Her Choice

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She gazed out into the open field. The daisies swayed in the wind and suddenly the yellow blossoms took on another meaning. The yellow of the petals rose into the air in a swirl like a scene in a movie, and it almost seemed as though they were trying to tell her something. As she looked on, she suddenly knew what she had to do.

She rose from the patch of grass where she’d been sitting with a new determination and began striding toward her destination. After about 15 minutes, she reached town and approached the small grocery store. She pushed open the door and the bell jingled as she crossed the threshold. The sweet smell of freshly baked cinnamon buns wafted towards her and she sniffed in appreciation.

The clerk called out, “Hey there! Nice to see a friendly face so early in the morning. We usually don’t have many customers till later in the day.”

“Well I wanted to catch Tom before the morning rush. Is he around?” she responded.

Winking at her, he said, “He’s out back. Feel free to head back there.”

She nodded and slipped through the back door. Spotting him immediately, she approached the young man unloading boxes from a delivery van. “Hey there,” she called out.

Tom paused and stepped towards her. She could see why he was so popular with the young women in town. He had an easy smile and a demeanor that made you feel like you’d known him forever. “What are you doing out here” he asked.

She took a deep breath and said, “Well, I figured I shouldn’t keep you waiting too long.”

He stopped working and turned to give her his full attention. “I assume you’ve made up your mind then?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said and then looked away, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. Doubts  began to dance around in the back of her mind, but she brushed them away quickly. She looked him in the eye and said “I’ll do it.”

He continued gazing at her and asked “Are you sure?”

“Yes. I want to do this,” she assured him.

He glanced around to make sure no one could hear them and then said, “All right then. Everything is ready. We can do it tonight.”

Surprised, she asked “So soon?”

“I’m ready,” he responded.

“All right. How are we going to do this?” she asked.

With a matter-of-fact tone of voice, he said, “I’ll get everything in order by this afternoon, so I can head to the lake after I close store for the day. Once I get there I’ll take the pills. Once you arrive, all you need to do is wait until my heart stops and alert the hospital to collect my body.”

“You’re sure there’s no other option?” she asked. He silently shook his head. After a moment he turned and began unloading the boxes again. The doctors had recently discovered his body was riddled with cancer when Tom had gone in to get checked out for a minor complaint. He had taken the news in stride and immediately began planning for his inevitable demise. He didn’t want his mother to watch her only son slowly waste away and so he had decided to end his life on a high note, a smile on his face like every other day. After getting his affairs in order, he’d approached her to help with his plan.

She wasn’t quite sure why he’d approached her, nor was she quite sure why she’d agreed to help him. They’d never been very close growing up and now they only saw each other during her weekly grocery runs. She spent most of her time at the schoolhouse as she taught all the primary school children.

She sighed, knowing she’d never know the answer no matter how much she puzzled over it. Instead, she began reviewing that day’s lesson plan as she headed towards the schoolhouse. Before she knew it, it was five o’clock and she let the children go home. The grocery store closed at six, which gave her an hour to get to the lake. She cleaned the schoolroom before heading out, not really paying attention to what she was doing. She arrived at the lake while her head was busy contemplating what she was about to witness. Tom was already there by the time she arrived and he turned his head to watch her struggle through the reeds in her oxfords. She finally reached his side and gave him a questioning look. He nodded and turned to look out at the lake once more.

After a moment of silence, she suddenly blurted out, “Why?”

“Why what?” he asked.

“Why me?” she responded.

He stood there for a moment, turning the question over in his mind before answering, “I used to watch you feed the stray puppy that lived behind the schoolhouse every day when we were in school, even though you barely had enough to eat yourself. In high school, I saw you watch over the primary school children and take the little ones who were struggling under your wing. You always noticed when something was wrong and found a way to help.”

“I wasn’t aware you had such a keen interest in me. Why didn’t you ever speak to me?” she queried.

“Honestly, I was afraid,” he confessed.

“Afraid?” she asked confused.

“Afraid that you’d see my pain,” he said after a moment.

She cast her mind back to her school days and remembered the rumors that had floated around. “Ah, so the rumors were true?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Would it have been so bad if I’d known?” she asked.

“No, but I didn’t want your pity,” he said.

“What did you want?” she asked.

Tom fell silent again, and then suddenly he blurted out “I wanted you to look at me and see me as who I was, not simply what had happened to me. I didn’t want to be another one of the children you guarded.”

She studied his face and then said, “You didn’t give me a chance. I might have surprised you.”

“I know,” he said.

They fell silent again. A few minutes later, his life started slipping away. She held his hand until she felt his heart stop and even then, she sat there by the lake until all the heat had escaped his body. She watched the moon rise, and then finally she rose and walked away, leaving his lifeless body behind her.

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