Copyright © 2017-2018 Tyler Christopher. All Rights Reserved.
With a quivering lip and tearful eyes, Clint said, "No. No. I-I-I can't die. Not yet. I-I... No. Please. Please!"
With a heart slightly broken, I replied, "Clinton Ronald Bateman, you have my deepest of sympathies. But it is beyond our control."
"Shawn!" my mom shouted as she opened my bedroom door. "Shawn! Get up! Get ready for school!"
Next, my mom went to my brother Ryan's room, and then my sister Kate's. I heard her waking them up as well, but I laid in bed as if she'd never come to my room, like every other day.
"Shawn!" my mom called from my door again. "Danny'll be here in half an hour!"
That got me out of bed. I ran for my towel and dashed across the hall to the upstairs communal bathroom for a shower.
Daniel Henke was my boyfriend. We'd been dating for about fifteen months then. He's two years older than I am, he's a senior and I'm a sophomore. Danny was actually one of Ryan's bullies that I was fending off. Ryan is two years older than I was, but he's a nerd.
As the shower warmed I brushed my teeth, and with a mouth full of foam I shouted, "Mom! Danny's coming over for dinner tonight!"
I was initially pissed the fuck off that the bullies had given my brother a bloody nose, but then, as I cocked my arm back to sock the asshole's face, the deep brown eyes captivated me!
"Leave 'im the fuck alone!" I'd said, almost unable to tear my eyes from those gorgeous orbs.
I went on about my day, walking off with my arm on Ryan's shoulder.
But three days later, as I was eating lunch with my friends, talking and joking, Danny came and sat right beside me.
I looked at him blankly for a few moments. He just kept his smile plastered on his face.
"Can I help you?"
With a shrug and a voice just as nonchalant, Danny replied, "Not right now. But you can come to dinner with me d'marrow."
I intentionally dropped my plastic fork to my lunch and gave Danny the most angry look. I slowly turned my body to face him square on.
"What the fuck are you playing at, Henke?"
Danny's smile grew into a grin. (Those fucking beautiful perfect teeth) He then raised his arms in defense and said, "No game. I ain't playin'. Let me take you out."
"Why?" I'd asked. "I'm a freshman."
That's when Danny's smile instantly fell.
"Oh. Shit. My bad."
And just like that, Danny left.
Over the next week, I'd caught Danny looking at me. They were not stares, nor were they glances. He'd be doing something like talking with a friend, or reading a book, or playing whatever on his phone, or texting, and then he'd look at me. He'd look away and carried on whatever he was doing when I looked back at him.
That Friday, he came up to me at the parking lot after school and said, "Let me take you out. Youhave to let me take you out."
"I'm gonna be late for work," was my answer.
"Hol' up," Danny had said suddenly. "You work?"
"Yes! And I'm gonna be late."
Danny snatched my backpack off my shoulder and said, "Go out with me, freshman."
"Gimme my bag."
"Go out with me."
"Henke, give me my bag."
"Or what? You gon--"
Danny let out a sudden gush of air when my fist met his abdomen. He dropped my backpack to the ground, he'd clutched at his middle as he stood doubled over.
The following Monday at school, before Ryan and I entered the building, Danny came up to us.
"Will you give me just one chance?"
"Because you're an asshole! Now fuck off!"
Before I could do anything else, Danny grabbed my arm and kissed me. I stood shocked. I was frozen.
When Danny removed his lips from mine, he gazed directly into my eyes and smiled.
I gazed back for a few moments. Then I walked away. I didn't care about every other student staring or gasping, or whispering, or texting their friends about it.
I also tried not to think about the warmth of Danny's lips. Or the immense beauty I'd seen before in his eyes the week prior.
I was unable to focus in any of my classes that day. Anywhere really. My boss at work asked if I was okay.
The next day at school, on my way from math to science, Danny stopped me in the halls and asked again for a date. I didn't really give it much thought. I just looked at him blankly for a moment.
"What? Really? You'll go out with me?"
"Yes. I'll be late for class, bye."
As I walked away, Danny called, "You really need to work on your softer feelings, freshman!"
After school, Danny asked me when I'd be free, and we agreed to go out that Thursday since it was my day off from work.
"You're really a freshman?"
"D'know. You're just so mature. You protect your older brother from assholes, y--"
"Assholes like you."
"Fine. I'll stop and I'll get my friends to leave him alone, too. You also have a part time job, and you're so tall and fit! You're just not a freshman."
"Good genes. If it helps, I'm taking 1140 in both math and chemistry. So why are you so interested in me? I'm younger than you and I'm a nerd."
"The age thing won't matter in a couple of years, don't worry. I--"
"Glad you're thinking about the future," I'd said sarcastically.
"Oh shit! I didn't mean to freak you out! God! I'm such an idiot!"
"Hey! Calm down! I'm not freaked out."
"What? Really? Thank god. I'm sorry about what I said, it just came out."
"Seriously, don't worry about it."
"Great first date, huh?"
Danny tried to chuckle, but it became even more dead when I didn't even smile.
"I still find it hard to believe you're really interested in me."
"Fresh- God, I'm afraid I've made that your nickname; 'freshman'. For the past couple of weeks, you've been on my mind constantly. The way you defend your brother, it's amazing. But I'll confess that what caught my eye at first was your bod."
I laughed freely then. "Horndog."
Danny laughed as well, before saying, "So, tell me about your brother."
"What do you wanna know?"
"What's he like? What's your relationship like? I mean I know you guys must be close, you help him out so much."
"I dunno... I... Growing up, Ryan, Kate, and I have always been close. Kate is three years younger than me by the way. Ryan was actually the one to teach me to bike without training wheels. Right off the bat he told me he was going to hold onto my bike, run with me, and then let go. I remember the knot that formed in my stomach, but Ryan was so reassuring. What? What are you looking at?"
Danny's smile just grew a bit bigger. And he answered, "You."
I threw my backpack into the backseat of Danny's car and then gave him a kiss before buckling my seatbelt.
"Courtney's throwing a party this weekend," I said as Danny started driving. "Wanna go?"
"Ummm, what day?"
"She hasn't decided yet. Why? Does Daniel Grayson Henke not want to party?"
"No! Courtney has some kick-ass parties. But I want to take you out. Tell her to have it Saturday, since we both have Sunday off (no working with a hangover). We'll go to dinner on Friday, maybe-Use your fucking turn signal, asshole! Maybe take a walk afterward. Or PDA it up at Starbucks. Then you can spend the night. Saturday, I'll pick you up from work and we'll head over to Courtney's party. And stop saying my whole name!"
We laughed as he let one hand off the steering wheel in favor of holding my hand.
The car ride was spent holding hands, and listening to Danny's playlist via bluetooth. What urged me to remove my seatbelt and snuggle up against Danny was Miley Cyrus' Adore You.
"Shawn?" Danny said softly.
"I love you."
For a few moments, I didn't say anything, I didn't do anything. I just sat, snuggled up to Danny, letting the love soak into me. Then I turned my head slightly and kissed Danny's arm. At that moment, I sang along to Miley Cyrus.
"When you say you love me, know I love you more."
I couldn't really sing. But when I was a kid I was in the choir. I only ever sang for Danny then.
Danny and I walked to his locker, like we usually did because his is closer to the parking lot.
"Almost forgot," Danny said as he tapped his forehead, "can't drive you to work today, mom wants me to take the car in for servicing."
"Okay, Ryan or Becca can drive me. I'll see you later."
"No kiss?" Danny demanded, mock-aghast.
"See you at lunch, Daniel!" I called as I continued walking, not even looking back.
I heard hard and fast footsteps behind me, causing me to look back. I was slightly startled to see that Danny was running after me, but I dashed as fast as I could with laughter erupting from my mouth. Before I ran even two yards, Danny had his arms around my waist.
"Danny! Let me go! Da- We'll be late!"
Danny was carrying me bridal style to the wall. I was squirming, trying to free myself, but Danny was too strong. He was also trying to kiss my face, but I'd kept turning away.
"Danny! Stop! I gotta get to class! Danny!"
"Just one kiss!"
"I gave you a kiss a minute ago!"
"Fine, then apologize for calling me Daniel!"
I was unable to finish my sentence because the laughter brought on by Danny tickling my sides. He'd let me down to the floor, but I laid there laughing and helpless.
I was finally saved by the voice of Mrs. Lasseter saying, "Mr. Henke, I will not stand for any abuse in my school, no matter how adorable."
"Yes, Madam Principal," Danny said with humor as he stood from the floor.
At lunch that day, Danny sat with his friends at the jock table as he sometimes did. I sat with my friends. I was talking with Becca and David (Indian pronunciation) about our third grade teacher Mr. Barlow and his antics.
"Hey," Danny's voice grabbed my attention. He'd walked over to our table.
"Hi," I said back lazily.
Danny sat right in front of me on the table, planting his feet on either side of me. He then finger-combed the hair from my forehead as he said, "Way to greet your boyfriend."
I smiled slightly, craning my neck, bringing my face in for a kiss. Danny bent forward and gave me a sweet peck.
"Break curfew d'night?"
"What's the occasion?"
"'With Arms Outstretched'," Danny said by way of answer.
It was a new film, romance starring Chloë Grace Moretz, that I was sort of interested in.
