“You know this is going to hurt, right?”
Leila turns away from me and smiles. She inhales deeply, sucking in the night air, her face lifted towards the moonless sky. “Tonight’s the night, Lucky. Tonight’s the night we burn this fucker to the ground.”
My grip tightens on the gas can I hold in my left hand. I’m not nervous. I’m not scared. But I can feel my resolve loosen up a bit. It always does when Leila is around.
She let’s out a chuckle. Lights up a clove cigarette. Blows the spicy smoke in the air. “We may be young but it’s not like we have all the time in the world, Lucky.” She’s not being funny or ironic—just truthful. We are young. We are sick.
We are dying.
Leila takes another long drag. Passes the clove to me without thinking. She knows better. I don’t smoke. Aside from the obvious, it’s a revolting habit. Except when Leila smokes. When Leila smokes it’s like magic. It’s art. It’s poetry in its rawest form.
I take the clove from her. Place it between my lips simply because it touched hers. I don’t inhale but I cough anyway. Leila doesn’t freak out. Just stands behind me pounding her fists into my back. Breaking up the phlegm. I want to tell her to stop. That it’s not an “attack”. But she’s touching me. It’s in tiny little increments, but she’s touching me. To a dying man in love with a dying woman, this is everything in the world. So I let her beat me. I let her throttle my back with her tiny fists until I’m spitting up and we’re both gasping for air.
We stand in front of a condemned house, waiting for our breath to return. An orange sign poorly taped to the door flaps in the wind, waving us away. Leila picks up a gas can off the ground. Marches with purpose up the stairs. Ignores the warning sign. Uses a key to open the door. Disappears inside the house.
I’d be a fool not to follow.
Cap off, Leila is already lubricating the living room sofa and floor with gasoline when I get inside. “Tell me the joke again.”
“If you think breaking a mirror is seven years of bad luck, try breaking a condom.” Usually this is when she laughs that Leila Laugh that I love so much. Maybe she didn’t hear me? “If you think breaking a mirror—“
“It’s not funny, Lucky.” She’s suddenly serious. Leila is never serious. Leila is temperamental. Leila is rebellious. Leila is a lot of things. But serious isn’t one of them. She hands me her gasoline can. “You should be doing this. Not me.”
My eyes narrow. She’s ditching The Plan. She wants out. She’s rejecting me. “If you want out, Leila, the door is right behind you. But I’m doing this.”
The living room reeks and it’s hard to breathe. I move deeper into the house, liberally spilling gas down the carpeted hallway.
“Goddamn it, Lucky!” she cries out. She’s actually crying. I drop the can. Rush back to her. I want to be there to wipe her tears. I want to be there and hold her. I want to be. With. Her.
Leila’s cheeks are wet. She’s balancing on one leg; the beige prosthetic leg in her left hand, unlit Zippo lighter in her right “Have you thought this through?” She’s angry. Those are angry tears on those angelic cheeks. “I was given six weeks six fucking months ago. I’ve experienced more in this lifetime than you’ve experienced in a day. I’ve passed my expiration point. I’ve expired. I’m done living on borrowed time. What about you?”
“What about me? You gave me the can. Told me that I should be the one doing this anyway. Am I wrong?”
“There’s still hope for CF. There’s no cure for what I got.” I don’t like Serious Leila.
“If there was still hope for me we wouldn’t have met in a fucking hospice!” I hiss.
Leila nods her head. Smiles. Comes back to me. Her cheeks are still wet but she’s still beautiful. She drops the prosthetic to the floor. Lights the Zippo lighter. Stares in fascination at the flame. “Tell me something you’ve never done, Lucky. Something off of your Bucket List.”
Her eyes never meet mine. She blows out the flame. Hops over to the couch. I wish she would let me help her.
“I’m a 23 year old man who’s spent twenty-three years in and out of hospitals. There hasn’t been time for much. You know that. You want to tell me why you want to burn this house so badly?”
She shivers. “The couch is soaked. This really is gonna hurt, huh?” When I don’t answer she shrugs her shoulders. “It’s simple. Bad things happened here. I don’t want bad things to happen to anyone else in this house.”
“Is it yours?”
She looks at me. “Does it matter?”
“I’ve never kissed a girl,” I lie. She rolls her eyes. Takes the bait. Wiggles her fingers to beckon me to help her up. I’m ever so happy to oblige.
Leila smiles that Leila Smile that I love so much. “I want you to know I’m calling ‘bullshit’, but since we’re about to torch ourselves tonight it would be inappropriate to turn down the opportunity.”
She’s in my arms. We make for an unsteady pair. We’re swaying, almost like we’re dancing. “Lucky, I’m ready to go.” Leila gives me the lighter. I hold her close to me with one hand, the other outstretched, the lighter now lit. If there was ever a doubt in my mind why I agreed to such a stupid plan, this was it—this was the reason. For the chance to hold her in my arms. For the chance to kiss her. For the chance to maybe tell her that I love her.
“It’s time, Lucky,” she whispers. I toss the lighter onto the couch. It erupts into flames. Smoke fills the room. It hurts to breathe. Leila grabs my face with both hands. Presses her lips to mine. Slips her tongue in my mouth.
I don’t get to tell her I love her but I say it with my kiss. I say it by the way that I hold her. I say it with everything I have left to give. Flames flicker around us, searing our flesh and I can’t feel them and it doesn’t really matter because of my last moments.
Because my last moments are of Leila and me swaying, our lips pressed together, kissing for the very first and very last time.