He pinches his eyes closed and shakes his head the best he can with his face cradled in my hands. “You don’t deserve this. Nobody ever deserves this. Do you hear me?” I ask, trying to bury my frustration.
“If it’s not my fault, then whose fault is it? There’s a reason for everything, and I’m the reason she’s not at college right now,” he cries. I want to wipe away all his tears and guilt. He’s an amazing man who shouldn’t have to carry this around with him.
“You need to stop blaming yourself. It will eat you up inside, and it won’t bring her back.”
“You don’t think I know that? It doesn’t make it any easier, though,” he says, looking up at the ceiling.
“Asher, you saved me. Every day I’ve been with you, you’ve shown me a new piece of myself that I thought I lost. You can’t forget that,” I beg, moving my face closer to his.
“You’re stronger than you think,” he says, pulling my forehead down to his.
“It’s because of you,” I whisper.
He’s having trouble keeping his eyes open and soon, I hear his breathing even out, and feel the steady rise and fall of his chest.
I try to sleep, but I can’t. I don’t want to waste a single second with him. They say everything happens for a reason. I don’t see any reason for this. I don’t want to think about what happens when he’s gone. I grip his gown in my fist and bury my nose close to his neck, trying to smell him through the bleached out hospital scent.
That’s all it takes for the tears to prick my eyes again.
When Asher’s father came back to the hospital that night I learned about the cancer, Asher was still sleeping. I had a few questions I don’t feel comfortable asking Asher, so I pulled a small notebook and pen out of my purse and quickly jotted down the question that was bothering me the most.
I passed it to Daniel and watched as his eyes closed tight after reading it. When he opened them again, he looked at me with one of the saddest sets of eyes I’d ever seen. He took the pen from my hand and jotted something down before handing it back to me.
I stared at his handwriting, reading the message over and over again. For what reason, I don’t know. I didn’t want to believe it, but the more I read it, the more I realized that I had no other choice.
I know there is always hope, but after the last few days I’m not that optimistic. They let him come home late the next day, but he is so weak that we’ve spent the last two days lying in his bed, alternating between sleeping and watching movies. Neither of us has mentioned anything about his sickness, or what is going to happen in the future. It’s nice to pretend for a while.
I’ve talked to my boss about having a few weeks off, and he groaned until I told him why. Not only do I want to spend time with Asher, but if I went to work, I probably wouldn’t be very useful. There are too many things going through my head.
This morning when I woke up in Asher’s bed, he wasn’t beside me. I start to panic because he rarely ever gets out of bed without a little assistance from me or his dad. I check the bathroom first, but it’s dark and the door is wide open. I hear music coming from the front of the house, and as I round the corner I see Asher sitting with the guitar on his lap. I remember all the times he has played for me and it brings tears to my eyes. I never want to give this up. His voice is soothing and beautiful . . . I can’t imagine a day when I don’t hear it.
He notices me and immediately stops playing.
“Don’t stop for me, I love when you play.”
“Did I wake you?” he asks, setting his guitar down against the couch.
“No, you weren’t there when I woke up, so I came looking for you,” I reply, sitting down next to him. I lace my fingers with his and rest my head against his shoulder.
“Do you want to do something today? I don’t think I can spend another day lying in that bed.” He wraps his arm behind my back and pulls me close. His arms aren’t quite as strong as they used to be because he has lost so much weight and spent most of his days stuck in bed.
“What do you want to do?” I ask, resting my head against his shoulder.
“Dance with me,” he whispers, brushing his fingers through my hair.
“Here?” I ask, lifting my head to face him. He looks very serious.
“It’s something we’ve never had the chance to do together and all I can think about is doing everything with you.” For the first time in a few days, I’m reminded that we may not have much time left together. There are so many things Asher will never get to experience, and I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach every time I think about it. There are bad people in this world that get to live a whole life and Asher, a man filled with so much good, is having his cut far too short. Life just doesn’t make sense; it’s maddening. Everyone should get to experience a life filled with love, marriage and kids. Everyone should get to choose a career and live out their dream.
“I would do anything you ask me to right now. Anything,” I say, trying to hold back the tears that threaten to fall. This will probably be the only time I ever get to dance with Asher Hunt. I can’t decide if it’s better to know that or not.