"Mary said we have to see it! I'll pick you up at work."
"Yeah, let's do it. Will your car be ready, though?"
"Yeah, it'll only take a couple hours. What?"
I was staring. I couldn't help it. My boyfriend was gorgeous.
"What you lookin' at, Shawn?"
My smile grew bigger when I replied, "You."
Like I said before, I was basically addicted to the beauty that shined in Danny's soft and deep brown eyes. His dark brown hair was slightly messy, just the way he liked it, hanging down to his shoulders and casually parted to the side. That birthmark on his left cheek, and that dimple on his right cheek made such an insanely adorable combination! And the way his left canine tooth stuck out slightly was oddly sexy!
"You just like me for my body," Danny jested.
Well his black vest was open, showing his white v-neck hugging his chest and stomach perfectly.
"I keep telling you you should walk around shirtless," I jested back.
"Ahhh, but my skin is only to be seen by a select few."
"A select few, huh? Okay, who am I gonna have to kill?"
Danny chuckled as he bent down again for another kiss.
"Okay lovebirds!" Courtney called. "Party's on Saturday, tell everyone!"
"Good eef-ning, gentlemen," our waiter greeted in his Dutch accent. "My name is Jorn. I must say, you are dressed raza splendidly. Do you mind if I ask what is ze occasion?"
"Thank you, my good man!" Danny answered. "Decided I wanted to take my boyfriend out. Date night."
"Yes yes, of course! A night of romance. You two are adorable, no?"
Danny and I laughed for a moment, and I said, "I know he is."
"Ah do not short yourself, young man! You make good couple, very nice. Now, what can I get for you to drink?"
Danny answered first, "Can I get a lemon water?"
"And for you, sir?"
I gave it some thought for a moment or two, and said, "Just water, please. Flat."
"It will be out shortly."
When the waiter left us, Danny asked, "So what did Gina say about becoming a shift?"
"She said that the store doesn't need any more shifts right now, but that I'd be put on the list of potentials. Another option she gave me was transferring to another store that does need a shift. I love Lexington & 78th, so I'm staying there. I don't mind waiting, it's not like I'm suffering without the wage increase."
"That's true. How's Isaac been?"
Isaac was a coworker of mine. Danny hated him because when Isaac started working at my store he flirted with me by inconspicuously and insistently touching my arms and back. Even after repeatedly swatting his hand away, he did it again. I threatened to bring it to our manager, and he called me a feisty little fella, but swore to stop. And he had stopped touching me. But every time Danny stopped by Starbucks, Isaac gave him this smile; big but not a grin.
"He's not bothering. I don't know how many times I have to tell you that he leaves me alone. He told Nicole that he went out with his guy from the U, so I'm hoping he's busy with that."
"That sounds good for him."
"Yeah. Have you heard from Berkeley yet?"
"No. And stop worrying about it, love. It's still two years away before we go there."
Some time ago, Danny brought college up during cuddles. Of course I'd thought about it a lot in between; where Danny would go, where I would go, what that meant for us. Danny had decided that he would go NYU until I graduated high school, since I was two years younger. He'd then transfer his credits to Berkeley, and we'd attend there together.
Just then, Jorn our waiter arrived with a tray.
"Here are your drinks, gentlemen. Now, would you like to place your order, or would you like anoza moment?"
"I think we're ready," I replied. "Can I have the grilled chicken breast with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed greens?"
"Excellent choice, sir," Jorn said. "And for you?"
Danny responded, "Can I please get the seared salmon with wild rice and steamed carrots?"
As he wrote the order, Jorn said, "The salmon is my personal favorite. May I get any-sing else for you?"
"I think I'll have a ginger ale as well, thank you."
I placed my hand palm up on the table as I studied the alcohol menu, asking Danny, "How's your nephew doing?"
"Brendan's doing great!" Danny replied, and then laid his hand on top of mine. "He's so big! We Skyped this morning with George, and Brendan told us that he saw a puppy to be given away by one his preschool classmates, but his mom is allergic."
"Aww!" I'd gushed. "It's too bad that Brendan can't get a dog. Is Teja allergic to cats, too?"
"No, but my brother can't stand 'em. I think he should just put his cat feelings aside so that Brendan can experience pets."
Just then a buzzing noise came from Danny's jacket pocket so he dug his phone out. I went back to reading the wine choices.
"Your mom wants to know why you aren't texting her back."
I dug my own phone out of my jacket and hit the Home button. As expected, the battery had died. So I sat the device face down on the table as my other index finger began drawing lines on Danny's wrist, and turned the PhoneSuit case to charge.
As I waited for the phone to charge enough to turn back on I said, "My mom will be coming with me on Tuesday to get my ears pierced. I'm so excited! But I don't know how many pierces I want in each ear. I'm thinking of starting with just the lobes, but I also really want both helixes. What do you think?"
"I don't know. You'll be sexy no matter what, the helix is one of my favorites, but then you'll be cleaning four pierces every morning and every night."
My phone turned back on then, and I left it to reconnect to the cell network. "Yeah, it's not like I'm gonna be lazy to clean 'em all the time, but there'll be a night or two I'll be like, 'Meh, just do it in the morning' kind of thing."
"Yeah, it's not like you're gonna die from not cleaning your ears a couple nights a month."
My phone buzzed incessantly for about six seconds, so I had to check it out.
Three texts from my mom, two from Courtney, one from David, one from Rory, and one from Nathan. There was also a 'New Voicemail(s)' notification, to which I checked later to learn there were three messages.
"But isn't it gonna be super expensive to get all four done in one go?"
"A little, I guess. But I've got about $900 in my chequing account and I've still got my savings."
My parents had set up college accounts for me and my siblings, but before high school I'd started saving wages from mowing lawns during the summer and shovelling snow in the winder for life during college. I was really glad that I had because Danny and I had planned to get an apartment together while attending Berkeley, so then I deposited seventy percent of my Starbucks pay cheques into my savings and I didn't really spend so a lot of my spending money just sat in my chequing account.
"No, you can't use any of your savings. If you don't have enough money in your chequing for the piercings, text me and I'll transfer whatever you need."
"You don't need to do that, love, my mom won't mind helping. Besides, I know I'll have enough, the piercings will cost a little less than $600 with the jewelry."
"Well, just let me know."
At that moment, Jorn showed up with a slightly bigger tray in hand. "Here we are! Chicken for ze short-haired one."
Danny and I laughed as Jorn sat the plate in front of me.
"Here's your ginger ale. And salmon for you, sir. May I can get any-sing else for you?"
"Everything looks wonderful, Jorn!" Danny said with a smile.
I said, "Thank you very much," as I grabbed my fork and knife.
Dinner at l'Amour was romanctic, and warm, and just perfect. Danny and I had fought over who would pay, as we always did. I won, arguing that he'd paid the last two dates. His compromise this time was he'd pay the tip, and I merely nodded my head, but that was just to shut him up as I'd paid the tip as well.
When we were leaving the restaurant, Jorn stopped us and said, "It was a pleasure meeting you fine young gentlemen. You make an exquisite couple. The love you share is so pure, it's beautiful. You have a wonderful eef-ning."
Danny and I took a stroll on that fine spring evening, arm in arm. We didn't talk much, it was not needed. We enjoyed each other's company. When we left the restaurant the sky was an incredible pink and purple color. The moon was full and bright. Danny smelled superb, he wore the ideal amount of La Nuit de L'Homme cologne.
Danny sniffling brought me out of my love trance. I looked to him and there were tears in his eyes.
"Hey, what's'a matter?"
"I umm... You know that physical I told you about last... umm last week?"
My stomach dropped. I could feel my heart on verge of cracking. My eyes warmed with impending tears. My mouth dried. So it really wasn't a routine checkup like he'd said.
"I umm... They-they-they umm... They found something in my umm... in my lungs."
My eyes went from nearly wet with tears to tears flooding my face in that one instant. My heart completely broke, shattered into billions and billions of pieces.
"No," I whispered with my knees beginning to weaken. "No no no. Danny..."
"Hey, no," Danny said with a tearful smile. "No. My parents got the call yesterday that it's benign. That tiny, little tumor isn't harming me. We've scheduled a surgery for Thursday. I'm okay. I'm okay."
Danny and I stood in the middle of the street embracing and sniffling our worries away.
"Why would you keep that from me for so long?"
"'Cause I knew you'd worry. I was waiting until the doctor called."
"Don't you ever keep anything like that from me ever again."
Danny kissed the top of my head and said, "I promise. I'm sorry."
After about a minute more of hugs, Danny and I continued our walk to his parents' house. We'd left his car outside of his cousin's apartment a couple blocks from L'Amour. We loved to take walks together.
"Mom, we're home!" Danny called when we walked through the front door.
"Hey guys!" Mrs. Henke called from the kitchen. "There's apple pie in the fridge to microwave if you want it with ice cream!"
"We're good!" Danny called again.
Danny led me to their den, where his dad was sitting in his recliner watching the news.
"Hey boys," Mr. Henke greeted as he lowered the volume slightly. "You both look dashing! How was date night?"
I replied, "It was fantastic. How are you, Mr. Henke?"
Danny leaned his back on the arm of the sofa and pulled me down to him for cuddles.
