Dear Reader,

I wrote this short story some time ago. I wrote this--shall we say--out of sheer boredom. Anyways, I'm posting it here. If you do leave a review (which I hope you do), thank you very much. If it becomes boring, I hope you don't kill me. As I said, it was written out of sheer boredom, after all. Still, I hope you like it. Constructive criticisms and opinions are welcomed. Thank you!


One Night

Iris opened her eyes and recognized a pair of strong arms wrapped protectively over her frame. Turning her head, she immediately felt her husband's breath against her cheek and sighed in content. His warmth was a tonic for her weak body, and on nights such as these, when she felt especially vulnerable, she basked in his heat like a forsaken kitten.

She breathed the night air in and a dull, familiar pressure on her chest area made her wince involuntarily. With effort, she forced herself to stay still, before fearfully looking at Joel's face. His hair was mopped with sweat, yet he seemed perfectly still and serene. Sound asleep, she thought, naturally relieved. Generally, he was such a light sleeper. Apparently, she added mentally as she gently eased out of his arms and moved out of the bed, not tonight. She clamped her mouth shut as a bout of cough fought to leave her throat. Her breathing came out heavy and laboured.

Tiredly moving out of their chambers, she felt her way across the dark hallway, opened the lights of the bathroom and went inside. Her eyes lost focus for a second and she collapsed at the foot of the tub as half her limbs went limp. The pressure intensified to such an extent that breathing became more laborious, all coming in short and rapid gasps. Every inhale and exhale was greeted by a sharp sting and a thin, sickening whistle. Her whole body racked as she gave in to the coughing fits. Her shaky, still mobile hand remained over her mouth to silence every release, though. From experience, Iris knew that her coughing would wake even the dead. Of course, she had no intention to wake the dead, thank goodness for that!

She just didn't want to worry her husband.

Concentrating with difficulty at every inhalation, her head unconsciously drifted off to her husband. What would happen should he find her like this? Should she have told him after all, then? Iris knew that Joel would be angry should he find out that she has been hiding her present condition from him. But what could she do? Aside from the fact that she didn't want him worried, a small voice of self-pride was against total dependency.

It hurtsto see him so anxious over me. I don't want to feel so—so weak anymore...

But he is your husbandhe's entitled to worry, argued that one rational thought. And you don't have to hide anything from him…

Shoving those second thoughts aside, she muttered to herself decidedly, "I'll be back to bed in a few minutes. I just don't want to disturb his sleep. He's tired enough from work without me."

Iris leaned her head on the cold linoleum and felt exhaustion wash over her frame.

A few minutes…I just need to rest…

Why does it feel so…cold? Did I leave the windows open? With a small grunt, Joel Guerrero crawled out of the feather-soft bed and checked the windows. They were all closed. Crossly scratching his head, he slowly slipped himself back to bed and back to his wife's arms.

And it was then that he realised what, or rather, who was missing.

"Iris," he murmured and quickly jumped out of bed, fully awake and sober. Worry washed him like a wet sponge. Frantically, he opened the lights and looked around. She was nowhere inside the room. On instinct, he ran to the bathroom and found his quarry.

For a split second, he couldn't move. His eyes absorbed the sorry form of his wife. Her pallid face was contorted with pain, even in sleep. The silk nightgown that he had recently bought her hung limply, hardly accentuating any bodily asset. Her brown and curly hair seemed almost lifeless and weak as it clung closely to her cheeks and neck.

Eyes stinging with tears, Joel hurried and knelt beside his wife. To his horror, she was no longer breathing.

"Iris…Iris…wake up, damn it!" he said, almost shouting as he vainly shook her. He immediately carried her back to the bedroom and plonked her on the mattress. He placed his ear next to her nose and above her chapped lips while placing two fingers on one side of her neck. Negative breathing. Thankfully, there was a pulse; admittedly weak, yes, but there nonetheless. It would have been more difficult if there had been none at all. Decidedly, he went for artificial breathing. He quickly tweaked open her rigid mouth with his pinched thumb and forefinger and tilted her jaw up to open her airways. As he gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, he mumbled prayers, both directed to the Above and to the wife that he was so utterly devoted, hoping that one or both would hear his supplications.

