When we are no longer able to change a situation–just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer–we are challenged to change ourselves. - Victor Frankl
He froze. In an act of will, he forced himself to step forward. The impact of his heel on the concrete jarred him from the voice’s spell.
“Jakob Seilberg, don’t turn your back to me, ... please.”
“Stay here, Donna.” He went to the withered white haired woman. Every step cut him, he died a little... “Hello, Margaret. How are you doing?”
Her gnarled fingers touched the sleeve of his leather jacket. “It’s really you.” She lifted rheumy eyes to him. “I’ve prayed to see you. I’m sorry for the way I treated you. I know it wasn’t your fault and I shouldn’t have done you that way.”
His chest tightened. He whispered in a strangled voice. “Thank you.”
“Mother, are you bothering that boy?”
He pasted a smile on his face. “She’s not bothering me, ma’am.”
The fat woman brushed a gray lock of windswept hair out of her face and smiled. “Thank you, she has Alzheimer’s and will just start babbling on. She took the elderly woman’s arm. “C’mon, we need to get you to the car.”
“Have a good day, ma’am.” After they turned away, he wiped his eyes.
A hand slipped into his. “Are you ok, Bren?”
“Yeah, sometimes, I worry about Grams being like her.”
“What did she want?”
“She thought I was somebody she used to know.”
“That’s life. We need to get you to the double arches to start your shift.”
Donna groaned. “Don’t remind me.”
“Just think, soon, you’ll have enough for your own car.”
She smiled. “There is that isn’t there. Are you picking me up tonight?”
“I don’t know, am I picking you up tonight?” He waggled his eyebrows at her.
“You won’t find out if you don’t show up.”
“It’s not even lunchtime. Why are you drinking?”
“Tend your duties.”
“In case you’re already so drunk you can’t remember, You pay me to be your grandmother. Did you and Donna have a fight?”
“What then, did you tell her?”
“Tell her what, that I’m a monster?”
“You’re not a monster. But, if you plan on staying with her you have to tell her.”
“Damn it, Brendan, what’s wrong?”
“My name is Arnulf.”
Grams recoiled from the steel of his voice. “Why are you being like this?”
“I ran into Margaret today.”
He held up an old black and white photograph of a smiling little boy with a flat top hair cut. “Rolf’s mother.”
His voice cracked, his shoulders shook. “I want my little boy.”
Grams went to his chair and pulled his head against her stomach. “I know Arnie. I miss my Angie, too.”
He clung to her and cried.
Her fingers stroked his cheek until he quieted.
“Why don’t you take a nap. I’ll have a meal ready for you before you pick up Donna.”
Bren gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, Grams.”
“My name’s Amy, you arrogant little prick.” She gave him a squeeze. “Go lay down.”
“I want to make you feel good.”
Bren was speechless. “Just being with you makes me feel good.”
She unsnapped his jeans and pulled them open.
He covered her hands with his. “Stop, I can’t do this to you. I ... I love you.”
She started, her eyes met him, “You do?”
“I love you, too.”
“That’s why we need to talk.”
“I don’t understand.”
He took a deep breath. “I have a weird medical condition.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not contagious. It does impact my life.”
“Are you dying?”
Bren laughed. “No, but, you need to know if we’re going to get serious.”
“What is it?”
“I will never look any different than I do right now.”
“Fifty years from now I will look exactly like this. I know because fifty years ago I looked just like this.”
Donna laughed. “You had me going for a minute.”
“I’m not joking, there’s more.”
Donna grabbed her sides. “Stop it, before I pee.”
“That old woman from this morning, I know her. We were married.”
Donna fell off the bed laughing.
He leaned over the edge.”Are you ok?”
“Yeah, whew, that was fun.” She giggled and raised her hand. “Help me up.”
He gave her a hand. “Since, you’re up, see that chest in my closet? Would you open it and bring me the photo album in it?” When she returned, he patted the bed. “Sit with me.”
He took the album and opened it.
