The time is 11:57 pm. The date is September 27th, 2090. The drive from Central City to New York City was only about four hours opposed to the normal five and a half. That may or may not have depended on speeding. Pulling into New York Presbyterian Hospital, the seriousness of the situation settles in. I park my hovercraft in the first spot I see. I sit for a moment, shakily removing my hand from the hover shift. I tranfer 25 pictocents to the hospital’s parking meter. The volume on my radio has been low the entire trip, but now I listen to an old love song playing on the radio. What a coincidence. I wonder if this is still her favorite song. I know it is still mine. I take a deep breath and exit my craft.
“Can I help you sir?” the nurse at the front desk asks. She is young and has a welcoming, smiling face. Her blue scrubs crisp and without a single mark of wear. It was as if she had pulled them straight out of a new package. That shade of blue is such a nice color, it really goes well with her eyes.
“Yes, actually. My name is Allen. I am here to see Ariel Suez.” I reply.
“Oh yes. She is in...room 280, on the fourth floor. The elevators are right around that corner.”
“Thank you very much.” I follow the nurse’s directions and find the elevators. If I had the same energy I used to have when I was eighteen, I would have bolted up the staircase instead. Standing there impatient, I press the “up” button about 6 times before I hear the ding announcing the elevators arrival. I step into the elevator hitting another button to shut the doors. A young man running through the entrance spots the open doors and looks at me with wide eyes. He dashes around patients and nurses and just barely makes it into the elevator shaft next to me. The doors close and I ask, “A pictocent for your thoughts?” He turns to me out of breath and a queasy look upon his face.
“My girlfriend just went into labor.” He answers.
“Girlfriend.” He repeats.
“Well, my congratulations are extended to her and to you.” I stick out my hand for him to shake. He clumsily removes a hand from his sweater pocket to return the gesture. They feel clammy and unsteady. I notice a small scar above his knuckle. I wonder if he got it from getting into a fight. I have similar scars from scraps I used to get into when I was a little younger than he. No, he seems like a respectable lad.
“We’ve been together for a year and a half already,” he continues. “She said she was not ready for marriage, I don’t know exactly what to do anymore.” The elevator dings for the fourth floor.
“This is me, son. But, a word of advice from an old man with many regrets. I suggest making that girlfriend of yours into your wife.” I say. The young man smiles wearily. He pulls out the hand he had kept in his jacket pocket, to reveal a deep red, velvet ring box.
“Attaboy.” I chuckle and depart the elevator.
I’ve never enjoyed hospitals. Neither had Ariel. Stark white and sterile, nothing compared to the vibrant color that seemed to ooze from her life. Walking down the hall, I pass open doors with countless stories. The squeaking of tile making the inhabitants aware of my passing presence. Room 275, there is a man my age. He is holding hands with a woman, as they gaze into each other’s eyes. I assume that she is his wife. Oh, how very charming. Room 277, inside there is a young woman in some sort of argument with another young woman. Possibly a blame game about who did what. Or maybe even an argument about how the hospital bill was going to be paid. 279, a quiet room with a young man. He is alone. He stares out the window with a blank and longing expression. I wonder why he is alone in this wretched place. Has he no family? Poor lad. A few more steps down the hall and finally, room 280. I knock quietly, wishing not to disturb anyone. A bright familiar face welcomes me in.
“Uncle Allen! It is so good to see you! Mom will be so happy to see you’ve come.” Nicolette, Ariel’s daughter says. I am greeted by only two others in the hospital room. Alexander, Ariel’s youngest, and Daniel, Ariel’s husband.
“Hello Alexander my sweet boy.” I outstretch my arms to the incredibly tall man. Oh goodness, he is a man. Has it been that long since the last time I had seen him? He was about thirteen since I last saw him. His hair was longer then and his freckles not as prominent as they are now.
“Hi Uncle Allen.” Alexander says quietly. He always had been a shy lad, I would have thought he might grow out of that by now.
“Daniel.” I turn to his father.
“Allen.” He acknowledges. He gestures toward the drawn holoscreen surrounding the bed. I slide it to the side to reveal Ariel. When I see her, she is just as beautiful as when I first met her. She glows with her beauty and enlightenment, even in her final hours. Her condition has deteriorated over the years. I have been so blind. Discussions over the phone would never let on to how she was actually doing. I take a seat next to her. Reaching out I caress her forehead, causing her to stir. She opens her eyes.
“Allen!” She whispers. She is so weak! Oh my best of friends, how could you not have told me that this may be the last time we speak!
