The Last Breath

“Brace yourself for an inconvenient truth about being human.” Dareen pauses to prepare his audience of nearly 2,000 gleeful participants for the moment they have been waiting all weekend for.“

This is the moment I’m sure many of you signed up for!” He looks audience members directly in the eyes; sitting in their seats and standing around the large hotel ballroom. He’s silent as he makes his way from one side of the room to the other, admiring the perfectly aligned chairs his brilliant team of assistants and production crew have maintained throughout the entire weekend.

“We’re going to do a little exercise in a moment to drive this next point home. This is going to come as a huge shock to many of you, but here’s the inconvenient truth about being human…” He pauses again, still making his way through his massive audience and finally up to the stage.

He can tell some participants in his seminar are starting to get annoyed with the constant pausing. Dareen smiles gleefully, knowing he has his audience exactly where they need to be for this next important part of his seminar.

“You have zero control over what happens in your life!” He pauses yet again to scan the faces of the audience. “I can tell, most of you are shocked! But Dareen, I came here to gain power in my life. I came here to gain control of my life. This isn’t what I signed up for, and you’re dropping this in my lap on Sunday afternoon when the seminar is almost over! How many of you are thinking something along those lines?” He pauses as a few participants begins nodding their heads.

“Show of hands.” Nearly everyone in the audience raises their hand.

“Great! Now, I said we were going to do an exercise to drive this point home, and now we’re going to do that.” A large digital clock slowly drops from above the stage to just 3 feet above Dareen’s head. It shows 1:00.

“I want everyone sitting upright. If you’re standing, please have a seat. I don’t want you to injure yourself.” He waits while everyone standing goes back to their chair in the perfectly aligned rows of chairs.

“Now, take in a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds. Then exhale loudly.” The audience follows his instructions precisely.

“Now, we’re going to do that again. Only this time, we’re going to use this clock conveniently placed above my head to help you count out a minute in your head while you hold your breath.” He hears a number of participants start laughing. “I can tell that some of you are already getting where this is going, but don’t ruin it for those who don’t get it yet.”

“Please. Let them get it on their own.” Dareen pleads with the seminar participants who he sees laughing.

Dareen leads them through the breathing exercise. Shortly after 20 seconds, dozens of people in the audience begin breathing again. After 30 seconds, it’s scores of participants. 40 seconds, hundreds. 50 seconds, all but one person has begun breathing frantically.

“Is there anyone still holding their breath?”

The hand of an old man raises in the back of the room.

“Okay, you keep your hand up while you’re still holding your breath.” The audience begins to chuckle and turn to see if they can catch a glimpse of the old man still holding his breath.

As the digital clock continues to count, Dareen smiles. 30 seconds… “Someone make sure he’s not turning blue.” The audience laughs. One of the production staff walks over to check on the man, who gives him a thumbs up.

90 seconds, the audience is beginning to chatter as Dareen smiles on stage, “I once had a mountain climber in the audience who was able to hold his breath for 5 and 1/2 minutes. We could be in for a long wait, so please be patient.”

180 seconds, members of the seminar are standing up and trying everything they can to catch a glimpse of the old man. Each of the audience members who has interacted with the old man during the seminar tells the people around them a story the old man had shared with them. The stories are as colorful as a fairytale, ranging from the old man being in the last Great War of Europe in his 20s to being a fishing boat captain when he was in his 30s, a tech company CEO and venture capitalist during his 40s, traveling the world on a motorcycle during his 50s, competing and winning the Hawaiian Ironman every year of his 60s, to the pain and anguish of having lost all his brothers and sisters and half of his nieces and nephews during his 70s, and now searching for meaning in his life as he begins his 80s having been diagnosed with cancer.

300 seconds, the old man finally drops his hand and begins to breath normally, as if he hadn’t been holding his breath for nearly seven minutes. Dareen leads the audience in an eruption of applause! “Please come up on stage!” Dareen shouts as the audience gives the old man a standing ovation while he slowly makes his way to the front of the massive room all the way from the back row.

Dareen keeps applauding the man as he makes his way up the stairs. He reads his name tag. “Everyone, please welcome Gabriel to the stage. Gabriel how many years young are you?”

“I just turned 81, Dareen.”

The audience collectively shouts, “wow!”

“That’s impressive, Gabriel. Very impressive! You topped everyone who has ever done this exercise. Before I get to the point of the exercise,” Dareen looks out into the audience, “which I think everyone in the audience is getting at this point. Before we get to that, I’d like you to share what you were thinking about during that 5 minutes.”

