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  • Memorie’s Of Our Life

    Table of Contents 

    Chapter One…………………………………………………pg 3

    Chapter Two……………………………….…..………..pg 23 

    Chapter Three……………………………………….….pg 43 

    Chapter Four…………………………………………….pg 60 

    Chapter Five………………………………………………pg 79 

    Chapter Six………………………………………….……pg 95

    Chapter Seven……………………………………….pg 111   

    Chapter Eight……………………………………….…pg 122 

    Chapter Nine…………………………………………..pg 144 

    Chapter Ten………………………………..…………..pg 178 

    Chapter Eleven…………………………………..….pg 204

    Chapter Twelve……………………………………….pg 230

    Chapter Thirteen……………………………….….pg 239

    Chapter Fourteen…………………………………..pg 264

    About The Author………………………….……..pg 275

    Chapter One

    ⛋Adrian ⛋

    There was a new kid on the street. 

    I saw the moving van in the house’s driveway that had been on the market for ages. It was a red brick, one-story home with a spacious yard and a ridiculously looking dump truck tire sitting in the middle of the front lawn. The driveway was paved, and an old basketball hoop stood, dejectedly, on end.

    I didn’t think any boys would be coming to play with it anytime soon.

    I was sitting beside my broken bike on the sidewalk across the house. I had been thrown off my bike while practicing a few of the new bike tricks the older kids in the neighborhood had taught me.

    I smooth my raven black hair down as it had been messed up by my fall. My eyes were brown like my mother’s, and I was tall and slim like my father. My jeans were ripped, and my right knee was bloody. My hands were marked up, and a bruise on my shoulder throbbed wonderfully. My bike helmet lay at my feet, bearing new scuff marks that had recently been awarded.

    I glanced at the movers as they unloaded furniture, a sweet-looking bike, boxes upon boxes, and even an utterly intact bed. I saw a blue minivan pull up beside the movers in the driveway and watched as a man, woman, and girl hopped out. They ran to help the movers unload the truck and carry all their belongings into the house. I noticed that the girl ran to inspect the old basketball hoop but soon abandoned it as she moved to look at the dump truck tire.

    She looked my age, with long black hair shining in the summer sunlight. She ran over to her parents, who were conversing with the movers, and stood beside them as they finished up their conversation. She pulled on her mother’s arm, and then…

    Pointed right at me.

    Time to go.

    I threw my helmet on, pulled my bike up, and ran off before the new arrivals to our humble neighborhood could even blink.

    But I had my eye on that girl.

    She was…special.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    My mother finally turned her head, but it was too late. He was already gone.

    I ran to the van, pulled out my suitcase and bags, and walked into the house. The house was a decent size. The inside looked more extensive than it did on the outside. The walls were painted a tan color, and some were gray. The kitchen wasn’t big but relatively small and didn’t have much space, as there were only a few cabinets. The sink looked old and rusted, and the fridge wasn’t usable. The cabinets were made of oak wood and were sanded down. At least they’re pretty and not ugly.

    I finally made it into my room and was very fond of it. My window was decent and significant; it lets lots of light in. The walls were light blue, and a brown fan hung on the ceiling. The carpet was nice and soft, and my closet was long and wide. My bathroom was just down the hall, and my parent’s room was just around the corner.

    I smiled widely and dropped my bags on the ground. Unpacking! That was the fun part! I love organizing things and putting things where they go. First, I walked over to my dresser, which was wrapped with cloth and tape, so it didn’t get damaged on the way here. I grabbed some scissors and cut through the tape, and unwrapped it. After I was done with that, I grabbed my clothes from my suitcase and folded them neatly, and placed them into my drawers.

    I just had a few more things to do.

    I could do it.

    The movers soon came in with my bed and placed it up against the left side of the wall. I thanked them and unpacked the box with my sheets and quilt. Since I had nothing else to do all day, I might as well unpack as many things as possible before I start school in a couple of days.

    I grabbed my bird-covered quilt and laid it on my bed. Then I added a few pillows. My room was almost complete. I unpacked a couple more boxes before taking a break. I began to breathe hard, so I went and grabbed my bathroom stuff out of my backpack and my medicine. I sat down on my stool, taking deep breaths. That’s better.

    “Marrisa! It’s dinner time.” My mother called from the dining room. I sighed and closed my door as I joined my parents for dinner.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    School stunk.

    Fifth grade stunk.

    Math tests at the beginning of the day stunk.

    Math tests at the beginning of a Friday stunk.

    But I thought I could land the plane for the weekends with a C minus on my Math test.

    Oh well.

    I hung on the monkey bars by my legs, looking around at the other kids enjoying themselves on the elementary school playground. The girls chattered away together as they sat down underneath the trees or by the swings. The boys were choosing teams for the new baseball team. Swinging from the bars, I began to make my way to the line of eager boys waiting to be selected for their teams.

    I loved baseball!

    I hated smashing into people at the last moment.

    I toppled over as I crashed into the person. We landed beside each other, and our legs tangled together. I pulled my legs out of the tangle and faced my slam-test partner. I glanced over once and then twice when I realized who I had hit.

    It was the new girl that lived in the neighborhood. She had moved there in the summer, and I had seen her playing in her yard as I rode past on my fixed bike. I had never tried to meet her in the neighborhood and had avoided her, mainly in the public playground. She pulled her hair out of her face and brushed off her knees as I stood up.

    “Watch where you’re going, dummy,’’ I snapped angrily.

    “Watch where I…you should watch out where you’re going!’’ She retorted as she rose to face me.

    “Nah, dumb-dumb like you should be more careful next time! Later, crash test dummy.’’ I teased as I ran off.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    I just wanted to go home.

    This school stank.

    Although I did love the classes.

    I just hated the people.

    When the bell rang, it was time to finish the rest of the classes for today. My friend Emma followed me into science class but then sat far away from me in the back of the class. I sat in the front because my mother told the school she wanted me to be monitored. Parents…how lovely.

    We began to read over our science book, which taught us about the human body and the life cycle. I was considered academically competent for my age, so I was practically knowledgeable. How boring. I had already learned about this last year! I moaned and rested my head on the desk. 

    “Don’t forget to study. We are taking science quizzes next week. I hope for all of you to try your best this semester.” All the kids groaned when she said ‘quizzes.’ I just grinned. This is going to be a short year for me. The bell rang, and we were dismissed from school for the rest of the day and the weekend. I said my goodbyes to Emma and walked to the van waiting for me.

    I opened the car door and hopped in the passenger seat, “Hello, Mom.”

    “Hello dear,” She said enthusiastically, “How was your day?”

    I glanced up at her but didn’t say anything.

    “That bad?” She whispered.

    I shrugged my shoulders and grabbed my seat belt, “I don’t feel like talking about it.”

    “I understand.” She replied. She put the car into drive, and we were on our way home.

    When we drove into our driveway, I immediately grabbed my backpack and ran inside, trying to avoid any more questions from my mom. I threw my bag on my bed and got some clean clothes as I prepared for my shower.

    I felt grimy and dirty thanks to that boy.

    I ran the hot water, grabbed a towel from the linen closet, and placed it on the bathroom counter. I got in and began to wash clean.

    Once I was out of the shower, I dressed, rubbed my hair with a towel, and tried to get the excess water off. I walked into my room and was about to shut the door when my mom entered.

    “Marrisa,” She said nervously. “Could you get dressed in jeans or something? We have guests coming over soon,”

    “Guests? No one told me we were having people over. Is it Emma? That’s why she was acting so strange-”

    “They’re the Smiths. They live in the neighborhood. So please dress in something more appropriate than…Pjs.” She walked over and kissed my forehead. Then she exited my room.

    I quickly pulled on a dark purple shirt. The sleeves rested on the edges of my shoulders, and my shirt fell just above my waist. I throw on overalls and throw my hair into a bun. This night might not be too awful.

    I stopped at the door and rested at my mother’s side while my father opened the door. My eyes widened when the Smith family came into view.

    It was that boy!

    The one who bumped into me!

    Ag!

    Now, who denied unwanted fate!

    “Hello,” My father greeted them and motioned them to come in.

    “Thank you for having us,” Mrs. Smith said softly. She and my mom conversed quietly as I stood there and glared at the boy. How dare he show his face here. I folded my hands into fists and silently growled. He glanced at me but then looked away as if he didn’t see me. How could he act as if nothing had happened? Not even an apology? That was it. He was going to get it.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    I stared at the girl in utter shock.

    It was her! How on earth was it her! Why did it have to be her of all the girls in the stinking universe!?

    The parents didn’t see the slight hostile tension between the girl and me, so the evening passed smoothly.

    Somewhat.

    After dinner, the parents chat happily in the living room. The girl, Marrisa, as I learned her name to be, was left to ourselves. I looked at her, and she stared daggers at me.

    She suddenly rose and left the room for a few minutes. When she came back, she had a cup in her hands and a small string sticking out of the butt of the cup. She sat beside me and placed the cup beside her ear. She grinned and laughed a couple of times.

    “What are you doing?” I asked.

    “I made this,” she began, “I placed a little microphone into it so I can hear what my parents talk about,”

    “Ain’t that a genius plan,”

    “I believe it is. Now quiet, listen.”

    Marrisa would shout into the cup, sending a loud yelling voice into the room our parents were in. Marrisa’s parents would scold her from the other side, saying that it wasn’t funny and she needed to stop.

    I couldn’t exactly understand what they were saying at first. All I heard was, Marrisa, something sick?

    Marrisa abruptly ripped the cup from my ear and scowled silently. She kept it to her ear, but I could tell she wasn’t so pleased by her facial expressions.

    Oh boy.

    “So…um…do you want to go outside?’’ I asked, pointing toward the front door.

    After scrutinizing me for two minutes, she nodded and followed me into the lawn. We stood by the dump truck tire, which looked ridiculous and glanced at the yard in boredom.

    “So do you….’’ I said as I turned towards her, but I could never finish my sentence, “What!? Hey! OW!’’

    She had stepped closer and pushed me hard so that I fell backward, tripped over the side of the tire, and landed on my backside. She stood over me, her face flushed, and hissed.

    “That’s payback,’’

    Not to be outdone by a girl, I jumped up and shoved her back. She fell and landed on her back. She sat up but began coughing instead of bashing me as I supposed she would. Her face grew pale, and she let out thunderous, violent coughs that racked her whole body. She clutched at her chest, letting out those insanely forceful coughs. Her mom came rushing out a moment later, and so did the other parents a second after her.

    “Marrisa, sweetie, why don’t you come inside for a minute?’’ Her mother advised, remaining calm while my mother shot worriedly looks from me to Marrisa and back again.

    “What did you do?’’ My dad whispered angrily as Marrisa was led into the house, “What happened, Adrian?’’

    “I…I…I pushed her, but she pushed me first!’’ I added it immediately.

    “You pushed her? Adrian! You could have seriously hurt her. You may have already,’’ He added, which made me so much worse, “You’re too old to be doing things like this, and I will not have you pushing other people around, understood?’’

    “Yes, sir,’’ I replied.

    Marrisa and her mother went upstairs while my parents and father waited with me in the kitchen. She and her mother returned, and she looked just fine to me. Her parents didn’t say anything, and my parents didn’t ask anything, so I supposed everything was just fine. Marrisa and I spent the rest of the evening playing quietly on the living room floor while the parents supervised us.

    Closely.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    “I hate this!” Emma clamored as we descended the stairs in the school, “My parents don’t understand how annoying this is! I can’t believe I have to move,” Emma furrowed her brows. 

    “You don’t know that for sure,” I reassured, “They said it was possible. But they also said it wouldn’t be till a couple of years,” I giggled at her. 

    “They said it all depends if my grandpa’s business falls apart,” 

    “Wasn’t he a lawyer…?” 

    “Ha!” Emma pointed at me, “That’s hilarious. No, he’s a realtor,” 

    “Umm…” 

    “You know! Someone who helps people find houses?”

    “Oh, right.” I laughed nervously. 

    “He’s the boss of the company. But they haven’t had much luck with customers….” Emma trailed off as if deep in thought. 

    “Are you going to become a realtor?” It was an innocent question, but Emma’s face showed I had just asked the dumbest thing on earth.  

    “Me? A realtor? Do you even know me?! You know I want to become a doctor. I’d be surprised if I ever ended up being a realtor. Ha! No way.” 

    “Sorry, I thought it was worth the ask,” 

    “Your jokes crack me up, Marrisa.”

    “But…it wasn’t a joke?” 

    “I-” Emma began but was quickly cut off by the voice of….Adrian. 

    “Hey, Marrisa! Come on!” Adrian called out to me. 

    “Don’t tell me you’re going to go with him?” Emma scolded, “He’s toxic for you. I disapprove of him. Which means you can’t be friends with him.” 

    “When did that become a rule? If that’s the case, then I disapprove of Thomas,” 

    “Thomas is a nice boy; he doesn’t convince me to ditch school.” Emma cocked up a brow, placing her hands on her hips pridefully. 

    “You’re haughty,” 

    “You know what-”

    “Girls, girls, girls, you’re both pretty, but can we go now?” Adrian teased. Emma’s face turned bright red, and she huffed in frustration. 

    “Yes, we can go,” I said. I darted to the side of him and walked away from Emma. I felt bad. 

    I suppose you could say we got over our little fighting business.

    He was still a little arrogant.

    Calling the name bully.

    And I could go on!

    But I wouldn’t.

    Because it was the right thing to do.

    We hung out sometimes. Our parents forced us to, though. It wasn’t out of free will. Adrian walked by my side as we headed for the hills.

    “I think our parents will be distraught if we skip school, Adrian,” I warned. Adrian ignored me and kept on walking. I heaved out a sigh and followed closely behind him. Everyone in school knew about the big hill behind the school’s property. Some of us would even go sledding when it snowed.

    “Okay, here.” Adrian stopped and placed his hands on his hips, “I’m going to roll down this hill,”

    I snorted and coughed, “Adrian, are you sure you want to do it?”

    “What, are you a chicken?” Adrian sneered, setting himself down on the ground. Heat rushed to my cheeks in frustration, and I groaned.

    “No, but there is an obvious reason why our parents don’t want us going down it,”

    “Always my parents this, my parents that, why do you care so much what they think?”

    “Because. They’re my parents for a reason. They’re there for stability in my life; I go down the right path. The path God chose for me,”

    “Excuses, excuses! Look at me. I’m fine, and my parents don’t care a single thing about what I do,”

    “Clearly,” I mumbled. Adrian grabbed my arm and forced me down to the ground. He beamed brightly and started to roll. I held my bag tightly and watched him continuously turn and bounce off the ground. He was going to hurt himself. I just knew it.

    Why did I always have to be right?

    There he went.

    Oh no.

    I ran down the hill, my bag swinging wildly behind me. I tripped on a stone and face-planted into the grass and dirt. I yelled at myself and gathered up the strength to rise again. Once I descended the hill, Adrian was already crying like a baby.

    How wonderful.

    I meant…how unfortunate.

    I lifted Adrian onto his feet and practically carried him. I reached into my bag and pulled out a band-aid. I made sure to get one for myself. It was better than anything. My cheek was scratched from that horrific fall I had taken.

    “Don’t you dare,” Adrian moaned, crying, “Ever, ever speak of this again, do you understand?”

    “Nope,” I teased, “I’ll make sure to rub it in.”

    “Just get me home,”

    “Fine,”

    Chapter Two  

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    Three years later

    I walked the halls of the school before finally finding my new locker. The school had changed dramatically over the years, but I rather liked the recent changes; most kids didn’t. Eighth grade was a little bit tougher, but I loved the new things I was able to learn and accomplish. Emma moved away a year ago, so I had been alone most of the time. I still bumped into Adrian Smith once in a while, but we never exchanged many words.

    He was changed, though.

    He had become more mature.

    More responsible and, how do I put it… kinder to me.

    I’ve had to go to the doctor every month since two years ago when my condition worsened. Everything around me seemed to change so much. My dad got a fantastic new job as a lawyer, and my mother had finished editing four new books! My mom was an English teacher, but after everything with me, she changed how she worked to stay home.

    Even though my mother smiled and said she loved her job and stayed home with me, I knew she was rather sad. I felt guilty when I thought about the things my parents sacrificed for me. It was my fault that my parents couldn’t do what they wanted to.

    I walked out of the school and saw my mother waiting for me in the school parking lot in our new van. Oh yeah, that was another thing that changed. Our car broke down a couple of months ago, so we had to buy a new one.

    I finally made it to the car and opened up the door. When I got myself settled in, my mom gave me a frown and sighed heavily.

    “We have to go to the doctor today.” She said softly. I raised an eyebrow and faced her face to face.

    “What do you mean? It hasn’t been a month yet.”

    “I know. But the doctor asked to see you. We can go tomorrow if you don’t feel like going today.”

    “It’s fine. I’d rather get it done now.”

    My mom nodded and pulled out of the school parking lot. I laid my head against the glass window and closed my eyes.

    We met my father at the hospital.

    What seemed to be only a few seconds was a few hours. The doctors were already done running some tests on me and poking needles into my soft skin. An IV stuck out from my left arm, which pumped my treatment into my bloodstream, causing me to become sleepy. Even though I was half asleep, I could still hear the voices around me.

    “We don’t know how much longer her body will be able to handle the stress from her heart. Her body is experiencing too much pressure from all the treatments and trying to keep her heart beating. So far from all the blood tests and heart exercises, we found that her body is no longer responding to them.”

    “So, what are you saying?” My mother’s voice was quivering, and I could tell she was about to cry from how her voice cracked. My mothers shed many tears over me over the years. I had to be brave for them.

    So I was used to it.“I’m saying that Marrisa doesn’t have much time before her heart gives way. We could start this other treatment to make sure she is comfortable.”

    “Comfortable? Seriously?” My father’s voice grew angry but then settled down a bit.

    “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.”

    “Will she still have breakouts? Will this new treatment make her symptoms worse?” Mother asked.

    “I’m not very certain…….” The doctor kept talking, but I shut my hearing off. I didn’t want to listen anymore.

    I had heard it all before.

    I would make it.

    For a bit longer.

    I was certain.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

          Summer

    I threw my helmet onto my bike seat and pushed the kickstand down with my foot. I took a deep breath and moved up the path to Marrisa’s front door.

    The Summer breeze stirred the American flag on the pole connected to the stairs. It was the day of the neighborhood Youth Picnic, where all the kids were invited to hang out, eat food (one of the only reasons I was going), and play games for a few hours. The kids could invite their friends, and I wanted to ask Marrisa.

    Yeah.

    I liked her.

    It was apparent that I didn’t think she was so highly annoying in seventh grade, but school was increasing in workload, and I barely had time to talk to her between or after classes. Now, in the freedom of the Summer, I could spend more time with her and get to know her better.

    And I was going to invite her to the picnic.

    If I deemed myself not a thoroughbred coward.

    I knocked on the oak wood door and waited as my anxiety began to build steadily. I was about to strike again in my panic, but the door was thrown open.

    Marrisa, dressed in jean shorts and a light blue T-shirt, stood in the doorway. Her hair thrown back in a high ponytail, she waited expectantly as all the words I had planned hours before disappeared.

    Rats.

    “What’s up, Adrian?’’ She asked, a hand placed gracefully upon her hips.

    Shoot. Shoot. Shoot.

    “Um…I was…’’ I cleared my throat, “wondering if you wanted to come to the Youth Picnic. It’s happening today, you know,’’

    “With you?’’ She asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “Um..well…We can walk on different sides of the street, but I guess,’’ I replied, slowly gathering confidence as she had not shot me down in the first sentence.

    “Sure,’’ She replied slowly, “Let me grab a few things. Meet me at the mailbox in a minute,’’ She closed the door with that said.

    I practically melted on the first step.

    Whew, why was asking a girl to a picnic so hard?

    She came out a minute later, holding a small bag. She ran over to me as I sat by the mailbox as instructed. I got up and nodded in greeting.

    “Ready?’’ I asked.

    “Lead the way!’’ She exclaimed, throwing out her hand.

    The neighborhood park was chock-full of kids of all ages and sizes. We swung on the bars, played zombie tag with a group of middle schoolers, and then lobbed a Frisbee around with a couple of high schoolers. Marrisa and I made our way to the pavilion, and I dropped off my contribution-my mother’s contribution was actually-of hot dog buns. The food was served shortly afterward, and Marrisa and I found a place to sit on a wooden bench.

    “So,’’ I began, “Ready for high school?’’

    “Hmm…yeah,’’ She replied with a full mouth.

    “Sorry, I’ll let you eat,’’ I apologized and turned to my plate.

    We ate in slightly uncomfortable silence while we finished our meal. Then, I noticed some kids organizing a soccer game.

    “Do you want to play?’’ I asked.

    “Um…yeah, sure,’’ She didn’t sound particularly interested but joined me nevertheless.

    The game started, and I watched as Marrisa tried her best to aid our teammates and score goals. The game started, and I watched as Marrisa tried her best to administer our teammates and score goals. We were placed on the same team, which was nice. I was established as a defender, and she was thrown in as a forward.

    My defense skills?

    Poor, but we’re not going to talk about that.

    We were behind by a point and needed that one goal badly as we faced our opponents. I cheered along with the other defenders as our team stole the ball! It was agonizing as the ball was passed back and forth.

    It was drawing near the end of the game—our team.

    Their team.

    Our team.

    Their team.

    Suddenly, Marrisa rushed forward and stole the ball from the other team. She dodged the other players, driving the ball up toward the goal. Come on, come on, come on! Please, Marrisa, please! I thought as I watched, spelled bound as she neared the goalie.

                 She paused briefly, struck out with her leg, connected with the ball, and…

    The ball went up and flew through the air towards the goal.

    “Please! Please!’’ I muttered, “Please! Please!’’

    The goalie stretched out his hand, throwing himself into the air, and missed the ball!

    Marrisa scored!!

    We won!

    As I jumped up, my teammates and I celebrated. I noticed Marrisa sitting down by the opposite goal.

    She was coughing violently.

    Oh no.

    “Marrisa? What’s wrong?’’ I asked as I ran up to her.

    “I…’’ She coughed, “I need to go home,’’

    I nodded, helped her up, and led her out of the park and back towards her house. She could barely see where she was going; she was still coughing and clutching her chest.

    “Are you sure you’re alright?’’ I asked, worried.

    “I’m okay. I’m okay. Just need to go home,’’ She said in bursts of breath.

    As I followed her up to her driveway, I spoke.

    “You were terrific during the soccer game! I was impressed!’’

    “Thanks,’’ She coughed, “I…played…for a team…for a while,’’

    I watched from the front steps as she opened the door, turned, and smiled at me. Then, quickly, she disappeared inside.

    “Well,’’ I thought sarcastically, “that went well,’’

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    The car pulled up in front of the town’s square arcade, next to the grocery store my mother wanted to go to. We parked in the parking lot, and my mom grabbed her purse and keys. She looked over at me and smiled.

    “If you don’t want to go into the store with me, you can stay here.” I nodded and stayed in my seat. I’ve never been a big fan of shopping. My mom would always say she would be there for a couple of minutes, but it’s two hours later! And it’s too much walking.

    A couple of minutes passed, and I grew incredibly bored. I pulled out my dark blue phone and began to look at funny videos and such.

    But I was still bored.

    Nothing was working for me.

    This stunk…

    I glanced over my right shoulder and saw bright lights shining from the arcade. Without further thought, I went onto my messages and clicked on mom.

    *Can I go to the arcade? I’m bored.* 

    Mom-is that so? Then you can find me inside 😉 

    *Mom, please?*

    Mom-fine, go ahead.

    I clapped my hands together and swung open the door, forgetting to text my mom back. I locked the door with my mom’s keys and walked toward the arcade. There weren’t that many people when I walked in, which was surprising since it was summer break. They were probably at home, playing video games and sitting around all day.

    I looked at all the games and found one I wanted to play. I swung my foot over the motorcycle seat and put in a token. I picked out my motorcycle and my person, and the first round began. I was so into my game that I hadn’t realized someone was next to me, playing on the other side.

    “Hello,” Someone said behind me. I jumped up in surprise and twisted my body to find Adrian standing just a few feet from me. I placed my hand over my heart, which was now pounding out of my chest.

    “Oh. You scared me!” I exclaimed. Adrian laughed and pointed toward the game I was playing.

    “You like this kind of stuff?” He asked.

    “Yes, I do. Is there something wrong with that?” I crossed my arms and smirked. Adrian shook his head and sighed.

    “I suppose not. But I thought you’d be playing like dancing games and more girly stuff.”

    “No,” I said rather flatly. “Hey, I can challenge you, though.”

    “With what?”

    “How about a dance-off? Since you brought up dancing, I kinda wanna.”

    “I…don’t know.” He chuckled nervously. Was he afraid?

    “Why? Are you afraid I’d beat you? Are you afraid to be beaten by a…girl?” I teased. Adrian’s cheeks turned bright pink, and he became stiff.

    “No. I’m not afraid. Come on, let’s do it.”

    Classic Adrian.

    He was always acting taller than me.

    This was going to be fun.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    As Marrisa and I started up the stairs to the dance floor machine, I thought about my choices in the last five minutes.

    I was, in short, a colossal idiot.

    Marrisa placed two quarters in the slot, and we watched as they disappeared into the game. The screen flashed a bright green, blue, and pink before words began flashing on the screen:

    Ready? Set! Dance!

    The music started, and I threw myself into the act of rocking out all the incredibly wild moves. However, as the song continued, I soon got the hang of the game and watched as Marrisa moved about with the rhythm.

    She was amazing!

    She moved, swayed, and jumped as the beat boomed out of the speakers. We danced side by side, following the glowing patterns of the mat below us. We switched sides, clapped each other’s hands, and swung along with the song.

    Finally, the song ended, and I threw myself onto the ground, panting wildly. Marrisa sat down beside me, smiling happily.

    “You…didn’t….beat me,’’ I gasped, clutching my heaving chest.

    “Nope…well done!’’ She panted, coughing for a second, “You did great!’’

    We got up and looked around the arcade when we regained our breath. A few people watched our show but moved off when we finished up. I noticed that she had glanced at a new race car game. I grinned at her.

    “Wanna play? I’ll pay,’’

    “Aren’t you afraid I’ll beat you?’’ She asked, hopping down the stairs in the direction of the game.

    “Not a bit! Common, I’ll treat us,’’ I replied, pulling out two shiny quarters.

    “You’re on!’’ She laughed.

    And we played!

    Marrisa stuck out her tongue and grabbed her cheeks, making a silly expression. I followed suit, and we broke out in laughter.

    We played with each other in so many games! Laughing, shouting, and hooting with delight when we reached a new high score. We conquered and dominated the fun until I only had three quarters left, and she received a text from her mom saying it was time to head home.

