Short Story. The Peacemaker. (Enneagram 9)

Chris’s trembling hand hovered over his mother’s casket. He couldn’t bring himself to touch it, as if feeling his mother’s coffin would make it real. The last embrace for either of them.
He felt no discernible emotion. Anger replaced sorrow replaced confusion within the space of a breath. And then peace. A calm that only comes from detachment. The anger wasn’t a part of him, it was merely happening to him. He wasn’t experiencing sorrow, rather, sorrow had made its home upon his shoulders. He was fine. And yet, he couldn’t touch the casket. His mom would want him to touch her casket.
“Chris,” Beth whispered, resting her hand against his arm. Her eyes were concerned, her lips pulled downward as she peered into his eyes. “We’re supposed to be welcoming the guests.”
Chris glanced back toward the pews, taking a moment to watch the stream of acquaintances file into the church. He felt no responsibility for these people. There wasn’t enough room for them. “You should rest,” he told her.
“I’m fine,” Beth said, her eyes searching the crowd for their father. “I’m not in danger.”
“That’s what mom said,” Chris hissed, involuntarily glancing at her casket.
Beth stiffened, visibly swallowing her emotions. “Chris,” she whispered, taking his hands in hers. “I promise I’m okay. What happened to mom was a freak thing. It’s not gonna to happen to me.”
Chris exhaled, distancing himself from the anxiety building inside. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to be okay,” he said, holding her hands tighter. “You’re sick.”
“Yes,” she sighed.
“And you’re going to need help,” he pressed, holding her gaze.
“I know,” she said, shooting him a rueful smile. “That’s why I have you and dad… and medicine.”
Chris allowed himself to smile back. “Good. So you can let me help you right now by taking my advice. You don’t need to welcome people to mom’s funeral.”
Beth rolled her eyes. “Okay, Chris, I’ll find my seat.”
Chris nodded in relief. For the moment, there was one less weight on his shoulders.
And just as Beth turned toward the pews, Pam appeared out of the reverent crowd, shuffling her way toward them. “You know, sound carries pretty well here,” she said as she pulled up in front of them. “You two might want to talk more softly.”
“Pam,” Beth said, her voice betraying her surprise. “Thanks for coming.”
“I just wanted to support you,” Pam said, her eyes heavy with burden. “All of you,” she added as she made eye-contact with Chris. “I know I can’t fix what happened to your mother, or change the fact that you’re sick, Beth. But I can do what I can do.”
Chris fought down the lump in his chest, surprised at the anger that accompanied his sorrow. There was compassion in her eyes, along with pity, which reminded him of his pain. And that’s all anyone here was going to accomplish. Every single one of them would look at him with that same pity, each time a reminder of why he should pity himself as well.
“Thank you,” Beth said, smiling at Pam. It’s what Chris should have said, what he would have said if he hadn’t been so wrapped up in his head.
“Well I’ll go take my seat,” Pam said quietly, watching Chris with a knowing frown.
“We’ll join you,” Beth said amiably, reaching for Chris’ hand in an effort to guide him with her.
“I um, I need to do something first,” Chris said, pulling away, darting for the doors along the side of the church before Beth could object.
He couldn’t sit yet. There was too much happening inside of him to be still. He needed to move. To process the thoughts barraging his mind, like a thousand wires disconnected. He could sort it out. He could make sense of everything if only he could just escape for a while.
No one followed him as he pushed his way through the side doors. It was empty outside. Space enough so that his mind could process without distraction. The chilly air cleared his mind, providing a wave of relief as he became more aware of his senses.
The goosebumps on his arm. The brush of wind cutting through his jacket. They brought his mind into focus, temporarily dulling the unresolved thoughts in his mind. Then he pulled out his box. The carton was half-empty, the rest of it burned to ashes that morning. He didn’t want to smoke… and yet it was all he wanted to do.
His hands shook as he lit his cigarette. He told himself it was the cold. that it was the wind happening to him. The anger happening to him… then the smoke hit his lungs, providing a wave of relief. The nicotine happening to him. None of this was who he was.
