The Last Christmas PresentbyCambriaRose©
This is my 2013 Holiday contest entry. I hope you enjoy it, and don't forget to vote! A special thank you goes to Kitty9Tail for editing.
Brylyn Hawthorne was determined to make Christmas the best one ever. It would definitely be a tall order, but it had to be done. She would plaster a fake smile on her face even if she did not feel very festive. Her plan was to decorate a real tree, bake sugar cookies, and hang so many Christmas lights that the place could be seen for a mile. She thought she had done a good job of following that plan, too. Here it was Christmas Eve, and she had finished all her goals.
She stood on a stepstool and hung a string of lights across the window valance, lowering sections of the lights to create a scalloped effect. Brylyn stepped down and looked at it while biting her lip. She couldn't tell if it was decent enough.
"It's crooked." Ryan, her boyfriend, commented from behind her.
She looked at him where he lay and stuck her tongue out at him playfully. "I'm aware."
"I'm just teasing you." He said with a slight twinkle in his golden brown eyes. "They look nice, but the scenery is much nicer."
Brylyn smiled at him and rolled her eyes. She climbed back up onto the stool to fix the section of lights that hung too low. After it was all level, she folded the stool up and put it in the small closet in the room.
"There. What do you think?" She swiped her hands across her blue jeans to clean off the dust that was clinging to them.
"It looks like a Christmas catalogue threw up in here."
The room was decorated from ceiling to floor. Colored strip lights ran around the room, drawing festive shapes like bells and candy canes. She had hung giant paper ornaments on the remaining bare walls. She even managed to get a small two foot tall pine tree and had that all decorated too.
Brylyn watched Ryan's eyes as they moved from decoration to decoration. Maybe he was right and she had overdone it. Her brow knit together at the thought. Perhaps the lights were a little too excessive.
"I love it." He smiled up at her. "Thank you."
She walked over to his bed and kissed him atop his head. "You're welcome."
It was hard to believe that it had almost been a year since their life had been turned upside down. It seemed like it had been much longer than that. Brylyn could remember each detail, like it had been some sort of slow nightmare she couldn't escape from.
She had been lying on the couch idly flipping through TV stations trying to find something to watch. Her phone rang with a number she didn't recognize. It was Ryan's mother, Anna. She was so distraught it was hard to understand her at first. Then the words 'motorcycle' and 'accident' hit her like a ton of bricks.
"I told him not to take it this morning!" She wailed to Anna. "I said it was not a good idea. He told me that the roads were clear and not to worry so much."
At the time, she blamed herself for not being more insistent on him taking her car. It wasn't until Ryan was able to talk that they got all the facts. He had been wearing a helmet, a saving grace. Brylyn had been firm with him and said if he didn't wear it she would slash his bike tires. It had only taken three replacement tires for him to figure out she was serious.
He had not hit ice like they had originally thought. The doctors learned that he had been dizzy, barely able to see through a sea of darkness fogging his vision. His balance was altered, he leaned too far to the left and the motorcycle dropped to the ground on its side. He was doing thirty miles per hour and was torn up from sliding across the asphalt.
Less than a week later, doctors discovered the cause of his spell on a CT scan. He had a massive tumor in his brain. His doctors ordered him to take an aggressive round of treatment to try to prevent it from growing farther. The doctor delivered the second blow to them; it was located in a spot in his brain that was inoperable.
Brylyn stood by him as the months passed by. She was there when the last of his curly brown hair disappeared. She was there when he was in so much pain that he could not move without making horrible, heart-wrenching sounds. She sat with him and wiped his face off with a cool rag as he lay on the bathroom floor night after night.
One night after a hard afternoon of reactions to the chemotherapy, Brylyn helped Ryan climb into bed. He told her he was cold and she set about piling blankets on him. She tucked him in gently and then crawled in beside him. She turned off the lights and snuggled close to him to share her body heat.
"You should find someone else."
Brylyn snapped up and turned the light on, blinding them both. "No!"
"You don't deserve this. You deserve someone healthy who isn't depending on you twenty-four seven and making your life miserable." His sad eyes looked up at her. "Someone who isn't going to di-"
"Don't you even say that. You are not going to die!" She cut him off, nearly yelling at him. "I won't let you."
