Wow, it's been years since I last posted anything on this site. I didn't think I would ever find the time again but it's nice to know I can still enjoy writing.
This idea has been in my head for a long time. I seem to find inspiration around this time of year and I finally channeled some energy to write this story. It ended up being much longer than originally planned and I considered getting rid of pieces to cut the length. But now I think I should leave it as is. Hopefully the story still flows the way I wanted it to.
This is a one shot, from Tyler's POV, in the style of my other story, "On this Autumn Morning". This is a one shot. I suppose it's post-movie but the Chace plot line isn't really important.
- I Will -
I will always remember the day we met. You were a freshman at Spencer, I was a returning junior. You dominated the women's swim tryouts, out racing more than half of the varsity members and even broke some of the men's scores. The coaches were shocked but most of the other students were angry and jealous that a freshman was getting so much attention.
What I didn't know is that you stayed late that night, even after tryouts, to watch the men's varsity practice. I didn't know that you were watching me in particular. I didn't know you even knew my name. But you told me later that your crush on me started that night, you were sore and exhausted, nervous but excited. I was stuck up in my own world, winning all of my heats and goofing off with my friends.
It wasn't until several days later that I actually spoke to you. You were in the school gym, lifting weights for strength training. You approached me, "You're Tyler Simms," you told me, and I replied with something midway between sarcastic and polite. I thought you were pretty but when you asked me to spot you I thought you were weird. Most of the female athletes never lifted weights; that was how the guys trained. But you were different; I just hadn't learned that yet.
You settled back on the bench and asked me to add more weight to the bar. I protested but you insisted. When the weights were set I stood back, taking position in case the bar fell; I was sure it would. "You will not be able to handle this," I told you, using a light tone to avoid sounding rude.
But you only laughed, taking my words as a challenge, "Trust me," you said, "I will".
I didn't know the significance of that day, the day we first spoke, until many years later. Now, as I stand before the window, rubbing the wedding ring on my finger with my other hand, I wish I had marked that date on a calendar. It could have been a silly holiday for us, another anniversary to celebrate secretly and intimately over the years. But I didn't know then how cruel time could be, how important those random dates seem to us now.
For the past year, time has been more valuable to me than ever before. I was never intrigued by immortality, and being blessed with superb health and financial security meant that I was free to go about life at my own pace. And that's what we did, for a long time.
Until you felt the lump in your breast. It's just a valve, they told us at first, insisting it was a result of years of breast feeding and common among older women. I remember you scoffing at the term "older women" knowing full well that you could outrun and out swim many of our children's friends.
But then this "valve" got bigger and painful for you. And we unknowingly entered a race with time. The doctors were constantly talking about moving quickly, trying to catch the cancer before it spread. There were so many tests and biopsies and transfusions. We were always racing against time to remove the cancerous cells, and then waiting to see if the medication had worked. It was infuriating.
Then there was all the time we spent driving to and from appointments. The meetings with one specialist or another. All the time we passed discussing our options. All the time spent in waiting rooms, watching information videos, and going to meet with past survivors.
Then there was the time we spent hiding it from our children. Knowing that our oldest was about to have his first child and that our youngest had only recently graduated college and was set to embark on a backpack trip through Europe. It couldn't have come at a worse time for them, so we decided not to tell them, hiding the truth and lying about doctors' visits for months. They'll forgive you, I told you. And they will.
But even though we sprinted against the clock for as long as we possibly could, time outran both of us during this unexpected race.
I turn to look at you and you are so pale, lying against the ugly, starchy sheets. Your frail hands rest on your chest which rises irregularly, even with the breathing apparatus. I can see the bones through your skin, the discolored patches appearing like blight on shriveled fruit. The nurses have covered you in an extra blanket but thankfully, your room is warm, despite the January chill.
Winter was your favorite season. You said you loved the snow so much because it was always pure white just as it fell. But as the last flakes of January fall outside the window I'm eerily aware of how close the snow-white color resembles your skin.
I swallow. My eyes are wetter than my throat, which is dry with shock. Seeing you so helpless, so close to the edge is more than I can tolerate. That's why I came here, one last time, to do what I need to do.
The nurse comes in every now and then, checking vitals that never change and refilling IV bags. I know I have to wait till the night shift, when the visits will be less frequent. So I busy myself by replaying the highlights of our life together.
I remember the first time I saw you win a competition. It was the second meet of the season, the coaches put you on the roster because the rest of the team was weak in this stroke. You weren't supposed to win; you weren't even supposed to do well – the other school's top racer held the state record. Like always, the girls' heats were first, so most of the guys were still in the locker room but I went to the pool. After running into you several times in the gym and spotting your weights I was curious to see how you would perform.
You were the first off the platform, the first to the wall at the turn, and the first to touch after the final lap. You rose, pulling your goggles off and searching for the clock. When you saw your name in first place, coupled with the screams of your teammates on the podium, you took a deep breath and sank beneath the surface. It was an odd action for someone who had just won a race, and I remember wondering if you had passed out. But you resurfaced, pulling off your cap and grabbing the outstretched arm of a teammate who pulled you out of the pool. You had the biggest smile on your face – bright eyes, full lips, dimpled cheeks, and pure joy.