    “Thanks so much!’’ As we walked out the door, she exclaimed, “That was a blast!’’

    “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,’’ I replied, grinning.

                 “Well,’’ She finished, glancing toward her mom’s car, “Thanks a lot, Adrian. See you around,’’

    “See you around,’’ I echoed.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    I returned to the car and found my mother waiting patiently by her door. I had forgotten I had the keys. How long had she been out here? She was looking behind me, so I followed her gaze to find she was looking at Adrian. With one more nod toward him, I hopped into the car. But when my mom got in, it was a nightmare.

    “You were with Adrian?” She grinned widely, “Is that why you wanted to go in so bad? Did you miss him?” My mother began to fill my head with questions that made me incredibly uncomfortable. She was talking nonsense.

    “Please stop.” I moaned, “It wasn’t like that at all. I had just so happened to run into him. And no, I didn’t miss him.”

    “Right, sure.” With that, my mother ended the embarrassing conversation, and we were on our way home again. The drive was lovely and peaceful. I mostly stared out the window and stared at the beautiful scenery. The trees were a vibrant green, and the grass was gorgeous and lush. I was going to miss the summer. Fall was coming soon, and so was school.

    When we got home, I grabbed some groceries and brought them inside. I placed them on the kitchen counter and began to take out the lettuce and veggies. My mother brought in the last of them and told me to put the condiments in the fridge.

    “Marrisa, I can finish the rest. It’s time you lie down and take your medication. Do you need help with the IV?” I shook my head and skipped to my room, relieved and thankful that it was time to make my body relax and feel warm and fuzzy.

    I took off my purse and set it next to my dresser as I popped out my bag of pills. When I was finally done organizing which ones I had to take, I grabbed my IV and attached it to my arm. I flicked the plastic bag, which hung over my head, and its liquid began to run down the tube. Grabbing a glass of water, I began to shoot down the pills and get them over. I lay back on my bed and stared at the blank ceiling, thinking.

    “Why must I go through so much pain?” I chuckled lightly, “What did I ever do to deserve this? I was a good kid with high grades and a respectable manner. Over the billions of people in the world, I was chosen to suffer.” I shook my head and closed my eyes, “I must not think like that. I must not say such things. I have to be strong for my parents. I have to love them as long as possible and make them happy. I can’t cry in front of them; I can’t complain. Just smile and skip each step.”

    After my IV was empty, I took it off, and my body felt numb. But I felt warm. So I was happy.

    Just a little longer.

    I could hold on.

    I was strong enough.

    No matter how often I repeated the words, I still couldn’t shake off the feeling of doubt.

    I pulled on a hoodie and some sweatpants as I exited my room. Dinner was already on the table, and my mom and dad were sitting and talking. I rubbed my eyes, and my feet practically slid across the smooth wooden floor.

    “Hello, sweetie,” My dad said. I yawned and brushed my hair back behind my ears.

    “Hello.”

    “How are you feeling?” Dad’s words were soft and gentle. It made me even cozier.

    “Tired…warm and sick.” My mother’s face turned sorrowful, and she kept her head down. I sat down in a seat next to dad and grabbed my fork that rested at my side.

    “The doctor said you might feel sick with this new medication.” His voice was cracking, and his eyes were watering, but I pretended not to notice.

    “This is the third time he has changed my medication. So I’m used to it! No biggie! It’s not as bad as the other ones, that’s for sure. It doesn’t leave a metal taste in my mouth.” I laughed and smiled, mainly trying to make my parents see I was okay. My dad’s eyes softened, and his body relaxed. He smiled back and began to eat again.

    “You don’t need to do that.” My mother suddenly spoke for the first time. My dad and I looked up at her simultaneously, with the same questioning stare.

    “Do what?” I asked innocently.

    “Laugh about everything and always smile. You don’t need to hide that you’re hurting.” She spits out. My face grew pale with shock, and I just sat there, feeling paralyzed. I was speechless, and so was my father. We all sat there, not speaking but staring down at our food, acting as if we weren’t alive. The air grew with tension, and everything became awkward.

    Don’t speak.

    Just stare.

    And act stupid to the pain around you.

    Don’t think too far into it.

    Let everything stop around you.

    That is where I wanted to be.

    Chapter Three

    ⛋Adrian⛋

         Winter

    The tenth grade was challenging.

    But at least the room was warm, unlike the room in Ninth grade, where the teacher would enter with two coats and three pairs of socks beneath her shoes.

    I sighed, waiting for the school bell to ring. I wanted to head home, rush to my room, fly into my bed, and disappear under the covers.

    It was frigid outside!

    The temperature had dipped below freezing again for the tenth time that month, and it was almost the last week of January.

    Come on, weather! Take a hint!

    The bell sounded with that metallic clang I was so used to hearing, and the students all rose in unison to grab their bags, throw on their coats, brave the icy winds, and stumble homeward. I shoved my books off my desk and into the open mouth of my backpack. My friend, Thomas Charger, placed his woolen cap on his head with flaps to cover his ears. He was a little shorter than I was and a lot thicker. His hair was a ginger color, while his eyes were large and deep green.

    “We have a huge Spanish test next week,’’ He moaned as he looked over his monthly schedule, “And lunch tomorrow is mashed potatoes, meatloaf, and green beans,’’

    I gagged, knowing that the meatloaf tasted like a loaf of pepper and the green beans were all undercooked.

    The mashed potatoes were okay, though.

    “You gonna catch the bus?’’ He asked as we headed out of the classroom.

    “Nope,’’ I replied, “I’m going to walk home,’’

    “Oh! I see! A suicide mission!’’ He saluted me, “Very well, then. I’ll see you at your funeral, soldier,’’

    “The school’s not that far from my neighborhood anyway,’’ I finished, ignoring his comment, “So I’ll make it before I drop dead,’’

    “Drop dead on your doorstep?’’ Thomas teased.

    “Nope. In the kitchen. Might as well eat something before I go,’’ I replied, grinning at him.

    “Amen, man. Amen,’’ He remarked, patting his stomach, “Well. See you tomorrow, then,’’

    We parted ways, he heading toward the bus and me standing on the stone steps that lead out of the school. Digging my hands into my pockets, I found the scarf my mom had made for me the winter before.

    “Cold?’’ A voice came on my shoulder.

    I glanced to my left and saw Marrisa standing there beside me. She had an oversized, white coat and pretty silver earmuffs covering her ears. I looked over my shoulder to see a giggling group of girls pointing at us.

    “Ugh, let’s go,’’ I muttered and moved forward.

    “Agreed,’’ Marrisa answered in the same annoyed tone as we walked faster to escape the crowd of chattering cheerleaders.

    “How are you doing?’’ I asked her.

    We had established a good friendship in the summer leading up to high school, and I looked at her as one of my best friends. We would laugh about the old days when we hated each other initially.

    Why do some friendships work out like that?

    “Fine. I had a Math test this morning, but I think I nailed it,’’ She told me.

    “Great, because I need some serious help with mathematics,’’ I explained sheepishly.

    “Yes. You poor, pathetic pupil who can do no right when it comes to Math,’’ She laughed, slapping my shoulder playfully.

    “Poor pathetic pupil? Who helped you not bomb that History exam last semester?’’

    “I hate History,’’ She mumbled.

    “I know you do,’’ I laughed as we walked along the side of the road towards our neighborhood.

    I noticed that she had begun shivering in the cold. She still seemed to be freezing. I unwound my mother’s scarf from my neck and draped it around her own. She started when I did this but nodded gratefully when I had finished.

    “Thank you, Adrian,’’ She smiled softly.

    “Of course,’’ I replied, looking into her beautiful blue eyes, “Now let’s get you home,’’ I exclaimed as I turned away.

    We arrived at her house in silence a few minutes later. I stopped at the bottom step of her front porch, and my eyes followed her as she opened the door. Then, when it was ajar, she turned and began pulling my scarf from her shoulders. She threw it at me and called.

    “Thanks so much,’’

    “Of course,’’ I replied quietly, “Anytime, Marrisa,’’

    Then, with that said, she closed the door behind her.

    Shaking vigorously, I walked briskly from her house and turned to find my driveway.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    It seemed empty, foggy, and dark when I walked into the house. I walked over to the thermostat and made the temperature higher. I could see my breath in the house; it was too cold. I took off my coat, hung it in the front room closet, and took off my shoes. My phone went off, and I grabbed it swiftly from my hoodie pocket, and the words glared on the screen.

    *Be home late. There is food in the fridge for dinner.*

    I turned my phone off and strode toward my room. On the way there, I stopped by my parents’ room and knocked on the door.

    “Dad?” I called. No answer. I reached for the handle but then hesitated slightly. I shrugged and walked away before I did something I’d regret. When I entered my room, I turned on my lamp and changed into sweats and a heavier hoodie. I did my daily routine with my medicine and IV. After that, I hopped into the shower and cleaned myself. When I was done with everything, I remembered I had to eat.

    I walked to the kitchen slowly, not feeling hurried. When I opened the fridge, my stomach flipped, and I moaned. She said there would be stuff in the refrigerator, but nothing was there. Bending down on my knees, I opened the cabinet doors to find canned vegetables and beans.

    This would do.

    I suppose.

    Without further thought, I grabbed the cans and a pot and began warming them up on the stove. The house was lonely now. After my dad had lost his job, my mom had to take over for a while. I could feel the heavy tension growing, and I wanted to end it before it became something fierce.

    I heard a door open and close, and heavy footsteps came closer. When I looked up, my dad was standing before me; his hair was messy, and his eyes drooped. I smiled and motioned for him to sit down at the table, and he did so. I grabbed a plate, placed the beans and veggies on it, and placed it in front of him.

    “Sorry.” I said quietly, “I’ll stop by the store tomorrow to grab some groceries.”

    “You shouldn’t be doing all this, Marrisa.” My dad said, his voice husky as he combed his fingers through his hair, “This isn’t how I wanted everything to turn out.”

    “I don’t mind. I enjoy being able to help out, even if it’s a little.” I made my plate and brought glasses of water to the table. “I’ve been meaning to ask,” I took a sip of my water and placed it back down. “Have you had any luck? Have you gotten any interviews?” My dad seemed to shift in his chair, and I could tell he felt uncomfortable talking about this topic.

    “Not necessarily. I did get one, but I don’t think it will work out. It’s a long drive, and I would only get paid half of what I used to.”

    “I don’t mind that. It would be better than nothing,”

    “You will understand when you’re older.”

    “Not really.” The words slipped from my mouth before I could stop them from coming out. My eyes widened, and my body froze. I glanced up at my dad, and I saw his jaw twitch. Now I’ve done it. “I’m sorry!” I exclaimed, “I didn’t mean to say that. I understood what you meant. I’m sorry….” I squeezed my eyes shut and bit my lip hard.

    How could I have said that?

    What was wrong with me?

    “I’m going back to my room now. Your mom should be home soon. Thank you for dinner.” He took the last of his food in his mouth and pushed it away from the table. He even managed to smile at me as he departed.

    But I knew he was angry.

    I knew what I had done.

    This wouldn’t have happened if I had kept my mouth shut.

    If it weren’t for me, none of this would have happened.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    I walked down the street with my hands shoved into my pockets. A few of my friends and I would hang out at his house for a few hours to try and help each other with school.

    I walked past Marrisa’s house, pausing to look at the dump truck tire again.

    It didn’t take three strong men to move that thing out of the front lawn!

    And it still looked ridiculous.

    Oh well.

    I doubted they ever would if they hadn’t bothered moving it by now.

    I noticed Marrisa, in her white coat, sitting forlornly on top of the tire, staring off into the distance. She looked…tired and…upset.

    “Hey, Marrisa!’’ I called to her, waving my arm to get her attention.

    When I called, she glanced my way, jumped up, and ran toward me. She threw her arms around me and embraced me in a hug! I moved backward slightly, surprised at her response to my call.

    “What do I do, Adrian? What should I do?’’ She cried.

    I didn’t say a word but hugged her gently back instead. She calmed down after a moment and pulled away, wiping her tears as she did so.

    “I’m..sorry, Adrian. I’m just a little..stressed right now,’’ She took a deep breath, “Thank you,’’

    “Of course,’’ I answered softly, slightly embarrassed, “What’s wrong?’’

    “My…my dad lost his job,’’ She burst into tears again as we sat down on the tire, “And it’s causing tension in the family. I…feel separated from my parents. I hate it, Adrian.’’

    “That stinks,’’ I replied gently, “Anything else, or should I lend a sympathetic shoulder for you to cry on some more?’’ I teased lightly.

    “Ssh…Stop!’’ She huffed, grinning through her tears, “But I don’t want to feel separated from my parents. What do I do?’’

    “Talk to them,’’ I urged, “Ask them things. Show that you want to be involved. Love them. Help them. In any way, you can,’’

    She nodded, wiping the remaining tears away. I bent forward slightly, watching her as she brushed her hair out of her face. The tear tracks glistened in the last rays of sunlight that shone down upon her face. She smiled back at me and jabbed me in the arm.

    “Thank you very much, biker boy,’’

    “Anytime, crash test, dummy!’’ I teased right back.

    I got up, stretched, and headed towards the road when Marrisa called after me. I stopped and glanced at her as she stood by her porch.

                 “I’m so glad we’re friends!’’ She exclaimed happily.

    “Me too,’’ I replied and whispered after she entered her house, “Yeah. Me too,’’

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    The house was still quiet, and my family and I didn’t exchange many words. I wanted to end it and demand what was going on. But I didn’t have the strength to do it. I set the table for dinner and opened the fridge to pull out the vegetables and chicken I had bought the day before. I made the seasonings for the chicken and began to chop up the celery and bell peppers.

    Putting some olive oil in a frying pan, I threw in the veggies and began to sate them till they were soft. Once I was done coating the chicken, I placed it in the oven to cook for thirty minutes. Then I froze when I heard the front door open.

    Here we go.

    Mom was home.

    Dad would be home shortly.

    Think of something to say.

    My mom entered and placed her car keys on the counter and her leather purse. I sneezed from all the seasonings in the air, covering my mouth. My mom grunted but didn’t say anything. I knew I was going to get the silent treatment.

    “Hello, mom.” I said with a smile, “How was work? Are you hungry? I’m making dinner. It should be done shortly.” I walked to the sink and washed my hands before wiping them on my apron.

    “Work was fine.”

    Fine.

    I hated the word fine.

    When would they talk to me?

    Was the family like this because of me?

    I wished they would just tell me.

    I nodded and waited for the time to pass. My mom eventually left for her room, and my dad was finally home. This time my dad walked over to me and kissed me on my forehead. That was a good sign, wasn’t it?

    The time finally came to take the chicken out of the oven, so I grabbed my mitts and pulled them out. They were cracking as juice poured from the chicken and onto the tray.

    It smelt so good.

    I closed the oven with my foot and placed the tray on the stove. Then I began to set the plates. After everything was done and perfect, I called mom to dinner. My dad wore his usual blank expression while my mom wore her fatigued one.

    “Please, eat.” I motioned for them to dig in, and they gladly did so. I stared at them and observed their faces to see if they liked my cooking or not. But I couldn’t tell. “Dad, how was your interview? Did you get the job?” I asked politely. He glanced toward me, and he finally smiled.

    “I don’t know for sure yet. They will contact me tonight.”

    “That’s good then! Right? If they are willing to contact you tonight, that must be a good sign.” But I couldn’t help it. I knew I was trying too hard.

    “Yes, sweetie.” He cleared his throat and wiped his mouth with a napkin, “Dinner is delicious, honey. Thank you,”

    I felt my heart run warm, and a slight grin danced up my lips, “Thank you.” I turned to my mom and stared just at her. A few seconds before, she realized that I was gazing at her.

    “Oh, yes. Thank you. It is delicious.” My mom and dad exchanged looks that made my blood run cold.

    “I’m done!” I finally shouted. My eyes widened at the realization of my tone.

    I was angry.

    I was angry at myself.

    I was angry at my parents.

    And I was angry at the world.

    Was that a bad thing?

    “What brought this on?” My mom asked, irritation in her voice.

    “I’m done with you guys hiding stuff from me,” Tears sprung to my eyes, and I bit my lip hard, “What is going on? Why have you been so distant? I know I am probably overthinking things like I always do, but for some odd reason, I can’t help but think the family is so distant because of me,” I clutched my arms for support as I tried to hold my tongue from going even further.

    “That’s enough.” My dad’s stoic voice startled me, and I sat back in my chair. I curled my fists and looked up to keep from crying. “You’re overthinking things, Marrisa,” He began, “Nothing has been different, and we have not been distant. I understand it might feel like right now, but I promise you everything is fine. As soon as I find a job, everything will balance again; I can guarantee it.”

    “Then why are you and mom so….”

    “What do you mean?” My mom’s voice filled my ears, and I glanced at her.

    “You guys have been acting like you have been fighting. That’s why I thought something was wrong.”

    “What? Fighting?” My dad began to laugh, and I felt my cheeks grow hot. What was happening?

    “Why would we be fighting?”

    “I…don’t know.” I shrugged my shoulders and raised my eyebrows. I was so lost!

    “Goodness, why does that thought always come to kids’ minds first? Parents fighting?” A smile graced my mom’s lips, and she, too, began to laugh. I didn’t know what to do. Should I laugh along or ask more questions? Were they lying straight to my face? Was I just imagining all this tension in the house? All these questions filled my head to where I finally zoned out.

    I was lost.

    I was confused.

    But it brought some comfort to my heart.

    It eased my pain.

    At least I now know that my family and I will be fine.

    And that was one true thing.

    Chapter Four

    ⛋Adrian⛋

         Spring

    If Tenth grade was hard, then Eleventh grade was when you started doubting all your sanity you saved over the weekends. That sanity vanishes the moment you enter the classroom, and pure ambition, the want for good grades, and the need to survive are the only things driving you forward to arrive at the promised day of salvation.

    Friday.

    But this particular Friday was different.

    Horribly different.

    I looked up in time to see that school would end in ten minutes. The classroom was quiet as the students bent over their textbooks. The teacher, Miss Greyhelm, a tiny woman with the incredible ability to make all others in the room feel highly insignificant, explained a concept to one of the kids in the back row of chairs. I lowered my head again, thinking of the following answer to the problem before.

    I hated taking Logic ten minutes before school was out.

    And something was off today as well.

    Marrisa wasn’t at school.

    Marrisa, I knew for a fact, was a diligent student. She was hardworking and seemed at ease during the exam periods. She had helped me through so many complex topics in school over the years, and I was confident that she would instead drag herself, fever blazing, to school than stay in bed with nothing to do.

    With that image residing uncomfortably in my mind, I returned to the problem. The bell rang a few minutes later, and I glanced up again to see Miss Greyhelm raise her hand to stop the crowd of students pushing each other in their haste to exit the room.

    It was officially the weekend; what did you expect?

    “Class, sit down. I have an important announcement to make,’’ She explained as the class, mumbling darkly under their breaths, sat back down in a sudden, sullen silence.

    All was quiet.

    I leaned forward.

    “Marrisa Garcia was taken ill and sent to the hospital this afternoon. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you. You are dismissed,’’

    I rose out of my chair and boldly approached Miss Greyhelm’s desk.

    Not many Eleventh graders could accomplish that.

    “What happened to her?’’ I asked, “Marrisa?’’

    “I…I don’t know,’’ Miss Greyhelm replied, “I was told that she was ill and taken to the hospital, that’s all,’’

    “What hospital?’’ I asked quickly.

    “I…I suppose she was taken to the one in the town,’’ She grew flustered, “Really, young man, I did not come to this school to be interrogated like this!’’

    “Pardon me, ma’am,’’ I replied respectfully and apologetically.

    I raced out of the classroom, rushed past Thomas Charger, and out of the front door. I skidded to a halt before tripping down the stone steps. A few freshman girls giggled at the sight of my stumble, but I paid them no mind.

    I searched my pockets, fumbling and almost dropping my phone, and tapped on the phone numbers guide. I scrolled down furiously until I found Marrisa’s number.

    My parents had been gracious enough to buy me a phone the year before, but it was under strict supervision, and I regularly had to hand it over for it to be “checked’’. It was okay; I knew my parents were just looking out for me.

    It was kind of sweet.

    It was a comfort knowing that my parents were ready and willing to care for me, watch over me, and show interest in me. It was wonderful to have parents that truly loved me.

    I called Marrisa’s cell, hoping that she would pick up. A few minutes later, Marrisa’s voice sounded.

    “Hi, this is Marrisa. I can’t answer the phone right now. Don’t panic. Leave a message, and I’ll return it when I can. Thanks, Marrisa,’’

    I shut my phone off, sighing. The hospital was on the other side of town, and I wasn’t sure if I would make it there on foot before it was too late to see her.

    “Hey, Adrian. What’s up, man? You look like you’re going into battle or something?’’ Carson Parker, another friend, asked as he came up behind me.

    I glanced at him. He was shorter, with a stockier build and fine straw-colored hair. His eyes were a faint blue, and his nose twitched like a rabbit’s when he was nervous, hungry, or nungry.

    Nervous and hungry.

    Please don’t ask.

    “Yeah. Parker, can I borrow your bike for the day?’’

    Carson stared at me for a second, and then he shrugged. His nose twitched, and I wondered if he was nervous, hungry, or nungry.

    Hungry, probably.

    “I mean…sure, dog. Whatever. Just bring it to my house tomorrow, okay?’’

    “Sure thing, dude. Thanks,’’ I called as I jumped onto his bike and rode like the wind to the hospital.

    Why was I so panicked?

    It wasn’t like something serious had happened.

    Right?

    After securely locking Carson’s bike onto the bike rack outside, I found my way to the front desk and asked as politely as my gasping tone could allow.

    “Is a Marrisa Garcia here at this hospital?’’

    “Yes. Are you a visitor?’’ The lady asked.

    I nodded, hoping that I would be admitted inside.

    “Very well,’’ She replied, “She’s in room 321. Visiting hours end in the next hour, so that you know,’’

    “Thanks,’’ I gasped, “Thank you very much,’’

    I found my way to room 321 but stopped before entering.

    What would she think when she saw that I had come?

    Would she be angry?

    Upset?

    I dearly hoped not.

    I knocked for a moment, then stopped, allowing my hands to fall into my pockets—a second before I heard Marrisa’s voice drift through the door.

    “Come in!’’

    I walked in to see Marrisa and her mom in the room. Marrisa sat in the bed; the monitors were beeping and blinking around her, and she smiled in greeting me. Her mother was sitting on a plastic chair, reading a book in her hands.

    “Adrian! It’s great to see you!’’

    I nodded, beaming at her.

    The sight of the monitors, medicine, and the hospital smell made me feel a little sick, but I tried to fight it off as best I could.

    “How are you?’’ I asked, a second later, “What happened?’’

    “Oh,’’ She replied, glancing at her mother, “I tripped and hit my head. It’s nothing serious,’’

    “Nothing serious?’’ I exclaimed, surprised, “You’re in the hospital, Marrisa! If this isn’t serious, what is? A guinea pig invasion from the plant Corn Syrup?’’

    She laughed, shaking her head, “Don’t worry about me, Adrian. I’ll be fine. The doctors just want to make sure I didn’t damage anything, and then I’ll be able to leave tomorrow,’’

    “What did you trip over? That ridic-’’ I glanced over at her mother, who was listening, “-dump truck tire in your front lawn?’’

    “No. I was inside,’’ She replied, giving me a warning glare, “But I promise I’m alright. Why are you so bothered anyway?’’

    “Bothered? I’m not bothered,’’ I said sarcastically, “My best friend is in the hospital, of course, I’m not bothe….’’ I stopped, realizing what I had called her.

    She was watching me expectantly, and her mother was staring at me too. I took a quick gulp of air and finished, “..bothered,’’

    “I’m alright,’’ She assured me, “I promise I’ll be better tomorrow! Now, it’s almost the end of visiting hours; I think you should hit the road,’’

    “Yeah, very well,’’ I replied, caught off guard by the sudden coldness in her tone, “Yeah. Okay. Get better soon, Marrisa,’’

    “See you later, Adrian!’’ She called as I closed the door.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    As soon as Adrian left, I called for the doctor to return. He came in with a grin and an IV machine by his side.

    “Looks like your friend has gone. Shall we resume our IV drip?”

    I placed my hands down on my lap and frowned, “Yes. Resume.”

    ~

    The past few months have been difficult. I spent most of my time out of hospitals, but I’ve spent most of my time in them this past week. I’ve missed it. I don’t know how many days of school I have missed, and I have been tied to this hospital bed. Doctors and nurses are constantly in and out. The good thing was that Adrian would come and visit me sometimes. The bad news was that he didn’t know why I was still here. Every time he came, I had to make more excuses for why I was still here.

    I stared down at my phone and hesitated to text Adrian. He was supposed to be coming today, but he had yet to show up. I took a deep breath and began to text him, thinking carefully about what to say.

    *Hey Adrian, where are you? I thought you were coming today. Also, how are you?* 

    Adrian- I’m at Addy’s Bakery; I should be there soon 

    *Addy’s Bakery?! Can you get me some of the banana muffins? Pweez?* 

    Adrian- Fine, see you soon

    After placing my phone down, I reached for a book, which lay next to my legs, and grabbed it with my right hand. But when I picked it up, my right hand shook, and I lost my grip on it. I looked at my hand, and it continued to shake. I winced as the book fell on my legs and rolled back down to where it was before. I felt numbness and needle-like pains shoot through my arm.

    “Darn it.” I shook my head and grabbed my hand with my good one. I heard my door open and close, and when I looked up, Adrian was standing before me, holding out a brown paper bag that smelled of freshly cooked muffins. I was about to take it from him, but I refrained from doing so. I smirked and raised my head high.

    “What are you doing?” He asked.

    “You aren’t going to make me grab it, are you? Put it down next to me.”

    “What? Why?”

    “Just do it!” I laughed. He rolled his eyes and placed it down on the small table on my right. I grinned up at him, and he returned the gesture. Then he threw his backpack on the floor and sat on the edge of my bed.

    “So, how have you been? You never answered that question when I texted you.”

    “Because I just didn’t care,” He grinned.

    “Ouch, that hit me deeply, Adrian, that hit me deeply,” I pretended to stab my heart with a knife as I fell backward onto my pillows. I giggled and sat back up, “But still, that isn’t how you treat a sick friend,” I cringed when I said, ‘sick.’ I hadn’t meant to say that. I had hoped he didn’t hear me.

    But that wasn’t the case.

    He had heard me.

    And I knew he was going to ask what I had meant.

    “What do you mean?”

    “Huh? Whatcha talkin about?” I tried to change the question, but my reply didn’t amuse him.

    “Why are you sick?”

