Saying Good-bye to Laura

He got the call at work, half past midnight on an icy winter's night. He'd been on break, smoking a cigarette at the back door. "AJ, you have a call..."

"Yeah? Do me a favor, Jeff, tell 'em I'll get back to 'em later."

"They said it's important."

"Fine." He dropped his smoke to the ground, smothering it quickly with his old, worn sneaker, then made his way briskly to the telephone in the coffee room. "Yeah, AJ here," he grumbled into the mouthpiece.

"AJ, good god! I'm glad they got you." The tone was recognizable as the voice of his friend, Mary, sounding rather shaken or afraid, he wasn't sure which.

"What's wrong, Mare?"

"It's Laura..." she spoke of their closest friend. "...there was an accident."

"I'll be right there!"

"The hospital, down the road from where you are. I'll be waiting at the door for you. Hurry."

He was out of the room before the phone had the chance to hit the receiver. It swung back and forth lifelessly like a pendulum.

Jeff was in the hall as AJ came charging by. "AJ, man, where you-?"

"Emergency, Jeff. Tell the boss I had to go."

"Sure thing," but his friend was gone before he had the words out. "Must be pretty bad."

~*~

Mary was waiting at the door, just as she'd said she would. "AJ!" she called for his attention.

"Mary! What's the deal? What happened?!" he cried out as he made his way to her.

"Her face was tear-stained and red. "Hit by a car, she was on her way to...to visit you at work. The didn't know who to contact when they found her, but my number was in her purse."

"How bad is it?" he asked, cradling her with comforting arms.

"Oh God, AJ!" She wept against his chest. "She's in a coma, she might not ever come out of it!"

Snow fell around the two friends as they cried in each other's arms. People walking home from work glanced at the pair standing outside of the hospital entrance, but were never acknowledged.

"Can..can we go see her?" AJ choked, after their tears had slowed.

Mary nodded numbly. "I called her mother; she'll be in Montana by three AM, on the next flight. Until then, we're all Laura's got."

AJ followed her stiffly down the sterile-smelling corridor to door 117, and into the small, green-tinted room.

A nurse was changing the IV in Laura's arm. She smiled sympathetically at the two teens before exiting the room.

"They said to talk to her...she might be able to hear us." Mary informed him. He nodded absently.

"Laura?" his voice cracked in worry. He slid into the uncomfortable wooden chair by the bed, resting his hand over her thin, pale fingers. "I'm here, Laura."

"So am I." Mary injected, standing on the other side of the bed.

"Everything's going to be okay, I promise. You'll get better and we'll get you out of here. We won't leave you alone in this place." He comforted the sleeping girl.

"We'll take you far away from this world, just like we promised." Mary added.

AJ wrenched his eyes away from Laura's white face and locked them with Mary's. "She hates hospitals. She wouldn't want to be in here..."

"I know, it wasn't my choice...and it's her only chance to live." She rested her gaze on Laura again, as did AJ. "Don't worry, Laura. When you're better we'll take you very far away from here."

"Can she really hear us?"

"I don't know, I hope."

Their eyes locked again, filling with tears and prayers.

"AJ?" the soft voice was weak and broken, but had to other faces snapping to look at Laura's frail body.

Her eyelids were unbearably heavy, and she felt overpoweringly tired, but she forced herself to keep her eyes open, smiling as best she could at her only two friends. "I'm sorry."

"Don't you be sorry." AJ's grip tightened slightly around her hand as he spoke hoarsely through clenched teeth. Mary took Laura's other hand in her own.

"I'm leaving you..." Laura whispered.

"Please don't," he begged. Mary's voice was caught in her throat.

"I can't stay, it's too hard." Laura's voice was getting quieter with every syllable.

"We understand." Mary sobbed.

"Please, no..." AJ cried. "Please don't leave me."

"I love you both."

"We love you too, Laura." Mary whispered.

"I love you..."his voice died away.

"Thank you both so much." They could hardly hear her now. Her eyes closed, and the hands held by each of her friends when slack. The room was filled with the soul piercing high-pitched wail of the heart machine taking on a single, monotonous tone. Mary backed against the wall, and AJ rested his head on the edge of the bed and just wept, still clutching Laura's hand as if it were the only thing holding him back from drowning in his own tears.

"I never said good-bye," he cried out. "I never got to say good-bye!"

~*~

Laura was buried in Montana, where her soul could be closer to AJ and Mary. Even her mother agreed that Laura would've wanted it that way. The funeral had been simple, few attending. AJ never made it to the casket. It was a week later when he slowly stumbled to her grave

"Laura..." he sobbed, burying his face in his hands. "There was so much I wanted to tell you, but I couldn't find the words. I could only be close to you for two months when you moved here, but I've loved you for so much longer. I tried so hard to be there to protect you, and I failed this one last time. I wish you never had to hurt like you did, and I'm sorry I couldn't end that for you. I thought I had nothing, until I had you...then I had everything. I owed you my life. I love you so much, and I don't want to say good-bye..."

"It's okay." Mary rested her hands on his shoulders, and he looked up. "Leave knowing that no matter what, you were always there for her, and always will be...and that she will always be here for you. Good-byes are always only temporary."

He bent to kiss the rose he'd brought, then laid it at the base of her headstone.

"Good-bye Laura."