Harrison and James
Her favorite part of the hospital was next to the terminal patients rooms. The glass windows were stained, with bright colors of gold, blue, orange, and yellow, in shapes of meadows and sunsets, or forests and mountains, as if to transport the patients away from the dull white walls enclosing them. She knew, of course, scientifically, that adding gold chloride to molten glass made the crimson red tint, and adding silver nitrate turned the glass yellow, but when she was young, she had thought it one of God's miracles. Her fingers lingered on the sunset stained glass before she entered room 112B.
"Wake up Maryland! It's a beautiful summer day, on this August 21st, 1969," she announced as she entered the room, the daily newspaper gently tossed on his lap, "How's my favorite patient doing?"
The dark-haired male smiled at her. "Maria Bradbury, my favorite nurse," his voice was crushed glass on broken asphalt.
"Nurse in training," she reminded him. He laughed, which turned into a heavy cough, "Don't strain yourself, James." She said in a quieter voice, "It's my lunch break, so I thought I'd come read the Bible to you. Where did we leave off?" Maria's emerald eyes sparkled as she searched for the Bible.
"The rise of Lazarus, I believe," he coughed, "Did you talk to Nurse Alyson about changing my room?" She flinched.
"I know it's cold; it's that window that doesn't close right. Since we're housing a lot of veterans who are trying to recover, we're short on space, James." He nodded. She smiled once more, tucking a lock of dark hair behind her ear. Her smooth voice began to read, "Okay… John 11:4...This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."
He smiled as his voice cracked as he said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. John 11:25...Do you believe this?"
She held his hand tightly, "Once you are at the Gates of Heaven, God will forgive you for all the decisions you have made and that you will be allowed to enter, don't worry about it."
He laughed, "God doesn't forgive my kind, Maria." He kissed her hand.
A sharp knock interrupted them and Maria quickly removed her hand. She placed her hand on the bookmark and stood up as a tall man entered. "They told me you were here and I had to see you," his voice rushed and deep. He practically pounced on James, hugging him tight, "James, James," the man said, "Forgive me."
Maria cleared her throat, "I'm sorry, only family members—"
James cut her off, "This is Harrison, my cousin, Maria." It was then that Harrison untangled himself from James and faced her. Maria's eyes drifted towards his missing left arm and the yellow hospital tag on his right wrist. A veteran.
"Oh, of course. I'll go put him on your visitation list immediately, James," she replied, already inching towards the door, "I'll see you tomorrow."
The rest of her shift passed in a blur; thirty more injured soldiers came through and she couldn't sneak out to visit James. Before her shift ended, she ended up in Harrison's room, tending to his amputation. "Thanks for taking care of James," he said, as she cleaned his injuries.
"Of course," she replied, her eyes focusing on his rosary, "He's a great person. Very religious and kind, especially for what he's seen. He's not even my patient, but… I can't help take care of him."
Harrison smiled, "He converted me. I was atheist," Harrison's hazel eyes closed as he continued, "The only thing that kept me alive during this war was my faith, in Jimmy and in God."
"You've must been very close growing up," she soothed, as she helped him adjust his arm on the pillow. His eyes flickered with confusion before his lips twisted into smile. "I'm going to let you sleep now. I'll be back tomorrow. Let Tiffany know if you need anything." She let her fingers skim on his high cheeks.
It was dark by the time she finally got out of the hospital, but it was only two blocks away from where she lived, which made her feel guilty about being too exhausted to walk home; besides, even before she had begun her training, she had volunteered at this hospital, which made the walk familiar.
Opening the door into their small cramped apartment, Maria kissed the portrait of her father, straightening out the medal of honor that hung on it. She checked in their bedroom, where her brother and sister were doing their homework. Her mother sat on the rocking chair, her husband's death certificate in one hand, and a cross in the other. She smiled uncertainly before she made her way over to the kitchen, cutting up the onions and carrots for their soup.
Within minutes, her siblings came out and helped set the table. "No meat?" Her youngest one asked, eyes hopeful.
"Maybe next time. I had to pay for mom's medications." She handed him a piece of peppermint candy that she snuck from work.
"That's okay. I love carrots. How was work?" Her eldest sibling asked she helped their mother sit down.
"It was great. I met James' cousin. I think the company will do him good. He's very sick, worsening every day. Tiffany thinks he has two weeks at most." she confessed as she served them soup, "How was mum today?"
Her youngest wrinkled his nose, "She yelled. We had to lock her in her bedroom so she wouldn't break anything." Maria served her mother the soup last, lips pursed. She sat across her mother and attempted to coax a spoonful into her mouth. "We should put her in a home, Maria," her youngest stated, not meeting her eyes.
"She took care of us when we were younger. It would not be right, Matteo," she said softly, smiling when she got her mother to open her mouth, "God's greatest gift to us is family." She kissed her mother's cheek. Her siblings sighed collectively. The rest of the meal was in silence. Maria washed the dishes, humming to herself as her other sibling helped their mother into bed. Maria climbed into bed with her, letting the exhaustion take over.
Maria arrived earlier than her shift called for at the hospital, knowing that they would be expecting more injured soldiers coming through. She slung her purse over the counter. "Maria, I know you're just in training but we need you to help out with wound dressing," Tiffany, the head nurse explained as she shoved clipboards into the other nurses hands. "Go with Lizzie."
She made her way over to where the thirty-year old nurse was holding her clipboard. "I don't understand how you can treat someone like that so kindly," Maria tucked her Bible under the clipboard, ignoring Lizzie's sneer. "God will never forgive him."
"I know he has AIDS, but it's not his fault, I think it might have been his mother's," Maria attempted to make excuses, "Besides, he believes in God, so there's no way he could be….homosexual."
Lizzie shook her head, "So that boy he's been kissing, is just a friend?"
