|A man walks by a window in a maternity ward. Behind the glass the newly arrived children sleep in peace; one is awake and making ready to cry for his mother. It is nearly 4:30 am, though the watch the man holds in front of him says it its 12 midnight. His slow pacing produced a muted echo in the deserted hallbut his eyes never leave the watch in his hand; he watches intently for movement in the hands of the clock that was never started. It is a handsome trinket, done in the old pocket watch style. Gold with an ivory rose on the lid, it has the appearance of being very valuable. He knows that to one person this watch will be costly and somehow invaluable.
The man stopped and took a step back.
He walked slowly past the whole window again.
He looked up at the nurse who had just entered the room. Her eyes lingered uncomprehending on him for a moment. He dropped his gaze to the little girl in front of him.
The nurse's eyes became wide as her hand moved to her mouth. Tears formed in her eyes as she quickly turned and left the room.
“She’s perfect,” Karl bent over and kissed his wife where she was laying on the hospital bed.
Brandy smiled and hummed slightly as she received his kiss, “it was worth it, though it didn’t really seem like it at the time.”
Karl laughed, " At least you didn't faint, on that subject did any of the nurses laugh at me?"
"No, they were too busy telling me that that was a typical reaction from first time fathers."
The new parents were surprised when the nurse escorted an elderly man into the room. Brandy looked at her husband, their visitor was not from her limited side of the family. She held some hope that he was from Karl's more extensive side that had simply missed the wedding, a great uncle prehaps. Karl's returning glance told her this was no the case. The man, clad in an old grey suit with a matching hat in his hands did not look terribly happy. Karl ventured a question. “Sir, are you lost?”
The man’s olive colored eyes met his as he answered gravely, “I’m afraid not, though I wish for your sakes that I was, or rather for your daughter’s sake.”
Karl looked at his wife Brandy for a moment before readdressing the man. “What would this have to do with our daughter? Are you a doctor?”
“I am not, but it has everything to do with her.” He pulled a watch from his waistcoat pocket. “And this.”
Karl smiled lightly; at least this man was only insane. “Did my infant daughter break your watch, sir?”
“Hardly, rather she fixed it.”
Karl directed his smile at his wife.
The man continued. “And that is the problem.”
Karl and Brandy smiled, they both felt that he was certifiably insane.
The strange gentleman looked at the chair and gestured to it. “May I?”
Karl nodded; what harm could an old man do? “how is it that we can help you?”
The man sat as though preparing for a lengthy discussion. “It’s going to be more me helping you.”
“I can see that you don’t really believe me, let me explain...”
“Explain what? There doesn’t seem to be that much in question.”
The man put up his hand, “you’ll understand when I’m finished. I am from a government group that finds and monitors the human emotional time bombs, or HETBs for short. These people set off special clocks that indicate how long they have left to live before they explode. The time is sped up when the individual experiences extreme emotion, happy or otherwise. Your daughter is one of these. This,” he held up the pocket watch, "is her time piece, or watch.”
"Really, that's very interesting."
"It is kept in careful confidence from the general public."
Karl stood. “Have you considered submitting that to a fiction writer? Or perhaps you are one; your idea is very interesting but I am no writer or publisher so you’d best take it...”
“Sir, I am being perfectly serious.”
“Alright, I’ll play along. How was it that you found out that our daughter is one of them? She certainly wasn’t born with it.”
“No, but it did react to her in the other room.”
Karl looked at him dryly for a moment. The unwavering certainty in the older man’s gaze persuaded him to look away for a moment.
“She has the average time on her clock as many of the others have, not as long as anyone would like but it’s better than nothing.”
Karl looked behind himself to Brandy. She sighed, and he turned back to the old man, “Sir, this has ceased to be funny. I request that you leave immediately; my wife needs to rest.”
“Of course.” He stood. “This is a lot to take in at once. Of course, I’ll go now and send you more information.” He got up and turned to leave, then faced them again. “You’ll want the watch now, I assume.”
Karl squared his shoulders; whether out of his mind or not, this joke was going far enough, “I’ve asked you nicely once don’t make me ask again. Now go.”
“But the watch...”
“I would tell you what you can do with that watch, but my wife is present.”
The man’s eyes narrowed for a moment, but his expression softened as he pulled some papers out of an interior pocket in his coat. “I’m sorry, but if you refuse to listen I have orders to take custody of the child.”
Karl snatched the papers in disbelief, Brandy got up and clung to his arm. “No, this can’t be...” He looked up to see the man watching the baby who had just arrived in the nurse’s arms.
His expression was very far away, “It’s a beautiful name you’ve given her...Dianna. It’s the same as my daughter’s name was. Every time this job gets more difficult, but this one more than the others.” He seemed to remember where he was; he smiled but his heart wasn’t in it. “I suppose that requires an explanation.”
Karl was about to object, but Brandy touched his arm and gave him a pleading look.
The elderly man took Dianna ever so gently from the nurse. One would have thought from casual observation that it was the transference of an antique china doll as opposed to taking a child in arms; he sat back into the chair with equal delicacy. “My daughter was an HETB too, but neither I nor my wife knew. She grew up normally, life as hard on her as any other teenage girl, perhaps more. We were never able to explain to her why her heart didn’t sound like normal, none of the doctors or specialists that we saw could either. I never suspected how limited my time was with her.
“I remember the last time I saw her. She had just gotten her driver’s license, we had a fight, and she wanted to stay over at her boyfriend’s overnight. I wouldn’t let her. I knew he wasn’t good for her; she left in a fit. After that, I didn’t hear anything of her for weeks. I thought she had just gone against me and went to her boyfriend’s. It took me so long to get his number out of her friends, when I finally did, I found out that she hadn’t been there at all. I filed a missing persons report, but it was dismissed. I never got to tell her I loved her one last time. Every moment of everyday I believed she would walk through the door.
“I found out about HETBs by chance one day when I went to visit a couple who had just had a baby at the hospital; about the organization, the condition, the people. I badgered them for months before they ever got back to me.” He shook his head slowly and stroked the baby girl’s fat cheek. “I just knew, even before they proved it with their records, that my Dianna was an HETB.” A tear fell from his face and landed of Dianna’s baby blanket. He looked up, “If I had had a watch for her, at least I could have told her that I loved her, instead of wasting all those moments when I could have said something, but I just couldn’t be bothered to take the time.” A sad smile crossed his face, “Ironic isn’t it? I thought I wasn’t wasting any time at all, how could I have missed that I was stealing it from her?” His eyes moved to Karl who had moved to his side. Slowly the new father reached down and picked up the watch. The man stood and placed Dianna in Brandy’s arms. “I should go now. I have your address; I’ll send you a few things.”
Brandy clutched her child and the man left the room.
Brandy’s tears flowed freely, narrowly missing Dianna’s face. Karl stood holding the watch, his own tears hidden behind his lost expression.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Brandy looked at him. “We were supposed to grow old watching her succeed at whatever she put her hand to, not have a limit on our time.”
“Do you remember everything you’ve ever regretted?”
Brandy scowled at him. “What does that have to do with anything? Karl, our daughter may only live a few years.”
Karl tucked the watch into his pocket. “I realize that. I guess I should apologize for not being hysterical but I’m just...numb right now. But I’m rational enough to realize that I want her to have a full life regardless of the circumstances. I don’t want her to have any regrets.” Karl looked up at her, “I want her to be a blessing to every life she touches.”
“This is no time to start philosophizing! She can never be happy without limiting her time.”
“And being miserable is better, is it? Even if she is limited, she will develop like any other person. Forgive me for not wanting her to grow up like a miserable...”
Here he was interrupted by a knock. They turned to the open door where a young man stood his hand in such a position that confirmed that he was the one who knocked.
Karl collected himself. “I’m sorry for the noise; we’ll try to keep it down.”
The man smiled. “That isn’t why I came.” He pulled a watch out of his coat.
Brandy gave a disgusted sigh. “We know already; can’t you just leave us alone?”
He replaced it to his pocket. “You mistake me. This watch is mine.”
Brandy and Karl stared at him. “You’re a ...”
“Yes, I’m an HETB, my name is Greydon Charles. May I come in?” Karl pulled out a chair for him and sat down in another.
“Thank you.” He nodded as he took the offered seat. “The gentleman who approached you, Mark, is my time keeper, as well as hers. He asked me to be of whatever help I could to you.”
“Thank you for the offer but aside from turning back time, which I highly doubt you can do, there is nothing else you can do to help.”
Greydon smiled at Brandy. “We have researchers that are looking for a way to disable the fault or at least lengthen the time given but we have no way of knowing when that can be accomplished...”
“Time, time, everything is time with you people!” she buried her eyes in her fists.
“Do you think I need to be reminded that I have next to no time with my daughter!”
“Brandy, stop, he’s just trying to help.”
Her eyes lifted to the sight of a handkerchief. Greydon placed it in her hands.
“My mom reacted the same way; she even threw a vase at the time keeper that came to talk to her!” He passed her a piece of paper. “This is my parent’s contact information, so you can talk to someone that truly does understand what you’re going through.”
Karl looked over Greydon’s shoulder at the piece of paper. “I recognize those names – they go to our church.”
Greydon nodded. “A place I’m convinced contributed greatly to our dealing with the situation.” He pulled out a pen and paper. “Could I have your address?”
Brandy eyed him questioningly. “Why?”
“I intend to write to Dianna.”
“You could be dead by the time she’s old enough to read!”
Greydon moved his hands to his lap and waited for Brandy to calm down. “By leaving letters for her, I can give her a link to someone that had or has, depending on how things go, the same problem that she does. You intend to bring her up in the church, correct?”
Karl put his hand on Brandy’s. “That has always been our intention.”
“I can give her support in a way that she wouldn’t be able to get in the same way from others. I can point her to scriptures that I’ve found that can help her.”
“Will that really help?”
Greydon smiled. “The only part of my life I regretted was the year I spent outside the church.”
“Will she be able to live a normal life?”
“The only difference between her and any other girl is that she knows how much time she has left.”
Karl took the pen and paper. “Here is our address. If you’re available, could you babysit sometime?”
“I’d be happy to.”
Brandy made a sad sounding grunt, “if you both live that long.”
Greydon turned toward her, “Did Mark tell you how to read the watch?”
“No, why?” Karl’s look of curiosity was not lost on the young man.
He smiled, “ Mark wouldn’t have asked me to meet you if she had so little time left. He told me she had a good thirty or so years.”
“Oh,” Brandy sniffed, “if that’s normal then you won’t be around that much longer.”
Greydon put a finger up, “your daughter has the average, I bring it up, besides that,” he leaned back in his chair, “I’m only twenty four.”
Karl stretched out his hand, “I look forward to future meetings.”
Brandy walked to the door, a toddler on her heels. The child didn’t stop when the door opened but opted for marching right into the arms of the waiting visitor.
“Thanks for coming over on such short notice, Greydon. The week’s going so fast I don’t know how I forgot it was Thursday.”
“Don’t mention it; to be honest, I was wondering why you hadn’t called yet.” He gently removed the three fingers Dianna had decided to insert into his mouth.
“I really do appreciate it; I don’t know what Karl and I would have done without your family’s help.” Brandy stepped aside. “Come in, I’m just finishing off something for you and Dianna while we’re out.”
Greydon placed Dianna by a stray toy; she immediately picked up the stuffed turtle and began beating his knees with it. “I’m sure it will be excellent; your cooking always is.” Dianna made a happy squeal as Greydon collapsed under her assault.
Brandy’s smile slowly faded. “Greydon, if you don’t mind my asking, how much time do you have left?”
Greydon pulled his watch from his pocket. “Fifteen, maybe twenty years.”
“You must have had quite a bit of time from your birth.”
“I guess you could call me one of the lucky ones. I’m a rare case; my time has been roughly double what the others are. Oh, I saw Mark yesterday.” Greydon pulled a book out of the bag he had brought along. “This was written by one of the HETB s, for the families and the others that have the condition, of course. It outlines what it’s like to have the condition and explains what we know about it. I thought it would help you with telling Dianna.”
Brandy’s smile returned but without its former radiance as she took the offered text. “Thank you, this means a lot.”
They turned their heads as the door clicked.
“I’m home,” Karl announced.
Dianna clapped her hands as she walked over to him.
Karl handed Brandy a bouquet he had been roughly hiding behind his back. “Happy anniversary!”
“Congratulations.” Greydon reclaimed Dianna and put her on his shoulders.
Brandy kissed Karl. “I’ll just change and we can go.”
Karl smiled as she walked away, then turned to watch Dianna put Greydon’s hair in pigtails. “It’s almost like she knows you’re more like her than anyone else.”
