Padded walls. Foster stared at them just as he
had numerous times during the last dozen
weeks. Framed foam mats covered with teal-green
padding. They had always seemed out of place.
Until today. In this hospital’s special room, as the
doctors had shared their devastating news, Foster
now understood the purpose of the padded walls.
When all hope was lost, when life held no
control, a need surged to inflict harm to one’s self.
He wasn’t a violent person. But at such a heightened
moment, fury roared in his heart. Life’s rules had
changed, leaving him with a sense of unfairness.
Logic told him if he followed the ethics and
laws of living correctly, he should be spared from
Yet, here they were, the doctors leaving them
alone to process the latest news.
He clutched at her hand, staring at the padded
walls, the recent update feeling as if a knife had been
drawn against their throats.
Terminal. Stage IV liver failure. All the fighting
they had done over the last several weeks had led
only to defeat. In a slaughter of words, the team of
doctors had declared her fate as if there were no room
for negotiations, no alternatives, no place for hope.
It had always been Haizley and Foster. They had
grown together, from teenagers to adults. Identities
formed conjointly, so intertwined as to not be
separated. Married for fifteen years. Built a family
of four lively, incredible children. Established a life
of happiness. And now, they faced this.
Since the doctors left, Foster hadn’t been able
to speak. It was Haizley who broke the silence. “I
should get back to my room.”
He shifted to look at the form next to him
which no longer resembled his wife, the yellowing
skin, the bloated body from toxins which couldn’t
find a way out. An orange scarf covered her head,
reminding him that the vibrant blond—the same
looks and energy that had been passed down to the
kids—was gone. Instead, this struggling woman’s
nucleus centered around the schedule of her pain
“We don’t give up.” He looked directly into her
warm hazel eyes.
“I think the doctors want us to prepare.”
“No.” He focused again on the padded walls.
Together, they would challenge this. He would
continue searching for an alternative for them. “We
will keep fighting.” Because she was the rock, the
foundation, the central love within their home.
And the fun! She brought the life, the laughter, the
adventures, whereas Foster could easily live inside
his head. Problem-solving. Looking for ideas and
fixes through science. “There has to be a solution,
and we keep searching until we find it.”
The grip of her hand tightened. Even in her
weakness, he felt her strength fighting through. “We
need to prepare. That’s what they’re telling us. It’s
time, Foster, to prepare for what’s ahead.”
If he looked back at her, the physical transformation
of her body would validate the doctors’
damning prognosis. It would speak that death was
close ahead, so he delayed.
“I want my final days to be focused on the
memories we built,” she said. “The life we’ve had.”
Her other hand stacked on top of his. “We’ve had a
good life, Foster.”
At last, he twisted back to meet her eyes. “What
if there is another option?”
“No.” Her head shook slightly. “I’m tired. I just
want what time is left to relive the good.”
“Let’s get you back,” he said quietly, releasing
their intertwined hands as he stood. He unlocked the
brakes of her wheelchair. But instead of proceeding,
he just stared at the walls, wondering if punching
them, banging his head on them, throwing a temper
tantrum against them would actually help the pain
“We find the resilience we need by holding on to
the good,” she spoke softly into his thoughts. “So,
share with me your memories. Let’s find ways now
to live our best moments together. Again.”
While listening to Haizley’s words, Foster
headed toward these framed foam mats with their
teal-green padding. They reminded him of the high
school gym where he would rough house with
friends as they teased him over his quiet crush. Two
years of watching her, until his friends pressured
him to ask her out. In fact, it was in that gym where
he had shared his first kiss with her.
Suddenly a slew of memories hit Foster, the
music they shared, car rides, hanging out at the
beach, surfing together. One of his greatest, happiest
moments refueled him, their love of the ocean as she
rode the waves next to him and her reassuring smile.
When she offered him that smile, he knew all would
be right in the world.
More of the big life memories followed: their
wedding, their early married years as they worked
to both get through school. Then the kids, Clark,
Rex, Kate, and now little Cormac. Each addition
bringing Foster even greater joy.
He pressed a fist into the padding, slow, and
firm. He couldn’t save her, but what if he could find
a way to share with her the life she had given him?