    “Why is anyone ever sick?” I asked with a sneer. Now he was making me frustrated.

    “Don’t joke around; just answer my question.”

    “You didn’t answer mine, so why should I answer yours?” I noted as Adrian’s smile turned into a frown.

    I shrugged my shoulders and reached for one of the muffins. I could tell my hand was still shaking, but it wasn’t evident. I took a bite of the delicious, still warm muffin and closed my eyes. It felt good in my stomach, so I took another bite.

    “Oh…do…you have…cards?” I asked with my mouth full. Adrian stared at me with a pinched face before smacking his lips together.

    “I do. How did you know?”

    “Why wouldn’t I know? You always carry cards with you everywhere.”

    “That’s only half true.”

    “Whatever. Just get them out. I want to play some rummy.” He laughed a breathless laugh before getting off the bed to retrieve the cards from his backpack. Once he got them out, I shuffled them, and we began our game. I finished my muffin and wiped my hands on the napkin in the bag.

    “Want to bet anything?” I said in a soft-spoken tone, a smile creeping up my face. Adrian rubbed his chin and pulled out his wallet from his pocket.

    “Hmm, no. I’m afraid I’m broke.”

    “How did that happen?”

    “Well, I had to get some stuff for a girl. I knew I would have been chewed out.”

    “Wow. Real smooth. I was joking anyway. Betting is beneath my dignity.” I said proudly. Adrian just ignored me, and we resumed the game. The game lasted for a while but then ended with my victory!

    “Again?” He pouted.

    “Hey, you know I’m better at card games than you.”

    “Alright. Whatever you say. At least I’m a better dancer than you.”

    “Hmm…right.” Adrian’s eyes widened slightly, and his mouth parted. He was looking behind me, but I couldn’t tell what.“What are you looking at?”

    “Why…what book have you been reading?” He pointed to the book behind me.

    “It’s not a book. It’s the Bible.”

    “Since when did you read the Bible?” Adrian’s voice spilled with mockery. I blushed and picked up the Bible behind me, which rested on my pillow.

    “My friend Katlin gave it to me. She invited me to go to her church, and I did. I liked it. I used to go to church with my parents when I was younger. But something happened, and we didn’t go anymore. I forgot how much I missed it.”

    “What happened?”

    “Personal stuff happened.”

    “Alright, fine. Sorry.”

                “What about you? Have you ever been to-”

    “No. And that’s fine. I’m not bad if I don’t attend church, right?”

    “Well, no. I wasn’t saying you were; I was just asking-”

    “Well, how about we don’t ask questions like that? Please? I don’t mean to be rude.”

    “I..understand.”

    What was that?

    Why was he so defensive?

    Did I say something wrong?

    I didn’t understand.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    I stared at the floor.

    What had she been talking about? Church? The Bible? God?

    Those kinds of things made me nervous, and they caused me to feel…incomplete. Empty? In need? My conscience would prick me like crazy too.

    I hated those kinds of feelings.

    I hated those kinds of things.

    It was all a joke, right?

    God, the Gospel, Jesus Christ? Those were all lies, right? Weren’t those kinds of ideas ridiculous?

    No, I had never been to church and didn’t plan to.

    Ever.

    “Do you want to play another game?’’ Marrisa asked me hesitantly.

    “Are you a Christian?’’ I inquired sharply.

    My harsh tone startled her, staring at me with a wary gaze. Then she nodded slowly but firmly.

    “Alright. Um…yeah. Let’s play another round of rummy,’’ I said, absent-minded. My mind was a million miles away, while a feeling of surprise rested over my head.

    I was uncertain when it came to Christians. They seemed like friendly people, but… What they believed in was crazy, so I kept my distance from them.

    Should I do the same with Marrisa?

    We finished the second round a few minutes later, and I allowed her to defeat me without a fight. I had too much on my mind.

    “Visiting hours are over,’’ A blonde hair nurse announced as she stuck her head through the door, “Thank you,’’

    “Well, bye, Adrian. See you later,’’ Marrisa called to my retreating back.

    “Bye,’’ I replied as I closed the door behind me.

    I found my way to my bike, which was locked securely onto the bike rack. As I began to punch in the lock combination, my phone rang. I answered it as soon as I had finished pulling my bike out of the bike rack.

    “Thomas, my man. What’s up?’’

    “Yo,’’ Thomas’s voice rang in my ear, “Bill’s got something to show us. He wants us to meet at the park after dark tonight. You comin’?’’

    “After dark? Isn’t that against the park laws?’’ I asked as my conscience pricked me suddenly.

    “So? When have we ever cared about things like that?’’

    “Yeah, right. Okay.” I checked my watch. “What time?’’

    “11:30. You going to make it?’’

    “Yeah, yeah. I’ll be there. See you later,’’

    “See you later,’’

    I hung up and slipped my phone into my pocket. A sudden image of Marrisa’s Bible flashed across my mind. Her words about the church and then her admittance to being a Christian were something that unsettled me for some reason.

    Maybe it was because of my past.

    I learned about Christ when I was younger. My fifth-grade baseball coach had told me about God and had even shared the Gospel with me.

    And for a while, I thought I was a Christian.

    My parents didn’t follow any religion, and I never had a Bible. So I stopped praying, stopped asking questions, stopped looking for a bible, and eventually stopped believing that there was a God. But then my baseball coach moved away, and he was my only way to understand more.

    And besides, all my friends would leave me if I told them I had believed in God. They didn’t believe in Him, and I knew they would hate me if I said I did.

    But Marrisa….

    I shook my head, clearing the images of my past away. I pushed my conscience’s pricks and warnings aside, jumped onto my bike, and sped off down the street.

    I was quiet through dinner, and then at eleven twenty-five, I made my way to the front door. My mom sat on the couch with a cup of tea and her newest detective novel.

    “Where are you going?’’ She called as I opened the front door.

    “Out. With friends,’’ I muttered.

    “This late?’’ She asked, looking at me with a concerned expression on her face.

    “Yeah,’’ I replied, staring at her defiantly.

    “I don’t think….’’

    “I don’t care,’’ I shouted suddenly and slammed the door behind me. I took off down the street, not caring about anything. I didn’t even bother grabbing my bike.

    I didn’t care.

    I didn’t care.

    This anger that I felt fueled me, and I wanted to scream.

    I had turned my back on God a long time ago.

    I didn’t care.

    He probably had done the same to me.

    I didn’t care.

    I couldn’t see any way back to Him.

    And I didn’t care.

    Chapter Five

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    My body shook violently, and my eyes rolled in the back of my head. The monitors went off crazily, their red flashing lights filling my blurred vision. An oxygen mask was placed over my mouth as the nurses struggled to keep my arms and legs down. Pain spread through my body like a rushing current under the ocean.

    My mother sat in the corner, a hand over her mouth, though the sobs continued to escape despite her efforts. Even though I had oxygen continuously pumped into my lungs, the breath left me. My eyes stung, and tears formed as they rolled down my face. Finally, darkness took hold of my vision, and I fell unconscious. I could hear the sound of my heart pumping through my ears and slowly diminishing.

    It was too soon for me to die.

    I hadn’t even graduated yet.

    Just a little longer, God.

    Please give me more time.

    ~

    When I opened my eyes, I was in my room, at home. The room was dark, and my curtains were closed. A small monitor rested at my side checking my vitals. I squinted my eyes and stretched out my arms. The smell of peppermint came across my nose, and I smiled in delight. It was nice to be home again.

    What had happened?

    I couldn’t remember a thing.

    I moved my legs off my bed and tried to stand up, but I was immediately taken over by sickness and nausea. I placed a hand on my head and tried my hardest to crack what I was missing, but I couldn’t find anything. I looked over at my arm to see a couple of wires and tiny tubes sticking from my left arm. I moaned, drew them from my arm, and placed them on my side.

    I ran a hand through my hair and found a rubber band on my wrist. Just what I needed. I began to braid my hair and then tied it off. I left my room and ventured down the hallway, pushing myself against the walls for support.

    “Mom?!” I shouted through the house.

    No reply.

    Was she gone?

    I turned around to walk into my parent’s room when I heard hushed tones. I stopped by the door and placed my ear against it.

    “She…the doctor said she doesn’t even think she will make it to college.” My dad’s voice rang through the door.

    “Well, he said he didn’t think she’d be here right now, but yet she is still here,”

    “I know, but I don’t want her getting her hopes up. You saw what just happened a few days ago. She was just in the ICU. That isn’t a good thing. We thought her heart would last, but we must prepare for the worst possible outcome.”

    “I don’t like when you speak such words,” My mother’s voice sounded hoarse, and a slight rebelliousness was stated in her tone.

    “She’s going to die. There is nothing I can lie or hide about that statement.”

    “Aiden! How could you…even….”

    “I’ve already accepted it. It’s time you do too.”

    My legs buckled beneath me, and I fell to the ground, creating a loud ‘thump’ sound. My heart quickened, and I tried to hurry up and stand up before my parents realized I was there. But my legs didn’t want to move. I couldn’t even feel them. The door to my parent’s room opened, and my mother’s face peers from behind it. They dropped down into a sympathetic stare when her eyes rested on me.

    “You’re awake,” She said weakly, the side of her mouth twitching slightly.

    “Yes,” I shook my head and asked her to help me, “How long was I asleep?”

    “Two days.”

    My heart tripped over itself, and I shot her a severe gaze. “Is that so? Has…um…Adrian-”

    “I…He came to see you that day…when you….” My mother’s voice cracked, and tears spilled down her face, “He opened the door, but I didn’t know if he saw anything because I rushed him out as quickly as I could. I didn’t want to break the promise that I made to you. I know you don’t want him to know…but…I feel like that is a reckless idea.”

    “I know.” I sighed, “But I can’t have him remember me the way I am now when I die. I want him to remember me happy.”

    “Alright,”

    “Wait…you said he saw me?” I blurted out after everything my mother said finally processed fully in my head.

    “I don’t think…he might be confused about what happened. But I’m sure we can come up with something. We always do,” My mom said encouragingly. I nodded, and she led me to the dining room table. But my legs still wouldn’t move on their own.

    “What did the doctor say?” I asked. A dark shadow passed over her face, which was all I needed. I knew that everything had just taken an unexpected turn.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    Tired?

    Angry?

    Confused?

    I was all of them.

    I looked up from sitting by the window in my house. It was raining cats and dogs outside, and the front yard had become a small swamp. It was quiet inside, but a sense of tension had risen.

    Marrisa’s mother had been a downright terror as she had herded me out without allowing me to see my friend.

    But something was wrong.

    I knew that much.

    As I sat by the window, my legs tucked under me, I wondered what would happen to Marrisa and me.

    Could we still be friends?

    She was a Christian, and I wasn’t.

    But we could still be friends. Friends had different views, yet they seemed to get along just fine.

    If I could ever see her again.

    My mom walked into the room with two mugs of hot cocoa on a tray stacked with crackers, cheese, and two chocolate chip cookies. I made room for her, and she sat down beside me. I didn’t try to meet her gaze but instead stared at the carpet.

    “I brought you some snacks. I figured you’d be hungry,’’

    “Yeah, mom. Thanks,’’

    She ruffled my hair and moved to get up again, but I stopped her with a question.

    “Mom, why don’t we go to church?’’

    She froze at me, staying that way for a few moments. My conscience gave me a prick, but I tried my best to ignore it.

    “I guess…we never thought it necessary?’’ She stammered as she faced me, “Why?’’

    “Um…I don’t know…some of my friends are going. Or used to,’’ I added in an undertone, “So…yeah…I guess. Mom!’’

    She nodded, her eyes resting on the tray in my lap.

    “Do you…believe…do you think there is a God?’’

    Before replying, she gave me a funny look, “I suppose there is. But I…I guess he isn’t important,’’

    “Oh,’’ I faltered, “Um…okay, then,’’

    “Why, honey?’’ She asked.

    “I was just…I don’t know…curious, I guess,’’

    “Well, okay,’’ She finished, “Is anything wrong?’’

    “Um…Nah. Nope. I’m good!’’ I smiled at her and then watched with a quick thumbs-up out the window.

    Inside I felt awful.

    I was so confused.

    But there was no one to answer my questions.

    I had turned my back on God.

    My parents didn’t believe in Him.

    Then why should I?

    ~

    I stepped outside my room; my backpack slung over my shoulder. Mom was sitting on the couch, talking with my dad.

    “He’s been so dark and moody lately,’’ She explained in a concerned tone, “And he keeps asking questions about religion, why we don’t go to church and things like that. I think someone is influencing him, but I’m not sure who. It’s like the time with his old coach, remember?’’

    “He was a child back then,’’ My dad replied with a passive voice, “He needs to start asking questions. Let him. He’ll be leaving the house soon. Going out into the world, and so he’ll have to make his own decisions,’’

    My mom nodded, and I figured it was the best time to make my appearance. I jumped down the last two steps of the stairs and stood before them.

    “Hey, mom, dad. Maybe I want to find a job where I can work on the weekends? And in the summer too,’’

    Mom started while dad cut her off.

    “Think about your education for now, son. And then we’ll see about the summer idea. Now hurry, or you’ll be late for school,’’

    I nodded, said goodbye to my mother, and then walked out. As I got onto my bike, I looked at my home.

    A storm was brewing inside me, and I started for school.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

          Summer

    Even though Summer and eleventh grade were ending, I tried to make it last longer. Every time a season and month went by, I knew I was slowly wilting like a flower does when winter hits. I knew my time was drawing near, I’d be leaving everything behind, and this might be my last year.

    But haven’t I known this for a while?

    I was always constantly told that I’d die soon.

    I wasn’t even supposed to make it this far.

    Yet I was still alive, but my spirit was already dying.

    My hope and faith were fading.

    But I couldn’t let that happen.

    I couldn’t let the devil get me and play around with me.

    I just need to trust that God knew what he was doing.

    I looked out my window from my bed when I saw someone walking up to the door. It was Adrian. What did he want? He hadn’t talked to me in a while. This was strange. I fixed up my hair and turned off my oxygen machine as I closed the Bible I was reading and exited my room.

    I stepped down two small steps and finally made it. The doorbell rang before I even made it to the door. When I opened it, Adrian glanced at me as if making sure I was fine before speaking.

    “Um..so…” He began, but I quickly cut him off.

    “How come you haven’t come to visit?” I hit his shoulder with my fist and crossed my arms, a frown on my face.

    “I’m sorry.” He said bluntly, “I meant to, but I got held up with school.”

    “Hmm…you mean your bad grades?”

    “Wha…huh?” Adrian shuffled his feet and rubbed the back of his head, his cheeks turning a shade of pink. “Did my mom…”

    “Yes.” I rolled my eyes and heaved out a sigh, “What happened? Your grades were great. Your mom also said how you’ve become..”

    “Why is she telling you all this?”

    “Because Adrian, she is worried about you.” I clicked my tongue, “Also, she trusts me. She thinks I can turn you around. And I promise you; I won’t go easy.”

    “I don’t need your help. I’m fine.”

    “Whatever.” I smiled mischievously and placed my finger on his chest, “I hope you still haven’t forgotten what happened that day back in fifth grade. When you used to hate me.”

    “I think I might start again,” Adrian joked.

    “Shh.” I shook my head and placed a finger on my chin, thinking. “It was in the fall. You pulled me away from school. Because you know, we used to ditch school. You were a bad influence.” I laughed, “Anyways. We went to the park, and we rolled down the hill. You ended up falling and scraping your hands and knees. You also cut yourself pretty deep on a rock. That was the first time you cried in front of me and the last. I helped get you home, but you wouldn’t stop crying! I even put bandages on you to help, but you were such a crybaby. I cut my cheek, but that was it. You kept shouting-” Adrian’s laughter cut me off.

    “My mom’s going to kill me! I’m going to be in so much trouble.” Adrian said, finishing what I was about to say. I nodded.

    “When you got home, you were scolded and grounded for two weeks.”

    “What’s your point?”

    “I’m just saying I was constantly there for you even though you hated me and wanted nothing to do with me. And I am still here, don’t forget that.”

    “I don’t think I ever will. I know you will always be here.” He whispered. I grinned and clapped my hands together as tears threatened to give way.

    Always.

    He said, always.

    If only that were true.

    “Anyway! What did you come for before I got all gushy and mushy?” I giggled, trying to fight the sudden ache in my chest.

    “Oh!” Adrian hit the side of his head with the palm of his hand, “of course. I almost forgot. I got tickets for us to the amusement park.”

    “Oh,”

    “Is that okay? I should have asked first. Sorry, that was foolish of me.” He chuckled nervously, and I just waved my hands.

    “No! That sounds like fun. Um…just let me get my jean jacket and change into my leggings. I can’t go there with pajama pants.”

    “Right.” An awkward silence fell, and I opened the door and closed it behind me as I rushed back into my room. I dropped my bag of pills as I threw them into my bag, just in case. I changed my clothes and fetched my cap before texting my mom and telling her I was leaving. I know it’s not a good idea to go to the amusement park above all things, but I couldn’t let Adrian down.

    When I walked out and locked the door, Adrian smiled and got ready to hit the road. I unlocked my car and opened the door, but Adrian was staring wide-eyed at me when I did.

    “You coming?”

    “We’re driving?”

    “Of course! It’s about time you got your license and your car, Adrian. Your mom won’t be there forever to drive you places!”

    “I won’t take that personally,” Adrian said as he got in the passenger seat.

    We eventually got there, and the parking lots were filled. Many kids and parents walked the streets, making it harder to find a place to park. Once we found one, I grabbed my bag and threw it over my shoulder. I locked the car, and Adrian and I got through the security gates. I had to ensure I didn’t go on crazy, bewildering rides.

    “Hey, we should go on the brain drain!” Adrian exclaimed as he started for it.

    “No.” I said almost instantly, “I mean. Why don’t we go on the Ferris wheel first? I mean, start with something slow.”

    “Why?” Adrian smirked, “Oh, don’t tell me the fearless Marrisa is afraid of upside-down rides?”

    “No! I mean.” My cheeks flushed. Well, it’s better than nothing. “I mean, of course, I am! I’m terrified! You won’t make me go on them now, will you?”

    “Fine.” I took his arm and led him to the big wheel.

    “It’ll be fun!” I showed the man my band, and he let us through. We got in a dark green cage and closed the door as we sat back. “I love this.”

    “I haven’t been on one. My mom is afraid of heights,” He said as the ride began. Right, when the wheel started moving, he jumped slightly.

    “Your mom, huh?”

    “Oh, be quiet.”

    This was going to be fun.

    I needed to spend as much time as I could with him.

    This moment meant everything to me.

    I didn’t want it to end.

    Chapter Six

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    I enjoyed the amusement park and the time with Marrisa a lot. She seemed fine from the outside, but I wondered if something was within. She was hesitant to get on the larger rides, which was something I had not known Marrisa to be afraid of. We spent the rest of the time riding rides (my job), walking around, talking (mostly her job), and laughing.

    As we parked in her driveway a while later, she invited me inside for a moment to find me a drink of water. As I leaned against the kitchen wall, I noticed several changes to the house.

    “New wall color,’’ I pointed out.

    “Yes,’’ She replied cheerfully as she filled my glass with water, “Don’t you like it? I’ve always enjoyed light grays, don’t you? Something is calming and cozy about them,’’

    “Yeah. Yeah. Now, if you would only get rid of that ridiculous tire, it would be a masterpiece,’’ I teased.

    “Oh please,’’ She laughed as we walked back to the front door, “I don’t mind it anymore, and I don’t think you should,’’

    “I dunno,’’ I replied, “When we first moved into this neighborhood, my bedroom was a brilliant pink,’’

    “Pink!’’ She exclaimed.

    “Brilliant pink,’’ I corrected her, “I don’t remember it. I was only three or four at the time. But I know my dad spent a good week painting my bedroom because I have a vivid memory of me spilling the dark blue paint all over the place,’’

    “Is that why it took a week?’’ Marrisa inquired, eyebrows raised.

    “Yes, the carpet is a little more tricky to rip up,’’ I explained, “That’s why I have hard flooring in my room now,’’

    “Doesn’t it get cold in the wintertime?’’ She asked.

    “Not really. Unfortunately, some places do, but you learn to avoid them,’’ I declared, and then fired off a question of my own, “Are you coming back to school soon?’’

    She hesitated for half a second and then replied slowly.

    “I’m not sure,’’

    “Oh!’’ I faltered, “Sorry, I was just wonderi….’’

    “No, you’re fine,’’ She returned instead forcefully, “My parents and I were discussing homeschooling as an option for right now,’’

    “I see,’’ I opened the door and began to walk down the front steps, then I turned and said with a smile, “Good luck,’’

    “Thank you,’’ She beamed, “And thank you for such a wonderful time,’’

    “Wasn’t that bad. Could’ve worked for a first date,’’ I teased, smiling slightly.

    She paled suddenly and went on to choke out, “Oh! Adrian! Is that what you think?! I’m sorry, but….’’ She trailed off, looking at me helplessly.

    “What?’’ I asked, not allowing my smile to fade.

    “I don’t want to date until I’m an adult, and I would like the man I date to love God. I’m sorry. But we’re still friends, right?’’ She added anxiously.

    “Of course we are! I was only teasing!’’ I exclaimed a little heatedly, “Goodbye, for now, Marrisa. Hope you enjoyed yourself,’’

    “I did! I did!’’ She rasped, waving to my retreating back, “Thanks again! Thank you so much!’’

    As I walked down the driveway, I said to myself.

    “Well, that became very embarrassing, very quickly,’’

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    My cheeks burned a bright pink after Adrian had exited my house. I couldn’t allow him to grow feelings for me. I had to push him away carefully so I wouldn’t hurt him. I knew that wouldn’t be 100% possible, but I had to try.

    I felt the air rush out of me when I went to my room. I walked over to my bed and found the tube awaiting me. I made sure my bag was filled up before attaching it to myself without further thought. Mom and dad should be home soon from their date. I could rest for a bit.

    I closed my eyes and relaxed. I was trying to regain all the strength I had lost today from that beautiful event. Instead of being able to fall asleep, I fell deep into thought. I stopped going to the doctor a couple of months ago. They sent me home with everything I needed. So that was good. When Adrian had asked me when I was going to school…I couldn’t answer correctly. Because I didn’t think I ever would.

    It wasn’t fair.

    It wasn’t fair to me.

    And it wasn’t fair to my parents or Adrian!

    But I knew God had a plan for me, Adrian, and even my parents.

    I heard the front door alarm go off and heard shuffling feet. My parents were home. That was a lot sooner than expected. My door opened, and my mom’s face came into view.

    “Hello honey,” She whispered, “How are you feeling?”

    “I am well,” I said, trying to convince her.

    “How was your day with Adrian? Did anything…happen that I should know about?” My mom said as she raised her eyebrows up and down in a playful manner. My mouth fell open, and I laughed.

    “Mom! That isn’t funny!” I shouted.

    “Then why are you laughing?” She said as she walked entirely into my room—her hand on the knob.

    “Because that was just a ridiculous question!” I shook my head in disgust, “You know nothing happened! We’re just friends.”

    My mother pursed her lips together and nodded slowly, eyeing me, “Hmm….” She whispered, “right, just friends….”

    “Is that so hard to believe?”

    “I dunno…” She grinned, “For someone who has his number, hangs out with him, has been ‘friends’ with him for so long..who always talks about him….”

    “You can stop now!”

    “I’m just saying!” My mom threw her hands in the air. “I know what you’re trying to do, Marrisa. But please, whatever you do, don’t hurt that sweet boy.”

    “Mom, I know what you’re implying. But I can’t tell him; it would hurt him.”

    “It would hurt him more if you kept it from him.”

    “I…”

    “I just wanted to tell you that. And goodnight. I’m hitting the hay.” She kissed my forehead before exiting my room. I pondered my mother’s words for so long.

    Was she right?

    Would I be hurting him more by not telling him?

    Why did this have to be so hard?!

    God help me through this, please.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    Two weeks passed, and I stayed away from Marissa.

    Mr. Carlos Antoino, a small food market owner, had asked me to come and work for him. I happily agreed. I had only been working with him for a week when excitement struck. I was busy preparing for a job anyway.

    Excitement.

    Ha.

    Imagine that happening in our small town.

    After taking a lovely Saturday afternoon nap, I sat on the edge of my bed, and my phone rang. I picked it up and held it to my ear.

    “Yo, Thomas. What’s up?’’

    “You heard the news, man?’’ He asked, sounding gruff.

    “Bout your dad? Yeah. Look, I’m sorry, dude,’’ I replied.

    “He had it coming to him,’’ Thomas declared, “but I still say we have ourselves a little revenge, huh?’’

    “What do you mean?’’ I asked, standing up.

    “You know exactly what I mean, man. I want to get back at the guy who landed my dad in jail,’’ Thomas snarled, and I gulped, knowing what was true.

    “Mr. Carlos Antoino?’’ I muttered, “Dude, we’re gonna get in trouble,’’

    “Nah, man. You’re only in trouble if you get caught,’’ He replied, brushing the matter aside, “I want it simple, though: break in, cause a mess and get out,’’

    “Didn’t you say your dad had it coming to him?’’ I persisted.

    “Yeah, so? We Chargers stick together,’’ He paused and then added, “Can’t say the same about you, Smiths,’’

    “Leave my family out of it,’’ I growled.

    “Aha. I’m going to call some of the other guys and see who wants to do it,’’ A moment of silence followed, then, “Can I count you in?’’

    I stared at the floor for a long time before narrowing my eyes.

    I didn’t care.

    “I don’t care,’’ I muttered, holding the phone away from my ear and returning it to my ear a second later, “Hey, Thomas? Are you there? Yeah. What time? ‘Cause I’m in,’’

    “Glad to hear it, dog. Tomorrow night. See you then,’’ I heard someone else on his end of the phone, and he shouted for the person to go away.

    “We’d better not get caught. See you then,’’ I finished and hung up.

    I threw my phone on the bed and groaned in frustration. Thomas didn’t understand! He didn’t understand anything at all!

    I had done it!

    I was the one who had seen his father steal from Mr. Carlo’s store. I had been the one who had stopped the robbery. I had been the one to chase after him. I had been the one to tackle him. I had been the one to hand him over to the cops.

    And now Thomas wanted me to break into the store where I had halted a robbery! Come on! I kicked the leg of my bed, muttering darkly under my breath.

    But I didn’t care.

    And I wouldn’t care.

    As long as I didn’t get caught.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    Afternoon walks were what I loved the most. I would go on a walk before church to clear my head and open my heart to God’s word. We went to later services because my dad had to work on Sundays. I didn’t mind it, though.

