After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Jonathan looks back on his career-focused life and sees nothing but empty years behind him. His desire for success has left him without a single happy memory, and completely alone.
While shocked by the news, he stumbles into Nino: a man without a steady job, without a permanent home and, as happy as a person can be. On the spur of the moment they set off to an adventure by the sea, with good food, loads of sun, and rising attraction. Only both hide secrets from each other as they fight against the sparks that keep on lighting the flames.They set out for some fun, but found the adventure of both of their lives...
What exactly do you do when you’re told you have only a short time to live? A few weeks. Do you continue like nothing has happened? Do you start planning your funeral and saying long good-byes to your friends? What is the right course of action for such stunning news?
I am thirty years old, and today I was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. To say my life collapsed under my feet is the understatement of the century. There were no drastic explanations or an unlimited number of solutions given to me. In fact, there were none. My cancer is too far gone.
My dear doctor sat me down, told me she had received my MRI results, and after consulting with the neurosurgeons, it was their expert opinion that the tumor was inoperable. I had, at most, only a couple more months. There was simply nothing they could do except give me stronger medications for my headaches. They recommended I get my affairs in order.
I never expected to be condemned in my thirties. I’ve had plans for my life since I was just a kid: finish school, become a lawyer, and have my own business. Once I accomplished a stable financial situation, it would then be time to find a wife and have two perfect children who would follow in my footsteps of success. Nowhere in those plans was a brain tumor listed as one of my must-have requirements.
On autopilot, I walked back to work. The numbness that enveloped my mind barely dulled the raging headache at the base of my skull. It was the reason why I had gone to the doctor in the first place. A week of constant headaches had been interfering with my work, and pills only brought it down to a bearable level.
All of this had come on so suddenly. Working the hours I did, I wasn’t a stranger to exhaustion, but when the constant headaches entered the picture, I was forced to see my doctor.
My short walk brought me to my building. I stopped and looked up, admiring my achievements. I was extremely proud of what I’d accomplished. That is, until this morning. I went inside and got on the elevator, punched the number for my floor. Now it only made me wonder, what was the point of working so hard, spending so much time studying, working, or arguing with clients, when I was left with nothing? In the span of just a few minutes, I’d found out I would be forced to leave it all behind, unable to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
“Please hold my calls today, Jill, and cancel all my appointments. Ask Jerry if he can take on some of them. I’m not feeling well,” I said to my secretary as I stepped into the lobby on the way to my office.
It was a big office, lots of windows, a spacious desk, and numerous collectors’ paintings I didn’t much care for, but they left a good impression. I’d never understood what it was with art that made you stand taller when most clients didn’t even know what they were appreciating.
I sat down at my desk and stared at a cup of lukewarm tea and some cold toast that Jill had left for me. I didn’t even have the desire to indulge in my morning ritual, like I’d done every morning for the past God knows how many years.
I’m a routine type of guy. Always followed everything to the letter, every day. That routine helped make my life perfect, from the moment I woke up in the morning until the moment I shut down my laptop and went to bed at night. There was an ideal amount of time for every activity, every moment of every day perfectly planned to make sure balance was achieved. My motto was to work as much as I could while staying as healthy as possible. It looked like life didn’t work that way.
My phone rang, but I didn’t pay it much attention. Then it rang again and again. I just ignored it. I wasn’t very interested in letting the outer world in right now. I was hurting. In shock. I simply sat and stared at my full cup of tea, unable to function. I couldn’t think about what to do or what I had to live for now. I just sat and disconnected.
Hours later -- it had to be at least lunchtime, judging by the sun’s position -- Jill knocked on the door, then entered when I didn’t answer.
“Excuse me, Mr. Morgan. Mr. Miller is on the line, asking for you. Do you want me to tell him you have already left?” Her voice was hesitant, her eyes darting around the room. She no doubt wondered at my rather strange behavior. It was unlike me to sit holed up in my office, doing nothing but staring. Not even work, my most prized form of comfort.
“No. I’ll take the call. You may go.” Not paying her any attention, I picked up the phone.
“Hello, Jerry. I’m taking the rest of the day off. Could you pick up the clients Jill has appointed for me today?” I asked, my tone flat. To be honest, I wasn’t really there.
