The Greatest Gift

I’m in a creative writing class this semester and it was our task to write either poems or fiction, and I’m writing fiction. I have a workshop later this week for my short story, but I haven’t posted a ton lately so I’m going to post it on here as well. The formatting is probably a little thrown off, but you’ll get the idea. I could use as many tips as you have for me. Also, I want to make it a little bit longer but don’t know how to do that right now. Anyhow, here it is!

Jacob Smith

The Greatest Gift

            My eyes drift open and my vision flickers into focus, settling on the second most beautiful girl I’ve seen this week. What is her name again? Jenny? Jessica? It starts with a “J,” I’m sure of it. Forget it, I’m never seeing this girl again. For all I care, “J” can mean “Just-this-once.”

I roll over and look at the clock sitting on her dresser. The neon red numbers read, “8:26,” and if I know anything about women, which I’m pretty sure I do, Just-this-once is definitely an 8:30 alarm kind of girl. I know somewhere in her endless rambling I caught the words “defendant” and “law,” so she’s gotta be a lawyer. She felt like a lawyer. Hot lawyer chicks always think they have something to prove to the rest of the world, so they’re real go-getters. She went. She really went, but she didn’t get.

The clock switches to 8:27 and I’m snapped back to the present moment, the one where I’m three minutes away from becoming Mr. Just-this-once. I scan the room for my boxers and find them in the jewelry box on her vanity. Don’t know how they got there, but all I can think is “Score!” After I find the rest of my clothes, I slip out the front door just as I hear her alarm blare the “man slut alert.”

“One more for the collection,” I say to myself proudly as I breathe in the brisk morning air. I get in my car and turn the radio on full blast. Katy Perry and I roar home in no time at all, making the perfect escape from the perfect date.

I climb the stairs three at a time still humming “Roar” to myself and I unlock the door to my apartment. My roommate Alex sits on the couch with a bowl of what looks like soggy Chex watching some paranoid crime show.

“Hey bro!” Alex shouts without taking his eyes away from the crime scene tape. “How’d it go with Janessa?”

“Janessa! That was her name! Well you know how it is. I was guilty, she sent me to the slammer if you know what I mean.”

“Nice!”

I immediately set off toward the kitchen and pull open the fridge door. The yogurt grabs my attention along with the orange juice. I prepare a glass of the juice and retrieve a spoon, but that’s not enough.

“Alex, do we still have bagels?”

“Yeah, I put them in the cabinet to the left of the fridge. Peanut butter is in there too.”

The bagels are popped into the toaster a few moments later. While I wait, I sip at my orange juice and watch an interview with a middle aged woman with curly brown hair on the police show.

“Oh, Hayden, I forgot to mention something,” Alex says. He waits for a moment and looks back at me. Something in his eyes unnerves me; they’re filled with longing and sadness. I widen my eyes and stare back at him until he gets the message. “Okay, um… I got a phone call last night while you were with Janessa.”

“And?” I ask incredulously.

His expression starts to match his eyes and he looks at the couch cushion. His hand finds the remote and mutes the television. “I don’t know how I forgot. I was so excited about you landing a lawyer and I guess I thought I’d try to give you that before I told you. Hayden…”

“What is it? You’re freaking me out here.” I feel my heart rate rocket until it feels like one of those handheld massagers.

“Dr. Simmons called. She has your test results.”

“Did she tell you?” I ask, my voice starting to shake a little. Alex nods solemnly. “What the fuck do I have?”

A tear wells up in Alex’s right eye, sitting on the edge of his eyelid waiting to be jostled free by his next movement. He blinks and the tear is evicted from the tear duct. “Stage four pancreatic cancer.”

The glass of orange juice falls out of my hand and shatters over my feet. Try as I might, I can’t move any parts of my body. I can’t even blink. Alex stands up from the couch and makes his way over to the shards of glass on the floor. He begins picking them up and throwing them away. I hear the sound of a paper towel ripping and feel Alex mopping up the juice around my feet. He stands up when he’s done and looks into my eyes.