And then he exhaled the smoke, and with it, the tiniest amount of burden. For the moment, the weight was lightened. It would come back heavier when he was done, but that could be dealt with then. This was now.
“Son,” Steve said, stepping through the doors. “What are you doing out here?”
Chris let out another breath of smoke, holding up the cigarette in reply.
“We’re about to start,” he said, his eyes heavy with disapproval.
“I just need to finish one, dad,” Chris said, pulling his eyes away from his father’s.
Steve hesitated, biting back a response as he watched his son take another drag. “Why?” He asked instead, his voice soft. Questioning.
Chris eyed his father, surprised at the question. “I just do.”
Steve nodded as if that made perfect sense, looking intently into his son’s eyes. Then, with a sigh, he leaned against the brick wall next to him. “I’m sorry, son,” he said, shivering through a gust of wind. “You don’t deserve this.”
Chris shrugged. “Neither do you, dad.”
“Maybe,” Steve said, his eyes laden with tears. “But it’s part of the job. You don’t know what it’s like to have children. To love someone so intensely… it’s not something you can know without being a parent yourself. I imagined all the things I would do for you both. All of the ways I could provide for you or fail you. But what I thought about most was how painful your life would be. I thought of every cruel possibility this world had to offer, and imagined that I would be there for you through it all. I thought if I could love you well enough. If I fought for you strongly enough…”
Chris looked Steve in the eyes as he trailed off. “Dad, this isn’t your fault.”
Steve nodded. “No, it’s not. And yet, every moment of suffering that you and Beth experience is my fault. And your mom’s fault. Because we brought you into this world. And in this world there is suffering… and there is love. And son, when you run from one… your run from both.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
“Chris, it’s okay if you’re not ready to feel anything right now.” Steve pressed. “You don’t need to be ready. But, eventually, you’re going to have to let yourself feel what you’re feeling.”
Chris’s lips trembled as he pulled the cigarette away from his mouth. He couldn’t bring himself to respond. He knew that if he said anything in this moment, he would break. And then he broke anyway as his father pulled him into a hug, and he couldn’t hold it in any longer.
Chris dropped the cigarette as his father pulled him in tight, and then they both sobbed into each other’s arms. There were no wires. No weights. In that moment, there was only freedom. Freedom to feel and to love.
Minutes passed, and Steve didn’t let go. He held Chris until he was ready to move on. Until his son could stand on his own once more.
“I’ll give the eulogy,” Steve said once they’d wiped away their tears.
“Dad, I can give it,” Chris said, feeling lighter than he had in some time.
“I appreciate that, son, but your mother would have wanted me to give it. I was just… I was running from it. I’m done running.”
Chris nodded his understanding. “Me too,” he said eventually, stomping out the embers of his cigarette.
And, together, they walked back into the church. Wherein, Chris, without hesitation, embraced his mother’s casket.
He cried again during his father’s eulogy. As did Beth. And Pam. And Louis. And they were tears of sadness, but not just sadness. They were also tears of hope. Of remembrance. Of love.

Short Story. The Challenger. (Enneagram 8)

Louis checked his watch. Thirty-three minutes he’d been waiting in the hospital lobby. Two more and he’d pester the nurses again. And every five minutes after that until he got what he came for.
He hadn’t managed to sit once during the wait. It was too easy to think when he wasn’t moving. Too easy to dwell on the past. Moving was better for him; it put him in better control of his emotions.
“Excuse me,” he said to the receptionist exactly ninety seconds later.
“Your mother will be out shortly,” the receptionist told him, not bothering to look up from her computer.
“She’s my neighbor,” Louis said, rapping his fingers on her desk “How shortly?”
The woman rolled her eyes away from her computer, not an ounce of patience left in them. “I’ll know when you know, sir. Now you can take a seat while you wait.”
“I’ll stand,” Louis said, turning away from her desk as she rolled her eyes at him again, but he didn’t mind. As far as he was concerned, she could roll her eyes at him a thousand times as long as she did her job.
It was another seven minutes before his neighbor finally rolled through the doors.
“What are you doing here, Louis?” Pam asked as her attendant pushed her across the lobby.