"In general I'm doin' pretty good, but I've got this case that's stressin' me out. Nothin' for any of you to worry about. What's new, Shawnzy?"
"Meh, nothin' much. I'm getting my ears pierced on Tuesday. I also talked to my manager about becoming a shift manager, but it won't happen for a while."
"And why is that?" Mr. Henke inquired.
"The store doesn't need any shifts right now. I'll have to wait til one of the current shifts quits or gets canned. But my manager also asked if I was interested in transferring to another store to become a shift there, but I said no."
"Honey, I'm heading up to bed now," Mrs. Henke said from the den entrance.
Mr. Henke turned to her with a smile and said, "Kay sweetie, I'll be up when the news is done."
"G'night boys," Mrs. Henke said as she left.
"So is that something that you're okay with, Shawn?" Mr. Henke asked, turning back to me. "Waiting for a shift position I mean."
"Yeah, it's totally fine. It's not like I really need the money anyway. I mean I've still got over a year of high school before Danny and I go to Berkeley. And in the four years since I started saving for college I've accumulated $9, 400."
Mr. Henke smiled at me brightly and said, "Shawn, you are an incredible young man. I am so very proud of you."
Mr. Henke went back to watching the news while Danny and I cuddled in silence, occasionally kissing. After about ten minutes I loosened my neck tie and undid the two top buttons of my shirt, fully relaxing in Danny's arms.
But Danny had other plans. He started kissing my neck as he slowly slid my jacket off my shoulders and down my arms. He softly pushed my shoulder blades up, signalling for me to sit up. When I sat, Danny fully removed my jacket, removed his own jacket and undid his hair bun, and resumed our cuddle session.
"Dad?" Danny said out of the blue.
"Hmm?" Mr. Henke asked, lowering the TV volume slightly.
"How do you think it would be if I were straight?"
Mr. Henke fully turned his head in our direction with a face of shock. He then turned back to the TV and turned it off.
"I don't think about that. Ever. And you know why? It's because you're perfect the way you are, son. If you were straight, I wouldn't have met and come to care for Shawn. He is one of the best things to happen to you. I love the way you talk about him, and the way you light up when he walks into the room. Because of him, you no longer get into trouble at school. Your grades weren't bad before, but now they are astounding! If you were straight, I'd still give you the talks about love and matters of the heart, and sex, and safe sex. I think the only thing that would be different is the gender of your lover. You'd still be the wonderful, caring, kind-hearted young man I see right now. What brought this on, Danny?"
I was so moved by Mr. Henke's words, and so was Danny if his little sniffle was any indication.
"Dunno, just always thought about it I guess."
"Danny, you are my son. I'll love you no matter what. No matter what. You and your brothers meaneverything to me."
Mr. Henke got up from his seat and placed his hand on Danny's shoulder before heading up to bed.
I turned my whole body to face Danny, sitting between his thighs with my feet on either side of his body. We gazed into each other's eyes. No words were needed to convey our love. We just looked into each other's eyes, into each other's souls. We gave a single lingering kiss, then rested our foreheads against each other.
"Danny?" A voice quietly called, startling both Danny and me.
"Alex?" Danny said, not bothering to look away from me.
"Yeah, hey Shawn. Uhh, Rick's outside lookin' for you. He seemed upset, dude."
Rick was Danny's friend, he was on the school basketball team.
When Danny went outside to Rick, Alex came and sat in his dad's recliner.
I asked him, "How's it goin', Al?"
"Ha!" Alex laughed. "Don't call me that, fucker. But I'm alright."
Alex changed the channel to the ABC network, which was playing an episode of *Modern Family. So we watched it in silence.*
Danny was outside talking with Rick for about three minutes, and he came back in and went right back to cuddling.
"What's up with Rick?" I asked.
"Wendy's period is late which is freaking her out. Which is freaking Rick out. I told him that women's periods are sometimes late and not to worry about it too much."
I nodded my understanding. Danny laid down on his side and pulled me down to spoon.
After about ten minutes of spooning, Danny said, "C'mon, we should get our homework done."
We went up to his bedroom, where our backpacks were sitting beside his door. We removed our neck ties, dress shirts and pants, and laid in bed with our books splayed out in front of us.
The next morning, I woke from Danny moving slightly and then tightening his arms around me. I'd guessed he was still asleep.
I slowly got out of Danny's bed, being extra careful not to wake him.
"Morning," Danny's other brother Brad said as he came out of the bathroom.
"Hey," I said as I closed Danny's bedroom door. "How's it goin'?"
"Pretty good. How are you?"
"Doin' good. Danny's birthday is comin' up in a month, do you know of anything he likes lately?"
"Ummm..." Brad said with a look of thought. "The other day I caught him looking at TV's online. He wants one for his room I guess, and it'll be good for college."
"Oh why didn't I think of that?"
"Hey boys," Mrs. Henke greeted in the kitchen, sipping her coffee.
"Hey mom," Brad said as he opened the fridge. "Can I take the car today?"
"I have to go grocery shopping today," Mrs. Henke responded. "How about you come with me, help me with the shopping, and then you can have it for the rest of the day?"
"Can't you or I take dad's car?"
"Mm-mm," Mrs' Henke said with her mug on her mouth and shaking her head. "Dad's meeting a client in holding, and then he's going to the gym."
"Okay, I'll help you."
"Thanks sweetie, we'll leave in an hour. What do you have planned today?"
"Just hangin' out with a few people," Brad answered with the smallest of a smile.
"Ohhh is Lena gonna be there?"
"No!" Brad replied a little quick and forceful. "Okay maybe."
Mrs. Henke and I laughed, and she asked, "How'd you sleep, Shawn?"
"Oh pretty good! I--"
"Morning!" Danny called rather enthusiastically as he entered the kitchen, wearing nothing but his boxers.
"You're in a good mood," Mrs. Henke commented with a smile.
Danny didn't respond right away. Instead, he leaned his elbow down on the counter where I was standing and held me by my waist.
"I love sleeping with you in my arms," Danny whispered before he kissed my cheek. "What time do you want to go to the bank?"
"I have to go to work at 3pm, and we gotta get your car, too. In an hour?"
Danny nodded his head, then went to the fridge.
"Where's your car?" Mrs. Henke asked Danny.
"Outside of Randy's," Danny replied.
"Your cousin Randy?" Mrs. Henke asked surprised. "That's twenty-five, thirty blocks from here!"
Danny lifted his shoulders in a shrug and said, "We like to walk together."
"Well I can drive you two there since your brother and I are going grocery shopping."
As Mrs. Henke walked upstairs, Danny called, "We'll walk but thanks, mom!"
After breakfast and more cuddles, as I was fixing my neck tie, Danny came up behind me. He placed his hands on my hips and kissed my neck. He then gently turned me to face him. His cupped my face in his hands, gazing deeply into my eyes.
The intensity of his gaze, Danny didn't have to utter a single word. His eyes *screamed to the world that he loved me.*
But the moment was shattered by Alex walking by Danny's bedroom and saying, "Homos."
"Dick!" Danny shouted with a smile. "Shall we?"
About half way to his car, Danny and I walked into a Starbucks store for cool drinks to battle the heat. I'd presented my Starbucks partner card to the cashier for an employee discount, but she was kind enough to give them free. Instead of writing my name on the cup, she wrote *'Employee 8110'as those were the last four digits of my employee number, which made me laugh.*
It wasn't long before we'd gotten Danny's car and made it to the bank. The street was so busy that there was nowhere for Danny to park. So he'd told me to go in and he'd find a place to park. Three minutes later I was second in line to see one of four tellers, but something behind me grabbed the employee's attention and his face froze in fear.
There were five of them that just entered the bank. People dressed in black, wearing clown masks. Each one carried at least automatic gun. They immediately fired a couple rounds in warning. Fear took over my body completely. I couldn't move. I couldn't think. I'd just stood there. I could see everything, but it was like it was happening in slow motion. I heard nothing. I saw people screaming but my brain was not registering any sound.
All I was thinking was, 'Danny. Make sure he's safe. Is he in the building? No. Good. Good. He's safe.'
But then I'd seen his face. He was standing outside of the bank's window, nothing but fear in his eyes. We were looking directly into each other's eyes. I could see his mouth saying my name.
"Danny," I'd whispered, reaching my hand up to him.
That very moment, that very instant went by in super slow motion. I'd heard the gunshot, and it rang in my ears for a long moment. One of the robbers had panicked from my motion and automatically pulled his trigger...
'He said it,' I thought. 'Oh my god he said it. Right? Those words really came out of his mouth, didn't they? That just happened, right? I didn't imagine it, right?'
"What?" I asked with a drying mouth.
Danny smiled and said, "You heard me. I love you, Shawn."
'Fuck, he did say it. He fucking said it. We've only been dating six weeks. It's too early for that. Just six weeks! But... Why does my heart feel this way now? It's... I'm happy. This is an incredible guy saying that he loves me. Danny. With his brilliant eyes and gorgeous smile and sexy bod, who is also the single most sweetest guy on the planet. He loves me.'
"I..." I smiled as I looked into his brown eyes. "I think I love you, too."
Danny and I shared a passionate kiss, held each other in a warm embrace, and spent the rest of the evening watching The Lady and the Tramp on his parents' old VCR.