“I’m so sorry man,” he says as more tears begin cascading out of his eyes. He wraps his arms around me, but I can’t bring myself to return the gesture. “Why don’t you go sit down?”

Alex grabs my hand and leads me toward my room and sits me down on my bed. He sniffs loudly and pats my back. “I’ll leave you alone to process. If you need anything…” he chokes out. I stare at the place where the wall meets the floor and hear the door handle click shut.

I don’t know what to think. Questions stream through my head like it’s Grand Central Station. I think of my mother and how I’m going to tell her; I think of all the women I’ve slept with, never seen again, and how that has defined me these past few years; I think about all the things I have to do still; I think about what’s going to happen to me as soon as I’m gone. What’s my legacy going to be? I’m never going to have a wife, I’m never going to have kids, I’m never going to do anything again.

I stand up, but I don’t feel my legs. It’s like I’m being carried by marionette strings. I stumble out of my room and down the hallway. Alex is staring at the muted police show and doing something I can’t distinguish with his hands.

“Alex?”

Alex flinches at the sound of his name and turns around. His cheeks are covered in red streaks and the areas around his eye look exceedingly dry. “Hayden?” he manages.

“Did Dr. Simmons mention how long I have left?”

“She mentioned that since it’s taken this long to be diagnosed that your time is going to be a lot shorter. You can do chemo to try to fight it, but even with chemo your chances are next to nothing. But honestly, Hayden, you –”

“Did she give you a number? Days? Weeks? A year?” I ask angrily.

“If you continue untreated, she gives you two months at the maximum.”

“Do you have her number?”

Alex scrambles through some papers until he finds a small shred of paper with a hastily recorded phone number. He hands it to me. I punch the number into my phone and wait. Two rings later, a woman answers the phone.

“Dr. Simmons’ office, this is Nicole, how can I help you?”

“Hi Nicole, my name is Hayden Prescott. My roommate told me that Dr. Simmons called last night with some test results for me. I just want to ask her a few questions.”

“Of course, I’ll put you right through. Just a moment,” Nicole says. The phone starts ringing again. Four rings later, another woman picks up the phone.

“This is Dr. Simmons, who am I speaking to?”

“Hayden. Hayden Prescott.”

Dr. Simmons takes a deep breath on the other end of the line before saying anything else. “Yes, Mr. Prescott. I’m sorry to inform you –”

“I already know what I have. I want to know my options.”

“Well, your best chance at survival is immediate admission to chemotherapy. If you continue to go untreated, you’re looking at anywhere from a week to two months left.”

“And what about with chemo? How long then? What’s the survival rate with chemo?”

Dr. Simmons pauses. “Figures vary slightly, but the average survival rate is about sixteen percent. It could extend your life up to a year, two if you’re fortunate. Or, it could save your life.”

“What’s going to happen to me as it progresses?”

“Well I’m sure you’ve already experienced some of the symptoms. You’ll experience increasingly debilitating abdominal pain, most likely weight loss, and you’ll be more tired. Your urine could turn dark and you might notice your skin and/or eyes turning yellow.”

“Alright doctor, thank you.”

“You’re very welcome. Let me know if there’s anything more I can do for you.” We both hang up.

Alex looks at me, having heard the whole thing. “What are you going to do? Are you going to go in for chemo?”

“For a sixteen percent chance at survival and endless hospital bills to my mom? I don’t think so. If all I have is a week to live or two months to live, I’m going to do as much as I can with what I have left.”

“Like what?”

“I want to skydive, cliché as it is. I want to finally go on that roller coaster, Mind Splitter, that I could never face. I guess I’ll figure out the rest as I go along, but first thing’s first. I’m going to go see what Janessa is doing.”

 

My eyes drift open and my vision flickers into focus, settling on the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. I wrap my arm around her and pull her closer. Feeling my touch, Janessa snuggles up closer and wraps her arms around me. I wince in pain as she gives me a light squeeze.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Baby. Did I hurt you?” Janessa asks me.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing I can’t handle,” I say half-heartedly.

