20 April, A.D. 2076: Charles
Charles Genter got around fairly well for ninety-nine, but he’d planted himself in a chair at his wife’s bedside when Kate fell ill three days ago and refused to budge. Her fever worried him. It was his prerogative as a husband to worry about his wife.
He’d loved her for more than three-quarters of his existence and hardly remembered life before her. The only consolation about life after her was that it wouldn’t last very long. He knew it would come. Maybe not from this illness, but sooner rather than later.
A knock on the door frame. “Grandpa?” One of their great-granddaughters stood in the doorway.
“What is it, sweetie?”
“I’m running to the grocery. Will you be okay for a few minutes?”
“We’ll be fine. I promise we won’t run off.”
His great-granddaughter guffawed. “All right. See you in a bit. Call me on my holo if you need anything.”
“I’ve got it right here.” He tapped the holographic band on his wrist.
His great-granddaughter smiled and ducked out of the room.
Holographic phones. He remembered when Kate made him get his first cellular phone. She was pregnant with their first child at the time. She had patted her slightly bulging belly and said, “You’re getting a cell phone because I will be able to find you when I need you.” He chuckled to himself. He could still hear the tone of her voice. It left no room for argument, and he loved it.
“Charles,” Kate mumbled, stirring in her sleep.
He touched his hand to hers. “Don’t worry, Katie. I’m here. I’ll always be here.”
Of course, he wondered how much longer always could mean. The thought of death didn’t bother him much anymore. It used to, but that was in his youth when he could only look forward to the life he hadn’t yet lived. Now that he was old, most of his looking was backward on the memories he and Kate had made together.
Four children. Ten grandchildren. Thirty-two great-grandchildren. And fourteen great-greats so far. He had long since lost track of how many birthdays and graduations that amounted to. Their diamond anniversary was right around the corner.
He smiled with the recollection of their wedding. One of the texts they’d chosen to have read in the service was from Tobit, even though he and Kate were both Protestants. The verse made sense to them. “Grant that she and I may be shown mercy and grow old together.”
It was the prayer of their hearts in the freshness of love’s youth. They wanted to grow old together because they couldn’t imagine living life without the other. It was a prayer they reminded each other of often, usually when they were curled up together in bed or sitting next to each other on the sofa. One of them would say, “I’m thankful I get to grow old with you.” And they meant it.
He realized how perfectly fulfilled that prayer was now. He looked at his wife and saw the wonder of what they had done together. Two lives, lived to the fullest. In his eyes her beauty had never dimmed or dulled. Katie wore beauty inside and out. She always had. He leaned toward his wife. “I’m happy, Kate. I’m the happiest man in the world because I’ve gotten to grow old with you.”
An explosion of light, sound, and heat filled the room, making his heart skip a beat. He and Kate were surrounded by it. Something he could only describe as deep hummed and throbbed with the sound of violence.
Kate’s eyes flashed open and found his. He could see her fear. He was scared, too, but he took her hand and smiled reassuringly. If this was some horrible accident, then they’d go together. If it was something else, they’d still go together.
The intense light blinded him. He climbed into bed next to his wife, feeling his way with his hands. He wrapped his arms around her as the light and sound surrounding them increased.
“Charles, what is it?”
“I don’t know, Love. If it’s an angel, I’m still waiting for the darn fellow to say, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ or something like that.” He chuckled at his joke. “Whatever happens, I love you. I always have. I always will.”
He felt a sudden pull on his body, but he was crushed at the same time. He held Kate close and felt her gripping him as tightly as she could. He was hot; so hot that he couldn’t breathe. He gasped for air through the pain that seared its way into every part of him.
He wished he could spare Kate of this. She deserved to die peacefully. Not scared and hurting. Not like whatever this was. She went limp in his arms, and he knew she must be gone.
His heart broke. The pain of knowing his beloved Kate had died was beyond the physical pain he felt. He no longer cared what happened to him. He only wanted it to be over. He closed his eyes and remembered the day they stood together before the altar of her little country church. No words could describe the simple elegance of his beloved as she stood in her homemade white dress. Her crystal blue eyes had danced with happiness as they pledged their lives to each other. That moment had held the hope of a lifetime for them both.
Now it was over.
He felt himself being picked up. He floated and rotated strangely. Then some unknown power threw him violently. He held on to Kate’s body with his remaining strength. He wouldn’t be separated from her. Not in life, and not in death.
Darkness, sudden and cold, enshrouded them. It shocked his body to numbness. Or maybe it was sudden heat so hot that his brain couldn’t tell the difference. His slipping consciousness told him he was dying. Still, he clung to Kate’s body. He loved her to the end, yet he hoped this wasn’t the end. He hoped he and Kate would wake up on the other side of death. That’s what his faith told him would happen.
Whether it was true or not, at least they’d grown old together.