January 21: "Write about saying goodbye"

- Find. Remember. Love Again. -

She held his hand tight and kissed each knuckle. She had double vision whenever she tried to look through her water laden eyes, so she kept them closed. She used her other senses to absorb him.

Her lips bushed gently against his dry, cracking skin as his sharp bones poked at her. His hands used to be so large, a little pudgy, and as soft as Italian leather. Now they were long spider legs encased in callused shells. It didn't matter, they were still warm, just as she remembered.

They also smelled the same. They still had a sweetly warm musk accented by a mint tea tree soap he used to use to keep them supple. The mint was fading in favor of the sterile stench of anti-bacterial, but that faint musk was still there.

His skin also didn't taste as salty. It was never overwhelming, but it was always there. Now there was a sour bitterness to his dry skin. A memory of a burn from the alcohol in the anti-bacterial.

She dared to open her eyes to remind herself that it was still him. His skin was more yellow than tan. His hair was short and course instead of envy-inducing silkiness. He was at most half his size. He had more wires and tubes as well.

Still, this was the love of her life. This was her smile every day and her embrace every night. This was her best friend and only true companion. Whomever it was laying in front of her, she still knew he was her strength. Ironic that he was now so weak.

She rested her head on his chest, and a part of her panicked that she'd cave his ribs in. His heart was as frantic as ever, but the pauses between beats were terrifyingly long. His breaths were raspy and shallow. She suddenly realized she'd never hear him snore again. She secretly wished he'd snort real quick for her, just so she could memorize the sound.

She nearly drifted to sleep listening to the lullaby of his breathing, but some pressure on her hand bolted her awake. She wasn't sure whose hand was trembling, but she did know he was squeezing back. His beautiful brown eyes were open slightly. The shine was gone. The gold had dulled. It kept her a few seconds to realize he was even focused on her.

They were statues within time. She couldn't figure out for how long they just stared. Aside from their trembling hands, the only other movement was his eyebrows glacially sliding together in a plead.

The words caught in her throat. She knew she needed to say them. She knew he needed to hear them. She knew it had to be now. She had known for a while. Still, she couldn't force them past her thickening tongue. Her throat locked closed. Maybe if she kept the words buried inside he could stay with her. They could be statues again.

He knew better. He wouldn't let her hide. Not now. Not from this.

"Sorry," he whispered. Even his voice was no longer recognizable to her. It was barely enough to create a sound. What happened to his rich baritone? That voice could chase away her problems and heal all wounds, at least for as long as she needed in order to feel calm again.

She needed to feel calm now. She needed him to heal her. She needed his belly laugh to infect her until she was calling him a jerk for making her smile. She needed his warm chest and large arms and his minty musk to all blanket her in a sense of peace.

Damn right he had to apologize. The moment she needed him the most, and he was failing her. She knew he was trying his best though. She knew he wanted to hug her, kiss her, and make it better for her.

She brushed back the shag of hair he still had, just as she did when they were first dating. Her tears spilled onto his eyes as she kissed his forehead.

"Don't be sorry." She only partially believed that. "You gave me all you have. I know you don't want to leave me." She choked down the lump and the dull pain flooded her throat. Before she knew it, everything rushed through the dam wall.

"You made me the happiest I could imagine. I know you never fully believed that, but I need you to believe it now. I couldn't have been happier with any other life. Except for one where you have more time. I know you're not really leaving me, though. I know you never could. I know you'd want me happy and okay. I won't be right away. How could I without my smile? But I will be. I will remember our life together. I will remember you, and you will still be my smile. One day I will be okay and happy again."

She choked down a bubble of spit and kept going, giving him another kiss as she frantically pet his hair. "But you're suffering, and I need you to stop. I need you to be at peace now. I know you want to stay. You're not abandoning me. You fought hard. It's okay. You can rest. Rest, and wait for me. Just like we promised, Babe. We'll find each other, remember, and love again."

She wiped her nose on the back of her free hand, and helped him wipe her tears away one last time. She then nodded to him. "It's okay. You can rest. It's okay."

He mouthed the words "I love you." He then closed his eyes and squeezed her hand.

"I love you too, Sweetheart." She kissed him on the lips and gently squeezed his hand back.

It kept nearly ten minutes more before she saw his chest fall and stay still. She was more at peace than she thought she would. She had no tears. Her chest stopped hurting. She didn't wail. She didn't beg him to come back. She continued petting his hair. A hint of a smile touched her lips. He was no longer in pain. He would never have to suffer again. He was free.

She just hoped he didn't mind waiting.

**A/N: Just past 1000 words on this one, but I didn't want to cut any - let alone 50 - to hit the 1000-word cap Ronoxym put on me for flash fiction.

I made the mistake of writing this practice while at work. I wasn't sure where I was going with it, but soon enough I was writing about a woman saying goodbye to her dying husband. Then, about half-way through, I realized it wasn't just some fictitious woman and man, it was me and my husband.

This is one of the few times I actually wept while I was writing something. A hole carved into my chest. It was painful for me to picture this day. Picture the possibility that this might be our fate. That one day he may get so sick that I'll have to say goodbye to a body I don't recognize.

Unfortunately, it happened to my mother. I was 13 when my father died of cancer, and it stuck with me. Probably one of my greatest fears: watching a loved one go through that again; both ends: dying and having to say goodbye.

I wanted to run away. I wanted to stop. I wanted to change the venue or the description of the man so it wasn't me and my husband. But I needed to feel this pain; face this fear. I could only do so for about 1000 words, but it was a start.

Cherish your loved ones. Tell them how much you mean to them today. Who knows how many tomorrows you have?**