“Hope?” Jane’s eyes filled with confusion. “Since when are you a hopeful man?”
I didn’t have an answer, because she was right. I didn’t believe in signs, or hope, or anything of that nature. I hadn’t known God’s name until the day my daughter was born, and I felt too foolish to even offer him a prayer.
I was a realist.
I believed in what I saw, not what I hoped might be, but still, there was a part of me that looked at that small figure and wished I knew how to pray.
It was a selfish need, but I needed my daughter to be okay. I needed her to pull through, because I wasn’t certain I’d make it through losing her. The moment she was born, my chest ached. My heart somewhat awakened after years of being asleep, and when it awakened it felt nothing but pain. Pain of knowing my daughter could die. Pain of not knowing how many days, hours, or minutes were left with her. Therefore, I needed her to survive so the aching of my soul would disappear.
It was much easier to exist when it was shut off.
How had she done that? How had she turned it back on merely by being born?
I hadn’t even spoken her name…
What kind of monsters were we?
“Just go, Jane,” I said, my voice cold. “I’ll stay here.”
She left without another word, and I sat in the chair beside our daughter, whose name I, too, was too nervous to speak out loud.
I waited hours before trying to call Jane. I knew at times she’d get so wrapped up in her work, she’d forget to step away from her office, the same way I did when I was wrapped in my writing.
There wasn’t an answer on her cell phone. I called again for the next five hours with no reply, so I went ahead and called her office’s front desk. When I spoke to Heather, the receptionist, I felt gutted.
“Hi, Mr. Russell. I’m sorry, but, um…she was actually let go earlier this morning. She’s missed so much, and Mr. White let her go…I figured you would know.” Her voice lowered. “How is everything going? With the baby?”
I hung up.
I tried Jane’s cell phone again, and it went straight to voicemail.
“Do you need a break?” one of the nurses asked me, coming to check on my daughter’s feeding tube. “You look exhausted. You can go home and rest for a bit. We’ll call you if—”
“I’m fine,” I said, cutting her off.
She started to speak again, but my stern look made her shut her lips. She finished up checking all the stats, and then she gave me a small smile on her way out.
I sat with my daughter, listening to the beeping machines working, waiting for my wife to come back to us. As hours went by, I allowed myself to go home for a shower and to grab my laptop so I could write at the hospital.
I made it quick, jumping into the steaming water, letting it hit me and burn my skin. Then I got dressed and hurried to my office to grab my computer and some paperwork. That was when I noticed it—the folded piece of paper sitting on my keyboard.
I should’ve stopped reading there. I knew nothing good could come from her next words. I knew nothing good ever came from an unexpected letter written in black ink.
I can’t do this. I can’t stay and watch her die. I lost my job today, the thing I worked hardest for, and I feel as if I lost a part of my heart. I can’t sit and watch another part of me fade away, too. It’s all too much. I’m sorry. -Jane
I stared at the paper, rereading her words multiple times before folding the paper and placing it in my back pocket.
I felt her words deep in my soul, but I did my best not to react.
“I completely blanked,” the stranger told me, his voice shaky. “I mean, we were both swamped with exams, and I’m just trying to keep my head above water, and I totally forgot about our anniversary. It was a given that she hadn’t when she showed up with my gifts and dressed for the dinner date I forgot to book.”
I gave the guy a smile and nodded as he told me the full saga of why his girlfriend was currently pissed off at him.
“And it doesn’t help that I missed her birthday too, seeing as how I’d just gotten rejected from med school the week before. That put me in a big funk, but, man. Okay, yeah, sorry—I’ll just get these flowers.”
“Will that be all?” I asked, ringing up the dozen red roses the guy had picked out as an attempt to apologize to his girlfriend for forgetting the only two dates he really had to remember.
“Yeah, do you think it’s enough?” he asked nervously. “I just really messed up, and I’m not sure how to even start apologizing.”
“Flowers are a good start,” I told him. “And words help, too. Then, I think your actions will speak the loudest.”
He thanked me as he paid and walked out of the shop.
“I give them two weeks before they break up,” Mari said with a smirk on her lips as she trimmed a few tulips.
“Ms. Optimist.” I laughed. “He’s trying.”
“He’s asking a stranger for advice on his relationship. He’s failing,” she replied, shaking her head. “I just don’t get it. Why do guys find the need to apologize after they screw up? If they could just not screw up, there wouldn’t be anything to apologize for. It’s not that hard to just…be good.”
I gave her a tight smile, watching her cut the flower stems aggressively while her eyes filled with emotion. She wouldn’t admit to the fact that she was currently taking her pain out on the beautiful plants, but it was clear that she was.
“Are you…okay?” I asked as she picked up a handful of daisies and shoved them into the vase.
“I’m fine. I just don’t understand how that guy could be so insensitive, you know? Why in the world would he ask you for advice?!”
“Your nose is flaring and you’re waving scissors around like a madwoman because a guy bought his girlfriend flowers for forgetting their anniversary. Are you really upset about that or does it have something to do with today’s date? Seeing as how it would’ve been your—”
“Seven-year anniversary?” She chopped up two roses into tiny pieces. “Oh? Is that today? I hardly noticed.”
“Mari, back away from the scissors.”
She looked up at me, and then down at the roses. “Oh no, am I having one of those mental breakdown moments?” she asked as I walked over and slowly removed the scissors from her grip.
“No, you’re having one of those human moments. It’s fine, really. You’re allowed to be angry and sad for as long as you need to. Remember? Maktub. It just becomes an issue when we start destroying our own things over asshole men, especially flowers.”
“Ugh, you’re right, I’m sorry.” She groaned, placing her head in the palms of her hands. “Why do I still care? It’s been years.”
“Time doesn’t just shut off your feelings, Mari. It’s fine, but it’s also fine that I booked you and me a date for tonight.”
I nodded. “It involves margaritas and tacos.”
She perked up a bit. “And queso dip?”