The Legend of Jarrett Tomlinson

The legend goes that the day I was born, I filled the room with so much love that even the doctor wept with joy. Everyone tells me I just say that because my mom always told me that story growing up. But I know the story is true because I was just there! Oh, and I know for sure I peed on the delivery nurse, just like my daddy always said.

As my mom always told the story, “I was so filled with love. It was this deep, peaceful, relaxing love. Like nothing I had ever felt before or ever felt after. It was pure peace in every way imaginable. Peace in life. Peace in my marriage. Peace in my delivery.”

Back then, we didn’t have any Internet; no computers; no cell phones; no digital cameras. There’s a lot the royal WE didn’t have back then, but my family… We had even less. There were eight of us kids, and you’d think my parents would have stopped when they had that great experience with me. Naw, they just kept shootin ’em out. Four after me. I’m right in the middle.

With each kid, it seemed to get a bit worse for all the kids before. It’s not like my parents were getting paid more. Heck, my mom never had a job her whole life, except being a mom and a stripper. My dad couldn’t hold a job to save his life (or our lives for that matter). But it wasn’t the lack of money or material things that made it hard. It was the lack of loving parental guidance. The upside? I love my brothers and sisters!

Now, my parents claimed to be God-fearing folk. They even said they named each of us after a character in the Bible. I read the good book hard. Studied it a few times over even… Spoiler alert, there ain’t no Jarrett in the Bible. The closest thing is some guy named Jared, and he doesn’t do anything but some begetting.

Aside from giving us all names that weren’t really in the Bible, I’m not sure what other God-fearing acts they performed. Spare the rod, spoil the child, I guess? The only thing spoiled in the house was some of the food.

The first time CPS got called (that I know of), I was about eight years old. If you’ve never seen half a dozen police bum rush your front door and throw your parents on the ground and arrest them, you haven’t experienced LA’s finest at their finest. But the truly hardest part about that experience wasn’t getting picked on for wetting my bed at the foster home. It was being made fun of at school when my parents finally got their shit together and got us back.

And by getting their shit together, I really just mean they figured out how to fake it for a few years until it happened again. And again. And again. But this story isn’t about how my parents and what they did and didn’t or should or couldn’t do. This is a story about love. Not just any kind of love. Legendary love! A love that I always knew in the back of my mind was there for me.

The final time our parents got arrested, my big brothers were old enough to actually take custody of us younger ones. That was the first time since my birth that I truly experienced legendary love! By the time my dad got out of jail, my big brothers could put him in check. We got big, stronger, smarter, and our dad just got older, fatter, and dumber.

When I was 24, I met the one and only true love of my life! Juniper Rose Branch. Now, you might be thinking, “why would someone with the last name of branch name their daughter after a tree?” Her parents are for another story!

A couple years later, I found myself on bended knee and standing up next to my amazing fiance! Our wedding was the stuff dreams are made of: horse-drawn carriage, surrounded by our family and best friends. It was everything I could have ever imagined love could be and then some!

On year five, we decided to have some fun on her birthday and visit a weekend long hypnosis workshop. Juniper really felt like there was something there for both of us, and I agreed. I just didn’t realize what was about to shift in my life.

In the final hypnosis, we were guided through this incredible experience. We started off as usual with relaxing. Then we got to a place where we started rewinding through our lives. I went back to our wonderful honeymoon in Hawaii. Then our joyful wedding. Back to the first day I met Juniper. Then it got to the hard stuff… All that past that I thought I had truly given up started to pile up.

I slowly made my way through all the hardship in life. All the times my dad hit me, slapped me, beat me, beat my siblings. All the times my mom would look on and do nothing while our dad beat us up came back in full memory. I was living them again. The hypnosis seemed like it was lasting a lifetime; like I was living my whole life all over again. All the torment by the kids at school. All the anguish of unloving parents. But also all the love from my brothers and sisters.

I finally made it back to the day I was born! Now, I started off this story telling you that I filled the room with so much love that even the doctor wept with joy when I was a baby. At the time, you probably thought that was just some story I had been told growing up. And if you’ve made it this far into the story, you know I wasn’t pulling your leg. It was a story I had been told growing up, AND it’s also a true story!

