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Authors: Regina Bartley

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BOOK: I Can't Die Alone
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The air conditioner came on full blast and felt like Heaven against my face. “Thank you,” I spoke, but the words barely came out of my mouth. I leaned my head over onto the console and closed my eyes. I was tired. Very tired. 

***

“Tori,” a voice called out to me. 

I opened my eyes and found Bo sitting next to me. A cold rag was draped over my forehead and I noticed we were back in my motel room. No clue how we made it there or when it happened. 

Bo’s eyes were burning into me. He stared at me like he knew all of my secrets. But he couldn’t.

“Glad you’re back. It was touch and go for a minute,” he joked, but he didn’t know how right he was. “You feeling any better?”

Actually, I was. I nodded. “Thanks.” 

I situated myself upright in the bed and the two of us were closer. I could lift my little finger and touch his. 

“What time is it?” I asked. There was no sun shining in through the windows.

“About eight thirty. You’ve been sleeping for several hours.”

“And you’ve been here the whole time.”

His hand gently covered mine. “Yeah. I couldn’t just leave you here like that. I thought seriously about taking you to the emergency room. You scared the shit out of me. The more you slept the better you seemed to be. You quit sweating, and shaking, so I thought maybe you just needed to sleep it off. What’s going on with you?”

Do you tell a stranger your problems or do you continue to carry it around on your shoulders like a ton of bricks? Maybe I’d never find Benjamin…

I looked over at him, and he squeezed my hand tighter. How could I tell that sweet face that I was dying? I sure couldn’t do it while looking in those eyes. 

The room felt tighter in some way, like I was scared of his reaction. Or maybe I was scared to say it out loud. 

I pulled my hand away from his. 

“I’ve got cancer,” I blurted out. When he started to say something remorseful, I held my hand up. “It’s okay. I’ve been sick for a little while, and it’s not going to get any better. At most, I have until my twenty-first birthday before, well, before I die.”

His voice was thick and heavy. “When is that?”

“December first,” I replied. 

Bo jumped quickly from the bed and paced the floor like a mad scientist. I could read his emotions and he seemed mad, or upset, or mad… His fist connected with the wall of the hotel room. 

Mad for sure.

I flinched at the sound of his knuckles crunching against the wall. 

“I’m sorry,” he said when he noticed that I was scared. “It’s not right. How long have you known?”

“I only just found out that it was cancer a few days ago. Both my Mom and my Aunt died from it.” I replied in a hurried voice. He was like a loose canon, and I didn’t want to give him more reason to take it out on the motel wall.

“And you can’t take treatment to cure it?” 

“It’s pancreatic. There is no cure.” I could feel the tears building up in my eyes. “I’m sorry for disrupting your life. I’m here on a mission, and I never meant for you to know about this. I thought I’d have coffee with you, enjoy a little company, and that I’d go back on my search today. I wasn’t supposed to see you again. You’re supposed to go back to your life and forget that you met me. We aren’t dating. We barely know each other. Just forget that you met me and go. You have that luxury,” I urged. He had no idea how lucky he was that he could walk away, and never look back on this dreadful situation. We had no ties whatsoever, and we were barely friends. There was no time like the present for him to haul ass.

He growled in frustration and rubbed both hands along the sides of his face. “Shut up,” he said.

Um… 

“WHAT?” I yelled. He did not just tell me to shut up?

“You heard me.” He narrowed his eyes at me. “You’re acting like I just met you five minutes ago. Maybe you have zero feelings, but I do. I felt a connection with you almost immediately from the minute I sat down on that park bench, our park bench. I invited you to get coffee because I liked you, and I was attracted to you,” he admitted, and not very shyly either. “I asked for a second date because I couldn’t get enough of you after the first one. I went back to that bench today hoping like hell you’d be there. And I sat next to you for three hours on that hard ass bed because I was worried about you.” He growled again.

The tears rolled down my cheeks and my heart grew heavier. I had those feelings too, but I was trying so hard not to let them out. I truly thought he’d never call and that I’d never see him again. I didn’t want something else weighing me down. You’re not supposed to develop feelings for someone when you know you’re going to die. You’re just not.

“I’m giving you an out. Take it,” I said.

“You don’t get to decide that. You’re taking the easy way out,” he explained.

