Summer, about three years ago, that's when he thought everything went downhill.
She had loved him from the get go. He knew that. And she had loved him even more as the days rolled by, days turning into weeks, weeks turning into months and months rolling into years. The bad thing was that he thought to himself, "Well, this isn't half bad. I could roll with this". And so he did.
He loved her too, but not in the same way. But he did try… and he did everything he could. She was happy, which was more than enough for him. But at the back of his mind, there were those nagging questions that wouldn't go away, questions that he had tried so desperately to ignore since the day he decided to start loving her back.
But he figured he was happy as well because she was his best friend and he'd always been a happy little smurf whenever he did something that put a smile on her face.
No one could ever say that he didn't try. No one could ever say that he didn't give his 100% because he did, even going so far as to propose marriage after their college graduation. Of course she said yes. He knew she would. At the back of his mind, he had always known that. He had always known that whatever he asked of her, she would always say yes.
So they made plans, and he thought again, "Yeah, I could roll with this. Definitely."
But then he met her… and that was when he realized that with "rest of your life scenarios", it was difficult to just "roll" with things.
So he started to feel different. Those questions at the back of his mind that he oh-so-easily squashed before came back in full force, nagging at him, constantly asking him if he was doing the right thing. He tried to do what he did best, ignore the damn thing, but it would not go away. Not this time.
It wouldn't shut up.
Her name was Christine and she showed him just how much love can be different when you were truly, madly, deeply, crazily in love with a person. And he was like that with her: truly, madly, deeply, crazily in love. And he didn't know what to do. He loved his best friend and he didn't want to hurt her.
He didn't know what to do.
But, no matter how much he loved his best friend, he didn't love her that way. Not the same way he loved Christine.
On the morning of their wedding day, he knelt down in front of her and cried his eyes out, begging for her forgiveness because he really, really, absolutely could not go through with this. Not now. Not when he had known what it was like to know love. He begged her forgiveness for everything. He knew he should never have led her on, but how was he supposed to know that Christine would come along?
And so she knelt down in front of him too so that they were eye-level. She kissed his tears away and smiled. His last thought was that she looked so angelic in her wedding dress, before she stood up and disappeared through the doors of the chapel's waiting room and never looked back.
Her name was Emily and she loved him with all her heart. And he broke that heart, shattered it to tiny little pieces. He broke his best friend's heart and he wasn't even there to pick up the pieces.
And she didn't say anything, not even a word, because that was how much she understood. Perhaps she understood even before he did. She knew, knew it deep within herself. Perhaps she knew it from the get go.
He was unhappy… and he didn't even know.
It was summer time three years later when he saw Emily again.
He was in Vienna for their honeymoon. He and Christine's honeymoon. They got married about a year ago and they were blissfully, shamelessly happy. Despite everything else though, he still thought about her from time to time, wondering what she was doing now, how she was or if she was happy.
It happened in a quaint little coffee shop in some corner of Vienna where Christine dragged him along. Very picturesque, it turned out. He ordered some espresso, and she was there, serving their coffee to them.
His jaw dropped. He hadn't expected that. Perhaps he never would have expected that in a million years.
The last he heard about her was that she was still working at the same place, staying at the same apartment and doing the same things with her life. He never would have expected to find her serving coffee in a Vienna coffee shop with a the brightest smile on her face, as though serving coffee was what she was born to do.
She smiled at them politely, exchanging pleasantries like nothing at all devastating happened a few years ago. She looked well, brighter, although a little thinner and perhaps a little paler. But she looked well.
The manager called for her and she said something in reply. She excused herself and went away, and just like that, the moment passed.
He and Christine didn't talk about it that night. They just pretended that nothing ever happened. In retrospect, they probably should have talked about it. But it was something that they hadn't dealt with in a long time, and like it or not, Emily was still a rather sore spot, a topic that they would rather not delve into.
Because, really, the truth of the matter was he missed his best friend.
He missed her so goddamn much.
The next morning, he ran into her at the bus stop.
It was still too early for anything really, and so he decided to go out and buy breakfast for him and Christine. But he forgot all about that when he saw her.
She was waiting, just standing there, looking into the distance, at the people crowding inside the bus, but apparently she had no intention of getting on board. There was a curious expression on her face, like she was counting them all, every single one of them. And it made him smile.
Without thinking, he approached her. Without thinking about the past or the present or the possible future, he walked up to her and had every intention of striking up a conversation. Without thought to how they parted ways three years before, without anything, he just went and stood before her.
"Hi," she said when she finally noticed him. She looked around. The bus had moved on. "What are you doing here?" She asked, positively puzzled.
"I was—" he started to say, but he couldn't find the words. "I was just walking," he finally said, "and I noticed you." It was so easy to drop back into it, to the easy familiarity that their relationship had always had before he stood her up at the altar. "Are you going somewhere?" He ventured to ask.
She shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe. I don't really know. I haven't decided yet."
And then he remembered, the way they were before. He remembered that she has always been like this, just so adorably unpredictable. Back then, sometimes, they would stand together by the roadside and count all the red cars that would pass by them. He didn't get the meaning of the exercise before, and actually, he didn't really understand it until now, but he couldn't care less. He just remembered how much he enjoyed it.
Perhaps it wasn't really the exercise he enjoyed but the simple act of standing next to her, doing something so incredibly mundane.
Was he really that unhappy with her? Somehow he couldn't quite remember anymore.
And so in an effort to remember, he said, "If you're going somewhere, can I come with you?"
She stared at him for a long moment, as though studying every pore, every slight movement, before finally saying, "Sure, why not?"
He had no idea what he was doing, but he didn't care. If he could go back to five minutes ago, he would still walk up to her at that bus stop and ask her if she was going somewhere. Why? Because he so desperately wanted to remember. He wanted to remember how it was like to have his best friend by his side, uncomplicated, stress-free.
Even for just a little while.
His first thought when they reached a destination—which he guessed was not really their intended destination but he supposed it would have to do—was that he had no right to do this. He had no right to hold his best friend's hand and walk around this stupid theme park like there was nothing and no one in the world but the two of them.
