Every Precious SecondMark Tullius
Every Precious Second
A short story by
Published by Vincere Press
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Long Beach, CA 90802
Every Precious Second
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Tullius
All rights reserved.
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This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in this book are either fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Cover art by Olivia Tullius
Cover design by Brian Esquivel
For Don and Dort,
Table of Contents
Every Precious Second
A Note to the Reader
The Greatest Gift
About the Author
Excerpt from Try Not to Die: At Grandma’s House
Every Precious Second
The numbers on this stupid cell phone are so small that my finger punches the nine every time I shoot for the eight. My granddaughter tells me I should upgrade to one of those new smart gadgets, but it already takes me ten minutes to dial when there are actual buttons. This old hound dog’s not learning any new tricks, especially on one of those virtual screens.
“Leave it alone, William. If it comes, it comes,” Rose whispers. She pauses for a second to gather her breath. “If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” It hurts her to talk. I turn up the volume on my hearing aid and ask if she wants some water.
“I want you to put down that phone.”
“I made plans. Plus, Billie already paid for the shipping. It’s not right if the package doesn’t come.”
“We shouldn’t have involved her. This whole thing’s wrong and I feel torn up.”
I hold up the cell, squint over my glasses. “I’ll just be a minute.”
“It’s too early there. She’s still in bed.”
I glance at the clock. It seems to run faster with every passing day. “She’s up,” I say and concentrate on pressing the eight. “It’s already noon.”
On the fourth ring, Billie answers with a yawn. “Hi, Grandpa. Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine, sweetheart.”
“Of course.” The afghan is slipping down Rose’s thighs. I pull it up to her waist. She’s so frail you can hardly see her legs under the blanket. I ask our granddaughter, “You weren’t sleeping were you?”
“No.” Another yawn.
“I wanted to catch you before your classes begin.”
“I need to be getting up anyway. My Biochem final is at eleven. I was up pretty late last night studying for it.”
“I completely forgot about the time difference. You’re so far away.”
I don’t even have to look to know Rose is rolling her eyes. I never remember the time difference.
“I wish I wasn’t so far away, Grandpa. I’d leave today to see you guys, but Mom and Dad won’t let me miss my exams.”
“I told your father I’d tan his hide if he did.”
“I’m still flying out next Thursday, right after my last test.”
With my hearing aid up, I hear Rose breathing from five feet away. It reminds me of dry leaves rustling. As much as I want to deny it, Rose isn’t making it until next Thursday, she might not make it two days. But you don’t say those sorts of things to your medical school standout, the little girl who used to steal butterscotch candies from the tin and wrap them up as Christmas gifts for everyone. I say, “You don’t need to worry, Billie. You just focus on your tests. We both know how much you love your grandma.”
“But I want to see her. I want to say goodbye,” Billie says, her voice quivering. “Can I talk to her?”
“Of course you can.” I turn to Rose, her blue eyes shiny with tears. “But I just had a quick question about the package.”
“Didn’t it arrive?”
“Not yet. Do you think maybe they have the wrong address? I just wanted to make sure it’s coming.”
“Hold on.” She reads off the correct address. “I have the tracking number. I’ll call them right now.”
“Thank you, dear.” I’d do it myself, but with all that button-pushing, I’ll end up getting instructions in Spanish or talking to some guy in India.
“Remember what I said, Grandpa. Only take one every four hours. That’s plenty.”
“Of course.” I crane my neck to see out the kitchen window, no UPS truck, just the snow-covered street. “Thank you again for this, Billie.”
“It’s the least I can do.”
“Let me put on your grandma.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too, dear.” I shuffle around the table and hold the phone to Rose’s ear. She jerks back like she’s being attacked, before realizing it’s just my cell.
Rose holds the phone to her ear, traps it with her neck and trembling hand to keep it there. They talk while I stare out the window. I check the grandfather clock in the living room. It’s been in the family since I was a baby. Several minutes have slipped by.
Rose says her goodbyes, and I fiddle to press End. She’s biting her lower lip so I tell her not to cry. I say, “Come on, what’s the matter, beautiful?”
“It’s not right, we shouldn’t be doing this to her. What if she gets caught? She’ll get thrown out of school.”
“No one’s getting thrown out of anywhere.” I’d already played out this scenario a dozen times after Billie first told me about the pills. She went on and on about studies and chemical-whatchu-do’s, but all I heard was, “Time stops, Grandpa.” She corrected herself and said it actually just slows down perception, but I just kept thinking, Time stops.
I stroke Rose’s good hand. “Try not to be sad. Why don’t I make you some tea?”
Rose flashes that smile I’ll never forget. “I’m not sad. Just worried.”
“Well, stop.” I look down at the phone. “Let me just make one more call to…”
“No, put it down, William.”
“I just want to make certain that UPS has our correct address.”
“You’re like a dog with a bone. This is almost as bad as that decoder ring of yours, Captain Midnight.”
I hadn’t thought of that cheap, plastic ring in over twenty years. “I waited six weeks for that.”
“Standing out by the mailbox every single one of those days.”
“I did, didn’t I?” I’d sent away for it from one of those ads in the back of Boy’s Life. “You and your mother brought me in when it started snowing.”
“We didn’t want to see a dead kid out on the lawn.”
“And your mother made that pecan pie.”
“You were the only one who would eat it.”
Rose and I spent that entire summer fishing by the creek, walking through Dover’s Canyon. We had our first kiss behind St. Gabriel’s Church. I nearly passed out because my nose was all stuffed-up from a cold, and I didn’t want that kiss to ever end.
After a sip of water, Rose looks at the wall, all those memories playing in her head. She says, “Isn’t this nice?”
I don’t know if she’s talking to me right now in this room or me as a young man.
The grandfather clock chimes. I look out the frosted window. Nothing. “I’m calling them. This is ridiculous. Billie paid good money for it to arrive and it hasn’t.”
“Calm down, William.”
“I’m not going to let them rip her off like that.”
“Please.” She touches me. Her hand’s shaking so much it tickles.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her, “but it gets me so mad.”
“Darling, they’re just pills.”
I can’t have this conversation. I know where’s she’s leading, so I stand. She asks where I’m going.
I force a smile. “I’ve got a surprise for you.” Package or not, I can’t let this ruin all my hard work.
“Just some things. There’s one for each of the next three nights.”
“What are you up to, William?”
I no longer have to force the smile. I’ve been waiting months to show her. Suddenly, I hear a ringing. I look at the phone in my hand. It’s not that, so I peek around the corner at the landline on the wall. The little red light isn’t flashing either.
“Did you hear something, William?”
“No, I guess not.” I wonder if my hearing aid is on the fritz again just before a series of bangs come from the living room. I hurry to the window. A brown-clad man, holding a small box, is walking back toward the UPS truck idling at the curb.
“What’s wrong?” Rose asks as I try to hurry out of the kitchen.
I concentrate on the floor in front of me, wishing my slippered feet would move faster. My labored breaths make my chest feel like it’s burning. I reach the door and go to pull it open, but the deadbolt and security chain are fastened.
My fingers tear at the chain, slip it free. I twist the lock
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