And now... on with the story...
When he woke, she stood over him, the white room congregating in a halo around her shoulder-length, golden hair. She held his frail hand gently and smiled into his rheumy eyes.
“Good morning,” she said, her voice a thin gauze of comfort laid across his raised, convalescent bed.
“Already?” he coughed back at her, his own voice breaking the spell she had cast. But her smile didn’t deteriorate and even her dark blue eyes betrayed no hesitation in her devotion. He felt foolish, as he did often of late.
“I’m sorry, my dear,” he said and she gave his hand a little squeeze. “You are a rare one to stay with me this long.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” she said. “It’s a hard day. Let’s make the most of it.”
“Of course, of course,” he said, grateful for her unwavering support. He smiled halfway to his eyes, clapped his wrinkled hands together and said, “So what’s on the agenda for us today, anyway?”
Her smile broadened at the joke, and she held up her hand, lifting fingers one by one.
“Well, first we need to get you out of that bed. Then it’s the best breakfast credits can buy. After we’ll get you showered and dressed. And at one we’ve got front row at the matinee for Twelfth Night.” She left her pinky down, and after a moment dropped her hand. That pinky finger seemed to have planted the first seed of sadness on her flawless face. It was his turn to lift her mood.
“That is a perfect day,” he said, leaning forward as far as he could on his own. She responded with practiced assistance and soon his large, crooked toes touched the warmed, amber tile floor. He leaned heavily on his silver cane and let out a relieved sigh.
“One down,” he said and she took his elbow and led him to the bathroom.
As the car drove them through downtown - Shakespeare’s queer words still heady in his mind and a slight burn in his throat where the chorizo and eggs had left their mark - he stared out the window at the walkers, ironically feeling like a wide-eyed child. They all looked young and vibrant, steps light and laughter easy. And without exception, every face lacked fear, regret or loss. Of course real ages were impossible to guess anymore for all but the children and the few left like him. He felt grateful the sight of his own face was hidden from them by tinted glass.
He tried to halt the old bitterness creeping into his mood, but failed.
“I should have never married such a child,” he said.
She patted his leg through black slacks.
“Cradle robber,” she accused lightly, though even without looking at her he knew he had hurt her. “Four years isn’t all that long.”
“Wasn’t all that long,” he corrected. “But now it’s the whole, wide world. Day and night. Life and death. And I’m on the wrong side of it.” He was surprised to feel a cool tear slide down his wrinkled right cheek. He coughed to hide a sob and kept his eyes on the youths outside, ashamed at his own self-pity.
He turned sixteen around the time the tabloid media first started buzzing about Repression. Respected news groups didn’t take notice until he began his twenties. But even after the first treatments were successfully completed for the richest youth of the world two years later, an age limit was either not discussed or vaguely mentioned as an unknown.
“I would have married you anyway, my dear,” he said, steeling himself and turning his body towards hers. He saw a sheen of tears in her eyes as well. Suddenly, even though their young, marital lust had long since become uncomfortable and strange, he felt an urge to kiss her hard. But because he loved her, he only took her smooth fingers in his hand and caressed them.
“Don’t be sad, dear one,” he said. “This is much better than the alternative. We’ve waited years longer than most. My pride can only let me be so much of a burden. And you know I make the family uncomfortable.”
And then in mock anguish he raised his eyebrows and added, “Oh, no. Please tell me they aren’t going to be there.”
She shook her head, a bit of brightness returning to her face, eyes almost like diamonds behind wet regret.
“You know it’s only us, my man.”
Somehow working on her grief helped him face his own. This world belonged to her and his presence only kept her from enjoying it. He could blame no one in particular that he was twenty-six – one year beyond the limit of the drug’s apparent effectiveness – when the government finally released Repression treatments for the masses.
He did kiss her then, one last time, more passionately than he had intended. She met his enthusiasm with her own and they made out like school kids for the last few minutes of the ride to the incinerary, tears mingling and hearts racing together.
Thanks for reading, off to write!