He really, really could not do this again. It was not fair, not to him, not to Christine and most especially not to Emily. He should stop while he could, but it was just too damn comfortable, too fucking familiar and soothing that he didn't know how he could have lived without this for three whole years.
She was eating cotton candy and humming a familiar song under her breath as he looked at her—really looked at her. She really did look different from three years ago. Perhaps he just didn't realize enough of the details when he saw her at the coffee shop yesterday, but there was something different about her. He realized how clichéd that sounded but there really was no other word for it.
"Are you sure you aren't going to get into trouble because of this?" She asked, turning to him. That was the only time he ever felt self-conscious enough to remove his scrutinizing eyes away from her.
He would get into all sorts of trouble, he knew that already. Who leaves in the morning to get breakfast then ends up going on a date—because, really, he couldn't fool himself into thinking it was anything else—with a long lost friend who also happened to be his ex-fiancée?
He shook his head. If he was going to have to deal with a fuckton of trouble the moment he got back, then he could just enjoy himself for the moment, right? He missed his best friend. He never wanted to lose her, even if they never went through with the wedding. After, when she walked out on him in that chapel, for a few days he entertained the illusion that they could keep their friendship intact.
He wasn't stupid, he knew it would have taken some time even if they did manage to scrape enough of the past to patch up their friendship. But then he never accounted for the fact that Emily never wanted anything to do with him ever again. He thought, stupidly thought, that she needed him as much as he needed her.
He was clearly wrong though because he never heard from her again after that day, their supposed-to-be wedding day. It was supposed to be the happiest day of her life and he went ahead and screwed that up.
"Let's have some fun. We deserve that, don't we?" He asked her then as he realized that he would never ever be able to forgive himself for what he did to her. She may be able to, and from the looks of things she may already have, but he would not.
Her eyes looked doubtful for a moment, then she smiled, bright and beautiful. Fuck, he had forgotten how beautiful she was. In his mind's eye, he suddenly got a glimpse of her from that day, looking angelic in her white wedding dress.
She held out her hand for him and said, "C'mon then. We're losing daylight."
So he took her hand and they walked around, played around and laughed like it was their last day on earth. It was too easy, too comfortable and he was afraid he would never have the strength to step away from it—from this—at the end of the day.
It should be difficult. Their meeting should be strained, punctuated by awkward silences and stiff responses to questions that should never be asked. It should not be like this: warm, fun and easy. She should be angry. He should be scared and guilty. But perhaps after growing up together, knowing each others' quirks for almost forever, perhaps three years apart was not long enough to change whatever they had.
They never talked about it. They never talked about what happened between them three years ago. Emily never brought it up, and so he felt he had no reason to reopen old wounds. Not when they were having fun. So he let himself be fooled into thinking that everything was all right. That this was just a simple holiday, just like the million other holidays they shared before Three Years Ago happened.
"That was fun. We should do it again some time."
What the hell was he saying? That was stupid. He should run. Get away from her. What the hell was he thinking asking her out? Had he suddenly forgotten that he had a wife waiting for him back at their hotel room, probably extremely pissed and sick with worry because he had been gone for the whole day when he left her a note saying that he was out to get breakfast?
No. He hadn't forgotten about that, so what the hell was he thinking?
Luckily, Emily could think enough for both of them. "No. We probably shouldn't. I'm leaving Vienna anyway. This is probably the last time we'll see each other."
"What? Why?" He asked, surprised. He never thought to ask her that. He just assumed that she lived in Vienna because she worked in the coffee shop. "Don't you work at that coffee shop?" He asked rather stupidly.
"Been working there for almost a week now. It's time to move on." She said in the most nonchalant manner she could ever assume. There was an awkward silence until she said, "You should go… home."
When she said home, he knew it wasn't the home they used to know. He knew she meant go home to her, to your wife, and perhaps this was the moment they were going to talk about Three Years Ago. He was waiting for her to say something. But she never did. The next thing he knew, she was walking away.
Without thinking, he grabbed her arm to stop her. She looked back at him, confused. "No. Emily. Wait. Talk to me for a bit, will you?" She didn't say anything. She was waiting for him to ask the question, or perhaps open up the can of worms. Either way, he was sure that he could stand there forever waiting for her answer and it wouldn't come.
He took the safe way out. He always did when it came to her. "What are you doing here?" He asked her, finally. After a whole day of being together, he only thought to ask her that now. He was really stupid.
His hand slid from her arm to her hand and he twined their fingers together. He thought, yeah, this is right. This is familiar. He missed this. He really did. She pulled him toward the bench and they sat down together, not talking for a bit.
He didn't let go of her hand.
"Backpacking, I guess," she answered after a while. "Remember I told you I've always wanted to do this? I wanted to be able to walk across all the major cities of Europe. Live freely. Stop thinking and just..." She trailed off, looking into the distance.
Yes, he remembered. She told him that. Before he could stop himself, the guilt clawed its way out of his throat and devoured his whole being, heart first, then moving on to other parts of his body. He would never be able to get over this because he promised her. He promised her that they would go backpacking across Europe on their honeymoon.
As though she knew where his thoughts were, she asked, "What are you doing here anyway?"
Honeymoon. "Work," he replied simply. He felt uncomfortable lying. But it was done.
She nodded, slipping her hand out of his grasp. "You can't put it off forever you know."
"What?" He asked.
"Going home," she said, emphasizing the last word. "You can't just stay here forever and hope that the world stop spinning because it never would. I tried wishing for the same thing back when, you know." She stopped then forced out a smile. "Anyway, you should get a move on. Life goes on."
Life goes on.
And yes, it did. Life did go on when he left her, when they stopped talking, when they never saw each other again. Life did go on and it will go on no matter how much he wished he could freeze this moment just for the sheer pleasure and pain of seeing his best friend again.
She really was his best friend if she knew he was thinking about that. Three years would never stop them from knowing each other in and out.
