Note: The story and the characters are mine. A loving relationship between two women is implied. Sorry, nothing graphic. I'm too shy.
I would like to thank Mavis Applewater, Goddess of the PWP, for hosting her annual Birthday Challenge. You gave me a reason to write this. I would also like to thank McJohn at www.rlinfo.net/inkubator. You helped me make this a better story.
If you would like to provide any comments or feedback, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Merriam Webster Thesaurus: BRAVE. adj. having or showing no fear when faced with something dangerous, difficult, or unknown
We were watching daytime television. I don't even remember what was on. She turned to me and said, "Do you know what I always wanted to be?"
"No, but let me guess. A figure skater?"
She smiled and shook her head. "No, I'm not that graceful on skates."
"Then it must be a Nobel Prize winner."
"I know, I know." I shot my fists into the air. "A Hooters girl!"
She started laughing. "No, and where did that one come from?"
I lowered my arms slowly. "Um…because I always wanted you to be a Hooters girl?"
She tried to scowl, but broke into a little laugh. "You are a degenerate."
"And your point would be?"
"I'm trying to carry on a serious conversation here."
I picked up my chair and turned it towards the bed. Putting on my most serious face, I quietly waited for her to continue.
"I always wanted to be brave." She lay back and waited for my reaction.
"Ok. I understand now. You always wanted to be an Indian. I can appreciate aspiring to such a lofty goal. But I don't think you're the correct ethnic background."
She threw her pillow at me, which I caught easily. "You throw like a girl."
"And your point would be?" she countered.
Before she could get uncomfortable, I tossed the pillow back. "Are you trying to tell me you wanted to be a hero or something like that?"
She chewed her lip and said thoughtfully, "Yes, that's exactly what I meant. I grew up watching a bunch of great old movies. I wanted to be the hero that saved the town or the private that saved his buddy's life."
"You saved my life once," I reminded her. "In the third grade you saved me from Dickey Blakeson."
"Dickey was a dick. And I did not save you, I just scared him away."
"You saved me. Dickey made me cry and you came over and saved me."
"He threw sand in your hair. You are such a girl."
She turned back to watch whatever forgettable talk show was currently airing.
I sat there, just thinking about what she said. In spite of all my joking around, I never realized she had this unfulfilled dream. Real life does not often offer opportunities for bravery on such a grand scale.
I should have known this. She still watched old movies. I sat with her through hours of syndicated television series and movies with heroic characters. I was ashamed at my lack of insight.
I was still watching her when I softly said, "I'm sorry."
She quickly looked back at me. "Whatever for?"
"I shouldn't have made fun," I explained.
She waved her hand. "Oh, don't worry about it."
"No, I want to worry about. We've known each other since the beginning of third grade. Why didn't I know this about you? I should have known."
"Sweetheart, it's nothing. It just popped into my head."
"You're just trying to placate me now."
"Oooo. Listen to the big words. Have you been reading the Reader's Digest word list again?"
"Maybe. I probably picked it up during those twelve years I spent in high school."
"You only spent four years in high school," she chuckled.
"It felt like twelve. If you hadn't pulled my ass through freshman algebra, I'd still be there. Mrs. Thomas hated me."
"I wonder why?" She gave me that look, daring me to tell her why the old bitch had it in for me. I returned her stare with my best impression of innocence. She finally relented when I didn't crack. "At least Mr. Johnson would be proud of you, using words like 'placate'."
"I liked that old man. He was a sweetie."
"Yes, he was."
I picked up her hand. Over the last few weeks she had lost so much weight. What was once strong and sturdy was now delicate and almost translucent. "I meant it. I'm sorry I didn't realize you had a secret desire hidden deep in your heart."
"It's nothing, really, just some old childish dream. Our life has more than made up for not being able to save the universe."
I laughed. "Well, I promise as soon as you get out of here, you can save my life again."
"What are you going to do, find Dickey and make him throw sand in your hair again?"
"If I must. That way you can ride to the rescue again and kick Dickey's ass. I figure that would be a better plan than me diving into Lake George and having you save me from drowning."