Greydon turned his eyes to Karl as Dianna picked up her turtle to balance on his head. “Maybe she does. Little children seem to recognize more things than adults realize. ”
“All too true a point!” He laughed as Dianna scolded the turtle for not staying on Greydon’s head, then Greydon for laughing. “She really is fond of you.”
“Let’s hope I don’t fall from grace then.”
She grabbed his hand and dragged him off toward the kitchen, speaking toddler talk all the way there.
Karl smiled, “There’s something to watching everyone who sees your child smile.”
“Pwity,” Dianna declared as she marched toward her mother.
“What she said.” Karl kissed his wife again. “Shall we go?”
“There’s a lazy perogy casserole and some sausage in the oven as well as a vegetable plate in the fridge.”
“And of course ice cream in the freezer, if she’s good. We’ll lock the door behind us.”
“Alright. Have a good night.”
The click of the door closing and the sound of the car starting confirmed their departure.
“Hey, Dianna.” The girl looked at him expectantly. “What sound does your heart make?”
Dianna looked thoughtful; Greydon waited where he was kneeling in front of her for her answer. “It goes tick tick.”
He looked over as Dianna, now five, carefully descended the stairs with a book in hand.
Greydon leaned forward from his position on the couch. “Where’s Sir Turtle? Don’t you want to play with him?”
Dianna roughly pushed the book into his lap before climbing up herself. “I’s learn ta read.” She adjusted her seat, opened the book, upside down, and immediately began to bemoan not knowing any of the letters.
Greydon considered using what Korean he knew to read the book to her, but quickly discarded the idea. “You’re reading it upside down, sweetie.”
She turned it, looked at him for conformation then started reading. “The enromious expulosition pro...prodicated by the emitaly quickened peoples are well hided by grovnment offices to protect the public...is that right?”
Greydon stared at the page in a serious manner a moment before turning his attention back to his charge. “Dianna, where did you get this book?”
“Mommy and Daddy’s room; they read it every night but they never read it to me.”
“So you’ve been practicing with it?” Greydon worked to keep his voice calm so it wouldn’t betray the concern he felt for her.
“Yes, but I don’t understand all of it. I don’t know what this word is.”
“That’s enormous; it means something is really big.”
“And this?” She pointed to another word.
“That’s,” he hesitated, “‘explosion’, like when a bomb goes off.”
“Oh.” She looked at the book while kicking her feet. “I still think that doesn’t make much sense.”
“I’m afraid you’ll understand when you’re older.”
Dianna put up a hand and counted off five seconds on her fingers. “Am I old enough now?”
Greydon laughed and hugged her. “More like when you’re six or seven.”
“But that’s so old!”
Greydon stuck out his lip as though he was pouting. “Does that mean I’m old?”
“No,” Dianna declared with authority, “You can’t be.”
“Because I said so.”
Greydon laughed. “Thank you.” There was no arguing with her logic.
Dianna put the book up against his chest. “You can read to me now.”
“Why can’t you read to me?”
“Because you’re the sitter and I’s not.”
Asking her if she was sure she wanted this book was Greydon’s only parry for the sharp logic of a five year old. The question led to Dianna producing a book about turtles instead. This required the presence of Sir Turtle and the two other turtles, Shell and Bean, that Dianna deemed more deserving of her attention that her other stuffed animals.
“I hope mom lets me get a turtle, I could watch it swim and we could play with it every day.”
“I’m sure you would.”
There comes a point in every child’s development when some hidden maturity or ability quite suddenly comes to light.
“Dianna, Dianna honey, it’s time for the family bible reading.” Brandy waited a moment without the sound of a reply or footsteps. “Dianna?” She advanced a couple steps up the stairs. “Dianna, did you hear me? Are you busy?” Still no response. Some real alarm took Brandy and she ran up the stairs to her daughter’s room. Relief allowed itself to be found for a moment as Brandy saw Dianna sitting on the edge of her bed, but it fled again when she noticed the stethoscope plugged into her daughter’s ears and pressed to her chest. “Dianna?”
The six year old looked over at her mother with a puzzled expression. “Mommy, is it because Jesus is in my heart that it sounds like a clock?”
Brandy was well aware of the sound of Dianna’s heart, but humoured the girl and listened. Dianna then took the reading end of the toy and put it against Brandy’s chest. “Your heart doesn’t sound like that.”
Brandy patted her head reassuringly. “I’ll be right back.” She got up and walked to her and her husband’s room. Tears threatened to blur her vision as she turned the knob. Karl looked up as he pulled a Bible from under their bookshelf. His smile faded as he saw her expression.
Brandy managed to stop her voice from shaking but her bottom lip quivered as she spoke, “Dianna has noticed her heart beat.”
Karl shut his eyes to aid his control. “We should give her the book.”
“She won’t understand all of it.”
“She doesn’t have to yet; it may be better that she doesn’t.”
“Should we let Mark and Greydon know?”
Karl took the book from the shelf. “Probably wouldn’t hurt.”
Brandy breathed deeply a few times before taking the book to Dianna’s room.
“And how has she been taking it since then?”
“She asks a few questions about words, but she hasn’t said anything about the content of the book yet.”
Karly, Greydon’s mother, smiled at Brandy over her cup of tea. “She will; she takes to books quickly. You say she is already half way through?” Brandy nodded. “It took Greydon nearly two months to get through a chapter. Once she’s done the book, the questions will come.”
“I hope I’ll have the answers she’s looking for.”
Karly took her hand. “If you don’t we know who does.”
“I won!” Dianna’s declaration as she flew through the door shocked Karly and Brandy out of their adult conversation.
“What did you win, honey?”
“Ice cream and this.” She proudly displayed a new stuffed turtle with a purple shell. “I even got a strike.”
Greydon smiled as he took his shoes off. “A girl your age should not be able to bowl that well.”
Dianna stuck her tongue out at him. “Don’t be a sore loser.” She turned back to her mother. “I won by twelve points.”
Karly smiled at Greydon. “I didn’t know you were that bad a bowler.”
Greydon put his arms up but he couldn’t shake his smile. “Even my own mother.”
Dianna walked over to Greydon, pulled his arm ‘til he put his head by her and gave him a kiss. “It’s ok, we still love you, even if you suck at sports.”
Brandy and Karly couldn’t help laughing while Greydon thanked the little girl. Dianna put her new turtle into his hands.
“Hold her, her name is Moppet. I have to go get my other turtles.”
Brandy watched Dianna skip upstairs. “How is she, Greydon?”
“She seems a little preoccupied, but I successfully got her mind off of whatever it was for a couple of hours. Is she done the book yet?”
“About half way.”
“How much time?”
Brandy pulled out the necklace she was wearing and opened the watch at the end of it. “About thirty years.”
Brandy looked back and forth between Greydon and Karly. “Do you mind my asking, how many years did it scare off of Greydon?”
Greydon sighed and tallied it in his head. “Between three and five years, but since everyone is different, there is no way of predicting how she’ll react.”
“She’s very level, something I’m more than thankful for.” She stroked her slightly protruding stomach. “She took the news of the baby remarkably well. I hope this won’t shake her anymore than that did.”
Greydon’s heart wasn’t behind his smile and he averted his eyes.
His mother noticed first. “Out with it, Greydon, you’re too quiet.”
“Still waters run deep.”
They were silenced at Dianna’s charging steps down the stairs. “You play Bean,” she passed the first toy to her mother, “You play Shell,” this one went to Karly, then rushed over to Greydon, “I’ll play Moppet,” she replaced the turtle in his hands, “You be Sir Turtle, after all you are a boy.”
One definition of obsession is constantly thinking about something so much that it drives all other thought from your mind. Karl didn’t think he would classify Brandy’s feelings on the subject as an obsession, but it came awfully close.
“She’ll be fine.”
“She’s almost done it.”
“And we’re ready for when she is; we’ve been preparing.”
Brandy took a deep breath in an effort to calm down. “I just don’t feel sure that we’ve done enough.”
“Remember what Mark told us. There will always be moments when you feel you didn’t do as much as you could.”
“I just... I just dread the thought of her coming down the stairs, asking her questions, getting angry or sad and shortening her time.”
“We’ll have to just bear with it. We can’t control those things.”
“I don’t feel that I’ve had enough time with her.”
“Her clock hasn’t struck yet.”
“This has to be the most tragic version of Cinderella I’ve ever heard.”
“Mommy, Daddy .” Both her parents turned to look at Dianna standing at the entrance to the living room in her night gown, book in hand. “I don’t understand this book. It keeps going on about explosions and people and the government.”
Karl noticed that her eyes were red. “What’s bothering you about it, Princess?”
She moved her other hand, her stethoscope was in it. “Why...” A tear formed in her eye. “Why does my heart sound the same way as the people in the book?”
Karl held out his arms. “We knew we’d have to tell you about this sooner or later.” She crawled into his lap. “The truth is, Dianna, that you are one of the people like in the book.”
“But how can that be real?”
Brandy took the bookmark out of her Bible. “Here is a letter for you; Greydon wrote it when you were first born.”
Dianna took it and read the few lines in it carefully. “He’s like me, he’s going to be destroyed.” Karl hugged her as she cried. “Can God heal me?”
Karl sighed. “We’ve been praying about it, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
“But it will, won’t it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Greydon has written you letters to help you,” Brandy took the chain from her neck. “This watch is yours.”
Dianna stared at it from her father’s arms. “I saw a picture of those in the book. Are you sure it’s mine?”
Brandy handed it over with a bunch of letter tied together with a ribbon. “Yours and no one else’s.”
Dianna took the pile and got off her father’s knee. “Where are you going, Dianna?”
“To my room; I have some letters to read.”
They watched her leave the room.
“I want Greydon here.”
Karl’s look was of understandable surprise. “Why?”
“We can’t help her like he can.” A tear ran down her cheek. “I have next to no way of finding out how much time she has left, and he’s the only one that really knows how she is really feeling right now.”
“He’s a real blessing to us; I hope Dianna can be such a blessing.”
“She will, if she has time.”
Greydon didn’t need anyone to indicate to him where Dianna was. The only light on upstairs was from her room. He stopped at the door. The old song, “Time in a Bottle”, played hypnotically on the other side. Greydon smiled; she must have been reading his letters. In one of the earlier ones he had mentioned playing the song over and over again until everyone else was sick of it. Catching what point the song was in, he sang along softly as he entered the room. Nearly every letter he had written to her was unfolded and spread out on the bed behind her.
“I should have written more; it hasn’t taken very long for you to read this far.” Dianna turned her red swollen eyes to look at him.
“Time I don’t have?”
Greydon sat on the bed beside her after stacking some of the letters into a pile. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his watch. Yellow gold with a silver lily, it was the same style as Dianna’s. He clicked the latch and it popped open. “Do you know how to tell your time with this?”
Diana nodded and pointed to the small dial inside the face. “This is the years.” Her finger moved. “This is the months.”
“Can you show me your watch?” Dianna walked to her closet. She pulled out a small wooden box that the watch had found its way into.
“Twenty years, four months and eight hours and fifty minutes.” She folded her arms across her chest, “I can hear the seconds ticking away.”
“You’ll get used to it, but there will be times when you’re more aware of it than others.” He gave her back a gentle rub, “Were my letters any help?”
Dianna nodded without raising her head.
“You know,” Greydon leaned back on his elbows. “We have an advantage over people. They try to live like every day is their last, they try to get everything done, fulfil their dreams, however unrealistic they are, but since they keep waking up to another day, they start to forget and start to push off the things that are really important. We on the other hand can tell how much faster our last day is coming and we can live accordingly.”
“I don’t think there is much point in me trying to become a turtleologist, I don’t think I have enough time for it.”
“You can still study turtles.”
“But that won’t change anything. I want to do something.”
“Want to change the world, huh? Pray about it.”
“If I’m going to die anyway, what’s the point of living?”
Greydon’s smile faded and he tapped Dianna’s head with his finger. “Dianna, would you have been happier if you had never known me?”
Dianna looked at him with a surprised expression.
“Would my parents have been happier without me?”
“My friends, my coworkers, the people at church – they all would have gotten along a lot better it that had never met me.”
“No! We love you, you can’t just disappear and if you do, we’ll still remember you and tell everyone about what a great friend you are! We would have been sad if you hadn’t come around.” Dianna stopped, a scowl mixed with tears on her face and her breath coming in heaves.
Greydon smiled. “And you think we feel any different about you?” He took her in his arms. “We love you and we’re so happy you could touch our lives. God has a purpose for your life, regardless of how fleeting it is, and don’t be afraid to give everything to Him every day.”
