Her Answer

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"Well, Jace," she said, looking away from me. "Do you know how different things would've been if you sought out help? If you got out of there and didn't lean on drugs to help you cope?"

"Very," I said, hoping she'd finally look up. "But I'm so different now. When I get out, I'm going to live a normal life. The one I've always wanted...or at least close to it."

"I just don't know how I can trust you, Jace," she said, finally looking up at me.

"I was messed up. In an abusive household. I didn't know how to deal with my problems!"

"I tried to help you, Jace! I tried! I wanted to reach out for help in other places, but it wasn't what you wanted." She put her head in her hands. "You literally had less than a year to go until you were eighteen and you screwed it all up."

"I know. I know," I said. "But I know I missed my chance with you, too. And that's what kills me the most. That and missing the boys."

"You've really been under a rock for a while, huh? I divorced Ivan three years ago, when my two little ones were five," she said. She looked like she wanted to go on, so I let her. "Everything's fine. We just kind of...grew apart."

"I'm...sorry to hear that," I said, my heart pounding faster. I had a chance. After all this time, all these years, I still had a chance!

"Doesn't matter now," she said.

A guard tapped me on the shoulder. Only five minutes left.

"I only have thirty days left, and then I move back home. Please, let me have a chance to be in my boys' lives, Chrys. I know I've been out here in Vegas and haven't been able to see them, but I've wondered who they've become. I went to see them so badly."

She let out another long sigh and took something out from her purse. It was a thing of pink sticky notes and a pen.

"Here's my number. I'll give you a single chance, and I'll be there as well. Mess this up and you'll never see the boys again."

She slid it under the plexiglass as one of the officer's watched. I took it.

"I don't even need this. I never forgot your number," I said.

"If you're trying to flirt, which I know you are, it's not coming across as cute. It's coming across as kind of terrifying."

"I'd agree if you weren't blushing," I said.

"Just give me a call and I'll set something up," she said.

"Time's up, Hetcher!" said the guard who was standing behind me.

"I'll see you and the boys in a month. I have to go," I said.

"You better not let them down this time. You let everyone down enough," she said, hanging up.

I walked away with the guard and back to my pod. It was another night of a gross tray of chow, playing cards, and falling asleep in a dirty cell with my roommate who snores too loud.

I did twenty-eight more days like that, and then I found myself finally free. I went from a prison bus to the airport and to my flight.

I spent the time looking at the photos Chrys had taken the liberty to send me. I had both boys' school pictures from this year. Just like back then, Oliver looked exactly like his mom, and Blaze looked just like his Dad. He even had the same birthmark on his neck as me.

It was crazy how much they'd grown. They were toddlers the last time I'd seen them, before I ended up partying in Vegas and destroying my life. Now that my hag of a mother was dead from COVID, I couldn't wait to finally hug them and love them the way I'd always wanted to.

After my six hour flight, I finally landed. The plan was to grab some food, then take an Uber to the halfway house, where I'd be staying for a year so I could get used to being in regular society again before going out on my own. After twelve years in prison, I forgot what the real world was like.

I took a quick leak, grabbed a burger, and walked out to the waiting area. People were hugging their friends and relatives. I knew no one would be there for me, but it still hurt. I made my way to the escalator so I could get the bag I checked.

"Jace! Over here!"

I looked and it felt like a firework display was going off in my heart. Of all the people to be here to greet me, I couldn't believe it was her.

I turned around and went towards Chrys, who was standing there with her keys.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"I...I didn't know if you had any money since you've been locked away all this time. I figured you'd like a ride to the halfway house so you didn't have to pay for an Uber or anything."

I could see as she looked away, blushing. Her voice was shaking, but just a little.

"That would be great, but I'm starving. Five hours on a plane and they don't feed you anything," I said. "We always got meals when we flew on Chase's private jets."

She laughed. "Welcome to the real world, Jace Hetcher."

We went down the escalator together. It felt so strange to look around and see people in normal clothes, not prison uniforms. And even in the airport...everything smelled so, so nice.

Chrys waited with me at the carousel while I got my one checked bag. When I had it, I walked with her outside and out into my new life. The ball was finally in my court, and now it was my chance to play a fair game.

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