I’m floating above my parents in the delivery room. As I see all of them there (my parents, the doctor, and the nurse) I start sending love. I surround the entire room with my love. The love that I have today… The love that I have generated with my loving wife through this amazing hypnosis session is present there today. I embrace each of them as they do their part in bringing me into this world.

I see my mom start to cry and my dad’s eyes begin to well with tears. I see the nurse guiding me gently into this world, she’s getting teary-eyed too. The doctor goes over to help, and he begins to well up with tears. As the nurse lifts me up, my little baby self does exactly as the legend goes. I pee right on the delivery nurse.

I then tell my baby self that everything in life is going to workout just fine. Everything is going to lead to a wonderful, beautiful life. No matter how bad things get, everything is leading to pure joy and happiness. Never give up! Love will always be there.

Undying Love

Jonathan wakes up and walks down the stairs from his room into his ground level business below his apartment. He opens the front door to his tavern just as he has for the last three years. It’s freezing outside today with frost forming in the windows and all the lampposts on the sidewalk outside the front door. Just as has happened every day for the last three years, as soon as he walks through the threshold of the door, he is immediately walking into the tavern instead of out of the tavern.

Dejected, he walks into the cold, empty, rundown tavern and takes his place behind the bar and begins to wash the glasses that are already clean from him washing them every morning for the last three years. The day will be yet another day of nothing. Another day to remind him of his tragedy from three years ago. Another day for him to reconcile himself to the reality that he is, in fact, dead.

He goes about the same routine: wash the glasses, pull the chairs down, polish the bar top and tabletops, and sweep the floor. It’s the same routine he was doing even when he was alive, and what was monotonous when he was alive now gives him a sense of believe alive now that he is dead.

After performing the regular routine, he goes out to the back to pickup the newspaper. He ponders the oddity of the newspaper still being delivered to this old, rundown tavern despite his demise years ago. True to form, the newspaper is laying on the ground just outside the back door.

He pauses, looking out at the leafless trees in the back of the building. He notices a enormous barn owl sitting in one of the trees. There’s a single leaf holding on to the very tip of the branch where the owl is perched. The owl’s partner glides in and sits beside the other owl. As the owl flaps it’s wings, the single leaf is dislodged from the end of the branch. Winter is fully upon him, and tomorrow will be the third anniversary of his death.

He squats down and reaches his hand out the backdoor for the newspaper. It took a few weeks to figure this part out, but his arms can leave the tavern, just not the rest of him. He grabs the newspaper and confirms the date.

Jonathan hears a sudden commotion in the front of the tavern. This is one of his favorite parts about being a ghost! Time to scare the hell out of whomever has entered the tavern!

He walks to the front of the tavern and sees a man and a woman already drunk stumbling up to the bar. They are a drunk happy and falling all over each other.

“Can we get some drinks up in here?” The man shouts. “Where’s the bartender in this joint? We need two double shots of vodka. ASAP!”

Jonathan goes to behind the bar and lifts the bottle of vodka from the shelf and grabs two shot glasses. He pours the double shots and slides the glasses along the bar to the two drunkards.

“WOAH! We’re drunk as fuck, Jerry! Those shot glasses came out of nowhere.” The woman stares in the direction of Jonathan but cannot see him. She leans her entire body over the top of the bar to try to see if someone is hiding behind the bar. “There’s nobody back there, Jerry. Do you see anyone?” She slurs.

Then Jonathan hears the door chime for the front door again. If he had a heart, it would have stopped beating. Surely, this is an angel sent to bring him to the other side. She’s a pure beauty.

“Jasmine! You made it!” the other woman says as she stumbles to get up and hug the woman who just entered Jonathan’s tavern.

Jasmine smiles as she hugs her two drunk friends. She sits down at the bar and looks right at Jonathan. “I’ll have a double too, please.” She says directly to Jonathan.

Jonathan stares with his mouth ajar, dumbfounded by this woman who just spoke to him. He’s perfectly still.

“Well, are you going to just stand there like you’ve seen a ghost, or do I need to get the drink myself, handsome?”

Jonathan grabs another shot glass and pours a double shot for Jasmine and carries it over to her. He places it in front of her, still dumbfounded. She slams the shot and then looks Jonathan in the eyes and gives him a flirtatious wink, “Another, please.”