“Did you read it yet?”
Greydon smiled at the intent nine year old who stared at him via the rear view mirror, “You gave me a hundred pages yesterday. I’ve only read about a quarter.”
“Well, hurry up; I want to send it out.”
Dianna’s quest for meaningful employment shortly after her revelation had cast her into experimenting with multiple hobbies, ranging from music to chess at the seniors center. She was almost never found idle. One of her most recent hobbies was writing novels. She told Greydon when she first started that she was doing it exclusively to help people who felt the same meaningless pressure that she had felt try to crush her when she found out about her limited time. Though she declared, anytime the subject came around or if she felt that she hadn’t said it recently enough, that that was still her purpose with it, she couldn’t hide from Greydon, her parents, or her friends that she really enjoyed telling stories to help people. Coincidently, all the characters were turtles.
“Tell you what, you finish it, I’ll help you edit it and then we’ll send it out.”
“Alright, but you have to make the cover.”
“Fair deal, but you might be better at drawing then me.”
“That doesn’t matter, what matters is that you try your best and help people with it.”
“Dianna, you’ve grown up.”
“I have to, I have a baby brother.”
“I’m sure he’ll be very proud of you.”
“I don’t think he likes turtles, but he’ll get used to them and then he’ll love them.” She was silent for a moment while Greydon continued to drive. “I think I’ll make Sam the main character in my next story.”
“You sure do like to write.”
“I don’t like to write.” Her embarrassed blush was not lost on Greydon despite only his glance seeing it. ‘I just want to do something to help people and make them feel better. Besides if my pencil isn’t on the paper, then the ticking is too loud.”
“Did you finish that book you borrowed from me?”
“Yes.” She extracted the book in question from her Bible case and inserted it into his. “It was a very nice story, but I don’t think Ruth was quite like that.”
“It’s one person’s interpretation.”
“Are we there yet?”
“Are you asking that just because you can?” He teased her.
Dianna smiled. “The teacher said we were going to play a game after the lesson and I want to find out what it is.”
Greydon turned the corner into the church parking lot. “Well, you’ll still have to wait until after the lesson to find that out.”
Dianna opened the car door and waited for Greydon to signal her to go on ahead. Greydon’s eyes stayed on one man while Dianna ran into the church. He waved.
Dianna smiled up at Greydon, a letter from the publisher in her hands. “Have I broken any records?”
“Not quite, Dianna, but you have done something that not a lot of other youth have done.”
Dianna’s second book, the one that she had written for her brother had been accepted by the same publisher that had published her turtle book.
“I got some more letters from people that have been blessed by my work. Some of them are younger than me.”
“Well, you did end up writing it for kids and teens; why shouldn’t some be younger than you? You are thirteen.”
“Olivia invited me over to her house.”
“That’s a girl in the youth group?”
Dianna nodded. “They only just started coming. She’s about my age.”
“You don’t seem overly thrilled; don’t you want more friends?”
“Well...I have to hide the fact that I’m a walking time bomb from the friends that I had before I knew and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to do that now that I do.”
Greydon tried to look like he comprehended the situation; he failed.
“I mean, I don’t remember how to make friends.”
“Is she trying to make friends with you?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Then be friendly and respond to her.”
“Will that work?”
“It’s what I do.”
“This is my room; isn’t it fab?”
Dianna smiled slightly as Olivia led her into her room.
“My mom buys me all the latest stuff. She wants me to be a privileged child.” She leaned closer. “Apparently she had a really rough childhood. Did your parents name you after the Greek goddess Diana?”
“No.” Dianna took a seat on Olivia’s bed as she had indicated. “I was named after my grandmother.”
“Oh.” The fact that Olivia wasn’t really interested in the subject glared in Dianna’s face from Olivia’s tone. “I’m sure that’s nice. You’re homeschooled?”
“Oh, that must be totally dull: no one to talk to, no friends, no boys.”
“It works out really well. I get to spend time with my parents and I can get a lot done on my projects.”
“But what about people?” Olivia threw up her hands. “What about boys? What about gossip and , the latest stuff?”
“Um, I have church.” Dianna had never had to blatantly tell someone that she didn’t really care about those things. She preferred a good book to a TV show, she wasn’t that into gossip and since the same was true of the girls she hung out with at church, she didn’t think she would ever develop a taste for it. “and as for boys...”
“None of them are interesting or worth looking at.”
“Weren’t you listening? Don’t space out on me, I was saying that you can’t possibly have a boyfriend if you aren’t going to school. Not if you want a good one anyway. All the boys at church are totally boring. No danger, no mystique, they aren’t the least bit interesting and none of them are athletic or hot.”
“You don’t have to say anything, I totally agree. I bet none of them are the captains of any sport team, unless they’re in a chess club,” Olivia’s laugh hid Dianna’s shock and embarrassment.
“Can I ask why you go to church?”
“So I don’t go to hell, duh. Just because I go to church doesn’t mean I can’t have fun. I don’t have to live a boring life. That’s why I’m telling you this.” She took Dianna’s hands. “So you can be free from this dull existence your parents have forced on you.”
“Olivia, why don’t you take up some refreshments for you and your friend?”
“I can, like, entertain my own guests, Mom!” Dianna was again shocked by Olivia’s language to her mother. “Aren’t parents annoying? They always treat us like we’re kids.”
“Mine don’t,” Dianna replied feeling called upon to defend the call of moms and dads everywhere. “They watch out for me, they encourage me to be mature but they also feel free to be silly with me from time to time.”
“Whatever, that sounds so dull to me, I’m sure I would die. I bet they don’t let you do whatever you want or have all the newest things.”
“Not that I’m saying mine are any better than yours. A herd of monkeys would be better at being my parents, but yours don’t sound any better to me.”
There was a knock at the door. Olivia threw a pillow over Dianna’s head. “Go away, I’m busy.”
Dianna turned to see it get blocked by an older teen.”Nice shot, Olive, but you’d get better range if you threw underhand. Here.” He put down a tin of cookies. “I brought a snack up for you two.” He nodded at Dianna. “Hi.”
“Yeah hi, whatever,” Olivia spoke before Dianna could. “Go away now; we’re busy.”
“If you need anything,” he looked more squarely at Dianna, “call me.”
“Go away now.” Oliva picked up another pillow.
The boy smiled, put his hands up and backed out of the room.
Olivia made a humph noise. “That’s my idiot brother, Paul. He’s your typical church geek; he passed on taking me to a concert to go to a service. Personally, I think he, like, was just trying to annoy me. I don’t like him that much; he’s always trying to take the attention that people give me.”
Dianna couldn’t help thinking that Olivia must be referring to the attention she demanded from everyone. Olivia pulled a large box out from under her bed. “Give me your hand; I’ll do your nails.” Dianna groaned inwardly as Olivia added, “And I’ll tell you all about the juicy stuff that happens at school.”
She looked up as Olivia stormed over to where she sat on the lawn, completely ignoring the curious stared of the other youth and small herd of young adults that were at the barbeque. Ignoring or basking in the attention , she wasn’t sure which.
“Is it true? I can’t believe it! It mustn’t be, you wouldn’t hide something like that from your bud, not anything that juicy.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but if you’d maybe start from the beginning and go a little slower...”
“It can’t be true if you don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“Tell me what it is and I’ll see if I can deny it flatly for you.”
“That you’re eloping with an older man!”
Dianna’s look of surprise met or exceeded that of all the others present. “Eloping!”
“See, I knew it wasn’t true.”
“Where on earth did you hear such a thing?”
“Well,” Olivia settled in for a long recitation. “One of the other girls told me you were going to Africa and then to Korea...”
“Oh, that. yeah, I’m going to spend a week in Africa and then one in Korea.”
“What? But you’ll be killed by all the rebels and...”
“I’ll be fine, I’m not going alone and ...”
“Then it’s true, you’re running away with an older man!”
“No, Greydon has been on several trips to those areas and speaks fluent Korean; he’s been training me to come with him for two years now.”
“Congratulations on your opportunity, Dianna.”
Diana smiled at Paul, “Thank you.”
Olivia elbowed her in the ribs. “Take it back before you get abducted into the hall of Geeks,” she whispered harshly.
“Are you going at the end of this month or are you taking the fall trip?”
Paul laughed. “I guess we’re ships passing in the night. I’m going on the fall one.”
“I’ll tell you what to look out for then.”
“I hope next time we can take the trip together.”
Dianna smiled and nodded before he walked away.
“I can’t believe you just encouraged that!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Like, duh, he just made a pass at you.”
“I told you not to encourage him.” Olivia groaned.
“How could he be interested in me?”
“Well, he’s a boy and...”
“We’re three years apart!”
Olivia narrowed her eyes. “Only two and the difference between 18 and 16 is different than the distance between 16 and 13.”
Dianna shook her head to clear it. “That just isn’t possible.”
“According to whose law? Or do you have someone else in mind for yourself?”
This suggestion was so unforeseen for Dianna that she blushed at its mention
Olivia pointed at her face. “No way, really?” She edged closer. “Who is it? Is it Greydon? I bet it is; you spend every waking moment with him.”
“I do not.”
”Well, you would if you could.” She pulled out her cell phone. “This is juicy.”
“Is that new?”Dianna’s plea to change the subject sounded desperate in her own ears, but if there was one thing Olivia liked better than gossip, it was bragging.
“Of course it is; these came out last week, so my mom got one for me.
“It looks very fashionable.”
“I now, isn’t it fab? I can’t wait to show my friends at school, they are going to be so jealous.”
“And now she thinks I’m in love with you.”
Greydon laughed. “Amazing isn’t it?”
“I thought people like that only existed in weird movies or TV shows.”
“Well, those characters had to be based in something of reality.”
“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to take this. She insists that I spend at least one hour with her every day.”
“What about her other friends?”
“She says her only other friends are at school and that she can spare an hour or two for a ‘poor and unfortunate and lonely girl like me.’” Greydon laughed as Diana made quotation marks in the air. “And lately all she wants to do it rack my brain about you and try to get me to confess.”
“All those conversation skills and ways to use small talk that you told me, I’ve been using them and I’ve figured how to adapt them to sound like deep conversation.”
“I’m not completely sure if I should comfort, commend or correct you on that on.”
Dianna leaned back further into her seat. “I’m not sure either.”
“God’s not the author of confusion.”
“I know,” Dianna smiled slightly, “that’s why I’m trying to maintain a cool head and figure out what to do next.”
“Do you have friends that you would rather spend time with?”
“I do spend time with them; my mom arranges my ‘play dates’.”
“Have you talked to her about not seeing so much of Olivia?”
“I don’t want her to feel sad.”
“She’ll feel worse if you don’t tell her how it’s affecting you and she finds out from someone else.” Greydon tapped his watch. “We are the ones that have the limited time.”
“Should people still waste their time on the ones that won’t be here as long as them?”
Greydon considered, and then turned into a coffee shop, “I’m thirsty; do you want anything?”
“Maybe some juice, but won’t this make us late?”
“We left ten minutes early anyway.”
“Is this why we left early?”
Greydon smiled and turned off the engine. “I want to show you something; I hope I’ll be able to do it.”
Dianna looked at him with a slightly puzzled expression as he led the way into the shop.
It wasn’t too busy so Dianna and Greydon only had to wait for one person before they could leave their orders.
“I’ll take six shots of espresso in a cup and one Kiwi smoothie.” Greydon turned to the elderly patron behind them. “What would you like?”
“Oh no, sir, I’ll just...”
“Come on, you must want something.”
The man hesitated. “A small coffee and a jelly doughnut.”
Greydon smiled and relayed the order. After he had paid and they got their order, he waved to the man and left.
“So who was that guy?”
“Not a clue.”
Dianna almost chocked on her smoothie. “What?”
Greydon messed up her hair. “Have I taught you nothing? I’ll probably never see that man again, but that won’t stop me from blessing his life.”
“From your perspective or his?”
“According to time left?” Dianna nodded. “Either way works in this case. It’s a RAOK.”
“Random act of kindness?”
“Good, you remember.” Greydon shut the door behind Dianna as she got into the vehicle. “I’ve quota myself ten times a day at least.”
“Doesn’t that get hard to maintain?”
Greydon started the engine. “Not really. I’ve been doing it long enough that just about anyone I come across recognises me and presents me with opportunities. It’s quite fulfilling.”
Dianna considered and smiled. “Maybe I should try that out.”
Greydon smiled at her but as his eyes returned to the road, the smile slowly faded.
“Dianna, I should tell you, this will likely be my last mission’s trip.”
