Mr. and Mrs. Lyapunov wake with the bright white sun peeking over the hilltops, jumping through their window, warming the walls and the bed and their golden skin.
Lola wraps her arms around him, and buries her head in his neck. “Mrrnu beneewe medit dissarh?” she says, all muffled.
“What’s that?” Eddie asks.
She laughs, and bends her neck back to look up at him. “Can you believe we made it this far?”
His eyes felt like morning dew. “I can.”
“It feels new again.”
“Well, it certainly helps to be reborn.”
Eddie stretches a bit under her, feeling the muscles breathe, and basks in the luxury of no aches or pains as he wraps her in new arms.
“So what is it this year?”
“What is what? Where am I? Who are you?” He feigns confusion, and she has to bomp him on the head with a pillow.
“Your yearly promises. Got your surprise?”
“Maybe you don’t get your secret right away in the morning.” He yawns. “Sheesh.”
“Maybe you ran out, finally.” She pokes him, playfully. “Maybe I’ve finally stolen the last of your mysteries.”
“I doubt it,” he says, drifting back over the years, lost in thought.
Eddie sat down on the bed and took his pants off slowly, feeling the crick in his side snap at him.
“That was nice of the kids to set up a shindig like that.” Lola awkwardly had her arms over her head, trying to slide into her sleeping gown.
He grunted. “Yes, but I am truly exhausted.”
“Fifty damn years,” she sighed, as the gown settled down over her pained back. “I’m kind of sick of celebrating it. Isn’t, can’t every day be enough?”
“Hmm. Well.” Laying on the bed and staring at the ceiling, Eddie suddenly jumped up on an elbow and turned to her. “For the next fifty years, I promise to come up with at least one surprise about me. One every year.”
“How do you mean?”
“On our anniversary, I mean. One new thing you didn’t know.”
She laughs. “I don’t think you could even name one thing, as it is, now. It’s been fifty damn years!”
“Oh, I think I’ve got plenty.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.
“Try me!” Lola couldn’t stop smiling, as they climbed under the sheets. “One thing!”
The food was not memorable that year. In his memories, at least, Eddie could only remember the feel of sand in his dry mouth. He couldn’t even remember the restaurant, the setting, for that dinner.
“This is not my favorite kind of surprise.”
He did remember how painfully slowly she set her fork down.
Eddie took a deep breath. “I didn’t want to explain it now, but it’s got a kind of gallows humor to it.” He winced at the look she gave him. “I found out yesterday. You know how you wanted me to talk to the doc about the night sweats?”
She nodded, with a squinty frown clenching her jaw together. “How bad is it?”
“Leukemia. Some kind of lymph cancer. Definitely related to the fatigue and the weird lumps.”
Just nodding, Lola sat there for a moment.
“I mean, weird lumps are just part of getting old, right?” He tried to smile, and instead just looked into her eyes. A silent question hung there.
Lola finally said, “Treatable?”
“Somewhat. I’ve got a shot.”
“You mean we’ve got a shot. You have to promise not to hide anything about it from me, now.” She shook a finger at him, and then leaned across the table and took his hand in hers. “We’ll get through this.”
“Oh, I know we will.” He smiled, a little quiver there, but he remembered smiling, and the warmth that stayed with him.
They sat in the sunroom, reading in the still afternoon. Eddie stared out the window, running his hands over his arms and neck for a while, and then spoke up. “I’ve determined that my new lumps are actually a superpower.”
“Oh?” Lola raised an eyebrow, but didn’t look up from her book.
“Yep. They’re actually mind-reading lumps. I’ve gained the ability to…” He made a strange warbling whistle through his teeth as she looked up at him.
“What am I thinking?” She arched an eyebrow.
“I can detect… that you want some tea, and for me to…” He searched her face for a moment, her beautiful, inscrutable face lined with memories. “For me to let you return to reading,” he finished at last.
She laughed. “Wow! Dead on! Those are some powerful lumps.”
Eddie smiled, and shuffled off to the kitchen. “You know, you should be amazed a man my age can use these lumps this well!”
“I’ll give you that,” Lola yelled back. “Your lumpy body still does quite well for itself. I’ll give it another test later.”
They both laughed, in different rooms but together.
All the good years; the secrets he told were silly. Sometimes they were actual secrets, and sometimes they were just private jokes between the two of them.
Those years turned out to be harder to remember, flowing over Eddie and Lola like a pleasant wind. They blended together in his mind like a honeyed glaze of afternoons spent out under the sun, slowly baking into the golden loaf that was the relationship they had built over the long years. Living through trials and travails, as the world grew weirder around them.
Eddie could remember their 70th anniversary painfully well, though. The details snapped into place unbidden. His recovery had stalled, and the fight was not going well.
It was as if they lunched in a little clear snow-globe; all the plastic snow had long since leaked out, and there was only the clear water all around with no falling particles to mark the passing of time. Even living it the first time he had felt oddly like he was sitting under glass; part of a bad museum exhibit about modern medicine and pain in the mid-21st century.
“You talked to Dr. Ved without me?” She frowned at him, and he could tell she was actually angered beneath the overplayed front.
Sighing, Eddie held up his hands. “Yes, yes, I’m sorry, honey. But it was for a very good reason.”
Her fork had now become only an implement to spear his gaze instead of the salad in front of her. “I doubt that very much.”
“No, I promise.” She frowned, but he plowed onward. “Here’s my surprise this year for you, dear, I guess. He messaged me to let me know. There’s a new kind of gene therapy. My particular symptoms are pretty much an exact candidate for it. There’s a 50% chance of complete remission.”
“The bad half. Now.” Lola jabbed the air with her fork, like she could force the bad news from his throat with it. “Out with it.”
