There were no machines beeping, no nurses to disturb her peace, no groups of doctors telling her the grim news, and that's the way she wanted it. Joyce had been a nurse for over 3 decades, she saw it all. She delivered stillborn babies, watched many grandmothers lose themselves to Dementia, and watched as once strong men fell to the battle of Cancer. But now it was her in that same battle, however, she knew she could not win. She was tired, and not just the tired you feel after a strenuous day. She was tired of living, tired of pretending, and just thinking of going on another day was like thinking of an endless race that she was forced into. Her husband and children didn't understand it. A mere 3 months of chemotherapy. She knew they thought she was just giving up, but it was bigger than that. The doctors said her chances of remission was somewhat favorable, but how could they truly know?
Joyce knew how doctors worked, she had been around them through the trials and triumphs of the medical field for over 30 years. She knew they sometimes made things seem better than what they were, for the sake of the patient they said.
She laid in her bed, where she wanted to be, with the wooden blinds opened as much as possible, the sun shined through so beautifully she couldn't help but smile. She loved the sun and its wondrous magic. She remembered her best friend and co-worker Cate. Why hadn't she come by to see her? Joyce had been home for three days, where was she?
Cate and Joyce worked together at East Ridge Community Health Center, their lifestyles couldn't be anymore different. Joyce had two children, a husband, was an active Methodist and was very traditional in the way that she lived. Cate was childless, unwed, and lived a very care-free lifestyle. She was spiritual but hated organized religion. They had similarities too, they were both physically active, loved the outdoors, enjoyed re-runs of The Golden Girls, and they were passionate about their profession.
When they first met, it was during their lunch hour. There was a picnic table outside underneath a sycamore tree. Joyce loved her job but hated being cooped up in the Center all day, so everyday for lunch she took her lunch outside to the picnic table. Since it was in a secluded area, Cate went there to eat and smoke.
On the first day they sat in silence, Joyce eating, Cate smoking.
"Hey you know that's not good for you?"
Joyce frowned, "What do you mean? It's just a BLT..."
"Oh so you're not one of those nurses that police everyone's lifestyle choices?"
"Nope...What you do is your business, what I do is my business, as long as our businesses are separate, I'm fine!"
Cate took a long drag of her cigarette and blew a circle of smoke. "Ah, I like you. I've ran every single nurse off that bench with that question."
"Takes a lot more than that to run me off, I have two boys. Age 3 and 4, I can tolerate a whole lot!"
They both laughed and enjoyed each other's company for the hour. Every work day for 20 years they ate together. They had an open and honest friendship and an unbreakable bond. She shared things with Cate that she never even shared with her husband. They had a natural flow when they were together, way beyond completing sentences and inside jokes. So, why wasn't she there?
It took a week before Cate actually showed. Joyce was weak but aware. The sun was shining through the blinds as usual, the room was quiet. Cate walked in quietly and shut the door. She agreed to give Joyce's husband a break for a few hours. He had sat by her side 24/7, but truly who she wanted to be with her came a week past due.
Cate placed a crystal vase full of white tulips, Joyce's favorite, on the night stand. Joyce could smell the light but familiar scent and she knew it was her. She opened her eyes slowly, her lower back hurt and excruciatingly so, a constant pain that got worse as the days went by.
She noticed that Cate was speechless, she had been crying, her eyes were red, puffy and dry looking.
"Oh my dear friend. I have been waiting for you. How are you?"Joyce asked weakly.
Cate cleared her throat, "I should be asking you that! I have been better but I'm well. You don't have to talk, I know it may take a lot out of you. Just listen."
Cate pulled the Lazy Boy that Joyce's husband usually occupied closer to the bed and sat. She started talking about everything going on at the community center. The janitor who was still having an affair with a married doctor, the nurses who were fired because of drug abuse, their least favorite patient Marvin, the new Charge Nurse that everyone hated, and all the juicy gossip she knew she'd love to hear. Joyce nodded, smiled and even laughed enjoying the new information. She could tell it was hard for Cate to be there but it meant the world to her that she showed up.
After all the gossip, things were quiet and still. Joyce was antsy, she wanted to confess but it was hard. She stood up by the bed and leaned over to Joyce. Her face was peaceful and she was beautiful as always.
"We both grew up during a time..." she stopped suddenly, seeming to try to find the right words. It was obvious the end was near, Joyce's eyes were yellow, she was so pale, so white she almost looked gray. Cate had seen this preface to death many times. "You're a stick in the mud, I'm a firecracker. You're intellectual, I'm physical. You're a pessimist but I believe in optimism. You are my everything. We grew up during a time when it was not OK...To be who we are. But damnit I'm saying it now. I love you and I know you love me, we were more than friends, you know it; we are lovers. We were meant to be...You will always be mine..." Cate broke down in tears, burying her wet face into the bed sheets.
Joyce had only a small bit of energy and it took every muscle she had to open her eyes and speak. Her body hurt, she was tired, almost in a daze.
"I do. I love...You. I've waited for a long time to hear you say that." She said just above a whisper. She remembered all the times Cate lingered a little longer, moved a little closer, touched her so sweetly. She paid attention to her and looked at her square in the eyes everytime they talked. They had a connection, but neither of them ever acted on it or expressed it blatantly. In reality they were friends but the language of their love for each other was one they only understood but never could fully explain.
The next day, she was found on the floor in her bedroom, in the fetal position. Her eyes were almost swollen shut, probably from crying. Not one doctor could truly determine the cause of death, they knew for a fact that it wasn't foul play or even suicide. No one knew that Cate succumbed to a broken heart.