“Is everyone ready to go?” Greydon, Dianna, and a couple others from the church congregation nodded. “Great, then let’s board the plane and remember to pray God’s blessing on the trip.”
Boarding wasn’t commencing yet so after going through the checks, they sat down in the terminal and waited.
“Hello, young lady.” Hank, one of the other ones to go on the trip sat down beside her. “Are you excited for the trip?”
“Well if you need any help, feel free to ask me.”
Diana couldn’t put her finger on it, but something just didn’t feel right. “If I have questions I’ll probably ask Greydon, but thanks for offering.”
“Of course, he’s a particular friend of your and he’s been on these trips several times.” Hank narrowed his eyes as he looked past her at Greydon getting some coffee. “He seems to take extra care of you.”
Dianna could feel a slight increase in the rate of her hearts ticking. “Yes, he does, I’m very lucky that way.”
Hank nodded before getting up and walking away.
Greydon reclaimed his seat beside her, “Anything exciting happen while I was away?”
“Not really.” Dianna flexed her foot and regained a regular rate of ticking.
“You sure? You look stressed.”
“No, I don’t.”
Greydon smiled. “Oh yes, you do; your nose loses pigment when you’re stressed and when you’re happy, you blush.”
Dianna smiled. “I’m fine.”
Greydon nodded to surrender, pushing the idea aside and picking up a magazine. Dianna unconsciously moved closer to him in her seat.
Dianna jumped when Greydon poked her awake.
“We’re about to land.” Diana turned her attention to the window. She was on the right side of the plane to not get the sun glaring in on her. It looked hot and dusty and the runway, though crude, was evidently functional. “You did remember sun screen, I hope, though either way you’ll be getting a tan.”
Dianna smiled at him. “You still look pretty white.”
“I haven’t been here for a year.”
“How much time do you lose on these trips?”
“I’d tell you not to live by your watch, but that isn’t completely right either. I usually don’t lose anymore on these trips than I do at home.”
“Was it any different on your first trip?”
“I don’t recall that being the case, but I wasn’t paying as much attention to my time than as I am now.”
Dianna nodded as they put on their seat belts.
The captains voice came over the intercom, “We are now beginning our descent. Please remain seated with your seat belts on till the plane comes to a complete stop.”
Greydon nodded out the window. “This is the fun part.”
“You said that about the take off as well.”
He smiled. “You enjoyed that part, didn’t you?”
“We arranged with our partner pastor in this region to stay with him and his wife. Remember to be respectful and honouring and also remember that this is not Canada, we are not going to be meeting with all the modern conveniences that we have back home.”
“That’s why this region really needs saving.” Dianna heard Hank mutter under his breath behind her.
The group leader proceeded having not heard the interruption. “The pastor will be here shortly and will take us on a twenty minute drive to his home. During the ride, he will brief you on what our task is going to be here. In about three days we have arranged for transportation to another church a few hours away; we will stay at that one till our ride come to take us back to the plane.”
They sorted themselves out and sat down to wait for the pastor’s arrival.
“How are you doing so far?”
“It’s good.” Dianna nodded to Greydon.” I could do without the wait, but I guess a little suspense won’t kill me.”
“Maybe not you.” Greydon and Dianna looked over as Hank sat down beside them. “If I don’t get some excitement soon, I swear I’m going to implode.” He smiled at Greydon. “You know how built up pressure is. Oh wait, you wouldn’t.”
Greydon’s eyes narrowed. Dianna knew that Greydon hadn’t been very enthusiastic about Hank going on the trip as well, but thus barely veiled resentment was something beyond her. “Is that really the type of conversation you should be starting right now?”
“Give it a rest; that kind of attitude won’t get you anywhere a real man wants to go. Maybe,” he leaned over and tool hold of Dianna’s shoulders, “I should keep my conversation to this pretty friend of yours.”
Greydon smiled and very fluidly took hold of Hank’s shirt. “You start messing around like that and you’ll be waiting here for the next plane back to Canada.”
Hank met Greydon’s eyes head on. “I wouldn’t be waiting idly, and you don’t know what time it is.”
Greydon didn’t flinch. “Do you?”
Hank’s smile sent a shiver down Dianna’s spine. “I wonder,” was all he said.
“Is there some kind of problem here?”
Greydon removed his hand. “Not yet.”
“Well, keep it that way.” The leader looked from one to the other warily. “I don’t need pointless quarrels in the group. The pastor just pulled up; get ready to go.”
“I’m already. I’ve been ready for hours.”
Dianna could see Greydon’s attempts to stop from rolling his eyes. She got up and put her coat on top of her bag for carrying. Her watch fell out of a pocket. Greydon’s quick reflexes saved it from any conversation with the floor. “I think you can put that back on now, there shouldn’t be any more checkpoints for that kind of thing now.”
Dianna nodded as she took it from his hand. She didn’t notice the look of comprehension that passed on Hank’s face.
“What are you looking at?”
Dianna turned from her position by the window to look at Greydon. “It’s so dark outside; you can’t even see the stars.”
Greydon leaned on the window sill and looked out. “Nothing wrong with that ,it’s just a little overcast, not so unusual for this time of year.” He smiled down at her. “Shouldn’t you be in bed to recover from your jet leg?”
Dianna folded her arms and rested her cheek on one of them. “I’m not really that tired. It’s been bugging me about...”
“Isn’t this sweet?” Greydon and Dianna turned sharply to look at Hank, one with a look of apprehension and the other with one of distrust. “Aren’t you taking advantage of your position just a little too much, but I guess that proves you’re human.”
“I’m not like you.” Greydon’s words were calculated and confident.
“What? Not reckless, living life to the fullest, I live a far more complete life then you could ever hope for. You have no idea what it’s really like to live.”
“And you think you do.”
“Of course I do. I do as I please, take what I want and never let your petty threat of eternity stop me from having a good time.”
“I would advise you to return to your room.”
Hank advanced. “Maybe I should show your charge what a real good time is, not all this empty crap you keep spouting.”The moment Hank’s hand made contact with Dianna’s arm, Greydon’s fist made contact with Hank’s face.
Dianna stared on as Hank fell to the floor.
“My, my,” Hank spit out some blood. “And here I thought you were a good Christian boy.”
“Even Jesus used a whip to stop others from doing wrong in the house of God.”
“This ain’t no church.”
Greydon moved more squarely between Dianna and Hank. “Who said God’s house was one exclusive location?”
Hank’s eyes were dark and menacing. “You can’t be with her every moment.”
Greydon shrugged. “That’s true, but I don’t have to be.”
“Cut the crap, Greydon, just because you have more time doesn’t mean you have the right to lord it over the rest of us. You are the kind of person I hate the most, I hope I take out hundreds of people like you.”
“You won’t take out any.”
“You think you can stop me? You have no idea, I’m closer than you think, if I can’t live a long life then no one else should either, they can all be miserable and die.”
“It doesn’t have to be like that.”
Dianna watched from behind Greydon, trying to calm her rapidly ticking heart.
“Shut up! No one cares, they’d all just be scared of us it they knew. They wouldn’t try to save us; they would try to get rid of the threat.”
“Am I really?” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “I don’t think so, you with your holy roller answers and your calloused heart, what can you feel? You close your eyes to the suffering around you.”
Greydon simply stood as Hank continued his assault.
“You’re just living for you. Help people, live with no regrets, isn’t that all just a clever way to hide your selfishness and make people remember you? You, you’re far worse than me, I’m just open about my intentions.”
“Are you done yet?”
Dianna was sure she could hear the sound of Hank’s teeth grinding in response to Greydon’s question.
“If there is anything in my conduct that is selfish, it’s in the fact that everyone close to me is going to have no idea why or where I’ve disappeared to when I go. The only thing I can help them with in this respect is to try to leave nothing unsaid that should be spoken, keep silent what doesn’t need to be told, and make sure I don’t hurt them when I’m gone.”
“Give it a rest, those ungrateful buzzards, they talk about growing old and their retirement, unaware that there are kids that very likely will never even see their twentieth birthday. You almightly anomaly, you’ll live a normal life. Go ahead – lord it over all out heads! We won’t hold it against you. We don’t have the time!”
“If you don’t stop yelling, you’ll wake someone up.”
“Let them be awakened, let them all see and hear that Hank and Greydon and Dianna are going to be the death of them all. We’ll see how many of your so called friends stay around after that.” He looked at Dianna hiding behind Greydon, “Ever heard about plastic friends that melt at the first sign of trouble? That’s what everyone is, all of them, they’re just looking for an excuse to leave.”
“That isn’t true.”
Hank’s face snapped back to Greydon. “What makes you think you know? You have a human lifespan.”
“That isn’t what decides if I have friends or not. My behaviour, not my time, makes the difference. I have lots of friends...”
“I don’t, you’re lying. You’ll never tell the truth about how lonely it is...”
Dianna stared on as Greydon slapped Hank. “Hold your tongue. You made the decision that made you lonely. If you have no friends, then it’s your fault, if you’d stop blaming everything bad that happens on others you’d find that you actually have time to live. You think you’re the only one that matters? There are literally billions of people on this planet that don’t even know any of us exist. We, as the ones with the knowledge, decide how we will treat those without it. Does it sadden me that I don’t have as much time as other people? Of course it does, but I can have a patience knowing that they aren’t purposefully torturing me. I want to be able to go to Heaven, meet Jesus with a smile and be told that I didn’t waste my life.”
Hank ran his fist over his cheek and got up from the floor. “Whoopee, the holy roller shows his face again.”
“Would you rather I lie about my beliefs? I’ve told you what I truly aspire to, if you think that makes me a holy roller, then so be it. I’ve been honest. I’ll watch my conduct and leave you in charge of your reaction.”
“It’s not over.” Hank backed toward the hallway.
“It’s already over, the end result is already known, we just have to determine in which light and dignity we reach the end.”
Dianna allowed Greydon to hug her while she calmed the thundering ticking in her ear.
When Dianna woke up, the sun was streaming in through a window in the hut. Today she would be going to Korea. This would be the week she was more prepared for; she spoke the base of the language and she had done quite a bit of research on the culture. Still the argument at the beginning of the week stuck with her when she wasn’t busy.
She enjoyed helping the mothers and children. They had taught her to make some of their typical food and she had helped distribute some food and supplies between several villages.
“Tick tock.” Dianna looked up at Greyson who stood in her window. “You’re burning daylight and we’ve got quite a bit to do today.”
Dianna nodded and got up. Greydon had calmed down considerably since the first night, though she could tell he was still wary of Hank. It would have been difficult for Hank to stay away from them forever; he was keeping his distance and the peace. When she had gotten ready she set to work loading the vehicle they had rented with their various luggage. Her mind wandered between home and the airport then went from Africa to Korea, disturbed only by the villagers wishing her well and saying goodbye.
“Hey.” Dianna looked up at Greydon when he lifted the suitcase off her head. ”Don’t start daydreaming yet, we’ve still got work to do and there’ll be plenty of time for that when we get on the plane.”
Daianna smiled, but before she could answer the group leader came running over with his cell phone. “Greydon, it’s for you! It’s some guy named Mark.”
Dianna made a confused face, but Greydon looked like he expected it. The leader handed it off and headed back to the house. Greydon smiled at Dianna and put it on speaker phone.
“Hey, Mark, Greydon and Dianna here.”
Diana said hello quietly.
“I had hoped that this would be a private conference, but since she’s likely to grill you about it later, I guess it makes more sense this way.” Mark’s age was definitely showing in his voice, “Greydon, do you know what time it is?”
Greydon nodded. “Of course, sir.”
“If you insist on finishing your trip, take it easy. International incidents are difficult to cover.”
“I am aware. I’ll be back in Canada next week.”
“Good, I hope I’ll have a chance to talk to you again. Dianna, sweetie, how is the trip going?”
“It’s going well. I’ve learned a lot and I haven’t lost much time.”
“I’m glad to hear it. If it had been otherwise, I would have come and got you myself.”
Dianna giggled, “I’m sure you would have.”
“Well, being an old man, I have to dote on something. Go ahead and tease Greydon about that for me, would you?”
“That’s my girl, I’d better let you go now, bye you two.”
“Bye,” Greydon chimed in unison with Dianna before the phone clicked. He then turned it off and pulled out his watch. “I suppose you want to see this now.”
Dianna nodded slightly as he passed it to her. Dianna opened it, then turned a shocked tear-filled expression to Greydon.
“What am I going to do without you?”
“Don’t be sad.” He messed up her hair. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll save you a spot right in front of the throne in heaven and we can worship together.”