“I guess I could take a few, but not all of them. Why are you taking the day off? Is everything all right?” Jerry was a good friend and a good partner, but my medical condition wasn’t something I was willing to discuss with anyone yet.
“I’m not feeling well. I think I’ll go home and rest for a while.” The same authoritative tone I used for business proved useful here. I wondered vaguely if I had ever had another tone.
“Well, it’s not like I can stop you. Rest, and I’ll see you tomorrow.” He hung up, leaving me to do as I’d said I would: go home. Only there was nothing for me at home either. I got up from my chair, picked up my briefcase, and stumbled out of the office.
“I’m going to take off for the rest of the day. Jerry said he would meet with some of my clients. Please take care of everything, Jill,” I said as I passed her desk.
“Have a good day, Mr. Morgan,” she called after me, always polite and more than efficient when it came to her work.
She was a good secretary, probably a good person too, but I wouldn’t know about that. I had never wondered about her life or anything else not connected to business. It was strange to discover how now, so many years later, I had nothing but that business and that, in the grand scheme of things, there was nothing I could do with it. I mean, once you’re gone, you’re gone.
I bypassed the elevator and took the stairs down to the main level, not in a hurry to get anywhere. I was still lost in what must have been some sort of epic shock. I heard the voices around me, clients trying to catch my eye just to ask something trivial, employees wishing me a good day; I even noticed a child crying in the arms of a frustrated mother who was trying to have a conversation with someone.
All of it went on around me, the vivid world of rushing people and loud voices, but somehow the only thing that reached me, that touched me, was the vibrancy of the lives that weren’t mine. The happiness, as well as the joy -- that was something I’d never seen in the mirror. What stared back at me was a too-serious, miserable man who was married to his work.
So engrossed was I in this newfound knowledge that I wasn’t watching where I was going. I didn’t even really care where I was heading. I just stepped blindly out the door -- and straight into a passing cyclist. The impact was such that he instantly fell to the hard concrete, his bicycle half on top of him. He pushed the bike off in frustration and gripped his leg.
In reaction, I did something completely out of character: I rushed to him, crouched by his side, and helped him move the bike out of the way. Normally I would have given him a disgusted look and went on my way, upset that he had managed to ruin my day by being so impolite as to run into me. But now...now my perspective on everything had irreversibly changed.
“Are you all right? I’m sorry I bumped into you. I wasn’t really looking where I was going.” I was amazed at myself for apologizing.
“Yeah, man, I’m fine. Could you just help me up?” the man said, his voice friendly, despite the fact that I was the one who’d pushed him to the ground.
I had stood and reached down to take his hand when I noticed his appearance for the first time. He had a delivery vest across his chest and a backpack by his side. His honey brown hair was messy, something that would have never passed in my profession, where appearance was everything. A smile stretched across his face and lit up his light green eyes. He was of slighter build than I, so it wasn’t a problem to lift him up.
As soon as his feet touched the ground, he grunted in what sounded like pain and headed back down once more. I caught him under his arms, transferring a part of his weight against me.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” I asked again, shocked by my unconventional concern.
“I twisted my ankle. Again. Damn! There goes another job. I hate to bother you, but could you help me to that bench over there? I just have to rest it a bit, and I’ll be able to limp my way home. I won’t bother you more than that.” He didn’t sound heartbroken or angry, nothing of the sort. Instead he sounded like he just needed a bit of a break, after which everything would be peachy again.
I knew I would have cursed all the saints and sinners if I’d been in the same situation, and I would probably have sued whoever pushed me to the ground. Somehow my voice took on that new personality I’d acquired today, and I spoke.
“It’s not a problem. Just let me take your things.” I crouched again, picking up his backpack and putting it on my back, then reached for his bike. It was a rather light bike and seemed to still be functional, so I had no problem pushing it with my right hand while the delivery boy hung on to my left side as we slowly limped toward the bench.
“I apologize, but I didn’t ask your name.” “Delivery Boy” sounded kind of rude in my own mind, another thing that wouldn’t have bothered me in the slightest before.
“Sorry, I completely forgot. I’m Nino Herc. Nice to meet you.” He stopped and extended his hand, which I happily accepted.
