“How much time… do I have left?”
Dr. Heard twirled the ballpoint pen around his pointer finger, letting it slide back into his grasp. Tapping the tip on the piece of paper in front of him a few times, he bit his lip and glanced over the rim of his glasses at Andrew Willis.
“Andy… I’m sorry, but at the rate the cancer is spreading… a month, two at most.”
“You don’t have to apologize, Tim. You’ve done everything you could to prolong my life. You’ve been by my side for, what has it been, fifteen years now? Three doctors said I wouldn’t live to see my 60th birthday? You were the only one who believed…”
“And at 73, it’s still fun to rub it in, heh…”
“You’re a great doctor. But more importantly, you’re a good friend. You’ve given me so much. And I want you to know that.”
Tim Heard set the pen down on his desk and reached his hand across the desk. Andy didn’t take it.
“Don’t act like this is a goodbye, Tim. You’re gonna be here for me, right? Until the end?”
“Of course, I just… of course I will.”
“Good. And stop twirling that pen around in front of me, it makes me nervous.”
“Sorry about that, old habit.”
“Right, well at least you like the gift.”
Andy pulled himself up from the chair, the weight of his declining health pushing down on him, making every second a struggle. The cancer was eating away at his body, but the elderly man showed no signs that it was eating away at his soul. As he began to walk to the door, an envelope slipped out of his pocket.
“Oh, whoa, you almost dropped this…”
The doctor stood up and walked around the desk, bending down to pick up the letter on the floor.
“What is this? It’s… is this addressed to Sarah. Andy…”
“I have to tie up the loose ends. I’d hate to leave things… the way they are…”
“Of course. Here.”
The old man took the letter ran his wrinkled, grey fingers along the edge. No matter how weathered his face became, one thing remained the same: his smile. A subtle, delicate smile, that once more took to his face as he read his daughter’s name over in his mind.
“Let’s just hope she reads this one.”
“It’s always a fight with you, isn’t it dad! No matter what I do with my life, you always have to push your way in! I don’t care if you’re dying, it doesn’t mean that I need to let you control every aspect of my life”
“I know that, Sarah. You think I don’t know that? All I want is for you to be happy, I’m not trying to control anything.”
“Then stop trying to tell me how to run my life. You’re… I’m not your little girl anymore.”
“I know you’re not…”
“I can’t do this anymore… I just can’t… I’m sorry…”
Three years ago. It was three years since he’d last seen her. That fight, he wasn’t even sure what he’d said to make her act that way. What he’d done that made her so angry. He didn’t know what it was, until just recently.
“I understand now…”
He looked down at the small stone in his hand. Shifting it between his fingers, he finally lifted his hand, and with great effort, cast the stone into the water in front of him. It skipped three times then disappeared into the water, disrupting the reflection of the full moon.
“Remember when we used to do this, Sarah? Skip stones, eat ice cream… it seems so long ago. I know these words aren’t going to make you feel any better about any of this, but I hope they’ll at least let you know what’s really important.”
Andy held the letter in his hand, letting the dim light from the night sky cast a spotlight onto it. In another moment, the letter was resting gently on the ground.
The last thing Andy saw before disappearing, was the remaining ripples on the pond. The last thing he did was let that well-known smile once again take over his face.
“Yeah, yeah, ok, I’ll be home in a few minutes. It’s been a long day, I… um… wait, I’ll… I’ll see you when I get home, bye…”
Dr. Heard snapped his cellphone shut and set it in his pocket. He abandoned the path through the park and walked over towards the edge of the nearby pond. The moonlight lit up just a small part of the shore, but on it was a familiar sight. A letter he’d seen on his office floor only a few hours before.
“Oh no… Andy. You are one lucky son of a gun, old friend. Good thing I decided to park in the west lot, aye? Wouldn’t have been able to find this and save your ass once more…”
The doctor picked the letter up, and glanced up at the moon. It’s light, shining down, as if pointing out the letter to him. Curious, he lifted up the unsealed lip of the envelope and pulled out the single sheet of paper inside.
“Sorry, but I’m curious. You’d understand, right?”
He carefully read over the select words on the paper. With each one, he felt the water well up in his eyes. Finally reaching the end, he blinked out the tears that had formed. Silently, he folded up the letter, slipped it into the envelope, and walked over to the mailbox on the street corner.
Stepping back as the door to the box snapped shut, Dr. Heard took a deep breath and smiled.
“Well, we’ll just have to wait and see how things go, old friend.”
Throughout my life, there is one thing I’ve never done: Regret. Every second you’ve lived has been the best second of my life. I don’t even regret the last time I saw you. Not anymore.
Lying in hospital beds, I was given a lot of time to reflect, to think about the things in my life. I thought about those moments, about why you were so angry. And I realized that it wasn’t anger. You weren’t angry. You were scared.
Sarah. You were always my little girl, even when you said you weren’t. And because of that, it’s been as hard for you these past fifteen years as it has been for me. You weren’t afraid of losing me, you were afraid of me losing you. You knew that after your mother passed away, you were what gave me the strength to push on.
And you still are. And you always will be. Don’t worry anymore, Sarah. You must go and be your own strength now. I know that it’s that strength, the strength that made my life so wonderful, will carry you to great places.
As for me, I believe it’s time for me to skip one last stone and get ready to take my final moments with a smile. You keep that strength in your heart, and know that I love you.
I’m ready to let go.