The Last Goodbye

A conversation between two lovers.

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1. The Last Goodbye

  “What are you thinking about?” he asked, lazily batting his eyes at her from his bed, “You look so distant.”

  “Nothing,” she murmured as she stepped away from the window, “It's just so depressing here.”

  “Yeah, well, it's better than a hospital,” he said, sending her a crooked smile.

  For eight days he'd been laying there, growing paler and paler, thinner and thinner. Tired, sicker. But he'd kept his good mood. Even so, she could still see the fear in his eyes, as he could in hers.

  “I'm sorry,” she sighed, “I shouldn't be complaining.”

  “Come on. I wouldn't feel right if you didn't complain about something.”

  Giggling quietly as she sat down on the edge of the bed, she gently adjusted the straps of his oxygen mask before stroking his hair.

  “Do you feel like going for a walk today?”

  “I'd love to,” he smiled, entwining their fingers, “but I think I'm a little too tired.”

  They'd been out for little trips every day. The hospice had a small garden, and they'd found a bench not too far from the entrance where the sun hit just right. He'd refused getting crutches or a wheelchair, he was too stubborn for that. Instead, he'd leaned on her when he needed to. Then they'd walked around among the blooming apple trees, talking about everything and anything, her doing her very best to avoid addressing the elephant in the room.

  “I see,” she mumbled, quickly blinking away the tears that steadily welled up in her eyes.

  Giving her hand a soft squeeze, he sat up as much as he could and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her down to lay her head on his bony chest. He knew she thought he hadn't noticed. That he never saw how sad she was. He had to give her credit where it was due, though, she kept up the act pretty good. She was a strong woman, that much he'd always known, but he didn't buy it even for a second.

  “Have I told you how happy I am?” he asked, nuzzling her shoulder with his thumb.

  “How can you even say that?” she whispered, “You're-”

  She cut herself off, biting her lip as she tried to choke what felt like an oncoming breakdown. She didn't want him to see her like that, not now. He needed her to be strong. She had to stay strong.

  “Dying?” he sighed, moving his hand up to comb through her hair, “It's not a bad word, love, you can say it.”

  He felt her shiver. As much as he didn't want to force her to expose herself, he wished she would. He wanted to comfort her, as she'd done to him so many, many times. Where others had failed, she'd kept trying, and he admired her deeply for it. He wasn't sure if he'd have been able to make it, had it been the other way around. Not because he wouldn't want to be there for her, but because he wouldn't have been tough enough to watch her waste away.

  “You are the bravest woman I've ever known. I really hope you know that.”

  “Please,” she sniffled, “I can barely keep myself together anymore.”

  “And yet, you're still here,” he said, chuckling.

  She didn't know what to tell him. How was she supposed to explain that the only reason she stayed, was because she didn't know if he'd still be there when she came back? Even the thought made her chest tighten. The thought about not being able to say a proper goodbye.

  “How do you do it?” she asked, “Stay so positive when you know what's going to happen?”

  “Because it's going to happen,” he shrugged, “There's nothing I can do about it anyway. Why would I bother spending my last time being sad, when I can spend it being happy instead?”

  “But you're scared. I know you are.”

  “Of course I am,” he mumbled tiredly, “But being scared won't protect me. In the end, I'm going to kick the bucket anyway.”

  Her heart sank in her chest, as it had done time and time again since they were told there was nothing more to be done. She was happy that he took things so lightly, but then again, she wasn't. Did he not understand that by 'kicking the bucket' he'd be leaving her behind? That once he'd taken the famous last breath, they'd never see each other again?

  “Hey,” he said, pulling her head up by her chin, “If there's anything you need to say to me, do it.”

  “I don't know what you want me to say,” she hissed, shaking his hands off as she sat up.

  “Whatever is on your mind,” he shrugged, seeming completely unaffected by her aggressive outburst.

  He knew her too well to feel attacked. During the years they'd spent together, he'd quickly learned that her anger usually had roots in fear.