“I’m here to drive you home,” he said, feeling more like a parent than he had in some time.
“I didn’t need you to pick me up,” Pam snapped, her lips curled in a frown. “I’m perfectly capable of calling for a ride.”
“Don’t be stubborn,” Louis snapped back. “I’m here to help you home.”
“You’re here to baby a woman twenty years older than you,” Pam sighed. “And I don’t need babying. I’ll find my own way home, thank you.”
Her attendant glanced back and forth between Pam and Louis, unsure of how to proceed. “We kind of need this chair.”
Pam scoffed, pushing herself up from the wheelchair. “Take it then, I told you I didn’t need it in the first place.”
The attendant bowed his head, avoiding both of their eyes as he escaped down the hallway.
“Please, Pam,” Louis said, some of the fight leaving his voice. “I told Beatrice I would bring you back.”
“Your wife doesn’t care who picks me up, Louis,” Pam said. “You’re the one who treats me like your child.”
Louis visibly flinched at the barb. Pam didn’t know the whole story, but she knew enough to make him hurt.
Pam realized what she’d said too late, recognizing the pain in his eyes. “Fine,” she said, relenting. “You can drive me home.”
Louis nodded, solemn as he lead her to his car. It was a long walk. Too long to spend with someone in complete silence, but that’s exactly what they did.
“Did you tell them about the pills?” Louis asked once they’d gotten in the car.
“Yep,” she said, buckling her seat belt.
Louis eyed her suspiciously. “And?”
“And they’ve assigned me someone to talk to,” Pam said, exasperated. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
Louis bit his lip, swallowing his response as he pulled out of the parking lot. “I’m glad,” he said eventually.
“Good,” she replied. “So now you don’t have to keep checking in on me.”
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“It’s not your job to make sure I’m okay,” she said. “I hardly know you, Louis. We weren’t friends then, and we aren’t now.”
“Theo was my friend,” Louis snapped, strangling the steering wheel. “That makes you my friend too.”
“No it doesn’t,” Pam said, her voice quiet as she rested her head on the car seat. “I don’t know you. I don’t know Beatrice. And there’s nothing either of you can do to help me through this.”
Suddenly, Louis pulled to the side of the road, throwing on his hazards. “Yes there is,” he said, looking her in the eyes for the first time. “I can remind you that you’re not alone. I can drive you to and from the freaking hospital, and I can fight for you even when you’ve given up on yourself. Because that’s what Theo would do.”
A single tear fell down Pam’s cheek. “You’re not Theo.” She said, her voice raising. “It’s not your job to fight for me. You’re not Theo. You will never be Theo!”
“I know what it’s like to lose someone, Pam. What it’s like to be suddenly stripped of purpose. To lose all direction in life.” Pam’s heart beat faster, her tears falling harder.
“Beatrice still cries every night,” Louis said, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. “Three years later and she cries every night, because time doesn’t change the fact that we can’t hold our daughter. We can’t kiss her and watch her grow up, and no one can change that. But guess what? We can still remember her. And love her.”
“I remember Theo every minute of every day,” Pam whispered through the tears. “I’ve never stopped loving him.”
“And he never stopped loving you,” Louis whispered back. “But you stopped loving you, Pam. And I’m going to keep reminding you that your loved until you remember it yourself.”
Pam smiled through the tears, and in that moment, felt Theo’s love as clearly as if he had never left. “I’m sure you were a great father,” she said once her tears had dried.
Louis managed a weighted smile. “Only because I’ve been able to practice on you. You really bring out my overprotective instincts.”
Pam scoffed. “You don’t need an excuse to be overprotective.”
Louis smiled wide as he pulled back onto the road. “See, you do know me.”
Both of them chuckled at that, a weight lifted from both of their shoulders as they made their way back from the hospital.
“Louis?”
“Yeah,” he said, eyes focused on the road.
“Can you actually bring me somewhere else?”

Short Story. The Enthusiast. (Enneagram 7)

“Stop that.”
Theo let the barest crack of a smile slip, ignoring his wife’s plea.
“Please stop dancing like that.”
Theo smiled wider at the exasperation in her voice, shimmying even harder than before. “You know you like it,” he teased.