“The easy way out,” I cried. “You think this is easy? I’m dying Bo. I watched my Mom die. It’s not fucking easy. I am letting you leave. I’m letting you walk away from the pain. I’m letting you not watch me die.”

He nearly threw himself at me on the bed, wrapping his arms around me and holding me close to his chest. Never knowing the feeling of being held by a man was overwhelming when Bo was holding me. I cried into his chest. I let him protect me in the moment, and I knew why people longed for companionship, even if it was brief.

I had survived my first grown up talk with a man. There was irony in that.

“I’m not leaving,” he whispered in my ear.

Through my sniffly nose and rugged breaths, I replied, “Good.” I really didn’t want him to go. “Don’t tell me to shut up again.” 

He chuckled. “I’m not making any promises.”

I couldn’t define our relationship, if there even was one. We were kind of friends, and there were feelings close to the heart, but I’d leave it at that. Just having him there seemed like the right thing. There’d be one outcome, and it wouldn’t work in either of our favor. 

“Tell me about this journey you’re on. This search,” he proceeded. “What are you looking for?”

“Not what…” I looked up in his eyes. “Who.”

Untangling our bodies, I rose from the bed. I tried not to move too fast because I wasn’t one hundred percent. There was still a bit of lightheadedness. 

I grabbed the letter and the photograph from my backpack. “I found a letter and a photo in one of my Mom’s old coats after she passed away. It was from a man who loved her very much, or at least that’s what I gathered from the letter. She never spoke of him. It was many years ago. Years before I was born. Don’t laugh at me, but I’m searching for him.” My eyebrows rose, and I waited for an outpouring of laughter that didn’t come. So I continued. “I kept thinking about being alone while I was dying and it scared me, so I thought maybe if I searched for him…”

“That he wouldn’t let you die alone.” Bo responded. 

“I can’t die alone.” I shut my eyes tightly.

“I won’t let you.”

I nodded and swallowed the golf ball size lump in my throat. “I’m here to try and find him. The last address I have was here, and it was a dead end. But according to the white pages, there are over thirty Benjamin Cooper’s in Chapel Hill.”

“You’re shitting me?”

“What?” I asked. 

His face became pale. He was white as a ghost. “Let me see the photo.” 

I handed it to him, but I already knew what he was about to say. The recognition on his face was clear as day. 

“Dad,” he whispered. “It’s my Dad.”


Chapter Eight
Breaking it to Benjamin

 

My first initial thought was OH MY GOD!

My second thought was I had the hots for my brother. 

Sick, sick, sick…

Thankfully, he couldn’t possibly have been my brother. His twenty-first birthday was just eight months before mine. The timing was certainly in our favor. It took us several minutes to get that straightened out, but the ticker took a hard hit with that one.

After the initial shock wore off, we had a good long talk about how crazy the entire situation was. I’d never believed in fate. I had no reason to. But this had surely changed my mind. 

We shared a bag of Cheetos (the puffy ones) while we talked about what the plan was going to be. I let Bo read the letter that his Dad had written to my Mom and he couldn’t believe it. It was like watching the most important scene from a movie play out right before your eyes.

“Seeing as it’s so late, I think you should rest up and we could go see Dad tomorrow. Can you believe this? Gah, it’s unreal,” he carried on. He mentioned just how unreal everything was more than once already. 

“I wonder how many doors I would’ve had to knock on before I came to the right one, or if I would’ve even found it at all? Do you think I’m crazy?” 

His eyes were still glued to me, but he hadn’t answered.

“What?” I snapped.

“I love the way you eat those Cheetos.” He raised an eyebrow.

“Shut up,” I giggled. I turned away from embarrassment. Every damn time he’d find a way to make me red-faced and giggly like a schoolgirl. 

“Wounded.” He held his chest. “Now who’s telling who to shut up?”

Shaking my head, I thought about tossing one of the Cheetos right at this head, but couldn’t do it. It would’ve been a shame to waste my favorite snack on his gorgeous face. 

My life up until then had been full of surprises. I’d learn to take them in stride. But if I would’ve told myself that I’d be sitting in a motel room with a sexy guy, sharing Cheetos on my bed, I probably would have taken a cold shower to wake myself up. 

