My plan was simple. Finish school, graduate, and get a job. Focus on career, and if there’s time, find a wife. Maybe. I didn’t want anything distracting me from my goal.
Thank God things don’t work out as planned.
I was twenty when my life detoured. Certain phrases have a way of changing you. In this case, the words came from my doctor.
“You have cancer.”
The room constricted around me, forcing the air out and keeping me from taking another breath. “Cancer” echoed in my ears, and no matter how I pressed my hands to my ears, I couldn’t block it out.
I developed a habit of partying until my body collapsed each night. Most of my friends withdrew when my behavior became destructive.
On a whim—well, Devon called it an intervention—I attended a support group at the local community center. I didn’t want to go—there was no room in my mind to listen to more pain.
And then she appeared.
That day is burned on my memory. Her long bourbon-colored hair fell in waves down her back. When our eyes met, a shock raced through me. She smiled at the others, a single dimple in her cheek.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Louisa. I run the group.” Her soft voice wrapped around me like a toddler’s well-loved security blanket.
“Aidan.” I shook her hand. From that moment, I knew I was destined to be with this girl.
After the meeting, I approached her.
“Can I take you out for coffee?”
Turning fully toward me, she raised her cup to her lips, and the dimple appeared.
I tried to recover. “Okay, so that was lame.”
An apologetic look replaced the smirk. “I don’t date members of the group.”
“Well, that’s easily remedied. I’ve only been to one meeting.” I hit her with my suave move—half-smile, head cocked, hinting at great pleasures to come.
She was immune. With one head-to-toe sweep, she took my measure and shook her head.
“You need this group more than you realize. You were diagnosed what, two, three weeks ago? Worry about getting well before your love life.”
“I don’t think I can worry about anything else until you let me buy you dinner.”
“Are you on chemo?”
“Then trust me. Dinner will be the last thing on your mind.” She walked away, leaving me with my jaw against my chest. Devon collected me and we went home.
For the next few months, I showed up to every meeting. After, I joined her for coffee and we chatted about cancer and its treatments, but I didn’t ask her out again.
Louisa was diagnosed with cervical cancer at seventeen and in remission for three years. Her first love was painting but she managed to finish a degree in business so she could get a job to pay her medical bills. We shared a fascination with the night. We both had older siblings who teased us mercilessly, but over whom we were fiercely protective.
With every conversation, I fell more in love with her. She was my complement. Where I was determined and ambitious, she was carefree. She lived life in the moment and didn’t regret mistakes.
Though my cancer was in remission, I kept going to the meetings to support others at various stages of the disease. One night, she didn’t show. I sneaked outside to clear my head of worry.
The night was crisp, and I swore the smell of apple cider permeated the air. A single street lamp shone across the deserted street. Muffled traffic sounded from a few blocks away, but the sniffle nearby caught my attention. I walked around the brick building and looked down.
A woman straightened when she saw me, her face obscured by the shadows. I stepped to the side, allowing the meager light to illuminate her.
Without a word, she fell into my arms and held tight. Her tears soaked my sweater and eventually her shudders subsided.
“It’s back,” she whispered.
I didn’t need her to elaborate. A dull ache began in my chest, but I couldn’t allow it to grow. I needed to be strong for her.
“There’s still so much I want to do.”
Squeezing her, I said, “Then we’ll make sure you do them.”
Despite the new tears glistening, she smiled. “I want you to be there.”
Her doctors had given her a year, at best. We made a list of places she wanted to go and experiences she wanted to try.
“I know it sounds strange,” she told me one afternoon, “but I’ve never had a picnic in the park.”
For the anniversary of our first meeting, I took her. We laid a blanket on the banks of a man-made lake and fed the ducks stale bread. As we watched the sun set, I reached into my pocket.
“Louisa, I have something to ask you.”
The sunlight cut through the afternoon haze, surrounding her in an ethereal glow. I rose to my knees and she sat up, watching me with curiosity.
“I love you. Everything about me is better for having known you. When I leave you at the end of each day, my soul stays with you. Marry me.” My heart thudded.
She vaulted over the basket landing on top of me. Her hands cupped my face and she leaned in close, our noses touching.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Our first kiss was sweet, hinting at pent-up longing and my arms banded around her waist to keep her in place.
When she pulled back, I chuckled.
“What’s so funny?”
I fished two plane tickets from under me. “I thought I’d have to entice you with the honeymoon.”
A month later, we stood before the Great Pyramid in Egypt, but I only saw her. The woman who saved me. I kissed her with all the love I possessed, trying to convey without words how much she meant to me.
Those are the memories I will keep with me always.