    The air smelt like honeysuckle and other plants in the park. The playground stood alone, with no kids playing on the old rusted swings. A cold breeze swept up occasionally, indicating that it would be colder tonight. The smell of rain filled the atmosphere, causing the once bright sky to become overtaken by dark clouds. How depressing.

    I looked up from my thoughts when I saw a herd of birds fly over me to land on the top of the old brick building. I thought about what it would be like once I died and how everyone’s life would move on without me. How lonely they wouldn’t be. But the more I thought about it, the closer I felt to God. I wasn’t afraid; I knew I should spend my time here wisely.

    I found shelter under a large willow tree that stood immense and tall in the center of the field. Slight showers of rain began to drip down the planes of the little playground, creating trickling sounds. I waited for the rain to slow down before taking out my bible and journal. I read through Psalms and Proverbs before stopping and gathering my belongings. When I was ready to leave, I heard girls’ voices in the distance. One girl sounded like she was crying, while the other sounded like she was trying to calm her friend down.

    I shouldn’t bother anyway.

    It wasn’t my business.

    I returned home when I saw Adrian riding his bike down the street. He zoomed past me without even noticing I was there. Adrian had kept his distance from me, and I couldn’t decide if that was good. I know I had wished that he’d stay away, but now, I feel like I regret that thought.

    I kicked the dirt with my foot as I advanced up my driveway. The rain suddenly started pouring again, so I ran inside before my hair and clothes got wet. I tripped over a box in the walkway when I entered my house. The impact on me made me wince. I laughed at myself for my clumsiness and got up, brushing away the pain.

    “Mom, what is this box doing here?” I shouted through the room.

    “It goes to Mr. Carlos,” She shouted back,

    “I was supposed to drop it off yesterday, but I forgot for some odd reason,”

    “Oh,” I picked it up and looked at the address on its side, “Oh, Mr. Carlos, who owns that store?” I said while walking over to the couch.

    “Hmm,” My mom walked into the room with a towel in her hands, “Would you mind taking it to him? We can always wait till tomorrow, but I’d rather get it done before I forget again,”

    “I wouldn’t mind, but isn’t he closed on Sundays?”

    My mom shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t think so….”

    “It’s fine; I’ll head over there before church,”

    “Okay, thank you so much, sweetie,” She kissed my head, “Dinner will be done soon,”

    “Alright,” I examined the box before placing it down and walking into my room. I redid my hair, ruined by the rain, and changed my clothes into a navy blue dress that fell just below the knees. I packed some extra meds in my brown leather purse before grabbing my keys and picking up the box.

    “Mom, I’ll be leaving now,” I called as I opened the door.

    “What about dinner?” She said, coming from the kitchen with a spoon in her hand.

    “Hmm,” I smiled meekly, “I’ll just grab some after church; I just took my meds,” I explained. My mom nodded in acknowledgment and let me go. It was still pouring outside, so I brought an umbrella along. Once the box was placed safely in the car, I got in the driver’s seat and pulled out.

    Mr. Carlos’ store came into view, and I found a parking spot in the parking lot, but it was empty. So he wasn’t open today. I still unlocked the car and got out when I heard a loud crashing noise coming from inside the store. I jumped in shock and quickly found my way to the side of my door, looking for my….pocket knife.

    I put it in my pocket and slowly advanced toward the front of the store. The front doors were slightly cracked open, and it sounded like shuffling feet inside. I walked inside, turned on the lights, and….screamed! I pulled out my pocket knife, swiftly moved to the side, and placed my arm around the thief’s neck.

    “S-t-o-p,” He choked out. I held my grip tighter and placed the knife close to his face.

    “Who are you?” I growled.

    Someone touched my shoulder, and I cringed in fear. I released the boy from my grasp, grabbed a pan next to me, which lay on the shelf, and slammed it against another boy’s face. My eyes widened, and I dropped my weapon.

    “Are you stupid?” The boy groaned in pain as he held his right eye.

    “I’m sorry…I’m sorry you scared me, but you’re just boys,” I backed away.

    “Scared you? I thought I was on the brink of death,” The boy cried.

    “What’s all this commotion about?” A third boy walked out from one of the aisles.

    “Adrian?!” I clamored. My mouth dropped open, and my body fell limp. Why was Adrian here? What was he doing here?!

    I was speechless.

    I didn’t know what to say.

    I couldn’t even utter a sound.

    “Marrisa?” He questioned.

    I was filled with guilt. I was filled with rage. How could Adrian do such a thing? I didn’t understand any of it. All I could do was shut my eyes, turn around, and run out. The rain continued to fall from the sky, soaking my clothes as I walked back to my car. I could hear Adrian’s voice in the distance, but I couldn’t find myself turning around.

    “Marrisa, please wait!” Adrian called me.

    “Leave me alone,” I said, opening the door to my car.

    “Stop being dramatic, Marrisa. Won’t you just stop and turn around!”

    “Fine,” I slammed my door and faced him. My body was burning up with utter anger, “How could you?” I finally spoke after a long pause.

    “I didn’t steal anything if that’s what you’re worried about,” He joked. I rolled my eyes and bit my tongue.

    “Adrian, why are you so…so…reckless! Irresponsible, foolish, boisterous, ah! I could go on! Are you this naive?”

    “You don’t understand anything,”

    “You’re right; I don’t. But I wonder why. You don’t tell me anything anymore,”

    “Because I’m done with you acting so righteous, holy, and perfect.” He mocked, “Marrisa, you make me sick just looking at you,” He stiffened, “Being around you is making me feel awful inside,”

    I just stared at him.

    I felt pity for him.

    But he didn’t deserve my pity.

    He deserved my help.

    I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of this earlier.

    “Adrian,” I looked down, “Come to church with me,”

    Chapter Seven

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    The car ride was quiet. I sat in the passenger’s seat, and Marrisa drove with a grave expression on her face.

    Quiet.

    So very quiet.

    “Where are you taking me again? Alcatraz?’’ I asked.

    She laughed aloud and then sobered immediately while replying, “No. And I wouldn’t start cracking jokes if I were you,’’

    “What? Wasn’t I supposed to amuse you?’’

    “Yes, you were. And you failed miserably,’’

    “Then why did you just laugh at my joke a moment ago?’’

    “That…wasn’t my real laugh,’’ She explained, “Couldn’t you hear the sarcasm dripping through my tones?’’

    “If that was sarcasm, I’m over here weeping,’’ I muttered, placing my arm on the windowsill.

    “Adrian…’’ She growled as we pulled up to a white-washed, red brick building with an old-fashioned tile roof. The walkway was gravel, and the double doors were fashioned from oak wood. Flowers grew contentedly in their beds, and a grass meadow stretched across a good mile of land behind the building, “Come on,’’ Marrisa called, her tone softening, “Welcome to my church,’’

    We entered the building, and I was struck by the sudden sensation of warmth that came upon me. Marrisa was soon surrounded by fellow churchgoers, who pulled her away. I walked toward the chairs, noting how the folks around me were greeting one another, praying for one another, laughing, and even weeping. Each person seemed ready to give their love and joys and reach out to others, new and old. Kids ran past me, laughing and hollering as they rushed to keep up. The pulpit was a large, wooden stand with an ancient-looking light placed in the center. A man in a blue plaid shirt and khakis stood near the piano, talking with the woman holding sheet music. I made to sit down in one of the chairs further back, but Marrisa caught my arm and pulled me forward.

    “Pastor Braxton,’’ She greeted the man with the blue shirt, “This is my friend, Adrian Smith. The one I asked you to pray for,’’

    She had asked some stranger to pray for me. I shot her a confused look before shaking hands with Pastor Braxton.

    “Nice to meet you, Adrian. I’m Braxton,’’ The man greeted me.

    “Pleasure’s all mine, sir,’’ I replied cautiously.

    “Best find your seats,’’ he told us as the music started suddenly.

    Marrisa and I sat in the middle of the sanctuary, trying my best to look interested.

    We sang a few songs, sat down for prayer, sang a few songs, sat down for a bible passage, stood up again for the final reading, and sat down again.

    The sermon began; the pastor stood up at the pulpit, led us through one more prayer, and asked if we would take out our bibles.

    I made myself look busy.

    He began to speak, and I leaned back, bored. I’m doing this for Marrisa; I’m doing this for Marrisa, I’m doing this for Marrisa. Those words played over and over in my head.

    Finally, I found myself paying attention to what the pastor was saying. He spoke of God’s faithfulness and how God is calling us, leading us back to him. We need to accept his precious gift, which he gave freely. He loved the world so much that he gave his only son to die on the cross and pay the punishment for all of our sins. Even though we ran from him, he was waiting for us. He loved us. We only had to run to him, and he would welcome us with open arms.

    I sat back again after bending forward for some time, listening intently. I felt something new inside of me, something edging ahead.

    I needed answers.

    We stood a final time for the song of response, as it was called, and then the folks began to mingle once again.

    “Do you want to go now?’’ Marrisa asked, placing her bible into her bag.

    “Not yet,’’ I mumbled, standing up quickly, “Not yet. Hold on. Wait here,’’

    I ran to Pastor Braxton, shaking hands with an elderly man in a nice suit. I waited for him to finish speaking with the man before beginning.

    “Sir, I thought about what you said during the sermon. About God being faithful and how he’s waiting for us. Calling us to join him,’’

    “Yes?’’ He asked, a pleasantly surprised look suddenly dawning on his face.

    “I want to believe in Jesus…but I need this whole “Gospel’’ thing to be explained. I…I heard about God in fifth grade, but I never really…um…understood, I guess,’’ I looked down, slightly embarrassed.

    “Sit down,’’ He beckoned me to a chair and then drew up for himself, “What do you know?’’

    “I know that God created the world, made Adam and Eve, and then they sinned. He sent his son to die for them on the cross, but why? Why did he send his son?’’

    “Satan deceived Eve, right? She ate the forbidden fruit; you remember that story, right?’’ I nodded, “And Adam sinned by eating the fruit after her,’’ Pastor Braxton began, “and because we came from him, we sinned in him. He was…our representative, and we were also born sinners because he sinned. Sinners would go to Hell if they did not repent. But God promised that a savior would come and save the people from their sins. We needed a savior, often described as the lamb without blemish, who would die for us and pay for our sins. You have a Bible, right?’’

    I shook my head.

    “We’ll get you one,’’

    “Here,’’ Marrisa handed me her Bible, smiled at us, and moved off to talk with some of her friends.

    “I’ve heard people say that you can get to heaven if you do a lot of good work. You can earn your way to heaven. Does that work?’’

    “No. We cannot earn our way to heaven because our sins are too many to number. We could never keep the right amount of laws or be good enough. God is perfect and holy, and we are not. Because God is the opposite of evil, he can do no wrong. He is just in every way. We are not holy or perfect, and we have done wrong. We could not be with God because we are stained with sin,’’

    “How did Jesus help us then?’’

    “Jesus lived a perfect life. He never sinned. Ever. Then he was crucified and hung on the cross, and all the wrath on God was poured out on him. He shielded us from the punishment we would be forced to bear if we continued our sinful ways. By his wounds and blood, we are healed from the curse of sin. He died, and then three days later he rose again,’’

    “How did he rise again?’’

    “Because he was fully God and fully man,’’

    I blinked.

    “What?’’

    He smiled at me and motioned to the book, “Turn to Luke and read Chapter 1, verses 26 to 35. Then tell me what it says,’’

    I obeyed, searching through the pages until I arrived at my destination. I read as thoroughly and as quickly as possible without it being a wild blur.

    “An angel approaches this woman named Mary, who is not married. She is betrothed to this dude named Joseph. He tells her that God is with her and has…favored her?…and that she will bear a son, and his name will be Jesus. He would be called the Son of the Highest,’’

    I looked up, and he nodded, pressing slightly, “And?’’

    “She doesn’t understand because she’s not married, so you know. But the angel tells her that the power of the Lord will overshadow her. So she will have a kid anyway. And he will be the son of God,’’

    “See? Fully God and fully man,’’

    I nodded, trying hard to understand it. He explained it in more detail a moment later. He told me how Jesus lived a perfect life, offered himself up as a sacrifice for us, and died on the cross. He pointed out that all of God’s wrath meant for us was placed on Jesus. He rose again, showing that he was God. And if we put our trust in Jesus, we would have eternal life forever and ever with him.

    “How? How do I place my trust in him?’’

    “You pray and ask God to forgive you for your sins. You put your life in his hands and allowed him to guide you for the rest of your days,’’

    “That’s it? I pray, and I’m good?’’ I asked, not believing that it would be that easy.

    “You continue to pray, read your bible, and follow him,’’

    “Read the Bible? Pray? Doesn’t that kind of sound like good works?’’ I asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “Well, it’s like this: you need food to live, right? Food and water? Well, the Bible is food and water for your soul. It helps you grow as a Christian. Praying is like talking to God. It’s a way to communicate to him,’’

    I looked him right in the eyes and decided that I knew it would change my life entirely. I wanted to be saved. I wanted to know Jesus as my savior. I felt it in my conscience, and something deep inside me was pulling toward it.

    “Sir, can we pray together? Right now? I want to accept Jesus. Right now,’’

    “Let’s pray,’’ Pastor Braxton replied, beaming.

    ~

    We got into the car a while later, Marrisa and I. Marrisa started up the car, but then she turned to me. I was grinning, a mixture of shock, amazement, and joy coursing through me.

    “I’m sorry, Adrian,’’

    I stared at her, my smile dropping into a frown, “What? Why?’’

    “For not asking you to church sooner. For not sharing the Gospel with you sooner. I was…afraid. I was afraid you wouldn’t want to be my friend if I told you. God tells us in His Word to make disciples of every nation, and I failed quite a bit in that aspect,’’

    “But you didn’t! You read the Bible that day in the hospital and explained what you truly did to help me! It opened my eyes in a way that had never happened before,’’ I beamed at her and added softly, “I forgive you. Thank you,’’ I tried to hand her Bible back to her, but she pushed it right back.

    “Keep it. You need one, and I have another,’’

    “Thank you,’’ I replied, holding it to my chest.

    As we started down the road, I couldn’t stop smiling.

    God had called me back to Him.

    He had accepted me with open arms.

    I was changed.

    I was His.

    “I am His,’’ I whispered to myself, “Thank you, God, for saving me. Thank you for calling me. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you,’’

    I opened the cover of the Bible and found that Marrisa had scribbled her name on the front page.

    Marrisa Garcia

    I looked over at her and asked.

    “May I borrow a pen?’’

    Adrian Smith


    Senior Year in College

    I walked up the stairs and up to Marrisa’s dorm, located on the west side of the college. It wasn’t very far from the boy’s dorm; it took me about ten minutes to get there. The college wasn’t substantial; it was a three-story building with white pillars standing in the front of hallways-and I wasn’t sure how old it was either. The campus was tiny, but that was the nice thing, as I loved taking Marrisa on walks through the gardens and college coffee shops.

    I stopped by the front door, hesitating for a second. This would be where Marrisa celebrated our first year of going out together. It felt like only the other day had I scraped together enough courage to ask her out. I looked into the silver doorknob, checking my appearance to see if my hair had fallen out of place again.

    My hair was always messy nowadays, but this time it didn’t look like I had finished War World 3 with my bed covers. My brown eyes stared back at me, and I could see the nervousness inside them. I was proud of my 5’11 height, but my muscles needed work as all the guys in my dorm would tease me. I took a deep breath, tugging on my blue jacket’s strings and smoothing out my jeans. I rubbed the back of my head, muttering under my breath.

    “Here goes nothing,’’

    I had much planned for her that day. It had been a year since we first went out, and I wanted it to be unique for her! I wanted it to be something we could carry in our memories.

    And, if my plan didn’t fail miserably, we probably would have had a wonderful time.

    But before I could even knock on the door, it was opened, and my gaze fell upon Marrisa. She was standing in the doorway, a small smile playing on her lips and a hand throwing her black hair behind her ear. Her beautiful bluebell eyes sparkled in the sudden sunlight that washed over her face.

    “I’ll be done in a minute,’’ She said as she turned and shut the door behind her.

    I smiled, knowing that she wouldn’t be too long. I was happy spending time with her, and I could be patient. I would wait.

    Chapter Eight

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    I felt the medicine begin to travel down my throat. I didn’t know how long I would have to continue with this procedure, as I knew, in the end, I probably wouldn’t make it. The doctors hadn’t given me much hope, but I carried on in my usual way to keep my parents’ hearts from being utterly crushed.

    I had never told Adrian.

    I didn’t want him to worry.

    I wanted his memories of me to be sweet and free of stress, worry, and concern.

    I checked my appearance in the mirror before walking back to the door. I halted suddenly, feeling momentarily dizzy. Undaunted, I opened it. It passed as soon as it had begun, but I could tell I was a little off-balance.

    The expression that was on Adrian’s face was soft and kind. I still don’t know how to comprehend everything in my life. I never dreamed I would be with Adrian; I chose him above all the boys in college. I knew we had only been together for a short time, but I felt we had been together for so long.

    But if I went away, I wanted him to have all these memories of our times together. I wanted him to know how much I cherished his friendship and more throughout all the time.

    Before I went away.

    If I went away.

    It was becoming more of a possibility every day.

    I smiled at Adrian, who nodded in greeting to me, and as I skipped down the steps to meet him, he remarked.

    “You’re missing something,’’

    “What?’’ I asked.

    “Your backpack! I’m supposed to take you on the train later today so you can spend your holiday with your family. And you know your father won’t mind filling my gut with lead if I don’t place you and all your things on that train,’’

    I was in the process of opening the door when I heard him. I turned violently, staring at him with an alarmed expression on my face.

    “My dad said that?’’

    “No, but his eyes spoke for him,’’ He explained, laughing, as I shook my head.

    My backpack sat on the chair by the mirror, and I rushed to grab it. Adrian led me down the path away from my dorm after ensuring I had indeed closed the door.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    We walked around the small garden on the campus and the college. It was nice today, the trees were still naked, and the grass was dead. But that didn’t take away the beauty of it all. There were lights all around the trees and the bushes. Tinsel hung around the post lights and the fences creating a Christmas feel.

    I was itching to tell her my surprise, but I stayed quiet. I wanted her to be shocked, but I hoped that shock would be washed away by her feeling of joy! I wanted her to be caught off guard.

    But as we walked, I noticed how slow Marrisa was. She always traveled with a skip in her step as if ready to dance down the path. But now, she wandered the trail with a dull, steady rhythm that was so unlike her. She was also quieter, but there were times she was silent.

    Should I have been worried?

    I didn’t know.

    “Do you hear that?” Marrisa spoke, causing me to fall out of my thoughts. I stared down at her and raised my eyebrows in a questioning manner.

    “Hear what?”

    She laughed softly and closed her eyes, “The birds,”

    I had almost forgotten that Marrisa loved birds.

    “Oh yes, of course,” I said sarcastically. Marrisa eyed me before she lifted her fist and punched my shoulder. I laughed and pushed her slightly. Or I thought I had. She stumbled over her feet and fell to the left on top of the grass.

    “Adrian.” She growled. I shrugged my shoulders and lifted her off the ground. Her expression seemed exasperated. I just grinned and tried to make her smile again.

    “You’re fine,’’

    “Sure,’’ She replied dryly, “I could have fallen on the pavement instead of the grass, split my skull, and died in your arms, but let’s not think of the tragic ending, shall we?’’

    I stared at her in awe but tried not to show it, “That’s impossible. You wouldn’t die if you fell from this high. You’d probably be incredibly injured, but you wouldn’t have died.” She rolled her eyes and sped up. “Oh, come on. You aren’t angry, are you?” She stopped walking and turned around, pointing her finger at me.

    “Why would I be angry?” She said slowly. Her chest rose and fell very slowly as her face flushed.

    “Marrisa, are you feeling alright?” She just waved her hand and moaned.

    “Don’t change the subject. Why would you think I’m angry?”

    “Because you look angry.” She just shook her head, not wanting to speak to me. She tapped my arm and told me to race her.

    When we were far from where we just were, Marrisa stopped running. We were both tired and wanted to rest for a bit. My lungs felt like they were about to burst. I coughed and sat up straight as I rubbed my forehead.

    “Why..did…you…want…to….run,” I said between breaths. Marissa just shook her head and didn’t answer my question. She sucked in deep breaths as she leaned on her knees.

    “I just felt like running,” She said halfheartedly.

    “Marrisa, I have known you for longer than you think. You never just wanted to run. I used to have to drag you out of your house for you to just go on a run,”

    “At least I went on walks.”

    Something was seriously wrong.

    She was so pale…

    What was wrong with her?

    She moved around awkwardly and didn’t say anything else. What was wrong?

    “Marrisa?’’ I asked, alarmed at the sudden look of panic that flashed across her face.

    “Let’s just get going!’’ She exclaimed, cutting me off. Why were women so hard? I knew I would never understand them.

    I nodded, grabbing her backpack, which I had let fall to the ground as I tried to regain my breath. I had plans to give her a gift I had picked out the day before. It was a jeweled bracelet, the same color as her eyes. I wanted to give it to her at a particular location.

    The place where I asked her out a year before.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    “Where are we going exactly?” I asked as we neared a corner. Adrian grinned but said nothing, “This place looks so familiar.” I said. Adrian turned a sharp corner, and I hurried to catch up to him when we walked underneath an orchard of flowers. Lilies and roses lined the ground on the dirt path, and I smiled in delight. I remembered now. It was the garden Adrian had taken me not too far back.

    He suddenly pulled out a loaf of bread and placed it in my hands. He motioned for me to sit on the white bench, with flowers and vines growing on its side. I nodded, took my place on the bench, pulled crumbs off the bread, and threw them on the floor. He, too, does the same, and we sit silently for a few minutes.

    “Look!” I exclaimed as a blue jay flew down to the ground. My eyes run wide, and I feel joy fill me. How much I loved birds. The West Crowned Pigeon was one of my favorites, with its dark blue feathers, white tips, and most exotic beautiful red eyes. Their name for ‘Crowned’ doesn’t miss a single beat, for their feathers fly out from the top of their heads, making a flower crown around them.

    “Wow, that one looks weird….” Adrian said as he pointed to a bird with missing feathers around its neck.

    “Oh, that means that his fellow birds are pecking at him. I guess they see him as an outcast. They often do that to other birds that they don’t like. It’s kind of like us. When a person doesn’t like us, they decide to pick on us because they know we can’t fight back.”

    “I think you’re overly obsessed with birds, Marrisa.”

    “Well, you know me, I’ve always been weird.”

    “Ain’t that the truth,” Adrian said.

    “So, why’d you bring me here?” I asked, placing the rest of the bread next to me. Adrian’s body suddenly stiffened, and his mouth went slack.

    “I know how you like birds, so I thought it would be fun.”

    “Hmm,” I mumbled, “Yeah, I know you better than that. So what’s up?”

    “I have something for you,” He whispered, “I’ve wanted to give this to you, but I didn’t know when was the right time.” He took a piece of bread and stuffed it into his mouth before bending over and taking a box from the backpack.

    “Oh, Adrian. You know how much I hate surprises. What’s in the box?” I said anxiously.

    “You will have to open it and see,”

    “I hate when you do this to me,” He handed me the box, and I slowly took it from his hands. I placed it on my lap and stared at it before opening the lid. When a pretty bracelet came into view, I immediately shut the box and laughed.

    “What?” Adrian questioned, “Do you not like it?”

    “No, no, it’s not that. It’s stunning, thank you. It just shocked me. And I feel so guilty because I have nothing to give you in return.”

    “Don’t feel like that. It’s a gift. I’m not expecting anything in return.”

    I just stared blankly at him.

    Unable to say anything else.

    What a strange man…

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    I watched as Marrisa continued to stare at me with that blank stare. I felt a smile pull at my lips.

    “Were you expecting something else?’’ I raised one eyebrow and threw out my hand in an innocent gesture.

    “What? No! This…your gift…it’s beautiful! I’m so grateful that you got it for me. I love it.’’

    “Yeah, that’s what I figured….’’ I glanced at my watch, “Good grief, and sake’s alive! We must get you to the train station! Quick! Quick!’’

    She laughed as I pulled up from her seat. We headed off toward the underground station, and I noticed that she seemed thoughtful as we moved toward the trains. As I paid for her ticket, I noticed that she gave a little sigh and pressed a hand to her eye.

    Was she crying? Or beginning to cry?

    Oh no.

    “Marrisa, what’s wrong?’’ I asked, lifting her bags onto the train for her, and turned to see if everything was alright.

    “I’ll miss you, I guess. That’s all,’’ She replied, grinning at me, “But I probably won’t miss your awful jokes,’’

    “Ouch, and thank you,’’ I said as I helped onboard, and then, as I looked into her beautiful face, I couldn’t resist.

    “Maybe I’ll have something different for you next time I see you,’’

    “What?’’ She asked as the train supervisor began shouting for people to hurry up.

    “Maybe it’s time to start thinking about what comes next, huh? You and me. Because I lo..’’

    “Adrian, wait,’’ She said, “I don’t think you should start saying stuff like that,’’

    I paused, frowning, “Why?’’

    “I don’t know. If something happens, Adrian, I think it’d be better if you don’t….’’

    “Don’t what?’’

    The train whistle let out its shrill cries, and she bent a little to say, “Don’t tell me that you love me until it’s for certain,’’

    Then she slid the door shut.

    I stepped back.

    The train slowly lurched forward.

    I was alone.

    What had she meant?

    Was she asking me to stop dating her? Was that her problem? Had I done something to her? I hoped she was only jesting, but she seemed very serious. What was wrong?

    All the times that something odd had happened with Marrisa near played in my mind. Some strange things occurred while she was present, and mostly they seemed directed at her. The hospital visits, the long times apart, the weird coughing attacks, and other situations that just felt…off.

    I sighed.

    Maybe she just felt terrible at the moment.

    I could understand that.

    But has something gone wrong?

    The church we went to was solid and healthy, and I had striven to build my relationship with Jesus. We had waited for two years during the beginning of college. In our Junior year, I dropped the question of whether she would go out with me. She had accepted, and we held our bible study on our first date.

    Something funny, right?

    Most couples went out for a meal, coffee, a walk, or something like that.

    But nope, she had wanted to pull out God’s word first thing.

    And that was one of the many things I loved about Marrisa.

    So maybe what she had said was right.

    Maybe we shouldn’t step forward.

    Perhaps we should wait a little longer.

    But that was alright.

    I would wait a hundred years for her.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    I hold my hand over my mouth as tears continuously pour down my face. A roar of coughs exited my mouth, and I found myself stumbling to the floor. I reached for my inhaler on the sink, but I couldn’t manage to grab it. I hold onto my chest and place a napkin over my mouth.