Greydon hugged her.
Time passed quickly the next week, Dianna enjoyed working on the mission field and the leader said she was a natural at it. But at the back of her mind she couldn’t fight down the ticking of her own heart or the consciousness that she had little time left with her childhood friend.
“I guess it’s the prince who’s leaving this party early.”
Dianna smiled slightly, forgetting that it couldn’t be seen over the phone. “We’ll be home in a few hours.”
“We’re organising a farewell party for Greydon with all the people that know about the cause and a couple that have simply been told that something is going to happen and they need to be there. Do you think you can successfully get him into the house without him suspecting anything?”
Dianna checked to see if Greydon was still asleep beside her. “Yup, I can do that.”
“That’s our girl. See you soon.”
Dianna hung up and sat back in her seat. It was dark outside, not much of a view for a wide awake teen with too much on her mind. She had already gone through her text messages and deleted all the nonsense one that Olivia had sent her. “At least I won’t have to worry about any more of those till tomorrow,” Her surprise after having said this can be imagined when her cell phone made the beeping noise that indicated a new message. Unbridled curiosity prompted her to check it immediately.
Apaulstle: Hey, Dianna, you should be over the country now, I wanted to be the first to welcome you back J.
Dianna smiled slightly and wrote back.
Dian: Two minutes too late, my parents had that honour, but I appreciate the welcome none the less.
Paul evidently hadn’t put his phone away since he replied in a moment.
Apaulstle: Oh well, I was close. How was the trip?
Dian: It was good, I learned a lot and we were able to help a lot of people, 7 got saved.
Apaulstle: That’s great, good for you, I guess you’re tired now
Dian: Yes but I’ve got too much on my mind to sleep
Apaulstle: Like how you’ll convince Greydon to come to the party?
Dian: How do you know about it?
Apaulstle: Well, me and Olive have been invited. She’s been going on about how boring it will be, but she won’t refuse it.
Dian: Well, she does enjoy a party.
Apaulstle: There are times I wish she didn’t but it’s not like she doesn’t have any positive role models.
Dian: You are pretty upright, she probably got it into her head that she has to balance you out.
Apaulstle: I was talking, or rather typing :P, about you.
Dianna wasn’t sure how to answer that but she was saved by Paul’s replying again.
Apaulstle: She has been getting better, and if she continues down the path she’s veering toward, she will become a decent woman.
Dian: Which is what you’re praying for.
Apaulstle: Of course.
Dian: Hey, why are you up so late anyway?
Apaulstle: So I can talk to you of course. I should let you go now, I’ll have something to ask you tomorrow at the party goodnight ;)
Dianna was barely conscious of sending goodnight back to him.
“Don’t stress out: it may not be what you think it is.”
Dianna jumped and looked at Greydon. “How long have you been up?”
“Since he was talking about you. Are they having a party?”
“Ah, a welcome home thing, good for you, am I invited?”
Dianna smiled, this she could work with. “Of course, they’re planning it at my parent’s place so if you are going to be there anyway...”
Greydon laughed. “Please don’t make inviting me sound like an afterthought. I’ll be there as long as my old bones can handle it.”
“You’re only forty.”
“Well, I’m older then you anyway.”
“And that’s why you dote on me.”
“Remind me to poke Mark the next time I see him.”
Dianna’s smile faded. “That will probably be the last time you see him.”
“Very probably.” Greydon sighed and took her hand. “The only thing I’ll regret is not being able to spend more time with you. But I’m comforted because you are a Christian and will have nothing to regret.” He pulled her close and kissed her forehead. “Don’t give up and remember what you’ve learned.”
“When are you going?”
“The day after tomorrow or the next day after, it depends on if I have a lot of excitement or not.”
Dianna noticed a pad of paper in his hands. “Are you writing letters?”
“Sharp girl. Yes, I’m writing to the range of my acquaintances that know about the condition, my last words to them, since I don’t know if I’ll see them or not.”
“I should do that.”
“You’ve got several years.”
Dianna sighed. “But I should keep track of things that I’m thankful to them for, that way I won’t forget anything. I have several notebooks so it isn’t like I don’t have room.”
Greydon smiled. “I’m so happy that I was able to have you in my life.”
“Do I have enough time to change or do you want me here before the party starts?”
“Come right in, they’ve probably got everything set up already.”
Dianna kept a couple paces ahead of Greydon and was just able to catch the eyes of someone looking out the living room window from under the blinds before they disappeared.
“Are you going to change? They’ll probably want pictures.”
Dianna smiled at him over her shoulder. “They can say that they whisked me into the party before I had the chance.”
“If you insist, but I’ll warn you that your pant hems are still covered in mud.”
“Are yours any better?”’
They both laughed as Dianna opened the door.
Dianna laughed through her own flinch while Greydon caught his breath.
“Since when was this a surprise party?” He stopped as he surveyed the assembled group, “Oh no.” He looked at Dianna, before grabbing her and messing up her hair. “You sneaky little...well you certainly had me fooled.”
“I knew you could get him here without him knowing what was really going on.” Greydon’s mother walked over to him and gave him a kiss. “You’re like his little sister.”
“Then what am I to her?” Mark asked in a confused tone.
“You’re her grandpa, of course,” Olivia stated bluntly as she grabbed Dianna’s arm. “Come on, you must be thirsty after such a long trip.”
Dianna shrugged at the group and gave them an apologetic look as Olivia dragged her away. Once over by the punch bowl, Olivia deemed it time she spilt her pent up argument.
“Why are they throwing party for that guy? It would have been much better if it had been for you and your friends. Oh yeah, welcome back, not much has changed, that guy I was going to ask out turned me down, Jason and that Kara girl started dating, not that we didn’t see that coming. I can’t wait for school to start; I’ll be able to have conversations and fun with my friends without worrying what the adults think about it. Oh and if my brother asks you out, turn him down and tell me about it. I’ll knock his block off so hard that he won’t think of bothering you again.”
“That’s very nice of you, but I don’t...”
“Oh my goodness, you developed an accent while you were there.”
“Huh? Oh, that’s just because I’ve been speaking mostly Korean for the past week.”
“Well, get back to speaking normally quickly otherwise everyone will think you are a geek.”
Dianna stopped herself from saying that most of the people she knew would enjoy her adopted accent.
“Anyway, did anyone tell you about the explosion that happened in the area last week?”
Dianna’s heart skipped a beat. “What explosion?”
“Well, I don’t really know what happened, but a few people died so it must have been an accident. Maybe a gas line went up in smoke, it’s sort of boring though they only had a like five second blip about it in the news and there wasn’t anything in the newspaper.”
“You looked in the newspaper?” escaped from Dianna’s lips before she could stop it.
“My dad made me look with him since he was so interested in it. That made it even more boring. Anyway, I went shopping yesterday...”
“Could you excuse me for a moment?” Dianna didn’t give Olivia any time to reply as she quickly left in pursuit of the one person she expected could confirm or deny her suspicion about this covered up explosion. “Mark.”
He was talking to Greydon and they both turned at her call. “Yes, Dianna, what can I help you with?”
Dianna moved closer. “Was there really an explosion around here recently?”
Mark motioned for Dianna and Greydon to follow him out of the room. Once there was a door between them and the others, he started his explanation.
“Within a week after you left we noticed that one of my charges was losing time rapidly. While I was dialling his number, the clock broke.” Greydon went white; Dianna could only imagine one reason why. “When I was talking to the one surviving parent, I learned that the boy had been having some trouble coping with his condition. From what we can tell, he couldn’t handle it anymore.”
“Yes.” Mark dropped his eyes. “He killed himself. His final words were in an e-mail that he sent to his parents. It seems that he thought that by killing himself the explosion wouldn’t occur.”
Dianna bit back tears.
“He was a good kid,” Mark continued. “They think he might have been clinically depressed near the end though.”
“That or under spiritual attack.”
“Either way, we’ll never k now what he might have accomplished or what we might have done to prevent this from happening.” Mark put his hands on their shoulders. “This wasn’t either of your faults.” He looked more squarely at Greydon. “You especially, I don’t want you to dwell on this, you’ll have enough trouble tomorrow.” He walked between them and opened the door. “We should rejoin the party.”
Greydon took Dianna’s hand and prevented her from leaving immediately.
“Greydon, what...” She stopped as he kissed her cheek.
“I’ll only be at this party for maybe two hours and I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to speak to you again. Dianna, tomorrow I’m leaving. Mark has asked me to take Hank with me, since we both have so little time left. I don’t know if I’ll be able to turn him from his mindset, but I have to try. Live as best you can for God, never forget all you’ve learned, and look forward to meeting in Heaven.” He squeezed her hand and gave her a hug before going back into the crowded living room. Dianna waited behind to compose herself. She knew that this day would eventually come, but she somehow thought it wouldn’t be this soon.
“What can I say to him now?” She thought back over their acquaintance. He had always been there to comfort, to uphold and encourage her no matter the circumstance. Her second father, her brother and in some ways her other self.
“He blessed me; I have to tell him that he blessed me.”
Her first steps out of the room were quickly intercepted by Olivia. “Really, walking away in the center of a conversation, and you’re the one that always say has good manners. As I was saying, I went shopping yesterday and I found the ultimate...”
“Can’t it wait a moment? I really need to talk to Greydon.”
“I’m sure that that’s what you were just doing, whatever it is I’m sure it can wait till tomorrow.”
“No, it really can’t.”
“Stop being so inconsiderate; aren’t I important to you?’
“Answer that later.” Dianna looked up in surprise as Paul took her hand. “Right now, I want to dance with you.” He ignored Olivia’s wrath for the time being. When they entered the dining room the table if which had been moved to another location to make room for the four couples that wanted to dance, Dianna wasn’t sure how she was going to find any room in the group. She needn’t have worried; almost as soon as they entered the room, he released her hand and gave her a slight push in the direction in which Greydon sat conversing with her father.
“I believe you wanted to talk to him,” Paul bowed slightly, “but I reserve the right to that dance at a later date.”
Dianna smiled and walked away toward Greydon.
Dianna’s waking thoughts were not what one would consider normal for a young teen nor would they have been considered pleasant. Her last letter from Greydon lay unopened in her open jewellery box. A calendar hung on the wall decorated every other day or so with events that she had hoped to attend with Greydon, now crossed out. Mark had recommended a two week period to allow her to grieve without anything that would stress her unduly. As good a decision as Dianna understood this to be, she felt that she would rather throw herself full force into life than having to work through the feelings she knew she had to acknowledge. An upside was that her parents had agreed to limit her visits with Olivia.
Dianna opened the drawer of her nightstand; her cell phone had made a noise.
“I was sure I turned it off.”
She looked at the clock, 7:30. That was too early for the accident that they had decided would explain Greydon’s absence. Dianna knew that people would try to comfort her about it. That was something she could have done without. Their words were nice, but not appropriately so, she felt she would only be able to accept pity from those that knew the truth of the story. She found no comfort in the sympathy of a lie.
She opened her cell phone.
Apaulstle: What’s this I hear about you not coming over today?
Dianna smiled slightly.
Dian: I’m really tired from my trip and with the party last night, my parents and I as well thought it would be best to stay home today.
Apaulstle: I see. Too bad, I was hoping to see you today, hey check this out...
A picture popped up onto the screen. It was a turtle mauling a toy comic demon. The caption read, “Turtles are on God’s side.”
Apaulstle: I figured that would make you laugh.
Dianna’s smile brightened; this was a bit better.
Apaulstle: I hope you don’t mind me taking the liberty, but you seemed somewhat out of sorts last night.
Dina: Maybe a little, I should recover soon.
Apaulstle: I hope so. I don’t like it when you’re sad.
Dian: I have to go now; I’ll talk to you later.
Apaulstle: Alright, goodnight, angel.
Her movements to get the phone were wooden and dispirited at best. She already knew what the subject of the call was as well as nearly every detail that would be conveyed in the conversation. This was merely a formality.
Taking the phone, she put the receiver to her ear, “Hello?”
“Hi, sweetie, how are you holding up?”
“I could be better.”
“I’d be lying to say I was surprised about that. Greydon and Hank are gone, it happened out on a deserted country road. I don’t know if Greydon succeeded in his purpose or not, but the boy makes a convincing argument.”
“Hank didn’t seem too keen on listening.”
“People sometimes change when death is staring them straight in the face.”
Dianna didn’t make any reply.
“Dianna, what time is it?”
“Don’t worry about me, Mark; I haven’t lost very much time.”
“I’m still concerned, that’s the hardest part of my job.”
“Even harder than telling the parents?”