Men with less experience would have panicked and called 911. But Joel was hardly one with less experience as he was a professional nurse in a prestigious hospital. He knew, therefore, that by the time they reached medical assistance, Iris would already be in a state of coma and would be suffering from severe brain damage. First aid was the nearest and the best treatment at the moment. Anyways, this has not been the first time that anything like this has happened. Nor does he reckon that it will be the last.

A sickening thought passed through his mind as he mechanically continued the cycle.

But what if…

NO! No what ifs! Was this not how they had first met a few years ago? And wasn't that the first of many? Has not he always been there to save her on time?

Nevertheless, his wide experience in such matters did not any more lessen his fear for his wife. Joel had studied his wife's clinical history before; a rare case of severe heart ailment complicated with chronic asthma. The problem ran in her family and it was a known fact that her own mother died of heart failure while giving birth to her. The only treatment possible, he knew, was a heart transplant. Heaven knows how expensive that was! He worked hard in the hospital, dedicating his time and energy to his charges while toiling and sweating for every cent. One day, he will be able to afford that transplant. He needed to…for Iris.

A sharp breath brought his thoughts back to focus. With shaking hands, he wordlessly rolled her to her side facing his chest and nimbly massaged her back with his fingers. When she gagged, he reached for the nearest towel and dabbed her mouth clean. Joel could clearly hear the wheezing sounds that came from her parted lips. Still her eyes remained tightly shut. In a voice shaking with contained fear and remorse, he murmured softly, "Baby, wake up…come on…open your eyes…please."

His wife of two years stirred and, not unlike Sleeping Beauty, fluttered her eyes open. In dire relief, he pulled her weak frame into his sinewy arms, muttering thanks and praises to the Almighty. When he pulled back, he was a lanky college student once more, with a faint pale-faced biology student lying in his arms. Back then, her eyelashes had quivered and opened widely when she suddenly realized the awkwardness of the situation. He had smiled reassuringly at her then, and had carried her to the nearest clinic for a check-up, amidst her blushes and protests.

Joel vowed to take care of her ever since.

But tonight, as her pale and tired auburn eyes widened in obvious surprise, he felt helpless and weak. This close he could see the dark bags beneath her eyes, signs of sleepless nights spent in unspoken suffering.

Can I still take care of her? Am I still worthy of the task?

"You—you're awake," she murmured more to herself than to him.

"You're lucky I was," he said unsmilingly. The relief he felt was instantly replaced by a tumult of guilt and anger; guilt for not noticing the symptoms earlier and anger at her for not telling him anything. He felt her shrink under his gaze. "How long?"

"I—I'm really not sure—"

"Iris…please!" he said, adding the "please" with tired exasperation, "How long!"

Placing a frail hand over her chest as the pain attacked her once more, she breathed, carefully not looking him in the eye, "Th-three days."

Three days. His wife has been suffering nightly, perhaps even daily, spasms and she didn't tell him. He didn't even notice. But then again, he hasn't always been there these past few days. Working in the hospital demanded extra hours, and that meant being extra away from home and from Iris. Her soft wheezing sounds interrupted his train of thoughts.

"Did you at least take the medicine for immediate attacks?"

"Of course I did! I wouldn't have lasted this long if I hadn't!" she retorted sourly. He flinched and her eyes widened in shock as she realized the gravity of what she had just said. Remorse made her woozy as her heartbeat sped up; the wheezing persisted.

"Joel, please, I know you're angry…but please let me explain," she said in between strained breaths.

"We can talk about that later," he replied shortly. He went to one of the drawers and took out her nebuliser.