I was caught off guard by the beauty in your face. Usually, after I won a race, I was relieved. There was always so much pressure to perform well. Coaches, parents, teammates, faculty, and my friends were always pushing me to win and win every single time. You looked like you didn't have a care in the world. I was envious of your genuine happiness.
But then you pulled away from the group hug on the platform, that smile still on your face, and locked eyes with me, sitting on a bench across the pool. You sent me a hard stare and lifted your head a bit, as if to say, "Told you". And I smiled, too.
I asked you out that night.
A nurse knocks on the door and comes in to change an IV bag. She asks if I will be spending the night, and her question interrupts my memory of our first date. I tell her that I plan on staying and she offers to wheel in a cot, but I assure her that the chair will be fine. After she leaves I sit down next to your bed.
I touch your hand. It is cold, so I wrapped your fingers tightly in my grasp. Your wedding ring slides loosely around your finger, evidence of the weight you've lost since this ordeal began. You joked about how you weigh less now than you did in high school, a fact that I found alarming but you refused to be upset about.
Your body had always been important to you; it was the medium through which you expressed your athletic talents. You trained harder than any person I knew, never ate junk food, and followed yoga religiously. That is how I know the sickness was especially devastating for you. The cancer and the chemo combined to destroy the perfect health you had spent decades building as your body attacked itself from the inside.
Another nurse comes in to tell me that your hair was washed this morning. She rattles on about cleanliness and the hospital's impeccable record but I'm not listening. I am trying desperately to remember the last time I washed your hair. Before more than half of it fell out. Before you got so weak that you couldn't stand in the shower. You used to love it when I massaged your scalp, running my fingers through your hair and rinsing out the lather. I reach out to finger the few limp, gray strands loosely attached above your ear.
Despite my sadness I smile as I recall the first time I stroked your wet hair. It was a rainy autumn day, late in swim season. We'd just come inside from the parking lot, back from a late date and a make-out session in my car that lasted so long the windows fogged. We were both soaked and cold.
You held my hand, guiding me across campus and I remember being sure that you were taking me to your dorm. I was excited, but also nervous – a feeling I thought I'd outgrown when it came to girls. Mentally I wondered if I had any condoms when you pulled my hand in the opposite direction of the resident halls and towards the athletic complex.
I was shocked when you used a hair clip to pick open the lock on the door to the practice pool. Then you led me to the platform and turned away to stare at the pool, a look of deep thought on your face. Then you took off your jacket and folded it on a bench. I did the same, unsure of your plans.
You walked around to the opposite side of the pool, leaving me standing alone. You placed your toes on the very edge and I did the same. You were too far away for me to see clearly, but your voice rang out when you spoke.
"Watch my reflection," you directed, gesturing to the blurry image on the surface of the still water. I watched as your arms lifted your shirt over your head. After a moment, I mirrored your action. Then you bent, very slowly, to peel your wet jeans off your legs. I swallowed but managed to fumble out of my pants as well. We stood for a short while, each starring at each other's bodies as reflected in the water. You were gorgeous but the water made you look ethereal, like a magical being floating just beneath the surface.
Then I stared as your arms reached behind your back to unclip your bra, and you bent to slide your panties down your hips. I reacted quickly, stripping off my last layer of clothing, anxious to look up and finally see all of you. But before I could kick off my boxers I heard a splash and saw a shape move effortlessly under the water, down the lane.
I dove in quickly, enjoying the pool's warm water after our walk in the rain. We swam to the center, each surfacing to meet one another face to face. Then I kissed you, unable to stop myself, and you let me pull your body against mine as I treaded water to keep us both afloat. We swam around the pool, stopping intermittently to explore new curves and angles.
It made perfect sense to me – that you would choose to have our most vulnerable interaction take place in the space where you felt the most powerful, the place where we had met. I barely remember swimming that day, although I know we did a lot of it. Back and forth, back and forth. But for most of the evening I felt weightless, automatically floating as I followed you around the pool.
After a while we lodged ourselves in a corner, bringing our bodies closer than they'd ever been. Afterwards, with your legs still wrapped around me, my fingers running through your hair, you looked up and said, "Tyler, will you take me to the Winter Dance?"
I almost laughed because a high school dance seemed so trivial in comparison to the intense feelings I had developed for you. But I leaned in to kiss you, whispering in your ear as droplets dripped down from nose, "Of course I will," and brought my wet lips to yours.
Now your lips are cracked, dry from the hospital air and covered by the tape used to secure your breathing tube. No one tells you how awful it is to look at a loved one when they have just come out of surgery. Especially when you know they may never wake up.
What is more awful is knowing that the surgery was for nothing. Forty minutes was all it took for them to cut open your chest, see that the cancer had spread too far, and close you back up again. There was nothing more to do, they said. That was two days ago.
