I missed it. I missed my chance.
In my short 25 years of life, I had been shot, electrocuted, poisoned, I’d walked away from 5 car accidents, and have otherwise been damaged in so many ways that I am uncertain as to weather the pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica could accommodate the tales. Needless to say, the doctors all know me by name, now.
Alone in my dark apartment, I reflected on my latest misfortune – a deadly reaction to a combination of medicines that were Supposed to relieve my pain. If my sister hadn’t dropped by that awful morning, I would have simply continued to sleep… and never woken up.
“Perhaps they were working after all.” I mumbled to myself.
Don’t get me wrong.
I didn’t want to kill myself. Life wasn’t that bad. But if the first 25 years were any indication of what was to come, I was afraid that I might have missed my only chance to die peacefully in my sleep. I was certain, in that moment, that my destiny was to live a long 125 years of life, filled with pain and suffering, the end of which would be brought about by the blazing inferno of a car accident, where I would be burned alive before rescue workers arrived.
“I’m such a drama queen…” I laughed to myself as I rolled over.
My head was still pounding at every little noise and movement. But I was alive. And despite the pain, I had decided that every morning that I wake up is a good morning.
I pushed myself up slowly, my arms aching from the needles that had been poking me the day before. As I shuffled to the bathroom, I realized how weak I was. I’d lost 15 pounds in 2 days from the war that had raged within my body. I couldn’t help but think that I looked like a vampire when I saw myself in the mirror… barely a hint of color in my skin in contrast to the dark brown hair that fell almost to my waist.
I heard the front door open and a familiar voice call down the hallway.
“Grace? Are you up yet?”
There was a hint of fear in her voice… I couldn’t blame her… the day before, she had come to pick me up on the way to work and found me looking like a corpse.
“In the bathroom!” I called out weakly. She wasn’t able to hear me, but it didn’t matter. She would eventually see the light. I wanted her to know I was alive, though, so I flushed the toilet.
When she got to the door, I was squeezing some toothpaste onto my toothbrush. I heard her gasp as she looked me over.
“You feeling any better?” she asked quietly.
I saw the concern in her eyes. I nodded slowly, took a breath, and answered, “I vant to suck your blood,” in the best Dracula voice I could muster up.
I could see her nerves calm as she laughed. “I’ll take that as a good sign, I suppose.”
I dropped the lid to the toilet and sat down to brush my teeth.
She looked at me with an odd expression I’d never seen before, and walked over to me. As I took the toothbrush from my mouth to ask her what was up, she reached out somewhat hesitantly and touched my shoulder. Now I was the one with concern in my eyes as I looked quizzically to my sister.
I had a difficult time trying not choke or spit my mouthful of toothpaste into her hair as she sobbed and dropped to her knees to hug me tightly.
“I was so scared you were dead! You were so cold! And I couldn’t tell if you were breathing, and… and-” Her words were cut off by tears.
My eyes were watering. Half because of the abundance of emotion shared between us, and half because the toothpaste was burning as it began to trickle down my throat.
I didn’t want to push her away, but I had to do something before I choked. I looked around desperately. The bathtub would have to do. She jumped back when I spit.
“Oh! Oh no… I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” Her words trailed off into tears again.
I sat my toothbrush on the sink and pulled her close to me again. She was red with embarrassment, but I was glad to hear her laughing with me.
“It’s ok, Sara. It’s ok…” I realized as I held her that the experience had been far more traumatizing for her than it was for me. After all, I wasn’t awake for the majority of it, and when I was awake, I certainly wasn’t coherent. “Thank you.” I held her for a few more minutes as we both sniffed back tears. I kissed her on the head. “Thank you for everything.”
She helped brush my hair and fixed me some breakfast. As I was sipping on my mango smoothie, she was bustling about, cleaning dishes and throwing loads of laundry together.
“Don’t you have to work today?”
“Are you kidding me? You’ll never change will you. Steve said I could have the week if I want it.”
“Sara, no…. No. Look. I’m going to be sleeping most of the day anyway. I’ll be fine. You know that place will fall apart without you. You can call and check on me, if it makes you feel better. But I’ll feel horrible if you keep this up!” I gave her the most determined look I could force upon her. She started to protest, but I wouldn’t hear it. “You’re already my hero. I love you. And I know you love me. But if you lose the Stenson account, it’ll be because of me and I’ll Never forgive myself.”