“Well, Dareen. The first minute I was thinking this was going to be a breeze, and I didn’t really understand what the point of the exercise was. Since holding my breath for a minute was easy for me.”

Dareen interjects, “Clearly, one minute was no match for you!” The audience laughs.

“80 years was no match for me!” Gabriel shouts with joy!

The audience explodes with applause!

“Then I started thinking about life, Dareen. I started thinking about my dear family who I’ve outlived all of them and even some into the next two generations. I started thinking of all the men and women I saw killed in wars and all the petty squabbling between neighbors and nations. I thought of the injustices I’ve seen in my life, how the rich will steal from the poor and the needy, how people will align themselves with what they believe is just only to find out it’s a fraud. I then started thinking about all of the amazingly beautiful things and places I have seen in my life. And then I thought of the most beautiful of them all, my late wife, Claire.”

Half the audience begins crying, and even Dareen’s eyes begins to well with tears.

Gabriel’s voice begins to shake. “I thought of my beloved, Claire. I though of how just last year I was holding her hand in our bed as she took her last breath, and how blessed I was to share that moment with her. I felt like I was back in that moment just before she told me she loved me with her last breath. And I thought of how her and I had promised each other we’d go together, holding hands. And then I thought about how I failed her. And so I thought, what would be more perfect than for this moment to be my last breath too. To make up for that failure.”

People in the audience can be heard sobbing as Gabriel shares his experience.

“I tried, Dareen. I tried damn hard, and I’m a tough man, you see. I’ve been through it all. I’m strong.” Gabriel breaks down and wraps his arms around Dareen and sobs uncontrollably as Dareen consoles him.

“I’m the toughest son of a bitch you’ll ever meet. I tried, Dareen. I tried so hard, and then I heard my sweet Claire’s voice, and she told me to wise up, and then it hit me, Dareen.” He pulls back from Dareen.

“What’s that, Gabriel?”

“Everything I thought about. Every moment I relived, and every breath I took and shared… Even the last breath my beloved Claire shared with me…” Gabriel chokes up again and then continues, “I had no more control over it than my own breath, Dareen.”

Gabriel and Dareen smile as they stare deeply into each other’s eyes, having reached a point of full understanding of the exercise.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, another round of applause for Gabriel!”

Gabriel walks off the stage and down the stairs as the audience give him another standing ovation, tears flowing from their eyes.

“That’s exactly what this exercise is about. You might be an 81 year old bad ass, but you have no more control over the events in your life than you have over your own breath. It’s how you react to the events… that’s what you own! What you do with what’s happening in the world around you, near and far… and even what’s happening within your very own body that… you… have… no… control over… That’s what’s yours! That’s what you own! Your reaction is the only thing in this world that is truly yours. Now, own that? You’ll own your reality!”

The Transplant

The warmth of the sun was something Henry had become unfamiliar with over the course of his treatment for bone marrow cancer treatment. He had spent a year mostly confined to the hospital bed. Now, just months after a successful bone marrow transplant, he sits atop a rock on a mountain overlooking the Los Angeles Basin, enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face.

Henry’s daughter, Nancy, sits down next to him and embraces him with a hug that radiates more warmth than the sun on his face. “I miss mommy,” she says.

Tears stream down his face as he recalls how much his wife had courageously battled skin cancer just one year before his own battle. She had not been so fortunate. “I know, honey. I miss her too, but I know she’s in a better place,” Henry sobs.

As they walk back to Henry’s car, he pulls his keys from his jacket pocket and taps Nancy on the arm and displays the keys in his open palm. Nancy looks down at the keys and then up at her father with wide eyes, “Are you serious daddy?”

“I’m as serious a bone marrow cancer, sweetheart!” He smiles.

Nancy frowns and looks down, “That’s not funny, daddy.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I know these last five years have been hard on you. I’m trying to find humor though. I know it was more scary for you than it was for me. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be 16, having just lost your mother and having a father with both feet in the grave. I’m well now.” He pauses as he lifts his daughters chin with his hand, “That’s something I’m dead serious about.”

Nancy cracks a smile as she takes the keys from her father’s hand, “You know how I know you’re feeling better, daddy?” She starts walking towards the driver’s side of the car.

“What’s that, sweetheart?”

She chuckles, “Because you’re back to telling lame dad jokes like,” she switches to a mocking voice, “That’s something I’m dead serious about”. You’re such a dork, and I love you so much. Wouldn’t it be ironic that you survive bone marrow cancer only to die from letting your daughter drive you down a mountain?” She gets in the car.

