Leighton’s Last Birthday

Leighton Carter knew her death was imminent. Her oncologist was a very practical man, while optimistic at times, it was near the end now and nothing he could do would save her.

Leighton resented the way people spoke to her in these soft whispers. It made her feel like a baby, the way they cooed at her. I wish someone would talk to me like the adult I am, instead of speaking to me as though I’m an infant! Nothing and no one could console her. She wished for her mother’s company more than anyone, but her mother lost her own battle with lymphoma many years ago.

Just for one week, Leighton didn’t want to think about dying. She didn’t want to count out pills, stare blankly as needles jab her, smell the hospital, listen to robotic doctors or beeping machines next to her uncomfortable hospital bed, be probed by nurses, and certainly not wait for any more test results. Results that without fail always shout the same thing: INOPERABLE. Leighton, my dear, you are sure out of luck.

The most ironic thing of all is that Leighton’s birthday was coming up next Friday. If she lived that long she would be 30 years old on May 5. Every day was a constant count down. Will I make it to see 30? Could I pass away the day I turn 30 and the headlines read, ‘Young Woman Dies of Cancer on her 30th Birthday’ or ‘Birthday/Death Day,’ the possible headlines are endless.

After pondering over other morbid headlines, Leighton thought about throwing herself a 30th birthday party. How about Vegas with girlfriends? No, luck never seems to be on my side. Dancing in the city? No, too strenuous. I won’t have the energy. Maybe a last minute flight to Paris? I never have seen the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame or the Louvre… that’s it! Paris! I’m going!

So on April 30, Leighton blew off all the calls that came in from her doctor’s. She tidied up her small studio apartment the best she could and then disappeared to her storage room. She came back with a large black suitcase that was covered in a thick layer of dust. Ever since her diagnosis three years ago, she had not gone anywhere, let alone flown to Paris! Leighton pulled out dresses, shorts, tank tops, and jeans; all of her favorite spring pieces and folded them carefully before placing them in her suitcase.

She gathered all of her best jewelry including a gold heart-shaped locket, which once belonged to her mother. Inside held two tiny pictures of her mother. One was of her in her twenties and the other of her in her sixties, the year before she died. The locket meant so much to Leighton. It was her absolute most prized possession and she loved running her fingers over the gold heart and the sound the locket made when she clasped it shut. It was the last little piece of her beautiful mother, her best friend and confidant. She placed everything in a black satin jewelry roll, except for the locket, which she delicately draped around her neck. I love you, momma.

Leighton finished packing and glanced over her apartment for anything else she may have forgotten. Passport, suitcase filled with clothes, shoes, jewelry, and toiletries, Kindle, iPhone, charger, purse, raincoat, and journal. She called her bank to let them know she would need to use her debit and credit cards in France. After making a few other calls, everything seemed to be in order.

A taxi arrived and off to Los Angeles International Airport Leighton went. The taxi driver was a friendly old man, who tried to make small talk, but Leighton’s mind was on other things. I can’t believe I am doing this! I want to do this. No regrets. You can stay here suffering and miserable, Leighton, or you can spend your 30th birthday living your life. Everything French intrigues you… the art, architecture, food, fashion, history, people…you owe it to yourself, go get on that plane! People whizzed by in taxis, everyone eager to reach the airport. LA was alive and bustling with energy. The sun was shining down with the promise of another spring and summer to follow. Leighton’s grey-blue eyes grew wide with excitement and anticipation.

Once Leighton made it to her gate for Air France, she sat down and let out a deep sigh of relief. She gently pulled her gold necklace out from under her shirt and opened the locket. She looked down at her mother’s pictures and felt she wasn’t alone. Can you believe it, Mom? I am going to Paris! I’m going to turn 30 years old in Paris! I love you, Mom. No matter what happens to me, just know how much I love you.

When Leighton’s eyes fluttered open ten hours later, she felt peace knowing she had landed safely at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Everything was a bit blurry, so she closed her eyes again as the plane taxied to its gate. In the background, she couldn’t quite hear the sounds of the nurses shuffling around her, checking her heart monitors and whispering “poor, precious girl” amongst herself. “She keeps calling for her mother and talking about Paris,” one nurse said to the other with a compassionate look.

Leighton was deeply dreaming about walking the Parisian streets with a café au lait in one hand and a baguette in the other. She devoured all the sights, sounds, and people as she strolled. A beautiful flower shop called Cler Fleurs on Rue Cler caught her eye. There were roses, peonies, tulips, lilies, orchids, and her mother’s beloved white chrysanthemums, which symbolize truth and loyal love. Leighton leaned over the chrysanthemums and breathed in the delicate floral scent that so reminded her of her mother. You are forever a part of me and I will forever be a part of you. Until we meet again.

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