan became a master of avoidance. He dressed differently. Changed his car. Delisted his phone. Moved to a different, cheaper, neighborhood. After months, there was no relief in sight.

He couldn’t sit at a bar for a simple drink. If someone sat next to him, he had to leave. Might be a friend of Jesse’s. ‘Make new friends? You’ve gotta be kidding.’ It’s a big city, but a small town.

Yet, it was never enough. It felt like Jesse always found him. Yet, he never confronted. Not Jesse’s style. He didn’t even acknowledge him, like at the coffee shop. But he was always there. Present. ‘Is he toying with me? Rubbing my nose in my failures?

Ryan stamped his feet against the cold. ‘What’s he doing in there?

He thought about what he’ll do when finally confronted. ‘He gonna shake me down? Break my kneecaps? No. He’ll look sad, play the ‘guilt’ card. I’ll tell him what I really think. And to stop harassing me.’

A late model limo pulled up and idled outside the coffee shop. It was Jesse’s.

One night, outside a club, he saw that whale of a limo. Though tempted to kick out a taillight, he stopped himself. That rich pleasure would’ve been fleeting. Not Ryan’s way. ‘There could have been witnesses. But the memory is sweet. That would’ve felt good. Boy, he’d have been pissed…

Setting his coffee down, Ryan ran in place to warm himself.

‘It’s his fault for trusting me. What did he expect, the fool, lending a fortune to a friend? Who does that? Calls himself a businessman. Didn’t even ask questions.’

Ryan ducked behind the tree as Jesse exited the coffee shop and got into the limo. It pulled away. ‘Not only a limo, but a new one?’ He scoffed at the license plate: GR8CRDT.

He downed his tepid coffee and tossed the cup. ‘Screw him. Doesn’t need my money anyway.’

Feeling liberated, he walked toward his apartment block. ‘Not watched. Not tracked. A few minutes peace from that bastard’s relentless pursuit.’ Ryan looked over his shoulder. ‘Unless he drove around the block for a ‘gotcha!’’ He dismissed the paranoid fantasy. ‘Don’t get crazy, Ry. Jesse doesn’t obsess over this.’

He waited at a light and watched the cloud of his breath shred and vanish. A delivery truck idled across the street. ‘Get work with them? No. Might have to make a delivery to Jesse. Can’t do that.’

He weighed Jesse’s losses against his. ‘The money, his time chasing me, the respect of his pals… What a dope…

It would feel good to get home, away from prying eyes, into the warmth of his modest apartment. Safe.

‘Feeling pursued isn’t paranoid when one is actually hunted.’ Ryan knew how a rabbit feels when pursued by a pack of coyotes sniffing at its trail. ‘Can only do what it can do. Be ever vigilant.

As Ryan walked, the nagging fear crept back into his mind. ‘Is this who I’m becoming? Or am I realizing I’ve always been a loser?’

He never expected to pay it back. It was just too much. He didn’t like it, but could admit the facts, at least to himself. These days, he only talked to himself. ‘When the principle’s added to the accrued interest… no way I can pay it. But indentured servitude was outlawed a century ago.’

Ryan knew bankruptcy remained an option. That would free him on a legal basis. Debtor’s prison was his idea of a joke. The issue wasn’t legal, though, but his betrayal of friendship. He would be admitting failure and dishonor. ‘Where does one go for relief from that?’

He got to his building and entered the lobby. The warm air felt good. He summoned the elevator. Hunger gnawed at him.

‘What can be done? Must I resign myself to this miserable destiny? I’m tapped out. No money. No ideas. Can’t do it alone. It’s simply beyond my ability.’

The elevator door opened and Ryan stepped inside. He moved to press the button for his floor.

Jesse stood before him. The doors closed. ‘No escape.

Jesse blocked the buttons. Ryan backed into the rear wall. Eyes locked.

Jesse said, “Ryan, we need to talk.”

“Jess, I’m sorry. I don’t know how… But I’m gonna…”

“Listen, Ryan. Forget the debt. Consider it paid.”

Ryan stopped. He felt dizzy. ‘Am I hallucinating?

“Jess? What are you talking about? I owe you so much. I have to pay you, but…”

“Didn’t you hear me? It’s paid. You’re out of debt. Don’t owe me a cent.”

Ryan fell silent. ‘Is this a joke? Are there cameras?

“But how? Why, Jess?”

“That debt was crushing your life. I can’t do that to you.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Ryan…”

“I want to make good… have to…”

“It’s done, Ry. Nothing to do.”

“What if…”

“Doesn’t matter. You’re good. Relax.”

The debt had distanced them. But also bound them together. ‘What now?

“I hear you, Jess. Thank you. How can I thank you?”

“Live your life.”

“But… Is that it? Can we ever be friends again?”

“Of course, Ryan. Always have been. That’s the point.”

Tears streamed down Ryan’s face. He couldn’t speak. They embraced.

Jesse held Ryan at arm’s length. They smiled.

“Welcome back, Ry. I’ve missed you.”

Ryan looked at him in awe, trying to comprehend.

Jesse opened the elevator door to the lobby. Ryan walked out and into the sunlight. He stood, face up, feeling the rays, the warmth. A gentle breeze ruffled his hair. Alive, he felt every quivering molecule.

A leaf danced and spun to the ground. A bird chirped. Children played in the distance. All was well.

He felt free.

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