Henry runs up to the passenger door and opens it and jumps inside. “Okay, that’s not very funny!” He says as he closes the door and puts on his seat belt.

#

“Remember, I’m just a short drive away, sweetheart,” Henry says to Nancy as she awkwardly stands in front of her on-campus dorm building.

She smiles, “Yes, daddy. I already promised to visit you on each of the days you listed in your email.”

“You didn’t mark the email as SPAM did you?”

“Oh my God! Of course not, daddy! You are the most important thing in the whole world to me!” Nancy says as she throws her arms around him and hugs him tighter than she ever has. “I know it’s not going to be easy for you to be home all by yourself. You can call me or text me at any time if you need someone to talk with.” Henry smiles as he embraces his daughter one last time before he makes the short hour-long drive back to his house from her college.

As he’s pulling into the driveway of his house, he has a sudden and disturbing vision flash before his eyes. He’s startled out of the vision as his car hits his garage door. Henry sits in his car, trying to comprehend what just happened. He looks up at the front end of his car smashed a foot-and-a-half into his garage door and again sees the same vision of a leg of a woman on an operating table with all of the skin removed from the shin, exposing the bone which has the top layer of bone surgically removed. He can see the bone marrow inside of the bone and bloody tissue all around the bone as a medical assistant uses a bloodied cloth to soak up the blood that oozes from the tissue.

He shakes his head and puts his car in reverse to pull it away from the garage door. After inspecting his car and the garage, he goes into his house and calls doctor Rascher to report the unusual incident. At the end of the conversation, Henry’s doctor recommends a psychologist to Henry, and he sets up an appointment for two weeks later.

#

Henry anxiously taps his heel as he’s biting his fingernails, awaiting his first meeting with his psychologist. It’s been two weeks since his first horrific vision, and the visions are now daily occurrences and even more disturbing! He’s also noticed significant changes in his food preferences, music tastes, and has oddly become interested in military history programs on The History Channel. His psychologist welcomes him into her office and notices right away that Henry is not doing well.

His psychologist starts off, “Why don’t we start with some background of your circumstances. When we spoke on the phone a couple weeks ago, you had mentioned that your wife had died from skin cancer a year before you were diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. Let’s start there.”

Henry struggles to walk her through the experience and his memories. “I feel like I’m forgetting my wife. I feel like my brain is no longer mine. Something just doesn’t feel right ever since the bone marrow transplant!” He’s becoming increasingly agitated.

Calmly, she states, “Well, Henry, you have gone through one traumatic experience after another over the last five years. You’ve lost your wife. You’ve nearly lost your own life and orphaned your wonderful daughter. It’s understandable that this level of physical and mental stress might result in unusual behavior.”

“But I can’t get the images out of my head. There is a woman lying on the table, and I am operating on her shin bone. I can see her bone marrow!” Henry shouts!

His psychologist remains calm, “Henry, does this woman on the table remind you of your deceased wife?”

“No! I feel no love for her at all. I hate this woman on the table. I feel nothing but hatred towards her. I feel like I want to kill her!” Henry sits up aggressively on the psychologist’s sofa.

Still remaining calm, the psychologist continues, “It seems you might need some additional help that I might not be able to provide you with in a single session, Henry. It sounds to me that you want to check yourself into a facility of top American medical scientists that can monitor you and ensure that you are not going to hurt yourself or anyone else.”

Henry’s eyes turn from anger and rage to complete peace as he looks at the psychologist, “You mean I will be surrounded by esteemed professionals of the Unites States medical industry?”

“Yes, Henry. If you like. It is entirely voluntary at Raven’s Bridge.” She begins writing on a prescription pad. “You can leave whenever you like. If you like the place, you can stay there as long as you want. If you don’t like the place, you can come back here and see me. Perhaps we can find you another place that’s a better fit. But only if you like.”

Henry’s hands are shaking uncontrollably as he’s practically drooling on his fingernails he’s been biting incessantly the entire session. His psychologist places a paperclip on the prescription paper and hands it to him. He quickly snatches it out her hands as he walks out the door.

“I will call them to let them know you are coming, Henry.” She says as Henry hurries out the door.

#

Henry’s daughter is downtrodden as she leaves her father’s nursing home. His mental health has gotten worse over the last nine months, and this time he doesn’t want to speak with her during her visit that he cuts short. As Nancy exits the building, she bumps into a woman in her mid-40s with a stern face. “Mind where you’re going young lady,” the woman says with a harsh German accent.

