Jenny slowly opened her eyes, realizing she was lying on the couch in Jodi’s apartment and that Max sat on the floor next to her, looking at her with concern in his eyes. He was still wearing his mask, but she soon realized she didn’t have hers on anymore and she raised her hand to her face to check where it had gone. When she couldn’t find it, she looked confused at him, feeling panic starting to overcome her.
“Here,” he said quietly and handed the mask over to her. “I took it off when you passed out.”
Taking it and quickly putting it back on, she shook her head a little and blinked a few times. “I passed out?” she asked and glanced around Jodi’s apartment, trying to figure out what had happened. In the darkness she could vaguely make out Jodi’s silhouette sitting in Shane’s bed and holding the other woman up while she drank something out of a glass. “I haven’t done that in years,” she added absentmindedly, remembering what had happened to Shane before she fainted, what she’d seen. “I used to do it all the time.”
“How are you feeling now?” Max offered her a glass about half full of something that looked like orange juice and she took it, casting a suspicious glance at the cold liquid, unable to smell it because of the mask. “It’s okay,” he said when he saw the questioning look she gave him a second later. “You can take your mask off for a while and drink that. You probably need it.”
Jenny reluctantly took it off on one side and drank it all up before looking nervously in Shane’s direction again. As far as she could see, Jodi had left her alone again and in spite of what had happened, she longed to go back there, if only just to make sure she was okay. She thought Max must have noticed, because before she had a chance to act on it, he nudged gently at her arm and gave her another worried look.
“You…uh…” He shifted uncomfortably and followed her gaze over at their former roommate who was back down in bed with her head on her pillow again. “You think we should head home?”
Shaking her head, she stood up and put the glass down on the table before resolutely putting the mask back in place. “No. I’m gonna talk to her.”
“Are you sure that’s such a good idea?”
She didn’t answer him. Instead she just turned on the spot and walked on somewhat unsteady legs over to Shane’s bed, finding she was still awake and looking up at her as she came closer to her and sat down on the chair again.
“Are you okay?” Shane asked quietly and the look she gave her was heavy with guilt, as if it had somehow been her fault that Jenny had fainted, and it hurt her to see that yet again she was trying to take the blame for something. Jenny wasn’t going to let this turn into yet another way or reason for her to try to push her away.
“I’m okay,” she nodded and folded her hands in her lap to stop them from fidgeting. “Shane, I know that you’re supposed to be resting, and I know that we… We haven’t talked about anything yet, but I want you to know that you’re welcome to come home, I mean, if—if that’s what you want. But I…” She could feel herself starting to tear up again but held back a sob when she felt Shane’s hand on her own.
“Do you want me to come home?” Shane asked simply and let out a deep sigh, blinking as if she was struggling to stay awake, but her hand remained on Jenny’s.
“Of course I want you to come home.” Jenny’s heart sank further and she could feel herself going with it, slouching deeper into the chair. “I never wanted you to leave. Of course I want you to come back.”
Shane shook her head, but the movement was so slight it was barely visible to Jenny, and she wet her lips with the tip of her tongue before she spoke. “It’s not gonna be easy,” she said quietly. “It isn’t for Jodi now and I don’t…”
“I know it’s not gonna be easy,” she interrupted her and sat back up straight, slipping her fingers around Shane’s hand and holding it as tightly as she dared to. “But we’ll figure it out. I’ll do whatever I have to do; I’ll learn how to help you and do what you need me to do. Just please come home.”
Shane who had seemed uneasy about Jenny’s suggestion now appeared to relax a little, and after a moment’s silence she finally nodded in agreement. “Okay. I’ll come home.”
At the last word a smile spread on Jenny’s lips and she couldn’t remember a time when she’d felt such relief. Shane was coming back to what she still considered her home – with her.
It was too late at night and too soon after Shane’s chemo for her to go home with Jenny and Max when they left Jodi’s, and it was decided that if she felt better the next morning they could come over and pick her up.
Jenny reluctantly left her there and spent the night tossing and turning, unable to will her worries away. She kept seeing images of Shane in her fragile state flashing before her eyes but she refused to, even for a moment, as much as consider taking back what she’d said about taking care of her in their home. It wasn’t going to be pretty, she knew that, but at least they were going to be in it together, the way they were supposed to be.