He let out a short depressed laugh. "There isn't anything you can do to stop it, Bry. We both know it. I'm trying to help make it easier for you. You shouldn't be stuck with cancer-boy weighing you down."
"Do you think I could easily forget about you, just like that?" She fumed. He'd struck a nerve. "Do you think it would be so easy to leave you to fend for yourself? If you think I am going to walk out the door, you have another thing coming. I am not going anywhere."
Ryan's pale skin took on a rose-tinted glow. Perhaps he thought she'd just quietly do as he asked. She had never yelled at him in the six years they had been dating. He fell silent at a loss for words.
Brylyn lay back down and turned the lights off. Tears stung her eyes and silently streamed down her face and on to her pillow. How could he think she would leave like that?
"Bry," Ryan hesitated before continuing. "I saw you crying in the car when you left this morning. You should be happy with your partner, not sad. You want a family. I can't give you that family. I can't even say I would be there if by some chance we did have a family. It isn't fair to you to have to live wondering when you'll wake up and be alone."
She rolled to face him, her own brown eyes locking on to his in the dark. "None of that matters. I am not going anywhere. I am not walking away from you."
To his credit, he never talked like that to her again.
The second worst day of their life was the day that the doctors found that the treatment was not working. They began trying all sorts of alternative treatment methods, but nothing seemed to help. The balding physician wrung his hands and, as gently as he could, told them to enjoy what time they had left together. There was no reason to cause Ryan to be sick anymore in hopes of a cure; there wasn't going to be one.
Without the harsh toxins in his body, for a while Ryan felt almost normal. He had more energy and some days even had quite an appetite. His skin had more color to it and his hair started to fuzz. Brylyn kidded with him the day she saw one teeny tiny bit of fuzz where his eyebrows used to be. She rubbed it, but it didn't come off. They celebrated the one eyebrow hair that night like Ryan had won a medal in hair growing.
Brylyn started to notice things shortly after. His speech was slurred sometimes, his balance was off, he slept a lot and he often forgot things. At first he forgot silly little things like where he set his phone or the TV remote. Then one day she walked in from her job as a grocery clerk and he flipped out, demanding to know who she was. They had told them eventually he might have memory problems, but not that he'd completely forget her. It was always scary and unpredictable when it happened. Even though he had lost a lot of weight and strength, he was still stronger than her.
Over the past couple months, Ryan's health had deteriorated. The hospital suggested a hospice care provider and with their help, the apartment bedroom was turned into a 'death chamber' as Ryan put it. It had all of the medical equipment for the hospice nurse to check in on him daily. The nurse was specially trained to help care for dying people who wish to live the remaining days of their lives at home rather than a hospital.
Unfortunately, he had recently fallen down a flight of stairs and bashed his head into a concrete wall. The doctor wanted to keep an eye on him for a while to be sure there was no swelling in his brain. It meant that Christmas was being spent in a hospital bed.
"Earth to Bry!" Ryan snapped her out of her trance. "What goes on in that head of yours?"
"Just was thinking." She smiled at him. "I'm glad you like the room."
He reached for her hand, giving it a slight squeeze. "What were you thinking about?"
She sighed and sat on the hospital bed beside him. "I was thinking about everything that has happened in the last year."
His eyes flashed concern. He had told her before that he did not like when she thought about things like that. She always did the 'what if' thing. What if they would have gone to the doctor before his accident? What if he hadn't stopped the chemo? What if she'd been more adamant about getting to the doctor for a checkup regularly?
A slight knock on the door interrupted their thoughts. The door creaked open and Ryan's twin brother, Steve, walked in with an armload of presents. When Brylyn had first met Ryan, he had neglected to tell her he was an identical twin. She had struck up a conversation one day with Steve unaware, and when Ryan walked in she didn't know what to think. The boys laughed for hours at her as she hadn't spent enough time with Ryan to know which of them he was.
Steve was like a healthy version of Ryan. He was tall, thin, with similar golden eyes. He was different than his brother, though. Where Ryan preferred one girl, Steve was a ladies' man. Brylyn never knew who he'd show up with.
"Mom had me bring you some of the presents from under the tree at her house. She'll be up later to see you." Steve told him as he set the presents on a chair. "I don't know what she got you, but I think it's a bunch of bricks."