"Oh, yes. I'm much better at ass-kicking then swimming." She paused, suddenly thoughtful, "You know what the real clincher is? I'm not sure I could be brave. What if something happened right in front of me, and I froze?" She turned back to the television.
There was the crux of the matter. In her mind, to show real bravery, she would have to gamble on some traumatic, dangerous event. A single roll of the dice would forever determine her reputation - Brave or Coward.
The closer it got to lunch, the more tired she became. She finally turned off the television and leaned back in the bed. Soon we heard the rattling of the carts. Orderlies were delivering lunch.
I tried to get comfortable in my chair. "Five bucks says it's orange Jell-O."
She pulled herself up a little and adjusted the bed. "Nope, today is red or green."
"Red is good. Green is disturbing."
"Well, if it's green it's yours," she promised.
"Nope, the nurses frown on us non-paying customers getting free meals."
"Please. They can't give that stuff away on skid row."
When the orderly brought in the covered tray, we looked at each other. "You bettin'?" I asked.
"You're on," she answered.
The orderly just shook his head. "You gals betting on the Jell-O again?"
"Why? Do you know of a good football pool I can get in on?" I winked at Mike. We had joked and teased a lot over the past few weeks.
"No, but there is that craps game in the basement."
"Yeww, craps. Don't understand it, don't trust it."
"Good thing, otherwise you'd lose all of our money." She uncovered the tray. "Ha! Red's the winner."
"No fair. You set it up with Mike. Foul! Foul!"
"See you ladies later," Mike laughed.
I helped her arrange her tray, moving the utensils closer, and putting the straw in her juice. The menu for the past week had been bland, soft foods. Damn, she hated it. But nothing with any taste or substance would stay down. She just picked at this afternoon's lunch.
After eating about a quarter of the meal, she lay back to nap. I finished the rest of the Jell-O because I was hungry. I didn't feel like going down to the cafeteria.
She slept most of the afternoon. Around suppertime, a few of our friends stopped in. They brought her up to date on the latest gossip. I wasn't much help in that department since I was spending all my time at the hospital with her. I could see that she was tiring again. The others could too and decided to leave.
"Guys, do me a favor?" she asked.
"Anything," Chris volunteered.
"Take this one with you and feed her."
"Hey, I'll have you know I had red Jell-O today."
"My point exactly. Take her away."
Everyone laughed as Chris grabbed me by the back of my shirt and pulled me out. I pulled away from Chris and went over and kissed her. "I won't be long."
"Take your time. I'm going to watch TV and maybe nap."
"'Kay. Love you."
"Love you too."
The four of us decided to go to Applebee's. We commandeered the big corner booth so we could spread out and relax.
Mentally, I was still back at the hospital. Did she seem any different? Our earlier conversation was rolling around in my head and I was still woolgathering when Chris started in.
"Do you guys remember the time she lit into Steve?" Chris worked in the same office with her. In fact, Chris had been her trainee. "Steve gave me that project with a one week deadline and a paltry budget. When I told her about it, she grabbed the file out of my hands and stormed into Steve's office. The whole office heard 'Nobody takes advantage of my trainee but me!' When she came back out, my budget was doubled and the due date was pushed out a month. Steve locked himself in his office the rest of the day."
We laughed because we had seen it or something like it before. She did not suffer fools lightly. Especially fools trying to take advantage of her friends.
She found a Rottweiler pup once. Crystal remembered it as a dirty, growling, slobbering little beast in the alley, behind some garbage cans. She wouldn't let Crystal call Animal Control. She got down on her hands and knees and coaxed the pup out. She then put it in her car and drove to the nearest vet. It turns out the pup had escaped from his yard and his people were looking for him everywhere. They had left flyers around the neighborhood, as well as the vet's office. Puppy and family were soon reunited.
Crystal sipped her drink and mused, "Personally, I wouldn't have done it. He had awfully big teeth for a puppy. No telling what kind of diseases he may have had."
The stories swirled around me as I let my mind continue to wander. I remembered how she became a blood donor. "Do you guys remember when Larry's wife was sick?" Everyone nodded, knowing where I was going. "She was visiting Lois in intensive care. Before she left, she told Larry if he needed anything to just call. A couple days later, the doctors decided Lois needed another operation. Larry called the office and asked for people to make blood donations in Lois' name."