Jonathan is mesmerized by her smile. His eyes are affixed to the movement of her lips as he hangs on every word she says and her flirtatious glances as she’s speaking to her friends.

Her friends eventually realize that they are too drunk to stay any longer and tell Jasmine that they’re going to leave. “You can shtay and hane-out with yer ghost fren, if you’d like, Jas. We’re gonna walking to the pad. See ya!” They slur as they stumble towards the door.

Jasmine is looking deep into Jonathan’s eyes as she gets up from the bar. She doesn’t break eye contact with him as she reaches underneath the bar to grab her purse hanging from the hook. “Don’t mind them. They’re drunk. What do I owe you?”

“It’s on me.”

Jasmine turns her head to watch her friends stumble out onto the sidewalk in the freezing cold. She looks back at Jonathan a stares deep into his soul. “I think you should close out and come with me.”

Jonathan meets her over at the front door of the tavern and remains mesmerized by her eyes. He cannot stop staring at her beautiful face. She opens the door and for the first time in three years, Jonathan can feel the cold, bitter air against his cheeks.

Jasmine leans in and kisses him on his cheek. He can feel the warmth of her breath. As she pulls back from Jonathan, she hands him a note with the address of the location where she’s going. She takes a step out the front door, holding Jonathan’s hand as she makes her way through the threshold. Their eyes remain fixated on each others as Jonathan remains inside the tavern and Jasmine’s fingers slip through his.

#

As the door closes, Jonathan’s eyes begin to well up with tears. He knows he can’t go outside, but he wants to see Jasmine again. He paces back and forth for awhile, trying to convince himself to muster up enough courage. Even if he tries to leave and can’t, at least he made an effort! So, he pulls out an atlas and looks up the address. It’s about two miles away.

He closes his eyes and opens the door. Again, he can feel the bitter cold on his cheeks. He takes a deep breath and then takes a giant step through the tavern threshold. He’s outside! He dances in the street for a bit and then realizes that he’s wasting time. He jumps on his motorcycle and the rust bucket still manages to kick start! He rides over to the address Jasmine gave him. He can feel the cold nipping at the skin on his face. Frostbite has never felt so good!

When he enters the home, he sees Jasmine sitting in a chair facing away from him, talking with a few people. She turns her head and looks directly at him. She smiles so big and bright, there’s nothing else in the room but her. She gets up and walks towards Jonathan, smiling the entire time.

The two sit and talk with each other the whole night. Jasmine shares her entire life story with Jonathan, and Jonathan with her; everything except for the dying three years ago part. Every time Jasmine touches Jonathan’s arm, he feels goosebumps over his entire body. He feels more alive than he ever did even when he was alive.

Jasmine finally begins to get sleepy, and Jonathan decides to leave. Parting seems like it’s going to be impossible, but Jonathan eventually peels himself away from her warm embrace and gets back on his motorcycle. They blow each other kisses as he rides off back to his tavern.

As he comes to the blind intersection just down the street from Jasmine’s home, he begins to slow for oncoming traffic. His rear tire locks up, and his motorcycle begins to skid along the ice that has formed on the road overnight. Jonathan suddenly remembers his accident from three years ago. It was at this very intersection!

He remembers skidding through the intersection along the icy road while a delivery truck heading to the tavern comes barreling through the intersection at the same time and broadsides him. He died instantly that morning! He remembers in vivid detail, the sound of the truck’s motor and the sound of the metal grill as it plowed into the side of his head and sent him flying across the other side of the intersection.

He remembers floating above the intersection, watching the chaos below as the truck came skidding to a stop after demolishing his motorcycle as it ran over it. He remembers watching the men jump out of the truck and try to revive his lifeless body. He remembers looking back towards Jasmine’s home and seeing the light go out in her upstairs bedroom just as he felt himself get pulled away towards his tavern.

Jonathan closes his eyes as he braces for impact from the truck. He thinks of Jasmine. He thinks of her smile, her eyes, her lips, her laugh, and the way she’d bite her lip when she’d talk nervously about going off to college. He thinks of how she’s the smartest woman he’s ever met and so self expressed. He thinks of her warm embrace and how when he hugged her everything felt just fine. He grips his handlebars tighter and tighter.