“Jonathan Morgan, likewise.” We continued our limping walk and were soon at the bench, where I had him sit down. I leaned the bike against the wall next to us.
It wasn’t even a question of me leaving; there wasn’t a place I wanted to go or could go to. Even if I wanted to plan something extravagant, like visiting India, there was no way I would know how I would feel in a month. I sat next to Nino and spread my arms on the back of the bench and stared into the distance. Much like I’d done all morning.
“You don’t have to watch me. I’m perfectly fine now. Or I will be in a few more minutes,” Nino said as he massaged his bare ankle.
“There isn’t really a place I was particularly looking to go. Unless you mind me sitting here?” I asked, worried for the first time in my life what someone else thought.
“No, no, I just figured you were busy, what with the suit and the briefcase.” I looked down at my left hand, where I still gripped my whole life. I wasn’t even aware of the fact that I still had the briefcase with me.
“I just got off work. Wasn’t feeling too good,” I confessed, not really knowing why. It would only lead to more questions that I wasn’t prepared to answer.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Are you still feeling bad? Want me to walk you home?”
I stared at him, fully out of my wits. He’d just twisted his ankle because of me, and he was asking me if I needed walking home?
“God, I’m an idiot. I just don’t think sometimes. I apologize, again. It just comes natural for me to ask such things. I’m not a stalker or a thief or whatever other possible explanation you have cruising through your head. I’m just too open for my own good.”
He got flustered with his explanations, making me smile honestly for the first time in too many years. Funny guy.
“No, that’s all right. I was just a bit shocked. No one has ever offered to walk me home before. But if you don’t mind, I’ll just sit here for a bit longer,” I said, still smiling, enjoying the rare, honest moment of peace.
“Okay.” A smile blossomed on his flushed cheeks.
“You said something about your job before?” I inquired, curious.
“Oh that... It’s nothing, really. They’ll just fire me when this delivery isn’t at its destination on time. Which it won’t be, since I can’t ride my bike with my ankle like this, but that’s okay; don’t worry about it. I’ll just find another job, like I always do.” He said it so matter-of-factly, not at all troubled that he had probably lost his job.
“I can drive you if you’d like. My car isn’t far off, and we will be on time,” I offered, slowly getting used to my new helpful self.
He shook his head. “No, that’s okay. Summer is here. I need to find something to do on the beach.” He smiled his bright smile again. “I’ll just go on one of the islands and find something that seems interesting. I love spending summers on the islands -- so many different people, so much sun, not to mention swimming. I love swimming.” He spoke with such honest enthusiasm, it struck me as a wonderful idea to spend the summer on an island too. I’d never traveled for pleasure, and I’d had everything that was needed for a vacation at my fingertips, including a location just an hour or two away.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the whole summer on an island, but rather two months, if even that. Gloomy thoughts passed through my mind again. But still, the idea of spending the summer on an island was better than working until I collapsed.
“Where do you find accommodation on an island on such short notice?” I asked him, now completely sold on the idea.
“Usually people who offer jobs have accommodations too, or hotels offer joined bunks, which is also pretty good. I love the company.” It amazed me that he offered the information so freely to a complete stranger. It seemed surprises were a part of Nino’s personality, which I liked more with every passing minute.
“And when will you be leaving? I mean, you just hurt yourself; you won’t be looking for a job so soon.”
“Why not?” He shrugged, looking at his foot. “This is nothing. I’ll leave maybe tonight or tomorrow morning and just crash on the beach for a night or two until I find something. By then, my ankle will be fine.”
Not an ounce of his enthusiasm diminished under my scrutiny.
“Tell me, do you know if they rent out houses on the islands?” I wondered. That would be ideal for me; something not too close to people, but still within walking distance.
“Sure they do, but you have to look for rentals. The season is already starting, and most of the houses are booked by tourists.”
“Will you help me look?” I asked, gazing intently at his face.
He dropped his foot onto his sneaker and stared at me, surprised.
“You want to rent a house?”
I nodded. “I’ve just decided on it. I have plenty of money, but I’ve never taken a vacation in my life. I can offer you a job too, if you know how to cook and clean a bit, that is? You can even be my guide.” I had it all worked out in my head in a matter of minutes. I might have a brain tumor, but my speed of thought was still right where it should be. A quiet voice in the back of my head wondered, how long will that last?
