Jessica tentatively walked down the corridor of the hospital, each movement a great effort, each step needing to be supported by the walking frame in front of her. She hated feeling trapped in her own body, but this was what the car accident had left her with. After waking up, she discovered that she would have to relearn all the things she had taken for granted like walking. Still, she knew she was lucky to be alive, and tried to put her anger to the back of her mind. After all, there was nobody to be angry at, she knew. It had been the other driver's fault, and he was dead, so she knew she was being unreasonable if she cursed him for her loss.
She passed the door to the private room next to hers. The name plate said that the name of the patient was Andrea Esheyr, but she had never seen the woman ever leave the room, nor any patients ever visit.
"Nurse," Jessica asked, "Who's in there? I never see anybody visit, and I've never seen her leave..."
"Oh," said the nurse, "Andrea... well, that's a sad case. I'm not really supposed to talk about it, but a lot of people know anyway. She's a young woman, like you, about 18 years old, very pretty. Anyway apparently she tried to commit suicide. They were able to save her, but she's been in a coma ever since. It's been three months now, and still nothing. Sadly, her family have all but stopped visiting, they moved away from the area and didn't have Andrea moved with them, so it's a long way for them to come."
"That's terrible," Jessica said, "Would I be allowed to go and see her?" She didn't know why the sudden urge had come over her to see this young woman, after all she knew she was in a coma and would be poor company, but she was intrigued by the nurse's story. She wondered what had led Andrea to attempt suicide and her family to shun her so. She wanted to sit there and spend some time with the girl, partly because she was bored, and partly because she wanted to see if she could help, somehow.
"I suppose it could be arranged," the nurse said, "There's not much to see, though. She just lays there and sleeps, like she has no desire to wake up. It'll be pretty boring just sitting there making conversation to yourself."
"That's all right," Jessica replied, "The hospital is always so noisy and people are always bothering me - perhaps it would be nice to sit in peace for a while."
"As you wish," the nurse said, opening the door to Andrea's room, "I'll help you sit down in here and then I have to go see to other patients, so I won't be back for a couple of hours. I hope you don't get too bored."
Jessica sat there quietly by Andrea's bedside for a few minutes, thinking of what to say, whether she should say anything at all. She looked at Andrea and surmised she was the quiet, beautiful, troubled type. She had long, silken black hair of an unknown length, as it disappeared under the blankets and Jessica could not see its full length. Her face was serene and calm, perfect except for a small red birthmark above her eye on the right side. The ventilator covered her mouth so she could not see everything, but she knew that Andrea was stunningly beautiful, birthmark and all. She wondered what terrible tragedy had befallen this girl to make her want to end her life.
Andrea's right arm lay above the sheets, and Jessica could see there were no marks of any kind - Andrea was not a cutter, it seemed, as there were no scars on her wrists. Obviously, there was no drama here, just a quiet girl who had wanted to disappear, perhaps.
She sat back in her chair, doing her leg-lifting exercises to pass the time. She wanted to say something, but everything that came to mind sounded lame and ill-conceived. Still, she felt Andrea's presence in the room and felt that she should say something by way of introduction, rather than just being the nosy girl from next door who had come to gawk at the suicide girl in a coma.
"Well," she said tentatively, feeling stupid and embarrassed all at once, "I guess I should introduce myself. I'm Jessica. You don't know me, but I guess I was kinda lonely and I wanted to meet someone." She didn't know where the last admission had come from, but she knew it an honest one.
Silence. Of course. Andrea was in a coma. She was not going to wake up for a simple introduction. She wasn't even going to wake if she was the most interesting person in the world, because she had no control over being comatose.
"I suppose you wonder what I'm doing here, well I was in a car accident. I had to relearn use of my legs because they were crushed in the accident, but the other guy's dead so I suppose I'm lucky, really." She didn't know why she was telling Andrea this, only that she wanted to talk, wanted to get some things off her chest. Had she come here for purely selfish reasons? She supposed she had, looking back. But no, she had wanted to know about Andrea. She wanted to understand why she had given up on life, because even in her worst moments, trapped in a body that would not move properly, Jessica had still wanted to live.