His motorcycle eventually comes to a stop at the gas station just across the intersection. He’s still gripping his handlebars. As he looks back at the intersection, he sees the delivery truck go driving by. He can see Jasmine’s bedroom light turn off in the distance.

He’s alive! He screams with joy and taps his feet in dance while he sits on his motorcycle. He takes a few deep breaths and looks up in the sky and whispers, “Thank you.”

He heads down the road on his motorcycle and is practically dancing along side his bike as he heads towards his apartment above his tavern. He’s so overcome with joy that he almost runs into a car! Startled by the near death encounter, he chokes up his glee and focuses on making sure he arrives back safely to his tavern.

He parks his motorcycle and goes back into his tavern and heads upstairs. He brushes his teeth and stares at himself in the mirror. He’s smiling ear to ear. It’s good to be alive! He finishes getting ready for bed when there’s a knock on the door.

He goes down stairs and opens the tavern door. It has started to rain, and he sees a drenched Jasmine standing in front of him, shivering.

“I know this might sound crazy. I know you’re probably going to think I’m some crazy girl.” A tear falls from Jasmines left eye and is captured by a raindrop falling to the ground. Jonathan watches as her tear falls to the ground. He can see his reflection in her tear.

“I was so worried that something happened to you on your way home. I had to run over here to make sure you were safe. That you got home safely. I prayed for your safety the entire run here. I’m completely drenched.” She flaps her hands in the rain and water flings off of her sleeves onto the ground.

“You must think I’m a silly child or that I’m drunk, but I’m sorry. I just had to know you got home safe. I don’t know why I was so worried about you, but I was. I was so scared.” Jasmine breaks down crying and Jonathan steps out of the tavern and into the rain to embrace her. He begins to cry as he holds her tightly against him. The rain is running down his face as quickly as tears are running from his eyes. The two hold each other tightly as the rain fades into nothingness and their embrace becomes everything.

The Blue Light

The front door creaks open as Aunt Bethany welcomes Jessica and Gerald home to Grandma’s house. The living room is abuzz with nieces and nephews running to greet them at the front door. The anticipation has been building all day for their arrival, and everyone is joyous as they come through the small foyer of Grandma’s house. They can barely enter with so many nieces and nephews lined up for hugs.

The 20 hours of driving has left them both yearning for the comfort of a soft, warm bed, but they are here for a purpose. As they round the corner of the sofa, there she is: Grandma! The scene is far from their visit just a few months back. Grandma’s body is frail and the signs of Stage 5 Parkinson’s along with arthritis are more evident than ever.

Grandma’s weak body lies as comfortably as possible on one branch of the L-shaped sofa that has cushions replaced with aerated memory foam support pillows and throw pillows replaced with support foam. Her oxygen tank is in easy reach next to a table that holds her oximeter, blood pressure monitor, water cup, treatment log book, and (most importantly) fresh flowers from her daughter’s best friend’s award winning flower garden.

“Jessica and Gerald are here, ma” Bethany says to Grandma.

Grandma tilts her head as far as she is able to her right, which is barely more than a couple of degrees. A big smile arises on Grandma’s face as Jessica kneels down next to her Grandma and holds her right hand. Grandma lifts her left arm over to Jessica and places her clutched hand with shaking thumb and index finger against Jessica’s cheek. Jessica’s eyes begin to well up with tears of love for her grandma as she holds her grandma’s hand against her cheek.

“I love you so much, Grandma.”

“Same here,” Grandma whispers.

“She’s pretty hard to understand with losing her voice a couple of weeks ago.” Bethany catches Jessica and Gerald up on grandma’s condition, which has continued to deteriorate rapidly from day-to-day over the last couple days that they have been on the road. Uncle Gene enters the room and asks Bethany to discuss a few things in the other room.

Jessica continues holding Grandma’s right hand as she lifts her left hand and struggles to point forward. “Blue light.” Grandma utters. Everyone looks around for a blue light in the room, but there is no light. Just the television, which is showing the Chicago Cubs game.

#

Nurse Madison arrives for the routine check on Grandma. She performs the regular vital checks. Grandma’s blood pressure is on the low side, but she’s doing well for Stage 5 Parkinson’s disease. Madison reminds Bethany, Jessica, and Gerald about what to expect for this late stage of Parkinson’s.

