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He ran his fingers through her hair, trying his best to remember its exact shade, its texture, exactly what her shampoo smelled like. She was getting sicker, he knew, but it was hard for the doctors to tell exactly how much time she had left. That’s how it had been, the last four months – first they had told her six months. Six months came and went, and her condition hadn’t changed. Then they gave her an additional two months. Then they just stopped trying, stopped trying to get this poor kid to accept her impending demise, and just started saying it’ll happen when it happens. And for four months, she seemed to be getting closer and closer to it happening.
Jason and Sarah met a month before her initial “expiration date,” as she liked to call it. He had never liked that – it made her seem like a carton of milk, or a can of soup. She had insisted that, really, that’s what she was: they start dating (he picks her out in a store), he has some time with her (she sits for a while on his shelf), all the while, knowing that she has a date imprinted on her. The only real difference was that the expiration date for food was definite. Written in big black letters, right there on the label. Her expiration date was just as obvious (sometimes she felt like the phrase “DYING” was hanging in the air over her head, written in giant, neon letters), but it didn’t have a specific date. It didn’t matter – everyone knew it was soon.
Sarah smiled at his touch, fluttering her eyelids closed. Her head was in his lap, her hair splayed out behind her, and as Jason looked at her, pale, serene…lifeless…
Her sickness had sucked so much out of her. Emotionally, she was doing her best to not let it change her, but physically, she hadn’t been so successful. Always on the skinnier side, over the last few months, she had become almost gaunt. The chemo had made her lose her appetite completely, and she was still showing its effect. Gently (Jason was always gentle. He was always afraid that, even if he was just a little rough, she would break right in front of him), he caressed her cheek, his thumb hesitating as he reached the faded bruise right above her jawline.
She bruised at everything, he knew, but this bruise in particular was because of him. They had been playing around once, during a week where she didn’t have chemo. She almost seemed like – well – he would have said her old self, but he had never known her when she was healthy. So maybe that was it – she seemed like she was healthy. She was jumping around and yelling and tickling him, and they were laughing about some story about one of her family reunions, and as a joke, he pinched her cheek. Looking back, he doesn’t exactly remember why – it was something her aunt used to do, maybe?
It wasn’t like it hurt her, or anything. She didn’t even wince at it – she laughed, and they just proceeded with their day. But the next day, it had turned purple. He felt terrible; he was usually so careful with her, always making sure that his touch was featherlight. But she had been so…animated. He had forgotten that she was sick, and now, she had the mark on her face to constantly remind him of his mistake.
Sarah felt his hand freeze on the bruise. “Stop it,” she said without opening her eyes. “I’m not mad at you. Yesterday, I bruised my leg pulling on my jeans.”
“Yeah,” he said, finally moving his hand. This argument had occurred a few times in the last three days, when he had bruised her, and she just didn’t understand his point of view. For now, he dropped it. “Hey, Sarah, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”
She opened one eye. “Okay. Is this a sit-up conversation or a stay-exactly-where-you-are conversation? Please say stay-exactly-where-you-are. I’m really comfy.”
He cracked a smile, but as he readied himself to say what had been weighing on his mind for the last seven months, any trace of the smile vanished. “I wanted to talk about –“ He tried to force himself to say the words, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. “- Well – When you…” Jason swallowed. Hard. “When whatever happens finally happens…”
Instantly, Sarah reached for his hand. “We don’t have to talk about it,” she said quietly, rubbing the back of his hand with her thumb.
“I just want to say,” he said, forcing the words out, “that, whenever it happens…I don’t want to say goodbye.”
Sarah was quiet for a minute, just staring into his eyes. Then she sat up and kissed him gently. “I don’t want to say goodbye, either,” she whispered. “Things – with you, and with, well, everything…They’re just so great for me, you know? I don’t want to leave everything.”
Jason’s grip on her hand tightened, then quickly, he remembered how fragile she was, and loosened his grip. “Not even that,” he said, shaking his head. “I mean, I don’t want to say the actual word. You know? It’s just so…final. Like I’ll never see you again.”
Sarah was quiet again. “Yeah,” she said finally, nodding. “Yeah. I know what you mean. Okay,” she said, her usual habit of finding something happy to overcome the sad kicking in. “From now on, that word is officially out of our vocabulary. From now on, we’ll say, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’”
Jason smiled sadly, thinking of how, one day, that phrase would be inaccurate. “And the day where I won’t be seeing you the next day?”
Sarah kissed him again, this time slowly, like she was savoring every inch of him. “We have months until then,” she said when she came up for air, her eyes locking with his. “That’s a lot of tomorrows.”
Her phone buzzed, forcing her to look away from him. She checked the screen. “My mom’s here. I have a doctor’s appointment.”
Sarah got up, Jason slowly following. He walked her to the door, and right before he opened it, she turned to face him. “See you tomorrow, Jase.”
He smiled, but it didn’t even come close to reaching his eyes. “See you tomorrow, Sarah.”
As she left, Jason followed her with his eyes. Sure, one day, they wouldn’t have a tomorrow. But like she said, they had months left. A lot of tomorrows. Whatever happened after that, the days he’d have to go on without her, the days he wouldn’t see her, they’d outnumber the days they did have together, for sure. But that wasn’t a problem for today. That was something he’d deal with tomorrow.