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Annie slammed her textbooks down on the library table and made the statement of the century.
“I’m dying and it’s really ticking me off.”
Mason looked up from his calculus notes, “You say something, Eyebrows?”
“Cancer,” Annie sat down across from him and threw open her history book. “What a cliché. There goes my plan of dying in a freak rollercoaster derailment.”
“You go in for a routine physical and come back with cancer?” Mason asked. “There goes my plan of smothering you in your sleep.”
“Breast cancer,” she added, clicking her pen. “Of all the cancers I could’ve been diagnosed with, I got the one whose mascot is my least favorite color. Just my freaking luck.”
“Didn’t know they handed out mammograms at routine physicals,” Mason mused, scribbling notes down on his paper. His hand shook.
“They don’t,” Annie growled. “My doctor was just a perve. And she had cold instruments.”
“I’m sure she did,” Mason replied. “Though I find it hard to believe that anyone was jumping at the thought of sticking their hands into your bra.”
“Do you suppose I can apply for one of those handicap parking things?” she asked. “I’d love to just pull right up to Fred Meyer.”
“Oh of course, I’m sure they hand those out even more often than mammograms.”
“I’m going to go bald,” Annie informed him, standing up. “I’m going to look like Patrick Stewart.”
“My favorite of the Star Trek captains,” Mason sat back in his seat, dropping his pencil.
Annie walked around the table, “All these years I’ve been growing these things and now the doctor says I might have to lose one of them,” she gestured at her chest.
“Just when I thought nothing could possibly make you more unattractive.”
Annie sat in Mason’s lap, “There goes my chance of ever becoming a Victoria’s Secret model.”
“You can’t blame cancer for that one,” Mason wrapped his arms around her waist.
“I can, and I will,” she hooked her arms around his neck and rested her head on his shoulder.
Mason quivered as he held her, “The world will be a better place without you polluting its surface.”
“I hope they offer HBO in he**,” she whispered.
They sat in silence for long minutes locked in their embrace. Annie squeezed her eyes shut and breathed in Mason’s scent. He smelled of books and pencil shavings. She rubbed her nose against the soft skin of his throat like she had done so many times in the past. She rubbed and rubbed, the friction making the tip of her nose grow hot. Mason gripped her tighter, trying desperately to freeze time with pure power of will.
“You know,” Mason whispered. “It will be difficult filling in a wedding dress with only one breast.”
“Who said I am going to get married?” Annie replied, ceasing her rubbing.
She bit her lip, “Well I have been keeping a close eye on that boy in my physics class. Terrence. He’s got a six pack and thighs built for an ox.”
“And a brain built for one too.”
Annie giggled and lifted her head to stare him in the eyes, “It doesn’t matter anyway. I’ll be dead before I find someone willing to take my hand.”
“You are one beautiful zombie then.”
“What are you suggesting?” She cocked one of her dark eyebrows that had inadvertently earned her the unfortunate nickname of ‘Eyebrows’. They were four shades darker than her light brown hair and stood out in stark contrast on her pale skin.
“I’m suggesting you found someone to marry you years ago,” Mason explained, dipping his blue eyes down to her red lips.
“Is that so?”
“I know,” he whispered. “I was surprised too. I mean… you aren’t exactly what I’d call a catch.”
“This admirer must be quite the dimwitted fellow,” Annie agreed, nodding seriously.
Annie sniffed, “Well, whoever he is, if he plans to ask my hand in marriage, he better think of a really incredible way to do it. Or else he’s going to get turned down flat out.”
“He could only be so lucky,” Mason leaned forward and kissed her on the lips.
One week later Annie walked into her History class and froze in the doorway. She stared at her desk in awe. A large basket sat on the top, with a giant pink bow tied to the handle. Annie walked across the room, ignoring the stares she was receiving from her classmates as they sat in their seats and talked quietly.
Annie reached her desk and stared into the basket, which was full with an odd assortment of objects. The first thing that caught her eye was a long thin canvas. There was a letter taped to the far right corner. She smiled and pulled the note off of the painting.
This is our first family vacation. You and I, along with our two sons, Jordan and Preston, have gone to the beach. It’s a little chilly outside, but don’t worry, I let you use my sweater. See how cold I look? Kinda makes you feel guilty, doesn’t it? Jordan caught a starfish, and he’s proudly holding it up for everyone to see. Preston made a wonderful sandcastle earlier, you should have seen how magnificent it was! Unfortunately, the tide swept in and ruined it just before the photo. There it is in the background, that mushy mound next to the red bucket. I’m sure you noticed how your belly presses against the sweater, which is clearly several sizes too big for you. That’s because you are pregnant with our third child. It’s a girl. Her name is Jackie. She has your eyebrows.