"They told me that you tried to commit suicide," Jessica said, "Don't worry, not a lot of people know or anything. It's just because I asked, because I wanted to know who was in here and why. I just... it's a shame, you know. You're pretty. You could have anything you wanted, I'm sure." She started to wonder if she was sounding nasty now, "I should shut up," she said, "I didn't come here to judge you or anything. I guess I'm just lonely, and you must be lonely too, because nobody's been here lately."
Footsteps approached, the door started to open, and Jessica's voice dropped to a quieter level, "I think the nurse is back," she said, "So I guess I'll be going back to my room now. I'm sorry if I said anything wrong, I mean, I don't know if you can hear me or not, but I didn't mean anything nasty. I just... wanted to get to know you."
The nurse came in, "Ready to go back to your room now?" Jessica nodded. The nurse came over and helped her up, and her hands grasped the walking frame. Step by step, she left the room, the door closing behind her as the nurse came out, and Andrea confined once again to her quiet world, while the milling about of nurses, patients and visitors filled the corridor with life and noise and bright lights, like it was another world.
Jessica didn't go back to Andrea's room for a few days. She felt like she was being an idiot the first time, but then, eventually, she found she wanted to go back to Andrea's room and try again. Everybody else had given up on Andrea, and Jessica felt that now she had made the investment, broken the ice, gone in there and opened her heart, she couldn't very well back away and be just another person to abandon the pretty girl.
This time, though, she brought a magazine with her, one of the women's weeklies that her visitors had delivered. She flipped through it while considering what to say, and eventually came across a short story. She read it, liked it and felt she wanted to share it, so she read it aloud so Andrea could hear it. It was a simple story, just about some woman living in solitude with her pet dog until Mr. Perfect came along, but there was something charming about it. It represented a world that everybody wanted to live in, but few people ever got to truly experience. Her friends were all settled down with good boyfriends, but she didn't really know if any of them really, truly loved them. She was waiting to find someone who she could really spend her life with, but so far that scenario had not occurred, and so she was alone. She'd had boyfriends, had dated in school, but since leaving had felt no pressure and no hurry. She wanted to explore herself, find herself before really settling down. She had planned to go to university, but then the accident had occurred and she had decided to put it off for a year until she could recover enough to put all her energy into it.
"I bet we have some things in common," Jessica said, "You're 18, right? I'm 19, so we must have some things in common... although a lot of people said that I don't really like a lot of the things they're into. I have a lot of friends I guess... but just lately, I feel abandoned. I've been in here and only a couple of them came to see me... it's my family that make all the visits. It makes me wonder... whether they were really ever friends... or whether they're just people who I spent time with because I didn't want to be alone. I suppose you don't really want to hear this, Andrea. I'm sure you probably had it a lot worse than me, otherwise you wouldn't be here at all." She sat back, wondering why all this gabble was coming out here, to Andrea. Perhaps it was easier to talk to someone who wasn't listening, who wouldn't dish out useless advice from girls' magazines or tell her to get a boyfriend or a counsellor to pour out all her troubles on.
"It's not fair," Jessica said, "Here I am, pouring out all my troubles, but you can't express yours at all. It's a shame, because I'd like to listen. I don't know why, but I'm intrigued by you."
Just then the door opened, and Jessica expected the voice of the nurse, but instead was greeted with a soft male voice.
"Who are you?" The man asked. Jessica could see that he was a young man, about 21, and he had the same black hair as Andrea, so he assumed they must be related.
"I'm sorry," Jessica said, "I hear that Andrea was all alone, so I thought I'd come and give her some company. I'm Jessica Hart, the patient from next door."