“My passport. Look at it. Be careful, it’s old.”
“This is that name the old woman was yelling?”
He nodded.”That was the name I was going by at the time.”
“I was in the German Army. The Americans captured me in ‘43. I was sent to Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho. That’s where I met Margaret.” He turned the page. These are from our wedding.” A few pages later, “This ... um ... this is our son Rolf. He died when he was six. Margaret blamed me for his death and divorced me.”
Stars exploded behind his eyes as his head snapped back. “YOU SON OF A BITCH! HOW DARE YOU!” Donna jumped off the bed and snatched her red shirt and bra from the blanket. “I was going to let you. You didn’t have to claim a dead child. You were going to be my first.”
Donna spun towards the door.
“Oh, put your arms down Donna. It’s not like I haven’t seen tits before.”
Donna turned and put her shirt on.
“He’s not lying to you. He’s older than I am.”
“What?” Donna glared at Bren. “You’ve got your Grandmother lying for you.”
“I’m not his grandmother. I’m his personal assistant. I’ve worked for him for thirty years.”
“No, he’s not. That’s what we’re trying to tell you.”
Bren stood. “Show her.”
“Are you sure?”
Gram’s hand blurred. A sledgehammer busted his chest.
The world went black.
Searing pain flashed through him. He sat up. “You shot me three times.”
Grams smiled. “You raised your voice to me this morning, remember?” She held the gun out to Donna. “I shoot him when he pisses me off. He can’t die, but you can sure put a hurting’ on his ass. Would you like a turn?”
“What? No.” Donna backed away. “This isn’t possible. I saw you die.”
Bren pushed himself up. “You did, but, it never sticks. That’s the problem.”
“Donna, while I’m thinking about it, don’t ever try to cut him. He loses his mind.”
Donna threw her hands up at Bren.
“My Father, my mother, Heima and our two children were murdered by raiders.” He hung his head. “That’s the day I found out I can’t die,” Bren whispered. “One of them stabbed me in the heart. I woke up to find my whole family dead.” He sat on the bed and covered his face. He looked up. “Would you like to see a painting of them? I made it about a hundred years after their death. May I share it with you, please?”
“H ... how old are you?”
“Are you sure you want to know?”
Bren sighed. “I don’t know the day or the month. I was born in the spring of 622. So, I turned one thousand, three hundred and ninety-five this year. CATCH HER!”
“Are you ok?”
“You fainted. I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to hurt you.”
Donna refused to look at him. “I want to go home.”
“Ok, I’ll have Amy drive you. Before you leave, I want you to know I do love you and you’re always welcome here.” Bren stood. “Amy?”
“I’ll get my keys.”
“I’ve decided to close the house. I was thinking we could spend a month or so in Jamaica before moving on.”
“Bren, it’s only been a few weeks. Give her a chance. You’re asking a lot from her.”
“Is Henry still working? We’ll need new IDs.”
“We have three sets on the pike. We don’t need to bother Henry.”
“Would you prefer Switzerland or Tennessee?”
Amy laughed. “The Alps at my age? Have you lost your mind? You know, I can’t stand the cold anymore.”
“Tennessee it is.”
“Bren, give her another month and then we can leave if you want. Please.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Bren’s cell phone rang. “Hello.”
“It’s Donna, can I come over?”
“Sure, do you want Amy or me to come get you?”
“No, my parents are letting me use their second car until I get mine.”
“Ok, what time?”
“In an hour?”
“See you then.”
Bren shot into the living room. “SHE CALLED! SHE CALLED!”
Amy slapped his arm.”See, I told you she would come around.”
“She’ll be here in an hour.”
“You stink. Go get a shower and shave. I’ll lay some clothes out for you.”
Bren opened the door. “Hi, c’mon in. Amy made some cake.” He led her to the dining room.
“Donna, I don’t like it when he calls me grams in private because it’s silly. But I’d be proud if you would.”
Donna beamed. “Ok, Grams.”