“I’m terribly sorry, ma’am,” Nancy says as she looks up at the lady. “Are you okay?” she asks as she looks at the lady and has a sense that she’s seen her before.

“I am fine,” the lady snaps at Nancy. “Someone less agile than myself might not fair so well with your irresponsible behavior.”

“I am very sorry, ma’am,” Nancy says as she hurries off to her car.

Nancy sits in her car sobbing for nearly half-an-hour. She looks at pictures of her mom and dad on her phone. She runs through so many happy memories of both of them and anguishes over her father no longer wanting to meet with her. She reminiscences of all the wonderful experiences she had with her father. As she wipes tears from her eyes she sees the grumpy lady exit from the building with her father. They stand on the porch of the building talking with each other.

Henry stares at the grumpy lady who has been visiting him weekly for the last 3 months. The question is always the same…

“Have you discovered who you are?” the lady asks Henry in her thick German accent.

Having answered “I’m Henry” 12 times in a row, this time his answer is different. “They say my name is Henry, aber ich weiß… nicht…” he shakes his head and looks down.

The lady leans in and whispers, “Oskar?”

“Yes, ma’am! Yes! Oskar!” he exclaims as he lifts his head, eyes wide open with a wild look on his face.

“Control yourself, Oskar!” the lady quietly reprimands.

He leans into the lady, “Ich bin Oskar Schröder!” He whispers with excitement.

“Well, then Oskar. Go back in and ask for Mr. McCloy, and have him check out this Mr. Henry from this shithole. Meet me at the bottom of the stairs. Our mission is well underway.”

Oskar goes back into the building and comes back out with his suitcase 20 minutes later. He walks down the stairs and follows closely behind the lady. “Wie heißen Sie??” he asks. The lady does not respond as Oskar continues to tail her awkwardly as she has an unusual gait.

Oskar sees the two stout men at the end of the walkway. As he and the lady approach the men, they raise their right hands coyly. She responds with a lazy wave of her own right forearm; an unmistakable wave… an unmistakable gait… Oskar has goosebumps. “It couldn’t possibly be…” He mumbles to himself.

The lady stops and turns to Oskar. Folding her arms, she smirks; realizing Oskar has come to an important realization. She wags her eye brows once, waiting for Oskar to speak.

“Mein Furher?”

The Cost of Living

Cost of living expenses have continued to soar while wages have remained relatively stagnant for an historical 20 year run. Unemployment rates have remained near historical lows as have crime rates. In fact, crime is all but eradicated. The gap between the cost of living and average income continues to grow and remains a concern for potential increases in crime. To combat this massive living wage gap, the United States government has recently passed the Government Economic Oversight Act to help empower families through a variety of somewhat controversial (but effective) incentive programs.

The newly formed Economic Empowerment Department is well underway with ensuring that population growth does not outpace economic growth while offering parents alternatives to traditional family options. Rebecca and Jonathan are in their final weeks of a rare twin pregnancy. Concerned with the future conditions for their children, they meet with an economic counselor to discuss their situation.

“Welcome to Economic Empowerment!” The counselor sounds like a self help guru. “I’m glad you are taking the time to explore your options with your…” the counselor pauses, pointing at Rebecca’s stomach, “unique condition. It has been quite some time since we’ve had a pregnancy such as yours. So many opportunities for you!”

Rebecca explains to the counselor that she has read up on all the programs online. Rebecca doesn’t view any of the options available as opportunities, but both her and Jonathan are concerned about the grim future for twins.

The counselor holds up a finger to get Rebecca to stop talking and reaches deep into the lower left drawer of his desk. He practically disappears behind the desk, he’s reaching so deep. “Well, there is one new program…” the counselor grunts from behind the desk, “that you might be eligible for,”

“What’s that?” Jonathan stands up to see if the counselor is okay.

Pulling a green folder up and sliding it with his long bony fingers gently on the the desk, the counselor begins to explain. “This is the Governing Responsibly Economic Empowerment Directive. It’s a new program with very strict eligibility requirements and strong privacy guarantees. It is unlike anything else we offer. And it’s good for our economic environment.”

“I’ve never heard of it, but it sounds good,” Jonathan says as he sits down.

“With this program, we run a few tests on your child to discover certain genetic determinants. What that means is that we can predict with 91.9% accuracy how your child’s genetic makeup lends itself to them being a productive member of our society. In the event that your child will not make a living wage, you are given options.”