“You’re offering me a job?”
Nino sounded shocked, which forced me to break another smile. Especially once I saw the comical expression on his face -- he was for once, totally out of his depth.
“What’s so weird about that? You are looking for a job, and I need a vacation. If you can cook, you have all the requirements I might need. Besides, I find myself enjoying your company.” I thought about that a minute and found the words were more than true. A flush caught Nino’s cheeks again. I didn’t really understand what I’d said to cause such a reaction, but I figured it was better to let it go.
“You’re serious?” He cast me a sideways look.
“You don’t know me, but I’m always serious. I have just decided to go on a vacation and to hire you as my guide, as well as my cook. If you are interested, we need to find a house that is available, starting tomorrow. I don’t really have that much time to wait. And you said you will be leaving tonight anyway.” I spoke in my professional tone, pushing down that little voice that pointed out the fact that I’d just offered a job to a complete stranger.
“Well, it’s a good opportunity,” Nino said, clearly thinking. “I’m not inclined to turn it down. We should find Internet access and see what’s available.”
“Do you know a place nearby? If not, we can go to my apartment, and while we’re at it, decide on your pay and sign a contract.” I was already on my feet, ready to go, a new feeling of excitement coursing through my body.
“Boy, you sure do act fast,” Nino mumbled.
“What is there to wait for? The sooner we get it done, the sooner we will be on the beach enjoying ourselves,” I chipped in, liking the idea the more I thought about it.
“All right. We can go to your place, but I have to do something with my bike. Will it fit in your car?”
“Yes, it won’t be a problem.” I bent down, picked up his backpack, and put it on, then got the bike. I turned to leave when I remembered. “Are you all right by yourself?”
Nino got off the bench, limping a bit, but stood on his own two feet. “Yeah, I’m fine. Lead the way.”
So I did. I walked slower than usual, turning every once in a while to check on my new friend and future employee. When we reached the underground garage, I stopped.
“You wait here. There is no need to drag you all the way down. I’ll just bring the car around.” I didn’t wait for his answer. I just leaned the bike against the wall and hurried down.
The walk was short, but my shocked mind used it well as it dwelled on what had just happened. There is no way I can leave my job indefinitely. But I would be leaving it forever in a couple of months. I can’t just go live with some stranger on an island for the summer. But what else was I going to do with my remaining time? I don’t even know the guy well enough to have a cup of coffee with him. But I wouldn’t meet anyone else either in the next two months, and my life wasn’t exactly overflowing with friends at the moment.
All of which was true. I’d been rational and efficient my entire life. There was no point in it anymore, I decided as I sat in my SUV and headed toward Nino.
He was still in the exact spot where I had left him, his eyes widening when he saw my ride, but he said nothing.
“Come on, get in the front; I’ll put your bike in the back.” He did as I told him without a comment, while I struggled with his bike. It wasn’t something I usually put in the back of my car. When I was done, I picked up his backpack and put it in his lap.
In no time, we were heading toward my apartment.
“You really are rich, aren’t you?” Nino asked.
“Yes, I am. You have a problem with that?” I asked, curious as to the origin of his statement.
“No, not a problem. It’s just that I’ve never expected to be in this kind of a situation. I guess it didn’t seem real until I saw your car.” He stared through the windshield, not paying the least amount of attention to me.
“This isn’t such a badass car; the town is full of Pathfinders,” I said as if defending my virtue.
“Sure, I see them around. But none of my friends could ever be found driving something this big or this expensive.”
“Okay, I don’t know what to say to that,” I answered seriously. Was he angry that I had money? Why did I even care?
“I’m just commenting; don’t take it the wrong way,” Nino retorted.
I decided to drop it. “My apartment is just around the block. I live on the second floor. Will you be able to go up the steps?” I only then realized his ankle might be a problem.
“Yeah, I think so. You’ll help me up if I really suck at it.” He laughed, eliciting a smile from me too.
We were there before I could even start another conversation. I parked the SUV in the garage and helped him climb the steps. It was slow progress but manageable.
“I welcome you to my not so humble home,” I joked, leaving the front door for him to close.
“Wow,” he said, looking around wide-eyed.