“Grandma’s body will continue to fail. The oxygen will help her body, and remember to make sure she is also drinking plenty of water. Just remember that she will have increased difficulty with swallowing as her Parkinson’s progresses further. It will help to sit her as upright as possible while she’s drinking as well as for at least a minute after. Let gravity help.” Madison gives them some additional tips on what will make Grandma as comfortable as possible and then goes on her way.

Gerald walks over to Grandma and sits down at her feet. “You want a foot massage, Grandma?” Grandma nods.

As Gerald begins to massage Grandma’s feet, she utters, “Blue light”. Gerald looks around the room for a blue light or even something with the color blue. The front window curtains are open, and the sky is bright blue. Perhaps that’s the blue light that she’s talking about.

Jessica comes back into the room and sees Gerald massaging Grandma’s feet. Tears well up in her eyes. Over the last couple of days that they’ve been at Grandma’s, Gerald has become Grandma’s favorite caretaker when it comes to moving her. Gerald’s physical strength and love of Grandma makes him the ideal candidate to pick her up and move her when Grandma’s getting sore.

“Move, me.”

Gerald stands up beside the sofa. “Okay, Grandma. Which direction do you want to go?”

Grandma moves her left hand in the direction of the sofa. Gerald reaches behind Grandma’s back and under her legs and gently scoops her up. He slowly places her back down.

“How’s that?”

Grandma shakes her head, and Gerald gently scopes her up and asks Jessica to help adjust the pillow under Grandma’s tailbone. He slowly puts Grandma back down on the sofa.

“How’s that?”

Grandma doesn’t say anything, but Gerald can tell by the look on her face that she’s still not comfortable.

“Grandma, are you lying to me?”

Grandma nods, and Gerald gently scoops her up and tells her, “I’m gonna do this until you’re comfortable, and I don’t want you to lie to me either.”

Jessica adjusts the pillow again, and Gerald places Grandma down in just the right spot. “Now, I’m going to slowly pull my hands away from underneath you. If anything changes and you feel like you’re not in the right position, just let me know. I’ll do this all day if I have to.”

As Gerald starts to stand back up, Grandma reaches for his hand. Gerald pauses and kneels next to Grandma as Aunt Bethany enters the room and starts talking to Jessica. Grandma lifts Gerald’s hand to her mouth with her cold hand and kisses his hand over and over. Gerald’s eyes begin to tear.

He leans over and kisses Grandma on her head. “I love you Grandma.” She slowly lowers her hand holding Gerald’s hand, and he reaches over with his other hand to wrap it around Grandma’s cold hand. “Your hands are very cold, Grandma.”

He sits with Grandma, holding her hand, thinking of all the fun times they’ve had since he met Jessica. Grandma’s body softens as she starts to relax, and Gerald smiles at her. She lets out a deep breath, and her entire body sinks as it relaxes completely. Gerald feels her hand loosen its grip. He looks at Grandma’s face, and something seems different. Her face is completely relaxed; complete peace.

Gerald is eagerly awaiting Grandma’s next breath. He’s carefully watching her torso, waiting for her chest to rise. He leans closer to Grandma’s face, trying to hear her breathing. There’s a quiet noise from Grandma’s torso, and Gerald feels her hips sink slightly underneath his hands that are resting on her lap.

He looks back at Aunt Bethany and Jessica having their conversation and then back to Grandma. Still no movement by Grandma. “Did Grandma just evacuate her bowels? Isn’t that what happens when someone dies?” Gerald thinks to himself as his mind begins to panic.

He rubs Grandma’s hand as a tear falls down his cheek. “It’s okay, Grandma.”

#

Grandma’s mouth starts moving, but she’s not making any noise. Gerald is elated! “Would you like some water, Grandma?”

Grandma shakes her head while she continues to mouth something without making any noise.

Jessica comes over and Aunt Bethany leaves the room. “Can you spell it, Grandma?”

“F”

Gerald is so elated that Grandma isn’t dead! He’s focused on every breath coming out of Grandma’s mouth at the moment.

“A”

Jessica is a bit bewildered by Gerald’s excitement in Grandma spelling something, and she smiles at him, thinking he looks like a kid in a candy store.

“R” Grandma pauses for a couple of breaths.

Jessica leans in towards Grandma. “Are we too far away from you, Grandma?”

