“Now?” Jonah asked, looking up at his father, as they were bathed in the white glow.
“No. Not just yet.”
Jonah snorted. James felt the urgency pressing on him through small fingers Jonah had laced into his. Excitement. Adventure. Fear. He smiled down at his son and then turned back to the glistening metal ramp ahead of them.
Ten easy strides.
Maybe twelve with Jonah’s smaller legs in tow. Twelve strides and then it’d all be over. Easy.
They had warned him that this moment would come – a moment of self-doubt right at the very end of it all. Like a twitchy bride swaying at the altar, sweat stains on her lace and fineness, wondering if it was all a mistake.
It wasn’t a mistake. It couldn’t be a mistake. The world had gone to shit and this was his chance at a do-over. It wasn’t something they had offered to just anyone. And it wasn’t something they would offer him ever again.
“Now?” Jonah repeated.
“No, not just yet.” James smiled again. Jonah shook his head and swung Angel Bear with his free hand.
Ten years old and he carried the ratty stuffed animal like an object of faith. Two years ago, Jacqueline had given it to Jonah while she lay wasting away in a complicated bed. She kissed it and placed it in his arms. “There. He’s got my love for you all bundled up inside him.”
Jonah smiled weakly.
“You keep him close. Protect him and love him like you love me.”
Fast forward two years. Angel Bear and James were both looking worse for wear, but Jonah kept them close for security. But like any defense system, there were weak points. Two months ago James suffered his breach.
“James, I’m sorry,” Doctor Steeger said. “Its’ worse than we had originally feared. Maybe two months left, max. I think you’d better get your affairs in order… make plans for Jonah.”
Two weeks ago, they’d come to him, promising him a permanent moratorium on Jonah’s orphaning.
Truth is, I don’t care if I die. But I can’t let him go through this. Not again. He squeezed Jonah’s hand.
“Almost tiger. I promise.”
Two hours ago, they’d returned, just like they had told him they would. It wasn’t a particularly dramatic entry by most measures. But for James, it was mesmerizing. It was the end and the beginning. The jumping off point.
They had given him two minutes to make the binding decision. His time was up.
They would school him in the art of letting go and in exchange…
He leaned over his son, pulling him close. Cost was irrelevant. Jonah’s short hair tickled his nose as he planted a kiss on Jonah’s head.
“Now Dad?” Jonah groaned. “Please?”
“Yes son.” He smiled. “Now.” He squeezed his son’s hand tightly and took the first steps into the brilliant white light on the ramp ahead of them.