"Yeah, I remember seeing her turn white but signing that sheet of paper for an appointment," added Jean.
I remembered that stupid hat. She got it for giving two gallons. I always razzed her about wearing the ugly thing in public.
"I earned the damn thing." She pulled the brim down firmly. "Anybody who feels the way I do about needles has earned the right to wear an ugly hat."
"I answered her phone the other day," said Chris softly. "It was the donation center, I had to tell them she wouldn't be back for a while."
After that we got quiet and decided to call it a night. It was late when I made my way back to the hospital. I waved at the nurses as I went by. I slipped into her room and took my chair by her bed. I just sat and watched her. She was so pale, she almost blended into the bed linens. Around 1:00 a.m. she roused. We smiled at each other and I held her hand.
"Hey, you. Have a nice dinner?"
"Yeah, not bad. We mostly sat around and talked."
"Good. You needed to get out." She paused and a deep sadness came into her eyes. "I think I'm a little scared."
"Sweetheart, you are the bravest person I know," I replied. She smiled softly at that.
"Thank you. I'm sure Dickey is quaking in his boots somewhere. I think I'll sleep a bit. Love you."
"Okay. I'll be right here and I love you too."
I didn't like her coloring and her breathing wasn't right either. I was torn between rushing out for the nurse, pounding on the call button, or staying put. I can do this. I promised I wouldn't interfere. She's gone through enough hell. Damn it, I promised. I promised. I promised. She passed away soon after. I paid no attention to the loud tones and beeps coming from the various pieces of equipment. I just continued to hold her hand, crying, and repeating "I love you. I'm sorry. I love you." The nurses drawn in by the alarms found me.
Someone called Chris to come get me. After all those weeks of holding myself together for her, I was done. By the time Chris got to the hospital, I was numb. I don't remember much about the ride to Chris' house, or her putting me in her spare bed.
When I woke up the next morning, everything hurt. I lay there for a few minutes trying to decide whether I really wanted to go on or not. My bladder would not cooperate, so I got up. After using the bathroom, I stumbled into the kitchen. Chris was sitting at the table nursing a cup of coffee. When she saw me, she pointed at the coffeepot and the clean cup sitting next to it. After pouring a cup, I turned around and leaned back against the counter. "You look as bad as I feel," I grumbled.
"Trust me, you look worse," she replied helpfully.
I pushed away from the counter and went to join Chris at the table. "Thanks for coming last night," I whispered.
"No problem. I gave the nurses my number, just in case."
I nodded. "I wondered about that."
"I promised her I would look out for you. She wanted to make sure you were going to be okay."
I felt myself start to lose control. The tears started and my throat tightened. She's still taking care of me. With that thought, the sobs started in earnest. Chris came over and held me while I cried. I couldn't stop. I hurt so badly. Chris just held on, whispering some nonsense about everything being all right. "She loved you very much. She told me once that you made all her dreams come true."
No, I didn't. Not a dream she kept to herself.
I finally cried myself out. Chris smoothed my hair and went back to her seat. "Sorry about that," I apologized.
Chris just shook her head and smiled at me.
I finished my coffee and got up to put the cup in the sink. "I'm going to walk home. I need a shower and a change of clothes. I have a bunch of calls to make and things to do. Do you think you can run me by the hospital to get my car?"
I looked at her suspiciously. "May I ask why not?"
"Your car is in your driveway." She seemed exceedingly pleased with herself.
"I wish. No, I called Jean and Crystal this morning. They stopped by and picked up the keys and ran by the hospital."
I hadn't even noticed that my keys weren't in my pocket. "Okay, then. Thanks for taking care of it." I walked out of the kitchen and towards the front door. Chris followed me and said, "I'll be over around five to fix you dinner."
I stopped and turned to look at her appalled. "That's not necessary."
"Yes, it is," she replied. "I'm leaving you alone until 5:00 p.m. and then I'll be over to make you eat."
I was starting to get angry. "You don't trust me?" I demanded.
"You know better," she said firmly. "I made a promise and I intend on keeping it."
