Author: An Inside Joke PM
The life story of a member of an alien speices that only has the lifespan of five years.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Sci-Fi - Chapters: 5 - Words: 11,799 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 12-21-07 - Published: 11-29-07 - Status: Complete - id: 2444468
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Billy knelt to lift his box, and grunted under its weight. Luckily, Brittany moved in to carry some of the weight, maneuvering herself so as to catch the box just before it collapsed to the ground.
"Oof," she groaned. "What've you got in here? Bricks? Rocks?"
"Books," Billy answered. At his mother's raised eyebrow, he added, "What college student doesn't need books?"
"Shut up and help me," Brittany moaned, and Billy obeyed, shouldering the box into place in the trunk. Finally, with a glad sigh his father closed the anterior door.
"All finished!" the man announced.
Her mother celebrated the pronouncement by snapping a blinding picture with her digital photograph. Billy tried to blink away the spots, and realized that he wasn't imagining the tear tracks that traced paths down Brittany's face.
"Hey?" he cried. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Brittany answered, but she betrayed herself by sobbing. "I'm going to miss you!" she cried.
"Hey, no," Billy protested, slipping his arms around her and kissing her cheek just in front of each ear. "Don't worry, sweetie. I'll be home so often, you won't even realize I've moved out."
Brittany managed a weak laugh, but argued, "No, you deserve to get away and make new friends. Thanksgiving will come soon enough."
"Come in for dinner," his father urged. Even as Brittany silently acquiesced by following the others inside, his father added, "It's the last time we'll eat together as a family in a long while."
Brittany and his father started toward the house, and Billy took a step to follow, but his mother touched his shoulder. "Don't you think there's someone else you should invite?" she asked.
Billy knew who she meant, but chose to play dumb. "No," he said. "Who?"
His mother didn't answer, but bopped her head in the direction of the neighbor's house. "Mom? No!" Billy cried. "I don't want her here."
"Billy, there's no need to yell," his mother scolded.
"I'm not yelling!" Billy yelled in response.
His mother affixed him with her best I'm-the-mom-so-do-what-I-say look, and in an almost placating tone said, "Listen. That poor old woman is very lonely, and you're one of the only people who consistently make her happy day in and day out. It won't hurt you to have her over for dinner one more evening."
"Fine," Billy muttered, hanging his head in shame. As his mother turned to go inside, Billy began his trudge to Ika's house.
Once he heard his front door swing shut, however, Billy froze. Nobody was watching him, probably, so no one would be hurt if he didn't actually ask. Barely daring to move, Billy counted to one hundred under his breath, then walked back toward his house.
As he returned, Billy wondered if Ika had seen him waiting out his family. If so, did she know what he'd been doing? Had her feelings been hurt when he'd failed to ask her over? IF so, it really wasn't any of her business.
When Billy came back inside, Brittany aggravatingly called, "That was quick."
Thinking of the best lie he could, Billy blurted, "I rang the doorbell, but she didn't answer. I don't know where she could be- maybe asleep. Old people like that go to bed really early, like at seven in the evening." Realizing that he was rambling, Billy mentally kicked himself in order to stop.
Nobody seemed to notice his lack of tact, though, so Billy gladly joined his family and his girlfriend for dinner.
When she awoke, Ika could feel the morning cool in her bones, and knew that even though autumn had only arrived recently, the day was going to be a cold one. She strode barefoot over a freezing floor into the bathroom, where she shook her head over how wrinkled her face looked, and ran a brush through her white hair.
After showering and dressing, make-up and a cup of steaming coffee, Ika strode out onto her front deck to fetch her morning paper. She heard her back pop as she bent over to fetch the paper, and steeled herself for the arthritic painful snap that was sure to follow when she straightened.
Some days, Ika felt as though she would live forever. After all, her mother had lived well past her expected lifespan, and had been just over six years old when she'd finally passed away the winter before.
Other days, though, particularly those like today, Ika could feel every one of her years. She'd felt nauseous when she'd awakened, and now her left arm tingled where she gripped the paper, as though the load was too heavy.