Amy smiled. “Grab a seat and I’ll get your plates.”
Amy brought their plates. She gave Donna a hug. “I’ll be in my room if you need me.”
They ate in silence.
Bren spoke. “Why are you here?”
“I missed you. I’m sorry I punched you.”
He shrugged. “It’s ok. It hurt less than being shot. No harm was done.” He smiled. “I missed you, too.”
After a few more minutes of silence, Donna spoke. “Why are you so quiet?”
“I guess, I’m afraid of scaring you again. I don’t want you to leave.”
“I was scared. Once, I got over the shock I thought it out. You’ve never been mean to me and you’ve always respected me. When you think about it, it’s not that different than if I was dating one of my professors. He’d be a lot older and smarter than me. What’s important is that we care about each other and can trust one another.”
Donna held up her hand. “I’m not finished. You lied to me and I’m mad at you. If you ever lie to me again, I’m gone.”
“Lying is a necessity. It’s too dangerous for me to be open about myself.”
Donna’s eyes flared.
“Let me finish. I once spent two years as a prisoner in a lab.” He held up his left hand. “They would cut off my fingers and see how long it took for them to grow back. Eighteen hours, if you’re curious. I have to change identities every ten to fifteen years because I don’t age. I spend a ton of money to make sure I’m not traced. I’ve killed to protect my secret.”
Donna’s eyes popped open.
Bren winced. “I will never hurt you no matter who you tell.The point is, I lie and will continue to do so. I do promise that I will never lie to you in private again.”
She went to him. “Scoot out.” She sat in his lap and lowered her lips to his.
Bren pulled back. “Wait, I want you to know who you’re kissing. My birth name is Arnulf.”
He shrugged. “That’s it. When I was born most people didn’t have surnames. You were called by your city or your father’s name or job. So, I could be called Arnulf son of Alrich the baker or Arnulf of Nan.”
“Well, Arnulf of Nan, I need kissing.”
Donna spasmed and slumped against him.
“Do you still want me to be your first?”
“Uh-huh,” her head rested on his shoulder.
He carried her to his room. Now as he laid her on his bed, she stiffened. “What’s the matter, love?”
Bren touched his finger to her lips. “Shh ... there’s nothing to fear.” He stroked the outline of her jaw. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
She trembled. “I want to but, what if you don’t like it?”
Bren traced her ear as he spoke. “I love you. I want to be with you, just you.” His hand slid down the side of her neck, coming to rest between her breasts. The rapid beat of her heart pushed against his hand. He explored the curve of her breast with his thumb. “I want to touch you and be touched by you. I want to feel the heat of your skin against mine.” Bren slid his hand to the top button of her satin shirt and pulled it up. “May I?”
Donna bit her lip and nodded.
In slow reverence, He unbuttoned her shirt and spread it to the sides. With careful, gentle touches, Bren visited her ribs. He luxuriated in the smooth softness between them. He bent and planted tender kisses on her stomach, drawing a giggle. Donna laughed as Bren blew a strawberry into her belly button.
His lips climbed the hill of her lower rib cage, eliciting a sigh from her. As he topped the hill, he unsnapped her bra and slid his hands underneath the cups. Donna moaned as he fanned his spread fingers across her hard nipples. He felt her tense as his body began to cover her. He rolled over pulling her on top of him.
“Hi.” He whispered.
Donna ducked in for a kiss. Sitting up, she pulled at his shirt. Bren lifted his arms as she took it off. She pushed him back and laid down on him. “Is this what you want?”
He kissed her, pushing her shirt and bra down her shoulders and off of her arms. She moaned as his hands tunneled under her jeans and cupped her ass. She ground against him and deepened the kiss.
Bren broke the kiss and attacked the side of her neck, the slight taste of saltiness inflamed him. He pulled her hard against his erection, biting her shoulder. She groaned and sunk her teeth into his.
Donna twisted, turning them to their side. Her hands tore at his jeans.
“Slow down, savor it.”
She bit harder.