Rebecca and Jonathan look at each other and then back to the counselor, “Continue.”

“If your child is determined to be unable to achieve an adult income over the predicted livable wage, the United States government will provide you with his/her lifetime earnings in exchange for you donating your child to scientific research.”

“WHAT?!” Rebecca is disgusted.

“Keep in mind that you will also be receiving this payment from our government 100% tax free. No restrictions. And what you’re doing is for the greater good of our fragile economy.”

“You want me to abort my child for a few measly dollars?” Rebecca stands up, but Jonathan remains seated and grabs her wrist.

“Rebecca, listen to what he’s saying. I’m sure the government isn’t going to abort our child. That’s illegal anyway.” Jonathan looks at the counselor, “You’re not going to abort our child, are you?”

“Of course not! That’s illegal!” The counselor motions to Rebecca to sit back down. “Your child will become part of scientific research. None of which involves abortion. It is part of a government program to ensure that we have enough subjects for ongoing child development research and studies into social behavior. It’s all for the greater good, really. This program ensures your child lives a happy, healthy life without concern for financial well being or being a drain on societal resources. It also provides financial security for your family.”

“It’s tax-free, Rebecca,” Jonathan interrupts.

“I’m not going to do it,” Rebecca says adamantly as she gets up and walks out the door.

Jonathan turns to the counselor, “Give us some time. Do the tests have to be performed before birth?”

“No, Mr. Jones. You can perform the tests and complete the paperwork anytime within the first 24 hours of giving birth as long as you have not returned home with your child. Keep in mind that a lifetime of wages for an individual child is often more than $5 million in tax-free income.”

#

Jonathan and Rebecca are in a car riding back to their apartment. She’s giving him the cold shoulder.

“This is something we need to consider. We don’t make enough to support two children. We can barely make enough just to support ourselves,” Jonathan pleads with Rebecca.

“Jon, this is OUR child we’re talking about. This isn’t a cat or a dog. This is our baby. Our unborn child who we will never get to see grow up. Who will probably be poked and prodded and experimented on. God, just thinking about the children who have already been subjected to this experimentation. For what? For science!? For some fast money. A few measly bucks!”

“He said all the experiments were for the greater good, Becks. It’s not a few measly bucks! And we’d only accept the offer if our children qualify by not making a living wage, which means they’d be a burden on us their entire lives. If they are going to be making a living wage, then we don’t even have to consider it at all. It’s a non-issue!”

“The whole thing is a non-issue, Jon. I’m not giving up my children just so that we can have money. I can’t even believe that there is a program like this. It’s disgusting! And the fact that you are even considering it…” Rebecca looks at Jonathan with more anger than he’s ever seen before. “This topic is never going to come up again. You understand me?!”

“Yes, ma’am!”

#

Rebecca is breathing heavily and working through the pain as she’s being rushed through the maternity ward of the hospital. Jonathan is holding her hand and trying to remember the coaching they received during Lemaze class. However, they both know this isn’t a situation that Lemaze prepares you for. Rebecca’s breathing is becoming erratic and her eyes start rolling into the back of her head.

“Emergency C-Section!” The nurses escort Jonathan out of the room and take the now unconscious Rebecca into the emergency ward.

Jonathan is standing in the hallway, palms sweating as he nervously chews on his fingernails. The counselor from the Economic Empowerment Department taps him on the shoulder.

“Have you given further consideration to what’s available to you, Mr. Jones?”

“Rebecca said no way.”

“It would seem Mrs. Jones is incapacitated at the time, is she not? You could sign for her. The tests take only an hour to run through our AI simulator. I can get back to you with the amount, and then you can make the decision.”

“It won’t matter. Rebecca said no way. I can’t make that decision without her.”

“Mr. Jones, you have no obligation to donate your child to the greater good. This is merely to run tests. If you give me your consent, as the only able-bodied parent I can find at this time, I can run the tests and then bring you back all the paperwork and a check with the full 100% tax-free lifetime amount.”

“But it won’t matter. She’s going to notice millions of dollars showing up in our bank account.”

“We can arrange an installment plan, Mr. Jones. You have an opportunity to win the lottery right in front of you. The choice is entire up to you, of course.”

Jonathan nervously fidgets with his fingernails as sweat is starting to bead on the side of his head. He knows that $5 million would allow him to retire. Who knows, it could even be both children. Then he and Rebecca would be $10 million richer! They could retire today. They’d never have to work another day. They could travel the world. Jonathan snaps out of his day dream.