  She looked at him with a fairly pissed off expression and shook her head, her eyes wandering down his skinny body for a moment before settling at his open hand.

  “I don't want you to leave me,” she said, suddenly passive, “I don't want to be alone.”

  “I'm not going to leave you. Even if you can't see me, I'll always be there, scolding you about not doing the dishes, or turning the apartment into a mess.”

  A quiet giggle escaped the back of her throat, and she caught herself smiling a little. He was a neat freak. It was one of those things about him he couldn't change no matter what. She tried to remember how many times he'd sulked about her not cleaning up after herself, but she lost count rather fast.

  “Who is going to remind me to take out the trash in the morning?” she asked, “Or to use a coaster on the coffee table?”

  “You'll remember that all by yourself,” he smiled, “And if you happen to forget one day, I'll haunt you 'till you do something about it.”

  She didn't know what to say, and let the silence eat up the room. It was going to be hard, living on without him by her side. He'd been everything she had for so long. A best friend, a boyfriend, a fiance, and for a very brief time, a husband. He hadn't wanted to get married originally. She knew he'd only proposed to her to make her pipe down about it, but when he found out his illness was terminal, his opinion of marriage changed. The man who didn't need a piece of paper to show his love for her, suddenly started asking about wedding plans. They'd gotten married barely a month before he got moved to the hospice.

  “I know you love me,” he sighed, “And I know it's going to be really hard for you, but you're strong, love. You'll wake up one morning, and realize that you're doing just fine, even though I'm not there anymore.”

  “But what if I don't? What if I don't want to.”

  “Well, if you've already made up your mind, I can't change it,” he shrugged, “But it'd be best for you if you did.”

  “It'd be best for me if you stayed,” she whispered, knowing how selfish it sounded.

  “I'll hold on for as long as I can, sweetheart,” he said, finally taking the initiative to bring her back into his arms, “But unless there really is a God, it's going to happen whether we like it or not.”

  They sat there for a moment. Her cradled in his arms like a scared child, and him, wheezing silently with every breath he took. Both of them had tons to say, but neither opened their mouth to speak.

  As the afternoon sun slowly began setting, they still hadn't moved much. They'd come to a silent agreement that just being with one another, being close and quiet, was more important than anything they could ever utter. It wasn't until a nurse came with his dinner the silence – and their embrace – was broken.

  “Well,” he grunted, squinting at the mashed potatoes and vegetables, “They still haven't learned.”

  “Are you really surprised?” she chuckled.

  “Aren't you?”

  “No,” she shrugged, sliding off the bed to get her bag by the door, “So I came prepared.”

  He rarely had anything even resembling an appetite, but when he did, his craving was always the same: dark chocolate with almonds. As much as she wanted him to stay on the diet the doctor had planned out for him, she preferred him eating something, rather than nothing.

  “You are an angel,” he smiled as she handed him the candy, “I'll have some when I get hungry.”

  Brushing a lock of hair out of his face, she pressed her lips to his forehead as she sat back down. He'd stopped going to chemotherapy after only four sessions. It made him so, so sick, and the cancer had only gotten worse. Instead, he signed himself up for experimental treatment. She hadn't been too happy about it, but in the end, it was his call. His hair had grown back during that time, a little thinner than usual, and curly. Now it almost reached his shoulders, but like it rest of him, it looked pale and starved.

  “I'm so sleepy,” he mumbled, sliding the oxygen mask down to hang around his neck for a moment, “I think I need to call it quits for today, baby.”

  “You've been awake for almost five hours straight,” she said, packing his blankets around him, “Is there anything you need?”

  “Actually there is one thing.”

  “Anything, baby, just say the word.”

  “Will you stay until I've fallen asleep?”

  Chuckling silently, she laid down beside him and wrapped her arms around his frail body. His lips trailed down the side of her face in quick, dry kisses, until they finally reached hers, where they solidly planted themselves.

  “I'll see you tomorrow,” he whispered, letting her put his mask back on before laying down.

