EARLY ARRIVAL

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Submitted Date 08/17/2019
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"You're early," he says, surprise thick in his baratone voice. I'm taken aback by how deep it is.

"Yeah. I guess I just couldn't wait to meet you." I wink. I am oddly confident.

"Tell me—why?" He seems amused. I wonder if he interviews all of his guests like this.

"Oh, where do I begin? Have you been there lately?"

"I can't say I have. My matters concern me here. I find myself rather busy tending to this place." With those words, he gestures around him, and I look. Stark white walls surround us. There are no windows and no doors, so I'm not exactly sure how either of us got in here. But I know where I am. And I know who he his.

"Do you know who I am?" He asks.

"Of course I do."

"And do you know where you are?"

"In a sense." I smirk. He looks down at the table between us. It is solid black, and rather simple in design. I stare at him and take in his features. He isn't what I expected, and yet I am not the least bit surprised by his looks.

Human. And strictly business. He is wearing a black suit that screams "billionaire CEO". His black hair is tamed into a short crew cut. His skin is a deep, chocolate hue, so dark that he nearly matches his shadow cast on the wooden floor. His eyes are even darker—nearly black in color. And yet, there is a warmth in them. A light. And like a moth, I'm drawn to the flame. He looks up and catches me staring. This is where I should blush, but I feel no heat rise to my cheeks.

"You don't seem very…"

"Surprised?" I finish.

"Well, yes."

"I kind of figured this is where I would end up. Not that I know where I am, exactly."

"Why don't you tell me how you got here, then."
"Don't you already know?" I wonder. He gives me a polite smile, then nods, urging me to continue. I sigh.

"I'm here because I died."

"Yes, but how?" I roll my eyes. He really should know these things. Isn't this his realm—literally?

"I swallowed a bottle of pills," I finally shrug. He catches my gaze and holds me captive in his stare. I can feel myself fidgeting. To change the subject, I say, "I know who you are, but I don't know your name." This earns me a polite smile.

"I have many names."

"Then give me your favorite."

"My favorite?" He seems confused, and looks up, as if he's pulling the information from the bright, white ceiling. "You may call me Eirini."

"That's an interesting one."

"You asked for my favorite." He smiles again. "And what shall I call you?"

"Call me whatever you like, but I only have one name, and that's Adeline."

"Adeline." He repeats.

"Now, Eirini, would you mind telling me what we are doing here? Or is this my fate?" The smile that shadows his dark lips fades.

"Your fate has yet to be decided, and that is why we are here." I blink. Hasn't been decided?

"I'm not sure I follow you."

"There are things that need to be discussed before I decide your fate."

"What things? I thought my fate was decided the moment I swallowed those Tylenol." Eirini looks up at me again and sighs.

"You chose to swallow those pills."
"Yes," I answer, even though I know he's not asking.

"Why?" I stare down at my hands and bend my fingers, watching my tendons contract as I do so.

"I wanted to die." I finally whisper. Eirini sighs.

"Tell me why." Why? I think, how am I supposed to explain that?

"I don't know how to answer that."

"Tell me your reasons. Give me the events that led up to this. Give me something." There's almost a pleading note in his voice.

"I...I was unhappy." I reply at length.

"Unhappy? How could you be unhappy? You had a family that loved you, friends that cared for you. You were so young. I doubt you'd lived long enough to even understand the meaning of unhappy."

"Life isn't that simple!" I raise my voice, tears pressing on my lower lids. "I was miserable! I struggled to hold down a job because I couldn't force myself awake in the morning. I failed out of college. I threw away the only being that—" A sob catches in my throat, and I look away from Eirini.

"Adeline." His voice is a somber note in a long, drawn out symphony he's played too many times. I look up at him and wipe the tears from my face. "What is this really about?" I look away to the bare white walls that seem to be closing me in, ever closer to this man, or being, that threatens to upheave my world once again.

"Is this about your son?" His voice is barely audible, but my eyes snap to his face as if he had shouted it. I vowed to myself months ago that I would never speak of it. Speak of him. The hole he has left in my core threatens to rip me asunder at the mention of him. I can't find the words to answer Eirini.

"Tell me about it," he urges softly. Another sob waits to erupt from my throat, so I say nothing for a few minutes. The silence between us is thick and suffocating.