She soon gave up on trying to sleep and spent a few hours walking through the house, making an extra effort to see that she’d cleaned it enough and that everything was in its place. The last door she entered led her into Shane’s room, but it still looked as neat as she’d left it the day before and she didn’t stay long. After she’d fixed the pillows on the bed she hurried out of the room when she felt the tears coming back, not sure what had brought them on this time. She had more than enough reasons to cry and didn’t bother to try to hold them back. Instead she just hurried back to her room and crawled into bed, falling into a restless sleep with the tears still running down her cheeks.
A couple of hours later Max woke her up when he realized she hadn’t heard her alarm and knocked on the door until her head was clear enough for her to manage to turn it off. Feeling like a complete and total mess, she got up and got ready, and after looking into the mirror and seeing how her face was swollen from all the crying, she wondered silently how she was ever going to manage the enormous task she’d taken upon herself. If it was this much of a struggle to even wake up in the morning, or fall asleep at night for that matter, how was she ever going to be able to care for someone as sick as Shane was?
The rest of the morning Max did his best to distract her from the dark thoughts she obviously had until they could finally head back to Jodi’s to pick Shane up. Much to Jenny’s surprise, Shane was already up, dressed and ready to go, even if she looked just as exhausted as she had the night before. Before she had a chance to say much to her, Jodi pulled her aside to talk to her, and when Tom followed she saw Max in the corner of her eye, walking with his arm around Shane and helping her sit down by the table, getting her something to drink.
“Jodi says, there are a few things you need to know since you’re going to take her with you,” Tom interpreted when she’d begun to sign to Jenny.
“Okay,” Jenny nodded, finding it hard to take her eyes off of Shane across the room even though she definitely wanted to learn as much as she could.
“You’re going to need to speak to her doctor about this, I’ll go with you if you want. If you have time today, maybe Max can stay with her and we can try to get an appointment at the hospital.”
“Thank you, that’d be great,” she replied, relieved that someone would actually be there to make sure she did everything right, that no one was expecting her to be an expert on something she knew next to nothing about. “Maybe this afternoon, once she’s settled in her own room again.”
“We can call the hospital and try to set something up,” Tom offered, and Jenny wasn’t quite sure whether it came from him or from Jodi, she was too busy looking at Shane who just then was giving Max a big hug, something she’d never seen before. She saw her clinging to him and wondered if she had problems standing up, but Max seemed to have a firm but gentle hold on her and Jenny relaxed a little, enough to give her attention back to the others.
“I’d appreciate that, thank you,” she said again. Somewhere deep down she sensed that they were probably happy that Shane was leaving – not in a bad way, but they both looked like they needed a break, and the same could be said about Max. She couldn’t blame them if that was the case, words couldn’t express the gratitude she felt for what they’d already done. None of them had been anywhere near as close to Shane before she got sick, as she used to be, and somewhere it felt like it had to be harder caring like that for someone if you didn’t know them enough. But it shouldn’t be a problem anymore – Shane was coming home with her where she belonged.
Max came over to them with one arm around Shane and she leaned her head against his shoulder as they walked. Her eyes were barely open but she blinked sleepily a few times and for a moment Jenny thought she saw a small smile on her lips. It was strange to see her so close to him now, but she decided it was a good thing. It seemed they could always count on him when they needed him.
When it became clear to Shane that they were leaving, she let go of Max and put her arms around Jodi instead, giving her a warm hug before letting Tom receive the same treatment. She seemed to struggle to do it, Jenny could see the pain on her face clearly when she tried to lift her right arm enough to do it, but she didn’t say anything. It wasn’t her place, at least not yet, that was painfully obvious when Shane didn’t give her one – all she got was an uncertain look from her and Jenny swallowed, looking away for a moment. They weren’t there quite yet.
Jenny took some of Shane’s packed bags; the rest of it as well as her car could stay for now and Max would get it later, but now he had his hands full with Shane who still seemed the most comfortable with him. The moments Jenny had shared with her the night before seemed like wishful dreams now, compared to how Shane was acting around her now. Was she scared of her? Did she hate her? Jenny swallowed and tried to push the thoughts away, labelling them ridiculous as she loaded Shane’s things into the trunk. Shane was probably just tired and they weren’t used to each other. It had to be why. Shane couldn’t push her away all over again.