So they gave you morphine, drugged you into oblivion and sent you into your final few hours of slumber. Now as the clock ticks by, you sleep peacefully in bliss. The machines beep, your heartbeat slowing ever so slightly each time.
I've called our family. The kids are all traveling from their respective locations. Your parents are flying in tomorrow and I've called each of my brothers, struggling to stay rational as I tell them about your decline. Without any prodding from me you had developed a close relationship with all of them. Even when we were still in high school you intentionally befriended them, knowing how important they were to me.
I recall the day you pledged your loyalty. We were walking along the beach, at the end of summer. I was about to leave for my first year of college and you were quiet, noticing my distractedness and worrying that I was about to break up with you. In reality I was nervous about our imminent conversation.
Finally you stopped in front of me, held my hands and said, "What's wrong?"
I chewed my lip, mulling it over one last time before wrapping you in a hug. "If I tell you a secret, will you promise never to tell anyone, ever?"
You pulled away just enough to look me in the eyes, assuring me that you would never betray my trust, "I will," you said, "I promise."
And that day I told you about the Covenant. I loved you for not treating me differently, for not being afraid when I said a simple spell and pulled you under the surf, swimming underwater for much longer than humanly possibly as we explored the coast line.
Now I lower your bed rail and perch beside you, careful not to disrupt the wires or the tubes. I use to open the window, just a crack, letting in a gust of fresh air. The curtain hanging around your bed blows slightly, the white fabric is like gossamer, crinkly but light.
I close my eyes and remember giant white mountains, capped in snow. We're standing in the driveway of Pogue's winter cabin, far up north in Franconia. It's was the first weekend I had off since I started my new job, an intern at a Washington law firm. You were still waiting to finish two years of college and the distance was hard on us. You were in New York and I was in DC, although we commuted every other weekend.
I took your hand and pulled you gently towards the cabin. It was hard to tear you away from a good view but I couldn't wait to get my hands on you. Inside the fire was warm and the house smelled like pine. I laid you down on the giant leather sofa with the shearling blanket. We stayed there for hours, exploring each other's bodies after the lengthy absence.
The sun had set and our fire was low when we finally separated. We'd rolled onto the floor, wrapped in layers of flannel and shearling. I was facing the fireplace, staring at the glow of the coals. You wrapped your arms around my shoulder, twisting your legs back around mine. I turned to rise up on my elbow, looking down into your deep brown eyes. I had planned to wait until our midnight hike up the mountain but I couldn't wait any longer.
I cupped your cheek in my free hand, lowering my lips so they hovered above yours and whispered, "Catelyn, will you marry me?"
I didn't see it, but I felt the smile creep onto your lips, growing bigger and bigger until you pulled my face up to look me straight in the eyes. "Yes," you said clearly, "I will".
That night we started our own covenant, and in my head it would last forever. The memory is sharp and clear in my mind. I can still feel everything from the heat of the fire to the softness of your skin to the roughness of the wooden floor below my knees when I presented your ring. But the feeling of invincibility and the infinite hope of youth is gone from my mind now.
I am only forty-five. I was supposed to grow old with you. We were supposed to have grandchildren and retirement parties and golden dishes for our fiftieth anniversary. Our time is not over, we are merely approaching a new chapter.
A small wave of anger rushes up to meet me but I am too tired to be roused. I am tired of fighting, and looking at your face, blank with sleep, I know you are tired, too.
You've been treading water for so long, struggling to stay afloat in this rough swell. Despite all the obstacles that you've faced over the past six months, you've still managed to teach me one last skill. Your determination, your will to live, has taught me how to reach a new level of selflessness. In the past you've taught me confidence, encouraging me to break free of the role my friends had cast me in. You showed me how to acknowledge my privileged lifestyle, and how to share its benefits with others. Most importantly, you taught me how to find joy in my life instead of just of battling for little victories. You made me a better person than I ever thought I would become.
That is why I made this decision. I stopped at the old colony house on the way to the hospital and found the book. I left a vague voicemail on Reid's cellphone, knowing that he was planning to arrive before the others, early tomorrow morning. It would take him a while to realize the meaning of my message. And then he would come quickly, regardless. Like you once told me, his was the only loyalty you would never dare try to outrun.
So now, I lie with you one last time, leaning my head against your shoulder. I slowly slip my wedding ring off my finger and slide it onto yours, where it is too big but where I know you will find it. I let my lips brush ever so softly against yours and try to remember them as warm, lush, and full. Then I close my eyes, turning my irises black and silently whisper the words I've memorized, the strange Latin phrases.
Finally, I squeeze your hand, relax my mind and break all the rules as I say out loud, "I will…" deep breath, "I will you my life."
In my last moments of consciousness the sound of your heart monitor grows stronger, the pulse more regular as my power flows from me into you, my life force leaving my body and healing yours.
I will be with you forever and for always.
I kept the last line cheezy as an homage to my teenage self.
I hope you enjoyed it.