Josh fumbled around for a cigarette in the glove box of his truck.
“Can’t believe I started this again,” he mumbled to himself. He hadn’t smoked since college, but the past few months had rocked his world. Now he needed the calming effect of nicotine every few hours.
He lit the cigarette and rolled down the windows of his truck, hoping to minimize the smell. School drop off and pickup were often his responsibility now, and he didn’t want Ethan breathing the smoke.
Josh glanced at the clock on his dashboard. 12:30. He had three hours to pull this off before he needed to pick up his son from St. Martha’s.
Josh pressed harder on the gas pedal. He was still twenty minutes from the hospital and every minute counted. The light ahead at Hillcrest and Wyatt was notoriously short, but it was green now. If he accelerated, he just might make it.
The light turned yellow while he was still 100 yards away. Josh would have gunned it and sailed through the intersection, but the Cadillac in front of him had other ideas. Josh slammed on his brakes, reaching out his right arm to brace the two large bags in the passenger seat.
“C’mon.” When the truck screeched to a halt, Josh leaned over to check the contents of the bags. He lifted the foil lid from the top container. The scent of Maggiano’s lasagna, his wife’s favorite, filled the cab of the truck.
Josh inhaled, then closed the lid and shook his head.
“What am I doing?” He considered turning his truck around. His crew was working on a big job today and they could use his help. With as much work as he’d missed the past four months, he was lucky his landscaping business was still afloat. If it wasn’t for his foreman, Gavin, the whole enterprise would have folded by now.
Josh stared at the red light, mulling over his plan. It had a miniscule chance of succeeding. Sadie would most likely be asleep or sick to her stomach. He should give the bags to the homeless guy standing on the corner and pretend he never had this foolish idea.
But deep down, a small ray of hope danced across the barren plains of his heart. Ever since that February morning when his wife called him at work and asked him to come home, Josh felt like the colors were draining from his world. When this idea took root, it was the only flash of light he’d seen in a while. For that reason alone, he knew he had to try.
The light turned green, and Josh punched the accelerator with fresh resolve. When he reached the hospital, he pulled his truck into the all-too-familiar parking lot. Once the automatic gate went up, he turned into the nearest available space, put the gearshift into park, and took the key out of the ignition.
“Here goes nothing,” he muttered as he extinguished his cigarette and scooped up the bags.
Josh strode to the elevators and pushed the up arrow. When the doors opened he caught a glimpse of himself in the paneled mirrors lining the back of the elevators. He stepped on and pushed the button for the ninth floor before shifting the bags to one arm so he could tuck in his shirt.
As the elevator began its slow ascent, Josh’s doubts resurfaced. Nurses liked Italian food, didn’t they? He could leave the bags at the nurse’s station and take his usual position in the vinyl chair beside his wife’s bed. She would never know how close he’d come to orchestrating this impromptu date.
But the small spark of hope propelled him forward. He wanted this special time with his wife, even if it had to take place in a hospital room.
Josh slowed his steps as he neared her room. Number 1207. Sadie Turner. Josh studied her name, written on a white board outside the door. Sadie was only 33. They had a six-year-old son. Breast cancer wasn’t supposed to be in the picture.
“God, please, let her be awake.”
Josh wasn’t sure if he was on speaking terms with God, but the words came out before he could rein them in. He figured it couldn’t hurt. If his plan was going to work, he needed all the help he could get.
Taking a deep breath, Josh pushed lightly on the door and pulled back the privacy curtain with one hand. His heart fell as he saw her, fast asleep and still hooked up to a drip bag.
Setting the bags on the counter, Josh couldn’t help but feel the sting of disappointment, a sting that quickly turned to anger. He clenched his fists, wanting to take a swing at something, anything. But just as quickly as it came, his anger dissipated and left overwhelming sadness in its place.
Josh dropped down in the vinyl chair. He leaned his head against the headrest and closed his eyes. Exhaustion took over, and sleep came quickly.
Josh didn’t know how long he’d been asleep when he woke with a start. It took him a moment to realize that someone was putting pressure on the back of his hand. He glanced over at Sadie to see her smiling back at him.
Her voice was softer than usual and something in her eyes reminded him of the first time they met. She had a glow about her, as if she was lit from within.
“Hey baby, how are you feeling?” Josh stood and brushed his lips across her forehead.
“Better than I expected, actually.” Sadie nodded toward the brown bags still on the counter. “It might have something to do with those.”
She flashed her kilowatt smile then, the one that made Josh feel a little woozy.
“I, uh, thought we should celebrate.” Josh couldn’t take his eyes off hers. “We haven’t missed a year yet.”
“No, we haven’t.” Sadie’s voice carried a note of wistfulness. She turned her face toward the window for a moment.
“Ten years. Can you believe we’ve been married that long? It seems like I was just picking out my wedding dress.”
A memory flashed through Josh’s mind. He was standing at the front of the church, more nervous than he’d ever been in his life. Two hundred and fifty pairs of eyes were boring into him. He couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with his sweaty palms. His brother’s advice to keep his knees slightly bent kept running through his mind.
Then the music changed. The wedding march swelled and the doors of the sanctuary flew open. In an instant, Josh forgot where he was and how many people were there. As he locked eyes with Sadie, radiant on the arm of her father, he knew he’d never seen anyone more beautiful.
Looking at her now, he felt the same way. After her first chemo treatment, Sadie’s hair started falling out in clumps. She covered it up with cute hats and scarves most of the time, but whenever she had to come back to the hospital for more treatments, she wore a knit cap for warmth.