Annie smiled and examined the painting signed in his familiar messy handwriting in the bottom right hand corner. Just as Mason described it, it was beautiful. Annie stood on the sand in the center of the painting with extended belly, wearing a blue and white striped sweater, face radiant and glowing with a wide smile. Mason stood beside her, arm wrapped around her shoulders proudly. His dome lacked a single strand of hair. Annie cocked her head at the sight, but then moved her eyes to the two small children huddled around their legs. The one standing in front of Mason held up a pink starfish, grinning so wide it looked like it hurt. He was missing his front teeth, and his large ears were obviously a trait he acquired from his father. Annie giggled and looked at the other boy. He was hugging her leg, peeking shyly up at her face. His hair was light brown like hers but his eyes were as blue as the ocean in the background. Annie’s breath caught in her throat at the sight of Mason’s eyes mixed with her own familiar features.
She quickly set the painting back in the basket and moved on to the next item. There was a ‘World’s Greatest Mom’ mug with a note sticking out of it. She pulled the paper out and read:
This is the mug I give you on your first Mother’s Day. Jordan is only three months old, so he couldn’t pick it out himself, but I’m sure this is exactly what he would have chosen.
Tears filled Annie’s eyes but she bit them back and moved on. She removed the note attached to a beautiful glittering diamond hairclip.
This is the hairclip I convinced you to wear with your veil at our wedding. You argued with me for a good hour about how cliché diamonds are, but I insisted, since this was the same clip that my mother and grandmother wore at their weddings. You saw the value in continuing the family tradition and finally agreed. Whew.
Annie admired the clip for long moments. The diamonds were beautifully arranged into the shape of one large rose with a long curved stem. She set the clip back into the basket tenderly and went to the next item. A small brass key.
This was the key to our first home together. It was a little house, but it had a washing machine AND a dishwasher. Not to mention a big backyard where we hosted plenty of barbeques. Our families came over for Easter in that house for three years. Even your annoying cousin from New Jersey that always had to bring his yappy little Chihuahua with him everywhere he went. We started looking for new houses a week after we found out you were pregnant with Jordan.
Annie couldn’t keep the tears at bay any longer. They dripped down her cheeks as she pulled the note off of a small, brown, stuffed bear.
This is the bear I bought for Jackie the day of her birth. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to get her a bunny or the bear. I stood in front of the shelf in the store for over an hour. The bunny had softer fur, but the bear was cuter. I finally had to decide when I got your phone call. You yelled at me for not being at the hospital with you to hold your hand. I bought the bear as quickly as I could and got there three hours before Jackie came in to this world. I had bruises on my hand from where you were squeezing it so tight. It’s okay though, I’m not mad.
Annie wiped the tears from her cheeks and read the note tied to a small ukulele.
Our wedding song was ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. A man played it for us while we danced. It was just his voice alone with his ukulele. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of you the whole time we were on the dance floor. You looked so utterly beautiful, and I couldn’t believe you were my wife. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I found it hard to breathe, especially when you would look up at me with that look in your brown eyes. It was a look that I cannot properly explain in words. Perhaps someday you will know what I mean.
Annie’s body shook and tears blurred her vision. Her heart was doing somersaults in her chest and she drew in a ragged breath. The people in the room were whispering intently to each other while they stared. They were so enraptured in thick skinned Annie Eyebrows’ emotional display, an extremely rare and strange event, that they didn’t notice the boy standing in the doorway, fidgeting from foot to foot.
Mason watched Annie nervously. Usually at the sight of her tears, he would give her a playful shove and call her a wimp. She would then proceed to tackle him and wrestle him into a headlock until both of them were laughing and she had forgotten what she was crying about in the first place. But this time was different.
Mason leaned against the doorframe and patiently waited as Annie swiped her tears away and continued on to the next item. A silken green scarf. She removed the letter and read:
I bought this scarf for you on your birthday a year after your hair fell out. Even though I preferred you bare-skulled, you got self conscious in public. I haven’t the faintest idea why. You have the most beautifully shaped head. Much prettier than mine by far, but that’s no surprise. This is the last scarf you wore before you were cured.
Annie rubbed the fabric with her fingers and held it to her face. She was sobbing harder than she ever had before, and in front of so many people! It didn’t matter though. She used the scarf to dry her tears and then moved on to the next item. A smaller painting.
