As she woke up she could hear voices somewhere close to her but she didn’t bother opening her eyes. The parts of her body that didn’t already feel numb were tingling and she opened her right eye just slightly to peer at the needle that was attached to the inside of her right elbow, the source of the cold that was running through her veins. Shivering a little, she tried to lift her other hand to pull her blankets up closer to her face, but someone got there before she did. Warm hands tucked her in and she managed to relax, if only a little.
“Jenny?” she mumbled, trying to fight off the sleep that tried to take her over again. She wanted to talk to her, it was important. It felt like it had been way too long since last time even if she couldn’t understand how that could be.
“No, Shane, it’s me.” A soft voice spoke next to her and she forced her eyes open, seeing Jodi sitting down on a chair by her bed. “And the nurse just came in to check on you. Jenny’s not here.”
Shane frowned and shook her head just barely, trying to process that unwelcome piece of information. “No, she was here, I know that. Where did she go?”
Jodi glanced over at Tom, her interpreter, even though she already thought she knew what her friend had said. If there was one thing she’d learned the last month, it was that when Shane really wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t even try to sign, it was best to make sure you understood what she was saying before you tried to reply. It wasn’t the first time Shane had asked about her former best friend, in fact, she couldn’t remember a single chemo therapy session when she hadn’t, and Jodi was running out of explanations since none of the ones she’d given her ever seemed valid to her. Jodi didn’t have the heart to remind her of what really happened right in the middle of her treatment.
“You had a dream,” she said softly and reached out her hand to brush a few stray strands of what was left of her hair out of her face. “It was just a…”
“No!” Shane exclaimed and tears began to glitter in her tired eyes. “Stop treating me like I’m delusional, I have to talk to her! Why did you let her leave?” Frustrated, she placed her hands on the mattress to try to push herself up and Jodi and Tom both immediately got up from their chairs to make sure she stayed in her bed. Jodi placed her hand gently on top of Shane’s, and when her friend looked up at her, her eyes were filled with despair. “What did I do?”
“You didn’t do anything,” Jodi told her and tried to smile reassuringly. What she’d said wasn’t exactly true, but when it got this bad, Shane never remembered what had happened that night when she’d pushed Jenny away by breaking her heart. “Try to get some rest, we don’t get to go home for a few more hours.”
Shane sighed and relaxed into her pillow again with her eyes closed, mumbling something Jodi couldn’t quite make out, and she turned to Tom for an explanation.
‘I miss her’, he signed and she could feel a lump forming in her throat. Do you think we should call her?
No, Jodi signed and shook her head as she went on. She doesn’t want her to know and we promised. I don’t think it’s up to us. She stopped for a moment, sighing as she looked back at Shane who seemed to have fallen back to sleep. I wish I knew what to do. Everything would be so much easier if she wasn’t so fucking stubborn.
I know. Tom replied. He’d been there ever since day one and he’d witnessed Shane’s ups and downs just as Jodi had. But to be honest, I don’t think we’re what she needs right now. Maybe if Jenny was around she’d… He stopped when he saw the pained expression on Jodi’s face and knew he didn’t have to finish his sentence.
…Want to live again.
“Don’t you think it’s about time we got Angelica a real bike?” Bette asked and turned to Tina who sat next to her with all their friends at their usual table at The Planet. “She’s starting to outgrow her tricycle. And I just thought…” She shrugged and didn’t even try to hold back the proud grin that spread on her lips when she thought about teaching her daughter how to ride a real bicycle. She was sure she’d learn in a heartbeat like she did with everything else.
“Oh, I saw the cutest little thing the other day,” Kit chipped in, walking by the table just as the conversation started. “I’ll show it you if you got some time off later today,” she added, looking a little nervously from her sister to Tina.
“Sure,” Tina smiled, and giggled a little when she met her partner’s eyes and was sure they were imagining the exact same thing. Since they got back together a couple of months earlier things had only been getting better between them, and they were finally starting to be just like the family she’d always dreamt for them to be. “I’m sure it’s great.”
Bette turned in her chair and looked suspiciously at her older sister. “Kit, why were you looking at bikes?”
“Because I thought that my little Angel might just be old enough to get one,” Kit replied with a shy smile. “So if her mommies don’t mind, auntie Kit would like to give her her first real bike. It was gonna be a surprise, but…”
“Aw, Kit, that’s so sweet. I’m sure she’ll love it,” Tina smiled but then turned serious as she looked at Bette. “But we’re getting her training wheels. We’re not gonna try to make her learn how to ride it without them, she’s not old enough.”
Bored from all the talk about kids and bicycles, Alice decided it was time to change the subject. “Has anyone heard anything?” she asked after taking a sip of her coffee. Before anyone had a chance to say anything, she continued. “I tried calling her again, but I got nothing. Either she constantly has her phone turned off or she changed her number.”
There was no need to mention Shane’s name. It wasn’t the first time they had this conversation about their old friend, or rather former friend, the last month or so, and they all knew it wouldn’t be the last. The subject seemed to come up every now and then ever since she’d been caught fucking Jenny’s girlfriend by none other than Jenny herself, and then just disappeared from their lives.