They were alone in the mirrored elevator, a late-night ride down from their suite.
“I don’t,” Pam said, trying hard not to smile. “I really don’t.”
“Liar,” Theo said as his hips began to get in on the action. “You love my dancing. My hips are the truth.”
Pam rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t help the smile that followed. “Your hips may have been the truth when we were first married, darling, but now they’re just noisy.”
“Rebuttal,” Theo said, raising his chin in imitation of her lawyer friends, before proceeding to salsa his way around her.
“Sustained,” Pam conceded, smiling wide. “And quite convincing.”
“Thank you, counselor,” he said, clearly amused with himself as he gave her a peck on the cheek.
Just then, the elevator doors opened to the lobby. Florescent lights decorated the open floor, the same light jazz music playing over their speakers. There were hardly any people around as they walked out of the lobby. It was late to go out for dinner. Late to go out at all, but Theo was determined to celebrate.
“Craig, my good man,” Theo said, clapping the valet on the shoulder. “Let me ask you a quick question… am I old?”
Craig’s eyes widened, obviously surprised by the question. Behind Theo, Pam nodded vigorously, attempting to give him the right answer.
“Older than me,” Craig said carefully, plastering on a polite smile.
“Fair enough,” Theo conceded jovially as Craig ran to retrieve their car.
Pam grabbed Theo’s hand while they waited. “You shouldn’t ask strangers those types of questions,” she said, her eyebrows raised in reproach.
“Craig is hardly a stranger, and asking uncomfortable questions is the only way to get to know people,” Theo said matter-of-factly.
“Now who’s the liar?” Pam said, nudging Theo playfully.
Theo shrugged, unabashed. “Well, it’s definitely the most interesting way to get to know someone.”
Pam rolled her eyes for the tenth time that evening, but Theo didn’t mind. He knew it was a sign of her love. It meant he was doing right by his job as her husband. And he took his job very seriously.
Craig avoided Theo as he exited their car, afraid eye contact might draw more questions.
“Thank you, Craig,” Pam said, embarrassed about Theo’s effect on the poor boy.
“Thanks, Craig!” Theo echoed before climbing in the car, a big smile on his face.
As soon as Pam closed her door, they took off.
“So where are we going?” Pam asked once she had settled in.
Theo eyed her, not wanting to ruin the surprise. “Somewhere super nice,” he said with a wink.
“You made reservations?”
“Well it is our anniversary,” Theo said, arching an eyebrow. “It seemed the thing to do.”
“Well, the day after our anniversary, technically,” Pam corrected, her voice guilt-laden.
Theo shrugged. “I wasn’t going there.”
“I know. But, again, I’m really sorry, honey,” Pam said, laying a hand on Theo’s arm.
“I totally understand,” Theo said with a smile, but not quite able to bring himself to look her in the eyes. “Work is unpredictable. I know you would have rescheduled if you could.”
Pam nodded, the smile slipping off her face. After a while, she tried again. “So where did you make the reservations?”
Theo glanced away from the road, offering an olive branch in the form of eye contact. “Guess.”
Pam snorted, squeezing his arm. “I’d rather not.”
“Come on, guess!”
Pam let out a sigh, not quite feeling the phone buzzing in her lap. “You can’t make me.”
Theo pouted his lips as he pulled to a stop sign, pulling out his A-plus pouty face, but it went unnoticed.
“Darn it all,” Pam said, digging into the purse in her lap.
It was Theo’s turn to sigh as pulled forward. “Work?”
Pam didn’t answer, only just having found her phone.
“Honey?” He said just as her phone began to buzz again.
“It’s work,” she said, already in the process of answering. “Hello?”
Theo purse his lips, his good mood dissipating into the stale air. He knew what was coming. His wife would be stolen by work. Another evening alone.
“Are you sure?” She asked the phone.
Theo took a series of deep breaths, daring to hope for the night he planned. For a night with his beloved, without responsibilities, without work.
“Okay,” Pam said, her voice resigned.
At that word, Theo exhaled, daring to hope no longer.
Pam stared at her phone after hanging up. Afraid to look at her husband.