    “Go…d!” I breathed out, “Oh…God. Pl..ease…help me…it can’t be…time yet!” A sudden wave of nausea fell upon me, and I pulled my hair back before leaning over the toilet. Nothing came out, so I sat against the wall in a small corner, holding my legs tightly. I coughed again, but blood dripped down the corners of my mouth this time.

    “Marrisa?!” My father’s voice came through the door. He knocked and tried opening the door, but I had forgotten I had locked it. I couldn’t move my body as it shook violently. I blacked out but regained consciousness right after. My dad was still banging on the door, trying to open it.

    Black.

    Light again.

    Black.

    My vision kept shifting, and I found myself in a daze. Finally, the door flung open, and my dad walked in with urgency on his face. He placed his arms under my legs and back and picked me up. He ran out of the bathroom and shouted things that I couldn’t hear.

    He carried me out to the car and placed me in the back. My mom hopped in, and I laid my head on her lap.

    “Marrisa…it’s alright….” My vision again blurred, but I passed out for good this time. Everything else was faint.

    ~

    I awoke to my mom’s voice, her hand over my own. When she saw me looking at her, she cried out with joy and placed her hand over my forehead.

    “You’re awake,” She choked out, “Marrisa can you see me?” She asked.

    “Mom…” I rasped out, but nothing else came out. A searing pain shot through my whole body, and I found it best not to breathe so quickly.

    “Marrisa, do you remember what happened?” She asked quickly. I shook my head in response and looked to the door, where my dad stood, talking to a doctor. “Marrisa, you went to the bathroom after we got home from picking you up at the station, but you never returned. Your father went to check on you, but you wouldn’t respond. You were taken out, and we rushed you to the hospital. Are you sure you don’t remember any of this?”

    “No..I…don’t. I’m sorry.” I grimaced in pain. My dad turned around and joined us, a look of anxiety on his face.

    “Hun, can I speak with you?” He said, looking at my mom. She nodded and left the room. I stared up at the ceiling, and tears slipped down my face. What’s to become of me? Why so soon? Why couldn’t I have died a couple of years after? I know it was selfish to think of such questions. God had kept me alive for so long after the doctors said none stop that I wouldn’t make it past seventh grade.

    After a couple of minutes, they walked back and sat beside me. I glanced up at my bed and tried to say something, but instead, I was taken aback by the sudden rush of tears that came from him. I gazed at him more before he turned away and wiped his eyes.

    That’s all I needed to know.

    These might be my last moments.

    I might not make it through the night…

    “I think it’s time we tell Adrian, Marrisa.” My mother said calmly. I shot her a wary look before nodding slowly.

    “I suppose so….”

    “I’ll call him in a bit. But for now, I think you should rest; that’s all you need right now.”

    “Alright,”

    “Your father and I will be back shortly.”

    “Okay…”

    “Do you need anything?”

    “I’m fine. Just go already.”

    I watched them exit the room, and I was finally alone.

    I wished I had more time.

    I wished I could have walked down the aisle with my dad.

    I wished I had had my own home. I wanted so much.

    But that wasn’t God’s plan for me.

    I gazed down at the bracelet around my wrist. Poor Adrian. Maybe it was better this way. Adrian can find someone who will be part of his life forever. I just wished that could have been me.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    My phone rang as I took my usual jog around the gardens. It had been a couple of days since Marrisa had gone back home, and I hoped she enjoyed herself.

    I halted and fished my phone out of my pocket.

    It was Marrisa’s dad.

    Oh boy.

    “Hello?’’ As I placed the phone to my ear, I began, “Mr. Garcia?’’

    “Adrian, I need to talk to you,’’

    I hesitated. His voice sounded stressed and strained, which was something that sent a slight panic coursing through my body.

    “Yes, sir?’’

    “Marrisa…she’s…’’ He took a shaky breath, “She’s not doing very well now, Adrian. If possible, you should try to come as soon as you can. I don’t think she’s going to hold out for much longer,’’

    “What?’’ I asked.

    “She’s in the hospital and not doing well at all,’’

    “What?’’

    “She was in the bathroom and having complications, so we drove her to the ER,’’

    “What?’’

    “I think you should try and come as soon as you can,’’

    “What?’’

    I was in shock. Complete and utter shock. A bullet could fly by my ear, and I wouldn’t have responded. My mind had shut down when he told me Marrisa wouldn’t make it much longer. What did he mean? What was wrong with Marrisa?

    “I…sir…please…explain,’’ I choked out after mouthing maybe a thousand “what’s.

    “Marrisa has had heart problems for most of her life. Coughing, shortness of breath, pain, etc. It’s all her common symptoms. They got out of control, and so we had no choice but to bring her here,’’

    “But…I’ve never seen her…or she’s never acted….’’

    “She’s hidden it from most people, especially…I’m sad to say…you. I know you two are together, and she insisted that you never have to worry about her condition. After all, we think….’’ He let out a sob that ripped at my heart, “She’s not going to live for very long,’’

    I stepped back a few paces, allowing the phone to fall a few inches from my ear. A wave of pain crashed against me in a never-ending storm of wild emotions.

    She had it all her life.

    She had kept it secret.

    She had hidden it from me.

    All her life.

    All our time together.

    She had lied.

    Now she was dying.

    My Marrisa was dying.

    Chapter Nine

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    I gazed out the hospital window watching as the clouds passed by with every passing moment. I had made it through the night, but I grew so weak that I could no longer stand on my own. I’m to be carried, or I should say ‘pushed’ around in a wheelchair now. My arms and legs felt like jello, and my whole body felt as if I was a doll. My eyes grew foggy, and I could barely see anything anymore. My lips were chapped and dried, and sometimes I wondered why God spared me for the hundredth time.

    But I knew this time was different.

    I wouldn’t be going home this time.

    I was to stay here till I died.

    How could Adrian ever come and see me?

    I knew that he probably wouldn’t…

    I mean, who would still love and spend time with a girl who was dying?

    I wouldn’t be upset if he never came to say goodbye.

    I wished he had found out a different way, under other circumstances.

    A knock sounded at the door, and I didn’t bother to look over. I couldn’t anyway, so I would spare myself the grief. A slightly heavy object was placed on my bed, and I tried my hardest to turn around. When I moved a few inches, I stopped and felt my heart skip a beat. A vague banana smell came to my nose, making my stomach lurch.

    It was Adrian.

    Only a few feet away.

    What to say, what to say.

    I could hardly speak.

    I could hardly see.

    Maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me.

    “Marrisa.” He said. The way he said my name made my heart tear into two. It was him. And he was here.

    “A.d.r.i.e.n.” My words were broken up, but I knew he could understand what I was saying, “Are…these…banana muffins?” tears formed on my eyelids and ran down my eyes.

    “Your favorite.” He smiled, “I know how you like Addy’s Bakery, especially when you’re in the hospital.”

    “Thank…you.” The pulse oximeter that lay around my finger beeped twice before quieting. An IV stuck from my arm, water slipping through it. I was no longer eating whole food, but seeing Adrian bring these for me still warmed my heart. He lifted my hand and kissed it softly, tears pouring down his face.

    “Marrisa…” He wiped his eyes and sniffled, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

    “I…was afraid….” I took a long breath, “That you would worry….” My voice quivered, and I tried to control my emotions, “too much about me….and not…focus on what…matters. I thought about…telling you. But you…were just a new Christian. I didn’t want you to hate and blame God…after I died.” I stopped talking and took another long breath.

    “But this isn’t fair. You’re too young. You should not be dying too early in life. There was so much I wanted to do…so much I wanted to do with you.”

    “Adrian,” I said gently, “I know…where I’m going. And I’m happy…to know that I won’t be in so much…pain.”

    “No, no.” He bowed his head and placed it on the edge of my bed.

    “I’ll be fine.”

    “Can you tell me what’s going on? What did the doctors say? You lived through the night, so does that mean-”

    “Adrian. Stop trying to change the outcome. I understand…that you are angry and sad right now…but I need you to focus and listen to me….” I closed my eyes, “I want you to leave. I want you to forget about me. I-”

    “Stop speaking such nonsense-”

    “Listen.” I said rather forcefully, “Why don’t you leave knowing I’m happy? Can’t you do that for me? Make me feel somewhat at ease? I don’t want…you feeling…like this for the rest of…your life. You won’t get anywhere….”

    “You won’t get rid of me, Marrisa Garcia. I’m going to stay right here by your side.”

    I smiled before laughing, which didn’t sound like a laugh, more like a dying horse, “Good,” I breathed out, “Because I didn’t want you to leave. Or forget about me…I was just making sure…that you did care,”

    “Of course, I care,”

    “Sorry, I look…like a mess.”

    “You look fine,”

    “Can you help me sit up?” I asked. He nodded and helped me lay upright against my pillows. The sudden feeling of nausea fell before me but then vanished quickly.

    Oh, how I must look.

    How I must seem.

    Broken…disabled.

    My hair was everywhere, I had the worst case of bedhead imaginable, and I felt so unclean.

    But Adrian didn’t care.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    Maybe I should do it now.

    Maybe it was the perfect moment.

    Watching Marrisa, I knew I had never seen her so pretty. Even though she was ill and hooked up to more machines than I would like to admit, she was still the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.

    Yes, perhaps this was the right moment.

    “Marrisa,’’ I knelt by the bedside. She was staring at me as if I had two heads, her eyes wide, “I would like to ask you a marry me….’’ I froze; my words all jumped up, “Excuse me,’’ I rose, feeling extremely embarrassed, and strode around the room.

    I moved back toward her, knelt again, looked her in the eye, and burst out laughing!

    “Aggh! No, wait! I mea…’’ I couldn’t go on, I was laughing so hard. Marrisa was laughing too, and then she was….

    Crying?

    Oh no.

    “Marrisa, hold on. Please don’t cry!’’ I pleaded, rising again to check on her as she sobbed in her hands.

    “No…no!’’ She choked out, “Please….’’

    “Marrisa, look at me,’’ I instructed, suddenly feeling a sense of calm come over me, “Marrisa, I want to ask you a question,’’

    “No…Adrian…no,’’

    “Let me speak,’’ I interjected, kneeling for the third time.

    The third time’s the charm.

    “Marrisa Garcia, I don’t care if we have five years together or ten. I don’t care if I have a scant three weeks. But I want to enjoy that chosen amount of time, for however long it is, with you as my wife,’’

    She froze, staring at me with her big, beautiful, tear-stained eyes. I smiled at her, fishing a small box out of my pocket and holding it up.

    “Marrisa Garcia, will you marry me?’’ I opened the box, revealing a silver band with a small diamond in its center.

    Marrisa stared at me for a few moments before leaning toward me and whispering, “You know what’s wrong with me. I won’t survive, the doctors said….’’

    “Didn’t you hear me?’’ I asked, smiling, “I don’t care if we have five years, ten years, or two months. I love you, Marrisa, and I want to spend the rest of your life…our life…with you,’’

    A tear trailed down her cheek, flowing down to her chin and falling to the blanket below.

    “Marrisa, I know we’re still in college, but school will end soon. And I’ll work three jobs just to find a way to bring us together. I’ll do anything I can,’’

    “I’m not sure how long I’ll have, Adrian. I may not even make it in five months. I might not even make it to our wedding day,’’

    “Hold on,’’ I declared, gripping her hand and slipping the ring onto her finger, “Now you can say that,’’

    “Adrian! Don’t joke about those things!’’ She giggled despite herself.

    “I told you, Marrisa. I’ll find a way,’’

    The door opened, and her parents burst in. Marrisa smiled up at me, and I bent and hugged her. Her mother stared at us with wide eyes, but her father grinned and nodded to me. I returned the gesture.

    “Took you long enough, Adrian,’’ Her father exclaimed with a smirk on his lips.

    “What?’’ His wife asked, staring at him, “You knew!?’’

    “Of course,’’ Marrisa’s dad declared, “I sensed it as soon as he walked through the door. He had the same look on his face as I did when I proposed to you,’’

    “I don’t remember that….’’ His wife replied, a faraway look in her eyes.

    “Probably because she was too busy jumping for joy,’’ Marrisa’s dad whispered.

    I turned back to Marrisa, holding out my hand.

    She took it.

    “I’ll be back soon,’’ I replied, “I just need to put some things in order first,’’

    “What?’’ She asked as she used her other hand to take hold of one banana muffin.

    “School, work, and…my parents,’’

    ~

    I glanced around the neighborhood.

    It was quiet.

    I was standing in my parent’s driveway. The house seemed the same as ever, and the front porch had received a new paint coating. The place seemed so still, almost in a foreboding sense.

    My parents and I didn’t quite see eye to eye on much of anything anymore.

    It had started when I became a Christian, and then it had gone downhill from there.

    But I still loved them dearly.

    And I wanted to be a good son.

    My only question was how they would respond when I told them I was engaged.

    Boy, that alone sent a chill down my spine.

    I was engaged.

    Should I start dancing?

    Probably not.

    I traveled slowly up the walkway and the stairs I had stepped on most of my childhood. The redwood door was still there, a reminder of so many memories, good and bad.

    I took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. I could hear it echoing inside the house, and then my heart jumped as I heard footsteps pounding on the hardwood floors inside. The door opened, and my mother stepped into view.

    I smiled at her, saying softly, “Hi, mama,’’

    She had more white and gray hair, creases in her skin, and worry lining her eyes, but she was still my wonderful, loving, and beautiful mother. She stared at me and let out a small gasp.

    “Adrian!’’

    “May I come in?’’ I asked, and she nodded.

    I sat on the old, familiar couch, and my parents sat in the chairs in front of me. The TV had been moved to the other side of the room for some reason, and a new coffee table had been set up.

    Other than that, it was the same old home.

    My dad, a slightly hard look on his face, nodded to me, and I returned the gesture, “Dad,’’

    “Adrian, why are you here?’’ My mother cut in.

    “I came here to apologize and tell you something important,’’ I replied, glancing nervously from one to the other, “I know I haven’t been the most attentive son. I haven’t called you often, and we seem to get into many arguments when we do. I’m so sorry, and I don’t want that to happen. I know we don’t think alike in some things, but I still love you guys. And I hope you can forgive me,’’

    My parents glanced at each other and then nodded to me. I smiled and began to tell them of my engagement with Marrisa.

    Mom was delighted and then cried when she heard of Marrisa’s illness. Dad was pinning me to my seat with a stern glare and an indecipherable expression. Finally, after I had lapsed into silence, he spoke.

    “You’re going to marry her?’’

    “I slipped the ring on her finger,’’ I replied, watching him.

    “Even in her…with her condition?’’

    “Yes,’’ I said firmly.

    “And you’re prepared for the responsibilities? You’re going to be able to provide for a wife?’’

    “I pray that I am. In truth, Dad, I think I’ve liked her for a long time and loved her for a long time. I’ll work two, three jobs and even drop out of school to do so,’’

    “Perhaps you should wait,’’ Mom began to suggest softly.

    “We don’t know how much time she has left, mama,’’ I explained gently.

    “How can you do it?’’ My mother asked, “How can you go on with this? If she’s going to die, then why will you….’’

    “Because I love her, and even if God chooses not to spare her, then I know the love and memories He will have given us, and his good grace and faithfulness will lessen the pain of losing her,’’ I let out a small sigh, and spoke once more, “May I have your blessings for this? Will you come to my…our…wedding? Please?’’

    Mom glanced at Dad, who stared back at her. He turned and nodded, and she followed his lead. I rose, smiling, and took a step toward them. Mom got up and threw her arms around me. I held her, looking at my father.

    “I love you, guys,’’

    My mom let me go, beaming at me.

    “I love you, mom,’’

    I took one more step toward Dad, who rose also.

    “I love you, Dad,’’ I said, holding my hand.

    “Goodbye, son,’’ He replied, gripping my hand firmly that I had always respected and admired.

    “Goodbye,’’ I said as the door slowly closed behind me a few seconds later.

    I turned, staring around me at the neighborhood. I absentmindedly drove my car over to Marrisa’s house, not paying attention to where I was going. That old tire was still sitting defiantly in the front yard. Without thinking, I shouted.

    “You’re the first thing to go when we take over this house!’’

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    My mother grabbed my left hand and examined the ring on my finger. It made a shining reflection when it hit the light, and I loved it. I somehow felt angry and disappointed but so happy and relieved simultaneously. Never in my dreams did I believe that I would ever marry or even get engaged.

    I was angry that Adrian would throw his life away for me.

    I was disappointed that I would probably die before I could even be pushed down the aisle.

    But I was so happy that he chose me.

    I was so relieved that I got a chance to get married.

    I just didn’t want Adrian to regret ever doing what he did.

    “What a wonderful man he has become,” My mother said with a wide grin. She put my hand down and placed her hands on her lap, “So what are your plans? What comes next?”

    “Well, Adrian was talking…about having to provide for a house…and how he will have to…maybe drop out of college…which I don’t want him to do. But he said he has to so he can be with me to take care of me….”

    “First off, Marrisa, don’t talk so fast and so much when you barely can breathe. Second, you and Adrian don’t need to worry about a house. Do you remember when you were in fifth grade, and we always went to the cottage we owned? By the lake?”

    “Oh, yes, I do. What’s your point?”

    “Well, you and Adrian may have it.”

    “Really?” I asked in unbelief.

    “Well, of course, you can. Of course, until you get on your feet and can provide for a normal home,”

    “But…I don’t think that would even matter because I won’t be here for that amount of time.”

    “Marrisa, I believe that God can heal you. I believe that he could save you. We just need to have faith that he will,”

    I smiled sympathetically at my mom. She’s gone through so much. Every night she would pray with me and pray that God would heal my sick heart. We even tried getting a heart transplant, but there were none available. Even if they had tried to do that, I would be dead in seconds right when they took out my heart. And my heart wasn’t strong enough anyway.

    I sometimes blamed God when I was younger; I would always ask why he made me unique and couldn’t have been like ordinary girls, why I couldn’t have an everyday life.

    I always played with my stuffed animals, pretending to be the lead singer on a Christian worship tear. My dream was to travel worldwide and minister to those who didn’t know Jesus through music. I’d share my testimony if I were given a chance.

    When I first fell ill and had to stay home, I learned to play the piano because it gave me a sense of comfort. I played piano for about six years before stopping. I stopped once I knew my hands couldn’t press the keys anymore when my hands would shake and stumble on the notes. I knew my time for playing the piano was gone, but that didn’t keep me from reaching out in faith.

    “Knock knock,” I looked up to see Adrian leaning on the doorway. A small bag in his hand.

    “Who is it?” I asked, feeling playful.

    “When, where.” He replied.

    “When, where, who?”

    “Monday, dinner, you and me?”

    I laughed and nodded desperately, “Yes. But I don’t think they will discharge me just yet,”

    “Already done,” He held up two pieces of paper I assumed to be the discharged information, “Don’t worry, it’s not fake. Your doctor signed it right here,” He handed them to my mom and placed the bag on the seat on the left of the bed.

    “So I’m guessing this means that I only have so long. But that’s fine! Because I want to spend the rest of my time with you.”

    “Yes,” Adrian managed to smile.

    After a couple of hours, I was able to leave. Adrian and my mom helped me into the wheelchair, and Adrian pushed me out of the room. My mom carried my bags, and we were off. When the hospital doors came into view, I was so happy. I would finally be outside where I longed to be.

    We exited the hospital doors, and I could ‘breathe’ fresh air. An oxygen tank hung from behind the wheelchair, and the oxygen hose hung from my face. My left hand had a small tube connected, and my right arm had my IV cord running down it. Although I left the hospital, I still feel like I’m bringing everything.

    The warmth of the day made me so happy. The bright blue sky hung above me, the bright yellow sun shining upon me. My eyes were blinded by the sight of a 2000 Buick with an awful green color.

    “Is this your new car?” I asked, feeling slightly appalled at sight.

    “Yes, what’s wrong with it?”

    “Mm…nothing.”

    He shrugged his shoulders and pulled me to the back of the Buick. There was a wheelchair holder already attached to the back of it.

    “Looks like you are fully prepared,” I teased. Adrian nodded to my statement and helped me into the car. Afterward, he folded up my wheelchair and placed it on the back of the vehicle. I rolled down my window and stuck my arm out when Adrian hopped into the driver’s seat. He started the car, and my mom walked around and stopped next to my window.

    “You’re going to drive with Adrian and your father, and I will meet you back at the house. Okay?” My mom asked.

    “Okay.” She tapped the car before turning around and leaving. Adrian pulled out of the parking lot, and a sudden loud crashing sound filled the air. Adrian immediately stopped, rubbed his head, and laughed sheepishly.

    “I think…I might not have attached the wheelchair all the way…my mistake.”

    I rolled my eyes and snickered, “It isn’t a surprise.” He shook his head and got out of the car. He soon returned, and I stared at him, my eyes wide.

    “What?” He questioned.

    “Did you make sure it was fully on this time?” I said, a smirk itching on my lips.

    “Yes, yes, yes! I did.”

    “Twice?”

    “Yes,”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Marrisa!” He exclaimed.

    “Sorry,” I said, placing a hand over my heart. “Won’t you please accept my utmost humble apology?”

    “What I get myself into,” He muttered.

    “A whole lot, mister. There ain’t no goin back. You put a ring on this finger; it will stay on this finger. You get me?”

    “Yeah, yeah.”

    I was dying inside.

    This was going to be so much fun.

    Oh boy, he’s going to be in for a lot.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    I smiled at Marrisa and turned the left signal light on as her parents drove right. Marrisa glanced at me as I drove off in the opposite direction.

    “So…’’ I began, “What’s a good quick date place, do ya think?’’

    “We’re engaged,’’ She commented.

    “So?’’ I asked, “I can still date you, you know. I hope we’ll continue to do that after we marry,’’

    “There’s that new ice cream place across the way,’’ Marrisa pointed out as we drove down the road, “Why not we stop there for a simple, sweet, shivery treat?’’

    “You were trying to have that rhyme,’’ I declared, laughing, “Is “shivery’’ even a word?’’

    “It is now!’’ She laughed.

    I glanced at her as we headed into the parking lot. We swung around back to the drive-through. As we waited in line, I found myself watching Marrisa.

    She was humming to herself, watching the scenery outside. She was beautiful, even with her oxygen hose and IV. She was such a lovely person.

    And she was mine.

    That ring on her finger was proof.

    Of the promises, we would soon make.

    Soon.

    Each time I saw her, I prayed that she would be able to make it to our wedding. That she would be able to live that long. It had begun to fill me with a sense of anxiety and dread, though I never let it show. But I was done with those emotions.

    I had promised to love and care for her for as long as she lived.

    And that was what I planned to do.

    For as long as God allowed me to.

    And I hadn’t even told her the essential part.

    “What will you like today, crash test dummy?’’ I teased, grinning at her, “Ice cream? Or the possibility of ice cream? Or the rarest and fashionable order of ice cream?’’

    “Those are all the same!’’ She laughed, “Come on, biker boy! You’ve known me for long enough! What kind of ice cream do I want?’’

    “Hmm…shall you want coffee with chocolate chip and a dash of caramel to go with it?’’

    She giggled, “Always and forever!’’

    After asking, paying, and receiving our order, my choice being the more humble flavor of chocolate, we found ourselves on the road back to her parent’s house.

    “Thank you!’’ As she dipped her spoon into her ice cream, she exclaimed, “This was wonderful, Adrian.’’

    “You’re most welcome,’’ I waited half a second before saying casually, “I found us a marriage counselor,’’

    “Mm?’’ She swallowed, “Really? Who?’’

    “Our pastor,’’ I explained, “Was willing to start. We’ll go every week or so for a while as we near the wedding date,’’

    “What’s the wedding date?’’

    “What’s the wedding date?’’ I repeated, glancing over at her as we neared the neighborhood. Silence, “We’ll work on that!’’

    “We have so much to work on!’’ She gasped, “Adrian! How on earth are we going to do it all!?’’

    “We’ll find a way!’’ I parked the car and opened the door, “Now, that’s all settled….’’

    “What are you talking about: it’s all settled?’’

    “…Let’s go play a board game or something!’’ I continued as I put the wheelchair back into its proper position.

    “Want to play Get That Monkey?’’ She asked.

    “Yeah! And I’ll win!’’

    “Ha! Scoundrel! You always allow the lady to conquer you in the board game!’’ She sniffed as I helped her into the wheelchair.

    “We’ll see about that!’’ I laughed, helping her up the stairs and rolling her into the house.

    And she did win.

    This time.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    The needle punctured my skin but quickly came out. I moaned softly and took a sip of my water as Adrian softly wiped and placed a bandage over my arm. The past week has gotten harder; I’m not going to lie. But with Adrian by my side, I haven’t been as lonely.

    “Hmm, sage, lavender, pink, crimson, or light baby blue?” My mom asked as she placed multiple colors in front of my face. I put my finger on my chin and picked up the sage color. I lifted it above my shoulder so Adrian could see it.

    “What do you think of this color, Adrian?” I questioned.

    “Mm, I don’t know how I feel about that color,” Adrian said.

    “Don’t like the color?” My mom and I cried in unison.

    “Well, I’ll be.” My mother exclaimed.

    “Well, my favorite color is peach or periwinkle.” I smiled.

    “Who uses periwinkle at a wedding?” My mom’s voice sounded shocked.

    “I was thinking dark blue,” Adrian grinned.

    “Dark blue? Oh please. Okay, you can leave the wedding colors to me, Adrian. You don’t have a say anymore.” I scrunched my face disgustedly before placing the lavender and light blue in front of me.

    “Sheesh, women when it comes to wedding planning,” Adrian mumbled.

    “It will be peach, lavender, or light blue,” I said, specifically to my mom.

    “Are you sure? Maybe we could-”

    “Mom, please,” I laughed, “This is my one and only wedding-”

    “I hope so,” Adrian cut in.

    I rolled my eyes before continuing, “So I would like it to be my way? Thank you for helping me, but can you hear me out?”

    My mom’s face turned into a pouting expression, “Fine, fine, fine.”

    My dad walked into the room and had a piece of bread in his hands. He bent down next to me and examined the colors.

    “Hmm, I feel periwinkle would be best for your wedding since you love it so much, Marrisa.” My dad explained. My mom sat up and smacked my dad on the shoulder. I chuckled at the scene as my mom shouted at my dad.

    “I told you, mom! It’s a great color!”

    My mom shook her head in disapproval and strode from the room. Probably to cool off. My dad sat where my mom previously sat and started conversing with Adrian.

    “So, son.” My dad said, “I’m warning you. You take care of my baby girl; you got that? If I see you don’t, I’m coming for you.”

    Adrian’s face was priceless, “Uh.. yes, sir.”

    “He’s only joking around, Adrian. No need to be paranoid.” I stated.

    “Am I, though?” My dad replied. I looked at him with an arched brow, but his face held seriousness.

    “Okay, then. Let’s change course. Who wants to play Snerts?” I beamed.