Mark was silent for a moment. “Each part seems worse than the next, from those painful stake-out trips to the hospital to check all the newborns, to meeting their families, to say nothing of watching so many young people grow up just to go out. It is heart breaking. You are the only charge I have now.”
That surprised her, “But Mark, surely there must be...”
“They are circulating me out of the system. All the new charges, as few as they are, thank God, have been assigned to the new timekeeper that I’ve been training.”
Dianna put her hand on her head. “When did all this start?”
“In the last few weeks. Don’t worry; I specifically asked that I remain your handler until one of our times is up.”
“This isn’t as comforting as it sounds.”
“In any case, you understand my meaning. Do you want to continue talking or shall we part ways for the time being?”
“I have some chores to do so I’ll say good bye now.”
“Alright, sweetie, I’ll talk to you later.”
“Ok, bye.” She only just put it down when it rang again. “Hello?”
“Finally you pick up; I’ve been trying to call you for hours.” Dianna sat down beside the phone. She was sure that Olivia was exaggerating, but she had an overwhelming desire to plead a headache and just hang up.
“Really, why wouldn’t you just leave a message?”
“No one checks their messages; that’s why IMing is the way to go.”
“Then why are you calling me?”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Anyway, my parents just told me that you aren’t going to be coming over today, what gives?”
“I’m really tired and...”
She could hear a scramble occurring on the other side of the phone. In a moment she heard Olivia’s shouting and the clearer voice of Paul in the receiver.
“Dianna, are you alright? Mark just called here, he told us...”
“About Greydon’s accident.”
“How are you? Are you ok?” Olivia continued to shout in the background. “Do you want any company?”
“I’m alright; I just have to work through things.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want you to be alone in this.”
Dianna smiled slightly,” I know I’m not alone, I should go,” she sighed, “ I have a lot of things to think about.”
“Ok, but if you need to talk it out, I’m a willing listener.”
“Thank you, Paul. I’ll remember that, bye.”
“Wait a...” Dianna barely heard Olivia’s outburst as she put the receiver down. Silently she turned to the window. It was sunny out, the moon still refusing to set from the pale blue sky.
“Not a very fitting mood; is the world too numb to feel?” A tear made its way down her cheek.
The phone rang again. That wasn’t anything new; for the past nearly two days, the phone had rarely stayed on its cradle. Thankfully for Dianna, her parents had been fielding most of the calls.
“Dianna, it’s for you.”
“If it’s Olivia again, make some excuse for me. I’m really in no frame of mind to talk to her.”
“Well, then it’s a good thing it’s Mark.”
Dianna got up and walked back to where the phone was located. “Hi Mark, how are you doing.”
“Not anywhere near as well as I wish. I’m really sorry to bother you like this when I was the one who suggested you take a sabbatical, but sweetie, I really need your help. Could you ask your parents if you can get away for a few hours? Though to be honest I’m not too sure about how long this will take.”
“Um, sure.” Dianna’s curiosity was hardly disguised as she obtained permission from her parents. “They said it’s ok; where are we going?”
“To what doesn’t promise to be a very pleasant meeting.”
“You’ll find out, sweetie, I really need you to come with me. I’ll swing by to pick you up in a couple minutes.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
“Bye.” She put the phone down, confusion written all over her face.
“What’s up, Dianna? Where are you off to?”
“He didn’t say,” she opted to keep what he said about it being unpleasant to herself. “I’m going to get ready.”
“So where are we off to?”
“The headquarters. My apprentice – you remember me telling you about him, don’t you? Well, it seems that he thinks that being a time keeper and letting the HETBs stay around is a waste of time and he’s trying to push having them simply taken off the radar when they’re first discovered.”
“Why would he do something like that?”
Mark changed lanes in a bit of a tizzy. “He did it because he doesn’t understand the true feeling of those present in the situations.”
“How does that justify killing us?”
“It doesn’t. He simply is trying to push his agenda with forcing the issue and manipulating the facts. We’re almost there.”
“The headquarters aren’t that far away.”
“Nope, it works out well for us that way, most of the other time keepers will have to join the meeting via satellite since they simply wouldn’t make it otherwise.” Mark signalled into the parkcade. “You won’t need any particular identification to get in, just wear your watch so it’s visible.”
“Are you sure about this?” Dianna clicked her seat belt off.
He looked at her gravely. “If I don’t have you here, things will very likely go south very fast.”
Mark took her hand as they walked toward the entrance, “don’t let what they say upset you too much, it will most likely be the younger ones in favour of the changes,” he shook his head, “unfeeling, they dull their minds with what they watch and do till exterminating anyone that might prove any kind of minuscule threat is second nature.” Mark pulled out his identification card and moved to swipe it in the reader next to the door.
“Mark, good to see you, they’ve started,” the maid held the door open for Mark and Dianna to pass through,” It’s already getting rather heated and loud,” he let the door close and fell into step beside Mark,” he started his arguments counter to all the ones you’ve used before and I’m sorry to say he’s doing a good job of convincing them, Mark” he took hold of the older man’s shoulder,” If you can’t talk some sense into them, Go help us.”
“I’ll second that.”
“His timing is impeccable,” they turned a corner and looked back to make sure Dianna was still on their heels,” I would have thought that he would at least have waited a week after Greydon’s death.”
Dianna’s ears perked a bit.
“If he thought Greydon was my only motive for defence he’ll find himself grossly mistaken. My arguments haven’t changed, merely their focus.”
“Either way,” he stepped forward and took hold of the door handle,” I hope you’ve got something good up your sleeve.”
The door opened to a roar of what had previously been muffed voices. The sound proofing was evidently doing its job. Entering through led to a narrow passage at the top of which a large crowd congregated. Most were shouting some were holding their ears there were maybe one or two visible that were behaving in a calm manner. Mark took Dianna’s hand and started walking forward. The walls sloped downward though the seats of the hall could be more easily mistaken for bleachers at a hockey game. She could see the other seats across the room almost none were sitting down and there were enough wide hand and arm gestures to make Dianna fear for the people’s eyes.
“I will have order.”
“If the chairman would allow me to...”
“Kick him out of here.”
One of the security members leaned over to Mark. “Good to see you. It would be even better to hear you.”
“They’re walking time bombs, do not even want to be around, why make them suffer through this life when they don’t...”
The man’s voice was drowned in a wave of renewed shouts.
Mark sighed,” looks like it’s one of the quieter meetings.”
The heavy slam of the chairman’s hammer finally broke through the noise followed by his thundering voice ,” Silence all of you, last I checked this was a civilised country and if you insist on acting otherwise, I am well within my job description to have disciplinary action taken on you all. Now sit.”
The unified sound of chair being pulled out and sat on brought Dianna’s thoughts immediately to a room full of well trained dogs that she had once seen that would all carry out commands at the same time, this brought her as near to laughter as she had been in the last few days.
Mark leaned over to her. “He used to train Dobermans and German Shepherds for the police force.”
Looking up , Mark caught the eyes of the chairman. He pointed his hammer,” the chair recognises veteran time keeper Mark, please take the floor,” Dianna was only just able to hear him say to the man beside him when he sat back that ‘ it’s about time we had a sensible argument.’
Mark motioned for her to stay in place while he walked to join the other man in the center of the room,” thank you, chairman,” he bowed slightly to the man on the floor, his understudy, before turning to face the entirety of the room,” gentlemen, I charge you all not to be hasty in making your judgement on this case. I also encourage you to hear every relevant point in a organised manner. This meeting has been going on for hours, the general discussion leading up to it however has been taking place for week. It is my recommendation that two members, that have heard both sides of the argument, take their sides and have a mutual agreement to resolve the entire issue. You each have a vote button already installed in your desks, when one party had convinced you beyond the pint of being swayed by the other, vote for that person. If you feel an issue has not been adequately covered, please send a note to the chairman. If you interpret this to be an ill judged remedy from an old man, I charge you to keep your peace. If however you believe these measures can lead to a peaceful resolution, I ask you to applaud.”
Mark should have been a politician, not one set of hands were still. Even his opponent opposite him was clapping with a peaceful expression.
“Mark, Horhe’, please proceed.”
“I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing your publicized argument. Would you mind doing a summary, Horhe’?”
The younger man nodded and looked at the general room. “The HETBs are dangerous. None of us dispute this fact. It is the very reason we have this job. Recently there has been a higher number of HETBs found and their time has been getting shorter and shorter, the activities they choose involve themselves in shorten even more. The more they fo odd the more work it taked to cover it up. A ruptured gas line, a black market bomb, arson, these excuses only work for so long and do not stop the questioning of the people and the question they should. From what are they hiding? What secret, lethal fear lives in their own back yards? The end of our nation is not coming from the outside but rather an explosion be it small or large, of those dangerous individuals. Would it not be better to end the torture for their young ones the moment it is discovered rather than rush them through sad or mundane existence with the knowledge that they could easily kill their friends. They sink deeper into depression till they combust themselves, resulting in what them wished to prevent. But this is only one case there have been several, I showed mand cases where the HETBs are unstable enough that they wish their curse toward the destruction of as mand normal human beings that do not deserve to die as they possibly can. Should not this be prevented? Or will we ignore the cries of those parents and children who are lost to the HETBs?”
There was a moment of applause while he bowed and turned a smile to Mark.
Mark stepped forward. “I lost several charges this year, each of them unique in their lives and approach to living. Many of you knew Greydon; he helped many of you with your work and many of your charges with coping with their condition. Very few, if any of you, would say that you wish you hadn’t met him. Hank was another of my charges, he was unhappy and angry at the world that his time was so sort, he gave many of you grief and his time was further diminished by his poor choice in behaviour. Very few of you ever met Connor, when he was born he had only seven years on his clock, he never found out about the condition, on his last day his parents threw a party for him, he fell asleep with a smile o his face at which point I drove him out to a blast zone, he never woke up,” Mark paused,” his parent’s thanked me. They said they didn’t regret anything in his short life, they encouraged him to do what he put his mind to and kept him safe. He was only five.” Dianna got the impression that someone in the room was crying but silence responded to his remark of, “Do we have the right to end those lives that come in to the world so innocent full of potential.”
“No one is innocent. My senior member will pardon me,” Horhe’ addressed the room. “These children are born with this defect, if their time is severely short, as it has been recorded the hospital itself is at risk. New research has identified the viral gene that can be detected in embryos. With this information we could stop them from ever polluting our world.”
“You speak as though they don’t matter.”
“They can kill everyone.”
“They can be good.”
“If they aren’t around, someone else can step up the plate and do it.”
“But they don’t.”
“You can’t prove that.”
“I did an experiment in another city recently in which I put on dirty torn clothes, got dirt all over myself, sat on the street corner in a rat chewed blanket and asked those passing by for money. I was out there the entire day, only one person helped me, he gave me some money and took me into a coffee shop for something to eat and drink. His heart was ticking.”
Dianna heard a murmur pass through the crowd.
“And what of the destructive ones? How do you justify them?”
“I can’t, they have a choice. I could give you a gun, but it would be your decision whether you could shot anyone or not.”
“Those that are unaware end up making the wrong decision.”
“And whose fault is that? Ours.”
Dianna saw some people sit forward suddenly.
“Yes, it is our responsibility. We failed to tell them, we didn’t do our job to protect them. If an HETB is unaware of their condition, it falls to those who had the knowledge to sort it out properly and admit out fault. Our only defence is to do our job responsibly.”
“So many man hours, people time, security, safety and a job that never quits, for what? For people that will never say thank you, for lives that only last a moment before they are snuffed out?”
“Dianna, come here please. In truth, that statement describes every living being on this planet, yet we still do it. Sre ou honestly going to tell me that one person is worth more that another. Look at her,” Mark moved his hand to Dianna’s shoulder. “Look at Dianna and tell me that she and the other HETBs aren’t worth it. Tell her that she isn’t worth it.”
“Enough, Mark. Horhe’, you may withdraw, the entire room has voted in favour of the HETBs.”
Dianna almost needed to cover her ears under the roar of applause that followed. Her attention was called by someone taking her hand.
Horhe’ smiled at her as he shook her hand,” I knew I could never win against Mark, though I did expect the debate to go on a little longer. Now I know what he means when he refers to his strength.”
“Hey Dianna, wake up sweetie, I know you’re tired but we really have to go. The meeting is over and Charlie is flashing the lights.”
Dianna slowly opened her eyes and looked into Mark’s smiling face. He seemed to get older every day for the past two years. His hair was a fully white cloud and his wrinkles appeared like a map on his face.
“Shouldn’t I be the one requiring naps? I’m this old and they still haven’t let me retire.”
