“It’s working.” TJ’s voice was filled with hope, he even had a smile on his face. “The chemotherapy is working. We’re not out of the dark yet, but we are moving in the right direction.”
The overwhelming feeling of hope took my breaths. The panicked heartbeats that rolled through my system were terrifying.
“I—” my voice started but then it paused. I felt like I should say something, because Kellan wasn’t talking at all. Yet I didn’t know what the right words were. Were there any right words in a situation like this one?
My fingers griped the chair deeper. My right hand brushed against my cheek and I cleared my throat. “It’s working?” I asked.
He started speaking but, I stopped listening again. I took Kellan’s hand and squeezed his left, while Erika squeezed his right.
My brother, my hero, my best friend was fighting cancer.
He was beating cancer.
And I could finally breathe.
That night Alyssa and I climbed up to the billboard and stared at the stars tossed across the sky. We shared raspberry Oreos, and kissed until we needed a breath, remembering everything we’d been through, and dreaming of everything that was coming our way.
“I liked the DVD you gave me about the Greek mythology of the phoenix,” I said, as our legs dangled off of the ledge of the billboard. “I loved the idea of the bird dying, but then somehow rising from the ashes, reborn, receiving a new chance at life.”
She smiled. “Yeah, you’re the phoenix, Logan. You’ve come so far, seen so many things, and you’ve been reborn.”
I shook my head. “I looked deeper into different mythologies and different beliefs on the phoenix and what it stood for. Although I appreciated the story of the Greeks, it was the Chinese beliefs that got me the most.”
“What did they believe?”
“The phoenix was commonly seen in two, a male and a female. The two phoenixes together stood for yin and yang. They were two parts of a whole. The female phoenix was the passive, gentle, intuitive one, while the male was the assertive one, the one who took action. Together they stood for unforgettable partnership. In parts of the world, the two phoenixes symbol is given as a wedding gift—a sign of forever and happily ever afters.”
“That’s beautiful,” she said.
“I thought so.”
We took a moment to stare back up at the sky.
“Yes?” My palms were sweaty as I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small box. She took in a small breath when her eyes fell to the box, then her eyes locked with mine. “What are you doing, Lo?”
“Truth or lie?”
“I’m doing absolutely nothing.”
Her bottom lip trembled. “And the truth?”
“I’m beginning to rise from the ashes. I’m only in the early stages of rebirth, but I know as I ascend, I want you to be locked with me forever.” The small box opened, and I pulled out the wedding ring, which showcased two phoenixes coming together, intertwined with a diamond in the middle of their wings. “You’re my healer. You’re my strength. You’re my ever after, and if it’s all right with you, if you’re okay with it, I’d love for you to be my wife.”
“Really?” she softly spoke.
“Really,” I replied.
Her voice was shaky as she moved in closer to me, resting her lips against mine. “For always, Lo?”
I took her hand into my hand, and slid the ring onto her ring finger, kissing her gently. “For always, High.”
Seven years, one wedding, one full recovery, two babies, and a stronger love later
I was happy.
I didn’t have much to my name, and I didn’t have many stories of success to pass on to my children. I wasn’t some millionaire genius. I didn’t have three bachelor’s degrees. I’d probably be working most of my life to make ends meet, but I’d always make them meet because I had love. I had three people counting on me to keep going when times were hard. I had three people believing in me and my faraway dreams.
Alyssa and I were able to start one of our dreams together: High&Lo Restaurant and Piano Bar. We’d been running it for two years now, and after my children, it was one of my greatest accomplishments. Still, I strived for more.
One day I’d give my children and my beautiful wife the world. My children would never know what it meant to be unloved. They had been cherished before they’d even entered the world.
Alyssa, my beautiful love, she had saved my life. She had given me a reason to live, and it was an honor to be loved by her. I promised her heart I’d never forget the way she gave me all of her when I had nothing left to give in return. She promised me I wasn’t the product of my yesterdays, and knew I was destined for amazing tomorrows.
She was the fire in my soul that kept me warm at night.
“That’s too high,” my five-year-old son Kellan cried, as we walked over to the billboard ladder. He was named after his uncle, who still was chasing his dream of becoming a successful musician, and was getting closer each day.
His younger sister Julie sat on my shoulders, looking up. “Yeah, Daddy! Too high!” she agreed. She was named after her grandma, the woman who knew more dark days than light, but now was able to walk in the sun and for the past seven years kept her demons at bay. Not every day was easy, but each day was a blessing.
I smiled at Alyssa, who had warned me that the kids would think it was too scary, but I wanted them to see the stars that night from the same place I’d first fallen in love.
“We have blankets,” Alyssa said. “We can always lay them out down here and look up.”
“Can we do that, dad? Can we just look up instead of climbing?” Kellan asked.
“Of course. That’s even better.”
That night we were quiet, staring out into the star-lit sky which was fading into darkness. My arms were wrapped around Alyssa’s waist, and she leaned back against me, allowing me to be the one that held her up. Each night we watched the sun set no matter where we were, and we’d wake early to witness it rising again. That was the thing about life: even when the days faded to black, you were always given another chance, a second moment to try again to rise from the ashes.
The kids ran around, playing, as Alyssa and I stared at the lives we’d created. They were our happily ever after, the gifts that brought us so much joy.