"Can I see you tomorrow?" He asked, desperate.
She sighed. "If you can catch up. But remember. I'll be leaving on time. 9 o'clock sharp. You know how I hate to be late." And then she stood up.
"Where?" He asked frantically, afraid that she would leave before he got all the details.
"Train station," she said with a casual shrug of her shoulders. "I'm leaving Vienna, remember?"
Yeah. Could also have been the airport. But he didn't answer. He just nodded and then she smiled and walked away.
The way he saw it—and the way she probably saw it too—he had two choices. One was to go and see her off at the train station tomorrow, say his goodbyes and move on, treasure this day as something that he could never bring back and just walk away. The other was to just pack his bags and walk away, never look back and apologize to his wife profusely.
He took the third option.
He packed his bags and left the things he knew he wouldn't need. He was at the train station with thirty minutes to spare, but she wasn't there yet. That gave him time to think, to reevaluate his decision but the more he thought about it, the more convinced he was that he did the right thing.
Well, perhaps it was the right thing in some twisted way in his mind, but he didn't exactly want to think about that right now.
They got into a huge fight. He and Christine. Perhaps it was the biggest fight they ever had in all of their twelve months of marriage. Of course, when one suddenly returned to the hotel room where one abandoned one's wife for the whole day, spouting some nonsense about packing his bags and going off backpacking with his best friend-who-also-happened-to-be-his-ex-fiancée for about three months or so, the wife was entitled to a little freakout.
All right, perhaps it wasn't little. It was a massive fight. Things got thrown around everywhere, there were much slapping, shouting and hurtful words. There was much anger and hate and insecurities getting thrown all around but none of those stopped him from wanting, desperately, to come to the train station that morning.
Not even Christine's words of, "If you leave, never come back. You hear me? Never ever show you face to me again, you fucking bastard," stopped him from this.
He couldn't explain it to himself either. He didn't know the reason and perhaps he didn't have any real reason for doing this, and somehow he didn't care. All he knew was that one moment he was blissfully happy and contented with his life, with his beautiful wife and amazing job, the next his world was flipped upside down and nothing was right or wrong anymore.
And yet when he felt the hand on his shoulder and he turned around to face her, his best friend, her bag slung on her shoulder, clutching a water bottle on her other hand, he thought, amazing. This was amazing. This was, probably, all he could have ever asked for. How could he have missed that before?
"There was a third option?" She asked, all the humor in her voice. She was eyeing his bag warily though, as though afraid that she was wrong and this was all just some stupid ploy to get her to believe that he was finally coming through for her, after all these years.
"For you, there always would be," he answered, trying to sound as reassuring as he could.
She grinned widely and then turned and beckoned for him to follow her, "Then I guess we should hurry along. We're losing daylight, you know?"
That was when he knew that they had a fuckton of issues to sift through, things to settle, but somehow they would be fine. They had each other and that should be fine.
It should be enough for now, anyway.
From Vienna, they went to Budapest because Emily said she wanted to try the famous backpacker medicinal bath-spas. It took about three hours by train from where they came from, and when they arrived, they immediately set about in finding cheap lodgings. When they finally found a discount hotel not very far from most of the attractions, they went ahead and booked a room.
There was initial awkwardness—on his part mostly—because only one room was available because it was summer and people were travelling and backpacking left and right. Emily just brushed it off though and said "two beds" with a nonchalant shrug of her shoulders.
He learned to let go of the tiny details after that.
They stayed there for about a week, exploring the sights before journeying on towards Krakow. They visited the Plaszow Concentration Camp Memorial. As they looked on, Emily's face took on this somber expression. He was afraid to ask what she was thinking about although it was quite obvious, really.
"Life's so… cheap, isn't it?" She said, rather bitter. If he was not listening carefully though, he would have missed that.
He could see that she was uncomfortable. He took her hand, trying to provide some sort of comfort the only way he knew how. "I don't know. Perhaps." He answered simply.
That seemed enough for her.
They moved on to Munich next where they acted like a couple of stupid tourists before finally managing to get themselves some sort of accommodation. They indulged on beer, because, hey, Germany. They moved around a lot, visited tons of beer halls because hey, beer. Almost every day they were at the Victuals Market, looking at stuff they had no intention of buying. They had fun looking though.
They also visited the German Museum. To be honest though, he had no patience for museums but Emily wanted to go and he knew there was nothing he could do about that. It was just like before, whenever they went on a date and Emily wanted to go somewhere. He knew he would never refuse her.
Although the truth was, he gaped like a total fanboy when he saw the first ever automobile.
They were a little sorry that Oktoberfest was a few months away, but hey, they could always come back.
For some reason though, Emily gave him a rather sad smile when he said that.
It was a full month later when he realized that something was wrong.
He first noticed it on their first night back when they were in Munich. She looked pale and exhausted, and it wasn't the normal kind of pale and exhausted. She looked then like she was just inches away from passing out from sheer exhaustion and what appeared to be dehydration, although he didn't think there was any reason for either of them to be dehydrated.
When he asked her about it, she said she was just tired from their journey. He thought that that was fair because he felt tired as well, but not on the same level as her, apparently. He let it go for the time being because he sensed she didn't want to talk about it. The worry never left him though.
After they had had dinner, she excused herself, telling him to go on ahead because she needed to walk around for a bit, get some fresh air. When he offered to come with her, she flat out refused, saying she needed to be alone.
He let her go, but that did not stop him from worrying. After all, she looked about ready to drop down dead any second. She was adamant about him not coming though. When he got back to their hotel room, he fell asleep almost immediately and when he woke up the next morning, she was in her bed, sound asleep. She looked better by comparison, though still rather weak and fragile.
He supposed she really did just need some alone time, air and rest.
But after that day, he began to notice more… things. Unusual things. There was one night where he couldn't sleep and Emily thought he was asleep. She got up from her bed, rummaged for something in her bag and went inside the bathroom. He waited for her to come out, and he guessed he must have been waiting for about three hours before he finally fell asleep again.
She never came out.