Dianna rolled off the bench and stretched,” you’re not that old and you’re the one that hasn’t let you retire, you simply refuse to let the younger handlers step up.”
“I’m letting them step up just fine. As long as they acknowledge that they don’t know everything, and considering the amount of time I have to remind them of policies and basic human concern, that won’t be any time soon.”
Dianna picked up her coat,” your empowering them, they believer that your too stubborn to die so they don’t take the initiative to remember what you’ve taught them.”
“It will be a big shock when I do go then.”
“Which hopefully won’t be anytime soon.”
“Don’t think I have indefinite time just because I don’t have a watch. I don’t think either of us really have that much time left.”
Dianna took his arm and they walked out after saying goodbye to Charlie. “You sure you can handle that man, miss? I can club him for you if he tries to get fresh with you.”
Dianna laughed while Mark made a remark about impulsive teenagers.
“Where did you park anyway?” she smiled as she opened the door, she had just started as working for the agency in the position of a temporary care giver for Mark since she knew that she didn’t have enough time to go to school much less pay off any student debt she figured she should just leave the college fund for her brother. “Has Paul asked you out yet?”
Dianna stopped in the middle of clipping her seat belt, “Pardon?”
“You heard me, that boy’s been ogling you for years, you really should just let him down gently now so he doesn’t waste his time only to get a big shock when you’re gone.”
“Mark, I really don’t think he likes me that way.” She turned the key in the ignition.
“You can say that till the cows come home, sweetie, but I really think I’m right on this one.”
“Let me hande it Mark, you have more important things to think about.”
“Like what pills I’m going to have for supper? Dianna, you’re the last privilege they’ll let me have, let me enjoy your company and worry about you once in a while. Can we get some ice cream?”
“Your doctor won’t be happy.”
“Doesn’t matter that much, what’s he going to do, put me in solitary? I already k now what I do and don’t need and a little ice cream every once in a while won’t hurt my body.”
Dianna didn’t look convinced.
“I asked my doctor and he said so.”
Dianna laughed. “Are you really older than me?”
Mark smiled, “ there is a certain age where everyone accepts you acting like a child some of the time and some how it turns from immature to being cute. I’ve reached that stage.”
“Alright, alright, we’ll stop by the ice cream shop before I take you home, but you’re only getting a small.”
“Fine, I’ll get a small.”
“Dianna, what is wrong with this equation?”
She looked up at her brother fromt he notebook she had balabced on her lap.”Um, this,” she pointed to the middle of the question,” should be a negative sign.”
“Stupid thing, it shouldn’t matter so much.”
“Not much you can do to stop it though.”
Dianna laughed, it was the twelve year old that he was talking,” and just what are you going to do?”
He triumphantly showed her an eraser. She laughed as he erased the offending sign and replaced it with the proper one,” thank you.”
She smiled as he returned to the dining room. “Dianna.” She looked up at her mother. “Aren’t you going to be late?”
She slipped her wrist so she could see her watch. “Oh!”
Brandy smiled as she waved while Dianna ran past. “Have fun at dance class, dear.”
Diana had never been so happy that the clock at the studio ran a bit slow. She was just able to put on the correct shoes and get in line with the other when they announced the start of class.
“Before we get crazy with our dancing, we have an announcement to make.”
His female partner took over. “In about two weeks, the studio will be hosting its annual valentine’s day dance.”
The man took over the announcement. “You don’t need a partner but you will need to purchase a ticket. They are fifteen dollars now, twenty at the door. We really encourage all of you to come out it’s a great way to practice dancing and get to know people.”
“Hello Dianna, how is the set coming?”
“A lot better than the ast one, but I guess that’s the benefit of the basics.”
“That’s good. Did you want to get a ticket for the dance?”
“Have someone in mind?” he turned to pick up the pile of tickets.
“I wouldn’t be getting another if I didn’t, actually,” she paused,” you’d better make that three.”
“IOh, Dianna’s brining the pasrty this time.”
“I owe someone a dance.”
Dianna was by no means expecting the phone to ring the mement she got in the house.
“Hello, is this Dianna?”
“Speaking,” the other voice was familiar.
“Hi ti’s Charlie from work.”
“Hi, it’s a little odd that you’re calling me at this time, or any time for that matter.”
“Listen to me Dianna, you need to come to the hospital immediately.”
“Does one of the time keepers what me to help with a family?”
“Not this time, this is so awquard. I only got your phone number by going to Mark’s call list, did you know he has you on speed dial?"
“Of course he does, I’m his caretaker.”
“Getting back on topic, I need you to get down here quickly.”
“Did something happen?”
“It’s Mark, he’s collapsed.”
The already evident worried expression of the attending nurse was not helped in any real way by Dianna’s arrival at the room.
Charlie, the security guard, was standing outside waiting for her.
“How is he?”
“Not good, he had a severe seizure the doctors have been worried about this happening for a while but Mark had refused treatment.”
“He never told me anything about that.”
Charlie stood beside her at the window. “He probably didn’t want you to worry.”
“And he thought this was better?” Dianna shook her head. “I really wish he’d stop doing things like that.”
“I’d hate to say it but you may get that wish answered in a way that you don’t like.”
Dianna hung her head slightly and sighed. “Is the diagnosis really that bad?”
“The doctors don’t have much hope.”
“Can we go in and see him?”
“They haven’t given the okay yet.”
The feel of a hand on her shoulder shaking her awake was the first sensation she was aware of.
Her eyes barely focused on Charlie. “Is Mark doing better?”
Charlie dropped his eyes. “They’re allowing last visitors.”
Dianna felt numb. Like one of those times when you’re aware of dreaming, so it doesn’t really affect you. Dianna wondered slightly at the lack of desire to cry.
“Dianna, if you don’t go in now, you’ll never get another chance.”
The room was silent save for the eerie beeping produced by the machines that were monitoring Mark’s vital signs. Dianna didn’t really think that pure silence would be all that great either, but no matter what the noise, her heart kept a steady, though faster than normal, time through it all. Couldn’t they have at least put on some music, it would have been nice if they had opened the curtains but then at three o’clock in the morning it probably wouldn’t have made much difference. She walked toward the bed positioned i the middle of the room she couldn’t really tell if he was awake or not, the machines being the only assurance that he was alive.
His eyes flickered open. “Sweetie, I don’t think I’ll see you again.”
“You don’t have to talk like that...”
“Dianna, I know when my own time is up. I’m old, I can’t really play or stay current. Everyone’s heard the story of my life so many times that they can tell it better than me. I’m so old that I consider it an accomplishment not to wet myself in the course of a day.”
Dianna knew this was directed to make her laugh, but all it really made her want to do was cry.
“Sweetie, you’re the only real reason that I’ve hung on this long. I would have gone to meet my creator long ago, if you hadn’t been here.” His smile was half hearted and sad. “That said, please don’t tell me you want me to be here. I already know that that’s how you feel. It would break my heart not to be able to do that one last thing for you. It’s hard enough knowing that I won’t see you for a while, but it’s so much worse when I think that I’m shortening your life too.”
Dianna tried to smile back, “I didn’t have that much time in the first place.”
“I wish I could have caught my time and given it to you.”
“Do I deserve to live more than you?” She shook her head, “I won’t ask you to stay and I won’t ask you your time, You’ve helped so many people, don’t you dare regret one minute of your life.”
“I did regret it,” his smile was week,”till you reminded me why I kept living. Thank you.”
The doctor pulled the sheet over Marks face,”I’m really sorry about this miss, but look on the bright side, he passed with someone he loved holding his hand. You should get some rest now it would do you good, your friend is here to take you home.”
Dianna didn’t move from the chair beside the bed immediately. She pulled her watch from her pocket, she gripped it in her hand a moment before opening it. She sighed at the time remaining and put it away.
“I won’t be away from you for long.”
Slowly she stood and put her purse over her shoulder. A glance at the door revealed Paul’s silhouette in the hallway. “Are you alright, Dianna? Can I get you anything?”
“Just take me home, I’ll come back for my car later.”
Paul nodded, “I thought that would be the case. Are you going to be in charge of the preparations?”
“I don’t know, I don’t thinik I could handle it.”
She may not have been the one making the plans but she did end up approving them. Dhe wasn’t much for funerals and neither had Mark been, so a large servide was denighed in favour of a small one at the her curch.
Nothing, however, could stop the influx of consolation cards and emaild that seemed to race in from every corner of the globe.
The service was conducted as nicely as a fuineral can be and withing a week seemed aksmost forgotten. Dianna now understood some of Hank’s anger. Nothing seemed able to convince them of their own mortality. They lived on oblivious to others pain and how little time they might have left. She shook her head the world needed more people lie Greydon and Mark.
She chuckeldd slightly, “It always seem like the more the wolrd needs something the faster they puch it away.”
“Truer words were never spoken.”
Dianna turned her head sharply to look at Paul.
“You haven’t been keeping much company lately, can I say the smae for you?”
Dianna tried to smile, “I’ve had, “she sighed,” alot on my mind.”
“So I guessed but last time I checked being a recluse was not in your job description.”
“Maybe not, but I think some amount of it exists in every person.”
“I’d have to disagree with you there, people all over the world go pretty far out of their way to get companionship.”
“Don’t people always want what they can’t have?”
“Oh taking it back to the garden are we?” he readjusted the seat he had just taken to look her more squarly in the face, “God made two people not one.”
Dianna leaned forward slightly, the pleasure at the verbal spar somewhat renewed and remembered,” that was God’s doing.”
“God himself said that it wasn’t good for man to be alone.”
“But God had to put Adam to sleep to get the rib.”
“That doesn’t make much sense.”
“It makes perfect sense, if men really knew what was coming he would hade offered God the rib without a second thought.”
“Thoche, feeling better?”
Dianna smile,” yes, tahnk you. By the way Paul are you and Olivia busy this Saturday?”
“During the day yes but the evening is free. Why you got some plans that wish to include us?”
“I do indeed, it’s the valentine’s day dance at the studio.”
“I’m touched and I get to go with two lovely ladies, I guess I did something good.”
Olivia had come around to a more mature way of thinking since, she had a close cqll with alcohol poisoning the year before. She seemed to think now that she was somehow playing catchup with Dianna and Paul, so she was vehement about going with them on any outreach, missions’ trip, or other such things as often as they did. She was still a bit of a social butterfly so Dianna knew that she would enjoy herself.
“I’ll let Olive know as soon as I get home, she’ll want all week to select her dress.”
“Just remind her to check the weather report.”
“Are you kidding? If I want to know what the weather is supposed to be I’ll ask her. I’m sure she’s got the forecast memorised. I think she should go into meteorology.”
“She might take that seriously.”
“That wouldn’t be such a bad thing. It’s way better than some of the stuff she wanted to do before.”
“No arguments there, so I’ll see you there around say...seven?”
As he stood and smiled at her, “until then.”
“Dianna, Horhe’ is on the phone for you.”
Dianna put the two dresses she had been holding up to herseld on the bed. She already know what this call was ab out. “Hello.”
“Hey Princess, I’m supposed to ask you waht time it is but you already know the whole deal.”
“Yup, I’m ready, I’m using a couple million stamps and I’m cancelled my insurance and I’ce already made arrangements fo the road.”
“I knew you’d be way ahead of me. I guess this is the last time I’ll be able to speak with you huh?”
“Probably, but don’t get all sad on me, in this line of work you’d never stop being depressed.”
“Cherish every life, hat’s what Mark always said, I’ll miss you Diana, and I honestly wish we had met under different circumstanced.”
“I understand the feeling, I’ll miss you as well, do you want me to tall Mark that you miss him as well?”
“Whis church do you ssay you go to agina? Kidding, I’ve got their card in my wallet, Mark seemed to derive a lot of comfort from religion, and you get a lot of life.”
“Comfort won’t always be your motive.”
“I’m aware of the position I’m putting myself in, if you’re right about the devil existing, he probably hates that I’m doing this.”
“As long as you’re aware.”
“Goodbye, Dianna, give my regards to everyone, none of us will ever forget you.”
“Good bye, tell them, I’ll miss them and thank you.”
Dianna turned off the phone and scrutinized the clothes on the bed. She sighed and picked up the black one, “One last dance, before Cinderella leaves the ball.”
“Olive, can’t you hurry.”
“We don’t have to be there until seven and my hair is still a mess.”
“I hate being late.”
“Bing thirty minutes early isn’t that polite either.”
Paul continued fidgeting at the door.
Olivia watched him out of the corner of her eye as she put another pin in her hair,” you know, Dianna’s been acting strange lately, like she’s preparing for something.”