"No. I'm not taking that yet. You know how that gets me dizzy and sleepy. Your "later" will turn to "never!"" she attempted to shout the last word but it came out as a thin gasp.

Silently, he felt for her arms and her legs, and massaged specific areas, knowing that the loss of control over her limbs caused her to collapse on the bathroom. They both couldn't speak, or rather, felt too awkward to do so. Mechanically, he stood up and took out her "little asthma kit" as she favourably called it, and fitted measured amounts of Ventolin into the nebuliser. When he finished assembling it, he gave the tube-like end to Iris. Looking up at him with earnest eyes, she answered him flatly.

"No."

He took a deep breath. "Iris, you know how your asthma complicates your heart problems. We need to treat it immediately before it becomes worse. And I don't think being plainly hard-headed will help you. We need to—"

"No."

"See here," he said angrily, and with a rather ridiculous face, pointed the mouth of the tube at her stubborn wife. "You will take this. And I don't want you walking around here, fainting all over the place! Take this now…or I'll be damned to force it down on you."

Raising a brow, she deftly reached out and pulled the plug of the nebulizer. Sitting back down, Iris looked at him defiantly, gritting her teeth to keep her breath controlled.

Well, I am damned.

He sighed, yet deep inside, he felt a small surge of pride in her stubbornness.

No time to admire that now, though.

"You're being childish," he began, restraining with effort the smile forming around the corners of his lips.

"I know that. But if that's what it takes to talk to you, then perhaps I'd rather be like that," she said. Joel didn't speak, and taking this as a cue to continue, Iris took a deep breath.

"I'm really, really sorry," she muttered, biting her lower lip uncertainly. "I—it's just that—I just don't want to worry you anymore. I'm worthless as I am. I—I can't go around too much, I've been suspended from field work—"

"But that's only temporary—"

"—half-a-year is temporary to you, maybe, but it's already a hundred to me! I haven't been helping around much. All this time, you've been working so hard…you even do most of my share in housework—and—and all that I do is get sick! The hospital bills are so expensive, and there are other bills, too! Late at night, I wake you up with my occasional attacks; sometimes, you'd just rock me to sleep, even when I'm not having any attacks. You hardly get any rest! I just don't want to get you more tired than you already are—"

"It doesn't matter too much to me!"

"But it matters to me! I am a burden to you!"

"You aren't!"

"I don't want you to worry!"

He exasperated, "I've been your husband for two years already, unless you haven't realized it yet. So deal with it."

There was a brief silence. Joel knew his wife was upset. He knew that intense emotions added to her pain. This intensified the guilt.

I'm such a bastard! He cursed internally.

She broke into his train of self-accusations. "And then—and then," she hesitated before continuing. "And then you know how I haven't given you a baby yet. We've been married for two years. But really—really, are we trying? Sometimes I wonder if you really want to have our child."

He closed his eyes and groaned. "Iris, do we have to go in on this again?"

"Yes. Because it's important! What—are you too tired of this discussion?"

He massaged his forehead, strained. "But we can't...you know we can't yet."

"Why? What are you afraid of? Don't you want me?" Tears coursed through her face and dripped incessantly from her chin.

"Of course I want you! Damn it, I love you, Iris! You know how hard it is for me to keep in control with you. But we can't. Not yet. It'll be difficult for you to carry a baby in your womb, and many things could happen. I'd rather not have a child than lose you, even if it means giving up being a father. God knows how much I want to be one!"

"It's harder for me. I want you to father my child! I want to risk it! I want to give you a child. If I can't do that, then I can't do anything for you—for us. I'll be just worthless, sitting around here, doing nothing. Maybe—maybe you should just find another woman! I'm too sickly for you, too weak, too—"

"NO! Just shut it, okay!" he shouted hoarsely, pulling her against his cheek. He could feel her feeble attempts at suppressing her wheezing. Her cold cheek, damp with tears, made him want to cry, too. Joel sniffed. "Don't say that. Don't you ever say that again! You're not a burden. You're not!"