She frowned at me for a moment, looking at me as though she thought she would never see me again… But that soon faded as she knew I would refuse to rest until she complied.
“Fine. But I’ll be sending someone over to check on you for lunch.”
“Sara… I’m 25… I think I can handle lunch on my own.”
“Nice try. But I’m 27 and I love you. So get over it. Besides. I think you’ll enjoy the visit.”
We stared off for a moment, and I knew that this would be my best offer.
“Fine.” I replied. “Mmm. But for dinner, you have to stop and get greek, ok?”
“Fine.” She said sternly, but with a smile.
She helped me to bed and tucked me in. “I’ll be back by around 6:30. Call me if you need anything.” She kissed me on the cheek and stroked my hair. I heard the door close as I was already slipping away into peaceful slumber.
It was still dark in my room, but I felt someone else was close by, watching me.
“Hey Grace…” came the reply. My eyes shot open, and I searched the darkness. I could distinguish a figure sitting in a chair that must have been brought in from the kitchen. The shadow leaned over towards the bed and lifted my hand towards it’s face. I could feel tears on my fingers as they came to rest against a soft cheek.
“Jessica?” I gasped. I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath.
Even in the dark I could see her figure shaking with sobs.
“Jess… What… But…” My stomach clenched into a thousand knots as I couldn’t find any words to fill the darkness.
We had been best friends for many years. We met just before high school, and stayed fast friends through our sophomore years of college. Through college she had always been hooking up with all the wrong guys. And one after another, they had used her and thrown her away. I begged her not to date them. Then, at the beginning of our Junior year, she met a guy named Britt. He was a marine, and I hated him from the start. I knew that he was going to kill her with that temper of his. But she “loved” him, and they got engaged. He eventually gave her an ultimatum to choose between her old life and him. So she cut off ties with everyone but her family and moved to Florida with him. I hadn’t heard from her in 4 years.
“Grace don’t hate me… please… Grace I should have listened to you. And I didn’t. And I chose him, but I shouldn’t have, I left everyone behind. And I thought I’d never see you again, but yesterday… Oh yesterday…” She couldn’t talk any more through her tears.
My mouth was opening and closing, but no words were coming out.
She took a deep breath and swallowed. After a moment, her words were quiet, and shaking, as she tried to speak through her tears.
“I was at the hospital when they brought you in.” I was more confused now than ever. “I had just eaten breakfast with my brother, and was dropping him off, when I saw Sara.” Her breath was in gasps when she drew in air. “She was crying and crying, and when she saw me, she just walked over and collapsed into me and said your name over and over. ‘Grace, it’s Grace.'” She stopped for a moment to breathe.
I felt the grip on my hand grow stronger, but as she spoke again, her voice was steady.
“We held each other and cried for a while. Then a doctor came and said that Sara could go in and see you. But you weren’t awake. And the doctor wouldn’t let me in…” She sobbed again as she said, “I prayed and prayed that you wouldn’t die until I could tell you…”
It was my turn to cry now. My chest was heaving. I was beginning to feel guilty for my thoughts earlier that morning.
“Come here” I squeaked weakly through my tears.
She collapsed onto the bed beside me in heavy sobs. We just held each other and cried. I was so glad to have her back again. When she left, I felt like I had lost part of my soul. And as I laid there, holding her, I felt like my heart would explode with joy and sorrow all at once. Sorrow for the pain I knew she must have experienced while she was away, and joy to have her home again.
We laid like that for an eternity until my breath grew deep and sleep overtook me once again.
I woke with a start. There was no one there. My bed was empty. No chair. No Jessica. Tears started to well in my eyes. Had I just dreamed it all?
Just then I heard someone clinking around in the kitchen. I jumped out of bed (and when I say “jumped”, I mean “moaned-and-groaned-and-forced-myself-up-at-the-lightning-speed-of-a-three-toed-sloth”) and waddled down the hall towards the kitchen with all of the speed and elegance of a crippled penguin.
My heart dropped a bit. “Hey Sara.”
“Hey Chica. How you feeling?
I stared at the refrigerator for a moment before answering.
“I’m feeling a little bit better.”
“Good! Looks like you’ve got a little more energy, too.”
“Yeah…. Hey. I’m gonna pee. But I’ll be right back.”
When I came back and sat down, we ate as we chatted about her day at work, and how the water cooler had accidentally been tipped over by the UPS guy.