“What did they want?” He asked, deciding to rip off the duck tape.
“They need me.”
Theo bit his bottom lip. “Tonight?”
Pam didn’t answer right away. “Yeah.”
Theo nodded, resigned. “I’ll take you there,” Theo offered, taking a left turn at the stop sign, away from their reservations.
“I’m sorry.”
Theo shrugged, his shoulders heavy. “We still have car time, at least.” A silver lining he didn’t feel.
“It’s a problem with my paperwork,” Pam said, still defending her work. Always defending her work.
“I’m not fighting you on it,” Theo said, the life gone from his voice. “You have to work. I get it.” He did. He understood, but that did nothing to ease the pain.
“You look mad,” Pam said, her voice gentle. She also understood. He had a right to be mad, but knowing that did little to ease her guilt.
Theo took a deep breath, tension visibly leaving his body. “I’ll be fine,” he said, turning to look her in the eyes. “I love you.”
Pam looked back into his. “I love you too, darling.” And her guilt was eased. And his pain was eased. And by all accounts, it was a good anniversary up until that moment.
Until.
Until…
Until the crash of their car. Until a truck rammed into their driver seat. And Theo’s body was crushed. And the life left his body.
Pam screamed. At first because she was scared. And then because she realized her husband was gone. Her rock. Her meaning. Then she couldn’t stop screaming.
Not until the hospital when they put her under. “I love you,” she sobbed between screams. But he was gone. That didn’t make sense. But she could still hear his voice. And that didn’t make sense either. And yet, all the same, he responds in that moment. And he still does today.
“I love you too.”

Short Story. The Loyalist. (Enneagram 6)

Cara’s head nodded, drool lining her chin. She’d fought her way in and out of sleep all night as she waited for her mom in the hospital waiting room.
Reflexively, she glanced around the room, processing potential danger even as she fell back asleep. She was slouched in the most uncomfortable chair she could find, thinking it would help her stay awake, but her eyelids had other plans.
Every time she fell back asleep, her textbook slid farther down her legs. It had already fallen once, and the sound of it slapping against the tile had jolted her awake. But that was hours ago, nothing more than a dream to the sleep-deprived teenager.
Her eyes fluttered open at the sound of a distant announcement. A call for a patient’s name. Scuffling feet and sporadic coughs punctured her dreams, interrupting the brief respite from her real life.
“Cara,” Deb snapped as she stood over her daughter.
Cara nearly jumped out of her chair at the sound of her mother’s voice, dropping her textbook with yet another thud. “Hi, mom,” she said as she wiped the drool from her chin.
Deb scowled as she picked up Cara’s book, handing it back to her daughter. “What did I say about coming here?”
“That it better be an emergency,” Cara said with a sigh.
Deb tilted her head. “And is it?” She asked, her body language suggesting she clearly knew the answer.
Cara just shrugged, both because she knew her mom already knew the answer, and because she was too tired to think of anything witty to say.
Deb let out another sigh as she directed Cara out of the hospital. “Why do you feel the need to keep disobeying me?” She asked in a huffy whisper as they walked out of the sliding doors.
Cara clenched and unclenched her hands, fighting to remain calm. Her answer should be obvious, and it makes her furious that her mom would even ask it.
“I don’t,” is all she says in reply, her voice betraying her anger.
“You do,” Deb responds, shaking her head as they walk toward her car. “I told you to stay home and sleep like a normal human being, and you walked to the hospital instead. Do you realize how dangerous that is?”
“I texted you,” Cara said, throwing her book in the back seat of her mom’s car. “I told you I was coming.”
“Yeah,” Deb scoffed as they climbed in the car. “Great good that does me hours after the fact. You know I don’t get texts during work. If something had happened…”
Cara doesn’t look at her mom, opting instead to study the stains on her passenger-side window. She didn’t trust herself to speak. Not while they were both so worked up.
She could feel her mom staring at her, considering what to say next, but nothing came. Eventually, Deb just started the car and pulled out of the parking garage, letting the silence grow as she drove.