“You’ve gotten all serious on me. I can see it in your face. What are you thinking so hard about?” Bo asked, grazing his fingertips over mine.

“Just about life, and how things don’t always go the way you think they will.” I pondered a moment. “When I decided to take this crazy trip, I never expected it to go this way. Not that I expected it to be easy. I just thought that I’d find this man who loved my Mother, and I’d hope that he would take a minute to help me plan my funeral. I hoped he’d share a few nice words about my Mom, and he’d possibly be the one person who’d show up on the day they laid me to rest next to her. I guess what I’m trying to say, and you have to forgive me because talking to people isn’t my strong suit, but I never imagined myself making friends along the way. You took me on my first date.” I admitted. “I met a criminal, who was nice. I made it to this town where in a few short hours I’ll be able to meet Benjamin. It’s all working out in my favor and it just doesn’t seem real. I want to pinch myself.”

Jeez, I was rambling. 

He squeezed my hand. “I’ve never met anyone like you before. You’re brave, you’re real, and I couldn’t be happier that you’ve found what you’ve been searching for. Wait… I took you on your first date?”

Great.

He caught that.

Thank you mouth for deceiving me. 

“I took you to a coffee shop for crappy coffee. I’m such a douche.”

I laughed. “It was great. Well, not the coffee, but it was a nice first date. I was barely uncomfortable.” 

“Hell no. I want a do-over. We’re not counting that,” he said seriously. “I’ll make your real first date one that you won’t forget.”

He seemed so adamant about it so I agreed. I reached out my hand. “Deal.” We shook on it, but I was totally counting the coffee shop as a date. We might never get the chance for a redo. 

I yawned and lowered myself down onto my pillow feeling tired. “I think I’m going to go back to sleep now. I’m feeling exhausted all of sudden.”

“You rest.” 

“Aren’t you leaving?” I asked. 

He lay back on the pillow facing me, while his hand pushed a stray hair away from my face. “Yeah.” His face was sweet and innocent as his tired eyes stared into mine. “I’ll leave after you fall asleep. Just rest.”

So I did.

***

Waking up next to a sleeping Bo, ranked right up there with one of the greatest things I’d ever witnessed. His hair was draped over his forehead and his mouth was hanging open. I giggled thinking that I’d never been this close to a sleeping man before. It wasn’t as sexy as I’d expected it to be. Not like the movies. He breathed heavily, there was drool on his pillow, and he looked more like a sleeping puppy then a sexy man. It was perfect, even better than the movies.

He’d fallen asleep instead of going home, and I wondered if he’d done it accidently or if he purposely stayed to make sure I was okay. Either way, it didn’t matter, because he stayed. 

My laughter nearly woke him up when he snored loudly. 

I moved out of the bed carefully trying to let him sleep. He didn’t move. I took a few deep breaths to see how I felt, and how my body would act today. I didn’t feel too bad. My muscles weren’t tight, and my stomach was growling, but not hurting. After a nice shower, I’d be ready to get the day going.

I braided my wet hair so that it hung to the side, and put on my last change of clothes. I needed to find a washing machine or a store soon. 

“Good morning, beautiful,” Bo said when I walked out of the bathroom. 

I rolled my eyes, but turned away quickly to hide my smile.

“I see that,” he admitted. “Let’s go get crappy coffee and we’ll head to my house.”

I took a deep breath. “Okay.”

After grabbing three coffees to go, we drove to his house, parking in the driveway alongside a white Ford truck. We were there.

“Don’t be nervous okay? My Dad is great.”

I nodded, but I didn’t feel any less nervous. Maybe worse. 

I was about to disrupt this man’s life. It sounded wonderful in the beginning, but every time I was about to knock on someone’s door it felt ridiculous. This time, it was real. He was really on the other side. 

Bo didn’t give me a moment to think about it. He opened the door and stepped inside. “Come on in.” 

Slowly, I stepped over the threshold and into his house.

“Bo, is that you?” A man called out.

He was close. I could hear his voice plainly from what sounded like the next room over. 

Oh. I could chicken out. I should chicken out. What was I doing?

“It’s me, Dad. I’ve got a friend with me that I want you to meet.” Bo reached his hand out for mine.

BOOK: I Can't Die Alone
2.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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