“You have to come,” the voice on the other end of call urged.
Jerry dropped everything that he had in that moment and rushed straight to the hospital, almost securing himself a date with the traffic police en-route. That night, when Shelby revealed her medical condition, was a game-changer in their friendship. If they were good friends back then, they were now closer. He became someone who resembled a brother figure in her life, taking charge whenever her parents couldn’t fly interstate to take care of her.
“Thank you,” she said once on their way from Sunday Mass. “And I can’t possibly thank you enough, Jerry.”
“What did I do?”
“You’ve been there for me since the beginning. What’s honorable is that you’re willing to sacrifice your weekends and most of your free time into being … my caregiver.” It felt weird, even as she said it. “Plus, you could’ve used those time into finding a resident for your heart.”
He couldn’t help but smile. Even in the state that she was in, she still found the enthusiasm to crack a joke and plant a grin on his face. “My dear, I’m on a break from relationships. I haven’t found the courage to invest in a brand new love where the return is of an unknown value. We both know that it’s exhausting and I don’t think I can balance a relationship with my career since the latter is flourishing.” He patted her lower thigh with his left hand. “I’ve made a promise that I’d be there for you as a good friend. It only make sense that I’m here at a time when you’re most vulnerable.”
“I like your financial inference there.” Shelby laughed out loud. “But still, I really appreciate it.”
“What do you expect? I’m in the financial line of things. I’m bound to associate finance with things in circumstances. It’s the same as the barrister in you throwing legal jokes that people out of the field can’t decipher.”
She sighed with a mock defeat. “That’s true. You’ve a point there.”
“When can she be discharged, doctor?” Mrs. Winters - Shelby’s mother - couldn’t help but pose the question. She was in the general floor of the hospital ward with the attending physician, trying to understand the health complications that landed her daughter in the hospital when she was in remission all along.
“Mrs. Winters,” the attending physician spoke. “I don’t intend to discharge Shelby until I’m confident that her condition is much better.” He flipped through the medical reports - including the one that Shelby gave to Jerry on that night - on hand. “As it is, I don’t want to risk Shelby suffering from another cardiac arrest. Her heart wouldn’t be able to take the trauma. I need to ensure that her red blood cells are at a stable level first.”
He looked up at Mrs. Winters with a softened expression. “I’m afraid that you might have to make final preparations for Shelby in the event that she can’t win this battle. I’m sorry, Mrs. Winters.”
“It’s alright.” She nodded. “Thanks, doctor.”
As she watched the attending physician returning to his duty, she resisted the urge to break down in tears at the prospect of losing her daughter at such a young age. She could weep her eyes out, but she knew that Shelby couldn't have the perfect bill of health. Ever since Mrs. Winters delivered her daughter, there was always the undeniable fear that Fate would cruelly strike their family and snatch Shelby from them one day.
She sighed, knowing that her worst fear was coming true. All parents would want their children to be healthy and happy in their chosen paths in life and didn't want to bury them - no matter the circumstances. Satisfied that she looked alright on her compact makeup mirror, she adjusted her attire and entered the hospital ward.
Mrs. Winters’ words knocked Jerry with such force that he had to sit on the row of chairs to regain his breath. He couldn’t believe what he heard. Although he was thankful that she shared Shelby’s innermost thoughts and fears about him, he remembered thinking that Shelby was insane when she wanted time to dictate her course of life instead. He understood that she was tired of undergoing painful treatments without a guaranteed recovery, but she should’ve discussed it with him before arriving at such a decision if he was such an important person to her. It would affect their lives - including hers - in the long run and he didn’t know how to cope without her presence in his life. She was approaching the Door of Death yet placed his well-being ahead of hers.
Seeing that there was nothing he could do now to change her mind, he forced himself to enter the word and spend quiet moments with her. He gingerly turned the chair to face Shelby and sat on it, admiring her in her natural state. Although she was skinnier due to the loss of appetite, she still looked drop-dead gorgeous.
“I know why you did what you did now, but it still hurts, you know?” He took Shelby’s hand in his own, brought it to his cheek. “Knowing that we could have it all, but you didn’t want to take the plunge.”
A stray tear flowed down from his eye. “Don’t you know that it’ll only make me more miserable? If you had given us a chance, it’d have been the happiest moment of my life. Yes, it may’ve been a short lived one, but at least it’s still something. The sweetest memories will peacefully send you on your eternal journey and be a source of inspiration for me to continue living with you.”
“You should’ve exhausted all avenues of treatment options before throwing in the towel. I know you don’t want me to see you at your weakest, but friends are supposed to be there for each other in all circumstances - good or bad.”