The thoughts and doubts remained in her head for the rest of the day and she was especially reminded of them when Shane was back in her own bed, arguing with her when she tried to make her have her soup for lunch. When the time came for her to leave for the meeting at the hospital, Shane still hadn’t eaten anything and Max had promised to try to talk her into doing it while she was away. It somehow felt like trying to take care of a child, but she couldn’t let any of it out because she knew Shane didn’t mean to act that way. She was tired and sick, and it made all the sense in the world that she didn’t want to eat the damn soup.
The meeting with Shane’s doctor that Jodi and Tom had somehow managed to set up that same day took longer than Jenny had expected it to, and she still found it hard to focus on all the things she was told. Thankfully, they gave her some printouts and brochures, and gave her time to write down the most important things she needed to remember.
Aside from the information about Shane’s meds, her notes said that after Shane had chemo she needed to wake her up every few hours and make her move because if she stayed too long in the same position, she’d bruise a lot. Max had already told her that she might get extremely confused and she just needed to reassure her and try to calm her down, but she still wrote it down when they brought it up. Especially since they said that it could get so bad that she could panic and not know where she was, and Jenny might need help to calm her down because it might be too much for her to handle.
Jodi also told her that Shane sometimes had nightmares and woke up completely freaked out by them, and when that happened all she could do was try to be there for her, unless it got out of hand in which case she needed to get Max or call someone.
She returned home feeling a little more confident in her ability to care for Shane but got a chance to put her new knowledge into practice when Shane spent the rest of the day asleep in her room. Having to wake her up over and over to make her move around had seemed easier in theory than it really was. Shane was in pain and not in the best of moods, and some times she just didn’t seem to want to wake up at all.
In spite of that, Jenny stayed with her for as long as she could, watching over her until she just couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore, even with the huge amount of coffee she’d had. Max promised to check on her if Jenny in return promised to get some rest, but she woke up early and returned to Shane’s room, with her laptop under her arm and a cup of coffee in her other hand.
She sat down on a chair next to her bed and opened the computer, turning it on as she took a sip of her coffee before putting the cup down on the floor next to her. Writing had been harder than ever since Shane left, but now that she was back she might have a shot at it again. She needed something to keep her busy, and her feelings were begging to be let out of their cages. She’d kept them locked away for far too long now.
Starting to write without caring about the outcome, she typed as quietly as she could, but as the words came flowing faster and faster to her, she thought she must have forgotten and begun to hammer with her fingertips on the keyboard, because soon she could see in the periphery how something had started to move around a little in Shane’s bed.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. I can just…” Jenny apologized and placed her right hand on the lid of her laptop, about to close it, but she stopped when she heard Shane’s voice.
“No, no, no, you didn’t… You didn’t wake me up.” She spoke softly, and it sounded nothing like the harsh and annoyed tone she’d spoken to her in the day before. She blinked, seeming to struggle hard not to fall back asleep, and her glance was fixed on Jenny.
“Are you sure?” Jenny asked, just as softly, afraid that if she said the wrong thing she might upset her again.
“Yeah, it’s fine.” Shane nodded slowly, tilting her head down a little and Jenny thought she looked a bit uncomfortable for a moment. “I like listening when you type.”
“You do?” She felt her own face flushing a little, but she could feel something resembling a smile forming on her lips. It felt good. Familiar. Like old times. But there was something about the feeling that at the same time felt horribly wrong, and when Shane continued she was reminded of it.
“Yeah, it’s… it feels safe,” Shane said quietly, and though they were talking about different things, the feelings had been the same for both of them. “Like home, in a way. I missed it. What are you writing?”
Jenny shrugged, spreading her fingers out on the lid to close it finally, then played with her fingertips around the little Apple logo on it. “Um… I don’t know. Just… I’m just trying to figure things out, you know? I know that I can’t compare what the last month was like for me to what you’ve been going through, but it wasn’t easy for me either.”
“Jenny, I know that, and I’m sorry.”
“It’s going to take some time for me to get used to all of this,” she continued, “and writing is the best way of doing that for me.” She paused when she noticed the uncomfortable look on Shane’s face. “You don’t have to worry, I’m not writing a story about this. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“That’s not…” Shane swallowed and shook her head slowly, unable to meet her friend’s gaze. “I never wanted you to have to go through any of this. I never meant to hurt you, and I’m so sorry that I did, but I didn’t know what else I was supposed to do. I know things won’t ever be what they were and I don’t expect you to forgive me. You have every right to hate me for what I did, the fact that I’m sick has nothing to do with that.”