"I'm Andrea's brother, Nigel," the man said, "I figured I'd come down and see how Andrea is doing, since our parents won't come down. I don't see how it would hurt them to come, but I think they've given her up for dead already. I guess it's not surprising, considering all that happened between them before Andrea tried to commit suicide. I think that was the final straw for them."
"I... I'll leave if you want some privacy," Jessica said, feeling she was intruding into a personal matter where she did not belong. Who was she, anyway, to come into a stranger's room and pretend like she knew her? She didn't know anything about Andrea.
"I'd like you to stay, actually, if you would," Nigel said, "It gets... quiet in here. Besides, if you're going to be visiting Andrea, surely you'd like to know more about her?"
"I would," Jessica said, "Tell me about her."
"Andrea was always the quiet type," Nigel said, "She was intelligent, and talented with the piano. Our parents were proud of all her achievements. She had everything ahead of her, including a scholarship to an expensive music school. But somewhere along the way, she fell in love with a fellow music student, a match our parents did not agree with. Torn between her love and her family, she broke off the romance, but her love died in a car crash a week later. There were suspicious circumstances pointing to suicide, and Andrea blamed herself for the death. She dropped out of school, and would spend hours just walking the streets in all weather. Then, after a while, she seemed to improve. The school took her back as a paying student, and our parents paid the tuition. But... she blamed our parents and herself still. Her music was angry and discordant. She wanted to become a boarding student at the school, to finish her education away from our parents who she always argued with, but they forbade it. We found her in her room, overdosed on painkillers."
"Oh," Jessica said, not knowing what to say, "That's a shame. Why did her parents oppose her romance?"
"They said she was too young to really know what she wanted," Nigel said, "I don't agree with what they said, because she seemed so happy. I was just glad that she had found happiness, because she always seemed so sad, so lost. Her music cried out to me of somebody who was desperately alone, but she wouldn't open up to me. After everything that happened, though, she was just angry all the time, and completely unapproachable. I think my parents... I think... this sounds really nasty, but I think they're almost afraid of her waking up. They don't know what to do with her, so they've walked away. I don't think they believe she will ever wake up."
"You didn't give up on her," Jessica said.
"I should come more often, though," Nigel replied, "Life's busy, I have a girlfriend and a baby on the way, but I haven't forgotten about Andrea. Look, I know you don't know her well, but I really appreciate you coming in here and spending some time with Andrea. Just so she knows, if she can hear us, that the world hasn't given up on her."
"I guess I've been lonely too," Jessica said, "That's why I was here. First I came for purely selfish reasons like nosiness, but it's obvious that Andrea needs someone to be here for her, so I'll come every day."
"Thanks," Nigel said. His cellphone started to ring, "Damn it," he said, "I can't answer this thing in here, so I better go. Thanks for listening. Look, if you get to a computer, I know she kept a blog under her real name. If you want to know more about her, you might want to read that." He got up and left, closing the door behind him.
Jessica sighed, "I'm sorry," she said to Andrea, "I thought I had it bad with my crushed legs and injured back, but that's nothing compared to what you've been through. I wonder who it was that you loved that was so wonderful he was worth dying for? He must have been somebody truly special. I'm sorry that you lost him, Andrea. Nobody should have to bury their love under the ground." She felt tears coming to her eyes, moved by the tragic situation that Andrea was in.
The door opened, and the nurse came in. Jessica blinked back her tears, and the nurse helped her back to her room and her bed, where a big bowl of fruit and her smiling mother were waiting.
"Thank you Mom," she said, "I love you."
"What brought this on?" Jessica's mom asked.
"I don't know," she said, "I just feel lucky to have such a wonderful family. I know you and Dad would support me through anything."
"We're parents," said Jessica's mom, "That's what parents do."
"Not all of them, sadly," Jessica mused, and deflected further questions by asking about the family dog, her Dad, the weather outside and if any of her friends had called.
