“I think I know how we can get rid of the cancer in your lung,” Jars said.
Audrey had graciously extended the comfort of her office to Nikki and Jars and had headed home, leaving the couple to talk through the ramifications of what they had just learned. That the two were a couple of some sort seemed undeniable to the doctor. You didn’t just show up for a sobering conversation with your pulmonologist with a man beside you that, a week earlier, you hadn’t even met for the sake of emotional support from a casual acquaintance. It didn’t work like that. Especially when the man involved was Jarius Mason, the darling head of Synapzius, a company wooed by Wall Street. And besides, Nikki was a strong woman who’d faced tough news before. Sure must have been some vacation! Audrey thought to herself and made a mental note to check out Cooperstown. Maybe there was something in their water.
“You think you can cure me of cancer?” Nikki didn’t know if she’d heard Jars right. “Jars, you’re a technology geek not a doctor,” she reminded him.
“That’s why I can look at this from a totally different angle.”
“What do you mean?” She was more than curious. Jars was no doctor but that hadn’t stopped him form rising to prominence in the medical field. Synapzius’ advances in biotechnology were legendary.
Jars was on his feet now, walking slowly around the perimeter of the office, his head slightly bowed, the fingertips of his hands touching, his palms cupping his mouth almost as if he were praying. “It just might work,” he mumbled before stopping directly in front of her. “Do you remember me telling you in the chopper about my pacemaker experiment?”
For the past two hours Nikki had pushed all thought of their conversation during the ride to Charlottesville aside. She’d needed to focus and her training had taught her the value of compartmentalizing her thoughts and emotions. Now, in a single sentence, Jars had ripped the cover off the place where Nikki had hidden her horror at the news Jars had shared. Tears sprang to her eyes and she found herself rushing into Jars’ arms as the distance between the two gave way to all the day had revealed. She was sick, very sick. And the man she realized she was falling in love with had wired himself up to a biological bomb that could find him dead the next morning. It was too much to bear!
Nikki’s flood of tears took Jars by surprise. Never in his life had he held a weeping woman. Not even in his two marriages had either of his wives ever shed so much as a tear in his presence. It was a new experience for him, this holding of a woman so full of life and in such obvious distress. He could feel her wet tears against his own cheek as they traced their way down faces distanced from each other no longer. He held her close until her wracking body quieted.
As it had since it began, his experiment with death was proving the inestimable value of life, giving him taste after delicious taste of life’s potential. The possibilities seemed endless with wordless lessons coming to him in ceaseless waves that were a constant surprise. It was almost as if someone were trying to tell him something, explaining things that had been right in front of him all his life but that he hadn’t been able to see.
He reached down, gently lifting her face so that their eyes could take part in what he needed to say. “I love you Nikki.”
The words were softly spoken, coming out of both his lips and eyes. For now, nothing else existed. There was no bomb in his chest. No cancer in Nikki’s lung. Only the wonder of the moment heightened by the touch of his lips on hers. A tender kiss that carried words unspeakable between them.
Jars hadn’t needed the reassuring words of love Nikki spoke in reply. Her radiant face, the look in her eyes, and the tactile language of her fingertips on his arm told him everything he needed to know, but he treasured them anyway. “Wow,” he said as they each took a step back, faces aglow with emotion.
“Wow is right,” Nikki returned. “Quite the grand slam.”
Jars grinned. “Does this mean I have to take you to a Yankees game?”
“You bet it does!” Nikki shot back. “I mean it, too.” Her eyes pleaded with him as the seriousness of their situation flooded back into her consciousness, refusing to be held at bay any longer. “I don’t know what we should talk about first, your crazy nano-bullet or my cancer.”
“Maybe we don’t have to choose,” Jars replied. “They just might have more in common than meets the eye.”
Jars spent the next several minutes explaining to Nikki the details of the technology behind his deadly pacemaker. The self-replicating nanobots had been the relatively easy part. The challenge had been in finding a way to control the replication and limit their food source to a single organ, his heart, and it had taken him countless hours in the lab to find the solution. All they needed to do now was to take the science another step or two and come up with a nano-bullet that, instead of consuming a human organ, devoured cancer. Her cancer.
“Do you really think that’s possible?” Nikki cried. “After all, armies of scientists all over the world have been looking for a cure for cancer. And they’ve been at it for a long time. I hate to sound skeptical, but do you really think you can overcome all the hurdles that have stumped them and do it before seven tomorrow morning?
“After all,” she continued, wiping away a fresh tear, “isn’t that what we’re facing? Nikki paused and Jars could trace the evidence of a struggle on the frown appearing on her forehead. “Maybe God is giving us a choice of how to spend the hours we have, either in some lab chasing a theory or together, making the most of the time that’s left.”
“Maybe we can do some of each.” Jars’ flashed her an impish grin in an attempt at lightening the conversation. “You should see my lab,” he went on. “Has all the comforts of home and then some. We can work on the solution together. God knows I could use your help.”
Jars was surprised by his own choice of words. God? Since when did he bring him into a conversation?
