"Happy Birthday, Jessie!"
Jessica blew out the eighteen candles on the cake her mother set in front of her, and smiled at the three people who meant the most to her in all the world--her parents and Jeremy. How different this birthday was from the one the year before. Before her kidneys had failed. "The cake's beautiful, Mom."
She knew her mother had slaved for hours to create a cake that could be incorporated into her diet. She couldn't have much of it, and truthfully she wasn't even hungry, but she was determined to let her mother know how much she appreciated her effort. Especially now that Dr. Witherspoon had told them that neither parent could donate a kidney to her. They'd felt so awful about it.
"You should start a bakery, Ruth," her father said. "The recipes you come up with are sensational."
Her mother sent him a smile. "When this is over, I'll never think
about cooking again. We'll eat every meal out after Jessie's better."
Jessica knew her mother had high hopes that the doctors would find her a donor kidney. Jessica was less optimistic.
"Open your presents," Jeremy said eagerly.
He's been acting peculiar all day. Sort of antsy, as if he were a time bomb waiting to explode.
Jessica longed to really join the party. She wanted so much to please all of them. But she felt awful. Her dialysis the day before hadn't gone well. Her fistula had begun to clot, and now she was on bloodthinning medication and antibiotics. Her arm was sore. And already edema, swelling, had started in her ankles and feet. "Who's first?" she asked.
"Mine last," Jeremy said, snatching away the small box.
"Try ours." Her father handed her a narrow box wrapped with pink paper and a purple ribbon.
She tore open the paper and eased the top off the box. A glittering gold charm bracelet lay on a bed of white cotton. She caught her breath. "It's gorgeous!"
"Do you like it?" her mother asked. "We've already chosen a charm and thought we could add one for every special occasion."
A solid gold "18" dangled from the delicate chain of double links.
"It's perfect. You know I've always wanted one. Thanks so much."
"When you graduate, you'll get another charm."
The ceremony was scheduled for Friday night in the civic auditorium. Jessica had her robe and mortarboard and at the ceremony would receive her diploma and tassel. If
she felt up to walking across the stage.
"Don!" her mother admonished. "You weren't supposed to tell her. It was a surprise."
Her father blinked sheepishly. "Oops."
Jessica giggled. "I'll act surprised when I open it. Promise." She turned to Jeremy. "Well, are you going to let me have my present?"
He held out the box.
"It sure is small," she said teasingly.
"Big surprises come in small packages."
She unwrapped it and discovered another charm. This one was a bright gold kidney bean. "This is unusual."
He grinned. "It's not what it is, it's what it represents that's important."
"A bean? You think I'm full of beans?" She was having fun teasing him, watching his cheeks flush red.
"No. It's a kidney." He took a deep breath. "My kidney. I've already talked to Dr. Witherspoon about donating one of my kidneys to you."
For a stunned moment, no one spoke. Then everyone spoke at once.
Her mother started crying. "It's a miracle. An answer to prayer."
Her father gasped and began to bombard Jeremy with questions. "What? How? Are you sure?"
Jeremy held up his hands. "Wait a minute. I can't answer all of you at once." He grasped Jessica's hands and gazed lovingly into her eyes. "You first."
She was overcome with emotion; large tears pooled in her eyes. "You're the most wonderful person in the world, Jeremy." She swallowed against the lump of gratitude in her throat. "I appreciate your offer more than words can say. But I can't take your gift, Jeremy. I simply can't."