Grandma shakes her head. “T!” she says with excitement!

Gerald and Jessica look at each other with a question mark and then back at Grandma. “Do you need to fart, Grandma?”

“I just did.”

Gerald and Jessica’s nostrils start to flare as the both quickly stand up. Gerald starts laughing and tells Jessica the story about watching Grandma’s body relax and stop breathing.

“I really thought she had died in my arms.”

Jessica laughs, “She probably stopped breathing because she knew how bad it smelled!”

Grandma starts to laugh, and the two of them look at Grandma with love in their eyes and smile. She’s still a practical joker!

“Blue light!” Grandma points to her feet.

Jessica tells them that she thinks Grandma is seeing Grandpa as a blue light. Gerald has his own theories about the blue light.

“Blue light!” Grandma points to her feet, and everyone can tell she’s getting a bit frustrated.

Aunt Diana comes around the corner and starts giving her two cents on the blue light, and the three of them are walking around the room looking for anything that has the color blue. One by one, each item is rejected by Grandma.

Aunt Bethany walks into the room and asks what the commotion is all about. Everyone shared their theories about the blue light: it’s grandpa, it’s the sky reflecting on the mirror, it’s the angel of death welcoming her.

Aunt Bethany solves the puzzle, “The humidifier has a light on it, and Grandma likes the blue light the best.” She reaches down by the end table at the side of the sofa where Grandma’s feet are closest and turns on the humidifier. Everyone starts laughing.

“So much significance about the blue light that we all made up, and it’s just a humidifier?” Gerald can barely get the words out as he’s laughing.

Everyone looks over at Grandma who is smiling. “Blue light.”

The Little Mermaid (Idea)

Sci-fi version of “Little Mermaid” where Ariel is a genetically engineered mermaid who is part of a top secret military program (Atlantica). She is capable of sinking submarines and ships with a powerful sonar she is able to create with her underwater voice. She is ordered to sink a fishing vessel (mistakenly thought to be a foreign military vessel) in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Los Angeles. She saves the Captain (Eric) but becomes depressed about her situation of destruction and lack of legs. Of course, she’s smitten by Eric and wants to be with him on land.

Eric’s father happens to be the Admiral who has Project Atlantica under his budget. Once he hears of the incident, he decides to shut it down. The program director (Dr. Triton) is told of the news to shutdown the program and is ordered to euthanize all of the creatures in the program. Of course, he has to keep it a secret, but the AI running the facility (Underwater Research System – Los Angeles) discovers the plan and uses Ariel’s love of Eric to coerce her into becoming a bipedal land dweller.

URSLA sends an AI lobster bot (Sebatian) to make arrangements with Ariel to become bipedal. URSLA fabricates some bionic legs to allow Ariel to see the world through a bipedal experience. Of course, Ariel must do a favor within 72 hours for the URSLA AI by plugging in a blue and yellow device (Flounder) to the USB port of an specific computer (Admiral who is shutting down Atlantica/Eric’s father).

Since Ariel is an underwater creature, she cannot vocally communicate outside of water, and there is not enough time to create a vocal communicator for her. The AI hides her from Dr. Triton but doesn’t let on that it knows Dr. Triton is euthanizing all the creatures and allows them to be systematically killed, including others just like Ariel.

Meanwhile, Ariel gets Eric to fall in love with her via online dating apps and virtual reality, masking her lack of voice. She gets to meet Eric’s father after Eric invites her to have dinner at the Admiral’s house. There she discovers that the URSLA program is slated to be shutdown by Eric’s father because of the incident where Ariel sank Eric’s ship, killing everyone aboard. This is only after she has already plugged in the device to the USB port.

The URSLA AI spreads to a nuclear submarine and begins to move the submarine into the Pacific to initiate global nuclear war. The only one who can stop it is Ariel, but since she no longer has fins, Eric must take her in an old ship, under heavy weather, and drop her into the ocean where she can destroy the submarine. She will have no way to make it back to the surface without fins, but it’s the only way to save Eric and humanity!

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.

happiness happens here

Eric lays in bed, hands shaking, heart racing, and emotionally devastated as it seems his entire world is falling apart in this very moment. Everything he’s worked so hard to build over the last five years is falling to pieces. All that time, effort, hard work, sweat, tears… It was all for nothing. He stares at his phone with the latest heart-break. An email from his last lender: We regret to inform you that a review of your credit has determined that we will be reducing your business credit.