“I haven’t heard anything either,” Tina sighed and glanced over at Jenny who sat next to Helena on the other side of the table. She didn’t seem like she was listening to the conversation at all, completely devoting herself to her waffles. She imagined it couldn’t be easy for her to be constantly reminded of what happened, even if she tried as hard as she could to make it seem that way.
“Like, I don’t get what her problem is,” Alice went on, waving her fork around as she chewed. “She’s the one who fucked up, but she’s the one shutting us out and…”
“Maybe she just wants to forget what happened and move on,” Tasha suggested and glared a little at her girlfriend. “Can’t say I blame her. She probably knows if she came back it’d be a living hell for her. I’m not trying to make excuses for what she did, but this is starting to get old.”
“Bite my head off!” Alice exclaimed and opened her mouth to continue but Tasha interrupted her before she had a chance.
“I’m serious, Alice, you keep bringing this up. What good is it gonna do to either one of us if we just keep going over this every single day? What if you call her tomorrow and she actually answers her phone, what are you gonna do? Are you just gonna give her a piece of your mind and yell at her about what happened and tell her what a horrible person she is?”
“No, but some answers would be nice,” Alice retorted and an uncomfortable silence spread through the group. Ever since Alice had made the decision to fight for her and Tasha’s relationship in spite of Shane’s advice to move on, their arguing had only gotten worse, up to the point where they didn’t even realize they were doing it right in front of their friends. They were all used to it by now and seemed to have made a collective decision to pretend they didn’t hear them, so they all remained silent until Tasha spoke up again, and even though she kept her voice low they all still heard her words.
“Do you really think Jenny wants to have to listen to this every single time we’re here?”
“What?” Jenny said with her brows furrowed, looking up for the first time since the discussion started. “I don’t care. I don’t give a shit where she is or what she’s doing.” Leaning back in her chair, she shrugged. “She’s dead to me.”
Max had been sitting in silence opposite Jenny since they got there, but as she finished her sentence he got up from his chair and left the table without even so much as an ‘excuse me’ and headed out through the back door of the café.
“Way to be a drama queen,” Alice sighed as he left and rolled her eyes. “What’s his problem?” She and Max hadn’t gotten along well at all lately; she thought it had been a bit better after she apologized to him on the podcast that Shane fucked up, but when she thought about it, she realized he’d started acting even weirder around her since Shane left. She lost her train of thought when Jenny suddenly rose from her chair, grabbed her purse and ran after him.
“Max!” she yelled after him but he didn’t even turn around to acknowledge her so she kept racing by crowded tables until she reached the door and found him leaning against the wall outside. “Max, what’s with you lately?”
“I haven’t been getting much sleep,” he mumbled, rubbing the bridge of his nose and refusing to meet her gaze but she could see a tear glittering under his right eye.
Beginning to worry, she took a step closer to him and gently placed her hand on his shoulder. “Why, what’s going on?” she asked.
He let out a deep sigh and swallowed before he finally faced her. “A friend of mine is really sick and she needs someone to look after her 24/7. I don’t know…”
“I’m so sorry,” Jenny said quietly; this was the last thing she’d expected when she followed him outside. What she had initially thought she couldn’t even remember anymore. “Max, I had no idea. Is she gonna be okay?”
“I uh…” he started and shrugged, looking down at his feet. “I used to think she was, but now I’m not so sure anymore. She… she lost her best friend and now she’s not even trying to get any better. She’s just giving up when she could have her life back, but I think she just doesn’t see the point in fighting for it.”
His words made chills run down her spine because some of them just sounded all too familiar and hit a little bit too close to home for her to just be able let them go. “Max, I…” she started but he immediately cut her off.
“And that’s why I can’t just sit in there,” he said, his voice becoming harsher and his tone colder for each word and if it hadn’t been for the tear that trickled down his cheek, she would have been scared of him; instead his words were what frightened her. “While you guys say all these things about her,” he went on, “when you don’t even know what the fuck you’re talking about. You have no idea what she had to give up just so you wouldn’t have to go through all of that again…”
“Go through…?” Jenny swallowed and placed her hand on the wall to steady herself as the world seemed to come crumbling down around her. “What… what are you talking about? You’re not…”
“And then you sit there and tell everyone she’s ‘dead to you’. Well, guess what, she might be dead to all of us sooner than you think.” Hearing how his words came out, he turned to her again looking terrified when he saw the shock that was painted all over her face. “Jenny, I’m sorry,” he said, reaching out his hand towards her but she backed off and shook her head; the damage was already done.
“No.” She slowly took a few more steps back as tears started to fill her own eyes. “Don’t. Why are you doing this?”
“I never meant to tell you this way, I’m sorry. Jenny, please…” The whole time he’d been sure that once he’d let it all out he’d feel at least a little better, and even if he did in a way, what he felt now was different, and in more than one way a million times worse. “I didn’t…”
“What’s wrong with her?”
Her voice was low, but suddenly so steady and the look in her eyes made it very clear to him that she was in control now and he better give her the answers she wanted. Whatever he’d expected, it was not this. If she’d screamed, stomped her feet into the ground or fallen apart, he’d known how to deal with her, but this was something new when it came to Jennifer Schecter. She was taking it a little too well and it worried him. But he’d already broken the promise he’d made a month ago when he found out, and maybe what they all needed about now were some honest explanations. There was no point in trying to turn back now.
“She has cancer, Jenny,” he said quietly. “Shane has… cancer.”