"I was so scared," I begin in a whisper, "I didn't know what to do. The father left me as soon as he found out. Left us…" I stare down at my fingernails and absentmindedly admire how clean they look. "I didn't have any money. I can't—couldn't keep a job. I could barely take care of myself." Yes. These are the words I had tried to console myself with. Excuses, my heart had hissed each time. "I knew my family wouldn't help me. My mother had always told me if I ever went and got myself knocked up, she wasn't raising another kid. And there I was." I laugh icily. "So I did what I thought was best. I went to the clinic. I found out I was already 20 weeks along. They made me look at him on the ultrasound, and I knew he was a boy. I threw my son away." The last sentence is oddly harsh and resolute. For once I accept my deed, and the tears don't come. Erini nods.

"So that is why you swallowed the pills."

"Yes," I breathe. "He didn't deserve me as his mother. But he deserved to live."

"And you don't?"

"Not anymore. Not after what I've done." Eirini sighs again. He scoots from the table and stands. I stare up at him warily.

"There's something you should see." He says. He turns, and walks to the wall. As if it were nothing but air, he walks through it. I nearly gasp. He's gone. I'm alone. Again. I wait as patiently as I can, but my nerves have begun to eat at me. I twiddle my thumbs and stare at nothing.

Finally, after what feels like a miniature eternity, Eirini returns. Someone follows in behind him. It's a man, and he's tall—not as tall as Eirini, but much taller than myself. His hair is long and golden, and drawn in a ponytail. He is clad in solid white robes. His skin is a soft, pale pink. His emerald green eyes flicker to me, and they seem to brighten. He reveals a beautiful, perfect grin as he gazes at me. I try and swallow down the lump in my throat.

"Hello," he greets me. I cannot find the muscles to move my mouth for a moment.
"Hello," I finally whisper back.

"Do you know who I am?" He asks. I cannot help but grin—his smile is infectious.

"Yes, I know who you are. But I don't know what to call you."

"They call me Zachary."

"Zachary," I repeat, and tears well in my eyes. I'm taken aback by how much he looks like me. "What a beautiful name." He grins again.

"It's nice to meet you."

"I… I'm so sorry, Zachary." I weep. I hold my head in my hands. Strong fingers catch my chin and lift my face up. I meet his bright green eyes. They mirror mine.

"You are already forgiven, mother."

"If I could take it back—"

"There are always things we wish we could take back. We must live and learn from our mistakes."

"Do you know why I'm here?" I whimper. He nods.

"You found it too hard to live with your regrets. But I am here to tell you that you must learn from them. You have so much life ahead of you. You cannot waste it."

"But you… I killed you. I wasted your life."

"You were scared," he began, "you didn't know what to do." He releases my chin and looks to Eirini, who watches us silently.

"Please," Zachary begs, "send her back. Let her live the life she deserves. She made a mistake, just as we all do."

"A mistake that isn't easily undone," Eirini replies. I hang my head. I will accept my fate, whatever it may be.

"Give her another chance; she has so much more time."

"Adeline," Eirini addresses me. I look up at him,"do you wish for a second chance?"

"A second chance?" I repeat, dumbfounded. Could he possibly mean a second chance at life?

"Yes. A second chance to live. Zachary says you have made a mistake by swallowing those pills. He wishes for you to go on and live. I can give this to you, if you are willing to try again. This time, you must live with the consequences of your actions, and learn from them. Moving on is hard, but you must push forward, and learn to love yourself. Do you think you can do this?" I look at him and back to Zachary, who nods encouragingly. This gives me the strength to speak.

"If Zachary believes I am deserving of a second chance, then I will try and live again, to life's fullest." Both men smile at this.

"Mom?" My heart hurts at the word.

"Yes, Zachary?"

"I forgive you. I release you of the burden you hold so close to your heart. I want you to live. I love you."

"I love you, too, baby," I whisper while tears roll down my cheeks.

"Close your eyes." I do as I'm asked. "When I count to three, I want you to let go of all the pain you hold inside you. And then I want you to open your eyes." I nod sincerely. "One, two, three."

I let the guilt go. I feel it evaporate from my body. Slowly, I open my eyes.

I'm alone again—this time, in a familiar place. The beige walls greet me in my room. I am lying in my bed. The sun glares in from my window, shining happily upon my face. I blink.

Was it all really just a dream? I glance over to my nightstand: a bottle of Tylenol is sitting on its side.

A rueful smile crosses my lips. I won't waste my second chance.

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