by Greever Williams
Jonah looked up at his father, both their faces bathed in the sterile white glow of the lights before them. “Now?”
James shook his head. “No. Not just yet.”
Jonah snorted. James felt the heat of his son’s urgency through their interlaced fingers. Excitement. Adventure. Fear. He smiled at his son and turned back to the glistening metal ramp ahead of them.
Ten easy strides. Maybe twelve with Jonah’s smaller legs in tow.
“Easy peasy stinky cheesy,” Jonah whispered.
They had warned him this would happen – a moment of self-doubt right at the end of it all. James stood motionless, his stomach jumping like a frog pond in summer.
But this wouldn’t be a mistake. It couldn’t be. The world was a stinking pile of shit and he had one chance at a do-over. It wasn’t something They offered often. If he faltered, it’d be “so long, game over, nice to know ya, pal,” and off They would go.
“No, not just yet.”
Jonah shook his head and swung Angel Bear with his free hand. Ten years old and the boy carried that tattered stuffed animal like an object of faith. Jacqueline had given it to him while she’d been wasting away in a complicated bed.
She’d kissed it and placed it in his arms. “He’s got my love for you all bundled up inside him. Keep him close. Protect him and love him like you love me.”
Fast forward two years. Jacqueline was gone. Angel Bear and James were threadbare, yet Jonah kept a grip on both. But like any defense system, there were weak points. Two months ago James had suffered a breach.
“I’m sorry, James,” Doctor Steeger had told him. “It’s more aggressive than we had originally thought. You’ve got maybe two months left, at best. It’s time to make plans for Jonah.”
Two weeks ago, They had arrived, promising him a permanent moratorium on Jonah’s orphaning.
I don’t care anymore if I die. But I can’t let him go through this. Not again.
He squeezed Jonah’s hand.
Two hours ago, They had returned, as promised. It wasn’t a particularly dramatic entry. Hollywood had it all wrong. 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. 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 the top of his son’s head.
“Now, Dad?” Jonah groaned. “Please?”
“Yes, son. Now.”
He squeezed Jonah’s hand tightly and together they took the first steps into the brilliant white light on the ramp ahead of them.