But the next morning, he found her sound asleep in her bed once again.
A couple more nights after that, he decided to pretend to be asleep, just to see what she would do. There was one night where he heard her throwing up in the bathroom. When he confronted her about it the next morning, she just shrugged it off and said, "I know I shouldn't have eaten those shell things. I always have a bad reaction to them."
But for some reason, he could not help but notice the bags under her eyes.
She was not sleeping well. He noticed that soon after.
And now, about a couple more weeks after that realization, another realization hit him. He knew she was hiding something from him, he just didn't know what. The opportunity to find out came entirely by accident one day, a whole month after they started backpacking together.
They were staying in a cheap hotel somewhere in Dublin then, but they were about to leave that night to catch the train to Edinbrugh. They were packing, when she suddenly remembered that she still needed a couple of things so she went out to get them. He was packing his things as well when he noticed Emily's bag on her bed, about halfway packed. He went over to stow it away for a bit because he knew she would need the space when she got back.
When he picked up her small duffel though, the contents spilled out onto her bed. He uttered an involuntary curse because he knew that Emily would be pissed to know that she had to do her packing again.
But then there it was: two half-empty orange pill bottles. He picked one up and turned it over, doctor's name, signature… prescribed to Emily. Prescription pills. Why the hell would she need prescription pills? He thought. He picked the other one up as well and examined it. This one was prescribed to her as well. A sudden feeling of dread and wonder overwhelmed him.
He tried not to panic. There could just be a simple answer to this. It could just be for something… something simple. Terrible migraines perhaps, or something else.
But at the back of his mind, he knew that was not the case. Emily was hiding something from him, and she would not be hiding it if it wasn't serious. That was how she had always been. She would never dream of burdening anyone else, not even him. Her best friend, her ex-fiancé.
All those strange nights, her extreme nonchalance with matters concerning her health…
He knew he shouldn't panic until he had asked her about it but…
Before he could think about anything else though, the door of the hotel room opened. Emily was chattering mindlessly about something, but she stopped dead when he saw her cradling the pill bottles in his hands.
"What the hell?" She said. He suspected she wanted to sound mad, but it only came out rather… guilty.
"What's this?" Now that was what mad sounded like. He couldn't help it. He needed to know.
She started at him for a long moment before answering, "Pills," as though saying are you blind? She closed the door behind her, sighing. She seemed to be very calm, in sharp contrast to his flaring emotions. "I suppose you'd have to find out eventually. I just… I didn't think it would be this soon."
Confused. Frightened. Agitated.
What the hell was she saying? It was scary as fuck. "What the fuck? What the fuck do you mean?" He said rather breathlessly.
She took a couple of deep breaths as though steadying herself before saying, "I'm sick." There was silence as he let himself absorb that very fact, let himself realize that it wasn't the garden-variety kind of sick she was talking about. It was not a cold. It was not the flu. She was saying she was sick sick.
As though to stress that fact, she added, "Brain tumor."
"H-How long?" He managed to force himself to say. How long have you been sick? How long did they give you? How long…
"They gave me eight months," she said quietly. "That was six months ago."
It was loud and deafening. He felt like he was going to pass out. It was the scariest silence he had ever heard in his life. Two months. Two months to go. How could she possibly think that this would be okay for him, so could she please not be so fucking calm about this? It wasn't fucking okay. Not for him. Not for anything. No.
"Why didn't you tell me?" He asked, his voice trembling.
"I didn't…" She trailed off, apparently not knowing what to say. She stared down at her feet once more, an unreadable expression on her face. She was breathing deeply as though trying to make up her mind. "I didn't want you to come out of pity." She finally said, voice so tiny, it was as if she wasn't speaking at all.
"What?" That was the best he could do under the circumstances, really.
"I was surprised you even came, actually. I was positive you wouldn't even show up at the train station that morning. I dunno why. I have no idea what prompted you to leave your wife," she said, emphasizing that word, "to go on a roadtrip with me…" She shook her head. "Then when we left I was kinda convinced that you'd leave eventually."
His vision was blurring, and he knew his eyes were swimming with unshed tears but he didn't want her to see that, so he wiped them away before they could fall. "Why would you think I'd leave if you told me about this?" He said angrily. How could she think he would leave her alone? How could she think that he would even manage to do something like that?
She shook her head again, and this time he could see she was tearing up as well. "That was the problem. I knew… I knew when you find out, you wouldn't leave." She said softly. "I didn't want you to stay because you felt obligated to. Fuck's sake, you already came 'cause you felt guilty about leaving me at the altar."
There was silence again, and there it was… the elephant in the room.
Did he really only come with her because he felt guilty about that? Was that the real reason why he chose, as she said, to leave his own wife to go on a journey with his best friend without any plans for what may happen afterward whatsoever?
She smiled. A forced smile, but a smile nonetheless. "You've always been like that, you know. Whenever you did something wrong, something that hurt me or whatever, you'd bend over backwards to make it up to me. You wouldn't care who got hurt. You'd just want to make it up to me…" She was crying now, silent hiccups here and there. He wanted to reach out and hug her, make it all better.
Because it was true. He would do anything to make it up to her. And he knew he would spend the rest of his life trying to make up for Three Years Ago.
"But I just want you to know, now, you know… You don't have to. Not anymore. We're different people now. We're not joined at the hip anymore. You have your wife now." She said, sitting on her bed. "I'm just… someone from your past."
He couldn't say anything. What would he say? What was left to say? How dare you? How dare you do this to me? How dare you make me love you again? How dare you make me need you so much?
She took a deep, agonizing breath once more. "Go to bed. Get some rest. I won't be here when you wake up."
That was when he saw how vulnerable she looked, how afraid. She looked just as afraid as him… afraid that he would really, truly leave.
He was afraid to leave as well.
That was when he finally got over himself. He realized that he shouldn't be wasting time anymore. He crossed the room, snatched her up by the arm, pulling her up from the bed. He stared at her for a few moments before pressing his lips to hers. He kissed her. He kissed her hard. It had been a long time since he had done that. Long ago… a very long time ago…
It felt good. It was the most amazing feeling he had ever felt in his life.