"Almost like the time she stuffed rocks into the box to fool you." Ryan laughed. He looked at Brylyn. "Mom caught Steve peeking in all the presents, so she put rocks in the boxes. He thought Santa was mad at him for doing it."
"Of all the times you forget things, why couldn't that be one of them?" Steve cringed.
Ryan shrugged and yawned. Brylyn was surprised he had stayed awake for a while. Usually he couldn't stay lucid for anything more than a half hour.
"Well anyway, I should get going back to the house and let you rest." Steve walked towards the door. "I'll see you later."
"Later." Ryan yawned again. He reached up and grabbed Brylyn. "Come here, you."
She lay beside him in the hospital bed as he wrapped an arm around her. He kissed the back of her head and nuzzled his face against her hair. He fell asleep almost instantaneously.
Brylyn lay there quietly enjoying the room while being close to Ryan. Soon, she found herself rather sleepy and drifted off to dreamland with him by her side.
A few hours later she awoke when someone came in the room. It was Mrs. Danner carrying a plate of what looked to be freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Brylyn got up off the bed and rubbed her tired eyes.
Ryan stirred and stretched. "Hey, Mom."
Brylyn looked down at her crumpled clothing. "I am going to run home and take a shower so you can visit with your mom."
"Alright sweetheart." Ryan sat up and kissed her goodbye. "Be careful driving home in the snow."
After Brylyn was changed into fresh clothing, she grabbed a sandwich, chips, and a soda. It wasn't exactly a turkey dinner, but it would do. She wolfed the food down, unaware she had been hungry.
When she arrived back at the hospital, the metal door to Ryan's room was slightly ajar. Brylyn was about to enter it, but she heard his mother talking to him and did not want to interrupt them.
"She's a great girl, Ryan." Anna told him. "I really like her. You couldn't have picked a better girlfriend."
"I love her, too." He confirmed. "I do feel guilty about what all she's gone through because of me."
"She does it because she loves you. You aren't making her stay, she's choosing to stay on her own."
Ryan coughed several times and groaned. "I think I'm starting to get a cold."
Brylyn frowned. For a normal person, a cold was nothing. For someone with hardly any immune system to fight the bacteria, it could be deadly. She would have to speak to his doctor about it the next time she saw him.
She decided to walk into the room since they seemed to be done with their discussion.
"Hey," Ryan smiled at her. "We were just talking about you."
She shrugged off her coat and settled into the chair beside his bed. "Nothing too bad, I hope."
Anna smiled warmly at her. She walked over to Ryan and touched his shoulder lightly. "I am going to leave you two alone. I will be back tomorrow morning to bring you the other presents and to spend Christmas with you."
"Thanks, Mom. See you tomorrow." He waved as she left the room.
"Goodbye Mrs. Danner."
Ryan looked up at Brylyn and motioned her to come over to him. He tugged on the collar of her shirt until she was leaning in front of him. He grinned and gave her a light kiss. She kissed him back, wondering what had caused him to be that affectionate.
He lay back against the pillows. "I have a confession."
"You didn't kiss a nurse or something, did you?" She asked in reference to the mistletoe she hung over the bed. She was teasing him.
He laughed and wiggled his fuzz eyebrows. "No, but had I remembered that you hung that over the bed I would have totally kissed that hot nurse that showed up while you were gone."
Brylyn feigned being hurt. "Well, in that case I guess you don't need me anymore. I will just take all of my decorations and go."
"You are funny, you know that?" He grinned and kissed her again.
She eyed him suspiciously. "Why are you so lovey dovey?"
She swore he blushed. "The presents Steve brought aren't for me. They are for you. I gave him a list of things to get, and Mom wrapped it. I didn't think you'd want his idea of paper towels as wrapping paper on them. I want you to get the box in the red paper."
Brylyn was slightly shocked. She didn't expect him to get her anything. "I didn't bring your presents, they are at home. We should wait until tomorrow to open them."
"Bry, just get the red present." He insisted.
She did as he asked, grabbing a large box covered in red paper with Christmas bell designs on it. She held it pensively in her lap.
"Well, open it and tell me what you think." Ryan prodded, nudging her.
She carefully peeled the tape off. She loosened all the tape before taking the paper off and neatly folding it.