  He felt bad. The guilt over not being able to protect her from this monster that grew within him hurt. He'd almost always been guarding her – with her naive nature and clumsy personality, she'd needed it – but now the tables had turned.

  He actually hadn't liked her when they first met. As a matter of fact, he'd taken an almost immediate dislike to her. She was everything he absolutely didn't want in a woman. Reckless, messy, loud, thoughtless and, that particular evening, extremely drunk. He'd been out with his friends, celebrating a promotion, when a bachelorette party suddenly stumbled into Perri's Bar. Six girls, one more wasted than the other, all making an incredible amount of noise. Two of the girls started flirting with everything with a pulse, while the rest simply found a table and continued their drunken chatter.

  When the party finally left to finish their bar crawl, a lone, blonde girl sat alone in the corner. Left behind by her friends. Her mascara had left thick, black streaks on her cheeks, and she generally looked like a complete mess.

  “Hey,” one of his friends asked, elbowing him in the side, “Do you think she's okay?”

  “I don't know,” he shrugged, slinging the ice cubes in his glass back and forth.

  “Should we ask her?”

  “Why should we care?” he grumbled, “Whatever is wrong is not our problem. The bartender will probably call her a cab eventually.”

  He didn't feel like wasting the rest of the evening worrying about some stranger – why would he? He was celebrating that he'd finally crawled a step up the ladder, from assistent to interviewer, and there was no way in Hell he'd let someone else ruin that. Still, he couldn't help but look at her occasionally.

  As his group of friends slowly started thinning out, he caught himself sneaking a peak at her again. This time because her party had suddenly gotten bigger. The two men beside her didn't exactly look like they were trying to help her, in fact, they were busy convincing her to take another shot.

  For a moment he wondered if something really bad would happen if he just stuck to his plan and left, but he couldn't quite think that scenario through. He couldn't leave her behind with such shady people, and still feel good about himself – if she turned up on the front of the newspapers the morning after, he'd definitely feel responsible for not having done anything. Letting out a loud sigh, he slid off the bar stool and made his way over to her table.

  “Is everything okay?”

  “Yeah,” one of the men answered, “She's fine.”

  “I wasn't asking you,” he scoffed.

  She couldn't even look at him properly. Her eyes shifted around in her skull, continuously changing direction and focus. After a while, she finally managed to shake her head.

  “Come on,” he sighed, reaching out his hand, “Let me call you a cab and make sure you get home safely.”

  “Dude, she's fine!”

  “Fuck off, you creep,” he grunted, catching himself smiling just a little as she accepted his gesture.

  She was beyond just drunk, he realized. She could barely stand up. Dragging her arm across his shoulders, he helped her outside where he had her sit on the pavement.

  "What's your address?” he asked, kneeling down in front of her.

  He got nothing but drunken gibberish in response – not that he'd expected anything else.

  “Hey, can you tell me your name?”

  More drunken gibberish.

  “I'm not getting anywhere with you, am I?” he sighed, scratching the back of his head.

  “N-No,” she slurred pathetically.

  It took him a bit, but he finally decided to just take her home with him. Although he wasn't too keen on the idea, he didn't want anyone – like the creeps at the bar – to take advantage of her. The cab ride to his apartment was a new kind of Hell. She somehow got herself together enough to roll down the window and shout at random people on the street.

  “Hey,” he grumbled, pulling her back in her seat, “knock it off.”

  “You're not the boss of me,” she whined, trying to push him away.

  Rolling his eyes, he simply gave up and let her cause the stir she apparently was too desperate to cause. When she fell asleep with her head on his shoulder five minutes later, he took a breath of relief; finally some peace.

  She'd woken him up the morning after, begging him to tell her how she'd gotten there, and what she'd been doing. That lead to an hour-long conversation about her bad drinking habits and terrible friends. He'd made her hungover self breakfast, and then she'd taken the train home. Weeks went by, and he'd pretty much forgotten about her when he met her again. She was pretty much in the same stage as the first time he saw her, however, this time she'd fallen asleep in an alley instead. It was mere luck he'd even spotted her.