I suddenly found myself in white. It wasn't even a room. It was just white everywhere. I was standing, but it seemed like there was no floor. I turned, and turned and turned. I must have turned 360º twice when there was suddenly a man standing behind me.
"Shawn Desmond Reidford," the man said in a monotone. "How are you, son?"
I stared for a second, trying to stop the tears, and said, "I..."
The man's dull grey eyes gazed at me, studied me. He wore a black suit. But his suit was vintage. Extremely vintage. Like it was from 1890's England. His white hair was slicked back handsomely. His thin, alabaster skin was slightly wrinkly.
"I'm scared," I finished.
"Oh? Why is that?"
"I-I-I... Where am I?"
"I think you know the answer to that. You need not fear me."
"I d... I died, didn't I?"
"Are you, are you an angel or a demon?"
"I believed you agnostic, Shawn."
"I-I am, sir."
"I am what you humans call Death. I foresee who dies and when. The woman behind you is what you call a reaper."
I turned and a mid-thirties woman stood behind me. Her blonde hair laid curly. Her eyes were the same dull grey as Death's.
"Reapers extract the human soul from the body at passing. She brought you to me at my request."
"And-and why do you want me?"
"Raina, leave us," Death requested of the woman.
When I turned around again, the woman was gone.
"Shawn, reapers don't... let's just say they don't live forever like I do. Reapers are merely souls doing a job I've assigned them. And the job that they do is taxing. They can only do so much. When a reaper 'passes' the very next human who dies is presented the opportunity of becoming a reaper."
"A-a-and that's me!?" I asked in shock.
"Yes. Of course I'll leave you for however long you require to deliberate your answer through carefully. And I'll answer any question you have."
"I-I-I-I..." I inhaled and exhaled heavily. "Oh shit. I'm dead. I... Fuck! Ca-ca-can I, umm... Can I have a minute?"
Death gave a single nod and then just disappeared. Instantly. Quicker than the snap of a finger.
I swallowed once and then let out the loudest, most painful scream I'd ever experienced. I let a hydro-dam-worth of tears flood from my eyes.
And I screamed.
And then I screamed some more...
Danny was drawing circles on my bare stomach with his finger, with his head laying on my chest. I was running my fingers through his thick, long brown locks. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II was playing on his laptop but neither of us were paying any attention to it.
"So what are your top three university choices?" Danny asked out of the blue.
Before answering, I used my knee to gently push Danny onto his back. I straddled his hips and bent forward to kiss his neck.
"First is Berkeley. I've always wanted to go there. Second is Princeton. Third is Brown."
"Why'd you choose the last two?"
"My dad went to Princeton, and my mom went to Brown."
"Mm, of course."
"What are your top three choices?"
"Yale, because it's a kick-ass school! Second is Berkeley because it's also rad. Third is Stanford because both my parents went there."
Danny's mouth twitched the slightest bit, like he was going to say something else. But let it go, instead smiling and lifting his head for a kiss.
About fifteen or twenty minutes later, Danny said, "We sh- I... Maybe- Okay I'm nervous right now."
I chuckled, but quickly caught it. "Why? What is it?"
Danny sighed, trying to get a hold of himself. "What happens when I graduate high school?"
With a knot in the core of my stomach, I said, "I d'know. What do you want to happen?"
Danny whispered with deep affection, "Shawn, I asked you first."
I stuttered, "I-I-I-I..."
"It's okay," Danny whispered as one hand stroked my face. "It's okay. You could say anything and I promise I'll understand."
"I want to go with you to New Haven and finish high school there!" I rushed the words out.
I'd expected Danny to find my answer amusing. I'd expected as little as a smile and as much as some laughter. But Danny's smile was warm, and there was a twinkle in his eye.
"I want nothing more than to be with you, Shawn."
A little heart broken, even though Danny still had the rest of senior year and all summer home, I laid my upper body on top of Danny's with my legs still straddling him. I let a couple of tears fall from my eyes onto his neck.
Danny stroked my head and his other hand slowly rubbed my back. He kissed my cheek and neck multiple times, bringing so much comfort.
"I've been accepted to NYU," he'd said quietly.
I'll admit that it did take me a few long moments to register that.
"What?" I asked as I sat up.
Danny grinned at me, then turned his body slightly and dug an envelope from his bedside table. The envelope was addressed to Mr. Daniel G Henke.
"From New York University!" I shouted with disbelief and utter excitement.
"I'm going to NYU!" Danny said excitedly.
"B-b-but what about Yale?" I asked in confusion.
"Two months ago I applied to practically every university in the country. I want to go where you wanna go. I'll go to NYU until you graduate, and then we'll both go to Berkeley. Your first choice is my second choice, so it all works out in the end."
"But Dan!" I scolded. "What about your dream?"
"My dream is to be with you, Shawn. And what about your dream? You go to Berkeley and I go to Yale? Long distance relationship or break up? I want to be with you. Shawn, I love you. I want you in my arms when I go sleep. I want you to hold my hand as I drive us to school. I want to sit in some common area at Berkeley with text books in our faces."
"So then let's both go to Yale," I argued.
"Shawn, Yale wasn't even in your top three choices. Berkeley was. We're going to Berkeley."
"Death!" I shouted into the void I was in.
"I presume you have questions for me," he stated, suddenly at my side.
"Does a reaper cause death?"
"No, only Fate arranges death. I foresee who dies and when, though the details are unknown to me. Reapers extract the soul."
"How does a reaper extract a soul?"
"For a moment or two after death, the human soul is... let's say unconscious. This is the opportune moment to extract. Of course soul extraction can be performed on a conscious soul, though it is painful on the person. To extract a soul, the reaper reaches his hands into the brain and chest to firmly grasp the soul's strongest points and separates it from the physical body."
"What about soul extraction is so 'taxing', as you put it?"
"Reapers are human souls. The human soul was not meant to be touched by mortals. It is not painful to reapers to extract souls, but over time you become weaker."
"Why don't you reap? And how long does one last as a reaper?"
"I started, millions of years ago, as both Death and a reaper. Due to population growth, I found myself unable to match soul extraction with life termination. The lady you'd met earlier, Raina, she's been employed for eighty-two years. The norm is about one hundred twenty."
"And what happens to a soul once it's been extracted?"
"The soul is taken by Creation and put into the body of another creature who, at that moment, was conceived. You could say that the soul is reborn."
"How many reapers are there in the world?"
"Currently one hundred ninety-nine."
"That's an odd number."
"I am awaiting your decision, Mr. Reidford. You would be my two hundredth reaper."
"What happens to a reaper when he passes?"
"Creation does something special. They are reborn as royalty such as the descendants of kings and queens, or they grow to become future presidents."
"How do I know where to go to reap? How do I even get there?"
"You will have this instinctual feeling, you'll be teleported there by something in you I know nothing of seconds before the death."
"Deaths like suicide and murder--"
"No. All of death is the product of Fate's resolve. She decides death and how it happens. I, as were all of my reapers, was merely put here for the purpose of soul extraction."
"Ever hear of suicide unsuccessful, Mr. Reidford? Fate has other plans for those people. They cannot cause their own death. A gunman, for example, is just a weapon of Fate's. Speaking of... the man who shot you is about to die. Would you like to perform your first reaping? And yes, Mr. Reidford, I already know your answer to becoming a reaper."
I stared at the old man for a minute. I wondered how it all worked. I mean I asked the questions that I could, but sometimes answers don't always satisfy, right?
But then I felt a tug in my stomach and a sense of urgency in my mind.
"Go to it," Death said. "Close your eyes. Just follow the magnetism."
When I opened my eyes my heart broke at the sight in front of me. I was back in the Bank of America, where I'd died. I quickly looked around for my love.
"Shawn!" his voice screamed, tortured and torn and completely broken.
Danny was being held by two men; one citizen and the other a police officer. He was trying to get out of their hold and run into the bank. His eyes were streaming tears, and were red and puffy.
I looked around again. I found my body lying on the floor, my... his eyes staring back at me blankly. There was a pool of blood on the floor from his head. My head.
"Your killer is coming up," Death whispered, though I saw him nowhere near me. "Just remember that he. Is just. A weapon. That is all he is."
Another sense, a new sense, came forth. It affected my senses of hearing and sight. Everything I heard was muffled, and my vision was just slightly blurry. But then a man's voice was clear. Like it was crystal clear. I turned. The sight of him was crisp and sharp.
And just like that, he fell back. He was shot by a police officer. It was a lucky shot.
"There are no such things as lucky shots, Mr. Reidford," Death's voice said in my head.
The bullet had shot in the arm opening of his kevlar vest, flying into his chest and puncturing his lung. He died in about a minute or do.
I slowly walked over to the man's body. I took my time. I let the feelings in my chest weigh in on my decision. Anger for killing me. Sorrow for a short-lived life. Despair for my Danny, my love. Pain for my family.
"His soul is awake now," Death said, materializing at my side, understanding my desire for Raymond Edward Masterson to feel the agony of soul extraction.
How did I just know his name?
You know as much as I do on that.
I squatted down by my killer's neck. I could feel his fear, the fear his soul was feeling trapped in his dead body.
"Just follow your instincts," Death said plainly. "Dominant hand in his chest, other in his skull. You will feel it when you've grasped him."
