She holds my hand. It's tighter than usual - tighter than that time when I accompanied her to ride a roller coaster for the first time; than when she accepted my proposal and cried and shook; than when she gave birth to our first baby girl and I was so thankful I wasn't the one pregnant, and even more thankful that everything went well; tighter than that time when the doctor told us I only had two years to live.
She's crying now, but I could see that she was trying to stop herself.
Oh Hon, I want to say. Just let it out. Don't restrain yourself any longer for me. But it's hard, when a tube is stuck to your throat to help you breath, your hands too weak to reach for the paper and pen beside your bed. For the past three weeks they tried to help. And for the past three weeks I didn't mind that I couldn't talk, because I saw in your eyes that you knew me, and you always understood. We didn't need words.
But today your eyes are clouded in tears. Maybe you can't see me. Panic rose in me. I've never remembered a time in our lives when we didn't communicate perfectly. People used to tease us that we were too happy of a couple. We couldn't possibly exist.
I guess they were right. We couldn't be perfect. Misfortune knocked on our door after some time.
Someone suddenly squeezes my left hand. I look to the side. It's her - my perfect, successful, twenty-seven-year old princess. She's trying not to cry too, and unlike her mother, she was succeeding. She didn't want to make this any harder for me. That's my princess, always considerate of other people.
I plead to her with my eyes and she understands. She lets go of me and goes to her mother.
"Mom, take it easy. It can't be good for the baby."
She wipes her mother's tears. "You're right sweetheart." My Love tries to smile. "You're right. Besides, I'm making your father upset, aren't I?" She wipes my forehead - as if I still had the energy to sweat.
She takes my hand and puts it on her stomach. It's large now - due next month actually. It's a shame I won't be there for the kid. I remember the doctor telling us during our annual check-up. Nina's cycle was highly irregular, so we didn't notice anything special. It was also the reason why she didn't conceive after our first-born. Now we have an eight-month old baby waiting to see the world - a fatherless world.
But he'd be alright. Tiana would take care of her mother and her little brother. She'd never leave them alone. George, her fiance, would always take care of her too. He spent years asking for her hand in marriage from me. I don't regret denying him at first. They were too young, still are actually. But he was a nice kid. He'd be a good father, and a brother.
The door opens. Ah, there he is. He hugs Tiana and checks up on Nina. Last, he looks at me. I was supposed to be his father-in-law by now if things worked out alright. But when he and Tiana knew about my condition, they decided to postpone the wedding plans and prepared for however my disease might progress. "We want to give you our one hundred percent, Pop," the kid said. I tried to refuse but he wouldn't budge. I gained another child in him.
Three beautiful children and a perfect wife. I don't lack anything. It's a wonderful life.
My throat hurts. I cough a little and everyone panics. It subsides just a little bit and I assure everyone that I'm alright.
The doctor comes in. He talks to George and Tiana.
Nina comes back to me and holds my hand again - gentler this time. She's still crying, but in between her sobs and the tears building up in my eyes, it manages to come back - the understanding. I'm glad. In my last few moments she'll still hear my professions of love, and I'll still be able to close my eyes with her looking at me. I never got used to sleeping after her.
In these seconds I wonder if I made the right choice. I didn't want to burden them, so of course I'd choose this path. But what if I'm escaping? I'm trying to escape hardships and their sadness. I'm leaving them to fend off for themselves.
"Because we're alright. We'll be alright." She smiles.
She sighs. "Okay, I am. I love you so much and of course I'll be in pieces when you leave. But I've got a new little boy now. And even if I can't, I have to put myself together for our little man. You've never been selfish a day in your life, Peter. And now's the time to be. It's alright."
She's not crying anymore now. She always gets that adorable crease between her brows when she lectures me. She can't do anything else then. "I'm not saying that what you're doing is wrong, or even remotely selfish, but I know that it's what you think, and honestly? I don't care about that." She holds my cheek. "If what you're doing now is really selfish, then go ahead. You have the right to be. It's alright not to want to wither away in tubes and mechanical breathing. You've taken care of us these past few years so well. We'll be alright. Okay?"
I try to nod.
"And by the end of all of this, I'll follow you. Wherever you go, to heaven, to another cycle of life, or even to oblivion, I'll follow you there. I'll go with you to the depths of nothingness, and be nothing together with you."
The tears are falling now.
She holds my hand throughout the process. The doctors are killing the machines one by one. I have a few minutes left after they shut everything off, then my organs will slowly shut down. They gave me something that makes the pain dull, almost non-existent.
When everything is done and my daughter cries in my son's arms, Nina is there - standing brave. She leans forward, and touches her lips to mine.
"Give me this, a last kiss that..." She starts. I could always continue.
"A kiss to last a lifetime." I smile.
And then the curtains fall.
*Yes. It's a stolen title.