The nurse came in about halfway through, "Well, sorry to interrupt," she said, "but I have some good news. You can go home now. We've done all we can for you here; if you follow all the exercises we gave you and keep using the walker you should be able to manage at home with your parents' help."
"Home?" Jessica asked. It was both good and bad news to her; while she wanted to go home, she wanted to stay and be with Andrea some more. She had told Andrea's brother that she would watch over her, but once she left the hospital she wouldn't be able to manage visits very often.
"I don't feel ready to go home," Jessica said, "I can barely walk."
"You will be fine," the nurse said, "You have a supportive family here, and other people need this bed."
"All right then," Jessica said, "I'll give it a try. Can I go visit Andrea again, though? I want to say goodbye."
"I wish you would wake up, Andrea," Jessica said, "I wanted to help you. I wanted you to see there is a reason to live in this world. Your brother loves you, and I... I wanted to get to know you better. I wanted to hear you play the piano. But now I have to go home. They say I'm ready to leave this place, and because I can't walk well, I'm not going to be able to visit much. The fact is, I don't want to go. I want to stay until you wake up, I want to be here to see it when you do. When you woke up, I wanted to help you find a place in the world again. I know that I've had a good life in comparison, and I could never know how you felt, but still, I'm sure that you could learn to fall in love again."
But there was just the silence, the sound of the ventilator, the distant sound of footsteps and the world outside, the light coming through the door into the dim room.
"I guess this is goodbye, then," Jessica said, and with a heavy heart she turned to the door. She half expected to hear Andrea stir, to see her move an arm, and she kept turning best she could to look behind her, almost moving to the door sideways, but this wasn't a book or a movie. Andrea lay there still, eyes closed, lost in a sleep so deeply woven with sorrow and pain that it was endless.
Jessica realized in the next few days that it was impossible to get Andrea out of her head. She wanted to go back to the hospital, but her parents were so busy trying to work and take care of her that she didn't want to ask for any favors. She remembered that Nigel had said that Andrea kept a blog. She got her laptop and looked up Andrea Esheyr on a search engine, and soon found the blog in question. Clicking the user information, she saw that the town of residence was the same, that it had to be her Andrea. An unexpected happiness filled her insides that she would finally be able to read the posts. Perhaps she would find something in here that would help her somehow to bring Andrea around. She read the latest post:
"My Isobel, dearest Isobel, is gone, confined to the ground, and they buried a piece of me with her. I do not blame her for committing suicide in that car, for using the sleeping pills and driving on the quiet road down to the river, I only wish she took me with her. For I loved her more than anything in the world, but my parents hated the thought that I was gay, that I was "abnormal" in their eyes, that I had done something that was for once not perfect in their eyes. Yet I know my love for Isobel was the most perfect thing I have ever done, that my love for her was the reason for all the beautiful music I have ever played. The Moonlight Sonata was our shared favorite piece, and we played it for each other until we knew it off by heart. They would not allow it at her funeral, her parents chose something bland and religious while my parents would not even allow me to attend.
The biggest mistake I have ever made in my life was to give in to my parents' will and throw away our love, Isobel. If I had only been stronger like you, I could have endured my parents' disgust until they came to terms with our love. I would have let love be my shield against all the hate in this world. But I failed, and because I pushed you aside, I have lost you forever.
My reason for living has been extinguished, my fire is gone. All there is is emptiness, and anger fills the void where once you were, my love. I am already dead, but still my shell walks this world, going through the motions. I've tried to pretend I'm getting better, because my brother still cares, still loves and accepts me, but I'm not, I'm simply a ghost wandering the world as a human, trying to work up the courage to cross over to the other side."
Jessica finished reading the post, tears running down her cheeks. Of course, she realized, it all made sense now. Her brother had been evasive, just referring to Andrea's "love", but what he had really been meaning to say was that Andrea was a lesbian. Now she knew why Andrea's parents had been against her relationship - prejudice ran strong in many people. Yet Jessica felt no judgement, only sorrow that such a beautiful love had ended in such a tragic way, that Andrea and Isobel had been parted because of hatred and discrimination.