Sara was quiet for a moment, as she smiled at me expectantly.
“How was lunch?”
“Lun-” E-Gads! It Wasn’t a dream! “JESSICA!”
Sara laughed. “She said that she wasn’t sure if you were going to remember talking to her.”
“Jessica… I thought I was dreaming. I was… she left… She didn’t….” I just started laughing, but this time with a bit of sadness.
“I knew you weren’t going to mind. She had to go into the city to pick up her mom from the airport, but she’ll be back around tomorrow.
Sure enough. She was back in the morning. She wound up staying with me for 3 days as she helped nurse me back to health. We talked and talked like we had never been apart. It wasn’t until that third day, however, that we spoke of the last 4 years, and the day at the hospital.
I looked up at her from the computer, where I had been catching up on some work. She looked as though she were afraid to hold my gaze, and I knew instantly where she was going.
“Jess, look. You don’t have to explain anything to me. You loved him. You followed your heart. That’s more than most people do in their lives, and no matter how much I missed you, I could never be mad at you for that. I’m just sorry it didn’t work out.”
She furrowed her eyebrows at this. I guess that isn’t where she was going after all.
“That isn’t it.”
Yeah. See? Not where she was going.
“Never mind.” She said quietly as she obviously had just lost her nerve. She didn’t look at me as she got up to go to the bathroom.
My heart fell into my stomach as she shut the door behind her. It was weird, but it felt like she was leaving me all over again. I told myself that it was ridiculous to have thought that and closed the laptop. I walked over to the love seat and flopped across it, telling myself that I would let Jessica speak to me when she was ready to, and I wouldn’t put any more words in her mouth.
After a few minutes, the bathroom door opened and I heard her walk into the room. She stopped when she saw that I had moved to where she had been sitting, and then laid across the couch with her head at the end closest to mine.
We both pulled the throw blankets off of the backs of our respective seats, and snuggled up underneath them. We didn’t look at each other. We laid there in silence for what seemed to me an hour. Finally, just as I was starting to drift off, she spoke again.
“I didn’t follow my heart.”
I turned to look at her in confusion, but she didn’t look at me.
“Before you said you weren’t mad at me because I followed my heart, but I didn’t.”
I looked back away, because I sensed that it made it more difficult for her to talk with me staring at her.
“All those guys in college… you begged me not to date them. And Britt… He was so cut, so handsome… The perfect specimen of manhood. You said they were wrong for me. All of them. You had no idea how right you were, then.”
I was biting my lip. I knew that she needed to say this, but I knew it was hurting her to relive it. I wanted to hug her and tell her that everything was ok. But I waited. And listened.
She turned to look at me, but I didn’t look, because I knew she would stop. “I left Britt 2 years ago.”
At this my breath caught in my throat. 2 years?? She had 2 Years?!? I could feel my face flush as anger and pain pounded through my veins with each beat of my heart. How could she have not come home? Why hadn’t she called me? Why? Was she ashamed? She should have known better… She should have called…
“I didn’t finish telling you what I prayed for in the hospital.”
I had to say something before I screamed.
“You said that you prayed that I would live until you could tell me you’re sorry. And you did that… And I forgive you. And you….. you should have called me…” My heart was breaking. I was crying now. Tears were running freely down my face.
“NO, Grace…” She slid from the couch and knelt beside my head. She bent her head down so that her forehead was resting on mine, allowing her tears to fall on me.
“I prayed that you wouldn’t die until I could tell you… tell you…” She pulled her face back until she could look plainly into my eyes. “…tell you I love you.”
My mind could not wrap around the words that just slipped from those lips. My heart stopped. I thought I would explode.
Maybe now I was dying.
I could almost hear her heart breaking as she spilled her soul to me at that moment.
“I didn’t follow my heart, Grace. I ran from it.” She put her hands on my face, wiping my tears. “I loved You. Grace. I loved you. But I couldn’t. I would lose you. You would hate me. I went after the ‘perfect men’, the ones that looked like models, the ones that every girl was supposed to want… because I thought that eventually I would want them more than I wanted you. And that way you wouldn’t hate me.” She laughed, “Britt came along and wanted to take me away… And I let him. Because I was dying. Every time I saw you… And knew you couldn’t ever love me…”
She wasn’t able to finish. Not with my lips in the way.