It was amazing to Nikki how calm and composed Jars could be. She was the believer. Jars wasn’t sure there even was a God. Shouldn’t it have been the other way around? “So what do you propose?” she found herself asking.
“That you become my house guest and return with me to Synapzius where I have everything we could possibly need.”
“And what happens if tomorrow morning finds a nano-bullet in your heart?” Nikki cried, once more fighting against tears that demanded release.
“Then at least I die a happy man.”
He was serious. “Look,” Jars said, placing his warm hands on her shoulders, “We’ve got nothing to lose. If I die at least I die living.” He paused before pressing on. “What I mean is that if anything happens it happens while I’m doing something to save the one woman in my life that means everything to me.”
“But what do I do? How do I go about saving the man who means everything to me?” Nikki whispered.
“You go on loving me,” Jars said. “Just like you’ve been doing. Your love has brought me life.”
[Intentional blank line.]
Kyle felt the soft vibrations of his phone and, for a moment, considered ignoring whoever might be trying to reach him. He was heading across campus to meet a friend and didn’t want to get pulled into some conversation that would break his stride and interrupt his agenda. Yesterday’s dinner meeting with has father had been interruption enough, albeit a necessary one as he was looking to Jars to finance everything he’d set his sights on. At least for the next few years. In his way of looking at things, his father wasn’t even to the half-way point where bucks were concerned in anteing up for his lack of fatherly affection. Where good ol’ dad had lacked in that capacity he could at least make up for on the financial side of the ledger.
A glance at his phone showed that it was his sister calling, unusual enough to make him slow his pace. He and Katie weren’t close. They’d never been. The only thing they had in common from Kyle’s perspective was way down at the gene level. The sad result of sharing the same biological father. His curiosity got the better of him.
“Katie. What a surprise. My birthday isn’t for two more months. You’re early.” Kyle spent no effort hiding his sarcasm.
“Jars is dying, Kyle.”
His sister didn’t mince words. Whenever they’d had occasion to talk Katie had always come straight to the point.
“Don’t know where you get your information but, if I were you, I’d fire your source. I had dinner with Dad just last night.”
It felt good to be one up on his big sister. Being six years her junior put him at a disadvantage. At least in the order of inheritance. The best of what a dead parent had to offer seemed to end up under the control of the oldest sibling. He didn’t know why. Nor did he care. All that mattered was that such a pattern didn’t repeat itself. And it felt good to be one up on Katie for a change. The fact that he’d had had dinner with their father only a day earlier would come as a shock to her.
“I know. You and Jars were in Long Lake together up in the Adirondacks.” It was simply spoken. Katie had no desire to play one-up with her step-brother. There was too much at stake. “That’s not why I called.”
“Why did you then? And how did you know where I was yesterday?” Kyle demanded. It was frustrating to so quickly have lost the upper hand.
“Look, Kyle. I didn’t call because I missed having a good fight. I called because Jars is dying.”
Her words took Kyle by surprise and, for the briefest moment, generated a sensation he hadn’t anticipated: a sense of sadness, of losing something precious that he could never get back. But as quickly as they had come, both the thoughts and emotions fled.
“How do you know all this?” Kyle demanded. “I take it you’ve broken your vow of silence and called Dad? Or was it the other way around and our dear father called you?”
Katie refused to be baited into joining her brother in a round of parental bashing. Not that she hadn’t in the past. There had been times when, like Kyle, she had given in to venting her hurt and frustration by spewing venomous one-liners against Jars. The siblings had occasionally even expanded the game’s unspoken rules by including their mothers who seemed to share a common life goal of seeing how much they could accumulate before nature got the upper hand and stripped them of their feminine wiles. “Sten called,” she went on. “He’s running Synapzius while Jars deals with whatever illness he’s suffering from.”
“And you believe him?” Kyle reflected back on the previous evening’s encounter with his father. “Dad didn’t seem the least bit off when we were together last night.”
“Maybe. But think about it, Kyle. When is the last time Jars invited you to dinner? I’m betting he wrote to you just the same as he did me. Doesn’t that strike you as unusual?”
Kyle had to admit the soundness of his sister’s thinking. “Okay, you’ve got a point. I’ve never known Dad to go out of his way to connect with either of us. Just what did Sten say?”
“He didn’t give any details. In fact, he said that he didn’t know himself what the illness is. He just said that Jars had made what looked to him an awful lot like end-of-life arrangements and that Jars had led him to believe his death could happen at any moment.” Just saying the words opened a floodgate of emotions, as if she had erected a dam against a reservoir of thoughts and feelings she hadn’t wanted to face over the years but was no longer strong enough to withstand the onslaught of Sten’s revelation.
“Well?” Katie said after a period of silence.
“Well, what? What do you want me to do about it? If Dad really is sick and about to die I’ve already done my part by having dinner with him. There wasn’t anything to say then and there wouldn’t be anything more to say now.
“Look Katie,” Kyle insisted, “the only thing Dad can do at this point to make up for being one of the worst parents on the planet is to send a bucket of money our way. Fifty-fifty would be the fair thing,” he added.