It felt like coming home.
But then all too soon, she pushed him off of her, giving him a hard glare. "Could you just… just stop?" She said, the glare turning into a hard, pleading look. "Please. I can't… Just go to bed, get some sleep. Please."
"If you think I would leave you, if you think for one second that I'd ever leave you alone then…" he couldn't even find the right words, the right threat. "You wouldn't do this to me. You can't do this to me, okay? You get some rest. We'll go and see a doctor—"
"No doctors," she said firmly. "I just… need to get my pill bottles filled regularly. I'll be fine. I just… I just need to take good care of myself." She said earnestly. He wanted to argue more about the benefits of getting checked out at the hospital, but he let it drop for the moment. At least the issue of leaving was put at rest. For the meantime.
He pushed her down on the bed. "Then get some rest. You look tired. We still have a few hours before we leave for Edinbrugh. I'll pack your things for you, okay?" He kissed her briefly, chastely, just a way of saying it will be all right and when she did not protest, he took it as a good sign. "We'll deal with this. I promise."
"You promise?" She asked, a strange smile on her face. Then she turned her back to him, "'Cause when did you ever break a promise, right?"
He didn't have anything to say about that.
So he just turned around and started to pack.
Despite his promise that they would deal with it, they never got around to talking about it. It was not like that he didn't try. It was just whenever he tried to bring it up, he would get that choked feeling, like he couldn't breathe. He couldn't face it. He couldn't face the fact that in less than two months…
For the moment though, they were happy. They travelled around and saw places that they only ever saw in post cards before, and it was the most fun they had ever had. He tried to tell himself this couldn't go on forever, that he could somehow prepare himself for the inevitable if he could just make himself say it.
But he couldn't. Whenever he looked at her, all he saw was her. Whenever he looked at her, all he saw was them. He remembered them, the way they were before, how happy she looked, how bright. Back then she would smile at him as though he was her world, and he would smile back, trying to convince her—and himself mostly—that she was his world as well.
It was different now though, what with all the telltale signs of her disease eating her up from the inside. Oh she tried to hide it, and sometimes he believed that she hid it very well but he could see. Perhaps because now he knew what he was looking for.
There were mornings when she couldn't even get up from the bed, too exhausted to even haul herself over to the bathroom to throw up. Then she would cry, because he would have to clean up after her, saying over and over how he should just leave her alone, how she didn't want him to see her like that.
But he wouldn't say anything. He'd just do it, then he'd kiss her forehead and tell her to go back to sleep, get some rest so they could have some fun tomorrow.
There were mornings when she was fine. Mornings when she would be up and ready before he could even so much as ask if she was all right. She would push and pull at him until he got ready and they'd leave early for whatever they had planned for that day.
Today was not one of those mornings.
He popped open her pill bottles and poured two of each on his palm. He grabbed the glass of water on the table and Emily struggled to prop herself into a sitting position, taking the pills from him and dry-swallowing them. He made her drink the water as well, just in case.
"I still think we should go to a hospital," he said quietly, knowing that he would be shot down immediately.
Sure enough, she shook her head vigorously. "No. I'll be fine. I just… I just need to rest." It sounded like she was struggling to even utter a word. He shook his head, indicating that she didn't have to speak, and kissed her forehead before moving back to his own bed.
After a moment of silence, she said, "You must be tired, huh?"
He didn't say anything.
"The offer still stands, you know. You can just close your eyes. Get some sleep. You don't have to feel guilty when you wake up and I'm not here. This could all just be some very bad dream." She muttered mindlessly. The pills were probably working, taking her mind off of things, off of the pain.
"Just get some rest, Emily, okay?" He said patiently, lying back down on his bed. "I'll get us some breakfast later. Just… don't think too much. We'll have some fun tomorrow. I promise."
'Cause I always kept my promises, right? Even he couldn't believe in himself anymore.
"Okay," she answered. "Just know that… I wouldn't take it against you."
A few minutes later, he felt himself falling back asleep. Well, it was justifiable anyway. They had a late night last night. Emily insisted on staying for as long as they could at some bar, though she didn't really drink much. He wasn't even sure that she drank at all since she said alcohol wasn't a very good mix with her medication.
When he came to some time later, he heard the shower running in the bathroom, which most probably meant that she was throwing up in there. She never wanted him to hear her whenever she threw up so she would always have the shower running. He stretched slightly and fell back asleep again, unable to help himself.
When he woke up again, he knew then that something was wrong. The shower was still running and he could tell that it was already mid-afternoon. He got to his feet as fast as he could and knocked on the bathroom door. There was no answer so he opened the door and, just as he expected, it was empty. Water was flooding the bathroom but there was no one in there.
He cursed himself for falling asleep.
Suddenly, anger flooded his veins. How could she? He never gave his permission! He never said she could leave when he fell asleep. How could she make that assumption about him? She had no right!
But even as he was thinking these things, he was already running out of the room. Admittedly, he didn't have a plan on how to look for her but that didn't matter. He just needed to be moving.
He found her about two hours later at a bar about an hour away from their hotel. The bar was closed, but the restaurant was open. She was sitting by the bar though and it looked like she had been drinking and talking to who appeared to be the bartender. He approached them, angry, annoyed, frustrated with worry, but most of all, relieved.
"Hey, hey," he said, grabbing her by the shoulder and attempting to turn her around. "Emily, look at me, what are you doing?" She was looking at him but she wasn't seeing him. She appeared to be drugged up and drunk beyond realization. "Why the hell is she drinking?!" He rounded on the bartender.
The bartender raised his arms in a sort of I surrender motion. "She threatened to stab me if I didn't give her something. I gave her fruit juice at most. Very little alcohol—"
"She's on medication," he said through gritted teeth. "What the fuck were you thinking?" He added, more to Emily now. He put her arm around his shoulders and attempted to haul her out of there. "C'mon. We're leaving."
