She said no.
She said no, and I wasn’t ready for it. I just sat there in the middle of that crowded restaurant with my food cooling on my plate and my mouth open like an idiot.
It hadn’t entered my mind that there could be a negative response to my question. The “no” only existed as a hypothetical, nothing more than a diversion to toy with in the mind. It should have been yes. It had to be yes.
She looked at me with concern in her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?” The words tumbled out of my mouth like marbles falling from my numb lips.
“Its not…I shouldn’t have said it like that.”
This was all wrong. My mind was still reeling. She was apologizing. She was apologizing.
“I guess…I should have told you sooner. But I just…well to be honest I was afraid this would happen.”
“Is there anything I can do?” The words sounded stupid even as I was saying them, but I had to say something.
“No. I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry? You’re sorry?” The words came out louder than I had intended and I noticed several of the patrons looking at us strangely.
She reached across and put her arm on my shoulder. “It’s going to be okay,” she said. “You’ll get through this.”
But my eyes filled up with tears, and I shook my head. “This…this can’t be happening.”
“But it shouldn’t.”
“Maybe it should. Maybe it was meant to be.” And she put her arms around me and held me as I cried.
It’s been a long time since the day she said no. I was wrong, and she was right. I did get through it. But it wasn’t easy. Inside I fought it every step of the way. But it didn’t matter.
Because by the time that she took me to dinner than night and told me that she had cancer; by the time I asked her if she was going to make it; by the time she said no…it was already too late.
[I wrote this story because a coworker I haven't seen in a while stopped by work today. She told me she hadn't been at work recently because she had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. I asked her if she would be okay, and she said yes. But afterwords I thought to myself, What would I have done if she had said no? That question was the seed that grew this story.]