Still, her beauty hadn’t come from her dark wavy hair. Sadie lit up a room whenever she entered. She was beautiful, but not in an intimidating way. Part of her charm was the easy way she had with people. When she and Josh started dating, he felt like the luckiest man in the world.
Sadie’s voice broke through his reverie.
“So, are those what I think they are?” Her eyes danced with anticipation as she gestured towards the brown bags.
Josh grinned. “Yep. Fried zucchini, chopped salad, lasagna, and Chocolate Zuccotto cake. Nothing but the best for my baby.”
“Sounds delicious, as usual.” Ever since their rehearsal dinner at Maggiano’s ten years ago, Josh and Sadie returned every year on their anniversary to celebrate.
He reached down into one of the bags and brought out a red and white checked tablecloth. With great fanfare, he spread it over the small bedside table. Then he reached in the bag again and drew out a votive candle.
“You thought of everything.” Sadie’s voice was a mixture of teasing and wonderment.
“Yeah, well, it has to be special right? Since this is just a once-a-year thing.” Josh tried to keep the moment light, but the lump in his throat made it difficult.
Sadie took hold of his hand. “It’s always special when I’m with you. Now, let’s eat. I’m starving.”
Josh took that as a good sign. The last few treatments had left her with little appetite. He filled two paper plates, set them on the little table and settled in the chair next to Sadie’s bed.
At first, they ate in companionable silence. But midway through the lasagna, the conversation came easily. The hospital room melted away and they were just like any other couple, sharing a special meal.
“That was delicious. I don’t think I can eat another bite.” Sadie groaned and pushed her plate away from her.
Then, eyeing Josh’s half-eaten piece of Chocolate Zuccotto cake, she seized her fork and stabbed a piece slathered with icing.
“Okay, one more bite.”
Josh threw back his head and howled.
“I know better than to come between you and chocolate.” Josh raised his hands in mock surrender.
Sadie’s tinkling laughter mingled with his own and the sound of it lightened his heart.
The moment felt so good that Josh didn’t want it to end. He didn’t want to go back to the never-ending loop of tests and treatments and bills. He life to be normal again.
After Sadie downed the last bite of Chocolate Zuccotto cake, Josh gathered the plates and tossed them in the trash. He pulled his iPhone from his pocket, and with a few quick taps he found the song he was looking for.
Sadie looked at him curiously as he set the phone on her tray table. When the first few notes of the Garth Brooks tune filled the room, Josh extended his hand.
“Dance with me?”
Sadie’s eyes brimmed over with tears as she nodded and placed her hand in his. Ever so gently, Josh lifted her from the bed and pulled her close.
“Our song. It’s been a long time since we’ve listened to it.” Sadie tipped her head back to look into Josh’s eyes. “Do you remember the first time we heard it?”
Josh nodded. The lump in his throat prevented him from saying anything. Of course he remembered. It was the first time he’d ever held her hand. Summer 2001. They were at her parents’ house for the Fourth of July weekend with several friends. The whole group stayed up late watching Hope Floats. One by one, everyone else fell asleep until Josh and Sadie were the only ones awake.
When it came to the part in the movie when Birdee Calvert falls in love with Justin Matisse, the movie’s theme song, To Make You Feel My Love, filled the living room. Without thinking, Josh reached over and took Sadie’s hand. It felt like the most natural gesture in the world. Six months later they were engaged.
Josh’s breath caught in his throat at the memory. Here they were, more than a decade later, and he was still holding on to Sadie. It didn’t seem fair that she was fighting for her life. But if he’d learned anything over the past few months, it was that cancer didn’t fight fair. Doctors had warned them that chemotherapy might not eradicate her cancer. They didn’t catch it as early as they would have liked, but she still had a fighting chance.
Sadie had a lot to live for.
The music swelled as they swayed from side to side, clutching desperately to one another.
I’d go hungry; I’d go black and blue.
I’d go crawling down the avenue.
There ain’t nothing that I wouldn’t do,
To make you feel my love.
The truth of the words hit Josh with a fresh intensity. He drew back and placed his hands on Sadie’s shoulders.
“That’s it, sweetheart…” Josh’s voice broke and he couldn’t see clearly for the tears clouding his vision. He brushed the back of his hand across his eyes and met Sadie’s confused look.
“That’s what?” She kept her voice low, not wanting the magic of the moment to disappear.
“That’s how I feel. That’s what I wanted to show you with all of this.” Josh gestured towards the Maggiano’s bags. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to show you how much I love you. No matter what happens, don’t ever forget that.”
Sadie opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. Finally, she brought her lips to his in a kiss that held all the emotion her words couldn’t say.
No matter what tomorrow held, they had this moment. A moment to savor the love they shared. A moment to hold on to the things that mattered most. A moment to live.
A note from the author:
For me, inspiration comes at odd times. It often strikes in the most unlikely places. In this case, I was driving to the grocery store when I noticed a truck next to me. The driver, who appeared to be in his mid-thirties, was puffing on a cigarette. He looked like he had a lot on his mind.
As he pulled ahead, I noticed a pink breast cancer ribbon affixed to the back of his truck. I’ll never know for sure what his story was, but that’s how Josh and Sadie came to life.
The central theme of this story is love. Not the butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of love, although that is certainly a facet of love. But the kind of love that brightens even the darkest of situations.
Because that’s what love does. When the going gets tough, love finds a way to make it bearable.
Someone far wiser than me expressed it this way:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8
My prayer for you is this – that you will experience this kind of love.
Peace and blessings to you,