From his perspective, all the memories. From his
experiences, all the joy she had given him.
“I want to give you my memories,” he said,
looking past the dying body to a woman so full of life.
“I want that.” She smiled and he saw it, that
youthful smile in the waves, the moment when he
fully knew he loved her.
He could practically hear it now, her teenage
laughter. Certainly, he could easily hear her
laughter with the children. Running circles around
the couches, the games of tag, the boys jumping off
the furniture, the whole family making forts. The
laughing. They all had been laughing.
Sharing each other’s memories—Foster
approached this notion like another puzzle to be
solved. She took the painkillers to redirect the pain.
So, what if her mind took in a different perception,
something that countered the body’s message of
pain? What if he could be the source sending that
different message to her mind? Redirecting the
neurons, replacing them with a different flow of
information, his flow, the memories he carried of her.
“Foster!” Her voice cut into his brainstorming.
He looked over at her while his mind still fired
rapidly over the idea, the realization that his recent
lab work already had something thinly like this
underway, the neuron communication, the redirecting.
Sure, it was a ways off, and entirely different,
but it was a launching point, a place to begin.
He now saw her concern, that slight sadness she
sometimes gave him, a look of confusion or uncertainty
when he became too lost in his inventive
mind. “My sum,” she said quietly, her nickname for
him penetrating through the protective room. “Stay
“It’s just an idea. A solution to a need.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“How science could help you. Help us.”
“I will always believe you are the best
biochemist. And that the world has yet to recognize
your greatness. But . . .” she slowly shook her head,
“I don’t need you to fix anything right now. I just
need you to stay with me.”
He nodded, aware of what she was asking, but
also aware of the idea which was growing in his
mind. An idea that spurred hope. And hope dulled
If he could invent something to help her right
now then he could be an active participant in giving
her life through her final days, rather than a passive
observer. He could find a way. And he would do it.
He would give Haizley his memories. Show her the
life she had given him.
“Yes, love.” He would find her a solution.
Her fingers clutched round the handle of the
second-hand briefcase, a prop to appear more
confident since there was hardly anything inside. A
decade-old tablet that could hardly hold a charge,
her wallet with a debit card to access her nearly
empty bank account, and a credit card that represented
a black cloud of debt which swirled around
her, plus the tattered manila folder with a crisp
physical copy of her resume took up very little space
in the attaché.
She had already sent a digital copy to the
company, the descriptive outline of her past employment
phrased in such a way to downplay her absence
from the working world for the past seven years.
The company had contacted her and requested an
interview. They were the first to respond in her
unsuccessful attempts to find employment.
In this case, it helped she’d been referred by
Frank. When she told him a reference could only
carry her so far, Frank had responded with, “I dare
say you show up, impress them, and you’ll have
the job.” She needed his confidence. His optimism
that this all would work out okay. The rest of his
words hung with her now, “Even if the income is
humbling, it’s a start, Mariana. A landing spot for
you right now.”
She entered the lobby of the four-story building
and skimmed the list of labs, most of them tied in
with UCLA Extension, until she found Room 430.
She’d spoken with an Ashyr Harmon on the phone,
but the name Brody Daniels stared back at her.
Funny, she didn’t even know the company’s name.
She should have asked Frank for more details.
He said he’d told her all he knew, but she should
have pressed. She should have researched more.
The former Mariana would have done that. But
right now, forward-thinking wasn’t her strength.
Rather, she took one day at a time, coping along,
still processing the current state of her life.
She punched at the elevator button, and,
while waiting, caught herself in the reflective
mirrors. Mariana had never pictured this. Her in a
pressed suit, her coarse hair curled and sprayed to
perfection. Her makeup applied to imply a professional-
cute-yet-assertive look. All so she could land
this job, whatever it was.
She trusted Frank. Which was good because she
desperately needed this job.
The longer Mariana waited for the elevator doors
to open, the longer her eyes watched themselves in the
reflection until she saw the creeping of a tear surface.
She wasn’t a crier.
But with each passing day, her appreciation for
Frank and his wife, Jocelyn, continued to grow, the
gratitude surfacing now in the form of tears.
They had been the first to arrive at the scene.
