I open the door of my apartment building, and the brisk, icy sharp breeze instantly strikes my flushed cheeks, sending a violent chill down my spine. Goosebumps prickle my hairless skin even underneath the layers of clothing engulfing my sickly gaunt frame. I release a spacious sigh that had been rising in my lungs, causing my hot breath to mingle with the frigid January air. I tug my crimson coat closer to my body as I descend from the stairs onto the snowy sidewalk. My boots imprint the newly fallen snow with every step I take, trailing a momentary glimpse into my fleeting life that's lost in this large city full of people. I admire the faint pastels of the sunrise as they glisten against the frost blanketing the dull, sleeping city until I arrive at a quaint building with a sign that reads "The Baker Boy".
I peer into the dimly lit room until my breath fogs up the glass. I pull away and trace a smiley face with my mitten-less finger against the misty window, grinning at the recollection of my once childlike amusement. I unlock the door to be welcomed instantly by the strong scent of fresh coffee beans and baking bread.
"Good morning, Parker," I try to sing with enthusiasm. I step into the break room and remove my jacket, revealing a black slip and thick stockings. I then attempt to tie my apron, but my fingers are too numb to grab the strings. Yawning exhaustedly, I enter the kitchen where a cleanly shaven man with hair like sand is intently kneading dough.
"Parker..." I say softly, in attempt to obtain his attention.
"Oh sorry," he grins goofily, looking up at me from his work. I see that worried expression that I know all too well begin to form on his face. "You look drained. Did you sleep at all last night?"
"I just went to sleep late. My favorite film was playing," I lie, grazing my thumb softly against the drooping bags under my eyes. I concentrate on tying my apron, but my fingers are nearly frozen, making it impossible to grip the thin strand of fabric.
"Could you tie me up in the back?" I request, "I can't seem to do it today."
"Sure," he responds as he extends his arm towards the back of my apron. I feel the strings being tightened slowly and carefully, as I visualize Parker's furrowed brow and fixated eyes while he laces a perfect bow.
The room begins to spin though, and I lose focus because of my languid eyelids. I apply my weight onto the countertop to support myself temporarily, but the overpowering strain of fatigue weighs heavily on my consciousness. I succumb to the hazy sensation and nearly collapse, but Parker secures me protectively before I do. His warm touch tingles against my icy white skin as I lie feebly in his cautious, careful arms.
"May, you're freezing! Should I call 911?" I struggle to find words in my muddled brain, but I can only respond with a wobbly head shake. An ambulance is the last thing I want right now. He must know that because instead of hurriedly dialing the phone, he calmly says, "You just need some rest, huh?"
I nod in compliance and struggle to prop myself up with my arms, but malaise overwhelms me, causing a severe ache in my head. Parker raises my body towards his gently and supports my limp head against his shoulder as he carries me bridal style. I allow my eyes to close and then lull peacefully away to the steady rhythm of his stride.
A euphonious melody of guitar strings being fingered lightly arouses me into reality, and my head suddenly throbs. I groan in discomfort and open my eyes, recognizing the small, organized room immediately. I turn towards where the sound of the guitar had once been and see Parker sitting anxiously with his guitar resting in his hands.
"I didn't call for an ambulance. I know how much you hate that place. I've been worried though. How are you feeling?"
"I'm okay. My head just hurts a bit. How long has it been?" I ask, looking out the window where the sun now illuminates the world outside.
Glancing at his watch, he replies, "About six hours. I'm boiling water for tea. Would you like some?"
"Yes, that would be delightful right now," I smile as he enters the kitchen and quickly returns with two mugs, black and white, "What about the bakery?"
"I just closed it for the day. I couldn't leave you up here alone."
"But it's just down stairs. I would've been fine."
"I wanted to make sure you woke up okay," his deep green eyes communicate sincerity and kindness. Having experienced his inescapable concern before, I prepare myself for the questions I know are coming. He hands me the white mug and sits down, giving me a moment of silence to enjoy my tea. I lift the mug and let my senses react to the wonderfully serene aroma.
"Thank you," I chime, my hands wrapping around the tepid mug. The first sip radiates a cozy warmth around my body and brings a comforting sense that trickles down my throat. It's not enough to disperse the dread burdening in my gut though.
"What's going on, May Flower?"
The mention of my childhood nickname reminds me of Parker's faithfulness throughout the years, giving me courage to look into his piercing eyes. The same intensity blazed in his eyes the first day we met almost ten years ago. When I unsuccessfully flew from a plum tree, he ran to me with his portable first aid kit and bandaged my laceration skillfully, my sobs ceasing shortly after he came to my rescue. I was entranced by his expressive eyes then and still am today. Smirking at the brief memory, I escape his stare and inhale deeply before confessing the reason for my unusually tense disposition.
"The chemotherapy isn't working, and the doctors can't help me anymore. They got me this far though, and I'm grateful for that. I'm not ready to die so soon though. I know His plan is greater than my understanding and that I will unite with Him, but I don't want to leave you yet."
The tears I had choked down are now flowing down my face. Parker's enduring arms embrace me tenderly, and he cradles me against the core of his being. He's trying to stay strong and confide his sobs, but I can feel every trace of vulnerability. His heart thumps loudly and his ribs quiver. My cheeks catch his salty tears as I repose on his chest, small and frail. Even during this somber moment, I rejoice in the existence of it. I won't have many of these moments left. I realize now that every spark of life must be cherished. I can't wait anymore because all I have left is the present.