Hold Your Breath and You’ll Hear the Devil (Part 3)

For a friend who has been waiting a few years for this. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, click away!

She is 26. I am 28.

We listen to the doctor, but not really. It’s too much. Too. Fast. Her hand is squeezing mine so hard the tips of our fingers are violently purple. But then, she relaxes. She turns to me and silently says, “I will beat this.”

Her green eyes are narrowed – not in fear, but in reckless confidence. She is gorgeous, stunningly so.

She is 25. I am 27.

I find her sitting on the bathroom tiles with her back pressed against the light blue wallpaper. I drop to my knees and lift her head as silky strands of brown hair cascade over her shoulders and partially obscure her face.

I brush them aside and notice a thin, quivering line of dried blood at the corner of her mouth.

She is 22. I am 24.

We sit across from each other and I watch her eat, laugh, and talk. Her petite nose twitches in rhythm with her mouth. It’s hypnotizing. Before I know what’s happening, I lean over and kiss her, only I mess the timing up and her mouth is partially open. I wince and she blushes.

Then she leans in with closed eyes and a tantalizing smile. And this time it’s just right.

After returning home from college with a journalism degree, I decided a long vacation was in order. I recruited some of my friends to join me and we ultimately decided on Las Vegas; it was June so we expected good weather and bad girls.

We departed from O’Hare International Airport (in Chicago, for you knuckleheads) and the highlight of my flight was a girl who ended up sitting next to me. Although, if I’m being completely honest, I never said a word to her the whole time. That’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re sitting next to somebody who can make you care less about all the girls in the world, even the ones in Sin City.

As the saying goes, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but I wanted this girl to be with me until the end of time itself.

Even as I was being a huge chicken, I think she noticed me staring at her like a creep every five or ten minutes. She could see me in her peripheral vision – just an awkward dude peering at her a little too intensely in short bursts. Indeed, when the plane landed in McCarran International, she looked right at me and said, “So?”

Oh crap. I looked at her forehead, deliberately avoiding her eyes, and innocently asked, “Huh?”

To my immense relief, she smiled and said, “So are you going to ask me out?”

Guys, forget about asking her out – I almost passed out. I smiled back, desperately pleading with God to make sure there was nothing stuck between my teeth. I eagerly said, “Why, I think I will!”

“Good!”

We exchanged names, contact information, and were about to go our separate ways when I said, “Why don’t we do something now?”

She frowned – which made my heart skip a series of beats no big deal – and said, “I should probably look a little better than this for a date.”

I shook my head and this time I looked right into her sublime eyes and said, “No. You look absolutely amazing. And besides, it would just be pretty casual. Or something. Maybe we could grab a bite to eat?”

“Aw, that’s really adorable. Okay, if you really think I look fine, we can totally get something to eat.”

Meanwhile, my buddies were snickering in the back like a bunch of goons. I turned to them and introduced her with a dramatic bow. She blushed as I said, “You guys go do your thing. My plans have changed.”

Then they weren’t so silly. After all, we had been planning for this to be the most exciting week of our lives; we were even making bets to see who would end up committing the most felonies in seven days. This was a pretty lame thing for me to do, I admit, but I wanted to spend every second with her. What could I say?

She could tell they weren’t too happy. I glared at them and said, “Why don’t we all go out to eat? Should be fun, right?”

And just like that, everybody was happy again.

So we eventually found our way to a restaurant. And that’s where I kissed her for the first time.

I messed up a little on the first kiss, which of course made my friends howl with amusement. She took it all in stride though and our second kiss was relatively uneventful, apart from all the other diners looking at our table with the type of facial expression that says, “I’m here, in the same general area as those people, but in no way am I related to them except through the most tenuous connection of being human.”

 Allen Iverson bounced violently off the dribble and launched a fadeaway.

Swish.

Game over.

“Are you sure this is your first time playing a video game?”