Frank, who had been the one to call Mariana. Who
had hugged Mariana when she’d arrived. Who told
Mariana that she and the children would be okay.
All while she stared at the truck fractured against
the thick oak.
The elevator beeped. Her reflection she’d been
staring at separated as the doors opened. She stepped
inside, punched the number four, and tried to push
the memory out.
She had until the elevator reached the top to
pull herself together. To recite, for the hundredth
time, that it was a tree, not another car, not another
human’s life. Only Zane’s life.
As she felt the floor lift beneath her feet, Mariana
recalled Frank and Jocelyn joining her as she gathered
her four-year-old son and three-year-old daughter to
share the only story they needed to hear. Their dad
was reaching for his morning bagel. A bagel like he
always ate for breakfast as he headed into work. It’d
been like every other normal moment, except he’d
reached down to pick up his bagel that had fallen to
the floor of the cab, only to run off the road.
Of course, the lie was stupid. At their ages, Zane
Jr. and Caroline knew no different. But the lie was as
much for herself as for the children.
A bagel had been found a few yards from the
Which meant that when the intoxication reports
came back, Mariana could ignore them. Like she
could ignore the previous night’s spat. She didn’t
have to hold onto it, or their exploding collection
of fights, or the fact that he’d left that night and not
Instead, he’d gotten ready for work that morning
somewhere else. Drove to work from a different
base. And found a bagel from someone else’s home.
The bagel had led him off the road. Nothing else.
When Mariana stepped out of the elevator and
headed down the hall to Room 430, she tried to put
all that behind her. Zane’s meager life insurance,
which only covered the funeral arrangements. Or
Zane’s words if he saw her now dressed in this
tight porcelain suit. He’d probably comment on her
flabby stomach or remind her that wrinkles were
forming around her eyes or that her face didn’t smile
He’d be furious that she’d bought the outfit from
the meager funds they’d been saving for a vacation
When she reached Room 430, she hesitated
at the closed door. Nervous butterflies made her
jittery. The tears, which she had forced back, still
seemed too close to the rim. Frank had said it was
a startup company. For what, she didn’t know. All
she knew was she needed a new startup in her own
life, a change from the hard-up widow she now was,
severed from a marriage that had needed to break
Zane’s death had left her young family in a mess;
and it was up to her to get them out of it. It was
this hope, found within this potential job interview,
which would help to heal the pain.
She knocked on the door to hear a, “Come on
in.” When she did, she found a large open room
that resembled more of a frat house than a business
Folding tables with laptops and banker boxes
lined the perimeter of the room. Books, file folders,
and pizza boxes, lots of pizza boxes lay scattered
about. Gigantic post-its with an assortment of
scribbles and diagrams covered the walls. Two card
tables with folding chairs occupied the center of the
A man with a dark ponytail, glasses, and scruff
around his face waved a hand at her. “Hey.”
The other man, sitting opposite at the card
table, with overgrown dusty blond hair and a bit of
a shaggy goatee twisted his head to stare at her.
Neither said anything but kept their eyes fixed
“Am I in the right place?” Her eyes circled the
The dark ponytail guy jumped up, revealing
his red tattered t-shirt and pale blue jeans. The
t-shirt read Geeky is the New Sexy. “Hey, yeah. I’m
Ashyr.” He stepped forward, extending a hand at
her. “Ashyr Harmon.”
She shook the sweaty palm, then carefully slid
her hand down the hip of her ivory suit to wipe
away the moisture.
The blond stood, revealing a pale pink t-shirt
with the image of a surfer walking out into a sunset.
He too raised a welcoming hand. “Foster Grady.”
He gave her a firm handshake and she met his eyes,
a nice dark, soft blue.
She drew in a tight breath. She could do this.
This interview. This job. Whatever this job was.
Although the lab smelled like the trash needed to be
taken out, she tried not to wrinkle her nose as she
said, “Mariana Diaz.”
“Great. Great.” Ashyr motioned her toward the
card table. “Here. Have a seat.”
The three all sat, cozy around the table. The two
men held their tablets close, almost pressed against
their chests. When neither spoke again, Mariana
tried to fill the void. “So, I don’t really know what
this company is. I mean . . .”