I took a few deep, calming breaths, closing my eyes for a moment. I slowly inched my right hand to the man's chest. I'd expected, hoped, that my hand would rest on his chest. I sort of hoped that I wasn't really dead, that I was just dreaming or something.
"This would be one intensely vivid dream," Death said yet again.
But my hand didn't stop on the man's flesh. I didn't get to feel that recognizable warmth of human flesh, even if that human was my killer.
"The human psyche is quite intriguing, is it not?"
My hand on was about an inch into the man's chest. Something in there was shaking violently, so violently I thought his body was about to crack and tear.
"Mr. Masterson can feel your presence," Death elaborated. "His soul is aware that you're about to remove it from the body."
Another two inches in, I felt something akin to a small ball in the man's chest. I fisted that ball and looked for the same thing in his head.
"Good, now extract," Death instructed. "You must not deter, not even as he screams. And he will scream. Like nothing you've ever heard, Mr. Reidford."
When I firmed my grasp on Raymond Masterson, even before I really started to extricate the soul, the violent shaking became even more so. The sheer intensity of the shudders alone broke my heart. It brought a big and tight knot to the core of my stomach.
"It is recommended highly that reapers extract the soul immediately." Death said in a lecture-type tone. "But no matter what I said, you would have done this. Now you must live with it."
It was difficult. Extracting the human soul requires strength and stamina. More so when the soul is conscious and vibrating as hard as this.
"Pull, Shawn!" Death near roared.
When the head of Raymond Masterson's soul came forth from the body, the volume of his howls of pain shattered my heart. No matter how much I hated this man, I wouldn't wish this much pain on him. His face was redder than a tomato. His tears were hot.
I actually started to cry. Masterson was in that much pain.
"You wonder how you slept through this much pain during your extraction," Death said simply. "It is your soul separating from your body. It is then in a numb state. Now pull!"
I hated myself for putting any person through this much pain. Masterson's shrieking was truly, truly heart-wrenching. Any part of his soul that came out of his body shook with such violence, and were rigid.
"HELP ME!" I shouted through my own tears.
"You have to do this on your own, Shawn. You are almost there. Just a little bit more."
When about three-quarters of Masterson's soul was free from the body, Masterson passed out. His soul just want limp in my hands. It was like he was dead. But we were dead. And his soul didn't go with Creation. It just laid there. So I quickly went back to extracting.
I sat on the floor of the bank crying and shaking and broken. Masterson's soul laid by my side, looking lifeless he was that still.
"Your first extraction could have gone better," Death said plainly again.
I was about to say something when Masterson's soul disappeared in a ball of white light.
"That was Creation taking a soul for reincarnation."
Death stood at my side doing nothing as I slowly calmed my nerves.
"Do you think you will allow the soul to gain consciousness before extraction ever again?"
"Good. I find it quite a cruel torture for both the deceased and the reaper. And yes, reapers can leave their positions at any time. Sometimes two souls in love are reborn in each other's lives in some way."
Some day, my Danny. Some day.
"How are you, Shawno?" Danny asked with a bit of a teasing smile.
I chuckled and said, "Shawno!? Where'd that come from?"
Danny all but shrugged his shoulders with a soft smile.
"Anyway, I'm doing good. I'm glad I got a coworker to cover for me tonight. By the way, if you're going to ask me out again, do it a week in advance so I can have that much more time to find someone to cover for me again."
"So there'll be more dates in the future?" Danny asked with a grin.
"Well I'm still finding it hard to believe you want to date me."
Danny laughed and asked, "Why?"
"Because!" I said with an uncomfortable chuckle. "I'm... just... me. I mean as kids my brother and sister were my best friends. I spend my free Saturdays watching cartoons. I'm the middle child but my mom treats me like I'm the baby by kissing my cheek whenever she can. I actually love reading Shakespeare. And look at what I wear to school! What I enjoy dressing in! Slacks with- What?"
Danny was staring at me. There, on his face, were a warm smile and eyes of admiration.
"You... intrigue me, Shawn. I mean I know this is only our second date... but there's something... I don't know... in my chest that... I really like you, Shawn. I didn't feel this way when I dated Kyle. It kind of scares me. But I like that feeling. It feels right."
So warm was the feeling in my chest. It started in my heart, spreading with the blood in my veins. One thing that I don't about is whether the butterflies that flew in my stomach were good or bad. Both?
"So umm," I had to clear my throat, I was that excited. "What is it about me that intrigues you, Dan?"
"So much," Danny whispered. "The things you just described, you think it makes you a dork or a loser or something. But it just shows how beautiful you are. In here."
Danny placed his forefinger on my chest, right where my heart was. And when he touched me, it felt like the tip of his finger sent me the feeling of a nice, hot, relaxing bath.
"It tells me what you hold close. What you love and desire. You've got to see how amazing you are, Shawn."
I just had to. Danny was that sexy and gorgeous.
"What are you, Dan?" I whispered as I took a step closer.
I then stood up on my toes and touched my lips to his. As Danny wrapped his arms around me, bringing me in closer, flush against him, I wrapped my arms around him in return and held him even closer.
"Fags," some guy said as he and his friend walked by.
Danny and I watched them for a second, then looked to each other. Our eyes connected. Those damn eyes of his were so gorgeous.
"So tell me, who is your best friend and how did you meet 'em?" Danny asked.
He led us to continue our stroll on the streets. This time our hands were in each other's, fingers laced together securely.
"I'd just started second grade at Park Terrace, and Becca Timmons waved at me at my first class. When class ended, she came up to me and told me to look for her recess so that I could play kickball with her and her friends. Now tell me yours."
Danny grinned as he answered, "Fourth grade, Freddie Vitoran. I was the first he picked for dodgeball. He smiled at me and put his arm on my shoulder. That felt so good, being the first choice."
"When will-" I had to swallow to try gaining control of my tears. "When will Danny die?"
Death slowly shook his head no and said, "I cannot tell you when Daniel Grayson Henke or anyonewill pass. What I can do is arrange for you to be the extractor when he does. Is that what you would like?"
With more tears pooling in my eyes, I nodded my head once and said, "Y-yes. Please."
"So be it. Now, the scene before us is over."
I looked around. Danny was running full speed through the bank entrance with urgency. He fell to his knees at the side of my body and grabbed it as he wailed. He hugged my body tightly with his face screwed with agony.
"Shawn!" Danny howled. "Shawn, please! Wake up. Wakeupwakeupwakeup. Please. No."
"C--" I tried to speak but I was a wreck. "Can we p-please leave?"
"You can leave whenever you wish, Shawn. You were here for a soul extraction. It is done. You don't really want to leave."
I let the tears fall freely. I just watched my love, wishing I was able to do anything to comfort him.
"Touch him," Death told me plainly.
I slowly got down on my knees behind Danny as he continued to bawl uncontrollably. I slowly reached my hand up to his back. Unexpectedly, my hand wasn't able to touch him physically, it just went through his flesh.
But this felt... different. With Masterson it felt like sticking your hand in cool water. But with Danny, it felt like a gelatine. And his bawling did quiet down a bit.
"He's still heart-broken," Death said. "But his heart senses something. You. I've seen this happen maybe two hundred times in my... countless millennia."
Tearful and broken, Danny looked my dead body in the face and said, "There better not be any hot homos up there in heaven. I love you. You asshole. I love you."
My mom held out a tray full of hotdogs and hamburger patties and said, "Katie, will you take this inside?"
Kate grabbed the tray and ran off to the cabin. Danny grabbed my hand, still staring into the flames of the pit.
"That was an incredible apple pie, mom," Ryan said. "What d'you do different?"
"Right!" my mom said with a grin. "I tried your aunt Verna's recipe, which uses a third less of the lemon juice and a quarter more of the cinnamon sugar."
"Come stargaze with me," my dad asked my mom, lying on top of a picnic table.
"Sing something," Kate requested as she walked back to the group.
"A Thousand Years," Danny pleaded, one of his favorite songs.
Before I could protest Danny had already taken out his phone and opened his piano app.
Heart beats fast
Colors and promises
How to be brave?
How can I love when I'm afraid to fall?
But watching you stand alone,
All of my doubt suddenly goes away somehow.
One step closer
I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don't be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I'll love you for a thousand more
Time stands still
Beauty in all she is
I will be brave
I will not let anything take away
What's standing in front of me
Every hour has come to this
One step closer
I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don't be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I'll love you for a thousand more
And all along I believed I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me
I have loved you for a thousand years
I'll love you for a thousand more.
During that last verse, Danny had stopped playing the piano because I was looking directly into his eyes. I could see and, more importantly, feel the love and admiration from his gorgeous brown orbs.
"I'm sorry," Danny whispered, still looking into my eyes.
"What for?" I whispered back.
"The piano. I just love how your voice got a bit raspier. It just gives off more emotion."
"We are gathered here today, not to mourn a loss," my family church's minister spoke, "but to celebrate a life. Nothing on this Earth is certain but death. Death is inevitable, yet we fear it. We fear it because it unknown to us. Here to speak of Shawn is his boyfriend Daniel."
Danny's brother George rubbed Danny's back as Danny rose from his seat. He looked pale, and tired, and his face was sallow. Before my eyes was a broken man.