I couldn’t believe it. She had beaten me. I mean it was just barely, but still! She shrugged and said, “Yeah, I mean it’s pretty easy.”

That shrug… I asked, “Did you just do the Jordan Shrug on me?”

She laughed and shrugged again.

It had been a few years since we’d been together. She moved in with me and immediately found the tree in the front lawn to be quite the delight. Now, instead of my brother, it was her that sat with me on the porch.

Sometimes we would sit out there and talk about anything and everything. I remember one conversation we had that revolved entirely around the concept of Lego bricks for an adult audience.

I don’t remember exactly what was said, but we basically concluded that movies like American Psycho and Saving Private Ryan should definitely get their own Lego sets. I mean, can you imagine a massive Lego version of D-Day? People might actually care about history if that happened.

Other days we wouldn’t say much. We would just hold hands and drink sweet tea, the Southern kind where there’s so much sugar you think your teeth will directly contact the dentist and make an appointment.

On one of those quiet days, I proposed to her. I wasn’t even nervous – I knew she would accept. And she did!

She was pretty emotional, obviously, and ran off to tell everyone in the world the good news.

After a few months of planning like maniacs, we finally had our glorious wedding.

It was pretty small, although at that point in time, my writing career had taken off. She had her share of friends and family, as her work as a porn star was quite popular among a fairly young demographic.

Wait… my wife was a porn star!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Haha, I’m just busting your balls. Calm down.

If you think this Barrett guy is an asshole, please raise your hand.

Hey now. Don’t make me ruin the story.

Well isn’t it ruined already? I mean, we all know my wife dies. How could you do that to me!?

I don’t know. It’s dramatic. It’s not like she was a real person. This is all fiction, remember?

So you’re saying I’m fake? I’m nothing to you?

Yep. Now back to the story we go.

No… must resist…

Anyway… she was really involved in nanotechnology. Yep, she was smart and beautiful. Oh man, I miss her so much.

Our wedding was pretty great, which seems to be a fairly common theme. Weddings are usually dreams come true, or complete nightmares. I can only thank the weather gods for making the night sky look absolutely sensational.

But nobody wants to hear about weddings – they’re all the same, really.

My wife’s work involved a fair amount of secrecy, which was the only tough part of our relationship. As a writer – and a naturally curious person – it almost literally made my nose bleed to have to refrain from peppering her with work-related questions. All I knew was that it didn’t involve military and it didn’t involve anything sketchy.

According to her, it was simply a matter of staying ahead of other nanotechnology companies. And you know what? She was telling the truth.

When she died, the company revealed everything to me. All they requested was that I sign some waivers saying I would never reveal the information I learned. Now that I’m dead, I guess it’s okay.

Basically, she was involved in a microscopic version of Transformers, in that the company was involved in the creation of nanobots that could interact with each other to create larger formations with more capabilities. I don’t even know if that’s the right analogy. But look: for example, trillions of nanobots could theoretically work together in a disaster (like a hurricane) to rescue people and do other important tasks.

It was amazing work. That meant swarming nanobots could temporarily form into the shape of a raft, transport people, then turn into a shelter and keep them out of danger. The most optimistic researchers believed they could make edible nanobots, increasing digestive efficiency and performing medical tests at the same time.

The work involved risk, however, and it mainly had to do with the process of working with many tiny little particles and new energy. Honestly, I couldn’t understand everything the company gave me, but basically she got some type of rare disease that messed up her lymphatic and cardiovascular system.

The learning process began when I found her on the bathroom floor. She wasn’t really unconscious; I would say she was just sleeping deeply from exhaustion. Either way, it was truly disconcerting and that sensation was only exponentially heightened when I saw the blood on her face.

She woke up before I could call an ambulance. In fact, she got up and waved me off like it was nothing. Surprise, I got pretty pissed. I said, “You might want to tell me about that blood.”

I guess she didn’t know it was there, because she got all flushed and stammered, “Blood?”

