The Promise
By Lana Straub
Staring down at the cold, stone floor, she thought of all the days that had come before this day. All the
days that led up to this day. She wondered how she had gotten here. She wondered, but deep down she
knew. Everyone assumed desperation had driven her to this point, but that wasn't it. Desperation had
nothing to do with it, neither did despair. It was simply a lack of need to fight anymore and that lack of
need left her alone in this cold, gray room.
She thought back to the summer three years before this dreadful day in August. Back to the time before
this cold, gray dark barren room. She thought back to that warm day in May when they first met. A salty
tear met her cheek as she reminisced about the bittersweet days of Andrew.
Andrew was a beautiful, kind soul who asked nothing in this world but to be accepted as he was. And
Heather knew him for what he was, a strong yet sensitive man who always looked you in the eyes and
always told the truth.
As she sat in the cold, dimly lit room she remembered how his bronze hair would glisten as the sun
danced off his Timex. They met during the second summer term of her sophomore year at Princeton. He
sat two desks up and one row to the left of her in Speech 101. He seemed so simple back then, at least
on the outside. But as she grew to know the man on the inside, simplicity faded. There was so much
more to Andrew than would ever meet the eye. His first speech revealed his inner strength; she had to
admit to herself the speech caused her to be drawn to him. Like Heather, Andrew's family had been
stricken with cancer. His speech revealed that his father—who worked his entire life as a carpenter—had
been diagnosed with skin cancer when he was only forty-two years old. Andrew and his family were
devastated a year later when his father died. Later in the story, he revealed his mother too succumbed to
cancer. Hers was Leukemia; no one knew the cause, it just came and took her one, cold, February night.
So there he stood in front of the second summer term Speech 101 class an only child and an orphan.
Heather's heart opened that day to love, Andrew's love.
The rest of the summer term flew by in a whirlwind.  hey spent all of their waking moments together and
eventually most of their sleeping ones as well. They mused over the newspaper each day while they
shared their morning coffee, chuckled over lunch about their English professor's receding hairline and
droning lectures, and sipped wine together while studying for the most recent test. Before Heather
realized it, she and Andrew had become swept up into each other's worlds; she found her soul mate. And
then, in the middle of their sixteenth month together, it happened.
Andrew had gone into the university medical center for his routine yearly checkup. Dr. Barnes found some
strange lumps under his arms he felt needed a second opinion. She remembered the nervous thirty-five
mile drive to the specialist. It was a drive of almost silence.
Then, in a small voice, Andrew almost whispered to her, "Heather," he drew a deep breath.  "If it's cancer,
I don't want to die like my mother did. Promise me you won't let me die like that."
"What are you talking about?" She asked. "You're fine. You'll be just fine."
Just then, he pulled the gray Explorer to the side of the road. Carefully unhooking the seat belt, he
turned her and tightly grasped her left hand.
"I'm serious." He looked her deep in the eyes. "If Dr. Mitchell says it's cancer, I want you to help me die
with dignity, not shriveled up in a smelly, hospital bed watching each breath leave me with every pump of
the blood pressure cup. I won't die like that.  You are the only person I have left in this world. Don't let
me die like that."
Several salty tears ran down both her cheeks.
"I won't." She promised. "I'll do whatever you ask."
As they both feared, the doctor's prognosis was not a good one. Tests had shown Andrew had stage
four, renal cell carcinoma. It was very rare in young adults, but had probably been passed onto Andrew by
his mother. He told them about invasive treatments that could prolong his life a few years, but quality of
life would diminish with each treatment. There was nothing that modern medicine could do. Andrew was
told to get his affairs in order; he probably wouldn't live to see Christmas.
The ride home was full of stillness. So still that Heather remembered feeling she could cut her cold,
February breath with a knife. In the blink of an eye she found out she was losing the love of her life.
Losing her soul mate to a disease she could hardly pronounce…it was unfair. She knew what he would ask
of her. She knew what she promised to do. She wondered if she were strong enough to fulfill her
promise. Heather looked over to Andrew, wanting to break the silence, wanting to say anything that
would undo this day. Undo his cancer. A single tear fell from his right eye. She kept her silence.
The next few weeks were a blur. Andrew grew distant as he plotted his exit of dignity. He was preparing
to leave. Instead of drawing her closer to him and relishing in every last moment together, he became
bitter and silent. And then one Friday afternoon after Calculus class she got a phone call from him.
"Heather sweetheart." He smiled on the other end of the phone. "I want to spend the weekend with you.
Come away with me to the mountains."
"Are you sure?" She questioned his kind words.
"Yes." He replied. "I know I've been a jerk and I'm sorry, but I really need you right now and I'll explain it
all in the car."
Andrew did explain everything in the Explorer on their way to the mountains. He gave her all the infinite
details about both of his parents' deaths. Every agonizing detail his twenty-year-old memory could bring
to the surface. He also explained to her how she was the love of his life and he couldn't imagine her
watching him waste away. He wanted her to remember him in his vitality. He asked her to remember her
promise and help him escape his gloomy destiny.
The weekend was the most wonderful of her life. And then it ended.  
A loud clunk jarred her back to the present time. It was the sound of the cell door opening. Her lawyer
appeared in the doorway.
"They are waiting for us," he said in his deep still voice.
Slowly she was led from her cold, gray cell up the winding, steel-gray staircase into the morning sunlight.
As she looked into the clouds overhead, she saw Andrew's face appear in the white puffy canvas. He
smiled, winked and blew her a kiss.