All of his life dreams are coming to and end. That dream home. That dream car. Those dream vacations. Providing for his wife and three children. It’s all no longer possible. There is no way out of this. This is it.

Eric’s wife, Eva, enters the room. “Jenna is here, sweetheart. Do you want to go first?”

“What’s the point?”

“What happened? Is it the business? You’ll make it through. WE will make it through anything, sweetheart.” Eva knows how much Eric has put into his business. The long hours. The late nights working with his team to build their prototypes. The research. The constant failures, and the occasional success.

It has all taken its toll on Eric over the last five years. Eva has seen him deteriorate into deep states of depression, with each bout stronger and longer than the last. Jenna could not have arrived at a more perfect time!

“I don’t think I can do this anymore, Eva. No, I don’t want to do this anymore. I just don’t. I can’t. Just go out there and meet with Jenna, and come get me once you’re done.”

Eva knows that’s Eric’s cry for help. She’s seen it twice before when she had to call the paramedics to save Eric. First time was a belt wrapped around his neck. Second time was downing an entire bottle of his anti-depressant medication with a half bottle of sleep medication and as much Vodka as he could stomach without puking.

“There is no way that is happening, darling. Even if you meet her in you pajamas, you’re meeting with her now. You know this is going to help.”

Eric looks at Eva with tears in his eyes. “Sweetie, don’t you understand that I don’t want this anymore. I love you, but I just can’t do this anymore. You are better off without me.”

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 50 years on this planet it is that I am most certainly NOT better off without you. I will never believe that, no matter how hard you try to convince me. Now, I’m going to go out there and make her some coffee. I’ll see you out there soon. I love you so much.” Eva kisses Eric on the forehead.

Eric knows there’s no escaping. Eva has skillfully removed everything from the bedroom and bathroom that he could ever use to hurt himself. He contemplates tying the sheets together before Eva interrupts his daydream…

“Don’t even give that thought any attention.”

Eric feels like she can read his mind, but his desperation is written all over his face. Even their dog can sense it as she jumps up on the bed and start licking Eric’s face.

“The dog’s still got it!” Eric laughs.

#

“Eva told me about your episode this morning.” Jenna says kindly to Eric.

“Ya, well, you know how it goes. Can’t win ’em all”

“No, I don’t know, Eric, but help me understand. I want you to start from the beginning. Let’s start with your very first memory. Go as far back as you can remember, and tell me everything. I might jump around with questions, but by the end of today your entire story will be known.”

Eric begins telling Jenna everything. Starting from growing up in a trailer park, to his abusive father and mother, to his run-ins with the law, to his troubles with relationships and even friendships, to years of therapy, to his attempts at suicide, and now his business failures. Eric tells Jenna everything while she diligently takes notes and asks questions. Then, finally, Eric is done telling his story.

“Let’s take a dinner break, Eric. Then we’re going to get right down to it.”

Jenna pulls out a meal from her cooler bag and asks to use the microwave to heat it up. Eva comes out into the kitchen to make  dinner for her and Eric. The three of them sit around the table talking about Eric and Eva’s marriage and how it and their three children have been the single source of happiness for Eric over the last ten years.

Eva can sense that something is opening up for Eric just by having shared his story with Jenna. She knows that Eric’s tough childhood lead to his drive to work so hard. She looks lovingly at him while he shares a rare happy story from childhood when his family pretended that they were camping in a tent in their living room. They passed around a flashlight and told each other ghost stories like they were sitting around a campfire in the woods.

“It was the only time I ever really remember being happy as a family.” Eric looks down at his empty plate. “We literally got evicted the next day, but in that moment I remember being filled with so much joy. I never felt that happy again until I met Eva.”

“Well, Eva, I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to go so that I can get back to working with Eric.”

Eva gets up from the table, bends down to kiss Eric and then whispers in his ear, “I love you sweetheart. I’d be happy living in a tent with you.”

#

Jenna continues her inquiry. “Eric, do you know why your parents did what they did when you were younger?”

“I know my dad was abused. Not really sure about my mom.”