“Yeah, it’s that red stuff that’s really important for that ‘living’ thing. And you’ve got some on your face.”

My sarcasm was not appreciated, as she said, “Don’t be a jerk.”

Duly noted.

Then she smiled and said, “I’m sick. But I’ll be okay.”

Yeah, that didn’t convince me. In fact, I said, “Yeah, that doesn’t convince me.”

After almost two hours of relentless begging, she finally agreed to see a doctor. And then almost a year passed. I’m still not sure what happened, but it basically boiled down to her being at work all the time. I never had a chance to get her to the hospital earlier, and I was certainly not going to pursue her like Liam Neeson for that. I respected her too much.

Maybe that was my mistake.

So we finally went to the doctor. Her tests took forever to come back – I ordered every test possible.

And, as you already know, she had some kind of lymphatic/cardiovascular disease. Her outcome was not good: approximately 6 months.

Suddenly, our relationship had a time limit.

She was confident she would beat it, which made me feel confident too. Not that I wasn’t confident or anything. I mean, she was so perfect I thought for sure she would eventually stop traffic one day like Mitch McDeere’s wife in The Firm.

But, since this was real life, that never really happened. Although I did catch guys giving her “The Look” – you know, the one where you see their facial expression and just know filthy things are going on in their heads.

The fight began, or continued, and she made it to about 5 months. Then she went into the hospital full-time. She died just before hitting the doctor’s prediction: 5 months, 25 days.

In the end, I couldn’t help but think of Scrubs. There’s this scene in one of the later seasons where Dr. Cox is sick of hearing JD worry whether he’ll be a good dad or not. JD keeps blabbering about certain statistics and Dr. Cox finally stops him short and basically says, “Fuck statistics. They mean nothing to the individual. You’re either going to be a good parent, or you’re not.”

Then he implies JD might be a good dad, which of course causes JD to almost ejaculate from pleasure.

Gross.

But that’s what I thought when she died. In the end, she was going to make it, or she wasn’t. And she didn’t make it.

Right before she died, she told me, “See you on the other side.”

Then I kissed her one last time, ending a sequence of thousands of kisses that all started in a Las Vegas restaurant. At her funeral, I recited a little poem, even though I always believed poems sucked. She didn’t like them either, but I knew she would be laughing wherever she was seeing the reading from.

In fact, I tried to make it as pretentious as possible, just for her:

Thy dagger hast not an edge,

Nor doth a point,

For when it t’was a’fixed into mine chest,

I found no pain – forsooth!

But joyous aggravation in the bright shining light of thy love,

Beseech the treachery transfixed unto mine eyes,

Could it be, dear Holy Trinity, that thy divinity has been bested,

Mere mortals dare to arrogance upon thee collective formulations,

Forsooth!

She probably ruptured a spleen from laughing so hard. The people at the funeral were less sure how to react – until my step-dad burst out laughing. While he was crying. Always a strange sight to see.

You know, now that I think about it, I’m curious where she is right now. If I’m in Hell, surely she’s in Heaven.

I look up from the laptop. Is she in Hell too?

I look down.

TED_PHOENIX: There is no Heaven. There is only Hell. Nobody is perfect enough to deserve a Heaven. Everybody has done something wrong.

ME: Well that hardly seems fair to certain groups of people. Are you saying if I stole candy as a child and did nothing wrong for the rest of my life, I would still come here?

TED_PHOENIX: Well, yeah. You would. And the concept of wrong is subjective anyway. So everybody just comes here.

ME: Does that mean I can see her?

TED_PHOENIX: Of course not, you moron.

ME: Fuck you, Ted. Who the fuck do you think you are? I’ve just about had it with this shit.

TED_PHOENIX: Tread lightly.

I throw the laptop at the wall but it disappears just before making contact. I glare at the spot it was supposed to hit, waiting for something, anything.

There is only silence.

Part 4 is here!

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