In some ways, the thought was a comfort, as Ika's life had become one monotonous parade of empty lonely day after day. She'd sit at her porch sometimes and watch children play, wondering why she'd never had any of her own. Sometimes, she'd see Billy and wonder what she'd done wrong to lose the love of her life.
Of course, he'd be gone soon. Billy and his family had packed up and would drive away later that day to drop Billy off at his distant college. Ika wasn't sure when he'd return, but she doubted she'd be alive to see it.
The thought made Ika's heart clutch in a physically painful way. She stumbled and brought her hand to her chest, astonished at the intensity of her own physical reaction.
Apparently, someone across the street saw her fall, and called out to ask if she was OK. Hating to appear so weak and old, Ika lifted her arm to wave him away, but the wave became a flail as the pain intensified.
Much as she hated it, Ika fell all the way to the ground, and everything went dark.
Billy wasn't sure why, as the old man wasn't usually the talkative type, but his father had been yakking on the phone for the past half hour. Anxiously waiting at his side, Billy watched as his father hung up, then the boy asked, "You ready to get going?"
"We might not head out right away," his father answered, and for the first time, Billy noticed his pale, grim expression. "We need to visit the hospital."
Horrified as he began to consider all the horrible things that could happen to his loved ones, Billy demanded, "Why? What happened?"
"It's Ika," his father said simply.
"Oh." Suddenly, Billy's fears dissipated. Ika had been living in that house of hers forever, or it so it seemed, and Billy had begun to view her as almost indestructible. Despite the fact that she was now apparently in the hospital, Billy had no doubt that she'd recover. After all, Ika would always be around, but college orientation would only happen once.
He didn't want to ask if he'd be late, though, as that would appear callous. Instead, he covered by asking, "Is she going to be OK?"
"We don't know yet," his father answered, making Billy wonder for the first time if maybe Ika might be seriously hurt. "As I understand it, though, we should hurry."
Billy's breath caught in his throat, but he reminded himself that nothing bad could really happen as he turned toward the car.
"We think you had a heart attack," the doctor said, but Ika couldn't quite process the words. Her head swam; she felt as though someone beat her skull with a hammer. She whimpered, but apparently the doctor mistook the sound for concern. "We're going to do everything that we can," he said, "At this point, though, it might be easier if we just made you more comfortable."
Ika blinked a few times, but she couldn't understand what the doctor was saying. Her head swam and she wondered if he'd drugged her. She didn't know why he'd want to, but she also didn't know why she was here.
In a blur, the doctor left, and another woman appeared. Dressed in a nurse's outfit, she announced that Ika had visitors, then she, too left.
Finally, those visitors appeared: Billy and his father. Ika's pain and confusions seemed to disappear as the only boy she'd ever loved strode to her bedside and peered into her face. Concern was evident in his eyes and he put his hand on hers.
"Billy," Ika muttered. "You came."
"Of course I did," he replied with a sad smile. "You thought I was going to leave you here?"
Ika closed her eyes, and imagined that Billy said those words as a husband, rather than as a neighbor. She'd always dreamed of that possibility, but now she saw that had never really been possible. Even when they'd dated, Billy had never been as committed to her as she was to him.
"Thank you," she murmured, thanking him not only for coming, but for being her true, sweet love all of her life. Comforted by his presence, Ika released the pain that had built up in her body, and closed her eyes to sleep.
While the old woman snored, Billy studied her wrinkled face and white hair. He'd really failed to spend much of any time with her over the past few years; ever since their break-up, he'd always managed to find excuses to avoid her.
While he'd stood over her bedside, however, he'd seen the love still apparent in her eyes, and had realized that Ika had never gotten over him as he'd gotten over her. Now, as he stood over her sleeping, Billy realized that Ika had really always loved him.
Her girlish crush had evolved into the relationship they'd shared in high school, and after that was over, she'd grown into infatuation and finally loving desperation. For a moment, Billy felt nauseas to realize how Ika had completely wasted her entire life pining over him.
"You ready to get going?" his father asked.
Eager to leave the misery and his guilt over being party to it behind, Billy nodded and turned to follow his father. They left the hospital room together and turned the corner. When the death-beep of Ika's bed sounded, Billy dismissed it, thinking it came from another room.