“She’s probably just sad after Mark’s death.”
Olivia gave him a dry look and picked ip another pin,”are you really that sdence? Somthing is going on with her, but I can’t tell what and it’s not just her. A coupe of people from church, her parents, they’re all sort of forlorn and last night they had that brunch at their place, it was like a party but so many of them seemed sad.”
Paul sighed, “I hadn’t noticed.”
“That’s because you were only looking at one person in the whole room. I’d hate to say this to you Paul but I don’t think she’s ther interested in you.”
Pail didn’t look at her, “ she’s never said that.”
“She shouldn’t have to.”
“Just because she isn’t clatantly pursuing boys doesn’t meant that...”
“But you’re forgetting something, You can show interest without pursuit. Does she show more interest in you that the other people that she talks to? Let be rephrase that, does she, in Non- Paul reality, show more interest in you?”
“I’m going to start the car.”
Olivia put the last pin in ther hair, “Dianna please, don’t lead him on, you won’t tell me when you’re leaving on a trip but don’t make whim wait for you. That idiot would wait forever.”
Dianna was easily able to pick out Paul’s car in the prking lot beside the studio. She had been expecting that. Paul was never five minutes early when he could be ten minutes early. She turned her car into the next available space and walked toward the studio. Olivia was waiting at the entrance.
“Right on time as always, Dianna, I really want to know when you’re leaving.”
Dianna sighed, Olivia didn’t mean it that way. Dianna had told her that she would be leaving to go live in another country and that she didn’t think she would be coming back. “Tomorrow, I’m leaving tomorrow so let’s enjoy our last party.”
Olivia nodded and let Dianna in. The dance was already underway but there weren’t many people on the floor.
“Are you going to tell him?”
“May I ask when?”
Dianna paused, “before we leave, there’s no point ruining the evening.”
“I guess that means you really aren’t going to come back.”
“I don’t think so but we’ll see each other when Jesus comes back.”
“That’s so far away though.”
“Maybe so, maybe not.”
“Wouldn’t it have been better to tell Paul sooner? I shouldn’t have to mention that he likes you.”
“You can say that all you want, I’m not operating under that assumption.”
Dianna waved at Paul from across the room.
“Even if what you’re saying is true, after tonight it’s over anyway.”
Olivia made a slight humph noise, “Well, I’ll miss you and you’d better send me a souvenir from wherever it is you’re going.”
Dianna laughed,”that’s Olivia, love in the purest form, I’ll miss you to, thank you.”
“Yeah well,” Dianna smiled at the slight blush visible on Olivia’s cheeks,”I think Paul wants you to meet him on the floor.”
Dianna looked over. Paul had somehow wormed his way to the middle of the floor and was standing there with one hand hed out toward her. She smiled, gave Olivia’s hand a squeeze and made her way to him.
“Do you know how to do this?”
“You’ve seen me dance before.”
“Yes I have, and I owe you a dance.”
Dianna slipped her hand into his as he moved his other hand to her back.
“You do? From when?”
“A few years ago.”
“You remember that?” Paul led her beside the line till it was convenient to slip in, “ I hope that isn’t the only reason you accepted, my manly pride will be crushed.”
“It would recover.”
“Of course it would especially as long as I have you on my arm.”
Dianna was easily able to pick out Olivia’s from watching intently from the nearly deserted sidelines. Olivia didn’t seem too concerned she looked like she was rather enjoying watching them. She would have had to have been amost all the couples had left already, barely any remained on the nearly deserted floor. Paul didn’t look like he had noticed.
“Alrihgt everyone, this next one will be the last. Good evening, classes resume next week.”
Paul lowered his hold, “I guess that means the evening is over.”
Dianna shook her head and remained where she was, “It isn’t over till after the last dance. Please,” she replaced her hand in his,”don’t stop.”
Paul wasn’t as quick as he would have been if she hadn’t sounded so sad, but he complied. He couldn’t help thinking that she really loved to dance. She couldn’t help feeling relieved as the movement and music drummed out the relentless ticking in her ears, even if only for a moment.
“Well, that was a pleasant evening. We’ll have to do that again sometime.”
“This was as good a time as any, actually Paul, there’s something I have to tell you.”
He smiled, “alright, I have something I wanted to talk to you about as well, how does over super on say Thrusday work for you?”
Dianna sighed, “no That won’t work for me...”
“How about Friday then?”
Dainna struggled to keep a lid on her frustration, why couldn’t he just listen like all the other times? “No Paul, I’m leaving tomorrow morning. I’m going on a trip and I doubt that I’ll be coming back.”
“Well, I’ll wait for you.”
“No, that would be futile and unnecessary.”
Paul’s shocked expression revieled that he had not even dreamed of this reaction,” I” he paused in an effort to sort out his thoughts, “I don’t think you understand what I’m saying, I want to have a relationship with you, if it has to be a long distance one then so be it.”
Dianna’s expression was pained as she looked at him, not for herself but for what she couldn’t deny she was doing to him, “Where I’m going that won’t work.”
“Why not? Where are you going? Dianna don’t you understand...”
“I understand, “ there was too much danger in this conversation, “you’ll understand in time why it wouldn’t work, I don’t mean to cause you pain and if I led you on in any way then I must apologise, regardless of the fact that it was unintentional.”
Paul looked considerably more pained than surprised, “couldn’t you have told me earlier you’ve put me in a terrible position for saying goodbye.”
Dianna sighed and looked away, “I know that, but, “she looked back at him, “If I had told you, I know you would have asked me to stay, and that is one thing I cannot do. I will miss you, but don’t take that as permission to wait for me to come back or to insist that I stay.” She turned and took hold of her door’s handle,” Cinderella’s clock is about to strike, but I won’t be caught in the spell’s unravelling.”
Paul slammed his hand inot her door, preventing her from getting in. She stared evenly with him, her expression unyielding. Slowly Paul took back his hand with tears barely visible in his eyes he turned and walked toward his car. Olivia watched him walk past, her expression unmistakably sad. She looked down hith her eyes shut. Pulling herself together she raised her face to look at Dianna, she managed a genuine smile and waved.
Dianna couldn’t match her friends grin but she did try to smile and waved back.
Olivia blew her a kiss and turned to follow her brother.
Dianna took a deep breath before turning the keys in the ignition.
Paul was awake at six oclock in the morning if he had gone to sleep at all the last night, he didn;t remember it. Really all he was waiting for was a more decent time to call. Dianna’s refusal had raked him but he was convinced that a great deal of it had to do with fatigue from dancing all night. She had a great deal of determination but if there was even the slightlest changnce that he coulcd win her back, he would take it.
Olivia could see his impatience at breakfat but she chose not to desuade him form whatever it was that he had planned. He was the guardian of his own heart.
The moment the clock struck seven he had seized the telephone and had dialled Dianna’s parents phone number. He drummed his fingers relentlessly on the counter until the line was picked up on the other side.
“Hi Karl, it’s Paul is Dianna still there?’
There was an uncomfortable pause on the other side, “No I’m afraid that she left nearly an hour ago.”
Paul’s courage sank to the bottom o his stomach, even if he had called when he first got up there was no guarantee that he would have been able to talk to her. He leaned against the door post. “Do you know where I might be able to find her? I know it’s a horribly slim chance but if I can I have to talk to her at least once more.”
Paul could hear Dianna’s father rummaging around on the other side of the phone. “If you call this number you may find someone that may be able to help you.” Paul copied the number that Carl dictated onto his hand, “Ask for Horhe’.”
“Thank you, Karl, I’ll probably talk to you later.”
Paul hung up and scratched his chin, it might save time to just call her cel lphone but there wasn’t really that much guarantee that she would pick up. This new number was as good a bet as any. Paul listened to the ring, before the receptionist could even go through her greeting Paul asked for Horhe’. He realised that he had been rude, but before he could apologise she said,” certainly, I understand your rush, I’ll transfer you immediately.”
“Thank you and sorry for interrupting.”
That was puzzling, she genuinely sounded like she understood and he got the impression that she had used that line a lot.
“Hello, this is Horhe’, you wanted to speak to me?”
“Ah yes hello my name is Paul and..”
“What already? Wow, that was quick I thought it would be this afternoon at the latest.”
Paul shook his head, this man obviously had business with another man named Paul later in the day, it would be better to dispel the mistake immediately. “I think you’ve got me confused with someone else. I’m a friend of a girl named Dianna and I was told...”
“Yes, I know that, I was given specific instructions on how to handle your call, I simply wasn’t expecting it so early, it hasn’t even happened yet.”
“What hasn’t happened yet, does this have anything to do with Dianna?”
“I hope you’re comfortable this could be a rather lengthy explanation and yes it has everything to do with Dianna.”
It was early there was only the slightest hint of a sunrise in the sky. She glanced down at her open watch on the seat beside her saying good bye to her parents had been a rather emotional experience there was a little more than an hour left she sighed and signalled out onto the highway. Her destination was about half an hour away, nearly all the preparations were in place. She hit the button on her dashboard that acted like a gps to connect her to the headquarters.
“You should have had about three extra hours, then you wouldn’t have to be up this early.”
“Glad to hear from you too, Charlie.”
“Pleasures all mine, are you on your way?”
“I am, have they got the entrances and exits for the road blocked?”
“They did indeed, there is a team waiting off the road to let you in. They already know what kind of car you have but blink your headlights just so they’ll be sure.”
“I got it.”
“Do you want someone to talk to?”
“ No thank you, Charlie, I think that would make it even more dangerous.”
“Alright, I hope we meet again someday.”
“Good bye Charlie.”
Dianna hit the button again, that was the finalization of al the plans. She had written letters to everyone she wanted to say something to , she had said goodbye to her parents that morning and Paul. She sighed , she had told Horhe’ that if Paul called he was to inform Paul about the condition that was taking her life.
“God, I’m nervous, maybe because I know I’ll meet you soon, or maybe because I know I’ll miss everyone here, but Please stay by my side, I need you more now than I think I ever have before.”
Somehow she managed to keep her mind focused explicitly or driving till she got to the side road and had driven to the deserted field.
She watched the subtle shades of pink and purple take over the sky from on tip of her car, her watch cradled in her left hand, the hands of the clock relentlessly crawled toward her midnight. Only ten or so minutes left.
She jumped as she heard a racket from her pocket, to her surprise she pulled out her cell phone.
“i thought I left this at home.” There was a signal for a new text.
Hey sis, I just wanted to tell you one last time that I’ll miss you. I don’t know if you’ll ever get this but you were a great older sister. I love you, your bro.
Dianna smiled, there was no point replying, not with so little time left.
Paul’s frenzy made Olivia’s eyebrows raise, she had never seen him so drawn up over a text before. He looked at the clock, he looked like he would have liked to utter some sort of profanity. Roughly he typed something out and hit send.
Dianna was literally counting down her last minute when her phone made another noise.
Apaulstle: You blessed my life, thank you
Dianna quickly typed; thank you
Olivia fell off her chair and stared at her brother who was furiously typing another message. She could see the expectation in his eyes while he sent it.
In a moment it faded, Paul sank back against the wall, Olivia could see tears in his eyes “I guess there really wasn’t a way to keep the clock from striking midnight.”
“Come in,” Horhe’ was of course being sarcastic since Paul was already in the room with both hands on his desk trying to catch his breath” I assume that since you’re here you have someting to say to me.”
Paul took two deep breaths to calm himself, “It worked.”
Paul didn’t know anyone as capable as Horhe’ at dialing a phone in under a second.
“Olivia, I know you can get this out to everyone faster than anyone. Paul’s experiment worked, we just need permission from the director to put into mass production.”
“I got it sugar, you want fries with that?”
“Actually that would be great, with a small coffee.”
“Nice try, I know your doctor said that you can’t have that stuff, it isn’t good for your eighty year old body.”
“You make me feel so old.”
“Shut up and let me get to work.”
“I wouldn’t dream of preventing you. I’ll talk to you tonight.”
“You wish, goodbye.”
Horhe’ laughed as he hung up the phone,” you’d think we weren’t married.” He sat back in his chair and put his arms behind his head, “Paul, this is the best news I’ve heard since I started this job, at this rate I’ll be able to retire since I’m not needed not because of my age.”
Paul smiled and ran a hand through his hair which was flecked with grey.
“A vaccine for the HETBs,” horhe’ smiled at him, “I suppose you’ve already come up with a name for it.”
Paul laughed and nodded, “I had a name for it when it was just a random and futile hope in my head. Thank God he made the idea work.”
“Do I get three guesses?”
“The first two don’t count. We’ll call it Dianna’s vaccine.”