Before the bartender could even say anything, he had already half-dragged her out of there. He kept on talking, afraid that if she fell asleep she wouldn't wake up. He had half a mind to drag her over to a hospital but before he could even voice out the thought, she had already said, "Don't you dare bring me to a hospital, you asshole."
He was angry as well, but he figured that it wouldn't be good to be angry at her now so he just nodded and did as she wanted.
He laid her out on her bed back at their hotel room and brought her enough water to last her a lifetime. She kept on drifting off to sleep only to reawaken and puke everything she had ever ingested on the trash bin beside her bed. He kept on putting cold cloths over her forehead, wiping down her sweat and just generally hovering above her, afraid, not knowing what else to do. The puking stopped eventually though and she did fall back asleep rather soundly.
It was nighttime when she awoke again. She didn't call out, didn't even make a sound. He only knew she was awake because he heard her struggling to get herself a glass of water. He turned on the lamp and got up from the bed. He poured a glass of water and handed it to her.
"Thanks," she said weakly.
He didn't know what to say, only, "Don't you ever fucking do that to me again."
She was looking at him with guilt in her eyes, but also a sort of defiance. She wasn't saying anything but he knew. He knew that she would just do it again anyway, whenever she got the chance.
"I'm serious," he tried.
She nodded then went back to bed, covering herself up with the blankets. Angry, he pulled the blankets away and forced her to look up at him. "What?" She said, rather annoyed.
"Talk to me. Promise me. Whatever. Just don't do that again, okay?"
"Okay," she answered simply.
He wasn't getting through to her. And it was killing him. "Emily, please," he practically begged. "Don't you ever leave me. I can't—I wouldn't know—What'll I do without you?"
There it was. His heart out on a plate.
There was only one way he could think that she would believe him, "You know I love—"
She sat up and looked at him, pure rage in her eyes. "Don't. Just don't." She said firmly. "You can stay if you want. Hell, you can even make me believe that you really want to stay but don't you ever make me believe that you need me, that you love me, because you'll always love her. You'll always love Christine. Don't try to tell me that you don't."
Suddenly, all his anger from what she did that morning and everything else in between came bubbling up to the surface. "How dare you?! You don't know what I want!" How could she presume that? How could she presume to know everything?
She had a simple answer though. Calmly, all traces of anger gone, she said, "I do. I know you. More than you know yourself, probably. You'll always love her. That will never change."
And she was right. No matter how much he loved her, how much he wanted to be with her right now, Christine would always be there. He would always love Christine and that would never change because she was the love of his life. Christine was the only one he would ever want and Emily… Well, Emily was his best friend—
There was something he was certain of though, "I won't ever leave you." He said.
And that was that.
On one of the worst mornings that they had ever had, Emily's favorite song started playing on the radio.
Hey Jude… don't make it bad… take a sad song… make it better…
They had been fighting. They had been fighting a lot over the past weeks and it was no different, really. She kept on insisting that he leave and go back home, but he kept on saying that he would never leave her. They spoke rarely, and they didn't really even bother leaving the hotel room of the new city they were in. He kept on expecting her to turn around and ask that they forget about their differences for a while and just have fun, but she never did.
And now she was as sick as ever, and she refused to be taken care of. He knew he must have shouted a lot, and she must have too, and now they were too tired to even fight. It was all he could do to stop himself from hurling things from across the room.
…you were made to go out and get her… let her under your skin… you begin to make it better…
Hey Jude. He remembered that song. It was Emily's favorite song. He also remembered…
They were fifteen, and she was very sick then. She had no one to take care of her because both her parents were at work. She couldn't go to school, and she had to stay at home alone. He remembered he skipped school then and went over to her house to take care of her, not sleeping or relaxing until her fever broke. At one point she began shivering and he was so afraid. He had no idea what to do. So he held her close and sang Hey Jude to her until she stopped and calmed down.
…don't carry the world upon your shoulder… for well you know that it's a fool who plays it cool…
He looked over at her side of the room and saw her shivering on the bed. It wasn't cold. They didn't even turn the AC on. But then he realized that she wasn't shivering from the cold…
…she was crying.
So he did the only thing he could think of doing at that moment. He slipped on the bed beside her, putting his arms around her. She didn't fight. She didn't even struggle to get out of his grasp. She just grabbed onto him, like he was her lifeline. He ran his fingers through her hair, calming her, soothing her… trying to tell her without words that it would all be all right.
She had been so angry with him that he didn't realize it was all an act. The anger, the annoyance, her insistence on being left alone… It was all an act because she was afraid. She was afraid of what was to come, of what was happening to her body because of her disease. And most of all, she was afraid to be alone, to wake up one morning and see the bed next to hers empty because had finally taken her up on her offer and got fed up taking care of a sick and dying person.
"I'm sorry." She said quietly.
He didn't say anything. Instead, he just sang Hey Jude.
…then you'll begin to make it better…
Soon, he lost track of the time. They just kept on hopping on buses, trains and planes, going from city to city, exploring, laughing, living. It was the most fun he had ever had in his life and he figured that if he was ever to going to have fun, it would be with his best friend in the whole world.
The fun was short-lived though, because he figured, hey it had to stop eventually, right? Because Emily can never have nice things because fate fucking decided on that shit a long time ago without even consulting him, her fucking best friend.
One of the discount hotels they stayed at had wi-fi, so he decided to check his e-mail on a whim. In retrospect, he probably shouldn't have done that. He probably should have just left it alone, stopped communicating with the outside world because that was the reason why he threw away his phone anyway. It was stupid, checking his mail. But he couldn't bring himself to regret it.
"What's that?" Emily asked brightly, looking over his shoulder at the computer screen in front of him. He couldn't move. He couldn't speak. What would he say? What could he say? It was… everything. This would change everything.
He didn't have to say anything though, because Emily already read through the letter, her face falling at every word. Her brightness was then replaced by shock and horror and guilt at the end. And when she turned to face him, she swallowed audibly and said firmly, "This is…" she stopped. She had nothing to say as well.
