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“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Max asked Jenny later that night when they stood outside of Jodi’s door, about to go inside. The question seemed redundant since they’d gone over it and discussed the situation all day, but he still wasn’t completely sure that Jenny knew what she was getting herself into. She wanted to talk to Shane now that she knew where she was staying, and she seemed devastated knowing what was wrong, but it didn’t seem to have sunk in for her exactly how sick Shane really was and he was worried that she would fall apart completely when she finally saw her.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Jenny replied quietly and tried to muster up a smile but it came out more like a grimace. She didn’t feel well at all, but she knew it wasn’t physical, as her test results had come back fine, but psychological. She’d been so nervous that she hadn’t been able to finish her dinner, something she regretted now because she had a feeling she was going to need all the strength she could get. “How do you think she’s gonna react?” she added and played nervously with her cell phone before putting it back in the pocket of her jacket. She couldn’t remember why she’d taken it out in the first place.
“I don’t know if she’ll even be awake,” he said and decided it was best to keep being honest with her. “But if she is, she might not be happy to see us, at least not me. I promised her I wouldn’t tell you and I did anyway. I doubt she’s gonna trust me again after this.” It didn’t matter though if she stopped trusting him, or even started to hate him for what he’d done. He was becoming more and more certain that he’d made the right decision when he let Jenny in on their secret. Shane had been indifferent to all of them; wasting away right before their eyes and there seemed to be nothing they could do about it. With Jenny around, he hoped things would finally change. He didn’t have anything else up his sleeve that could possibly turn things around so it had to be enough.
“Okay,” she said with a slow nod and looked up at him, more confident now. “Okay.” Max’s words hadn’t exactly been encouraging, but she was set on making the best she could of the situation, and she braced herself for the worst when he nodded back at her and opened the door. The place was dark and eerily quiet, but she soon noticed there were a few lights on here and there.
As soon as they were inside, Max reached his hand towards the shelf left of the door and grabbed two surgical masks, handing one to Jenny before putting one over his own face. She just looked at him, eyes wide, not seeming to know what she was expected to do with it.
“We have to wear them when we’re around her,” he explained in a hushed voice and was about to help her put it on when she finally snapped out of it and did it herself. “It’s like I told you,” he continued, “the chemo completely breaks down her immune system, but the risk is smaller that she’ll catch something if we have these on.”
“But we got tested,” Jenny whispered, and the warmth of her own breath under the mask distracted her even more.
“Yeah,” he replied and saw Jodi moving behind the screens behind Jenny’s back and nodded at her.
“We didn’t have to do this when Dana was sick.”
“I know.” Max’s face fell and he took a deep breath. “We should have,” he said and it was all he needed to say.
It became painfully obvious to Jenny that he meant that maybe if they’d been more careful with Dana, she might have still been alive. Nothing she knew from the time Dana had cancer seemed to fit Shane’s situation anymore; Dana had been hanging out with them and going to parties while Shane was stuck in bed, and she started thinking that maybe the latter was the more appropriate way to go about it.
“And Shane’s chemo is a bit more extreme than hers was, it’s just better to be safe than sorry,” he said, and next thing Jenny knew, Jodi was there with them, wearing a mask too and looking more worn out than she’d ever seen her before.
“Hey,” Jodi said, smiled with her eyes and embraced her, giving her a warm hug that Jenny found herself immediately leaning into. They stood like that for a while, Jodi gently stroking Jenny’s back as tears began to trickle slowly down her cheeks, until Tom emerged from the bathroom. Jenny wasn’t surprised to see him there; she figured she needed him more than ever now, if everyone always had to wear masks for Shane’s sake.
“She’s asleep,” Jodi said after she let her go and nodded toward the screens on the right side of the room that were almost completely covered by a few white sheets, and Jenny assumed it must be to give Shane some privacy since Jodi’s home for the most part consisted of one big room. “I’m glad you came,” she went on, and from the look in her eyes she seemed to mean it.
“Can I see her?” Jenny asked, seeing Tom’s hands moving in the periphery.
“Yeah, but she’s not feeling well.”
Jodi motioned for her to come with her behind the screens across the room from where they stood and Jenny saw that while Tom followed them, Max stayed behind. Jenny had never visited Jodi before, but when she saw the big bed she led her to, she realized the deaf woman must have given up her own bed to let Shane have it and it warmed her heart that she would do that for her. Seconds later she felt a cold rush going through her instead when she finally saw her.
Shane was barely visible where she lay in the darkness under a number of blankets and duvets, with the hood of what Jenny assumed was a black sweatshirt covering most of her head and face. As Jenny slowly moved closer she saw that she was breathing slowly, curled up close to the side of the bed next to where an empty green bucket stood on the floor.
“Oh my god,” Jenny whispered and covered her mouth over her mask, staring at her sleeping former roommate.