She sat and read the posts for the next week, going back through the journal. It was a record of their beautiful love affair, from each meeting in the music school's garden to each night spent together. Andrea had spared no detail, and had described their love poetically. Jessica constantly found her face wet with tears after reading the entries.
"We had our first kiss today. We were both so afraid, and we were clumsy and imperfect, so we tried and tried again. Passion overtook us, and we made love in the gazebo under the roses. It was like a sacred ritual, beautiful and holy. I have never experienced anything like this in my life. I am bursting with longing to tell somebody, but I can tell nobody. So I went up to the music hall and sat on the piano and played Moonlight Sonata, which seems to be almost our love theme. It expresses everything I ever wanted to say to Isobel, without telling a single soul.
If I should ever lose Isobel, I will lose myself, for she is me, as much as I am her."
Finally, Jessica reached the first post ever made in the journal - their first meeting:
"Today I heard Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata coming from the music hall. I love that song, and I went up to see who was playing it so perfectly. The girl there, Isobel, took my breath away in a way I have never known before. We sat and talked for hours about music and life. I feel like I have met my soulmate - but I am also deeply afraid. I have known for a while that I am not like other girls, I don't desire men like the others. I want women, and I know that my parents would hate me if they ever knew. I know I am falling for Isobel already, but there are so many pitfalls, so many problems. She may not even be that way. Even if she is, will she love a quiet bookish girl like me? If so, how will we survive my parents' hatred of gay people? They cannot even watch the television without making lewd comments. I am so scared, and I wish I had somebody to talk to, somebody who would just listen and would not judge me, nor offer pointless advice from teenage magazines. Just somebody to listen to all my problems, and make me realize the world is not so bad, and that I must enjoy this love and not take it for granted."
Jessica realized how alike they were, her and Andrea. They had both needed somebody to talk to - Andrea had found her journal to be of comfort, while Jessica had found Andrea's comatose form to be her counsellor. Jessica had always longed to be loved the way that Andrea loved Isobel, and she felt a deep connection to Andrea. She knew what Andrea would want.
She knew what she had to do.
Jessica had begged her grandfather to take her up to the hospital, and finally he relented. After a long and painful walk, she finally reached Andrea's room. She took in her laptop computer and set it up beside Andrea's bed.
"Andrea," Jessica said, "It's me. I read your journal, Andrea, I know your story and I cried for you and Isobel, many times. It made me redefine all my boundaries, all the things I thought I knew about myself. Somewhere, amongst the poetry of your words, I... I felt something. I felt the desire and passion that you must have felt when I read about you and Isobel. I felt the love that you must have felt when you talked about Isobel. You are such a beautiful person, Andrea. I came here because one way or another, this story has to have an ending befitting somebody as beautiful and poetic as you are. I knew that you would want to hear this song again, so I brought it here with me."
Jessica stepped over to the laptop and pressed the play button. Moonlight Sonata echoed gracefully from the speakers.
"It's up to you now, Andrea," Jessica said, "You can wake up, you can try to love again, and I will help you, I will be here for you every step of the way, or you can go now, and be with Isobel on the other side, wherever that may be. Either way, you have to make a choice. You can't stay here in limbo forever."
Nothing happened, and Jessica wondered if she was crazy for coming here, for really expecting a piece of music to have a physical effect on a comatose woman.
"I'm sorry," Andrea said, "I came here because I... I'm in love with you. And I wanted you to find peace, somehow, because someone as beautiful as you deserves peace. Even if you don't stay here in this world with me, I understand. But I want you to make a choice, to live or let go, for everybody you ever loved and who loved you.