“Hello Ariel. It has been too long since we have last seen each other.” I choke out my words. Tears are beginning to form behind my eyelids. I choke back my sobs and mediate my composure.
“Allen it is so good to see you. I hate to see that it took my circumstances to pull you away from Central City.” She croaks.
“I am deeply sorry Ariel. Our lives never did seem to cross at the right moments.” I stare into her eyes. The deep brown that seemed to be illuminating itself, demanding to be seen.
“What are you looking at Al?” She asks a hint of laughter in her frail voice.
“Just you.” I answer.
“So how has work been, Allen?” Daniel intercedes.
“Oh just fine. I plan on retiring next year. Making my departure from the quantum physics field at last.” I turn to him. He has an interesting look on his face. Jealousy? Anger? I cannot place it, but I do lean back in my seat. I leave some space between myself and Ariel's bedside. It has always been this way. He knows that Ariel and I have just been friends since we graduated high school.
“Dad, we should get some food while Uncle Allen and mom catch up.” Nicolette waves towards the door.
“All right. Allen would you like anything?” He grunts.
“Oh, no thank you Daniel.” Alexander follows them out of the room. I turn back toward Ariel. She is staring at me.
“Allen…” She struggles to try and sit up.
“Ariel please, you are too weak to be sitting up.” I plead.
“Weak am I?” She mocks me.
“You know what I mean.” I chuckle. I help her sit up and she grabs hold of my hand.
“Allen, all these years I’ve meant to tell you something.” She takes a deep breath. “I’ve never told you how much I love you.”
“Ariel, I love you too, you know tha-”
“No Allen,” She interrupts. “I mean I love you. I have always loved you.” She searches my eyes for a response. I have only waited a lifetime to hear her say these words. Why had she not said this after our huge fight before our freshman year of college? Why had she not said this before she agreed to marry Daniel? Why had she not said this before I married my ex-wife? Why now?
“Allen, you cannot tell Daniel or my children.” She says as sternly as she can bear. I stare blankly at her. There is too much going on in my mind to put together a cohesive sentence.
“Ariel… I want to sing to the world that you have said these words to me. Because I have loved you my whole life. Ever since you drove off that night before we left for college. I had always wanted to tell you. But, I thought you wanted space…I am such a fool.” I say.
“Allen, we cannot change the past. I thought I fell in love with Daniel. He is the father of my children, I cannot let him know. It will only hurt him more after I am gone. Please Al, promise me you will keep this between you and me.” She pleaded.
“I promise.” I whisper. Oh, agony! The love that is never to be spoken of out loud.
After a few minutes, Nicolette, Alexander, and Daniel enter the room. They inform me that the food was not terrible and that a nurse will be coming by shortly to take Ariel’s vitals. We talk, and laugh, and enjoy Ariel’s presence while it is still here. Not long after the clock reads 2:02 am, Ariel calls for all of our attention. It is time. I am not ready!
“Nicolette, I have something for you.” She gestures for her to come closer. She begins to remove the string of small pearls from around her neck and places them around her daughter’s. “Take my pearls, use them well. I want you to fulfill your dreams at LIM College. Be that big name designer you always wanted to be my gorgeous girl. Know that I will always love you.” She says.
“I love you too mom.” Nicolette returns. Tears fill everyone’s eyes with the understanding of what was to come.
“Alexander,” Her voice is beginning to become even more hoarse and weak. “I want you to continue to work hard to reach your dreams. Do not lose yourself after I am gone. Do not make the same mistakes I did Alexander. I kept to myself too much, that is why I never had many friends. I want so much more for you.” She turns to Daniel now, tears are now rolling down her diminished cheeks.
“My Daniel.” He rushes toward her outstretched hands. “Thank you for choosing me as your wife. I am forever grateful for giving me the greatest gifts of all.” She smiles at her children.
“I love you Ariel.” He smothers her cheeks with soft kisses. I am in so much pain, I cannot say a word. I can hear her speaking to me, but I cannot register what she is saying. How could she leave me with this much on my mind? Am I angry at her? Or am I angry at myself for letting her slip away so many years ago? It should be I who smothers her with undeniable and endless love!
“Goodbye Ariel.” I croak. I stand up abruptly and leave as quickly as I can from the hospital room. I am halfway down the hall, past the young man, past the two young women;before I can hear protests from the others pleading for me to stay with her. I cannot. I will not. For fear that I will not be able to keep my wits. I love her. And she loved me. And we had only waited a lifetime to finally let our feelings free.