A quick refresher?
It was in the middle of his tutorial when the screen of his S4 flashed twice beneath his pile of papers in the span of fifteen minutes. He stole a glance at it when his tutor’s back faced the students as he wrote something on the whiteboard. It was a message from Katrina on Messenger, demanding that he return her call as soon as possible as it was an emergency.
“What happened?” Brendan barked over the phone, conscious of the time flying past him. At quarter past the hour, the tutor announced that there will be a ten-minute break for students to stretch their legs or catch a quick trip to the toilet.
“Winnie was involved in a car crash on her return drive from an excursion in Clare. The attending physician wouldn’t tell much except that they’re trying to stabilize her condition. You better get your sorry soul to the A&E when you’re done. From the doctor’s tone, things aren’t rosy.”
A lump caught in Brendan’s throat when he saw Winnie in the ICU an hour later. He couldn’t recognize the lifeless body on the bed and if Katrina wasn’t there with him, he wouldn’t have believed that it was Winnie there. He observed that Winnie wore a neck brace, which indicated that she broke her neck, and an oxygen mask that obscured half of her oval-shaped face. Her head was bandaged. Wires that were glued to her led to the machines around her. One was to maintain her vitals and the other was the IV drip, but he failed to identify the rest.
Although there was silence around them, Katrina sensed his need to be with Winnie - alone - and squeezed his shoulder before she eased out of the room. As she sat on the row of orange chairs outside the ICU, she reflected on her history with Winnie. Instead of the jealousy towards her for the perfection that she had in her life, she now felt fear and worry for the poor girl. The accident was a stark reminder that life’s too short to hold grudges over something petty, like boys and relationships.
He was jogging on the walkway of Riverside Terrace when someone familiar stopped him in his tracks. It was a girl seated on the bench, staring into the scenery ahead of her. There were houses at the other end of the river and Nature’s disappearing hue reflected the colors of the building, creating a sombre yet beautiful shade. The wind picked up speed and blew her long chestnut brown hair in various directions. There was no one but the two of them there and in the silence, he swore he heard her sobs.
“Winnie?” He squinted, as if it’d help him identify the person at the bench. “Is that you?”
“Hey, Brendan.” She rose to her full height before facing him. Although she looked more relaxed, as if all the earthly burdens have been lifted off her shoulders, her eyes flicked with the trepidation of uncertainty. “There’s something I’ve to tell you.”
His heart raced. “What is it?”
She walked closer towards him and embraced him. “Please forgive me,” she whispered. “I can’t stay any longer as I’m tired of fighting.”
“No, no, no, that’s not going to happen.” Brendan pushed her back and glanced at her in the eye, denying the inevitable. “You’ll be fine. We’ll get through this together.”
Her voice was a tad bit above a whisper. “I’d always love you, but I’m tired of fighting a losing battle and I don’t want to drag you down with me either.”
“What do you mean?” His voice cracked as he pleaded. “Please stay.”
“I’m sorry.” She laid her lips on his before she disappeared into the distance without turning back once. She didn’t want him to see the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks.
He longed to have her in his arms once again but his legs were frozen. He couldn’t run, what more move.
And with that, he shot up from his sleep and panted with horror. He reached out for the bedside lamp and, moments later, caught his reflection in the wall mirror. Not only was he slicked with sweat, his eyes was double its size. He immediately touched his cheeks, which were soiled with something sticky and wet. It was tears. Little did he know that he dreamt of Winnie’s departure and cried over it. Shortly after Winnie paid him a visit, she succumbed to her injuries. The warmth of the white lights greeted her as her body drifted to a quieter and serene place, where she’d feel nothing but love and peace.
Months later, it still strained his willpower to focus on his studies without sparing a thought on life’s cruel hand. Although her death was an accident, he blamed himself for not being there to protect her from harm’s way - even if it meant laying his own life in exchange for her. If God allowed him to make an exchange, Brendan knew that he would’ve prayed for Winnie’s revival at the expense of his life. It was more than once that he desired to seek the help of the university counsellor to cope with the sudden shock on top of the academics but stopped short of entering their office. Unlike Katrina, who eventually sought the help of a psychiatrist, he couldn’t form the words to describe his grief and chose to deal with Winnie’s death in his own time and pace.
He yanked an A6 picture from his wallet; it was them posing in front of a Christmas tree at Forrest Chase - the same one that Winnie fiddled with at Adelaide Airport while waiting to board the flight to Perth. The flashbacks of their happier moments stabbed him with such force that it tore his soul apart. Why couldn’t them three the best pals forever? Why did life have to intervene and complicate the friendships?