"I'm sorry," he said because that was it, basically.
"Why are you apologizing?" The horror and shock was gone now replaced by a forced sort of happiness. "This is… happy, isn't it?" Her smile grew wider, and this time there was nothing forced about it. It was truly, blindingly beautiful. "Oh my god, you're going to be a father!"
The e-mail was from Christine. Basically, it said that she couldn't contact him through his phone and she had no idea where the hell in the world she was right now. She was angry as well, but there was a hint of forgiveness in the tone of the mail. She asked him, implored him to come home, just come home so they could talk about their stuff. For the baby. For their baby because she was pregnant.
She had been pregnant even before he upped and left her in Vienna. She was about to tell him but then he just suddenly decided that he didn't want anything to do with the world anymore and fucked off to travel around Europe with his best friend. And she was so heartbroken that he chose Emily over her that she didn't have the heart to tell him that they were going to have a baby. But now she realized that she couldn't keep the truth from him, because she knew that he loved her and it wouldn't be fair to hide the fact that they were going to have a child together.
"You know this changes things," she said. Yeah. He figured as much. "I mean… You have to go home now. It's not about you anymore." She added quietly. And he knew that too. Fuck, he knew that too. He knew every single thing he was supposed to know. And yet… And yet…
"Emily—" he began.
She held up a hand to stop him from talking and said, "Stop. Go take a walk. Clear your head and think, okay? I'll be up in our room when you make your decision. And I swear, I won't hold it up against you. I've been saying that since day one."
He nodded, and then she disappeared behind the closing elevator doors.
He got to walking, as she suggested and thought about everything and anything. He thought backwards, from the moment he met Emily in Vienna and what his life would have been like if he hadn't met her there. He would have probably not cut his honeymoon short. Christine would have told him about the baby and they would have gone home as planned. He would have been happy, contented…
…but it wouldn't be perfect.
Because Emily would still be at the back of his mind, constantly there, never moving, never changing. Every morning, he would wake up and ask himself what was happening with her now, what she was doing, how things were going with her… if she was happy, if she had found someone worth to love.
That was when he thought about him and Emily, all those years before he met Christine. Had it really been that bad that it came down to a choice between his best friend and the love of his life? Was their relationship really been that lacking for him that it was not enough? Weren't they happy?
When they were kids, they used to talk about their future together because they had been absolutely certain that in their future they would be together, and that there was no other way for them to have any other future. As lovers though, as best friends, it was not certain. All they knew was that they were supposed to be together.
Once they were in high school though, their dynamic changed. They felt it. He knew it. They were starting to like like other people and things were changing. And then there was that one day, when they were stranded because of the storm, and he kissed her… and it was beautiful. It wasn't perfect, wasn't even close to it, but it had everything he ever wanted, and he knew he thought then, "Yeah, I could roll with this." But what he didn't know then was that he could have been satisfied with that, his whole life, if he hadn't gone around looking for more.
But was that really his fault? Looking for more? Was what he needed, what he wanted, that much less than what his best friend wanted? But then he thought about all the times she sacrificed things for him. Everything she ever did to make sure he was happy, and he thought then that what he had always needed, what he had always wanted, was more important to Emily than her own wants or needs.
And for this, yeah, he could put her own needs first… because that was the very same thing that she had always done for him.
So when he went back to their hotel room that night, he had an answer. "No. I'm not going home." He said it with such surety and finality that Emily only stared at him for about a minute or two before saying something.
"No. You're going home. I'm not." She said with much the same conviction as him.
There she was again, deciding for him even before he knew what he wanted. "Stop it, Emily. You know I'm not going anywhere. I already told you, okay? Just… drop it."
She seemed relatively calm, so it surprised him all the more when she suddenly got up from the bed and threw the glass of water she was holding in her hand across the room. It hit the wall and shattered into a million tiny pieces. Her eyes were blazing, "Damn it! You go home. Now. At this moment!"
"Then what about your wife, huh? You're just gonna abandon her? Your pregnant wife who's carrying your child. Fuck you! You need to up and leave now. Now!" She yelled, pushing him, shoving him until his back hit the wall.
"No, Emily, please don't do this." He said, trying to grab her wrists so he could stop her from hitting him, but she just pulled it away. "Please, please don't do this."
She wiped the tears from her eyes and cheeks and shouted, "Fuck it. I wish I would just fucking die already so you could move the fuck on and stop feeling guilty! I don't know what the fuck's taking so long!"
And that was just the last straw. He couldn't take it anymore because he never, ever wanted to hear those words from her. He grabbed her wrists and flipped them over so that now she was leaning against the wall, fighting back tears. He kissed her, long and slow, fighting against her resolve to shut him out, and eventually he won. She kissed him back, but he could taste the guilt and anger in her tears.
They kissed for a while, and when he eventually pulled back, he knew it was everything he had ever wanted and more. It was so similar and yet so different from when he kissed her back then, on that stormy day. Yet he knew… He just knew.
"Don't. Just don't ever say that again." He said, hard and stiff. "I don't care what you want. But this is what I want right now, so stop. Don't try to tell me what to do. I'm staying and that's final." And then he put his arms around her and just… cried on her shoulder. "Please… let me stay." He pleaded pathetically.
He wasted all his time looking for perfect when he knew he would never find perfect, because perfect did not exist. There was just Emily, and him and this stupid hotel room and this stupid journey, because this was what they had and it was far from perfect but it was, goddamn it, it was beautiful.
That night, as they settled in their own beds to get some sleep, he could not bring himself to regret his decision to stay. And as he felt himself finally drifting off to sleep, comforted by thoughts of the past and the present, he heard a sound that made his heart stop beating for a second.
Emily was… sobbing. Immediately, he got up and crossed the room, turning on the lamp light. He found her curled up in bed, sobbing quietly, muffling the sounds as best she could by biting the pillow. He knew then she wasn't crying because of what he did for her, of the guilt she felt because somehow she got it into her mind that he was only staying because she was dying…
No, she was crying because… it hurt.