“Maybe, but I don’t want you to be hurting. You don’t have much time left; it could be any day now.”

“I know, I know. I don’t want you feeling bad though. You’ve already given me more joy in this past month than I ever had sleeping around. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” I kiss her forehead and stroke her long, dark hair behind her pixie-like ears. I listen to her steady breaths and feel my heart beat against her cheek.

“I’m going to miss you.” Janessa kisses my chest and runs her hand around my abdomen. She groans and rolls out of bed and heads to the bathroom.

Before she closes the door, I say to her, “I love you.”

Janessa pauses and opens the door back up. I look longingly at her as she stands there naked looking perfect. Every part of her I love. I never thought I was capable of experiencing love, but with Janessa I knew it was love. I love the way she snorts when she laughs, the way she walks like she owns the world, the way she sneezes like she’s a panzer tank firing at the Allies, the way she spreads peanut butter on her toast so there’s not a single spot uncovered. I love every curve to her body and every dimple, freckle, and blemish. Love isn’t strong enough a word, but I look at her in a way that she can’t possibly mistake for anything short of complete and total love and devotion.

“I love you too,” she says, quietly shutting the door. I lay in bed watching for shadows under the door that might signal she’s coming back. I listen for the sound of the sink, the shower, the toilet, anything that will tell me what she’s doing because I can’t stand not knowing. I smell her scent on the pillow next to me and I crave it. I feel the wrinkles in the sheets that betray her restless sleep to me, and I remember the taste of her lips that she uses to kiss me every day.

I take every memory I have of her with me. My heart starts to beat slower and slower until eventually coming to a stop. My breathing becomes more and more labored until I exhale for the final time. My eyes lazily close and my vision flickers out of focus remembering only the sight of the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.

Janessa walks out of the bathroom just moments later clutching a small, white, plastic stick between her breasts. She walks slowly over to her side of the bed and lays down on it, curling up to my body. She holds the stick out in front of her and points to the double lines in pink. She begins to cry.

“I’m pregnant,” she weeps not realizing the father of her child is no longer with her. I offer no reaction and she looks at me with a furrowed brow. Her hand reaches out and lifts my eyelid. She moves her head to my chest. Suddenly shaking with sobs, she wraps her naked body around mine and empties her tears onto it as if in an effort to revive me.

Several grief-wracked minutes pass before Janessa sits straight up and looks at my closed eyes. She reaches her hand out and runs it through my hair, down my cheek and settles it on my shoulder, squeezing it lightly; there is no flinching this time. She wipes the tears away with her other hand and attempts to gather herself.

“I’m pregnant, Hayden.”

The sun beams down on Janessa as she kneels in front of my headstone. She holds a little boy in her arms who looks around the cemetery curiously. He’s holding a small bouquet of roses in his petite hands, waving them up and down and giggling whenever a bird flies by.

“Look here, George,” Janessa says. The boy doesn’t respond. “George, look! This is where Daddy lives!”

George casually looks toward the gravestone where my name is inscribed in large letters. He snickers at it and looks back towards his mother. With his left hand he reaches toward her mouth and feels her lips. She nibbles on his fingers, much to his delight. He retracts his hand and shrieks with joy.

“Daddy and I used to do that. I only knew Daddy for a month before he left, but he sure gave me the greatest gift he could before he left, didn’t he?” George looks innocently and confusedly into his mother’s eyes. “You know, you have his eyes. Beautiful blue eyes that looked straight into my heart and saw me for me. He used to be a big ol’ player, but he became a better man. I loved him more than anything in the world. That is until you came along, Georgie. I know if Daddy were here right now, he’d feel the same way. Something tells me that he’s looking at you right now and smiling. He loves you.”

Janessa lowers George down to the ground. She helps him let go of the flowers at the base of the headstone. Tears well up in her eyes and George giggles at a passing bird. Janessa is right though. Her vision flickers through the tears and settle on the most beautiful baby boy she’s ever seen.

And there you have it folks! That’s my short story! Let me know what you think I can do better on and improve. Until next time…

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