  They kept in touch after that, or rather, he gave her his number in case she'd need a place to crash again. But when she called him, it was rarely about that. Instead, she'd talk to him about the things she didn't feel like she could tell her friends. They'd meet up for coffee on occasion, and he soon realized that she'd started to grow on him.

  “Weren't you tired?” she asked, nuzzling his hair.

  “Yes,” he mumbled, “I was just thinking.”

  “About what?”

  “How we met,” he chuckled, “And what messes we both were back then.”

  “I wasn't a mess,” she scoffed, flashing just a hint of a smile, “I was just having fun.”

  “I bet. Then I came and crashed the party-”

  “And my life has been boring ever since.”

  She sent him a cheeky smile and kissed his cheek. If there was one thing her life absolutely hadn't been after he came along, it was boring. They were almost polar opposites. They could fight like no other couple she'd ever know. There were many times where she'd wondered if he was really the one for her. A few times she'd even walked out on him, however, she'd always returned. He brought out the best in her. He pushed her and challenged her, and most important of all, he cared about her.

  She remembered one night where they'd both been pushing each others' buttons a little too much, and she'd decided to pack her things and leave. Somewhere in her desperation, she'd forgotten her epilepsy medication. She didn't notice until hours later, when he suddenly grabbed her by the shoulder. He had that look in his eyes he always got when he was pissed off. He shouted at her for having turned off her phone, before suddenly tearing up and hugging her. Apparently he'd seen the pills on the kitchen counter at home, and when he couldn't reach her he'd gotten worried and decided to go and look for her.

  “Didn't you ever get sick of coming to my rescue?” she asked, staring at his passive expression for a moment.

  “Honestly, it drove me crazy,” he sighed, “I don't think I've ever met a person as careless as you. But I don't think I'd change that about you either, if I could.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because that'd mean giving up on the adventures we've been on because of something you did,” he chuckled,         “Hell, do you remember our vacation in Italy, where we got lost because you absolutely had to lead the way?”

  “Hey, we found an amazing restaurant at that trip.”

  “Or that time we got stuck in the snow because you'd forgotten to put the snow shovel in the trunk?”

  “I'm still certain you were the one who was supposed to grab it.”

  “Or the day where you misplaced our passports, right before we needed to catch that flight to California?”

  Laughing at the thought, she shook her head and brushed his hair out of his face.

  “We've had a lot of fun together,” she whispered.

  “Yes,” he smiled, “We have.”

  Her eyes slowly became teary once again, and if he was being honest, so did his. His hand slowly traveled down her side, settling at her hipbone as he pulled her closer. What he wouldn't give to suddenly get well again, just so he could be there for her. He knew she'd find a way to make it without him. She'd find love again, and start the family she'd always sent him little hints about – he wanted that for her. But it was going to be hard.

  “You're going to be happy again, love,” he said softly, “I promise.”

  “Don't say stuff like that,” she mumbled, biting her lip to keep herself from bursting into tears.

  “When I've passed away,” he sighed, “I want you to take your time. Don't mourn me too long, but don't rush it either.”

  “Please,” she whimpered, “Don't-”

  “I need you to know these things, babe,” he interrupted, “I have to tell you these things.”

  She couldn't hold back anymore. He felt her shoulders tremble, and the first sob came only seconds later. Taking a deep, wheezy breath, he pulled off his oxygen mask and buried his nose in her hair. He knew there was nothing he could say or do that'd make her feel better. He knew she was heartbroken, at least s much as he was. But all he could do was hold her. Pressing his lips to her forehead, he shut his eyes and prayed. Prayed that she'd have the support she needed when he wasn't there anymore.

  “I'm g-going to miss you, so much,” she cried, clenching at his shirt as if she feared he was going to get up and leave.

  “I'll always be with you, love,” he whispered, his voice shaky and teary, “I promise.”