    “I guess I’ll play,” My dad agreed.

    “Sure,” Adrian said bluntly.

    “Mom, want to play Snerts!?” I shouted from across the hall. My mom’s head peered out, and she nodded quickly.

    “I’ll get the decks of cards,” I stood abruptly but immediately fell back down. My vision blurred, and I laughed nervously, “On second thought…Adrian, would you mind getting them?”

    “Oh, yeah.” He stood up and brought back four decks of cards as I had asked. Adrian helped me to the dining room table and set out our cards. The game lasted for hours, and so far, I was winning. I didn’t know if they purposely allowed me to win, but I didn’t care.

    “King of hearts!” I shouted as I threw the king of hearts over the queen of hearts, “Snerts!” I cried. Everyone moaned and separated the cards. After counting how many cards I placed on the table, I wrote everyone’s score.

    “I got 33,” Adrian said.

    “I got 16,” My dad said embarrassingly.

    “And I got 39,” My mom said proudly.

    “I got 38, but plus Snerts means I got 48.”

    “So, who won?” Adrian asked.

    “I’m first with 250, Adrian is second with 240, mom is third with 215, and dad….well…you made it to 130.”

    “Oh my Lanta,” My dad threw his cards on the table and ran a hand down his face, “Well, give me some credit. I barely play this game.”

    “I understand you are upset, honey.” My mom said, rubbing his arm. Adrian and I laughed, “Oh baby, it’s alright. You’ll live,” My mom continued her babyish talk toward my dad. Tears suddenly rolled down my face, and I didn’t understand why.

    “Marrisa, what’s wrong?” Adrian asked, concern in his voice.

    “I’m just so happy,” My voice cracked, “I’m still here. I’m so happy that I can talk about wedding planning,” I broke into a sob, “And…and that I can still have fun..with you all.” These were emotions I couldn’t handle. I guess it was finally time.

    All these feelings I’ve been harnessing for so long, all my life.

    My fear, anxiety, anger, and depression fell out of me.

    I felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders.

    And I thanked the Lord for that.

    Adrian had come around and wrapped his arms around me, resting his head on my shoulder. I laughed as tears rolled down my eyes. His comfort was most needed…but I knew God was also sitting right beside me.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    Our premarital counseling session had gone well, and I was looking forward to marrying Marrisa. I laughed along with Marrisa at the joke she made as I helped her into the car. As I opened my door, I noticed our pastor, Jackson Devour, waving to me furiously. He beckoned me back toward him, and I walked over.

    “Mr. Jackson? What’s wrong?’’ I asked.

    “Please, call me Jackson; you’ll be married soon after all,’’ He laughed, then his mood became severe, “I have something to talk to you about,’’

    “What, sir?’’ I asked, habit taking control.

    “Marrisa’s illness,’’ He began, and I bit my lip from groaning in frustration, “You’re taking a big leap, getting married, Adrian, but I want you to consider what you’re doing,’’

    “I thought that was what counseling was supposed to help with,’’ I replied, joking slightly, then declared, “I don’t understand, sir…er…Jackson, I’ve chosen to marry Marrisa, and I’m not going to back down now,’’

    “But you don’t know how long she has left,’’ He pointed out quietly, “She may not survive much longer?’’

    “So?’’ I questioned rather stiffly.

    “Who knows how long you’ll have together? Five years? Two years? Five months? Two months? She may not even make it to the wedding date.’’

    “I know,’’ I lowered my head, thinking.

    “I don’t want to persuade you differently, Adrian. And if this is your decision, then this is your decision. But if she dies, Adrian, you….’’

    “I know,’’ I almost growled at him but caught myself in time, “But, Mr. Jackson, when I placed that ring on her finger, I knew she was the only one for me. If God takes her, then she will be with Him. And though it will be painful to have her leave, I trust that I will one day see her up there. And maybe God will not take her; maybe there is still hope for Marrisa. But I made the promise to love her for as long as we both have together, and I plan to keep that promise,’’

    “Very good,’’ Jackson Devour nodded, said goodbye, and left.

    I walked back to the car slowly, and when I slammed my door closed, Marrisa asked me a question.

    “What did he want to talk about?’’

    “The future, your illness, etc.’’ Knowing that I won’t hide things from her, I replied, “But I told him that it’s full speed ahead!’’

    A moment of silence as I started up the car.

    “The wedding’s soon,’’ She replied, “Spring,’’

    “The perfect time of year!’’ I smiled at her, “Any other plans for the wedding?’’

    “Oh yeah!’’ She smiled back, “Tons!’’

    Chapter Ten

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    Adrian and my dad entered the room, carrying a big heavy box. My mom rushed past me, a chair in her hands, as she placed it next to an empty table. Adrian grabbed scissors to break off the tape, but I quickly rolled over to him before he could even cut.

    “Not yet; that doesn’t get opened till later,” I instructed, taking the scissors from him.

    “Can I at least know what it is?” Adrian asked.

    I shake my head, “I’m afraid not. You will have to wait and see like everyone else,”

    “Alright, fine,”

    Adrian grinned and walked away with my dad. The wedding was only a few days away, and we needed to set up everything fast. I looked down at my timer, and I only had a couple of minutes left before I had to take my meds.

    “Marrisa, where do you want the flowers?” My mom asked. I thought a moment before looking around the room.

    “I don’t know, ask Adrian?” I replied.

    “Adrian?” My mom snorted, “Honey, I know you want his opinion, but…maybe we just keep it to ourselves? He doesn’t seem to know what is good,”

    “Ha! I’ll make sure not to tell that to his face,”

    “You know I mean no harm,”

    “I know,” I gestured toward the entrance where a small white table lay, “Over there will be fine for now, I guess.” She nodded and left. I placed my hands on the wheelchair’s wheels and began to push myself about the room, examining the decorations. I re-positioned some of the vases and wooden planks on the tables and dusted the lamps in the room. I just wanted to find something to do.

    “Marrisa, the pizza is here,” One of Adrian’s friends called out. I got my purse from the back of my wheelchair and grabbed out thirty dollars. The delivery guy dropped off the pizza, and I paid him. I called everyone for grace, and we began to eat.

    “Can I see your wedding dress?” When my eyes went round, I looked up to see who had asked me the question.

    “Didi Alita,” I cried, hugging her tightly, “I thought you couldn’t make it!”

    “I would never miss my niece’s wedding,” She smiled broadly, “Now, who is this man I’ve heard so much about?”

    “Adrian,” I pointed straight at him. Adrian’s facial expression turned sheepish. I waved him over here, “This is Adrian Smith.” I held Adrian’s hands tightly in mine, knowing that soon my Didi Alita would be her usual self.

    “Look at that sugar!” She squealed as she embraced Adrian. Adrian’s face held genuine shock, and I kept in a laugh, “Well, you couldn’t have done a better job, honey. I only have a few things to say to him.” Her face turned serious as she cleared her throat, “First off, your EGO, kill it. Second, love, value it. Third, smile; keep it. Fourth, gossip; ignore it. Fifth, success; achieve it. Sixth, jealousy, distance it. Seventh, knowledge, acquire it. And finally, confidence, trust it.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” All Adrian said. When my Didi wasn’t looking, Adrian shot me a questioning look. I only shrugged and mouthed, ‘I have no clue.’ My tio Alberto pushed my Didi aside and placed a hand on Adrian’s shoulder.

    “Hey there, son,” He said enthusiastically, “Congratulations, my boy,” He grinned, “I’m sure in a couple of years from now you will remember this day as the happiest day of your life!”

    “But…I’m getting married in two days.” Adrian replied. I placed my hands over my face, knowing what was coming next.

    “Yeah, that’s exactly what I meant,” He laughed, “you’ll most likely regret giving up this freedom,” He glanced toward my Didi Alita. Didi Alita gasped and slapped tio on the shoulder, her mouth agape.

    “He doesn’t mean that, sugar; you’ll love being with Marrisa.”

    Everyone broke into a roar of laughter, and I tried to join in, but it hurt.

    I felt terrible for Adrian.

    Having to meet my Didi and tio…

    He must be dying on the inside.

    I know I was.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    The day of the wedding.

    In a word: WOW.

    I woke up early that bright morning before changing into my suit pants and white shirt. A few of my friends came over, and we packed the remaining items we needed while wondering about the events that would soon take place. “I mean, c’mon, Adrian, we know you’ve liked her for a long time,’’ One of them laughed as we paused in the kitchen, “Since like what… high school?’’

    “I liked her before then,’’ I corrected him, “But we were kids, so….’’

    “True!’’ Another one exclaimed as he picked up a box of leftover decorations, “Where do these go?’’

    “We’ll be at the park first for the ceremony, so you can just store them in the back of my car,’’ I commanded before my phone rang.

    “Hello?’’ As my friends sat in the living room, I said, “Mom? What’s up?’’

    “Adrian! Where are you?’’ She asked.

    “My house…why?’’ I explained in a questioning tone.

    “What time does your clock say?’’

    “8:00,’’ I said, looking over at it.

    “8:00!!! It’s time change again! You’re going to be late for your wedding!’’

    “Ag!’’ I cried aloud, slapping my forehead, “I hate time change! Okay, mom, thanks for reminding me! Stall the guests or something until I get there,’’

    I ran over to my friends, telling them the unfortunate news. They all nodded, pushed me into my car, piled into their vehicles, and drove off toward the park.

    It was beginning to be a beautiful Spring day, with the weather warm and a slight breeze coming in from a northerly direction. The flowers slowly revealed their color as the grass became their healthy shade of green. The trees were slowly regaining their leaves, and the animals leaped about with the prospects of a new season around them. I smiled, thinking.

    What a wonderful day.

    I pulled into the parking lot (I was almost rear-ended by one of my good friends) and raced to the pavilion. They (my parents, Marrisa’s parents, and our friends) had set up most of everything; the tables had been cleared, the concrete swept, the mat put down, and the chairs were set up.

    I looked around, hearing a car drive into the parking lot, and a hand clapped over my eyes. I stiffened slightly, then asked.

    “What’s going on?’’

    “Hold on,’’ Came my father’s voice, “She’s….beautiful, Adrian. And you should first see her as she comes down that aisle. Besides, we need to talk,’’

    Marrisa’s voice drew near, “What’s wrong with Adrian?’’

    “Nothing is wrong with me!’’ I interjected as my dad replied, “We need to talk privately for a few minutes, Marrisa, if you will excuse us,’’

    Dad led me away from the pavilion, then allowed me to regain the use of my vision. He was standing there, facing me as my back was against a tree. I looked at him, realizing that I was a few inches taller than him for the first time.

    Hmmm.

    It didn’t help.

    “You’re taking a huge leap, Adrian. A huge leap. You’re about to become married, and you’ll have responsibilities and a wife who will depend on you and….’’

    “I know, Dad,’’ I replied, “I’ve found a job, talked to a counselor, and decided. I’m going to marry Marrisa Garcia, even if it kills me,’’

    “It might just,’’

    He wasn’t joking.

    Adrian. “You don’t know how much time she has left. It will kill you if she goes away like that. You won’t ever forget her,’’ His eyes suddenly acquired a distant look.

    “You’re thinking about Jemma, aren’t you?’’ I asked, placing a hand on my head, “You’re thinking about her again, aren’t you?’’

    “I haven’t thought of her for years,’’ Dad replied, “Your mother has been such a wonderful, amazing, incredible thing in my life. She was the one I needed, after Jemma….’’

    “Yeah,’’ I said, uncomfortable, “Yeah, I know,’’

    Jemma.

    Jemma Claren.

    My dad’s first wife.

    My dad was several years older than my mom and had been married before meeting her. Jemma had died of cancer some years after their marriage, and they never had children. My dad drifted for some time, alone. He threw away most of everything he and Jemma had shared, except for several trinkets and pictures, which he hid in a wooden box. He met my mom after a while. They slowly grew to love each other, and then they married and had me. I was never supposed to know about Jemma, nor was my mom. It was a secret that my father had kept away from us.

    It almost tore my family apart.

    My parents’ relationship had been rocky for some time, and that was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back. There was fighting and shouting, and then there was silence.

    Awful, bitter silence.

    I, at the time, didn’t understand why my mother had gotten so upset. My dad explained everything to us, and then my parents fought. I had stayed in the corner, waiting for it to end. I must have coughed or moved…

    I didn’t remember.

    All I knew was that my parents stared at each other for a minute, looked at me, and then Mom started sobbing. My dad embraced her, and remained there, holding on to each other.

    My dad placed the box in the attic room and shut the door. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I was ten, that I found him in the attic, looking at the pictures.

    There was something in his lap.

    A bible.

    It was closed.

    He dropped the pictures back into the box, placed them on its shelf, and grabbed the bible. He turned and stared at me.

    I had never seen my dad cry before that day.

    And I hadn’t seen him cry since.

    He looked at me and then walked out of the room.

    I never found that Bible.

    My dad had turned away from God a long time before.

    And he had never come back.

    We had never talked about Jemma in our house.

    Never.

    And it felt…wrong? Strange, strange was the word…. unknown to bring her up now.

    “Dad, why did you turn away from God? You knew him before mom or me. Jem..’’

    “He took her away from me,’’ My dad growled, “He took Jemma away, and we trusted Him. We prayed for her recovery, and we never lost faith. I never lost faith. Until she was gone. Then I ran away from Him because it felt like He had run away from me,’’

    A moment of silence.

    “No, dad. He never ran away from you,’’ I replied, “I felt the same way, Dad. And then I realized something. He was waiting for me to run to Him. And He was already there, Dad, and ready to receive me,’’

    Slowly and clearly, I explained everything to him. And I explained the gospel to him. I knew he didn’t accept my message, but he nodded after I had spoken and said.

    “I’m proud of you, Adrian. I’m proud to see what a man you have become. I’m proud of you, Adrian. I love you, son,’’

    He walked away after that, leaving me shocked and incredibly happy.

    Thank you, God.

    ~

    The next few minutes passed in a wild blur. I remember being dragged toward the man doing the service, diving into a small conversation with him about the wedding details, and then racing over to where my mom was standing. She shooed me away, and I sat down on one of the benches, watching some of our other friends and family members arrive.

    Later, the pastor and my best man found me, saying that the service was about to start. I stood beside the pastor while my best man stood beside me. He leaned in as those in the service filed down the line between the two crowds of people watching.

    “Just don’t forget to breathe when you first see her, okay? She’s stunning, man, stunning,’’

    “So everyone but me was allowed to see her, huh?’’ I asked. He smiled at me before looking toward those who were walking toward us.

    I looked up as well.

    He was right.

    She was stunning.

    Her beautiful sleeveless white dress fell over her legs as she was pushed in the wheelchair by her father. Her hair was pinned on her head in a mass of shining black curls. Silver earrings hung from her ears, and a brilliant smile rested on her lips. It lit up her face and illuminated her eyes in such a spectacular way.

    She glanced at me and winked.

    I took a deep breath and caught her father’s glare.

    He was giving up his daughter.

    I suppose he had one final right to fix me with a hardened stare before forever holding his peace.

    Boy, at least, I hope he did.

    The pastor began speaking to the crowds, which had sat down in several rows of chairs we had set out. I found my gaze resting on Marrisa, whose eyes were fixed on the pastor.

    What did I ever do to deserve her?

    The pastor finished after a while, then turned to me.

    “Adrian Smith, do you promise to love, cherish and keep Marrisa through good times and bad, sickness and health?’’

    “Yes,’’ I said firmly.

    “Marrisa Garcia, do you promise to love, cherish and keep Adrian through good times and bad, sickness and health?’’

    “Yes,’’ She smiled as she said this.

    “Do you have the rings?’’ The pastor asked me.

    “Umm…’’ I shot a glare at one of my friends, who was supposed to be holding them, “I will in two seconds,’’

    My friend, flustered, handed me the rings in 5.3 seconds, but I didn’t hold it against him. I slipped the ring on Marrisa’s finger, and she repeated the action.

    The pastor looked at me and then at Marrisa.

    “In the presence of God, this group of people, family, and friends, I pronounce you: husband and wife. You may kiss the bride,’’

    I bent down and lifted Marrisa from her chair, holding her in my arms. She leaned against me, and I bent my head slightly downward.

    The crowd surged up in their seats and began to clap as Marrisa and I looked up from our kiss.

    The first one.

    “You’re mine,’’ I whispered to her as I carried her toward one of the benches.

    “Not until we sign the legal documents,’’ She countered and rested her head against my shoulder.

    ~

    We put away all the decorations, placed the benches back in order, packed all the chairs back up, and found our way into the building we had reserved for our reception. We signed those legal documents, then joined everyone else in the main room for the rest of the time.

    We were Adrian and Marrisa Smith.

    Officially.

    I noticed a white piano, covered in flowers, standing in the corner of the room. Marrisa wheeled herself over to it and called for the group to fall silent, and they did.

    She looked at me.

    “When I was younger, I played piano. And I have continued to do so over the years. But with my…condition…it has been hard to practice and play. But today, I want to play a memorable song for me, and I want to play it for you, Adrian. As a thank you and an “I love you’’ sort of thing,’’

    I grinned at her as my friends shoved me forward, and I motioned toward the piano.

    She sat beside it and pressed a few keys before diving into a rich, slow, deep melody. It swirled and traveled through the room at a steady pace. She looked up at times, watching me with a loving look in her eyes. I smiled encouragingly at her, listening to the beautiful tune that she played.

    I was the luckiest man on earth.

    As she finished playing, I had the other music begin to play from the speakers. Marrisa looked at me questioningly, and I smiled down at her as I grabbed her hand.

    “It’s my turn,’’ I whispered.

    I pulled her up and held her close to me. I slipped my feet under hers and allowed her shoes to touch down on mine. She leaned her head against my chest as I wheeled us about. As I listened to the beat of the music, I slowly moved off around the floor.

    “What are you doing?’’ She asked, though her expression already told me that she knew.

    “You remember our dance-off at the arcade?’’

    “That was so long ago!’’ She sighed.

    “I thought it would be sweet if we danced at our wedding,’’ I continued, “You were always the better dancer anyway,’’

    “Everything’s changed since then,’’ She murmured as she wrapped her arms around my neck.

    “For the better,’’ I whispered, stopping to embrace her.

    What had I said before?

    Oh, yeah.

    I am the luckiest man on earth.

    ~

    As I helped her back into her wheelchair, one of our friends announced that the wedding cake was ready. I pulled her over to it, and we sat beside the massive, white wedding cake. I glanced at Marrisa, whose eyes were wide with excitement.

    …and a little bit of mischief.

    We cut the cake, and everyone clapped politely; then, Marrisa took a quick bite and made a face.

    “Adrian, try my piece. It’s a little….sour,’’

    “Sour?’’ I asked, bending slightly to take a bite, “What do you mean “sou…Mhmmmfff!’’

    Marrisa smashed my face into the cake piece…or maybe smashed the cake piece into my face? It was crumbly, sweet, and filled with frosting, whatever it was. I wiped my face with my arm (much to my mother’s disgust) while Marrisa laughed and pecked me on my fortified cheek.

    I smiled and gave my piece, intending to do the same to her, but she shot me a look that shut me up and shut me down.

    Sheesh.

    “You look better with cake on your face anyway, Biker boy!’’ She laughed.

    “If that’s what you want, crash test dummy, so be it!’’ I bowed slightly and grabbed a napkin.

    What a fantastic wedding.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    This was it.

    In a few weeks, it will be Adrian and I’s anniversary. I lay up against the bathroom wall as tears poured down my face. At least these were happy tears and not sad ones. I ran my fingers through my hair and sighed heavily.

    Should I wait to tell him?

    Should I tell him now?

    Maybe not.

    I pushed all of my pills into one bag and sealed them off. I slowly walked over to the trashcan and threw them all away. I felt like a whole rock had just been taken off my shoulders.

    No more pills.

    No more wheelchairs.

    No more crying.

    I was free. God had saved me. I knew he would.

    I turned off the bathroom light and closed the door behind me. Walking into the kitchen, I found Adrian sitting there, a cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I smiled and kissed him softly before opening the fridge and pulling out eggs.

    “Are you hungry?” I asked, cracking an egg into a metal bowl.

    “No, I already ate,” He placed his book down and leaned back into his chair.

    “Where do you want to go for our anniversary?” He asked, a grin on his face.

    I shook my head slowly, “I know I can do many things now, but the doctor said that I should still take it easy.”

    “I know. I thought we could go up to the mountains. Your parents said that they aren’t using the cabin right now,”

    “Hmmm, not a bad idea.” I heated the stove and poured my eggs into the pan. I began to whisk the eggs together before adding the salt and pepper. Once they were done, I finally found my way to the table.

    “Or we could go to the-”

    “No, I think the mountains are a great idea.”

    “Really?” He beamed.

    “Yes. We could go fishing…make smores in the backyard….awww, yes, smores.” I closed my eyes and smiled brightly at the thought of smores. How much I loved smores. I inwardly laughed.

    “Okay,” Adrian said, “I’ll make sure to ask off of work for a week,”

    “I have a doctor’s appointment before we go,” I said quickly, not wanting to forget.

    “Oh. Okay, do you want me to go with you?”

    “No,” I grabbed his hand, “I think I’ll go by myself this time,” He nodded slowly.

    The doctor’s appointment went smoothly and confirmed my suspicions. As I waited for the final results from the lab, I placed my head in my hands.

    How could I tell Adrian?

    How should I tell Adrian?

    The doctor, a large man with a mustache, informed me that the results had been corrected.

    I was overwhelmed with feelings of fear and doubt. Was I ready for this? Was Adrian prepared for this?

    Were we ready for this?

    I tugged slightly on the ring on my fingers, which signifies my bond with Adrian.

    I was thankful for him every day.

    I was thankful for our marriage.

    I was thankful to God for keeping us together.

    And for helping me.

    “Are you alright, ma’am?’’ The doctor asked as I was awoken to the world around me.

    “Yes,’’ I replied, smiling at him, “It’s just a lot to take in,’’

    “Best wishes and have a nice day,’’ He replied as he led me to the front office, “The lady will see you at the front,’’

    As I sat down in my chair a moment later, I rested my head on the steering wheel and sighed aloud.

    “Thank you, God,’’ I prayed, “But how? How do I explain this to Adrian?’’

    Pondering these things, I started up the car and drove off toward home.

    A sudden wave of nausea filled me when I parked in the driveway. Was I that nervous to tell him? I turned the car off and grabbed my keys, purse, and water bottle. When I unlocked the door, that’s when I knew I had to go. I rushed inside, passed Adrian, and ran straight into the bathroom. I slammed the door behind me and quickly walked over to the toilet.

    Ahhh….

    Adrian knocked on the door before opening it. I was now sitting on the carpet, staring up at him. Maybe this was the right moment.

    “Marrisa, are you alright? Are you sick again?”

    “Adrian, just stop talking, please,” I rubbed my temple, feeling exhausted.

    “I’m sorry?” Adrian raised an eyebrow.

    “It’s not that kind of sickness,” I laughed light-heartedly, “It’s just…well..you see,” Why is this so hard?!

    “Yes?” Adrian urged on.

    “Adrian, I’m pregnant.” I didn’t know how to feel when I met Adrian’s gaze.

    Why was he staring at me like that?

    It was making me somewhat scared.

    Did he not hear what I just said?

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    My mind was frozen.

    Her last words kept ringing in my ears.

    I couldn’t believe it.

    I was going to be a father.

    “Wahhoooooooo!!!’’ I shouted, throwing up my hands and jumping up and down, “Yes!!!! Oh, thank you, God! Yes!!’’

    “Adrian,’’ Marrisa moaned while I bent and kissed her head, “Adrian…What?’’

    “Thank you, God! Yes! Yes! Yes!’’ I continued, pumping my fists and playing an air-rock guitar in my enthusiasm.

    “Adrian. For your sake, calm down,’’ Marrisa instructed, sighing.

    I calmed myself down and nodded to her.

    “Are you certain?’’ I asked.

    “Yes,’’ She said, “That was why I went to the doctor today. To make sure that I was with child. Adrian, we’re going to be parents,’’

    “I know,’’ I said, beaming, “I know. I know,’’

    “Adrian, do you know what this means?’’ She asked, still sitting on the ground.

    “I’m going to be a father to a little boy or little girl, and I’m going to share the responsibilities of parenthood with the most beautiful and wonderful woman in the whole world,’’ I replied, sitting down beside her, “It’ll take a lot of grace, a lot of prayers, and a lot of God’s help. But we can do it,’’ I bent down to kiss her, but she swatted me away.

    “Believe me; you don’t want to do that right now,’’

    I laughed and began to walk out the door but stopped when a thought crossed my mind.

    “Should we tell the soon-to-be grandparents?’’ I asked.

    “Why not?’’ She replied, smiling weakly and turning back to the toilet, “Just be warned, who knows what kind of monster will come out of me during these next nine months?’’

    “What on earth do you mean?’’ I asked, halting again.

    She gave me a crooked smile, grabbed her hair, and allowed the contents of her breakfast to find their way into the toilet.

    I rested my hands on the railing and smiled—my poor wife.

    Chapter Eleven

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    Sometimes I was fine, okay, alright, I could give many words to explain it. But other times, I was angry, confused, exhilarated, astonished, and filled with rage for no absolute reason. My poor husband tried his best to help me, but I just yelled at him to stop trying. I still loved him, of course. But at that time and moment, I wanted to kill him.

    “Just hand me the screwdriver, please!” I shouted at him as he fumbled with the screws. He laughed nervously and tried to hold up the crib’s gate. I moaned and reached for the screwdriver on the floor next to Adrian’s foot.

    “Don’t you dare try to grab that,” Adrian cut me short and moved the screwdriver further with his foot, “I can do this. Why don’t you go and rest? I know how to put a crib together,”

    “Doesn’t look like that from here,” I mumbled.

    “Go!” He said with more force, “Please, just leave,” Adrian sighed, placed the crib’s gate down, and wiped his forehead.

    “I’m calling my dad,” I said, turning on my heel and walking towards the door.

    “Don’t you dare call him,” Adrian laughed, “He doesn’t even know that you’re pregnant yet,”

    “Too late. Well, won’t this be a huge surprise?” I walked out of the room and grabbed my phone out of my purse. I found my dad’s number and clicked it.

    *Rings*

    Hello?” My dad’s voice sounded concerned.

    “Hey, dad, it’s me, Marrisa,”

    Oh, yes?”

    “I was wondering if you and mom would like to come down and help Adrian and me with a project,”

    What kind of project?”

    “Just a simple one, but Adrian won’t let me help, and I’m afraid he’s going to hurt himself,” I rested my hand on the balcony as I turned and looked back into the room. Adrian lifted the instruction pamphlet and furrowed his brows in confusion. I moved the phone from my ear and giggled, “Adrian, that’s upside down,”

    “Huh?” He slapped his forehead and turned it around. I rolled my eyes and put the phone back up to my ear.