“That might very well be true that your dad was abused. We can’t truly know that because we weren’t there. What we do know is that he abused you in the worst ways possible. You were there for that. And he did that for the same reason that we all do what we do.”

“What’s that?”

“We all do what we do because that’s all we know to do. We don’t know any better. And when we do learn better, we do better. Which is why you are not like your father or your father’s father. Or even your mother.”

Eric looks down at the table while Jenna pauses.

“Eric, you are here today because your wife loves you and your children love you and your dog loves you and because deep down inside you really do love yourself. You are here today because you don’t want to be your father to yourself anymore. You don’t want to be your mother to yourself anymore. You don’t want to keep abusing yourself or hiding from yourself anymore. You are here because you saw your life unraveling before your very eyes. Your entire existence was coming to and end, and that is one thing you are right about!”

Jenna pauses again. Eric is looking puzzled.

“Eric, your life as you know it is ending today. This life where you continue to abuse yourself, where you have become your father inside your own mind. This life where you think so low of yourself that you’re willing to end it all just because your business failed is over.”

Jenna continues on with Eric, addressing his questions and concerns about how he’s going to recreate his past. She shares with him about psychological studies regarding memory recall and gives him physical, artistic, and mental exercises that he is to do every single day; provided he is not overexerting himself to the point of possible injury.

He needs to flood his life with anything and everything that makes him happy. All day long, he is to surround himself with positivity and people/things that make him happy. Everyday, a new list of things that made him happy that day needs to be written down and posted on the wall in his home office. Everyday, he is to read a cognitive reframing statement the two of them have come up with to rewrite his past. The list of daily activities is long but necessary to combat Eric’s darkness.

“You will push back. Your body will go through the equivalent to drug withdrawals because you are quite literally halting your use of drugs that your brain is producing when you are depressed.” Jenna warns Eric. “This is normal. Knowing that it’s coming won’t make any difference. Your body is still going to do what your body does. When that happens, read your reframing statement until you believe it. If it takes reading it 100 times in a row, you’re going to read that statement out loud, right?”

“Yes!”

#

It’s been three months since Jenna visited a suicidal Eric. There have been scores of phone calls, panicking text messages, and desperate emails. Eric and Eva are eagerly awaiting Jenna’s arrival. Each week, Eric has improved. His happy jams playlist has grown to a 6 hour-long mix of rock, rap, country, classical, jazz, and pop music that would make anyone dance nonstop for 1/4 of a day! He’s meditating daily and has updated his reframing statement to include relationships in his life other than his parents.

Eric’s confidence is returned. His business bankruptcy is well underway, and it is not dragging him down. He still has frequent depressing thoughts, but he hasn’t had a suicide thought in more than a week.

“Often times, I’m finding myself just being happy for no reason, Jenna! I smile just because it’s today.” Eric shared with Jenna about how grateful he is to have the loving support of his wife for when Jenna isn’t instantly available to help, and how their kids can really see a difference in him as well.

Eva is beaming with joy about how Jenna has given her back the man she loved. “I always knew he had this in him. I always knew he could find happiness within, and I just didn’t know how to bring him to that place. I don’t know how you are able to do what you do, but it’s amazing, Jenna! I can’t thank you enough for giving me back my husband and my children’s father.”

“It’s all within you, Eric. I was merely a listening device to allow you to hear you story about your past for what it is; just a story.” Jenna begins going over how the remaining six months of Eric’s treatment is going to go. Much of the same work for Eric but with a greater focus on independence from contacting Jenna.

“We’re essentially weaning your off your reliance on me. We should have had enough interactions by now that you’ll know what I’m going to tell you no matter what comes your way. Let’s not pretend that tomorrow is going to be negative thought free or that a negative thought free day is even the goal. Negative thoughts can sometimes help you live a more fulfilling life. YOU just need to make sure you don’t get wrapped up and consumed in them. And you do that by sticking to your regiment of happiness.”

Jenna hands Eric a card. “And if it’s not working and I’m not around and neither is Eva. If you are all alone and can’t see the blue sky, I want you to read what’s on this card 10 times out loud with more enthusiasm with each time.”

Eric looks puzzled, “But the card is blank, Jenna.”

“Exactly. What do you want to put on it?”

Eric looks down at the card and smiles.

happiness happens here

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, 2489.” 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.”