"Fine." I muttered. I walked the two blocks, alternating between feeling sorry for myself, sorry that she was gone, and mad that I had a babysitter with instructions from beyond the grave.
A couple days latter, I stopped by the hospital again. I wanted to thank the dayshift nurses for all of their caring and support. I also wanted to thank Mike.
One of her doctors stopped me in the hall to offer his condolences. "I wanted to tell you how sorry I am for your loss," he started. "Your partner was an exceptional lady. She helped us learn so much though her participation in the experimental protocol. If there is anything I can do or answer any questions, please don't hesitate to call." He turned to leave.
"Excuse me? Doctor?"
He turned back with a questioning look.
"What experimental protocol?" I was totally confused.
"I'm sorry, I thought you knew. She said she was going to discuss it with you. I usually include the spouse or family members in the discussions about the protocol and the participation by the patient. She said she wanted to talk to you herself. I believe her exact words were 'She'll probably freak'."
"Well, I have news for you. I am getting close to freaking right now. Why don't you start at the beginning and explain it to me. Use little words, two syllables or less."
"Well, for the last week she was here, she was taking an experimental drug."
"Experimental." Oh, yeah. From confused to pissed in one easy step.
He could tell I was getting hot, so he gently steered me away from the nurses' station towards a side hall. "We are working on a new treatment. Because of your partner's circumstances, we asked her if she would participate in an experimental drug trial." He was being very patient and trying to explain this as if I was demented child.
"My partner's circumstances? Are you saying that because she was dying, she was the perfect guinea pig?" I could hear my voice get a bit louder. "What were the risks? Why did she do this? She gambled with the little time we had left. Why didn't I know about this? I had her medical power of attorney."
"She said she would talk to you," he said quietly. "Really, there was no gamble. Our protocol did not shorten her life or cause her any additional pain. Frankly, since she was still in full control of her faculties, we didn't need your permission. She signed all of the appropriate consent forms and waivers."
"Damn it, that's it! When I catch up to her in our next life, I am going to kick her ass."
"Well," he patted my shoulder, "when you do, tell her 'thank you' for me. We were able to get some good data." He started to walk away.
"Doc." I stopped him. "Tell me one thing?"
"I'll try," he promised.
"Did it help her at all?"
"I don't believe it helped her, but it may help others." With that he turned and went down the hall.
I left the hospital and walked across the lot to my car. I felt like a deflated balloon. Getting in, I saw the brochure for funeral pre-planning on the floor in front of the passenger seat. I remembered the first time I saw it.
"I don't want to talk about this." I was pouting.
"Honey, it's just in case. I know we're going to get through this, but it will make me feel better to have this out of the way." She was being reasonable and pragmatic.
"You just want to see me cry again. You like watching my nose get red and blotchy."
"That's it. Your red blotchy nose just turns me on. Now get over here and read through this."
I went over everything with her. I loved her too much to make her do it alone. She wanted to be cremated. She said she did not like the idea of turning into compost.
"I don't care who you get to speak. I don't want any religious overtones."
"Define 'religious'. Preferably in writing."
"You bring in someone and they start preaching hell, brimstone, and the way to salvation, I will come back and kick your ass."
"Okay then. That pretty well does it for me."
She suggested having someone read a couple of poems. She gave me the titles of a few to pick from. "Pick what you like, babe," she told me.
She left explicit instructions for what was to happen after the service. Everyone was to go out and get stinking drunk. Personally, I did not think this would be a problem.
On the day of the memorial, I was looking at the two poems Chris was going to read for me. I couldn't let her go like this. Her life was worth more than what this service portrayed. I looked around the room. All these people came to say goodbye to someone they didn't really know. I handed the sheets of paper to Chris, but motioned for her to stay put. I decided to change the plan. So I stood up in front of her family and our friends and started speaking.
"Today I'd like to talk about a quiet bravery. Not the kind associated with firefighters, police, or our men and women in the military. Not the bravery of rushing into traffic to save a child.
"To me, brave is being the first to say 'I love you'. Brave is stepping out of the closet and being true to yourself. Brave is following your heart.
"Let me tell you how she was brave."
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