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The Last Request
In every life there is one person who completely takes your breath away. One person who dares you to go the extra mile. One person who sees pass all your falsities and lies and sees the real you.
For me, that's Ryan West.
We met back in 2007 when I moved to Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. From Arizona to Wisconsin was the biggest culture and climate shock I have ever had. I would have frozen to death walking to school on the first day had Ryan not pulled over in his black Chevy truck and offered me a ride. After half a dozen rounds of 20 Questions over the next week, we became friends for life.
And for death.
You see, Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia in 2006. The doctors thought it was amazing that he had held out as long as he had. Apparently, Ryan's body rejected most of the treatment. I honestly couldn't have guessed that the bright, blue eyed boy who drove me to school the first day was sick.
Not just sick, dying.
Ryan was dying.
That's why, on October 22, 2009, I'm sitting in a waiting room as the nurses check up on him. He told me about his condition six months after we met when he did show up at school for two weeks. At first I was afraid about his unavoidable death, but the serenity he had on his face was enough to soothe away my worry.
Then I found the list.
It was Ryan's Bucket List. A list of everything he wanted to do before he died. When I first saw it, there were fifty things on the list, five already marked off. With my help and a hefty inheritance from my deceased aunt, we managed to check off everything else on the list. Except for one thing.
The one thing Ryan wouldn't tell me about.
He told me he added in on New Year's Eve in 2008. Ten months before he was hospitalized. The doctors thought this would be his last visit.
And they didn't mean that in a good way.
"You can go in now." The nurse's kind words startle me out of my trip down memory lane.
"Thanks," I say as I pass by her and enter Ryan's room. Room 116. It was the room requested by Ryan and when asked why he wanted such a particular room, he said the numbers stood for January 16th... the day we first met.
"Hey Ryan," I whisper as I slip into the seat pulled close his bed. His once athletic body is now frail and white. His brown hair is matted to his forehead and his blue eyes grow duller by the day. I'm losing him and can't find a way to make it stop.
"My little Livvie," he says through a dry throat and chapped lips. I slip him a couple ice chips until he can talk more normally.
"I guess this is it," he tries to say with humor in his voice, but I'm not buying it.
"Not yet," I manage to say without crying, "we still have one last thing on your list we need to complete and you're not going anywhere until we do." He tried to laugh, but it came out sounding more like a wheeze than anything.
"Large and in charge, just the way I love you," he says, moving his hand as much as he can until I got the point and took his in mine.
"I love you too," I whisper as I place a kiss on his cold fingers. The life was leaving him so quickly. It wasn't something solid you could hold onto, it was more like sand; the harder you held the more slipped through your fingers. I couldn't let him go, but at the same time, I couldn't hold onto him.
"The last thing," I prompt gently and his eyes close, mouth turning up at the corners for a moment.
"I wanted a kiss from the most beautiful girl in the world," he finally says and I laughed.
"Let me call Yvonne and her cousins. I'm sure we can get them here in time. You can pick who is the prettiest." Yvonne came from a family of supermodels and her six cousins were either models of actresses. Ryan used too much energy just shaking his head.
"The most beautiful girl is the girl I'm in love with," he continues on and stroke the side of his face.
"I'll call Sylvia if you want," I say, remembering his old girlfriend. Ryan's eyes flicker open and fix on me.
"The girl I want is you." I'm thankful I wasn't the one hooked up to the heart monitor or else mine would have jumped through the roof.
"That's what you want then, a kiss from me?" I confirm. Ryan nods his head slowly before squeezing my hand as tight as he can.
"I added it to the list," he explains, "after New Year's Eve. I wanted to kiss you then, but you were too busy with Travis." Travis. My ex who I had thought genuinely cared for me.
"So I decided," he continues, "to wait until next year to kiss you. A kiss from you on New Year's Eve is what I wanted." He pauses, a long and lengthy one. "I guess I won't be getting that."
"Just wait," I whisper as I stand up, "I'll be right back. You just wait." I pull my hand away from his before dashing out of the room. I don't know how long I have, so I have to be quick. Pulling out my cellphone, I abandon the rule of not using them in the hospital and quickly hit the first speed dial I have.
"Karen!" I exclaim as my friend picks up, "I need you to get to the hospital and fast. Bring the New Year's Eve box I left in your basement. And hurry!" Karen was a notoriously fast drive and ten minutes later she was standing before me with a box filled with gold, silver, and glitter.
"Quick," I say as I pull her towards Ryan's room, grabbing two nurses as I do. When we enter, Ryan's eyes are closed and he's breathing evenly. Quickly and quietly we transform the room into a New Year's Eve party room. It's not too difficult seeing how Karen likes things to be simple and everything could be set up in less than five minutes.
"Thank you," I whisper as I hug Karen goodbye and smile at the nurses who return to their duties. Karen holds me tightly and kisses my head.
"Tell him hi for me," she whispers and I nod.
"I will." She pulls back and examines me closely before taking down my hair and putting on a flashy silver tiara.
"Much better," she states proudly before disappearing down the hall. I quickly shut the door and return to Ryan's side as I press play on the remote control. Voices fill the room and Ryan's eyes flicker open at the intrusive sound and take in the decorated hospital room before coming to rest on me.
"If a kiss from me on New Year's Eve is what you want," I state, "that's exactly what you'll get." Ryan smiled up at me as largely as he could, but I knew it sapped energy from him.
"Karen says hi," I say as I scoot onto the bed with him. His hand finds mine and we watch the video from last year's party.
There are clips of Ryan and me doing commentary on the party, clips of participating in karaoke, and clips of us standing under the mistletoe and being cheered on for a kiss. Instead, Ryan opted for kissing my forehead.
"You should have kissed me then," I whisper and look over at him.
"It wouldn't have cured me," he replies sadly, eyes locked with mine. In the background, the crowd is counting down on the video screen and I smile at Ryan.
"Happy New Year," I whisper as a cheer erupts on the camera.
We aren't in the hospital anymore. No, we're surrounded by friends and family at Karen's amazing party with streamers and balloons falling down around us. Music is playing in the background, sparklers are being lit, and fireworks are exploding above the bay. And in the midst of all this chaos Ryan finds me, dressed in a deep blue dress he says brings out the color in my eyes. And he kisses me, in the middle of the room for the whole world to see. We couldn't be happier.
It's a flatline that pulls me from the dream. My head falls against his chest as I allow the memory of his lips on mine to carry me to sleep. I don't mind if he's gone. I can't move. I won't move. I can't let go of him.
Even if he's already gone.