He slowly stands, reaching out for my hand. “Kate, may I have this dance?”
I place my hand in his, and he leads me back into his bedroom, stopping to turn on his iPod. I take several cleansing breaths, trying to calm the nervous energy that’s flowing through my body.
Cross That Line by Joshua Radin starts to play as Asher spins around to face me. He has a soft expression on his face when he reaches his hand to touch my face and skims his thumb over my cheekbone. I tilt my head to kiss the palm of his hand, then close my eyes and lose myself in the soft feel of his fingertips as they lightly skim my jawline. When he wraps his arms around my lower back, it feels like the most natural thing in the world as we sway back and forth. I follow his lead and wrap my arms around his neck, resting my cheek against his chest.
My body is completely in tune to Asher’s as I listen to the beautiful lyrics sink into my soul. This has to be one of the single most memorable moments of my life. It’s serene. It’s as if we’re the only two people on the planet and nothing can hurt us. It’s like the whole world is spinning in slow motion.
When I was a little girl, I believed in fairy tales and one of the dreams I had was someday dancing alongside my prince. Asher’s that guy for me. He’s my dream and my wish come true. He’s my prince.
“I love this song.”
“It’s one of my favorites,” he admits, tightening his grip on me a little more.
The song switches to 18th Floor Balcony by Blue October, and I lift my head to look in his eyes. There’s so much sadness, adoration and pain within them. I want to kiss it all away, but this illness is one thing that love can’t fix.
“What are you thinking right now?” I ask.
He cups my face in his hands. “That I wish we could freeze time and stay in this moment forever. You?”
“I was thinking that this is the best first dance I’ve ever had.”
“You mean everything in this world to me. You know that right?” he says softly against my lips.
I nod, closing the little bit of distance between us to press my lips to his. I let them linger there, pressed as tightly to his as I can manage. When I break away, I rest my forehead against his and continue to dance until the song ends. It was probably the best dance I’ve ever shared, but it was probably our last too.
THE LAST FEW WEEKS I’ve thought a lot about what my life will be like without Asher around. It’s a mirror that I never want to have to look into . . . I’m not ready to lose him. It’s not something I even want to contemplate, so how am I going to deal with the reality of it all? I feel like I’m in a constant state of sadness, which isn’t how I want to remember the time we have left together.
The worst part is that I think Asher senses it. I’ve thought a lot about what I’d want right now if the roles were reversed and it’s almost impossible to get a clear picture. That picture should never even be painted for someone so young. I’m struggling to keep a positive outlook, but I don’t want his last days to be all about what’s going to happen; I want it to be about today. I think we both need that.
It’s time for us to make memories worth keeping.
We spend time putting up the Christmas tree since the holiday is a week from tomorrow. Asher seems to be getting weaker by the day, so he sits on the floor and hands me ornaments. I’m just happy to spend time with him.
“I hate that you have to do it all yourself,” he says sadly, handing me a bright red glass ornament.
I grab it from him and hang it toward the top of the tree. “All that matters to me is that we’re together. This is actually the best Christmas I’ve had in a long time. I can’t remember the last time my mom and I even took the time to put up the tree and decorate it.” I smile, standing back to admire it.
“This has been the best Christmas for me too . . . even with everything that’s happening,” he says, returning my smile.
We end our decorating project by putting popcorn on a string to wrap around the tree. It’s something my mom and I always did when I was a kid because we didn’t have money to go buy all the fancy decorations. I remember doing that more than I remember any gift I received.
And I want to have that memory with Asher.
After we’re finished, we watch one of his favorite comedies on Netflix, laughing harder than either of us has in weeks. Laughter really is the best medicine; it makes us both forget the things that have been bringing us down; at least temporarily.
Now, we’re both lying in bed listening to Asher’s iPod playing softly through the speakers. The small lamp on his bedside table illuminates the room with a soft orange light. We’re just talking, but I like spending every second I’m not sleeping, looking at him. I want to engrave everything about him into my mind: the feel of his lips, the unique shade of his eyes, and the silky texture of his hair when it slips between my fingers. I’m scared that one day I’ll wake up and I won’t be able to remember him.