“Shane, I don’t hate you. I could never do that. Believe me, after that night when I found you… with her… I–I tried so hard it felt like…” Her voice trailed off as the memories of that night became too strong for her to want to dig any deeper. “I wanted to. Everything would have been so much easier if I’d just been able to do that, but it doesn’t work that way.”
Jenny hadn’t meant to get into a discussion about it, but now that everything had started to come out, she couldn’t seem to stop herself from saying it. “I know that you did it to keep me from getting hurt. I know you thought that… that you were gonna die and… you didn’t want me to have to see when that happened to you. But I was…” The tears were coming back again and she hated herself for it even though she knew she couldn’t do anything about it. She was just so sick of crying, it felt like that was all she’d been doing the last few days. “I was supposed to be your best friend. Didn’t it ever occur to you that I’d want to be there for you in any way I could no matter what would happen in the end? I think that maybe what hurts me the most is that it seems like you didn’t think you could rely on me. You’ve always been there when I needed you, maybe it was time you let me do the same for you? And you just decided I couldn’t do it without even giving me a chance to try to take care of you.”
“Jenny, I never meant it that way.” Shane replied, looking horrified at her, but it was all she had a chance to say before Jenny went on.
“But that’s what it feels like.” Jenny sniffled and wiped the tears away with both of her hands, doing her best to hold back a sob. “I don’t know what it’s like to go through everything you’re going through right now, I only know what it was like for me when you lied to me and fooled me, then went behind my back and just took off. I don’t know if I’m ever going to understand what happened but I’m not going anywhere. I want you here, and I want to help you if you just let me, but I need time before I can try to go back to what we used to be. I don’t wanna force it, because it wouldn’t make it real. You don’t have to apologize for anything, because… I forgave everything the moment I saw you again. I didn’t think I would, but I did. It’s just gonna take a while before I can forget about all of this.”
“We’ll get through it, Shane, all of it. We’ll get you better and work things out.” There. Everything she’d been holding back the last month was finally out in the open, but it didn’t feel as relieving as she hoped it would the times she’d wished she’d be able to talk to someone about it, or even write it down. She felt even worse when she looked over at Shane again and noticed that she didn’t seem to feel well at all; she suddenly realized she hadn’t said much for a while either. “Shane?” Feeling a lump forming in her throat, she quickly put the laptop down on the floor next to her long forgotten coffee cup and walked over to sit down next to her on the bed. “What’s wrong?”
Shane was lying with her head on her pillow; her eyes closed and her jaws clenched tightly. After Jenny gently placed her hand on her shoulder, she opened her eyes just a little and gasped for breath, looking pleadingly up at her. “Could you…” she began to mumble, “…get me my pills?”
“Which ones?” Jenny responded quickly, her voice shaking a little. Whatever was wrong, it had happened more suddenly than she’d expected it to and with all the pills Shane was taking she hadn’t yet had a chance to learn which did what.
“The…uh…the strong ones.”
Tears had welled up in Shane’s eyes and were now trickling down her pale cheeks. Jenny felt herself starting to panic when she heard her whimpering and gasping for breath. Not wanting to waste another second and unable to just sit there and watch her friend writhing in pain, she got up and stumbled over to the nightstand where they kept some of Shane’s meds. She knew there should be one morphine pill there somewhere; she assumed that was what Shane meant. They weren’t supposed to let her have too much of the strong and addicting drug but she still needed to have one somewhere close if it got bad before someone was around to help her.
When she found it she filled Shane’s glass that stood on the nightstand with water from a pitcher she’d placed there that morning, then took it and sat down in front of her friend, looking at her, full of concern. “Shane? Do you think you can take this?”
Her eyes opened a little again and she nodded slowly, struggling to prop herself up on her elbow so she’d be able to swallow it and with a shaking hand she accepted the pill and the glass Jenny held out to her. Jenny kept her fingers around the glass and helped her tilt it enough to be able to take a few sips. When Shane had taken her meds she sank back down onto her bed, burying half of her face in her pillow again and letting out a quiet moan.
It would take ten minutes or so before the morphine would kick in, so Jenny put the glass away and sat down with her again, gently stroking her back and speaking softly reassuring words to let her know that no matter what happened, she wasn’t alone and she was always going to take care of her.