"The honey blond boy with the hazel-green eyes. Missing an arm?" Her co-worker sat, "I saw them kissing. I told Tiffany but she told me it was none of my business!"
Maria frowned and walked towards his room, leaving Lizzie to complain by herself. Before coming in, she glanced into the window, the one that never closed right.
Harrison was there. He waved her in, James asleep. "Dr. Tessa told me he has only two weeks, that he keeps getting weaker." Harrison was whispering, holding James' hand with his left, 'I just… can…" he glanced up at her, and she was struck by how femininely long his lashes were, how green his eyes were, "I can't go home and get it, but there's box and it has pictures and I just want his last memories to be good ones… could you get it?"
Maria ignored her thoughts as Lizzie's accusations and suspicions filled her mind. "Where do you live?"
He scribbled down his address, "A dark blue box. It has his name on it. Please."
"I'll go during my break." She dressed his wounds carefully, avoiding his eyes and his small talk. If she could avoid his eyes, she could almost forgot what Lizzie had said.
"Thank you," he said sincerely, his eyes attempting to catch hers. She attempted to smile reassuringly.
He lived near where she bought her lunch and on that hot August day, she did both errands. The door was unlocked, the weeds in the yard almost as tall as she was. The furtinature was dusty, as if no one had been here in a very long time. A large black coffee table housed the big, blue box.
Glancing around the house, she sat on musty-smelling brown couch, allowing herself to peek into the box. There were letters, hundreds of them, probably from when Harrison was in Vietnam. She attempted not to read them, and kept digging through to find the pictures. They were all crinkled; James, large, muscular, with the same messy bed hair, at the beach with Harrison, eating dinner with family members, even one of him holding a baby. The one with the bent corner and middle caught her eye. Harrison and James in front of the house, Harrison's green eyes glinting mischievously, with his arms around James, who had his head thrown back, as if he were laughing too hard. She turned the picture over. May 1965, You and me right now, you and me forever. Harrison.
She shoved it all back and walked back into the hospital, the blue box tucked underneath her arms. She snuck past Lizzie and Tiffany, into room 112B. Harrison was still there, half-asleep, his head on the lap of James. James smiled as she came in, untangling his hand from Harrison's short hair. "Maria, come to read some more?" He sat up, "Harrison loves Corinthians, you could—"
Before she could even think, she heard herself say, "I think Harrison wants to show you something. I'll read to you later, James." She kissed his burning forehead and nodded in Harrison's direction before walking out. She glanced once more at James, who looked confused.
She opened the door and walked out before turning slightly, to peek through the window, the one that never closed. "I'm so sorry James. I failed. I promised you I'd always take care of you, and now we have no time left, no time for me to make this right again," Harrison's voice broke and Maria could feel the tears burning up in her eyes, "It's all my fault, after Vietnam, I didn't want you to deal with me and what I've done—" Harrison's words were cut off with James's lips.
"You and me right now," James whispered roughly, his hand lingering on Harrison's cheek. "You and me forever." Maria frowned. Sinners, sinners, oh, God save their souls. "Besides, love keeps no record of wrong-doings."
Harrison chuckled through his tears. "Don't quote the Bible to me, asshole." James playfully rolled his eyes and pulled Harrison in closer, their noses touching. Harrison kissed James's face.
"Harrison," he exclaimed, his coughing preventing him from speaking. His breathing weakened as the cough attack ended, and he began hyperventilating.
"No, no, no," she heard Harrison cry.
"It's okay," James kept saying through his attack, "I love you, I love you, I love you."
The machine kept beeping, reminding them of James's fate, until Harrison was shouting, "I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU." The machine kept making noise, but Harrison's deep voice was louder, and Maria stood there, her hand over her mouth as the other doctors and nurses rushed in, her tears, silently escaping.
The nurses came in, three of them attempting to pull him away, as he lunged forward, tossing his body unto James's. "Mr. Harrison we will sedate you!" Lizzie threatened as she pulled on his biceps, "Go to your room now!" He grimaced, the tears in his eyes threatening to overflow, and walked out, catching Maria's eyes as a nurse escorted him out.
Another nurse in training glanced at her chart as she came in the room, "Maria, your shift is over," she glanced at Maria's tear-stained face, "Oh I'm sorry, did you know him?"
Maria shook her head, walking away. She couldn't go home, couldn't let her siblings see her this torn up. She sat on the steps of Harrison's house and cried. She cried until she felt dehydrated and breathed in deeply. She went back into the hospital and snuck into James' room, taking his Bible.
She flipped through it and saw his notes; it was mainly Harrison's name, as if to indicate a passage he'd like. She flipped to the first page. To: James Winchester, from Harrison Rigby. I read it, asshole. I still don't believe. God doesn't save souls like mine. Right underneath, in James' neat writing, Harrison, God saves everyone who wants to be saved. He created each one of us and He (like me) will love you no matter what choices you make.
Wiping the tears off her face, she walked slowly back to the hospital. She carried the Bible over to Harrison's room, where he laid, staring at the ceiling. She left the Bible next to his lame arm, without saying a word as he attempted to talk to her. Maria took her rosary off and placed it inside of his hand as he attempted to pull her arm in order to stop her from leaving. She walked to the front desk.
"I quit," she muttered, placing her stethoscope on the desk.
"But you only have one more semester!" Tiffany said, "If this is about the patients in room 112B, I didn't think you'd care that much!" Maria's eyes began to swell with tears again, forcing her to turn her back on Tiffany. "I mean, it's part of the job...Maria, come back!"
Maria shook her head. "I can't do this anymore," she whispered.
She walked home, to where her siblings were already asleep. She glanced at the large cross on the wall of her mother's room and took it down. She crawled in next to her sister, and closed her eyes.