"Too soon was my love taken from life," Danny spoke with a hitch in his voice. "He was only about to turn sixteen in two weeks. Sixteen. He was not ready to go. I was not ready to lose him. None of us were. But Shawn lived a wonderful life. He was wise well beyond his years. The fir-first time I met him, he was actually about to sock me in the eye. You see, he was protecting his brother. That's the type of beautiful spirit Shawn had. He was always looking out for his friends and family. He gave such love so freely and irrevocably. He expected nothing in return. If you showed the love and care back, that just made him love you even more.
"And who could forget that face? Shawn's eyes bore such brilliance, they danced with his wonder. Affection and warmth emanated so naturally, you feel the sincerity in him when he looked at you.
"I'm sorry, I'm not able to... umm... to finish.
"Shawn may be gone, but he will forevermore be in my heart. I was lucky to have the seventeen months being his. That was more than enough to last me a lifetime of memories, yet nowhere near as long as I'd planned. I love you, Shawn."
"I changed my mind," Danny said with a hint of urgency in his voice as he stopped walking.
I looked back at him and asked, "What? Why?"
"I just changed my mind," Danny said pathetically.
I took the couple of steps to close the distance between us and placed my hands on his hips. I stood on my tiptoes and gave Danny a warm kiss. He then looked deep into my eyes and he visibly calmed down.
"I still don't want to do this," he said with finality.
I rolled my eyes and grabbed his hand and led him into my house. The smell of mom's white wine and garlic chicken wafted all over the house. Heavenly.
"Mom! Dad!" I called, noticing Danny's grip on my hand tightened uncomfortably.
My parents walked into the living room from the kitchen and my mom immediately smiled. But my dad was another story. His face stayed controlled, stoic.
"So this is the boy who's been picking on my Ryan," he said with a stern voice.
"Uhhhhh," Danny stuttered with his face reddening rapidly. "I-I-I..."
I gave my dad the hardest stare I could, and turned to Danny. "Calm. Just stay calm, babe."
Danny inhaled deeply a few times. When he was calm enough, he said, "I-I have apologized to Ryan and I've asked my friends to leave him alone. Now I must apologize to you. I now realize that bullying isn't just harmless fun, but it can really affect a person. For my childish carelessness and adolescent behaviour, I offer my sincerest apologies."
My dad's face stayed controlled for a moment or two. But a second later, his smile broke out.
"Relax, son," my said warmly. "Just bustin' your balls."
My mom stepped forward with her hand out and said, "Welcome, Daniel. How are you?"
"Umm, just Dan, please. And I'm doing wonderful, thank you. Yourself?"
"I am ecstatic to finally meet my son's boyfriend! Come in! Dinner's in about twenty minutes. Help yourself to a beer if you wish."
Wide-eyed, Danny looked at me. Unsure was the look on his face. I nodded my head once and he accepted the alcohol. My parents occasionally offered myself and my brother a beer or two.
"Two months ago our Shawn told us that he was dating someone," my dad said. "It's great to at last meet you, Dan."
"It's a pleasure, sir," Danny said back. His voice was so much calmer, but still a hint of anxiety.
"So Shawn tells me, and Ryan confirms, that you are two years older than he is?"
"Y-yes sir," Danny said with his nerves wracking again.
With a welcoming smile, my dad said, "Well I trust in Shawn's judgement. If he thinks you are good for him then I believe it. Tell me, what are your intentions with my son?"
"Duh..." Danny said with a blank face of shock. "I-I-I..."
"Daaaadd!" I said with embarrassment and frustration. "You just said that you trusted him."
My dad sighed heavily in defeat and said, "Fine. I'll leave it alone."
"Well, sir," Danny said as bravely as he could "I love Shawn. I love him. I don't want to hurt him. Ever. I don't think I could intentionally cause him pain. I want to wake up morning after morning and see that beautiful smile. I want him to feel like he can melt into me while cuddling just because he wants to and know that I love holding him in my arms. I want to love him for the rest of my life. I want him to feel safe in my presence."
My mom was misty-eyed as she said, "Oh my god I'm gonna hug you now!"
Danny and my mom hugged and chuckled. Then my dad, with a big smile, shook Danny's hand again.
"Shawn, show Dan around before you wash up for dinner," my mom suggested.
Danny grabbed my hand and waited for me to lead the way. While showing him the living room, Danny intentionally fell down onto the couch, pulling me down with him. My back rested on his strong chest, his big arms around my chest, and his lips kissing my cheek.
"I like your parents," Danny said quietly. "They're funny. I can see they really love you."
Continuing tracing my fingers on Danny's forearms, I turned my face slightly and pressed my lips to his bicep.
"I'm still scared of your dad, though."
I laughed out loud, Danny only chuckled. I laughed til my face was red.
"HEY SHAWN!?" Kate called as she ran down the stairs. "Hey. Oh, hey Danny. Umm, can I use the printer for a sec?"
"Yeah," I answered, "just gotta change the color cartridges, I think."
"Okay. And Mrs. Verne came by earlier wondering if you'd be able to babysit next weekend."
"Kay, thanks Katie."
Just as Danny and I got up off the couch to continue the house tour, Ryan came in and sat on the couch to watch TV.
"Hey Dan, do you have the notes from chemistry yesterday?" Ryan asked.
"Yeah, I'll give 'em to you after dinner."
Dan was in awe, utter fascination, when I showed him our basement. It was set up with a fifty inch TV, complete surround sound, an XBox One, AND a Wii Ü. In front of the TV was a queen sized bed, and on either side of it were two recliner sofas.
"Fucking sweet," Danny whispered. "Come on, cuddle before dinner."
So we did. I laid down on the bed first, opening my right arm for Danny to rest on. There were times that I felt like comforting Danny, even if he was older and bigger. Everyone just needs a hug every now and then, right?
"I wish I was as close to my brothers as you are to Kate and Ryan," Danny said wistfully.
That made me turn on my side and envelop Danny fully in my arms. I kissed his head and relaxed with him completely.
"Boys!" my mom called as she opened the basement door. "You better not be fucking down there!"
"MOM!" I cried.
My mom laughed loudly as she said, "Dinner's ready! Wash up!"
I wasn't sure whose soul I was to extract; the woman, or the fetus. I hoped it was the mother, because if it were the baby I'd lose my shit. I just waited in the delivery room, observing the scene in front of me. The pregnant woman was screaming as she pushed. There was quite a bit of blood.
"Where is Dr. Natille!?" a male doctor hollered as he stayed crouched between the woman's legs.
"She's just finishing a surgery, Dr. Corwin," some nurse answered.
The nurses and doctors worked tirelessly, purposefully. And I still had no idea whose soul I was to extract.
Death appeared at my side and asked, "Who do you believe will pass tonight?"
"You don't know!?" I asked impulsively with shock.
"Of course I know. I just want to hear your guess. So?"
"I'm hoping it's the woman. I don't want to reap a newborn. So who is it?"
"I will not give you that information. I am here, however, to ask whether you wanted this to be your last extraction for the day? I have another lined up that I believe you will be most suited for."
"If you think I'm best for the case, then put me on."
"Very well. Good evening."
And just like that, Death was gone again. He did that sometimes. Death comes to see me probably once or twice a month. I'm guessing he saw the other reapers as much.
The woman delivering the baby was unconscious and pale, lying back on the hospital bed seeming lifeless. But a reaper can feel it when the person has past. So the lack of feeling told me that the lady was not yet dead, or I was to extract the baby's soul.
"Jackson! Dr. Corwin shouted. "Start the transfusion! Now! We're losing her!"
Another female nurse ran up with two bags of blood and immediately hooked them up. But it was too late.
The woman's pulse picked back up. But the baby's did not. I went up to the woman, inched my hands in her stomach, and grasped those 'soul handles' for extraction.
When the soul was released, in my arms was the most adorable baby girl sleeping.
With a mouth full of his turkey sandwich, Danny asked, "So have you ever thought about having kids?"
Surprised, I stopped sipping my ginger ale. It took a moment for me to remember to take the straw from my lips as well.
"Kids?" I asked as calmly as I could manage. "I'm only a junior. You're a senior. And we both still have college to get through after that."
"So?" Danny said with a smile. "We can still wonder about that stuff. So? Have you?"
"I haven't thought about it much, I guess. But I do know that I want to raise a couple kids."
"What names have you thought about?"
"Umm... hmm... For a girl, I like Brooke Cassandra. For a boy, Mitchell Devon. You?"
"If we have a girl--"
"We!?" I asked, fucking surprised.
"Yes. I love you. I want to marry you one day. So if we have a girl, I like the name Brianne Sylvia. And I like Nigel Peter for a boy. But we'll talk more about names when we're at the stage of babies later, after college."
I gazed directly into Danny's eyes. Those gorgeous orbs of brown, honey brown. They held so much light and beauty and wonder. The conveyed the feeling of love and warmth.
With our eyes still locked, with love in my heart, I said, "What are you?"
Danny had just started leaning over the table for a kiss when the bell rang. We smiled at each other and gathered our garbage.
"Everything okay?" Courtney asked as she came to my side as I walked to English class.
"It looked like Danny had said something..."
"We talked. I don't know if I'm ready to tell you about what yet though."
