“Just one more.” He said, chugging the rest of the can and tossing it into the corner.
“Mitchell, you’re killing yourself.” Nicki said. They were sitting across the table from one another, and Mitchell was already grabbing another can. “Seriously.”
“Nope. I’m invincible,” He smiled as he cracked it open. “I can feel my heart pounding. I gotta go run.” He tied his shoes, already on his feet, and sprinted off down the block.
This was day 21. The first day, Mitchell found a coupon in the mail for a free sample of Monster Energy Drink. Three weeks later, he was on can #115 and suddenly training for a marathon. Nicki could tell there was something different about him within the first week.
“Hey! How are you? What’s good? So good to see you!” He was nearly shouting at her when they met for lunch, his hands tapping the table.
“Hiiii, what’s going on?” Nicki squinted at him.
“Going on? Nothing. Hey!” The server had approached, and Mitchell greeted her with equal enthusiasm.
“Mitch.” Nicki said, after they had placed their order and were once again alone, save for the incessant tapping of Mitchell’s hands and feet. “Whatever this is, it isn’t going to bring her back.”
He looked at her, suddenly very still.
“Do you, though?” Nicki was squinting again. “I still don’t know what ‘this’ is.” She gestured at his hands, which had started their drum solo once again.
“It’s just energy drinks.” He protested. “It’s not like meth or coke or anything actually bad for you.”
Nicki wasn’t sure how to respond. Obviously he had a point, but obviously he had gone a little overboard.
“Okay, well feel free to tone it down.” Was all she could think to say.
Twenty days later, he clearly didn’t think that was necessary. Nicki thought she would wait for him to get back from his run before she would leave. She wanted to catch him at a “sober” moment. She looked out the kitchen window. It was a small window in a small room, the soft robins egg blue walls were faded and dirty. Mitch had bought this house four years ago with his wife Lisa, three months before her diagnosis. She passed away just six weeks later. Nicki and Mitch had actually dated a few years before he met Lisa, and Nicki sat at that kitchen table and wondered what things would look like if she had’t taken that job offer in Seattle. Just then Nicki caught a glimpse of his bright yellow windbreaker rounding the corner of the block.
The side door to the kitchen opened.
“Oh.” He said, catching his breath and shutting the door. “You’re still here.”
“Look.” Nicki said, standing. But when she looked at Mitch’s face, she stopped. “Take off your jacket.” She said, moving towards him.
“What, why?” He helped her remove the coat, confused.
“Your face is bright yellow from all that garbage. I thought it was the reflection of your wind breaker, but your skin is actually yellow.”
“Get outta here. I feel fine!” But he walked quickly into the bathroom to look in the mirror. “I’m sure it’s just–” He stopped. After a beat, he went back to the kitchen table. Nicki was standing there, keys in hand.
“Emergency room?”She asked.
The room was cold. Mitchell was curtained off in his own “room”, unnecessarily sequestered to a hospital bed on wheels. After a series of tests and fluids taken, Mitch and Nicki sat waiting.
“Next of kin?” They had asked, referring to Nicki.
“Yes” Mitch didn’t hesitate.
“Mr. Allan,” the doctor started talking the moment he walked into the room. “It seems you have acute hepatitis from such high intake of niacin and Vitamin B3. These ‘Monsters’ have really taken a bite out of you.” He chuckled at his own joke, then stopped and cleared his throat. “You need to stop drinking them, immediately. And stay away from them entirely from this point.”
Nicki didn’t feel the victory she thought she would. She had been right all along, and somehow it felt so shallow and inconsequential.
Mitch was silent as the doctor finished his spiel, silent as he was handed a thick packet of information, and silent as they walked out to Nicki’s green jeep. The sun had set, and the Arizona heat was settling into a more comfortable temperature. The drive back to his house was long and quiet.
“She never let me touch those stupid things when they first came out.” He said suddenly as they pulled up his driveway. “She said they’d give me cancer and she couldn’t handle it if I died before her.”
They sat silently together. Nicki tried to empathize, tried to make herself feel his pain. But all she felt was relief that it wasn’t her who died of pancreatic cancer four and a half months after her wedding day. Relief that she still got to see him, talk to him, touch his skin. And she felt awful about feeling this way. But she didn’t know how to stop it. So she found Mitch’s hand and held it with hers. The cold of his wedding band was sharp against her skin.