  Placing a soft kiss on her lips, he put his mask back on and went back to holding her. She watched him with the blurry vision her eyes provided. Tears still sprinkled down her cheeks, but now she was silent. He was too tired for her to have a meltdown, she knew, she just hadn't been able to contain it. Reaching up, she combed her hand through his hair.

  “I love you,” he said suddenly, his eyes half shut, “Always remember that.”

  “I love you, too,” she murmured, kissing his cheek, “But you should sleep.”

  “Are you sure? I don't want to if you're sad.”

  “I'll be fine,” she smiled, sniffling, “You just rest now.”

  The soft smile that slid across his lips at that moment almost had her sobbing again. In one way or another, she knew. She felt it.

  “I'm so tired,” he muttered, entwining their fingers under the covers.

  “I know.”

   “Don't go anywhere,” he sighed, wheezing a little as a coughing fit overcame him.

  “Don't worry,” she whispered, squeezing his hand, “Just rest, I'll be right here.”

  When he finally stopped coughing, beads of sweat rained down his face. Scooting closer to his shivering self, she held his head against her chest, stroking his damp hair without a sound. It hadn't been too long before he fell asleep, his wheezy breath finally steady.

  She stayed with him that night. Despite the nurses saying he needed rest, she insisted on being by his side – she'd promised him that. They all had that sad, sympathetic look in their eyes, as if they all understood why she was so dead set on staying. As the moon slowly rose in the sky, she had him cradled in her arms, quietly humming to herself as she listened to him breathe. Occasionally he'd cough or move a little, but she held on, keeping his hand in hers.

Slipping in and out of sleep, she suddenly found herself wide awake. As she propped herself up on her elbows, their eyes met almost automatically.

  “Is it now?” she asked softly, turning onto her side to hold him.

  Nodding silently, he blinked once and let a tear slide down his cheek.

  “It's okay,” she whispered, “I'm right here. Don't be afraid.”

  He was scared, definitely, but also oddly calm and collected. He knew it was going to happen. He felt himself get more and more drained as the seconds passed by.

  “Take it off,” he mumbled weakly, “Please?”

  She didn't need further instructions. Without questioning him, she gently slipped the oxygen mask off of his face and put it on the nightstand, next to the tank.

  “Is there anything else y-you need?” she sniffled, inhaling sharply as she looked at him.

  He shook his head no, sending her a soft smile.

  “Okay,” she nodded, “okay.”

  He batted his eyes a few times to blink away the worst tears, before leaning against her. She cried quietly, stroking his cheek with her fingertips.

  “Thank you,” she sniffled, “For everything.”

  He couldn't answer. For some reason, his voice box refused to cooperate. Instead, he put his forehead against hers, feeling her arms wrap around him as they'd done it so many times before. He had many things to thank her for, but he truly felt like she already knew. As his breathing slowed, he sent her another tearful smile.

  “Close your eyes,” she whispered, giving his lips a gentle kiss, “I-It's okay.”

  He didn't really have a choice. They felt so heavy keeping them open was next to impossible.

  “I'm right here,” she said, with her shaky voice, “I love you.”

  Nuzzling the back of his head, she watched his eyelids slowly close. Her heart raced in her chest, but she wasn't going to run. She was going to stay with him. Although it was hard on her, she knew he needed her. She knew he wanted her to be there. Time ticked by slower than it usually did. Seconds felt like minutes, minutes felt like hours. But when she suddenly felt a chill, she knew he was gone.

  Gently untangling him from her grasp, she ran her hand over his hair and kissed his forehead one last time. She wanted to take her time, but then again, she knew he wouldn't have wanted her to sit there for too long.

After holding his hand for a moment, she finally stood up and stepped out into the hallway. A nurse coming out from a room a little down the hall took one look at her before pulling her into a tight embrace. She didn't say a word.

She was happy, though. Happy that he'd passed on before it all got too painful for him. Happy that he'd gone quietly like he wanted to. And most important of all, she was happy because she got to say goodbye.

  

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