Lucas shifted somewhat uncomfortably in his seat and watched as Melanie smiled up at the young woman who stood before them.
“Thank you for everything, Stephanie.” His wife said warmly. “We really appreciate it.”
“My pleasure.” The young woman smiled softly. “Just remember to take it slow, like I showed you. Especially the stairs.” Her eyes shifted toward Lucas. “And Lucas, if you need any help or have any questions you can call me any time, okay?”
Lucas nodded, unsmiling. “Sure.” He said weakly, and found himself unable to meet her gaze.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see her smile falter slightly, but she said nothing and simply turned her attention back to Mel. “See you next week.” Stephanie said kindly, and with a small wave, headed for the door.
“I like her.” Melanie smiled widely and turned to face her husband as soon as the young woman was out of earshot. “She’s a really sweet girl, I can tell.”
His wife was looking at him expectantly, and Lucas realized she was waiting for some sort of reply. “Yeah.” He said finally, his voice flat. “I guess.”
There was a flash of concern in Mel’s eyes for a moment, but she kept her smile. “And she was really helpful, don’t you think?” She continued. “Which is good, because I’ll be needing my strength for this weekend… I can’t believe Sam and Laura are flying all the way out here to visit.” Her smile widened. “I can barely remember the last time we saw them in person, can you? Monte Vista must be amazing…” Mel shook her head. “I mean, I know they’ve sent us all those pictures, but I bet they don’t really—”
“Stop.” Lucas interrupted abruptly, his hands clenched at his sides. “Just stop. Okay?”
He watched through narrowed eyes as the smile vanished from her face. “Honey, what’s wrong?” Mel asked nervously.
“What’s wrong?” Lucas repeated incredulously. “Mel, listen to yourself! Jesus…” He shook his head, trying unsuccessfully to calm down.
Melanie reached for his shoulder hesitantly. “What’s gotten into you?” She asked softly.
Her husband pulled away from her touch, rising to his feet quite suddenly. “How can you just sit there and pretend everything’s fine?!” He demanded. “We have hospice care visiting our house for Christ’s sake!” Lucas cried.
“I know…” Mel said quietly, her voice pained.
Lucas ignored her, his voice continuing to rise. “They had to teach me how to help you out of bed! How to walk you down the stairs!” He couldn’t remember the last time he felt so angry. “Pretty soon I’ll be carrying you! Hell, before long you won’t even be able to go down the stairs at all!” Lucas was practically screaming. “So you wanna know what’s wrong? You’re dying, Mel. And there’s nothing I can do about it.”
He fell silent then, hanging his head as a slight warmth crept down the side of his face. Lucas wiped away the tears with the back of his hand, breathing heavily as he tried to calm himself.
God damn it… He thought, ashamed as he realized just how much he’d lost control.
It had been a rough year. After Mel’s painful decision to let her disease run its course, Lucas had stood by her every step of the way. It had been a slow decline, and only recently had things started to really go downhill. The hospital had finally suggested at-home hospice care just a few weeks ago, and after much discussion, Lucas and Melanie agreed.
But after putting on a brave face for his wife for so long, Lucas was finally reaching the end of his rope. And seeing Mel remain so calm and unfazed in the face of what lay ahead was all it took to push him over the edge.
“Lucas…” Melanie rose to her feet with a bit of difficulty.
He bowed his head, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Mel. I… I don’t know what came over me.” Lucas shook his head slowly.
“I do.” His wife replied in a whisper, caressing his cheek gently with the back of her hand. “You don’t have to apologize.”
Lucas lifted his head, and tried his best to return her soft smile.
“Believe me,” Melanie continued, “I’m hurting too, Lucas. I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m terrified.” She confessed. “But I don’t want to spend whatever time I have left dwelling on it, or getting upset over something I can’t control.” Her shoulders shrugged slightly. “So I’ve learned to accept it… Because it’s like you said – there’s nothing we can do about it.” She finished sadly, though a slight smile lingered on her lips.
Lucas did not immediately reply as he furrowed his brow, lost in thought. Well, maybe there’s nothing we can do now… He realized. But maybe later…
“You’re wrong, Mel.” He said seriously. “There is something we can do. Or, I can do, at least…”
His wife eyed him curiously, but said nothing.
“I can bring you back!” Lucas explained. “We have what we need… I just need to figure out how to make it, and we’ll have the cure.” His bright green eyes lit up slightly as he spoke. “And then, I’ll use it to bring you back.”
Melanie simply shook her head. “And what about Evelyn?” She asked softly.
Lucas’ face fell. “I-I’ll bring you both back.” He replied, trying his best to sound confident. “There’s gotta be enough for two of you.”
“And what if there isn’t? What if you had to choose?”
He hesitated, just for a moment. “I’d choose you.” His voice was barely more than a whisper. “Evelyn would never forgive me for it, and I’d probably hate myself a little bit too…” He admitted. “But I know I’d hate myself even more if I didn’t bring you back. I can’t lose you, Mel. And maybe I don’t have to… Not for long, anyway.” Lucas shrugged.
His wife turned away, sitting back on the couch with a shake of her head. “You don’t mean that.” She insisted. “You have to do what’s right. And giving Evelyn her second chance, keeping your promise to her… That’s what’s right.”
Lucas fought his impulse to argue with her, and instead considered her words for a few moments. And the more he thought about them, the more unsure he became of what he should do. With a heavy sigh he took a seat beside her on the couch, saying nothing. He lowered his head into one of his hands as he fought back the hot sting of tears in his eyes.
“And besides, I don’t plan on staying behind anyway.” Mel continued gently. “I’m not happy about this, Lucas. Believe me…. But when my time comes, I think I’ll be ready.” She said simply. As she spoke, she slid closer to him and reached out, taking one of his hands between her palms.
“You gave me the most incredible life.” Melanie said sincerely. “I don’t know what I ever did to deserve you, Lucas. But whatever it was, I’m so happy I did it.”
She smiled gently at him as she spoke – that same beautiful smile that gave him butterflies the first night they met. The same smile that had taken his breath away day after day for the past fifty years.
“I love you, Mel.” He whispered, finding his voice at last. “More than anything.” Lucas tried to hold back more tears that now threatened to fall. “And… When you get wherever it is you’re going…” He took a breath. “Promise… That you’ll wait for me?” He said thickly.
Melanie said nothing and simply pulled him close, pressing her lips to his. Lucas wrapped his arms around her, sighing as her mouth moved slowly against his own.
He relished in the feeling, trying to memorize the taste of her lips, the heat of her breath, the sound of her sighs – every detail, every moment, everything about the beautiful, perfect woman he held in his arms…
Because soon, he realized, memories would be all he had left of her.