“Mr. Jones?” The counselor extends paperwork towards Jonathan as his eyes widen.

#

Rebecca and Jonathan sit on the balcony of their apartment, drinking coffee. Their son waddles up to them and tugs on Rebecca’s shirt.

“Yes, Aiden.”

“I love you, Mommy.”

“I love you too, sweetheart.”

“Oh, and I think Jackson pooped himself.”

Jonathan jumps up, “I’ll get that on my way out, honey.”

Jonathan walks into the apartment while Aiden crawls into Rebecca’s lap and snuggles up with her. Jonathan puts his empty coffee cup in the dishwasher and washes his hands. He then walks out of the kitchen and into the living room to the fowl odor of poop.

“Aiden was right! You sure pooped yourself!” Jonathan reaches down and picks up Jackson from the crib and places him on the changing table. Jonathan whistles while changing his newborn son and looks out on to the balcony to see his wife and Aiden snuggled up with each other.

Aiden lifts his mom’s sleeve on her left arm and starts tracing his finger along her tattoo.

A beautiful red rose surrounded by a child’s footprint with a banner above the toes: In Loving Memory of Rose.

The Loving Voyager

“Will you marry me?”

Tears start falling from Jennifer’s face as she looks at her boyfriend bending down on one knee in front of , revealing the most beautiful ring she has ever seen.

“I had it made just for you. You are my rose. So sweet. So resilient. So beautiful. And most important of all, you make me smile with joy every time I look at you or think of you. Please allow me to do the same for you for the rest of our lives. Please allow me to love, honor, and cherish you forever.”

Jared lifts the ring higher. It’s a beautiful pink diamond ring surrounded by green diamonds in the shape of rose pedals with blue diamonds and sapphire going down the band.

“That is the most beautiful ring I have ever seen! Yes! And not just because it’s a beautiful ring.”

Jennifer kisses Jared. “I love kissing my fiance!”

“Jennifer, I know this wasn’t the best timing with your upcoming mission. I don’t want to rush things. We can wait until you get back.”

“I love you to the galactic center and back, Jared! Being with you over the last couple of years has been the best time of my life. I can’t wait to get back so I can make you my husband!”

Bystanders nearby begin clapping and cheering the public display of affection. An elderly lady approaches the couple. “Would you like me to take a picture of this momentous occasion?”

“How sweet.” Jennifer hands her device to the old lady.

“Let me see if I still know how to use one of these. I couldn’t help but overhear that you’re going on a mission. What kind of excitement are you heading into?”

“Well, I’m part of the mission that’s going to Zathustine Major to evacuate and relocate the inhabitants of Mohcia. Have you heard about that project?”

The old lady smiles. “I remember hearing about that awhile back. That is a wonderful thing you are doing to help save all those who live on that planet. You seem like such a wonderful, loving couple. I think it’s great that your kind of love is being shared in this universe to save so many lives.”

Jennifer and Jared go to dinner at their favorite restaurant and discuss Jennifer’s upcoming voyage. Two years to complete the rescue effort of a planet that is slowly dying as its star is becoming a red giant. Approximately nine months in hyperspace, nine months to perform the rescue effort, and nine months back.

“Jen, I know this won’t be an easy two years for you, but it’s such a great thing you are doing for that planet. I only wish I had been chosen to go as well.”

“I know, honey bunny. And I know it’s not going to be an easy two years for you to be without me. I know how much you love me. I love you so much too. I want you to do me a favor. Please record a video for me every single day. Even if it’s just 10 seconds. I want to always be fresh in your mind. And I promise that I will do the same. Now, let’s enjoy this wonderful dinner and the next three days before I leave.”

#

Jared is whistling as he briskly walks down the street from his apartment towards the flower shop to get Jen a farewell bouquet. He looks up at a bird flying effortlessly in the sky. Suddenly, he bumps into something… Someone.

“I’m incredibly sorry, ma’am,” Jared says as he helps the person he bumped into.

“Oh, it’s quite alright. I’m just glad I didn’t walk into the street as I was following that beautiful bird in the sky. Hey, you’re that guy who got engaged two nights ago to that wonderful lady.”

It’s the old lady who took their picture.

“I sure am. I’m so sorry for bumping into you like that though. Are you alright?”

“I’m alright. Where you headed to in such a hurry?”

“I was heading to this flower shop right here. You wouldn’t mind helping me pick some flowers for my fiance’s going away would you?”

“For such a lovely couple, how could I say no?”

