The lights were turned on and the look of shock on the woman's face was clear, while the younger woman next to her was grinning happily.
The younger woman turned toward to the other and said, "Happy birthday, Mom!"
The woman, who looked to be in her mid-twenties, finally recovered from her shock and turned to her daughter and hugged her. "Thanks, Andrea."
"Hey, birthday girl, come here and blow out these candles, we don't have eternity." At this comment everyone laughed heartily. The woman went over to the cake and read, "Happy 669th Birthday, Sylvia. May you have many more!"
Andrea came over just as the candles were being blown out and heard her name being called by her mother. She walked over and found her presence was required for pictures. Standing side by side with her mother, a striking resemblance was revealed between Sylvia and her twenty year old daughter leaving no doubt about their relation but begged the question of how they were related for they looked more like sisters than their proposed age difference.
After having their pictures taken together, Andrea thrust a brightly wrapped package into Sylvia's hands, "Open it now."
"Alright, honey," her mother responded complacently. She tore off the covering to reveal a box. Sylvia opened it to reveal an elaborately carved, wooden box. She lifted the lid and soft, haunting music started playing.
Sylvia turned and gave her daughter a hug, thanking her for the very thoughtful gift.
Andrea reluctantly pulled away from the hug and kissed her mother on the cheek saying, "Sorry, I have to leave early. I need to finish a report at the library, but when I get home we can finish celebrating together. Maybe I'll pick up some ice cream."
"Thanks sounds lovely, dear. Be careful," her mother told her concernedly.
Andrea turned and made her way through the partygoers to the door and left the merriment of the celebration for the gloom of the street, sparsely lit by streetlights.
Andrea made her way to her car, fumbling with her keys in the darkness. She got her car opened, got in, and drove the few blocks to the big, stone library.
The front of the library was menacing in the darkness, the old fashioned stone demons perching on the turrets appeared to be watching her every move. Andrea walked briskly into the library, which looked almost deserted except for the librarian, who was almost asleep, and a couple of other students, presumably finishing papers.
She slowed her pace and moved automatically toward the biographical section of the immense library.
Andrea soon reached the enormous shelves housing tomes about the lives of anyone deemed enough of an impact to be included in the collection. She knew the information would not be out of date, the library always switched out old volumes when the person in question accomplished another noteworthy achievement. Last year, William Shakespeare had received yet another prize for his excellent plays and she saw that the book had already had an upgrade.
Sitting down at a table near the bookshelves, she opened her notebook and began to brainstorm the subject of her paper on the effect of one person on the modern mindset. She considered Shakespeare, John Locke, and Upton Sinclair, before deciding on Locke. Getting up to start her research, Andrea explored the shelves for information on an individual who had formed the current popular ideas about government, power of the common person, and even some pop culture.
Looking up from her report at the clock, Andrea saw it was almost ten and the library would be closing in a few minutes. So she packed up her things, returned the materials she had borrowed, and left for the parking lot.
After getting into her car, she thought about her mother and decided she would stop and get ice cream for her, chocolate her favorite flavor.
Pulling up to the ice cream shop, she parked and went inside. She bought a tub of chocolate ice cream and exited the store. As Andrea was getting into her car, she heard the sound of squealing tires and the rev of an engine.
She looked over and saw two cars peeling down the road. They seemed to be racing and approaching her location rapidly. Suddenly, one of the cars swerved off the road straight into a pole, as if he had lost control of the vehicle.
The other driver kept going, even speeding up. Andrea ran towards the crash while pulling out her cell phone and calling 911. After telling the operator the address and cause of her emergency, she went to check the person inside the car.
The car was bent around the pole, having met it head on. Andrea wondered if anyone could have survived such a crash. Reaching the driver's side, she pulled open the door and was met with the sight of a very bloody man bent over the steering wheel. She checked to see if he had a pulse and felt relief like a breeze sweep through her, blowing away her panic and replacing it with concern for the unconscious male.
Not moving him for fear of internal wounds, she looked him over for serious external wounds. She didn't see any signs of major trauma except for a small cut on his head where he must have hit the steering wheel in the collision.
The sounds of the ambulance sirens reached her ears five minutes later. She glanced over at the still lifeless man, who had started to look pale and drawn. She scrambled over to him, feeling for a pulse and finding none. A cold knot started working in her stomach, it spread and soon she was shivering unable to get warm enough.
The ambulance screeched to a halt nearby and medics rushed over to the car. One, a woman, gently steered her toward the ambulance, while the others looked over the comatose male.
"No pulse," shouted a medic over the din of the others. "No need to resuscitate, he's been dead a few minutes. Impossible to revive."
Andrea felt all the blood leave her face at the medic's assessment. Had she felt this stranger's last heartbeat?
The rescue team pulled the body from the wreckage, shaking their heads and frowning all the while. She heard dimly someone explaining that it was not her fault the man had died. He had received severe internal injuries from the car crash and being without a medical degree she couldn't be expected to care for him.
Andrea no longer cared what anyone had to say the cold feeling from before now served to numb her from the emotions of the last ten minutes and what she should be feeling now. She was surprised to feel something wet on her face, reaching up she discovered she was crying. She had no idea she could cry for a stranger but he had been a person as much as she was and she would not soon forget this.
A police officer escorted her to his car and asked her for her address. Without thinking, she gave it to him huddling into herself in the backseat. When they arrived at the house she lived in with her mother, she let him lead her to the front door where a now melancholy Sylvia met them.
"Thank you, sir," her mother said respectfully and graciously.
"No problem, ma'am. You take care." He turned and walked down the driveway, got in his cruiser, and left.
Sylvia escorted her blank eyed daughter to her bedroom where she tucked her in so that hopefully she could get some sleep.
Before closing the door behind her, she whispered to the dark room, "No matter how long you live, the option of death gives our lives meaning."