Danielle and Xander sat on either sides at Johnny’s bedside. The static and beep and “schlup" of the monitors and machinery connected to him filled a room of otherwise sacred quiet. Johnny slept more and more these days. Xander looked up, caught Danielle’s fretful glance, and smiled with a reassuring shrug, hugging himself. What more comfort could he offer himself or her? There was nothing more to be done for Johnny.
Johnny and Xander and “Danny” had always been together, it seemed. As boys, they’d been the first friends she’d made when Danielle’s family moved to town. Playmates and best friends… always. Xander had dubbed her “Danny” that very first day, looking up from the ground at her as she hung upside down from a branch of the giant oak in her front yard. In those halcyon days, no one in the town could ever think of just one of them: it could only ever, always be “Johnny, Xander, and Danny.” In high school, for everyone else, she became “Danielle” again, too grown up for “Danny.” But, they’d remained boon companions and she was, and always would be, “Danny” to them. She wasn’t even sure when things began to change between her and Johnny; but, it was magic she would always treasure.
With sad sigh, Danielle reached out and took Johnny’s hand in her own, and held it there, atop the hospital covers. Her eyes were red from crying too often. Xander’s eyes too had a teary redness to them. Johnny was his best friend. He’d been so happy when Danielle and Johnny got together. No one had more deserved to share a love like theirs than the two of them. They might be young, but their love was a forever kind of beauty the world needed. Everyone at school and around town seemed to agree; they’d even been voted, almost unanimously, Prom King and Queen last year.
Xander would never get to plan that bachelor party now. So many surgeries and so much time in the hospital had taken their toll these past months. They’d had this perfect year, the three of them, ending with Prom. Then… Life happened… hard. Johnny fell ill and was rushed to the hospital just weeks after prom, just days after Xander’s and Danielle’s dads lost their jobs when the factory shut down, unexpectedly. Then, Xander’s beloved grandfather passed away suddenly. It was the same week Danielle’s parents split up.
Xander and Danielle looked up as Johnny shifted in bed. His cavernous visage and hairless pate were like a wound… like a stain on the world. Then, he opened his eyes and he seemed his same old, smiling and generous self. “C’mon, guys! Dump the long faces.” He blew a kiss in Danielle’s direction, “Hey, Babe, is there any juice on that tray?”
She reluctantly let go of his hand and cleared her expression as she turned to the tray on the table at his bedside; she opened the small bottle of apple juice in the ice bucket. “Do you want these pain pills too?” she asked, peeling off the little foil cap on the juice bottle and eyeing the tiny cup with two small whitish pills in it.
She turned and handed him the juice. As he took it, he replied, “Nah, let’s see how I feel for a bit first.” With a jaunty nod at his friend, he continued, “It’s gloomy as hell in here! Xander, let the world in!”
With a grin and a tolerant shake of his head, a lock of his just-that-much-too-long, wavy, dark golden hair falling across his eyes, Xander opened the blinds, and cranked open the window. Bright sun light flooded the room and the sounds of fluttering wings and pigeons cooing filtered into the room where the birds frolicked on the ledge and windowsill. The sunlight made Danielle’s shoulder-length red curls seem to glow like fire about her heart shaped, freckled face. Johnny flung out his arm and motioned her in, as always, reveling in the voluptuousness of her form. Danielle leaned on the bedside next to him. He wrapped his arm around her waist and playfully nudge one bulging breast, as she settled into the space beside him. In no time it seemed, he had them chatting and joking until they’d almost forgotten where they were.
Johnny was suddenly wracked by pain and coughing. The monitors set up a nerve-jangling squawk and scream. An orderly and a couple of nurses rushed in with a cart full of equipment, followed by a harried looking doctor. Danielle and Xander stood back, in the corner next to the window, out of the way. As they looked on, Xander put his arm around Danielle to comfort her. When the medical teams had finally stabilized him, the nurse gave him those pain pills and left.
Johnny lay back for a moment, breathing heavily, with his eyes closed. Xander and Danielle took up station on either side of him, each a mirror of the other’s strained expression. After some agonizing moments, Johnny opened his eyes and motioned Xander around the other side of the bed, next to Danielle.
He heaved an exhausted sigh and said to Xander, “Best buds, right?”
“You know it, brother,” Xander replied, his brow furrowing.
“Listen, guys,” Johnny’s breath rasped and he spoke laboriously. “This is it for me. No more tomorrows.”
“Oh, Johnny… please don’t,” Danielle softly sobbed.
“Hey, Babe… don’t now… Remember the good times,” He looked up at Xander and continued, “Your word, man. Ya gotta look after my lady now. I’m countin’ on ya. I’ll be watchin’,” he said with a smirk. Xander couldn’t speak, he just nodded. Johnny looked to Danielle, “And you gotta keep Xander movin’ forward, Babe.”
He held out his arm again, and she leaned there beside him a few moments more. He lifted his head and they shared a kiss. Xander sat on the edge of the bed next to him at her knee. Johnny let himself drift into drug-induced sleep. They sat like that for a long time before the monitor flat-lined.
by D. Denise Dianaty
© 16 October 2014
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