Inside the flower shop, Jared is pining over Jennifer to the old lady. Boasting about her intelligence, tenacity, resilience, and toughness.

“Yet, here she is showing such tender love and commitment to life in the universe. She’s pure love.” Jared pauses… “You know, I didn’t even get your name”.

“Rose”

“That’s Jen’s mother’s name. Come to think of it, you look a lot like her.”

“Oh, really? Well, I suppose Jennifer had to get her smarts and good looks from somewhere.”

“Witty, just like her too! So much of you reminds me of her mother. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were her.”

Jared and Rose leave the flower shop.

“You must not live far from here do you?” Jared asks Rose.

“Just over there. Top floor.”

“Wow, you can probably see our place from there. We’re down here.”

“You don’t say.”

“Hey, well… we’re best friends now. Why don’t you come over. It’s Jen’s going away party in about 30 minutes. We’d love to have you over.”

“I suppose I can accommodate that request to attend the going away party for a super hero woman.”

#

Back at Jared’s apartment, the going away party is a huge success. Jennifer is surrounded by her family and closest friends. Everyone wishes her huge success on her mission and head home for the night.

As Rose is walking out the door, Jared holds the door for her. “Are you sure you don’t want me to walk you back to your place, Rose?”

“This old woman can handle herself. I’ve seen much worse than the mean streets of Pasadena. You go spend the night with your hot wife, doing what 30 year old lovers should be doing on a night like this, and I’ll handle walking back to my place. Thank you.”

Jennifer can’t help but get a chuckle from the exchange. “Rose, it was very nice meeting you. While I’m gone, you feel free to check in on my Jared to make sure he’s eating well. He has a tendency to eat junk food while I’m away.”

Jared has to defend himself, “Well, your cooking is just so wonderful that I don’t want to ever eat any other cook’s meals.”

“Oh, c’mon, I bet you cook most of the meals in this household.” Rose winks at Jared.

Jared and Jennifer look at each other and then back to Rose before Jared coyly nods his head.

“Jennifer, you are an amazing woman. I have no doubt you’ll have a great mission and change the lives of so many along your voyage. See you in two years! I’m putting it on my calendar. January 18, 2889.” Rose closes the door after herself.

#

It’s been two weeks since Jennifer left on her mission. Jared is busy about his apartment on a Saturday afternoon, blaring music and cleaning the kitchen. There’s a knock on the door.

“Hi, Rose!”

“How are you doing, Jared? Keeping your spirits up?”

“Yes, it’s a bit more difficult each day, but I keep making my daily videos and sending my love her way.”

“I’m sure she’s going to love seeing those videos when she returns. We doing this?”

“Yes, ma’am! Sailing boat, here we come!”

“Don’t ever call me ma’am again. Okay?”

“Yes m”… Jared jokes as they leave the apartment.

#

It’s been six more months. Jared knows that Jennifer should have already arrived at the planet and is probably already making great progress on the evacuation. Still, he can’t sleep. He starts writing Jennifer a letter when, suddenly, he receives an emergency alert warning on his phone! Looking down at his phone, he clears his eyes: CRITICAL ALERT! Come to Space Force Headquarters IMMEDIATELY.

Jared jumps out of bed and gets his clothes on. He heads down to the elevator and gets into his vehicle, which speeds off to his work. Everyone is there.

“Based upon the observable evidence, it would appear that Zathustine Major has imploded on itself. We have no knowledge about the mission at this time, but we are optimistic that they were able to detect the instability of the star, halt the evacuation, and clear themselves out of harms way in time. We will know in 3 months. Our thoughts are with you and your loved ones.”

Shaken, Jared returns to his apartment and finishes making his daily video for Jennifer, not knowing if it would be the last video he should ever make for her.

#

The next morning there’s a knock on the door. As regularly scheduled and right on time, it’s Rose checking in on Jared. Jared tries to maintain his composure while telling Rose about meeting last night, but he eventually breaks down and starts crying on Rose’s shoulder. Rose embraces him and tell him everything is going to be okay.

“Just keep making those daily videos. She’ll be back. I know it, and you know it! Spirits up, buster!”

“Thank you, Rose. You are a true friend. Jen will definitely appreciate you helping me out when she gets back!”

#

Another three months have passed. Jared has maintained a positive attitude with the help of Rose. The news has arrived that the rescue mission fleet has returned to the solar system and will be arriving on Earth within 72 hours. Jared is looking forward to the arrival and decides to take Rose with her to greet Jennifer upon return.

