There were three things I wanted to tell him. Three things that took my breath away each time I went to say them. I twisted them, the easiest first, hardest last. Then there was the one in the middle, that one that sat between relief and misery.

Somehow, sitting on the swings before dusk took the light away, I found my breath for the first time.


"Yeah?" He swung back, the air pushing a gentle lock of hair away from my face.

"I'm going back home on Tuesday."

He looked at me, and I forced my head to return the gaze. "Home?"

"Dad needs some help looking after Grandma, the stress is getting to him too much. I'm scared that he'll just give up on everything James." I couldn't look into those eyes any longer. My head turned away, I knew it wasn't any less hard for either of us. And it was me that was doing it, me that was splitting us up. "It won't be forever. I'll come back as soon as things are sorted."

"How long have we known each other?" The question took my eyes back to him.

"Two years give or take."

He nodded. "So that makes seventeen years without you."

"But two with. And anyway, there'll be many more years to come. Remember, when you're married and living in Africa with your family, I'll be here with two kids working as a teacher." I brought back the dreams we had shared those days ago, so long ago it seemed now.

"That's not going to happen Maddy." There was something in his voice, something I had never heard before. Something I didn't want to hear.

Still though I tried to be light. "What, did you change your mind? Do you want to take up that job as my personal chauffeur, you're always driving me around anyway." I chuckled, but it was not returned. "James?" Reaching out I grabbed his hand.

"I'm dying Maddy."

I'm dying Maddy.

"I have cancer."

I have cancer.

"Two weeks, that's what they said."

"Two weeks, that's what they said."

"Say something, please."

"Say something, please."

I realised I was just looking at him, my mind captured in his words. None of my own could come out. Especially not the second thing I had planned to tell him.


"Why?" But I wasn't asking him, I was asking whatever did this to him.

He lifted himself from the swing, coming to kneel beside mine. "I'm sorry Maddy. I should've told you, but I couldn't, I just couldn't. But now sinceā€¦" He left it there.

"I'll stay. Dad can wait, he'll understand."

We sat there together, as dusk took its final step in. I had told him the first thing. Yet I did not know how I could tell him the rest.

The second time I found my breath we were in his house, gazing round his well-kept room.



"I'm picking up law next year."

He dropped that hand he had been holding. "Law. What about teaching?"

I sighed, though hoped he didn't notice. "I just think law would benefit me more." Consideration in each word.

"Your dad wants you to study law. Don't do this Maddy, do want you want to do."

"But in the long run-"

"You want to be a teacher Maddy. You'd hate being a lawyer."

I tried to find a compromise. "I'll go, and flunk out after one semester. Dad can't do anything then."

"We both know you won't."

Silence. I had no arguments left.

"Maddy." His voice softened. "Do want you want to do with your life. We both said we'd follow our dreams, so follow yours. If not for yourself, then for me."

"Okay." And I hoped he knew I was sincere.

I left the hardest for last. And for two weeks, I couldn't say it.

He now lay on the white-washed bed, tubes stringing life into his body. I occupied the single chair, the room silent except for the constant beeping. Each one a heartbeat.


"Yeah?" He opened his eyes, the weakness shown in those blue globes.

My breath was lost amongst those eyes, lost amongst him. I sucked in, nothing coming, no voice speaking out.

There were three things I had wanted to tell him. Two things where I had found my breath. Hardest last.

I reached out to grasp his hand. His fingers were warm, strength rising slowly to return the grip.

"James." A single tear floated across my check, dropping onto my hand, slipping to his. I couldn't tell him, my breath stolen.

I felt his hand begin to slip, the beeping machines taking a dim noise. And it was with his last breath, that I found mine.

"I love you."