“Dr. Ved said it, uhh, has a very good chance otherwise to, well… accelerate the end.”
She gritted her teeth and he braced himself. Reliving the memory, Eddie remembered the brittle bittersweetness he felt as he sat there feeling helpless, when Lola dropped her fork on the plate with a loud clatter and walked around the table to hug him.
Cradling his head, she sobbed silently for a while. “You know,” she said much later, as she kissed the top of his head, “A Russian roulette coin-flip to live is your worst surprise in twenty years of terribly-sprung surprises, dear.”
Obviously, the genetic therapy had worked. Better than he had ever hoped. He was younger now, in a way. Refreshed, his body reversing its slow decline. But it wasn’t fair. She was slowly fading still, and he hated himself.
Slowly brought back closer to the present, Eddie floated through his slightly crisper memory of their eightieth anniversary.
They went to brunch at a restaurant she used to love, but she could barely talk. She could barely raise her head up. She was a shaking shell of her old cuttingly funny self. He had tried to make a secret joke, but it fell into a silent space that had grown between them, as she grew more withered and transparent before his eyes.
He shook his head quickly, struggling to move forward through the years, and not remember her like that.
He sailed past the times she laid in bed at home, at hospice care, in hospital beds, each cough looking like it took the last of her strength. The year that he thought she would surely pass, leaving him in his strangely renewed state, but truly bereaved. No, skip forward.
Yes. Finally, she pulled through, some tenacious part of her refusing to collapse until the DNA therapy techniques got effective and cheap.
Eddie still felt guilty for being one of the first, but now everyone who had survived the plague, and lived so far past old age, could fight their way through to the other side. Lola could join him there, at last. A new strange life for them both.
Eleven years ago, he could remember it well. It was a glorious return after her final rehab was complete, and Lola could once again eat whatever she wanted. And what she had demanded to celebrate that morning was his special scramble and hash browns. She sat at the kitchen table, jokingly thumping her plate with the fork and knife, and he smiled as he dished out the eggs and potatoes.
“Ha. Looks great, sweetie. So the feeling becomes normal, you were saying?” she asked.
“Better than normal. It becomes… well, it’s new all the time,” he said.
“New.” She looked at the plate of eggs, and then up at him. “Set that down and kiss me.”
As he turned back, he saw Lola put one hand on her own face. Feeling the strangely smooth new skin she wasn’t used to, yet. She placed the other hand on his neck, pulling him in for a long smooth kiss.
“Thank you, the eggs look delicious,” she said as he sat back down, and began to eat with a vengeance he hadn’t seen in many years.
“Well then.” Eddie took a bite of potatoes, pondering. “This is the first anniversary of our so-long-ago wedding in a long while where you’re feeling full of fire, I see.”
“I’m basically all fire now. Burnin’ up.”
“I would say so.” He winked goofily at her, and she covered her mouth and pretended to be scandalized. “Since this year is not some stupid magical multiple, none of our friends or relatives will force themselves into our special day.” He swallowed, looking at her, still unable to get used to the glow. “The kids can do some big gathering next year. I told them to bugger off. This year is just you and me, my dear.”
“Let’s just pack a lunch, go for a hike… and see where the day takes us, shall we?” Lola grinned at him, a smile of pure and furious satisfaction.
Eddie smiled back. “I guess my secret this year is… I never truly believed I would see the day.”
“What, are you sad that you finally had to share the fountain of youth?”
He almost choked. “Uhh, no,” he mumbled around a mouthful of eggs. “You might say I’m pretty damn lucky.”
Eyes partly shut, leaking around the edges, Eddie rises from his reverie, feeling the sun and the possibility warming the room as a golden glow on his skin.
A hundred years. What would his parents have thought, if he could talk to them now? They hadn’t made it nearly as far, or as well as he and Lola had. It had been work, certainly, but the blessing was strong. He runs his hand over her smooth skin and down her spine, a Braille message he knows by heart.
He opens his eyes wide, sticks his face in her hair, breathing deeply in through his nose, taking her in. “One hundred years. And for fifty, after I got old and boring, I’ve been trying to surprise you. Then I almost died, and got young, while you got older. That wasn’t fair…”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “Oh, you silly man.”
“And I still tried to surprise. I was saddest during the years where I couldn’t make you laugh any more. Or worse, when I made you laugh and it hurt.”
“I didn’t mind.”
“I know that. But I did. Well… I know, deep down, that none of my previous secrets actually surprised you,” he says seriously.
She rolls over to face him, and pouts as he goes to hold her face in his hands. “Oh, boo hoo, you.”
“No, it’s true. You’ve always understood me better than I did myself.”
Running her arms over his, Lola asks, “Why’d you always seem so damn confident, then?”
“Part of the act, my dear. Don’t you know how much I love that look?”
“What look?” She frowns at him.
“You know. That look you get, when you see something clearer than I do.”
She starts chuckling, and stops herself with a smile sneaking around the edges of her mouth. “Oh, that one.”
“Yes, this one. This one, right here.” He stares in her twinkling eyes, soaking her up. “Besides, I’m not the man you married anymore,” he jokes, backing away and waggling his no-longer-wrinkled fingers at her.
“True. And must say, I like the new flesh,” she growls back, playfully grabbing at him and tickling as he dissolves into helpless giggles. “What crazy plan are you going to attempt to keep up for the next fifty years?”
As he tries to push her hands away, gasping with laughter, he says, “Are you saying you want to go fifty years further again with me? Oh, I’ll… hey, stop! I’ll, hey, think of something! Ha!”
“There’s plenty of time to figure it out,” Lola says as she relents and sits up. “You might be stuck with me for a while.”
“The horror. I’ll have to think of something,” he says, pulling her back to him.