    “Yeah, dad, please come.”

    Okay, let me get your mother. We will be there in about thirty minutes, ok? Can you hold on that long?”

    “It’s not me you should be asking the question to,” I shook my head and clicked my tongue, “I’ll be fine. Bye, love you.”

    “Love you too,” I heard the line cut off, and I dropped the phone into the pocket of my sweatpants. I walked into the bathroom and pulled my hair up into a bun. I moved to the side and placed my hands on my stomach, smiling brightly.

    I was going to be a mother.

    It sounded crazy even then.

    I just still couldn’t believe it.

    It made me feel victorious.

    I proved the doctors wrong.

    God proved the doctors wrong.

    A loud crashing sound made me jump out of my skin. I grunted and quickly walked out and back into the soon-to-be baby’s room. Adrian was on the ground wincing in pain. The baby crib’s gate was lying on top of him.

    “Seriously?” I breathed out, “You couldn’t have waited?”

    “Eh…er…no,” I helped Adrian push off the big piece and get back on his feet, “Maybe it was a good thing that you called your parents,” He frowned, “Because I have no absolute clue what I’m doing.”

    ~

    The doorbell rang, and I practically ran down the steps to open it. Adrian stayed upstairs, finding all the tools to get that frustrating crib together. I hugged them tightly and asked them to come in. My mom looked skeptical, and my dad looked like his usual self.

    “So, where is this project?” He asked, holding my mom’s hand.

    “Up here, come on.” I motioned them to follow me up the stairs, and they did so. I led them halfway into the room before my mom stopped dead in her tracks and glanced at me.

    “Is this some joke?” My mom said, tears covering her eyes.

    “No,” I chuckled, “No, it’s not. I just found out a couple of weeks ago. I meant to tell you all, but I wanted to wait a bit. But Adrian has no clue what he is doing with this crib. So I thought I’d call my parents who have the experience,”

    “I need a second to process what’s happening,” My dad finally spoke. He closed his eyes and leaned against the wall looking shocked and flushed. He opened his eyes again, “So are you telling me I will be a grandpa?” My dad’s mouth turned into a huge smile, “I’m going to be a grandpa?” He placed his hand over his mouth, and tears spilled down his face. I stuck out my bottom lip and found tears threatening my own eyes.

    “Yep..I…yep,” I rubbed my hands on my pants and turned around, facing Adrian. I was so happy.

    “I’m going to be a grandma!” My mom rushed over and embraced me tightly, laughing breathlessly.

    “So, can you help?” I asked after a long pause.

    “Of course, we can!” My dad clamored. He walked over to Adrian and patted him on the back. He was whispering some things in his ear. My dad grabbed a drill and began to get to work. While the men worked, my mom and I went downstairs to prepare dinner and talk.

    “Dinner is ready!” Mom called proudly. The men came down laughing and being loud. We all sat down as a family and enjoyed our meal.

    “So, any tips for Adrian, dad?” I asked, sticking a piece of chicken in my mouth.

    “Yes, I do. Don’t mess with her when she is in labor. She will kill you. I’m not joking,” Dad glanced at mom and gave her a quick wink. My mom nodded slowly and wiped her mouth.

    “I almost did kill him when I had you, Marrisa. You wouldn’t budge for the death of me. You weren’t ready to come out yet. But when you did, it was the best feeling in the world, holding you in my arms. It’s worth all the pain; trust me, you won’t regret it.”

    “I hope so,” I looked down at my food and began to feel weird, “I think I might be getting sick again,” I laughed nervously, “This pregnancy sickness is no joke,” I rubbed my head to try to keep myself calm.

    “I know. It’s the worst. It goes away eventually, though,” My mom said reassuringly.

    “That’s good,” Adrian stood up and grabbed all the plates. I stood up and began to help him clean the dishes and the kitchen. My mom put away the leftovers, and my dad had to take a couple of phone calls.

    Once my parents left, Adrian and I collapsed onto our bed. It was a long day, and I was exhausted. I changed into my nightgown and slipped underneath the covers. Adrian went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, and got ready for bed. Once he was done and got into bed, I scooted next to him and laid my head on his chest. It made me feel better, less anxious, sick, and in pain.

    “Goodnight, love you,” I whispered to him. He kissed the top of my head and rubbed my arm.

    “Love you too,”

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    Marrisa was sitting on the couch, holding a notepad and a pen. She’d look up every couple of minutes, then jot something down.

    “What are you up to?’’ I asked laughingly as I sat down beside her.

    “Names! We have got to think of names!’’ She declared.

    “We don’t even know if we’re having a boy or a girl yet!’’ I objected, grinning.

    “We will tomorrow!’’ She whispered, placing a hand on her stomach.

    “What do you want?’’ I questioned.

    “A healthy baby is most important right now. What would you want?’’

    “I’m leaning toward a girl, but a boy would be equally desired!’’ I replied.

    “What names would you like?’’ She inquired, holding the notepad ready.

    “For a boy or a girl?’’

    “We’ll start with a boy,’’

    “Cole, Noah, Colton, Jackson…’’ I began rattling off my favorite names, “What about you?’’

    “I like Colton personally,’’ She smiled, “We’ll put it down as possible. I like Jackson too,’’

    “Alright. Man, why is this so hard?’’

    “I don’t know. What about girl names?’’

    “Um…Marrisa, for starters. And then I don’t care,’’ I rubbed the back of my head, “I don’t know!’’

    “A: Thank you for that sweet compliment. B: what about Hayat?’’

    I stared at her, “Excuse me?’’

    “Hayat. (Pronounced High-Yacht) It’s a name I saw one time. It means Life in another language. I think it works perfectly!’’

    “Why? In what way?’’ I asked, slightly in jest.

    “Adrian, I’ve fought for my life for so many years. All the doctors said that I wouldn’t even make it to college. Now here I am: married and with a child on the way. A child! A new life! That’s why I liked the name so much.’’

    “Well, put it down!’’ I laughed, “We’ll keep it in mind.’’

    “Hayat,’’ She murmured, “I think it’s charming,’’

    “No one will ever be able to spell off the bat! No one will ever pronounce it right after reading it on paper! Everyone will repeat sooo many times!’’ I slapped my palm to my forehead and began to laugh.

    “It will make it unique and special!’’

    “All the nurses will stare at me when I try to sign the medical documents!’’ I laughed until she slapped me playfully on the arm, “Sorry. Sorry. It’s a beautiful name. It’s a beautiful name,’’

    “I can’t wait for tomorrow!’’ She exclaimed excitedly.

    “Neither can I!’’


    The Next Day

    I have never experienced a more extended morning.

    Ever.

    Except for that one logic lesson where the visiting teacher sounded like Kermit the Frog, I fought the urge to laugh for what seemed forever.

    I cringed just thinking about it.

    I sat at the kitchen table (it was a Saturday), tapping my fingers against the wooden surface. I was trying to read a book, but the attempt was unsuccessful. My thoughts wandered to the answers Marrisa would give me when she got home.

    “We’re having a….’’ I didn’t want to think of the answer until she said it herself.

    The clock on the wall ticked the minutes away with that relentless rhythm.

    The doubts and worries began to pour into my mind.

    Tick, tick, tick.

    Maybe something was wrong with the baby.

    Tick, tick, tick.

    Maybe something would happen to Marrisa.

    Tick, tick, tick.

    Maybe we would have twins.

    Tick, tick, tick.

    Wait, that’s not a bad thought.

    I sighed and was about ready to slam my head against the table when I heard the sound of the door opening.

    Marrisa came into the room, and it was all I could do to keep myself from jumping up and demanding she gives me an answer. She moved to pour herself a drink of water while I practically sweated in my chair.

    “You’re doing this to spite me,’’ I growled five minutes later when she continued to refuse to tell me what we were expecting.

    “You had better hope your daughter doesn’t inherit your impatient attitude,’’

    “She’ll get some from your side as well, you know,’’ I replied quickly, then threw myself back in my seat, “Wait? WHAT?!’’

    “We’re having a girl!’’ Marrisa squealed, and I, jumping up, embraced her in a hug.

    “I can’t believe it! This is….Wow!’’ I almost started playing another killer solo on the air rock guitar, but I restrained myself long enough to plant a kiss on my wife’s cheek.

    “When you’re finished with that,’’ She laughed, “would you help me fix up some lunch?’’

    “Yes, of course,’’ I said, “What would you like, darling?’’

    “A PB&J,’’ She declared, nodding decisively.

    “Another one?’’ I exclaimed, astonished, “Didn’t you get up at 2:00 this morning to make one?’’

    “Cravings,’’ She said in a singsong voice while I shook my head, “It will get worse, you know,’’

    “It will?’’

    “Yes, before you know it, I’ll be asking you to prepare four-course meals every night at midnight exactly,’’

    “Exactly?’’

    “Exactly,’’ With this stated, she turned smartly and moved to sit down at the table. Oh boy.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    “I swear, woman!” Adrian shouted at me as he passed by with a box, “If you bend over one more time, I’ll lose it,”

    “Oh, just shush, Adrian,” I moaned, standing back up with the kitchen towel. I sighed and smiled, “See? I did it, no harm done,”

    “Yet,” Adrian placed the box on the dining room table, whispering things underneath his breath. I laughed and slowly moved toward the oven, my sizable round belly getting in the way. I placed the towel back on the oven’s handle when it slipped from my hands again.

    “Adrian! Why couldn’t I just hold onto one thing? Why couldn’t I just hold onto one thing? Why couldn’t I just hold onto one thing? These big swollen pregnant fingers will make me cry,” I moaned and bent over for the fifth time this morning.

    “Marrisa,” Adrian scolded once more. I ignored him and bent further down.

    “I’m almost there,” I chuckled lightly.

    Wait.

    What was that?

    Standing up slowly, I made sure not to look alert.

    “I mean, seriously, Marrisa! It won’t be my fault once you’re-”

    “Adrian. Just. Stop. Talking!” I said between gritted teeth. I slammed my hands on the counter and took in deep breaths.

    “Are you okay?” Adrian stopped ranting, stopped pacing, and stopped practically breathing.

    “If you want to know Adrian. I am not okay. I am tired. My feet hurt. My back hurts,” I took a breath and walked over to him with a pointed finger, “My whole body is aching! My water just broke, and I am hyperventilating! I am carrying a whole different person inside of my body!” I pointed my finger at his chest, “So do I sound ‘Okay’ to you?”

    Adrian’s face was shocked, paranoid, and dumbfounded, “I-uh…I…er am sorry?”

    I was going to kill him.

    I was going to chew him out!

    I was going to-

    Well…maybe after I had this baby.

    “Adrian, just get the car now,” I said rather calmly. He stood there looking at me like I had three heads. It was about to come true, “Adrian, now,”

    “Ok….”

    “Your reaction is a little late, but I still admire it.” I teased through the pain, “But seriously, unless you want your daughter being birthed on the floor, I suggest you run along and get the car,”

    “R… I…gh…t,” He stammered before jumping into motion and grabbing the keys from his coat pocket. He fumbled with the door, and I just covered my face. I walked wobbly to a chair and said silent prayers to God, praying my husband wouldn’t kill me before I could even bring a new life into the world. 

    I got in the seat slowly, not wanting to make sudden movements that could cause me more pain. Adrian got into the driver’s seat, started the car, and pulled out of the driveway. Adrian shot an apologetic smile before making it out of the neighborhood. He drove relatively smoothly the first few minutes. But then I just had to let out cries of agony.

    What did he expect?

    I was having a baby!

    Couldn’t he understand?

    He pressed fully on the pedal, and the car launched forward. I pushed myself against the window and once again prayed.

    “Adrian, the red light!” I clamored. Adrian slammed on the breaks, and I felt like I was about to lose my breakfast.

    “Sorry…I’m sorry,”

    “You never, ever get to complain about me, ever again. You will remember this day, Adrian. You will!”

    “I don’t do well under pressure,” Beads of sweat formed on his forehead, and I began to feel bad. Maybe I was being a little too hard on him. But I couldn’t go soft. Not now.

    I growled, “How much further is it?”

    “Only a few blocks,”

    “Good, hurry it up.” I bit my lip and tried to push past the cramps. Finally, the large white brick building came into view. Adrian parked in the front hospital, jumped out, and ran inside. I sat silently in the car, feeling like my sanity would leave me.

    Nurses and doctors came rushing out of the hospital doors with a stretcher and a vital machine. They helped me onto the stretcher and began to ask me questions. But I couldn’t hear them very well. To be honest…I felt light-headed, and my vision blurred. It was so weird…I didn’t remember them saying this would happen when you gave birth.

    “She’s losing air,” One nurse shouted over the noise, “We need to work fast, c; come.”

    Black.

    Light.

    Black.

    Light.

    It was like I had been through this before.

    I wasn’t expecting this.

    I wasn’t expecting Hayat to be born till next week.

    Yet here we were.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    I sat in the chair behind the white sheet they were using to hide Marrisa from view. I was about to enter the small room behind the sheet when one of the nurses came out.

    “Well?’’ I asked gravely, “I would like some answers. How’s my wife?’’

    “Fine, sir,’’ The woman replied stiffly, “She will be fine. She’s having a little bit of difficulty, but…..’’

    “Difficulty? What do you mean difficulty?’’ I exclaimed, my voice rising in anger, “My wife…..’’

    “She had a medical record, sir. And it’s not very good; I think you know this?’’ She moved away with this said.

    “Y-yes,’’ I admitted, grumbling.

    “She is firm,’’ Another nurse came into view, “Ignore her, sir, she’s new around here. Your wife is having a little difficulty, but she should be fin…..’’

    A loud beeping noise suddenly erupted from the other side of the sheet. The nurse looked around, and the doctor hurried out.

    “Nurse, I need your help,’’

    “What’s going on?’’ I asked as the nurse ran forward to give her assistance.

    “She…’’ The doctor trailed off, disappearing into the little room again.

    I wanted to yell in anger, panic, and other emotions whirling around my head.

    “Another nurse comes out; I’m going in,’’ I growled under my breath, “C’mon, Marrisa. You can do this!’’ I urged her quietly, whispering, “C’mon, you can do this! God, help my wife. Help me,’’

    A plump, blonde-haired nurse came out just as I uttered this, and I barreled inside.

    What I saw made my face drain of all colors.

    Marrisa was in bed, hooked up to machines and monitors. An oxygen mask was on her face, and an IV was in her arm.

    The only thing that was different from all the other memories that were flooding my mind was that Marrisa’s baby bump could be seen against the white blanket covering her.

    Ignoring the stares of the doctor and nurses, I go to the head of the bed. Marrisa looked at me with wide, confused, and frightened eyes.

    “Hey, babe,’’ I said comfortingly, “You’re going to be fine. Hayat will be fine. Just breathe, okay? Just breathe!’’

    I leaned back against the wall, holding onto Marrisa’s hand. The doctor helped Marrisa through it all, which I appreciated. I stayed there, and she was calm.

    It all seemed to go by like a blur.

    Nurses faded in and out with the background as I looked from the doctor to Marrisa. It was a haze of colors, noise, and monitor screens. Stress, doubts, and fears rocketed around inside my mind.

    Then it happened.

    A baby’s cry!

    I jumped against the wall and almost sank to the floor in complete relief. The doctor looked at me with a smile and handed my daughter…

    My daughter!

    …to the nurse who promptly placed her in a small medical bed for newborns and rolled her toward Marrisa, who was staring at her with love and joy. I stared with a half-crazed grin as Marrisa was handed her baby.

    Hayat Smith was born!

    I was a father!

    I sat on the edge of the bed, putting my arm around my precious wife’s shoulders and drawing her close. I held back from doing another song on the air-rock guitar. I moved toward Marrisa, looking with love and pride spread across my face.

    “I can’t believe it!’’ She whispered, “She’s here! She’s finally here! She’s ours! God gave her to us, Adrian! He gave her to us!’’

    “I know, Marrisa! I know!’’ I said softly, voice constricted by emotion, “She’s so beautiful! She’s so beautiful! My two beautiful, lovely girls! God gave you both to me!’’ I placed a hand on my baby’s arm.

    The nurses took the sheet down, and too soon, both Marrisa and Hayat were carted off for a bath (Hayat), an appointment (Marrisa), and a rest (both). I sat down in one of the father’s rooms, where a completely calm, older man congratulated me and told me, after I asked him, that he was waiting for the arrival of his seventh.

    I sat down and poured out my thanks to God, then quickly called the grandparents from both sides to inform them that Hayat Smith was healthy and Marrisa would be okay.

    I smiled.

    I was a dad!

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    I opened my eyes to find Adrian holding Hayat in his arms, a look of captivation folding his expression. I reached up and touched my face to find oxygen still resting there.

    “Adrian,” I smiled, “May I have her back? Or are you going to keep her away from me?” I teased. Adrian grinned and lifted Hayat into my arms.

    “Sorry, you fell asleep,” He explained. I nodded. I brushed the thin hair on Hayat’s head and found that I, too, was captivated. She was so beautiful. Mom was right; it was worth everything to hold her in my arms.

    “She has your eyes,” I laughed, “Oh, Adrian. What did we do to deserve this?” I choked back tears, “God is so gracious to us,”

    “I think it’s best if we don’t think about why God did what he did. We should just know there was a purpose behind it all. Thanks to Him, Hayat will have a mother in her life.”

    “Yes,” Is all I could say, “So when do we get to go home?”

    “Marrisa, we should probably discuss a couple of things,” Adrian’s face suddenly turned downcast. What was it?

    “Hmm? What is it?”

    “There were a couple of complications. The doctors said they want to keep you here for a couple of days to monitor and ensure you are okay.”

    “Okay….” I looked back down at Hayat. She was sleeping peacefully in my arms, her face relaxed, calm, and lovely.

    “I-”

    “Adrian, if Hayat can leave before me, why don’t you go and take her home?”

    “Why would I leave you?” It wasn’t a question but more like a statement.

    ~

    Today was the day I could finally leave the hospital with Hayat and my husband. Adrian pushed me outside of the hospital in a wheelchair (Doctors orders). It turned out I was fine, and I knew I was.

    “Oh, Marrisa. I thought I was relieved of the job of pushing you in wheelchairs,”

    “Oh, don’t worry, Adrian. You’ll get your turn when you’re old,”

    “Oh dear,” He murmured. Once we got to the car, he helped me place Hayat in the car seat, and we were on our way home. Adrian reached to turn on the radio, but I slapped his hand away.

    “Shhh, she’s sleeping,” I warned, “If she wakes up, we might not get any sleep at all,”

    “Trust me…Marrisa, this will be a long time until we get normal sleep,” Adrian shuddered.

    “I know, I know. But my mom said she’d love to come over and help with the baby,”

    “I’m sure she’d love to,” Adrian said sarcastically.

    “What is that supposed to mean?”

    “See? Look at this. We’re already fighting because of the lack of sleep,”

    “No…” I trailed off, staring at him through my eyes, “Adrian, are you okay?”

    “No, no, I’m not. I’m rather sleep-deprived.”

    “Would you like me to drive?” I offered.

    “No, the house isn’t that far. But once I get home…I’m going to sleep,”

    “Understated,” I giggled, “You say that now, but….” I pointed back towards Hayat, “Don’t get your hopes up.”

    “I won’t.”

    “Let’s stop and get some coffee. Okay?”

    “That’s a good idea,” Adrian pulled into the Ziggis drive-through and ordered a caramel frap and a regular coffee. He handed me mine, and I sipped it quickly.

    I loved coffee so much.

    Heh, that was probably why I was so short.

    It didn’t matter; I still would drink it.

    Chapter Twelve

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    I stared down at my daughter, who lay in her bed, sleeping soundly.

    Marrisa was in the bathroom, brushing her teeth. I could hear her rinse, spit out the paste, and call me.

    “She’s not going anywhere, Adrian! I promise you that,’’

    “She’s the most beautiful thing in this world!’’ I said in return.

    “More beautiful than your wife?’’ Marrisa asked, a hint of hurt in her tone.

    “No, no!’’ I replied, recovering myself, “You are the first place winner for beauty in my heart!’’

    “Glad to hear it,’’ She laughed as she appeared out of the bathroom, “She’s fine, Adrian. Why don’t we sit and talk on the couch for a while? It’s been forever since we did that,’’

    “Babies will do that to you,’’ I declared, “How old is she now?’’

    “Six weeks,’’ Marrisa explained, looking over at Hayat with an expression of love and joy, “She’s growing up too fast. I wish they stayed in this stage forever,’’

    “I don’t!’’ I chuckled, “We’ve only begun the journey into the Tired Years,’’

    “Tried Years?’’ Marrisa laughed.

    “Yes, where we don’t sleep very much, in a constant state of nervousness and fear for our child, and buy more plastic objects than ever before,’’

    “Plastic objects?’’

    “Toys,’’

    We sat down on the couch, Marrisa leaning against me. We stayed there, falling into a comfortable silence while she leaned her head against my shoulder.

    Everything was quiet.

    Everything was peaceful.

    Everything was perfect.

    “Adrian, do you regret anything about this?’’ Marrisa asked quietly, “Marrying me, having her, or anything else?’’

    “Are you kidding!’’ I kept my tone calm and low, “Never. Never. It will be the next few years when it may flash across my mind a couple of times, but never seriously! Ow!’’ She playfully slapped my shoulder, “What about you?’’

    “Oh no, never! I’m so thankful that this is what I have now! I never imagined this would be my life back when I was ten. It seemed so much shorter,’’

    “Thank God, it wasn’t!’’ I declared, “I never want any other woman than you,’’

    She rested her head against my chest, and I wrapped my arms around her. We stayed that way for a while until Hayat began to cry.

    “She’s hungry; I need to feed her,’’ Marrisa said, making no move to escape my grasp.

    “She can wait for half a second more,’’ I replied, resting my head upon Marrisa’s hair, “She can wait for half a second more,’’

    She didn’t stop crying, so I had to let Marrisa go in the end. She kissed me, then walked into the bedroom. I watched her go, then turned back to the blank TV screen.

    “I wonder how many little kids shows you will be showing in the next few years, hmm?’’

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    I grabbed the laundry basket and threw in some more clothes before finding my way to the washing machine. I squatted down, threw in the blacks, put the soap in, and started it. Laundry day was a whole lot more difficult with a baby. I had doubled the clothes thanks to Hayat’s feeding wars.

    I placed the basket of newly washed clothes on my hip and walked into my bedroom to get to folding. The day was cold, and the house seemed empty without Adrian. He had to go back to work all day except Sunday and sometimes Saturday. I guessed it was a little more complicated with another mouth to feed, plus clothes and above. But we would be fine.

    “One….two…three,” I counted right when Hayat began to cry. I laughed gently before turning around and picking her up from her cradle. I rocked her back and forth and sang sweet lullabies. I carried her to the living room floor and placed her on her play blanket. She lay flat on her stomach and made babbling noises with her mouth. I played on my stomach and set a toy in front of her.

    I knew she was only four months old, but she could still be entertained. Fair enough, I think I needed to be entertained. That didn’t matter. Was I losing it?

    “Let’s get you fed,” I said, scooping her back into my arms. I fed her until she was nice and full and then changed her diaper. Once again, another joy of parenthood. I placed her down for a nap and found I still had to do the dishes. When did it ever end? Or was I bound to this for life?

    Then the door opened.

    Footsteps approached.

    And Adrian was right behind me.

    He placed his arms around me and rested his head on my shoulder. I rinsed off the dishes and put them on the drier mat, not acknowledging Adrian’s mischievous stare.

    “Please, Adrian,” I giggled, “I’m tired, fatigued; I probably have some baby spit up in my hair….” Adrian kissed the top of my head and twisted me around. I held the towel in my hands when Adrian snatched it away and threw it on the counter. Adrian dipped down and kissed me quickly before releasing me and rolling up his sleeves.

    “How about you go and take a relaxing bath? I’ll finish the dishes,”

    I raised an eyebrow in speculation, “Really?”

    “Yes, I mean it,”

    “You’ve been working all day,” I remarked.

    “And so have you,” He shot back, “Now get it,” He grabbed the towel and swatted me with it playfully. I finally complied and left him in the kitchen while I started my lavender bath.

    Steam filled the bathroom walls, and the smell of peppermint and lavender infiltrated my nose. I dunked my head underwater, then backed up and sighed. When was the last time I felt like this? It was a while.

    I hurried out and dressed, not wanting to be like this for too long. I expected Hayat to be in the crib when I walked over there, but she wasn’t. That thief. I ran out of the room to find my suspicion answered as Adrian held Hayat up to his face, making cooing sounds.

    “Who’s a big girl? Who’s my little girl?” Adrian said. I leaned back against the wall and watched him.

    Closely, I might add.

    He was a great father.

    Hayat is going to be the luckiest little girl in the world.

    I just knew it.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    Hayat was such a bundle of joy! She was so perfect, beautiful, and wonderfully made! I thanked Him every day for her and Marrisa’s return to total health after battling illness for so long.

    But then I was told otherwise.

    I sat up in bed late the next night after hearing some choke and cough. I slid out of bed and moved over to where Hayat was sleeping, hoping against hope that she wasn’t choking on her spit or something.

    Hayat was….

    Fine?

    She lay on her stomach, hands clenched into tiny fists. She looked so peaceful, calm, and cute.

    Nothing was amiss.

    So was I just dreaming?

    I turned back to my bed when I heard another sound of coughing and choking. I moved over to Marrisa’s side and saw her coughing slightly in her sleep. I gently placed my hand on her head, pulling some of her hair out of her face. Her face was contorted for a few moments as she struggled to regain breath, then she relaxed and drifted back to the world of complete unconsciousness.

    She was fine. The doctors had said she was perfectly normal again. But all I could see were the terrible memories of Marrisa’s coughing attacks and the awful visions of her being taken from me.

    Maybe I was paranoid.

    ~

    I awoke early the following day and found Marrisa on the couch, sipping coffee.

    “How are you doing?’’ I asked, stopping to stand behind her.

    “I’m fine,’’ She replied, smiling up at me, “How did you sleep last night?’’

    “It wasn’t the best,’’ This was true; I had spent half the night watching her and allowing fears and doubts to race across my mind, “But I’ll be fine,’’

    “It’s Saturday,’’ Marrisa declared, “Do you need to go to work today?’’

    “No, thank goodness,’’ I smiled, “I get to spend the entire day with my two precious girls,’’ I sat down beside her, wrapping my arm around her waist and drawing her close.

    Marrisa leaned against me, absentmindedly tugging on her wedding ring. I watched her for a minute, then asked.