Cara could feel her mom’s desire to speak. Could feel the tension building, but neither of them said a word during their short trip home. Eventually, Deb pulled into their driveway and turned the car off, but neither of them got out of the car.
Cara frowned as her mom turned to face her in her seat, waiting for Cara to do the same, but Cara wasn’t ready for that yet. Instead, she turned her face to look at her mom for the first time. A compromise.
“I was just worried for you,” Deb said, her voice soft with concern.
“I know,” Cara growled, biting off the words with more aggression than she intended.
They both took a deep breath, Cara in an attempt to calm down, Deb in preparation to press on.
“I just don’t understand why you don’t want to listen,” Deb said, her voice constricted.
Cara couldn’t hold it back any longer. “Because I’m worried about you!” She yelled, tears beginning to fall. “Don’t you get it? I don’t want you to be alone.”
Deb pulled back, her eyebrows furrowed as she processed her daughter’s words.
“And,” Cara added, “I don’t want to be alone either.”
Deb let out a staggered breath, choosing to focus on her daughter’s most recent statement. “You can always call your dad,” she said weakly. “You know he’s willing to talk with you until you fall asleep.”
“He didn’t answer,” Cara snapped, wiping at her tears. “And it’s not the same. You’re gone like every other night. I’m always alone, mom. Always.”
Cara could see the guilt in her mother’s eyes, thinly veiled within her frustration. “Cara, you know I’d work less if I could. I’m doing the best I can.”
“I know,” Cara said, weariness replacing her rage.
She knew her mom did the best she could, but, sometimes, it wasn’t enough. She’ll never say that. She feels terrible even thinking it, but there it is. “I love you,” she says instead.
Deb’s smile was genuine, yet weighted with worry. Cara could see that in her mom even if others couldn’t, but she felt powerless to help. The best she could do was to just be with her mom, and it was clear even that brought about more worry than comfort.
Ever since the divorce, nothing was secure. Nothing was stable. Nothing except her mom, and yet, even her mom was fragile.
Deb reached out to her daughter, pulling her in for a hug. Tears still on her face, Cara allowed herself to be pulled into the embrace.
It wasn’t until felt her mom’s arms around her, that Cara could finally relax.
As fragile as her mom was, she usually felt even more brittle. Like she was waiting for something horrible to happen. Just one more thing to come along and break her.
But when she was in the arms of her mother, she knew better. She wasn’t brittle. She was oak. She wasn’t fragile. She was steel. She was loved, and she was safe.

Short Story. The Investigator. (Enneagram 5)

Hannah let out a frustrated sigh as she stared at her screen, unable to determine the break in her code.
“Hannah,” one of her teammates said through her headphones. “You okay?”
“Just trying to figure it out,” she said, her eyes starting to itching from staring for so long.
“You don’t need to find it now. Just let us know when you do… or we can do it for you as well. There’s no need to stress yourself.”
Hannah rolled her eyes so thoroughly that she was sure they could see it through the microphone. “I’m not stressed,” she said, her voice overly polite. “It’s just taking me a while is all. I’ll get back to you.”
They hopped off the call one by one, allowing her to get back to her work. Two weeks had passed since her last seizure. It was the longest she’d gone without an episode since she’d been diagnosed with epilepsy. Long enough that she’d begun to think the medicine might finally be working.
The weight of her eyelids fought her as she re-focused on her screen, trying to solve the line of coding that was giving her team problems. It usually came so easily to her. She used to look at a line of code and she’d know exactly how to fix it. But nothing was that easy anymore.
Fighting the urge to swear, she tore her eyes from her screen and stood up, thinking a stretch might do her brain some good.
The living room was empty. For once, the whole house was empty. It was one of those rare gaps in the week when neither her husband or son were there to coddle her.
Chris was at work, trudging through a job he hated so he could help with the medical bills. Hannah suppressed the guilt that threatened her, unwilling to dwell on how much suffering her illness had caused her family.
“It was time for him to work anyway,” she mumbled out loud the way she did sometimes when it was too hard to keep the thoughts inside.
Her husband would be home soon though. He went out on a quick errand to the pharmacy to pick up a refill. A refill of the medicine that didn’t work. Or hadn’t until now at the very least.