Iris peeled herself away gently and looked into his eyes. He looked back with eyes blurry with tears and stroked her hair.

"I want to take care of you, Ice," he whispered. "And I want to have our baby; I want to risk it, too. But I'm afraid that—that you'll die having the child. And the doctor even agreed then, and he was the one who had suggested to the administration for you to stop working as well in order to observe your illness, especially now since it seems to be at its peak. So don't say that you're a burden! I don't care if you are sickly, but you're not weak! I don't care! And the bills—it doesn't matter too much…not half as much as you. When you get better, you can do fieldwork as much as you want, so long as you don't hurt yourself. And—and maybe—no, I'm sure, you'll be healthier then! And—and we'll have as much babies as we want."

Iris scrunched her brows slightly. He had that odd habit of drifting in his speech, and loudly saying each thought in an unorganized manner. But then again, he hasn't always been too good in expressing his feelings or thoughts. His dark brown eyes crinkled with mirth, understanding the expression on her face.

"I know that you know that I know what you're thinking." She grinned while thinking his words over.

"What do you want me to say?"

"It is strange how we seem to perceive each other's thoughts."

"It's not strange. Not at all." Her eyes returned the twinkle in his eyes.

They simultaneously leaned on each other's foreheads and smiled, savouring the moment, enjoying the way their breaths mingled and mixed. The dull ache in her chest receded, and even her difficulty in breathing seemed to lessen. Joel didn't need her to tell him that she was feeling better; the way her body relaxed, the deepening exhalations told him everything. Pulling her closer to him, he placed her head along the crook of his neck and cradled his dear wife. She rubbed her nose against his skin, making him smile.

He hesitated before asking, "I am—still worthy of taking care of you?"

"What are you saying now? Of course you are! I wouldn't have married you if you aren't now, would I?" they grinned and Joel rested his chin on her forehead.

"I love you…you know that, don't you?"

"Mmhm."

"Say it properly."

"I'm sleepy."

"I'm getting sleepy, too."

"Maybe next time," Joel knew she was teasing him. He already knew the answer but he would never get tired of hearing it.

He pouted, "Please!"

Absolutely irresistible. Iris swooped up and kissed him square on the lips. She meant it as a quick smack but he caught her and prolonged the contact. Iris even had a quick prayer that she would not be having an attack at that exact moment; that would have been a truly unromantic scene. Somehow, she knew he was thinking the same thing.

After a few seconds, or perhaps minutes, they released each other, both gasping for breath.

"I love you," she breathed.

Joel smiled. "I know you do."

"I know that you know I do."

"So this means we're ok now?"

"Yes."

"No more hiding, no more nightly adventures for you?"

"Hmm, maybe."

"You're stubborn. That means I should be keeping an eye on you then. I want to spend more time with you again, you know?"

"Me, too."

Joel chuckled and whispered more seriously. "Damn. It's so hard for me to keep in control with you this close."

"We shouldn't."

"What?"

She raised her head slightly and kissed his chin. "We both have this nasty habit of trying to always keep in control. Domination stuff. Why not throw it aside for just this night? Forget the rules, don't think of the doctor. It's been a long while."

She was answered with silence, a small frown on his face. She knew he was starting to think it over. A little nudge will probably do the trick she thought foxily.

"I'm better now, really. You make me better. I love you so much."

Joel relaxed into a smile. "You're teasing me again…luring me more like."

"You like it when I do that, right?"

"Yes…I love it."

They smiled. Joel really had to ask.

"Need Ventolin?"

"You romance pooper."

"Maybe," he whispered and kissed her gently.

There was a silent creak of bedsprings as he kissed her against the futon. A smile passed her lips for a moment. Something told her that tonight…would be different.


I know. It's a bit weird, ain't it? In case you're wondering, I know some lung ailments since I used to suffer from tough bouts of asthma; I also used to nurse my friends who suffered from heart diseases and ailments. Leave a review, please? Thankies.

BL