Reality crashed back down on him and the weight that was momentarily lifted from his chest settled back down again in full force. It was… heartbreaking, painful, gut-wrenching…
He slid into bed next to her and wrapped his arms around her. He knew that at this point in time, her medication did not help anymore so he did not bother to get the pill bottles from the bedside table. He knew that no amount of medication could lessen the pain of her deteriorating body right now. Instead, he just stayed there, hugging her, giving her warmth as best he knew how. They had always taken care of each other, whether it was sickness, pain, heartbreak or whatever it was under God's green earth. They always dealt.
And now they really were going to deal the best way they knew how…
…by being together.
"Hey…" he heard a voice, soft and sweet, waking him up from his slumber.
He opened his eyes slowly and saw Emily lying beside him, grinning. He turned around slowly to check his watch on the bedside table. It said five o'clock in the morning. He groaned. It was too early to be up and they had another late night because her disease had taken a turn for the worst and so he slipped into bed next to her again, a habit that they had fallen into whenever she couldn't sleep. He only got some sleep when things eventually calmed down.
"Wake up," Emily said insistently. "C'mon, wake up."
"What?" He murmured, forcing his eyes to open and he looked at her, really looked at her. Suddenly, he felt something hard in his chest, clutching at his heart and refusing to let it pump blood for his body. And he just knew that this was it. This was it and, oh god, he couldn't do this. No. Please. Not now.
It had only been less than a month since they found out that Christine was pregnant. Wasn't she supposed to have half a month still, at most? They said eight months. They said fucking eight months. Just half a month more! Was that really so much to ask?
"I have something for you," Emily said, smiling lightly. Her lips were pale. She had dark circles under her eyes and she was so unbelievably thin that it was a wonder she could hold herself upright as she stood up from the bed and walked over to the dresser of the hotel room they were currently staying at. She pulled out a bag of something and tossed it over the bed. It landed next to him.
"What's this?" He asked, pulling it over and sticking his hand inside the bag. She sat down on the bed, grinning widely, waiting for him to pull out whatever it was inside, and so he did.
And he had to gulp down the tears when he saw it.
It was a bib, with matching tiny shoes and hand mittens. Scrawled across the bib was, "From the world's best dad." He turned the set around in his hands, scrubbing the last of sleep and a bit of tears from his eyes as Emily said, "It's for the baby."
"Yeah, I can see that," he said, trying to sound nonchalant but failing miserably.
She placed a hand on top of his, a gesture of comfort, because she knew on this day that it would be him needing the comfort, not her.
"I can't do this." He finally broke down and told her.
She smiled and crawled up into bed next to him again. She wriggled her way within his arms so that she was snuggled up against him. "Yes, you can. You can do this. I know you."
He cradled her in his arms, and he could feel the tears running down his cheeks. No. He couldn't do this. How could he have ever thought that he could ever do this? He couldn't let her go. He could never let her go.
"I love you." He said shakily, holding back a sob.
She nodded against his chest. "I love you, too."
He loved her. He had always loved her and she had always loved him too. It didn't matter what kind of love it was that they shared. He realized it never really mattered. It was just pure, honest love. How could he have ever thought that he didn't? How could he have ever left her?
"I remember," she said, her voice so soft and so weak, it was like she was just hanging on by a thread. It was so painful to hear, "when I was fifteen and I was really, really sick. You took care of me." He nodded, afraid that if he spoke, his voice would break. "You skipped school then, took care of me, sang to me 'til your voice was hoarse. I was so in love with you that day, it was pathetic."
He wanted to stop her, tell her it was never pathetic to love someone that much, but he couldn't speak. He just couldn't.
She laughed wearily, but he could feel her tears wetting his shirt. "And now I'm really, really sick… and you dropped everything just to take care of me. Do you know how in love with you I am right now?"
He couldn't stop the tears or the pathetic hiccupping sounds coming from him. "Don't—don't talk, Emily. Just get some rest, please." He didn't want to hear anymore. He just wanted to hold her. He didn't think he could take it if she started saying goodbye.
She was silent for a moment and then she said, in a whisper barely loud enough to be heard, "Hey, you're holding me too tight. Can't breathe." It was light, teasing.
He loosened his hold on her a bit and kissed her temple lightly. "Rest. We'll have fun when you're feeling better." He said tearfully.
"Still can't breathe. You'll have to let me go."
Let me go.
It was a few seconds later when it dawned on him that they weren't talking about the same thing at all.
"No, please, I can't…" he said, pleading. He sounded so dismal. He knew that, but he couldn't help himself. It was painful enough to watch her like this…
"Please," she pleaded as well. She turned her head a little so she could meet his eyes. "I'll be all right. You know I will. And you'll be all right too."
No. He wouldn't be. He never would be. Never again.
"Go back to her, okay? Apologize. Grovel if you have to just… go back. Live your life. Be happy… with her and your baby. What more could you ask for?" She said. He was already shaking his head, but with one great effort, she leaned up and placed a kiss on his lips. "Please… for me?"
And that so wasn't fair. Not fair at all, doing that, making him promise to do something for her. But he figured she was entitled to be unfair now, at this very moment, so he nodded. Grudgingly. But he nodded.
She gave him a smile, a reward of sorts, and then she settled back in his arms. He smiled at her too, pouring all of the words he couldn't say into that smile… Go if you must. Get some rest…
"Will you sing to me?" She asked, broken and afraid.
So he sang Hey Jude because it was what he always sang to her when she was sick. He sang Hey Jude until he didn't know the lyrics anymore, until he broke down, sobbing, until he couldn't sing… but he sang Hey Jude because he knew she wanted him to.
"I'm so tired." She muttered, then he felt her go limp against him… and he knew for certain then that she had left him forever.
For one glorious moment, he looked at her. In his mind, there was a vision… Emily in a white wedding dress, looking so beautiful and angelic. The two of them at the altar together, sealing their vows with a kiss. A playground where two children, a boy and a girl who looked remarkably like her, were playing. She was chasing after them, laughing…
And finally, he found perfect.