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Beasts This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Mr. Abe Laster anxiously tapped the base of his fork against the tablecloth.  Sensing that he was beginning to annoy the well-dressed people around him, he put down the polished utensil. He continued tapping with his fingers.
Amidst the candles, the crystal chandeliers, and the paintings that adorned the walls and ceiling, Mr. Laster’s attention was held by the worn down jacket hanging on the velvet chair before him. The coat belonged to his date, Emily, and she had quite an effect on Mr. Laster.  She was the brightest part of his day whenever he got to see her.  When she smiled, his chest would swell to a more masculine form, and every time she looked directly at him with those bright, blue, glittering eyes, he had to remind himself to keep his damned jaw from falling open.
Abe had taken her out to a few places; a trendy bar, a frozen yogurt shop, even a walk around the lake at night. This was not the first date Abe had been on with Emily, but he knew that it just might be the last. This was the night that Abe, as he sat tap-tap-tapping his worried little fingers, was deciding to tell her. Tell her that he had cancer, that is.  Stage four, terminal.  It was festering in his lungs and had slyly crawled its way to half of his internal organs. It owned him.  A minor cold could leave him bedridden for a month. The doctor could barely look Abe in the eye after reading his CAT-scan, but he knew he was screwed from the moment that…
“Hey.” That smile. Those eyes. Abe preventatively clenched his jaw and smiled like an idiot right back at her.  Emily sat down, taking a gulp of her Chateau Lafite, and then making a face as she swallowed the wine. “Ooh. This wine is terrible.  Why would people pay so much for this?”
Abe chuckled. “Because,” he said, “it was made by some guy in 1942 that had a sexy French last name.”
“A three-hundred dollar sexy French last name?”
“Depends on how bad your French is.”  They did a cheers and smilingly took another sip. She was right, that wine was terrible.
Emily opened up her leather bound menu, leaning in to read the pages as if she was watching some fascinating insect cuttle back and forth. Abe opened his menu and didn’t read it.  The clawing sensation in his stomach began to scrape its way up his throat. He swallowed it back down, shifted in his seat and stared at his menu. 
Abe didn’t blame the women who had left before. Friends, too.  When people hear about a terminal disease, they think, “Oh, what a shame,” and let a small wave of pity glide over them to legitimize their humanity.  But when someone whose clock is tick, tick, ticking loud enough to hear looks them dead in the eye and says, “I’m going to die,” they run. And he didn’t blame them.  He knew that he terrified people; a walking, talking, feeling creature that reminded everyone who knew that they, too, were going to die.  Walking from the staff room to the office of his pharmaceutical firm had become nearly unbearable.  A trail of silence and pitying eyes followed him down the dark blue carpet that had once been his runway, now stalked by a thick, dark, horrifying creature that prowled at Abe’s heels, growling at anyone who came near. He may as well have been wearing a black cloak and carrying a scythe with all the looks…
“Abe?” Abe’s eyes snapped back up and into focus to see Emily leaning forward, eyes shining from the soft glow of the chandelier looking straight, straight at him. She smiled with a touch of concern that arched one of her eyebrows more than the other. “You doing okay over there?”
Abe looked right at her. The world seemed blurry beyond the soft slope of her graceful neck and her shimmering false gold earrings. Abe loved this woman. He could tell. He could feel it in his chest, his feet, his hands, in the little electric shivers bouncing up and down his spine.
He wanted her to stay.  He had seen so many faces turn stone cold with fear and confusion and he didn’t want to chase Emily away, this gorgeous and kind Emily. But at the same time, he wanted to tell her everything; how his life had been locked onto a deadline, how everyone that he knew had come to fear and abandon him, and how she made him forget that he was dying.
“Emily,” Abe started.  He looked down into his lap for a moment.  She sat there, waiting.  Not impatiently or anxiously. Just, waiting.  She must have recognized the conflict bouncing back and forth in his head; she placed her hand on top of his fist, clenched on the tablecloth.  So light and soft. Abe’s hand relaxed, and a little warm glow began to happily creep up his forearm.
Abe smiled and looked up at her.
“I have cancer.”
There it was. The worst thing about him. The ugly black beast that was now staring down the woman before him through the eyes of a dying man.
Time held its breath.  Abe was caught in suspense between the cold fear of the dark monster in his chest and the warm light that still criss-crossed the hand that Emily was holding. Emily’s expression had not changed.  Abe wanted to know, Abe needed to know what was happening in her mind.  Was she preparing to run from this nasty creature that was baring its teeth and claws? Was she going to smile and excuse herself to use the restroom, taking her coat with her?  And why was she still holding his hand?
Abe’s eyes were locked onto Emily’s. Her eyes were dancing back and forth between his.  Abe’s shoulders and jaw and legs and chest were all locked in place; he braced himself for the next words to come out of her mouth.
“S***, man,” she said, “that’s awful.”
Abe stared at her for a moment in disbelief. “Uhh…”
Emily reached across with her other hand so that she was holding both of his, and squeezed.  It felt like the morphine drip of an IV had just kicked in. Abe’s shoulders fell back as the thick air that was trapped in his lungs escaped through his bone dry mouth.
Emily’s expression was soft. “I am really sorry.” Abe could feel that she meant it.  Her eyes weren’t shying away from his, not a hint of fear or discomfort. “How far along are you?”
Abe’s brain was tripping over itself. “Um, I’m a stage four. Terminal. I was diagnosed a year ago.”
“So it’s not going away?”
“N-no, not until my blood stops pushing it around my body.”
Emily nodded, her face serious, eyes dead set on Abe’s.  And she was still holding his hands.
Abe looked right back at her. “I have to know what you’re thinking,” he said, “because everybody just runs when I tell them, and because I think that you are the most wonderful woman I have ever met and you make me feel so bright and alive and I…”
Emily kissed him.  Right there, leaning all the way over the table, she kissed him. Abe’s heart beat a rhythm that made his whole body tingle and float.  He put his hand on the side of her face, his eyes fell shut, and he wanted to hold onto that moment forever. Emily pulled her lips back from his with a little “pop”, her eyes slowly flickered back open to meet Abe’s, and she smiled.
“I,” she smiled, “am not going to run. We all have our beasts, and we will lose so much if we choose to be afraid of one another.”  She leaned in and kissed Abe once more, a quicker one this time. 
They both suddenly became aware of a “glug glug glug” sound. They looked down at the table to see the bottle of Chateau Lafite on its side, and watched as two hundred and fifty dollars worth of s***ty wine poured onto the carpet.
Abe and Emily laughed.






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TaylorWintry This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
today at 4:10 pm
First, congrats on your Editors' Choice award! I really enjoyed this piece - it's the first TeenInk piece that I've read in quite a while. To start off, I LOVE your characterization of Abe. From his mental rants to his medical analogies, you did a great job of portraying him. With that being said, I would've liked to know a little bit more about Emily (but perhaps you left that out on purpose!). Really great writing style and a very smooth read overall. Great job!
 
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