"What? You have to tell me! Come on! What is it?"
In that familiar ball of white light did the deceased newborn baby girl disappear from my arms.
Sensing that Death had appeared by my side, I asked, "Why? Why a newborn?"
"Fate," Death answered simply. "She uses circumstances like this to teach people to make better choices. You are handling this case remarkably well, Shawn. I've had countless reapers run from extractions like this."
I replied with a snort.
"Fate was right, as she usually is, in choosing my reapers. Now, are you ready for your next case?"
"What is it?"
I turned to face Death, and his face was blank, expectant. He'd already known my answer.
As expected, a second later, that magnetic pull hit the core of my stomach. I centred my mind on that, finding the attached 'string' of sorts. I touched it with my mind, the sound of thunder ringing in my ears with the sensation of teleportation.
Sitting on their bathroom floor was a woman. In her arms was a teenaged boy with a buzz cut head and very pale complexion. His head hung from her arms in a far from natural angle. I'd guessed that the boy fell after shower and broke his neck.
"No!" the woman wailed. "No! Clinton! Oh my baby! Nooooo!"
When my vision blurred completely on everything except the boy, I drove my hands through his body and grabbed hold of his soul.
Extraction on an unconscious soul is quite easy and pain-free. The soul just slides out and stays unconscious for twenty to thirty seconds. Sometimes Fate takes them even before they gain consciousness, which I love because it saves me from explaining to them they died.
I stood, with the boy's soul in my arms until he gained consciousness. Slowly, he came around. He opened his eyes and stared into my eyes. He just stared, sleepy.
"Hi," he whispered, not looking away at all.
"Hello Clinton," I whispered back.
"Who are you?"
"My name's Shawn. Or it was."
Clinton stared at me confused, about to say something. His brows furrowed, still staring at me. And then he turned his head. He realized that his mom was bawling her eyes out on the floor, her deceased son in her arms.
Fear took over his features. Tears pooled in his eyes. He rolled himself out of my arms and landed on his hands and knees on the floor. With baited breath, he crawled to his mother and his body. He tried to touch her, but his soul disappeared in his mother's body.
"No," Clint whispered as the tears streamed from his eyes. "No! What happened? No! I can't die! I can't! I'm only... I'm sixteen! I have a whole life to live! You bastard!"
For a minute or so, I let Clint bawl and bitch as much as he wanted. By then, he'd calmed down. So I crouched down behind him and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. For a brief moment, Clint held onto my forearms on his chest as he calmed down further. Then, as he suddenly rose, I let him go and he turned to face me.
Tearful, fearful, and so broken, Clint said, ""No. No. I-I-I can't die. Not yet. I-I... No. Please. Please!"
With a heart slightly broken, I replied, "Clinton Ronald Bateman, you have my deepest of sympathies. But it is beyond our control."
"Just p-put me back in," he begged. "Please. Y-you don't have to do this. Please."
"It is not my decision," I said with a broken voice. "Believe me, I wish I didn't have to do this. You don't look much older than I was when I died. I--"
And just like that, the ball of white light took him away.
In my head, Death whispered, "Take a deep breath," in an ominous tone.
I exhaled slowly, and Death whispered, "Deeper than that."
As I was taking a slow and deliberate breath, that familiar magnetic pull came over. I followed it, teleporting, with much reluctance.
I was sitting in a car.
'Shawno was here' was written on the glove compartment with a heart.
With a completely shattered heart, I turned to my left.
"No Courtney!" Danny said with frustration. "I don't want to party! It's that plain! I'll see you tomorrow."
Danny hit the End Call button, and I noticed a flashing light on his dash.
"Come on Danny," I begged, "turn off your phone. Just turn it off. And pull over. Please."
Danny's cell rang again, but he hit the Sleep button to silence it.
"STOP!" I shouted, the traffic lighting ahead turning red.
Danny turned from his phone just in time to see the light, and slammed the brakes.
The car stopped in time, a foot or so from the intersection line.
Already crying, I shouted, "Fate! Fate! Get down here! You can't take him!"
"Fate listens to no one," Death said in my head. "It is futile to try persuading her."
The traffic light turned green again and Danny drove off.
"Isn't there something you can do?" I asked Death, still crying.
"There is not, no. Here it is."
I refocused, blinking away the tears quickly. That's when a crate full of metal pipes fell from a crane, right on front of Danny's car.
Danny's car collided head-on with the crate. Whatever error was flashing on Danny's dash caused a problem with the airbags; they didn't deploy on impact. Danny's head smashed fully on the steering wheel.
Danny died instantly.
"So which verse were you having trouble with?" I asked Chad Roberts.
Chad pointed at a paragraph in his book and answered, "This shit."
I grabbed his Shakespeare book and read aloud,
"O me! what eyes hath Love put in my head,
Which have no correspondence with true sight;
Or, if they have, where is my judgment fled,
That censures falsely what they see aright?
If that be fair whereon my false eyes dote,
What means the world to say it is not so?
Chad sighed and said, "It's gibberish. I have no idea what he's saying."
"He's saying that love is magical and that it makes people look at each other in an unspoiled way, without judgement."
"Well why can't he just saying it like that!? Why can't people just say what they mean!?"
I looked off into space and replied, "People rarely say what they mean. That's the interesting part; what's going on underneath the surface.
With a smile of admiration for Shakespeare's work, I look back to Chad, but he was looking at me...
Before I could ask him what it was, he drove his face forward. Before I could react, his lips had touch mine for a brief second. But I tore my face away, disgusted.
"No. Dude, I have a boyfriend I am in love with."
Chad rushed to grab his books and his backpack as he said, "I-I-I am so sorry! I shouldn't have done that. Oh Danny's going to kill me..."
"Whoa whoa whoa whoa!" I called with a chuckle. "Chad, it's okay. Really. Don't worry about it. And I will make sure Danny doesn't hurt you. Just... just sit down. Let's get your Shakespeare out of the way."
Chad continued to cram things into his bag as he went on about something or other. But I grabbed the textbook he was also grabbing.
"Chad, just calm down. Sit."
"No. I'll make sure nobody hurts you. Who else can get you better grades at English than me, huh?"
"Chad!" I said with a chuckle.
"Sshhh!" Mrs. Simon shushed me from across the library.
"Come. I promise it'll be okay."
With a soft expression on his face, Chad sat back down. I reopened his textbook and said, "Tell me what you think this means."
Chad took the book from my hands and read aloud,
"The sun itself sees not, till heaven clears.
That... the sun can't shine when it's cloudy."
"No, you're being too literal. The words in Shakespeare's works quite often have multiple meanings and you have to consider every option and alternative."
"Do you think Danny will hate me?"
Sighing heavily, I replied, "I dunno. Maybe for a bit."
"What was I thinking? I'm supposed to be his teammate, but more importantly, his friend. But you're just so cute!"
Two hours later, on my way to Phys Ed., I was grabbed by the arm and spun around.
"Why didn't you tell me!?" Danny asked angrily.
"Tell you what!?"
"You know what!" Danny whispered dangerously.
"Because it doesn't matter!"
"A kiss doesn't matter!? Of course it matters! How could you do that to me!?"
"I didn't do a fucking thing! He kissed me! I didn't kiss back!"
"That's not what I heard!"
Hurt, hurt beyond anything I'd ever felt then, I looked at Danny. I stared, tears threatening to form. I swallowed thickly a couple of times.
"It shouldn't matter what anyone else says. What should matter is who you believe. I promise you that I didn't want Chad to kiss me and I promise you that I didn't kiss him back. I-I-I umm... I have to go."
I'd left Danny standing in the halls. He was looking off into space, a mix of cognizance and fear and pain in his eyes.
The week went by with me in a funk. I didn't bother wearing my contacts, or fixing my hair but wore a baseball cap or beanie instead. I even went to school wearing sweatpants a couple of times.
Of course Danny tried to speak to me, stop me in the halls, and call, but I ignored him. He even came by the house every morning to pick me up for school. But I rode with Ryan and Kate.
After a week, I had to go to the locker I'd shared with Danny. I avoided it for as long I could, but I'd had a report for chemistry in there that was due that day.
'I have your report' was written on a blue sticky note.
I marched over to the other side of the school to Mr. Jeffreys' class where Danny had social studies.
"Give me my report," I said, standing by Danny's desk.
"Promise we'll talk after school."
"Give me my report."
"Dan," Mr. Jeffreys said chidingly, "give the young man his report."
Danny whispered, "Shawn, please."
I grabbed Danny's bag from his hand and rummaged through it. I found my report and left without another word. The hurt look on Danny's face broke my heart further, but he'd hurt me more. This was his fault.
The Saturday after that I spent at home doing nothing but homework as I didn't have work that day. I was in the kitchen making a latte when the kitchen entrance opened. Danny stood in the doorway, dressed very handsomely in a grey suit. He'd either just got off work or was on his way.
"Hey Dan," I said as stoically as I could. "I'm just making a latte, want one?"
"Yeah, sure," he'd answered carefully. "I've always loved that shirt on you."
I looked down at my body, looking at the long sleeve v-neck tie-dye shirt that was two sizes too big. I always wore it with fashion long johns.
"Thanks. How are you?"