Jessica moved closer, and held Andrea's hand. The music reached its peak, and Jessica felt moved by it. She was in the gazebo, she was Isobel, and she kissed Andrea, but she was herself, too, and she realized she was kissing Andrea's forehead and closed eyes, unable to kiss her lips because of the ventilator.
The music started to fade off, and then Andrea's heart stopped, the heart rate graph on the life-support machine flat-lining and squealing out a warning. Jessica pulled away, panicked. Should she call someone? No doubt somebody would soon come running with the noise the machine was making. What would Andrea want, though? To be revived, to lay here comatose for more years, until her parents finally decided to pull the plug, or to die here, to her favorite song? How could she decide? She was not God. She wasn't even a relative. What was she doing here? What was she doing?
The door opened, and Nigel stood there. He came in quickly, assessed the situation, then nodded, as Moonlight Sonata came around on loop and played again. He went to the corner, and switched off the power to the life-support machine, pulling the plug clean out of the wall. The machine went silent.
Jessica stood there, silent, not knowing what to say. Too much had happened. The woman she had fallen in love with yet never truly known was now lying dead in front of her, by her own hand. Perhaps if she had called the crash team, they would have been able to save her.
"No," Nigel said, his voice thick with sorrow, "Do not bear the same guilt and grief that Andrea did over Isobel's death. Andrea would have wanted this. My parents have been trying to appeal to me, to get me to accept their terms that the life-support should be turned off. I didn't agree with them because I believed their intentions were the wrong ones. But you, you came here out of love, you brought the music she loved to her. This is how she would have wanted to go. She loved Isobel more than life itself. You read her blog, didn't you? That's the only way you could have known to come here and do this."
"Yeah," Andrea said, her throat tight, tears streaming down her face, "I know this sounds crazy, but I felt I knew her, through her posts. I fell in love with her."
"I'm sorry," Nigel said, "I know how hard it must have been to do what you did."
"How come you're here, anyway?" Jessica asked.
"My girlfriend went into labor this morning, and this is the nearest hospital. I had a hunch, though, a feeling when I got here... that I should go to see my sister as soon as possible."
"So as one life leaves, another is just beginning," Jessica said.
"Andrea would have found that poetic," Nigel said.
They stood for a few moments longer, then Jessica stopped the music and put away her laptop, "What now?" she asked Nigel, "We don't want to be suspected of foul play."
"We won't be," Nigel said, "I have the consent form to turn off her life support, which I'll just sign here..." They'll need confirmation in person too, but I'm going to take the fall and say I went ahead and did it because I couldn't stand watching her suffer any more. My parents won't argue that they consented to it, and they'll probably just take it as the actions of a grief-stricken brother, because that's what it is. I think... I was hoping somebody like you would come along and make this easier for me. I think that's why I guided you to her blog."
"I have to go now," Andrea said, making for the door hastily.
"Wait!" Nigel said, "I didn't mean it like that... I wasn't using you. I..."
"You'll never understand what I felt for her. What I truly felt for her. Don't think I did this for you. I did this for her, so she can have peace now. I will grieve, just as you grieve, whether I ever got to know her in real life or not." She left, not looking back.
There was one final post in the blog; from her brother, announcing that Andrea had passed away peacefully and announcing the funeral arrangements. Jessica did not go to the funeral, as technically she had never known Andrea. She stood at the edge of the graveyard while they buried her and looked on from a distance. She cried tears that stung as the cold wind blew on her face.
She had learned something about herself, too; that she could fall in love with anyone, regardless of gender. This revelation was hard for her to accept, having seen the tragic end to Andrea's story. She knew that some people would look down on her, but she knew that her family and the people she loved would accept her, and so she told them, and while each of them took a little time to come to terms with it, she felt as loved as ever.
Her body healed too, and in fall of the next year she took a place at art college, ready to start out on a whole new chapter of her life, wherever it would take her. Inspired by the love of Andrea and Isobel, she too found true love, and carried it with her to the end of her days.