    “Marrisa, have you had any trouble…breathing lately? Maybe coughing?’’

    “Not that I can remember,’’ She shrugged, “Why? Is anything wrong?’’

    “I heard you coughing last night,’’ I explained, “You were only half awake. You fall back to sleep pretty quickly afterward. I just wanted to make sure everything is alright,’’

    “I’m fine, honey,’’ She declared, “You don’t need to worry about me,’’

    “That’s my job, though,’’ I laughed, “You’ve taken care of me for so long; now it’s my turn to care for you!’’

    “You’ll have plenty of years to do that, Adrian,’’ She whispered, “Don’t worry about me. I…’’ She stopped when Hayat began to cry.

    “Love you,’’ I finished for her, kissing her gently, “Now, how ‘bout some breakfast?’’

    “Yes, please!’’ She chuckled as her stomach rumbled in agreement.

    Chapter Thirteen 

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    I threw the blanket off me, tossing and turning, beads of sweat forming on my brow. The temperature seemed to rise every moment until I couldn’t bear it anymore. I slipped out of bed and ran to the bathroom, slightly knocking my shoulder against the door as I fell next to the toilet and relieved myself of the pain. I pulled my hair back and leaned against the bathtub.

    I couldn’t be pregnant again.

    It wouldn’t be possible.

    So, the only explanation is,

    I must have had the flu, cold, or stomach bug…honestly, the list could go on. I made sure to bring a trash bag back to the bed. You know, just in case. I was still overheating, so I put the fan on and didn’t use a blanket. This was going to be a rough night.

    ~

    The following day I felt awful, exhausted, and…well, just awful. I didn’t sleep well the night before; having to get up five times in only under thirty minutes was a world record. Hayat was finally five months old, and I couldn’t risk her getting sick; she was still too small and frail.

    I thought about the future last night while I lay awake for hours. I explained everything to Adrian the day before, and he was able to get off work (Not technically, still working from home) to help with Hayat. Of all the things I could do with Hayat when she was a little older. All of her firsts.

    When she would first sit up by herself.

    When she learned to crawl.

    When she would learn to take steps.

    When she could begin eating whole foods.

    If it weren’t for God, I probably wouldn’t have even had her; I wouldn’t be here now thinking about things like this. I was just glad I could be a part of her life.

    The smell of eggs nauseated me, making it return ten times harder. I clutched my stomach and frowned, slowly slipping to the floor. Maybe I should just stay in bed. Oh, but there was so much to do. I still had to empty the dishwasher, wash more clothes, sweep the floor, and do so many other things!

    “Marrisa?” Adrian rounded the corner, “Marrisa, what are you doing?” He bent down to match my current height on the floor. I looked up at him and shot him an apologetic look.

    “I think I’m going back to bed,” I replied, finding more strength to rise, “I’m still a little…out of it,” I explained once I stood up. I turned around and found my way back to my ghastly room.

    I tried to find things to do, like read a book, draw, write something…

    Wait.

    Write something.

    I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and wrote random words. Till I found that it was a poem?

    Imagine the woods, without a tree, imagine a river, without the ocean, imagine yourself without me, imagine how lost I would be.

    That was weird.

    Adrian knocked on the door, and I quickly placed my papers under the bed and laid back against my pillow. He walked in with a tray of soup and a few crackers. I beamed at the sight of my serving husband and how he so intensively made sure the soup didn’t spill as he placed it on my lap.

    “I would kiss you…but I’m sick, so that won’t be possible,” I laughed, “But I can give you this,” I kissed my hand and blew it towards him. He smiled at me before leaving the room. The sight of the soup made me sick, so I pushed it aside, not feeling very hungry. I grabbed my paper and pen and began to write again, unsure where it would lead me.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    I awoke one night a few weeks later, listening to the sound of someone having trouble breathing. I glanced over to Marrisa and saw, to my horror, that she was struggling for breath. I shook her shoulder, but she only moaned in response to my touch. I jumped out of bed, wondering what I should do.

    “God help me!’’ I murmured, staring at Hayat, sleeping contentedly in her crib.

    I moved over to my wife’s side of the bed and called her name. Her eyes opened, and she stared at me with eyes wide with fear.

    “Adrian,’’ She gasped, “Something’s….w-wrong,’’

    “You think I don’t see that!’’ I groaned, rushing over to where Hayat was.

    Grabbing her car seat, I wrapped her in a blanket (she was only just beginning to wake up) and placed her inside. I glanced over at Marrisa, trying in vain to dress more appropriately.

    Hospital visit, here we come.

    I half carried Marrisa to the car with Hayat on my other arm and my foot, shutting the door behind us. I put my daughter and wife in the car, sprinted to the door to lock it, and galloped back to the vehicle to hear Marrisa begin to cough.

    Not again.

    Hayat was crying by now, but I didn’t care. Marrisa made a weak attempt to comfort her, but I restrained her from reaching behind to help the baby.

    “She’s fine,’’ I assured Marrisa, “She’s only upset because we woke her up,’’

    “She needs…t-to be fed,’’ Marrisa objected, with a very hoarse voice.

    “She can wait. You need help,’’ I informed her firmly, grasping her hand in mine, “I grabbed her bag, and I know there’s milk there. I’m sure the nurses won’t mind if I use their microwave to heat it,’’

    “A microwave…at a hos-hospital?’’ She gagged slightly.

    “Nurses and doctors need to eat,’’ I said, “Now stop talking and concentrate on getting better, okay?’’

    She nodded weakly and leaned back in her chair. I drove us to the hospital parking lot, jumped out, and assisted my wife and baby in getting out.

    I held Hayat in my arms, feeding her from a bottle. She gripped the sides of the bottle with her tiny hands and stared up at me as she ate. As soon as the nurses saw Marrisa, they took her back to motion her and make sure nothing serious was happening.

    “Mama’s fine, Hayat,’’ I found myself assuring her gently, “Mama’s going to be alright. I know she will,’’ I found that I was trying to comfort myself as much as her.

    Hayat fell asleep on my chest sometime later, and I leaned back in my chair to keep her comfortable. The doctor came to find me and told me what I had feared.

    Marrisa’s heart was acting up again.

    “What does this mean?’’ I asked, trying to keep the worry out of my tone.

    “It’s too early to be certain,’’ The doctor explained, “But she will need to stay the night, I’m afraid,’’

    So Hayat and I left the hospital soon after that.

    Without Marrisa.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    My eyes fluttered open, and I adjusted to the dim room. A nurse stood just a few feet from me, checking my vitals. I touched my face and felt an oxygen tube coming out of my mouth. It wasn’t an average oxygen tube for the nose. It was like the one I wore when I was in the ICU.

    “Oh, you’re awake,” The nurse smiled brightly, “Let me go get the doctor.” She left the room only to return a couple of minutes later, the doctor as he tail.

    “Ahh, my favorite patient. How are you feeling?”

    “Mmmhahherm,” I replied. The doctor slapped his forehead and grinned.

    “Sorry, I forgot,” He smiled apologetically, “Your vitals seem stable today; I’ll have the nurse switch your oxygen,” He took out a pen from his white coat and began to write things on the board, “Look, Mrs. Marrisa. I’ll be frank. Your history of heart disease isn’t in the positive area. I’d like to run more tests…but I know you would like me to be clear. So I’ll be clear. You’re about to die,”

    “Doctor Peter!” The nurse hissed, “You don’t need to be that clear,”

    I shook my head in response. I was glad he was transparent with me. The nurse removed the tube from my throat, and I closed my mouth. I drank some water before speaking.

    “Thank you, Doctor Peter,” I said, “All of this isn’t new to me. Do you know how I’ve been told I was to die? More than twenty times. Do you know how many times the doctors were right? Zero. The truth is, Doctor Peter, my life isn’t in your hands. You don’t know when I’ll die. Only God knows.”

    “I s-see,” He seemed slightly offended, but I didn’t regret what I said because all of it was true.

    “Is my husband here?” I asked, brushing off my concerns, “I would like to speak with him.”

    “I’ll go and see,” The nurse replied, stepping out of the room.

    “Will that be all, Doctor?” I questioned. He cleared his throat, brushed back his graying hair, and nodded.

    “Yes, I think that will be all.”

    “Goodbye then,”

    “Yes,” He finally left the room. The tears slipped from my eyes in big water drops, thanks to me holding them in for so long. God, did I do something wrong? Did I take my healing for granted? Did I do something that displeased you? No, forgive me, God. I shouldn’t be thinking that. I know you are a just God, slow to anger, filled with abounding love. I pray and ask that you give Adrian the strength to go on without me and raise Hayat.

    ~

    I awoke to find Adrian at my side, Hayat sleeping in his arms. I looked at him with sorrowful eyes, knowing I might not make it. God assured me that I’d be fine. But I knew what he meant. I’d be fine, not on earth but in heaven. I knew it wouldn’t be as easy for Adrian to hear that. Knowing that had given me a clear mind. And I wasn’t scared anymore.

    “Adrian,” I spoke softly, not wanting to wake Hayat. Adrian glanced up at me, and a grin stretched across his weary face, “I heard I was in the ICU for a couple of days. Sorry, you couldn’t see me. I’m sure you were worried sick,”

    “I was alright,” he confidently said, “Little Hayat here, though, wasn’t okay. It took me forever to get this little girl to sleep,”

    “I know the feeling,” I chuckled, “Did the doctor speak with you?”

    “No, he said you had to tell me,” His eyes filled with worry, “Is it serious?”

    “I’m afraid it’s not all color, Adrian.” I sighed, “But I can’t fight it, Adrian, this time. This time I know for sure that these will be my last moments. So please don’t make it hard on me,”

    “But-”

    “Adrian, all my life, my parents, doctors, and everyone tried to control my outcome. I finally realized that…it’s not up to us. And it makes a whole difference if I just let go,”

    “I don’t understand,” His face scrunched up, “But Hayat, your family, are you okay with leaving all that behind?”

    His words hit me hard. I knew where he was going with that comment, but I decided not to entertain it. He knew I loved him; he knew I loved my family. He shouldn’t have said that. It wasn’t fair to me.

    “I am,” I answered after a few minutes, “Because everything happens for a reason,”

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    I stared down at Marrisa as she looked up at me. Her expression was calm and peaceful, but a familiar glint of determination lurked within her eyes.

    “I don’t understand,’’ I said finally.

    “You do understand, Adrian. You’re just choosing not to,’’ Her voice was firm, and she reached for my hand, “Remember what we agreed as we started dating? Jesus comes first,’’

    “Jesus comes first,’’ I echoed, “Yes, I remember. He is the most important thing,’’

    “More important than any other thing this world can offer, Adrian. Even our marriage, our child, and our love. Jesus comes first for us!’’

    “Yes, he does,’’ I whispered.

    “These are all great gifts from him,’’ She continued, “But won’t it be a joy to be with him? To be free of pain, sorrow, and suffering? Won’t that be such a joy and gift and a wonderful experience? Forever and ever and ever!’’

    “Amen,’’ I smiled down at her, “I love you, Marrisa Smith. You are very precious to me. I love you; you know that?’’

    “I know that,’’ She smiled, “And I know that Jesus loves you more,’’

    “He loves you more than I ever can, and yet he was kind enough to give you to me,’’

    “To give her to us,’’ Marrisa motioned toward the car seat on a chair beside the bed, where Hayat slept peacefully, “Six months old and such an angel!’’

    “She’s a little bundle of life!’’ I laughed, “Lively, spirited, and full of energy! Just like her mother!’’

    “If she has your humor, I’ll be happy,’’ Marrisa’s smile was slightly tired.

    “Careful what you wish for,’’ I replied, making a face, “She might have more sharp talk than she needs,’’

    “Now, who gives her that?’’

    “I don’t know. Maybe one of the grandparents?’’ I offered, grinning.

    Marrisa laughed, then it was cut short by a cough. I frowned slightly, then recovered myself.

    “I need to use the restroom,’’ I explained, “I’ll be back in a moment,’’

    “Can I have Hayat, please?’’ She stretched out her arms with a look of eagerness that made my chest tighten.

    “Of course. She’s as much yours as she is mine!’’

    I found my way to the men’s room a minute later, which was empty. I walked over to the mirror and stared into it, sighing.

    “Is it going to happen? Is she going to die? Am I going to lose her?’’

    A voice sounded in my head; She’ll be safe in Jesus’s arms. She already is. She will be happy and free from suffering, and someday you will join her.

    I glanced down at the sink, then back up again. I didn’t see myself as a husband and father for a moment. I saw myself as a son.

    God’s son.

    Which I was, thanks to his grace and love and mercy.

    “It’s your will, God, not mine. I will trust you no matter what. I don’t have grace for tomorrow, only for today. And today’s grace is enough for me!’’

    I washed my hands, then dried them off with a paper towel. I stared at the towel for a moment, then crushed it in my palm in a sudden burst of anger.

    “I wonder if this was like for my dad,’’ I murmured, “Oh well…I have God to lean on now. That’s something my father didn’t have. Or chose not to have,’’

    The door closed behind me as I traveled up the hallway and back toward Marrisa’s room.

    ⛋Marrisa⛋

    Adrian came back into the room after being gone for quite some time. I decided to make a joke, not knowing how many more I could shoot before dying.

    “What you do? Fall in?” I teased. Adrian shook his head in reply and took Hayat from my arms. The look on his face was peaceful. So I knew he had finally let go.

    “I just needed some closure,” He said, rubbing his finger down Hayat’s cheek, “And I think I found it,”

    “Isn’t that a relief,” I sighed, “Adrian dear, do you think you could get me a coffee ice cream with chocolate chips and a dash of caramel? I’m craving it,”

    Adrian’s eyes brimmed with tears, “I would love to,”

    “Don’t forget to get yourself some chocolate flavor,”

    He nodded, “Will that be all?”

    “Yes,” He took Hayat with him. I wrote while I waited for Adrian to return. It was the only thing I could do. I also read the bible and prayed as much as I could. It made me feel better. Everything works for the better good.

    “Mrs. Marrisa. We’re going to start an IV drip for today,” The nurse walked in with the machine as she spoke, “We’re going to try and make you as comfortable as possible. Does that sound fine?”

    “Yes,”

    “If you could just hold out your arm for me?” I did what she asked, and she wiped my arm with a wipe before puncturing the needle into my skin. Adrian knocked on the door and walked in, a thing of ice cream in his hands.

    “Where’s yours?” I asked. He sat down and took out the container.

    “I know I don’t like caramel that much, but I thought I’d try it.”

    “Really?” His eyes widened, and he laughed. I beamed, “It’s the best thing you could have,” I grabbed a spoon from his hands, took a nice big chunk of ice cream, and stuffed it in my mouth, “Mmmm, so good,” I closed my eyes and savored the taste of. Adrian sucked in a breath and ate a bite.

    “Okay, that’s not that bad,”

    Yeah, I know.

    I knew you would’ve liked it.

    My eyes seemed to drift very slowly.

    I could hear my heart thumping less.

    But an odd feeling came to mind.

    I was happy.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    It was raining that day. The clouds covering the sky above, the drops falling and landing on the pavement outside. The wind blew, causing the tree in the parking lot to bend slightly.

    It had been two days since Marrisa had asked me to get her a coffee ice cream with everything else she had enjoyed. Marrisa had seemed stable the first day, but then she had declined steadily.

    She lay in her bed, the oxygen mask upon her face, with the monitors and other machines she was hooked up to placed around the room. A white sheet covered her, but her arm stuck out as they had finished the IV drip early that day.

    In truth, they hadn’t even started.

    They didn’t need to anymore.

    She looked at me with tired eyes, half-closed. Her hair was pulled back, spreading across her pillow. Her expression, half-hidden by the mask, was calm and…

    Ready.

    But was I?

    I stood beside her, a hand on the chair that I had been pulling closer to her bedside. She glanced from me to Hayat, who slept contentedly in her chair seat. She looked back at me, then let out a sigh.

    I sat down, the feelings of sadness, anger, and pain beginning to well up from the inside. A black abyss was growing in my chest, as it seemed to be in my mind. It was taking away all my thoughts, replacing them with two words.

    Don’t go.

    Marrisa was watching me, unable to move. Her beautiful eyes opened wider because she knew.

    And I knew.

    But I hated it.

    Hayat moved slightly in her sleep, drawing our attention to her.

    She was such a beautiful little girl.

    She was my beautiful little girl.

    “She is our beautiful little girl,’’ I said to Marrisa, “Just as much yours as she is mine,’’

    Marrisa rolled her eyes to the ceiling, and I nodded, “And even more His,’’

    I grimaced, knowing what would happen.

    Hayat would grow up to become a wonderful young lady. She would learn to talk, walk, and go to school. She’d learn, play, and become the person God wanted her to be.

    And Marrisa would never see any of that.

    Marrisa…

    My Marrisa…

    She was dying.

    It struck me. A blow that landed on my chest that rocketed around my system. For how long had I been trying to deny it? How long had I held on to false hope? Just wishing, hoping, praying that she…

    That my love would be well.

    But that wasn’t His plan.

    But His plan was the greatest there ever was and ever would be.

    He was good.

    And I would trust in Him.

    I bent closer to Marrisa, taking her hand in mine. She stared at me, her eyes wide.

    There was fear in her eyes.

    She was approaching that river, that dark, black river of death.

    “Hey,’’ I whispered, caressing her knuckles with my thumb, “It will be okay. Everything is going to be okay. God is in control, Marrisa. He holds us in His hands, and everything will be okay. I know it’s scary; I know it’s hard. But I love you, and He loves you,’’

    I trailed off, listening to the sound of her heart monitor that was placed in the drawer.

    Beep, beep, beep.

    “I am so blessed to have known you, Marrisa. I love you so dearly. Remember I promised I’d love you for as long as I lived? You are mine. And I didn’t care if we had a year, five years, or ten years.

    Beep, beep, beep.

    “I love you, Marrisa. I’m so thankful that I’ve been your husband and that I was your friend before. You helped Him enter my life, and I can never say thank you enough to Him for putting you in mine,’’

    Beep, beep, beep.

    “This life is only a few moments in the light of

    eternity, Marrisa. And just think, you’ll be there forever. And He will be there forever! And there will be no pain, no suffering, only joy, and only peace.’’

    Beep, beep, beep.

    “You just have to wait for me, Marrisa. And someday, I’ll meet you up there,’’

    Beep, beep, beep.

    “I love you, Marrisa Smith,’’

    Beep, beep, beep.

    I bent down and pressed my lips to her forehead, taking her hand in both of mine.

    Beep, beep, beep.

    I sat down again, watching her. She looked at me,

    then at the wall behind me.

    I knew she was ready.

    She glanced back at me, and I saw the look of joy, peace, and contentment in her eyes.

    Beep, beep, beep.

    “They’ll be here soon, Marrisa. They’ll be here soon to take you to Him,’’ I whispered, “They’ll be here soon,’’

    Beep, beep, beep.

    And I could imagine them.

    The angels.

    They were waiting beside the bed to take my

    precious wife to Jesus, who would receive her with open arms.

    Beep, beep, b-.

    I stared at Marrisa, knowing she could no longer see me.

    I sat back as something inside me shattered.

    What shattered fell.

    It fell into the black abyss that was inside me.

    And that black abyss went on forever, and ever, and ever.

    Marrisa was gone.

    Chapter Fourteen

      ⛋Adrian⛋

    It was bright and sunny on the day of Marrisa’s funeral.

    I was supposed to feel angry about that, but I wasn’t.

    My black and stiff suit made me hot, but I didn’t care.

    People walked up to me before the service began, offering their apologies for my loss, how they were very sorry, and how they would pray for me.

    I needed that.

    But I could hardly respond.

    I think I said, “Thank you,’’

    It may have come out as, “Mm-mm,’’

    I didn’t know.

    My eyes were on Hayat.

    She was sitting in her grandmother’s, Marrisa’s mom’s arms. Her grandmother’s eyes were wide and red-rimmed, but she held my daughter firmly and smiled at her once. Her grandfather stood next to his wife, shaking people’s hands, nodding, and thanking them for their condolences.

    I couldn’t bear to look at the coffin.

    At Marrisa’s coffin.

    It didn’t seem real.

    It felt like I was drowning in an ocean of air where no one else could see me and no one else could help me. I was drowning, dying, but no one would know.

    Marrisa was gone.

    The pastor’s words were beautiful, and they spoke of Marrisa as if everyone knew her.

    They were stamped on my mind as images of her raced past me.

    Marrisa was laughing.

    Marrisa was holding my hand.

    Marrisa.

    Marrisa.

    Marrisa.

    She was gone.

    We drove from the funeral home to the graveyard. It was excellent and well kept, and flowers spread over many stones.

    The coffin was carried, then set down inches from the hole it would soon lay.

    Where Marrisa would soon lay.

    But she wasn’t there.

    I stared up at the sky, a bright, clear blue. Marrisa was with Jesus, safe and free from any pain and suffering.

    But I was here.

    Numb.

    The coffin was set down in its final place of rest, and the people came and threw roses into the hole. Even Hayat threw one in, though she chose to try and put it in her mouth first.

    Finally, I was left.

    I took one of the last roses, moved to stand beside the hole, and peered down into it.

    I could see the head of the coffin, though most of it was covered in flowers. I let out one small breath, then glanced up when I heard a bird begin to sing.

    Marrisa loved birds.

    Maybe it was telling her goodbye.

    Like I was.

    Or had I already?

    I didn’t know anymore.

    Numb.

    I threw the rose in, then turned away. I took Hayat from her grandmother, said goodbye, and started making my way to the car.

    I didn’t care about what I was leaving behind or who. I didn’t care about the thought of planning that had gone into it.

    I was numb.

    My dad stood by my car, leaning against its side. I stared at him for a moment, then put Hayat in her seat.

    “Is this what it felt like when Jemma died?’’ I asked, “Did it feel this way?’’

    My dad looked at me, then glanced away, saying, “I love you, son,’’

    I nodded, sitting down in the front seat. I looked back at him and called.

    “You found mom after Jemma died, right?’’

    He nodded.

    “How could I find anyone after Marrisa?’’

    I slammed the door, turned the car, and sped off.

    The question hung before me, but I didn’t care. I was numb.

    ⛋Adrian⛋

    One Month Later

    It had been a month since the funeral. I was in the kitchen, making lunch. Hayat was sleeping like she always did, growing more and more each day.

    But it was hard to watch her grow because everything she did remind me of…her.

    I hadn’t changed since her death, numb, confused, lost. It was challenging to say her name sometimes, and other times I could scream it a thousand times over.

    But why?

    She wouldn’t answer.

    I continued to chop the tomato for my sandwich but stopped when the doorbell rang. Grumbling slightly under my breath, I went to the door and opened it.

    A ten-year-old girl stood on my doorstep, holding a wrapped box in her hands.

    She was the pastor’s daughter.

    She glanced up at me with a slightly nervous expression, saying.

    “Are you Mister Adrian?’’

    “Yep. What can I do for you?’’ I glanced down at my messy shirt and dirty jeans.

    “My dad asked me to give you this,’’ She handed me the box, then glanced at my hand, “Sir, do you know you’re bleeding?’’

    I shrugged, thanked her, and walked back into the house, staring at the box. I placed it on the table and sat on one of the chairs. Two notes were taped onto its side.

    Son,

    Marrisa gave this to your pastor when she first learned that she would die. She knew she didn’t have long, so she asked your mother and me to help her collect all of this together. She then asked me to write a note explaining it to you.

    I know, son, that you are hurting now. I understand; I was once there too.

    But I see that you have something that I didn’t. You have God.

    I hope he blesses you through this challenging time.

    Dad.

    I put it down and took the other note, opening it and gasping when I saw her handwriting.

    Dear Biker Boy,

    Yey! I was wondering when He would call me home! Those doctors were dead sure it would be sooner rather than later. That was ten years ago, ha! If you’re reading this, then I’m in heaven.

    Adrian,

    I know you’re hurting right now. I can’t imagine…but I love you! And I pray that what you find inside this box will strengthen and encourage you.

    Always remember: I love you, and He loves you even more!

    With all the love I have,

    Marrisa.

    I shredded the paper and stared at the cardboard box that stared back at me. I opened its top and saw pieces of paper piled onto each other. I placed the note beside the other and took hold of the box.

    They were all drawn by Marrisa.

    They were beautiful.

    They were images of different things that had happened in our life when we went to that amusement park, when I fell and hurt myself, and when she cried in my arms over her parents and their distance from her.

    All these and so many more.

    I carefully looked at each one, soaking in the memories they had brought me. But with each new image and each old memory came a slight hint of pain.

    And with that pain came sadness.

    And with that sadness came tears.

    My hand was bleeding.

    I noticed this as I rested my head against the table, tears streaming down my face. My hand sat next to my head, the blood trailing down the side. I could not feel the pain and grief at Marrisa’s passing; the funeral and days beyond suddenly poured out as I wept.

    I cried for Marrisa.

    I cried for Hayat.

    I cried for myself.

    I felt peace and calm come over me as I finished. The storm inside lessened, though I knew the pain I felt would not fade for a long time.

    But God would give me grace every day.

    One day at a time.

    “Thank you,’’ I whispered.

    I patched my hand up, then continued to look through the box. The images were all pulled out and examined; I found a letter pile. A note that sat on the top of one read: For Hayat. One for each of her birthdays. The important ones come with a gift! Love, Marrisa.

    I smiled, immediately thinking of my daughter. She was awake, as I saw when I ran into her room. She stared at me with wide eyes, blinking as the light poured into the dark corner.

    “Come on, Hayat! I have something to show you!’’ I said excitedly.

    I picked her up and carried her back to the table. I sat her in my lap and grabbed one of the pictures. I began explaining everyone to her, though I knew she was too young to understand in the back of my mind. But it felt good to tell her of my life and Marrisa’s.

    It felt wonderful to share all the adventures we had had.

    It felt amazing to put thought into the memories at the back of my mind.

    Because they were all memories.

    Memories of our life.

    My past life has been a journey. I’ve fought through most of it, but I am glad to say it was worth it. I never thought this was where I would’ve been, and I’m so happy God let me stay until the end.

    Marrisa Smith.

    About The Author

    Gianna Anderson:

    Gianna lives in a family of nine. She hasn’t yet earned a career in anything but hopes to become a veterinarian. She writes her books during her free time when she isn’t studying. Gianna is an Author of twenty other stories that are not yet published. This book will be her first. She wants to say thank you to all who have read her book. She hopes you guys enjoyed the crazy story of Marrisa Garcia and Adrian Smith. 

    A note from Gianna

    She did want to state that she drew the drawings in the book, but some of them were references to other pictures. She can not take full ownership of the graphics. 

    Thank you again for reading this book; I hope you guys remember it and will come back to read the second book by their daughter Hayat. 

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