“Yes, I know. It kind of came with the profession. I had to live in a presentable place. I had nothing to do with the interior decorating, of course.” Not that I ever cared for decorating, but looking back, it might have been nice to choose a piece of furniture or even a cup that matched my personal tastes.
“Are you all right?”
The question startled me. Suddenly I saw Nino’s worried face right in front of me.
“I’m sorry. I just wandered off, I think. I’m perfectly fine. Come, the computer is in the office.” I all but ran down the hallway. It didn’t sit well with my stand-and-fight personality.
“There’s the computer. If you don’t mind, I’ll just go and bring us some drinks. Maybe food if you’re hungry?” I asked, playing the perfect host.
“No food, thank you. But I wouldn’t mind a cup of coffee if you have any.”
Nino looked at me, startling me with the brightness of his eyes. There was something unnerving in them that I just couldn’t put my finger on.
“One coffee, coming right up. Make yourself at home.” With that I wandered down to the kitchen, glad for a moment to clear my mind, but also hating it, for it gave me time to remember. And right now I didn’t want to think about dying.
I grabbed the tin of coffee out of the freezer and made a pot. It was automatic. I think any addict who doesn’t even know how to boil an egg, knows how to make a cup of coffee to live through the day. Even though I stopped drinking it almost altogether and switched to tea a few years ago, how to make it was still carved into my memory. I opened a bag of snacks, which I put in a bowl in case Nino changed his mind about being hungry.
I wandered back into my office, a dark cloud still in front of my eyes. I was going to die in the middle of summer, and not even a vacation or all the money in the world could change that.
Nino lifted his head from the computer, a smile heading straight for the cup on the tray in my hand. “Oh, thank you. That will be a lifesaver. I don’t usually drink coffee that much, but today I need a cup more than ever.”
“You didn’t specify how you liked it, so here are the additions too.” I served everything next to my computer, feeling a bit like my secretary but not minding it much.
He took a sip before putting the cup down and grabbing the mouse. “Look here; I found us a house that just might be all right.”
I came around the chair and leaned over him. In doing so, my chest brushed against the tip of his shoulder.
“It’s small, has two bedrooms, one bathroom, kitchen, living room, and a huge terrace overlooking the whole bay. It’s secluded but still close to the sea. And the best part is it’s available tomorrow. I called, and the lady just said we should contact her by tonight about our ferry departure. She’ll meet us at the harbor to give us the keys.”
“You really are an inspiration, aren’t you, Nino? I’m already looking forward to our adventure. Well, my adventure; it’s probably your everyday life.” I laughed at myself. How pathetic it must be to never have gone on a vacation in your life.
“Oh no, I never did anything quite like this before either. It’ll be fun, I can tell.” He smiled at me, then turned quickly back to the screen and clicked on his mouse again.
“Here are the pictures; look.”
I leaned down again, staring at the picture slide. A small stone house with a huge terrace, just like he said. It looked comfortable, and the view from the terrace really was spectacular. The good vibes about the trip just kept on spreading.
“I like it. Tell her I will transfer the money to her account. Just write down the information, and I will take care of it sometime tonight. Also check about the ferry. I think we should leave in the morning. What do you think?” I asked, not really sure what the best course of action might be.
“There’s one tomorrow at ten. That work for you?” he said, not even skipping a beat.
“Sure, that works fine. Where should we meet then?”
“How about I come here? I’ll be bringing my bike, so we can load everything in your SUV right away. I’ll come around nine, and we can be on our way.” He looked at me hesitantly.
“That settles it then. Is there anything else we need to work out?”
“No, just bring enough clothes, long sleeves too. It can get pretty cold by the water at night. Everything else we can buy there,” he said as he stood.
“You are going already?” I was a little surprised but also relieved. I needed some time alone to process the whole day.
“Yes. If you could just take out my bike, I’ll drop by work and leave the packages; then I have some packing to do too.”
He was almost to the door before I asked, “Do you need a ride?”
“No, it’s not that far, and I’m sure you have your own things to do. We’ll see each other tomorrow.” He dismissed me with a wave of his hand, not even turning around to face me.
I hurried after him, taking the bike out of the SUV in seconds, and he was down the street before I even said a proper good-bye.
Copyright © Valentina Heart