“She gets really cold,” Jodi answered the unspoken question so quietly Jenny could barely hear her, and she then pointed at a chair that stood by the bed. “You can sit with her if you want, as long as you let her sleep for as long as she needs to.”
Jenny nodded and went to sit down where Jodi had told her to, taking her jacket off and hanging it over the back of the chair after moving it a little so she had her back against the others and faced Shane. When she turned around again she noticed that they had left her there and turned her attention back to her old friend. Max had told her it was bad, but she hadn’t imagined this. From where she sat now, even in the darkness she could see the pale yellowish shade of her skin and how her face was visibly thinner. Somehow she looked older and younger at the same time. So vulnerable, nothing like the Shane she used to know. ‘How could this happen?’ she asked herself silently, wishing someone would wake her up from the nightmare she found herself trapped in. She’d barely finished the thought before a movement in front of her startled her out of her reverie.
Shane struggled to roll over on her back, and judging from the pained expression on her face it was more than painful for her to do so. When she appeared to have made herself somewhat comfortable, she opened her eyes a little and peered at her for a long while without saying anything, and Jenny felt like her heart stopped beating and she found she was scared to breathe.
“You’re not real, are you?” Shane said finally, her voice a quiet whisper. She didn’t know if the person sitting in front of her was really Jenny or if she was imagining things again, but in the darkness it at least looked like her. It could be Jodi again, but it was hard to tell when everyone wore masks around her most of the time. They usually didn’t listen when she asked them to take them off.
At first Jenny wasn’t sure if she was really talking to her, but she looked right at her, her eyes pleading. For what, she didn’t know. “Shane, I’m real,” she said softly once she managed to compose herself. “I’m here.”
This seemed to console her somehow, and she closed her eyes and lay quiet for a while that felt like an eternity to Jenny before she spoke again. “They weren’t supposed to tell you. I begged them not to.”
“I know,” Jenny heard herself say, and as if her brain was on autopilot, she went on, “but I’m glad they did.”
Shane still wasn’t entirely sure that any of what was going on was really happening. The last month she’d learned to not always trust the things she saw or heard because she knew the chemo did things to her that she couldn’t control, but when it happened she never knew that was what was going on and it confused her to no end.
At the beginning when she’d left the house she’d shared with Jenny and moved in with Jodi, she’d wished Jenny would just come walking through the door and she’d realize it had all just been a bad dream and that none of it was real; not the cancer, her lies and betrayal, or her leaving. Since then, the wishes had changed, and though her need for Jenny to remain unknowing of her illness was a constant, her dreams were variables where Jenny always had a way of coming back into her life, and she stayed, in spite of all that had happened. She racked her brain, trying to figure out if this was just another one of those dreams, but it was too hard for her to tell.
There were so many things that Jenny had wanted to say to her, but now that she was finally with her, she couldn’t think of a single one. Instead she just leaned forward and took Shane’s hand, feeling a chill running through her as the cold skin touched her own, and tears began to well up in her eyes again when she felt Shane squeezing hers gently without opening her eyes. “How are you feeling?” she finally managed to ask.
“Not so good.”
Jenny’s heart sank even if the answer was expected. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry this is… happening to you.”
“It’s not your fault.” Shane slowly opened her eyes again and struggled to focus on her but the pain she felt through her entire body made everything look cloudy to her. “I’m the one who should be sorry and I am. What I did to you, Jenny, I swear…”
“It’s okay, we don’t have to talk about this now,” she said, her voice soft as she gently stroked her thumb over the top of Shane’s hand. It seemed to soothe her a little, and for a while she seemed to calm down again until she suddenly let go of her hand and grimaced as she pushed herself up so quickly that the hood fell off her head. She rolled over on her stomach and bent over the edge of the bed, reaching for the bucket by its side. Jenny reacted instantly and placed one hand on her forehead and slipped the fingers of the other one around Shane’s hair to keep it out of the way. She stared in shock when she felt the weight of Shane’s head in her hand and some of the hair fell back over her face again, but a lot of it stayed in her, what she thought had been, loose grip.
Loose strands, even tresses of Shane’s hair danced and fell down onto the floor as she hurled, and Jenny could hear someone sobbing, not immediately realizing she was the one doing it. Without stopping to think for a moment, she helped her up and reached for the glass of water on the bedside table, holding it for her so she could rinse her mouth and drink a few small sips of the clear liquid. Shane gave her a grateful nod before she sank back down onto her pillow, but none of it registered with Jenny.
She couldn’t understand why, but even after the day she’d had and all that Max had told her, it wasn’t until now, after seeing Shane with her own eyes, that she truly understood the seriousness of the situation. She’d been so convinced that she knew what was going on, but now it was painfully obvious that she hadn’t had the slightest idea. As the truth started to sink in, Jenny lowered herself down on the floor when she started seeing the familiar black spots in front of her eyes, and she reached it only seconds before the darkness took over.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Jenny gets her wish.
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