This photo was taken at our granddaughter’s graduation. She graduated at the top of her class. Valedictorian. Preston was so proud. She gave an amazing speech that inspired everyone that attended the ceremony. Including me. That night I began making plans for our vow renewal.
The painting was just as beautiful as the last. Annie looked gorgeous, despite the grey hairs and wrinkles. She stood to the left of a dark-haired girl in cap and gown, holding the diploma to her chest proudly. Mason stood to her right, bald headed, staring over their granddaughter’s head at Annie with love in his blue eyes. Annie covered her mouth as she studied him. He was beautiful. Her heart pounded painfully in her chest and she had to set the painting down. She found a nail and hammer tied together with a large red bow. The note attached to them read:
This is the hammer and nail that began the building of the home we raised our children in. We searched on the market for a house but nothing could satisfy your picky appetite. We couldn’t find our dream house, so we built it. We picked a spot in the country and bought three acres. The house was two stories. White, red shutters, blue door, wraparound porch. Four bedrooms, three bath, and a basement for the kids’ playroom. You had a walk-in closet, but I kept my clothes in a dresser next to it so you could have more space. This is the last place we lived. We never needed anything different. Though we did add a hot tub when the kids moved out.
Annie set the hammer and nail down and pulled out what looked like the last item. A coconut bra. She picked it up and examined it in confusion. The note read:
Our vow renewal took place in Hawaii. Beautiful Hawaii. It was windy and hot. Two things I hate. But you loved it, and therefore so did I. We had a small ceremony on the beach at sunset, which you claimed to be cliché. Though it must not have been too cliché because you still cried as I read my vows to you. Preston, Jordan, and Jackie all gave speeches at the dinner we held afterwards. Then later you got drunk off of piña coladas and I had to carry you back to our suite. You fell asleep in the elevator. It’s okay. I’ll never get tired of just holding you, even if you do reek of alcohol and snore like a bear.
Annie smiled and sniffed. She was about to place the coconut bra back into the basket when she noticed one more item. It was small, hidden underneath a note near the bottom of the basket. A black velvet box.
When Annie picked up the box, Mason crept into the room and slid to one knee behind her. The other students in the class all gasped and began whispering heatedly to one another. Mason ignored them and pulled the ring from his pocket. He took a deep breath and prepared.
Annie opened the note and read:
This is the ring I proposed to you with, in the middle of your history class with twenty other teenagers watching.
Annie gasped and read on:
Our parents told us we were too young to get married, later that night when we told them the news. But I didn’t worry. I knew we could make it through anything. I knew that life was going to be difficult for both of us. But I knew that I loved you and wanted to spend the rest of eternity with you. Not just as your best friend, but also as your husband. The second you said ‘yes’ to my proposal, my whole world seemed to become clearer, brighter. The second you said ‘yes’ to my proposal, I held you in my arms and I kissed you and told you how much I loved you. The second you said ‘yes’ to my proposal, I truly began to live. Please turn around now, Annie. My knee is getting sore.
Annie dropped the note and slowly turned around. Mason gulped and held the ring up to her.
He stared deeply into her eyes.
She stared intensely at his newly shaved head.
“Oh God,” she whispered. “You look like a cone head.”
She began crying anew, holding her hands over her mouth as Mason grinned and said,
“Annie, I know I’m not as handsome as Patrick Stewart. In fact, I’m a little surprised at how oddly shaped my head turned out to be underneath all of that hair.” Annie laughed and he continued, “But I promise to make every single one of those letters become a reality if you will do me the honor of becoming my wife. Annie,” Mason stared up at her with that look in his blue eyes. It was a look that she could not properly explain in words. “Will you marry me?”
Annie nodded vigorously, “Y-yes,” she stuttered. “Yes, of course I will marry you.”
Mason slid the ring onto her finger and stood. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her fervently on the lips. He dried her tears and whispered loving words as she cried. Her whole body was quivering and she clutched his shirt with tight fingers as if her life depended on it. Maybe it did. She didn’t know. All she knew was that it felt right. There wasn’t another man in the world she’d rather spend the rest of her life with, even if he was a liar and she didn’t make it past her twenty-first birthday. Even if she never had three children named Jordan, Preston, and Jackie. Even if they never went to Hawaii to renew their vows or built their own house with a blue door. Even if she was never cured, and had to spend the last few years of her life going through endless chemotherapies, at least she would be with Mason. Just that thought gave her strength.
“Mason?” she said.
“Yes?” he kissed her on the forehead.
“You look like a nerdy Vin Diesel.”
Mason grinned and held her tightly against his chest. “I love you too.”