“So… did you mean it?”
I am halfway through chewing a bite of tender synthetic filet mignon, so it takes me a few seconds to swallow and reply.
“What you said before I moved out. You said if there was anything you could do to help me, to save me, you’d do it. Did you mean it?”
Peter’s dark eyes are sincere, his twitchy fingers suddenly still.
“Of course,” I reply, and his grin flashes before he’s pursing his lips, the candlelight giving him an angelic glow. His chemo-shriveled body looks so alive right now, like the weight he’s lost over the past three months just distilled his manic energy into a smaller, more wrinkled package.
“Of course, of course,” he repeats nervously. “You always mean what you say. Sorry, I didn’t mean to doubt—”
“Why are you asking?”
He pauses. “It’s just… I’ve been thinking. About us.”
“There is no ‘us’. It was your decision to cut things off after your diagnosis, not mine.”
“I know, I know…” He’s drumming his fingers again. A bony rat-tat-tat echoes beneath our table. “But I’ve realized something. You said that you couldn’t live without me.”
“But I told you that I could live without you.”
I feel a hard lump in my throat. “Yeah.”
He sighs. “So I have a way to make that happen.”
“Make what happen?”
He pulls a manila folder from the backpack beneath his seat and passes it across the table to me. I don’t open it.
“What is this?”
He nods encouragingly. “Go on, have a look. It’s some information about full body transplantation.”
“The science is legitimate. My doctor says that a year ago, he had a patient with my diagnosis receive a full body transplant from her mother. She’s still alive today.”
“And the patient’s mom?”
Peter’s face falls. “Dead after three months. Gene, I may have literally a week, two tops, left before I’m gone. But this is a chance for me to live. We’ve got the same blood type. You could give me your body.”
I stare at him. “You’re asking me to sacrifice my life to save yours.”
Peter looks away. “It’s awful, I know, it’s just, you said—”
“I know what I said.”
“So what I want to know is, was that just one of those lies you tell someone you love when they’re dying, or did you mean it?”
I stand up from the table and stare down at the manila folder. My mind flashes through summers of Maine beaches, of nights alone at his parents’ cabin playing footsie under the covers, of telling anyone who could listen “that’s my boyfriend!” as his band sped through a dizzyingly irreverent John Coltrane cover in a half-full club on homecoming weekend of junior year.
Did I mean it when I’d said I’d do anything to save him? Yes. When I’d uttered those words three months ago, tears coursing down my cheeks as I stared into his own misty eyes, I’d meant it. But the Peter sitting across from me isn’t the Peter I remember, my Peter. And I’m not the same romantic martyr I used to be.
“The man I’d have died to save would never ask me to do what you’re asking.”
Peter’s calls follow me out the door, into my car, and down the New Jersey turnpike, the echoes of a ghost.
Daniel James Peterson is a philosopher, writer, and nonprofit startup CEO living in Atlanta, Georgia. He teaches ethics at South Georgia State College and has published papers on a variety of topics from the philosophy of physics to the philosophy of education. More information on his educational nonprofit, Mind Bubble, can be found at mindbubble.org. This is his first fiction publication.