“Why?” She whispered, running her hands through her hair. She’d meant to say more. To ask more than just ‘why,’ but that’s all she managed to say before a lump formed in her throat. Not of sadness or anger, but of frustration.
Why did she have to have epilepsy? Why did it have to be so severe? Why wasn’t the medicine working? These questions were on a constant loop in her head.
Questions without answers… it made her suffering so much worse. She was no stranger to pain. Punishments. Repercussions no matter how severe never phased her, because they made sense. If she made a bad decision, then she had to bear the consequences.
But now?
There was no perceivable reason for her episodes. No explanation for her epilepsy no matter how much research she did. Just inexplainable pain. And it made it that much harder to accept.
“And I derailed Stephen’s work,” she said, thinking out loud. “And Chris’ passion. Only Bethy gets a normal life.”
Hannah smiled at the thought of her daughter. Her precious baby that she hadn’t seen in nearly a year.
Still smiling, Hannah pulled out her phone and opened it to Beth’s number. She stared at it for a few seconds, second guessing herself. She wanted to call her, but she knew Beth would be busy at work.
Instead, she switched to her voicemails and opened the one she saved over a month prior, letting it play over the speakerphone.
“Hey, mom,” it started, Beth’s voice bringing an even wider smile to her face.
It wasn’t a particularly important message. It was just Beth sharing about some of things happening in her life, but Hannah cherished these phone calls. She’d missed her that week, and maybe that was for the best, because now she had her daughter’s voice saved for whenever she needed to hear it.
She found herself wandering around the house as she listened to her daughter ramble, her eyes glazing over pictures of her kids. Of their dog long past, and her husband on their honeymoon. Memories that kept her darkness at bay.
Finally, as Beth’s voicemail came to an end, Hannah’s eyes were captured by her most recent gift. A painting hanging over the fireplace.
Steve’s paintings were usually of a particular moment in their relationship. The landscape of where he proposed. The steeple of where the got married. The front door to their first house. But this one was different.
It wasn’t of any one moment. It was a painting of her eyes. He said it was what he saw every time he looked at her. They conveyed Strength. Wisdom. Compassion.
They were the eyes of someone much stronger than her. Someone more passionate. More loving. But damn if she didn’t want to be that woman. Now more than ever. It was the most challenging painting he’d ever given her. And her favorite.
As she stood before her painting, contemplating the kind of woman she wanted to be, she felt herself growing weaker, less steady on her feet.
The seizures had taken their toll on her body, even weeks afterward. So, careful not to move too quickly, she made her way to her shower.
She knew Steve would fuss at her for taking a shower when she felt week, but showers made her feel stronger. More awake. “I’ll be careful,” she promised him as she slipped off her clothes and stepped in the shower.
She turned the water on hot, a firm grip on the porcelain as she lowered herself into the bathtub. “There,” she whispered, “no harm done if I have a seizure.”
The hot water did it’s work, soothing her as it’s always done. The shower had always been her one refuge, her lone place of solitude. And yet, even here she was plagued by questions she couldn’t answer.
It wasn’t the place of refuge it once was, but she still feels stronger here. She’s not sure how much time has passed when she suddenly hears someone walk into the room.
After a moment, she pulls the shower curtain back to find her husband staring back at her, sitting against the bathroom wall. “Hi, honey.”
Hannah smiles, “Hey, babe. Brought my medicine?”
He lifts up a bag from the pharmacy. “Next week’s dose.”
Hannah’s smile fades as her mind turns back to her questions.
“The medicine is working now, right?” Steve asks, misinterpreting her frown. He’s been particularly attentive since her diagnosis, always anxious to make her happy any way he can.
“I think so,” she says, forcing a smile for his benefit. “It’s not that, I’m just thinking about… everything.”
Now Steve frowns, if only because he knows there’s nothing he can say to change what’s happened. Nothing he can do to make her happy except what he does next.
Gently, he reaches over and takes her hand in his, holding it in a way that says more than words. It’s a promise. An “I do. Forever. Always.” It brings a smile back to her face.
Hannah dies the next day.