When they arrive at Headquarters, Jennifer’s commanding officer asks Jared to come with him. Rose is not allowed to come with him. Jared returns a few minutes later, distraught and broken. He shares that Jennifer stayed the longest to evacuate as much from the planet as possible. After having loaded the last of what she could onto the shuttle, she boarded and headed back towards the main ship. Unfortunately, the star imploded, her shuttle, and another ship were destroyed.

“Rose, I can’t explain how I feel right now. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to need to be alone today.”

Jared drops off Rose and returns to his apartment.

#

There’s a knock on Jared’s door. Not even sure what day it is, Jared fumbles around for his communicator. There’s another knock. Jared decides to get up and answer.

Depressed, Jared mumbles, “Hi, Rose.”

“I know you are depressed right now. It’s barely a week since you got the news, but I made a promise to keep your spirits up, and I intend to honor my word.”

“Rose, I can’t do this. I can’t pretend that I’m going to be okay anytime soon. I can’t pretend that I don’t want to jump out that window.”

“What would Jennifer want you to be doing right now?”

“What? She’s gone. She doesn’t exist anymore!”

“But if she were here right now. Instead of getting the news you got last week. What would she want you to be doing?”

Jared chuckles, “Something you definitely shouldn’t be here for.”

“Well, at least something still makes you smile! Now, besides fulfilling on your animalistic instincts. Let’s say you get news she’s just weeks out. What would you be doing?”

“The same thing I’ve been doing every day, but maybe with a smile instead.”

“You better not be referring to the same thing you just were.”

Laughing, Jared grabs Rose’s hand. “No, not that. Let me show you something.”

Sitting in the living room, Jared shows Rose every daily video and journal he made for Jen. He gives her the back story to every inside joke. It’s like he’s living their love all over again. Before you know it, it’s late at night and Rose says goodnight.

#

Two weeks later, Jared is eagerly awaiting Rose’s arrival. He’s kept up his daily video and written journals for Jen. But Rose never arrives. He calls her apartment, but there is no answer. He decides to wait a bit to check again. Still no answer.

Thinking that since Rose is an old lady who might need assistance, he decides to go to her apartment to check in on her, only to realize that he doesn’t know exactly which apartment is hers. He calls again, and no answer. He goes to her apartment building anyway, in hopes that her name might be on the digital directory outside the apartment building. No such luck.

Remembering that Rose told him she lives on the top floor, Jared gets into the elevator and goes to the top floor. The elevator opens, revealing just a single door with the number 18 on it. Jared knocks on the door, and Rose answers. “Hi, Jared.”

“Are you okay? You didn’t answer for a long time, and none of my phone calls.”

“Ain’t that the truth! Come on in.” Rose walks away from the door and into her kitchen.

Jared enters her sparsely furnished apartment. There’s a TV, love seat, telescope, and one shelf.

“Make yourself at home,” Rose yells from the kitchen.

Jared walks over and plops himself down on the love seat. Something on top of the shelf catches his eye. It’s a ring. He gets up and walks over to the shelf.

“You ever been married, Rose?”

“Nope. That’s my one regret.”

It’s unmistakable. It’s Jen’s ring. The ring that looks like a rose he had specifically made for her. He picks it up, his hand shaking slightly. Jared hears Jen clear her throat behind him and spins around.

Holding the ring and confused. “How did you get this? Who are you?”

“Well, darling. You gave it to me 123 years ago.”

“What?!”

“When you asked me to marry you in front of the fountain. For me, it was 123 years ago. For you, it’s been barely over 9 months. When I was pulled into the imploding star, it shot me back out the other end, and I have lived 123 years, battling across the universe to be with you again.”

“I guess that is theoretically possible, but how is it possible that you came back here and didn’t stop yourself? You had the opportunity!”

“Yes, and I also lived 123 years of great adventure because I didn’t.”

“And you just want to leave me here without you? You don’t see that as selfish?”

“I was holding on to you, Jared. I was holding on to you inside that black hole, and I was being ripped apart. So, I let go of you and still loved you, and it released me.”

Tears streaming from his face, Jared hugs Jennifer. “What am I supposed to do now?”

“Let me share with you my voyage. There are seven big adventures, five small ones, and two really ugly ones. I want to share those with you before I die.”

“That’s going to be the hardest part, I think. Living the rest of my life without you.”

“No it won’t. You have already done it. You let go, Jared. Hold me in your heart forever, and let me go. And when you are ready, you can watch these.” Jen hands Jared a storage device. “I kept my promise to make you a daily video too.”