A Fair Exchange (Flash Fiction)

Bob exited the small room and was immediately approached by his publicist. “Bob, I’m sorry” he said. “The media caught wind, and instead of trying to make some dramatic escape, I told them that we’d allow a small press conference. I know that’s not what you originally wanted, but I think it would be best.”

Bob nodded. “That’s fine, Brian. Thank you. Where are they now?”

“Just this way. The family was adamant that no press members come inside the house, so we setup a makeshift conference room in their garage.”

Brian led Bob through the kitchen, passed a smiling and thankful family where another round of hugs and handshakes were shared, and through an old door that led to an outside garage. When they entered, the bright lights and clicking cameras greeted them. Before the commotion could even get started, Brian interjected.

“Stay calm, everyone. Stay calm. Please remember that we had no intention of doing any kind of conference. Bob is upset enough as it is that any of this even leaked out. So please, keep this very short and to the point. We didn’t do this for publicity and the more it spreads the more of a stunt it becomes.”

Bob smiled and patted his assistant on the shoulder. “It’s okay, Brian.” He scanned the room. There were four different reporters there, and he recognized two of them. “Hey there, Catherine.”

Catherine smiled. “How is she?”

“She’s great,” Bob said. “Clean bill, full recovery, the whole deal. It really is a miraculous story.”

“You certainly did your part in making that miracle come true,” said Catherine.

Bob smiled. “I don’t know about that. I’m kind of like the maid who is doing some cleaning up after.”

Another reporter spoke up, one Bob did not recognize. “Are you willing to give us a quick rundown on how this all happened? How you came to be involved?”

Brian gave Bob a stern look, one that a mother gives to a young child that’s been told no far too many times and is once again trying his luck. Bob laughed. “Calm down, Brian,” he said. “It’s important to clear the air. Our little plan to keep this anonymous has pretty much failed at this point.” His assistant stepped aside and Bob took control of the room.

“It’s more or less one of those viral internet stories,” said Bob. “Susanne’s been one of my biggest fans for years. Apparently she stood in line for over seven hours for an autograph once. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I don’t remember.”

The reporters chuckled, and the cameras clicked.

“Anyway, when she got sick, one of her friends decided to make some video to help her out, to raise money. They mentioned how she was a big fan of mine, and one thing led to another, as it always seems to on the internet, and Brian ended up hearing about it. He showed the video to me, and I was touched. Here’s this beautiful young girl who’s confronted with dying far too young and she’s reaching out for help. Of course I wanted to.”

“Was there anything that—”

“Okay,” Brian said, cutting the reporter off. “We’re not going to get into a lot of details here. You heard the short and sweet. I’ll give you guys one more question.”

Those in the room looked around momentarily.

“What did she say?” asked another reporter.

Bob swallowed and shifted his weight from foot to foot. Cameras clicked. “She didn’t say anything,” he said. “She just hugged me.”

The reporter’s eyebrow raised a touch. “And that was it?”

“No,” Bob said. “That wasn’t it.” He stared at the reporter until her smug little eyebrow settled back down. “She hugged me in a way that I’ve never been embraced before. Not in my entire time on this Earth. Not by my mother, not by my wife or children or best friend.” His eyes scanned the small room, and more cameras clicked. “She held me in her arms and wept as though I was God himself, come down just for her. She wept like a person who has spent an eternity in the darkness and I was the first person to show her a small ray of light. She poured herself into my chest,” he said, slightly opening his sport coat to show the wet spots from her tears, “and made me feel something I don’t think can be explained. Gratitude, gratefulness, joy, love, these words…” he said, trailing off. “These words are so insignificant.”

The room waited in silence.

“Earlier, one of you asked me,” Bob continued, “how much I paid. How much all of her medical bills amounted to. It was a little over two hundred-grand. Now to some people that may seem like a little, to others a lot. All I know is that it was a bargain,” he said, suddenly disrupted by a jolt of emotion. “It was a bargain for me to pay that much and experience what I felt tonight.” His throat tightened, and his calm eyes tinged red. “There was something very primitive, very fundamental to human exist that was exchanged between us. That young lady poured her soul, her entire existence into my heart in that embrace and gave me a feeling I never knew could be felt. She may be grateful to me for what I’ve done, but I’ll never forget this feeling, not ever.” His eyes, filled to the brim, could withstand the onslaught no longer, and quiet tears rolled down his strong face.

“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” he said, and the cameras spasmed with clicks.

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