"Come on, just rip it already."
She knew it irritated him that she was meticulous when it came to opening presents. She undid the tape holding the box closed. She didn't have any idea what it could be.
As she opened the box, she saw tissue paper. Ryan grew tired of her taking so long to open it. He reached over and pulled the tissue paper out of the box before she had a chance to fold it into neat little squares. She gave him a sarcastic look and then returned her gaze to the box.
Inside was some sort of white material. She pulled it out and was shocked to see it was a pure white dress. She looked at it and then at Ryan questioningly. "What is this?"
"Look in the box." He motioned to the box.
At the bottom was a little white box. It looked like a jeweler's ring box. Her eyebrows shot into her hairline as she retrieved it.
Before she could open it, Ryan snatched it away. "I'll take that, thank you."
She was confused. She looked to him for an explanation. "Ryan, what is going on?"
He smiled at her. "I know this isn't exactly the most romantic place or anything, but here goes nothing." He opened the box and showed it to her. It held a small gold ring with a diamond setting.
Her hand flew to her mouth. It was beautiful.
"Brylyn, would you do me the honor of marrying me? Be forewarned if you say no, I will be playing the cancer card." He added.
"Oh my god, Ryan. Yes!" She shrieked and held out her hand. As soon as the ring was on her finger she went crazy. She stood up, squealed and danced around in a circle. She felt the happiest she had been in a long time.
Ryan looked at her like she had dipped into his morphine drip. "There was a second part to that."
She stopped her little dance and looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"Well," He seemed to be having trouble saying it. "I, uh, well, you see I meant tonight."
"Yeah, I meant would you marry me tonight." He admitted looking sheepish. "There is a pastor waiting in the chapel, provided you said yes."
"Ryan! The dress is beautiful. What would you wear?" Thoughts slammed through her as she processed what was happening. They had been together almost eight years. She had thought he was against getting married because he feared he would hurt her even more so when he passed away. She was excited and nervous all at the same time.
"I have a tuxedo I can wear so my bare ass doesn't hang out in the pictures. I can't give you a big wedding, and I know it's last minute." His eyes saddened. "But it's all I could do right now."
"It's not a big deal. Yes, I will marry you. Tonight." She beamed down at him.
"You may now kiss the bride." The pastor motioned, smiling at the couple.
Ryan looked down into Brylyn's eyes and leaned forward to seal their new marriage. He kissed her lightly and the smiled down at her. She looked up into his eyes, seeing nothing but love shining back at her.
She helped him into a wheelchair, knowing that he would be tired from the few hours of excitement. She pushed him back to his room and helped him out of the tux. A nurse came in to check on him and help get him situated.
He coughed and yawned. "I'm sorry that I am sleepy. I promise I'm excited."
Brylyn lay down with him after she had changed out of the gorgeous dress. "I know you are. It's alright, you rest up." She kissed his forehead.
Mrs. Brylyn Danner, she kind of liked the new name. Even though it hadn't been a traditional ceremony, it was certainly one to remember. It would always be a special day in her life. She fell asleep with a happy smile on her face.
Brylyn was awakened by someone messing with the hem of her shirt. She opened her eyes to find someone had turned off the room's lights, leaving the Christmas lights as their only way to see. A cold finger traced across her warm stomach.
She rolled over slightly to see Ryan staring at her with desire in his eyes. She wondered why he was looking at her like that. The chemo had pretty much decimated his sex drive. Lately, he hadn't had enough energy to be able to do much of anything, let alone get sexually excited.
"Ryan?" She questioned.
"What is a wedding night without consummating it?" He said in a low voice she had long forgotten he used when he was turned on.
Concern etched itself on her face. "Are you sure it'd be okay? Won't it set the alarms off?" She motioned to the EKG pads stuck on his chest.
"I don't think the nurses would question what a newlywed couple would be doing in here." He chuckled, an evil little grin on his face.
His hand slid up the smooth skin of her stomach as she held her breath. It had been so long since he had touched her this way. His hand closed over her breast, and she let out a content sigh. Her hand rose to cover his.
"If you are sure." She glanced back at him one last time.
He squeezed her breast as the reply instead of saying anything. He leaned into the back of her and laid light kisses on her neck. She groaned and reclined back into his touch.