Danny didn't answer, instead looking at me for a few moment. "I'd be doing better if I could grab you right now, hold you."
"What's going on? Are you- are you breaking up with me?"
The last part was spoken with such apprehension and sorrow. His voice broke.
"I- I don't know."
With his lips closed in a thin line, Danny rose from his seat and turned to leave. Before he took three steps, I called him. I gave him a hug, and he held me so tight. So warm.
"I will always love you, Dan."
Danny nodded his head, to which I'd presumed meant he didn't trust his voice to break in emotion. After holding each other for a few long moments, Danny swiftly let go and turned to leave. The single tear rolling down his cheek didn't escape my notice.
"You okay?" my dad said quietly, standing between the kitchen and living room.
I simply shook my head no, walking into his arms. My dad held me as I silently cried.
I let go of my dad and ran out the door. I ran down the pathway, trying to wave Danny's red Toyota Corolla. But he'd kept driving. I stood, my eyes red with tears, watching my love drive off.
I'd taken two steps to walk back into the house when the sound of a car skidding to a halt caught my ears. Six doors down the street, Danny had just exited his car and started running to me. I ran for him, a smile stopping my tears.
Danny and I stopped in front of each other, smiling, tearful eyes connecting. We both held our hands out, eyes remaining locked, interlacing our fingers.
And then Mr. Tyson shouted, "You kids get your car off the goddamned road!"
Bawling my heart out, I crawled over to the driver's side and reached into Danny's body. I firmly grabbed onto the soul latches and swiftly extracted.
Tearful, with Danny's soul now in my arms, I said, "I wanted you to live forever. I know that's not possible but I wished for it. Oh Danny."
I slowly brushed his hair through my fingers as I gazed at his beautiful sleeping face. I didn't pay any mind to the witnesses rushing onto the scene. Nor did I care for the police sirens.
Danny's eyes flew open. He stared, unbelieving for a few long moments. He just kept his head lying in my arms.
He finally spoke, whispering, "Shawn?"
"Hey," I whispered back, a slight break in my voice. "I'm so sorry, Danny."
"What- Am I dreaming?"
My face screwing up with more tears, I simply shook my head.
Danny took this moment to move his head and look at his surroundings. In front of us, in the driver's seat was his body, his head against the steering wheel bloody.
He turned back to me, scared, and asked, "I-I-I'm dead?"
"Yes. And much too soon, I know. I'm sorry, my love."
"Then what are you!?" he demanded with fear as he quickly sat up out of my arms.
"I'm me, Danny. Shawno. Shawnzy."
"No no no no no!" Danny shouted with tears. "Shawn's dead! He- If you're Shawn, what couple name did my dad give us?"
With a teary smile, I answered, "Shawniel. And your mom liked Dawn."
"What's the passcode to my phone?"
"0-8-1-4. October 14. The day I nearly gave you a black eye for shitting on my brother. The day we really saw each other."
Death then appeared in the front seat of Danny's beaten and broken car. Danny screamed, startling with the sudden appearance of Death.
"I have managed to talk Creation into waiting an hour for her to take Daniel's soul."
"I want to end my reaping career today."
"Of course. One hour. Make it count."
When Death teleported back out, Danny looked at me with betrayal.
"Y-you killed me?"
"No!" I replied, affronted. "I'm just a reaper. All I do is soul extraction after death. Fate decides who dies and how. I wanted you to live a long and happy life. I wanted you to marry and raise a child or two. I'm so sorry that you died."
Danny silently let some tears fall for a minute. Then he looked at me and said, "It's good to see you. Oh my god it's good to see you. You're more beautiful than I remember."
Danny leapt forward, burying me in his arms and chest, kissing my head multiple times.
"I have so many questions."
"Let me take us out of here first. Where do you want to go? I can teleport us."
Danny chuckled and said, "Teleport, eh? My Shawn never ceases to amaze me. Let's go home."
I smiled at Danny, teary-eyed. He smiled back. And his eyes went wide when the sensation of teleportation came over him. But it only lasted a fraction of a second, for we were no longer in his car, but on his bed in his bedroom.
"I'm fucking pissed that I'm dead," Danny whispered, looking me directly in the eye. "But I'm so happy to see you again. So fucking happy. I missed you so much."
Danny and I continued to sit in his bed, my legs wrapped around his waist and my face in his neck.
"You even smell the same," he went on. "Like vanilla with a hint of... human I guess. So good."
"So tell me what's new," I said, later kissing his neck.
"I don't know. These last four months... I just missed you. I do know that Becca is dating Trevor Loren."
"No way!" I said with a grin. "How did he finally ask her out?"
"He didn't. She asked him."
Danny and I continued sit in his bed, secure and comfortable in each other's arms, talking about nothing really. His voice was just as soothing and sexy as the day I died.
"Berkeley accepted me. The day I got the letter I cried til I could no more. Then I tried to kill myself. The rope busted."
"Fate is specific like that."
"I'm glad it didn't work because the next day Al found out he has COPD. I'd never thought anyone could cry that hard."
"Al doesn't smoke, does he?" I asked, despair evident in my voice.
"No. The docs didn't find any other cause but genetics. That is very, very rare."
Just then, Danny's forefinger touched my cheek, his beautiful eyes studying my face very closely, tracing lines slowly.
He whispered, finger still drawing lines on my temple, "So tell me about being a reaper."
Studying Danny's eyes, which were following his finger on my skin, I whispered, "Whadd'ya wanna know? It's the hardest job any person can do."
"Why did you choose to do it? I mean you're smart enough to know it wouldn't be easy."
"I did it to watch over you. Remember some of those times you cried for me? I was there. Some reapers are able to numb some of the pain by touching their loved ones. I was only ever able to do it for you, though."
"You visited?" Danny asked with a smile full of warmth.
"Of course. Any chance I got, I looked for you. You are the love of my life. My short life, but it's mine all the same. And I am incredibly lucky to have called you mine."
Danny's lip trembled slightly as he grabbed my face in his hands and kissed me passionately.
"We have about a minute left," I said quietly.
With a voice thick of emotion, Danny asked, "What will happen to us?"
"Creation will take our souls and place them in whatever is being conceived at that moment."
Tears freely falling down his face, Danny held me close as he said, "It was so good to see you. I love you, Shawn."
"I love you more, Daniel Grayson Henke."
Danny chuckled, but he quickly stopped with a look of wonder.
"I think this is it. I can feel something in my chest. It's warm and--"
And just like that, the white light appeared and disappeared just as fast, taking Danny with it.
Crying, I whispered to myself, "It was good to have you in my arms."
"Welcome to Managerial Accounting 301. My name is Isabelle Parnetzky. I am a graduate of Dartmouth myself. I hold a Bachelor's in both accounting and economics. I've worked for businesses both big and small, and corporations, and a couple state governments. Now I teach here and own my own business.
"Now you all are here, obviously, for some type of career in accounting; whether that be crunching numbers for Company A, or managing your own company, or auditing or what have you. By now, this far in your education, you've learned that accounting is not easy. And it doesn't get any easier either. You've got to work, and you've got to work hard.
"So I trust you've all bought and downloaded the required textbook for this course. If not, do it now. It's only eighty dollars.
"Another instrument you'll need is the B.A. II Plus calculator. I'm ninety-eight-percent sure you can buy one from Future Shop for twenty. The Apple store also has a downloadable calculator application that is acceptable, and I bought it for ten. I'm not sure if Google has it in their PC app store.
"Any questions so far?"
Some young woman raised her hand and asked, "Is the online setup the same as previous years?"
"Yes. It is all the same templates. It all works the same way. Anything else?"
"Will there still be the weekly online tests?" some boy asked.
"Yes! I was just getting to that. There are still the weekly tests online, which you can do any time you wish. For those who work, I recommend you do a bunch on your down time. These weekly tests are worth ten percent of your final grade.
"Your midterm exams run from October 14 to 18. Exact class exams will be posted two weeks prior to this.
"Now let's get this show on the road. Review from first year. Who can tell me all the types of company ownership."
As the class went over reviews, a boy tapped the shoulder of a girl in front of him.
"Yes?" she politely asked when she looked back.
Their eyes connected. Her brown eyes locked with his grey. Beautiful. And she was happy to note that the rest of the boy was also attractive.
"Sorry miss," the boy said with an Irish accent. "D-Do I... Do I know you?"
"I..." she said, though she felt something in her stomach. "I don't think so..."
Shaking his head, the boy said, "Could I bug you for a pen? Seem to've lost mine."
"Pen?" she asked, her brows furrowed with uncertainty, as she combed her long light brown locks from her face with her fingers.
"Yeah, bunch o' names are written on this desk and I want to add mine."
The girl gave the boy a blue pen and returned her attention to the front of the class.
"Here ya go, miss," he handed the pen back. "Thanks."
The girl smiled back, accepting the pen, and said, "Come sit with me."
The boy grinned, combing his black locks back fully. He grabbed his bag and moved to the vacant seat beside the girl.
"This is my friend Becky. I'm... Dana."
"Pleasure," the boy replied. "Name's... Seamus."
Thank you so much for your time! I had a lot of fun writing this as an agnostic myself, and I'd never dabbled in stories of the afterlife before.
If you want to offer any words, whether this story sucked or you liked it, send me an email:Tyler Christopher