"Faith! Faith!” Jolie shouted, afraid to shake her friend, but desperate to do something. She pulled her cell from her jeans pocket.
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?” a voice answered.
“My friend--she isn’t breathing.”
“Okay, calm down. Where are you?”
“At her house; 3218 East Meadow Crest Drive.” “Are you safe? Can you stay there?”
“Yes. Please tell them to hurry. I think she’s dying.” “I’m sending the paramedics now. Stay with me--”
Jolie ended the call. “Hold on, Faith, please. Don’t die now. You can’t. You just can’t.”
Faith’s eyes fluttered open and she took a breath. “Of course I can. It’s the most natural thing in the world,” she answered Jolie, silently.
“No.” Jolie shook her head, tears blurring her vision. She wiped them from her eyes with the back of her hand, wanting to keep Faith in her sight, as if she could will the older woman to live.
“It’s okay, Jolie.” Faith put her hand over Jolie’s.
“Let me go.”
“But it’s not okay. It’s not even remotely okay.”
“You made these last few months something special, but I’m ready to move on now.”
“Please, please stay, even for just a little longer, a year, a month, a week.” She stroked Faith’s arms...her head... her cheek, feeling the deep chill seeping into her friend’s body.
“It doesn’t work like that, honey. Look after Sean for me, will you? And don’t be afraid to lean on Iris and Mickey. They care about you, too. Don’t push them away.” Faith sighed. “I love you and I’m so proud of you.” Her eyes closed.
“Faith? Faith, stay with me.” Jolie could hear the wail of the ambulance siren in the distance. “Do you hear that? They’re almost here.” The front door opened and Iris came in.
“All hail, the great hunter returns bearing dinner,” she sang out, cheerily.
“Iris,” Jolie wailed. “She isn’t breathing! Faith isn’t breathing!”
Iris dropped the boxes of Thai take-out and ran to her friend’s bedside. The paramedics were right behind her, grinding the spilled noodles into the carpet.
“Step aside, please,” one of them commanded.
Iris pulled Jolie out of their way. Holding the girl tight in her arms, the two women watched the paramedics trying to revive their friend, but Faith was gone.
The paramedics put Faith’s body on a stretcher. The sirens stopped. The EMT’s left, their busy energy following them.
Jolie and Iris were alone.
The house felt like an empty shell as if Faith’s spirit had been its beating heart, and now it too was dead.
Jolie stood at the edge of the sitting room staring at the empty bed. The happiness that had anchored her here was already becoming a collection of memories. What would her life be like now, without Faith in it? All she could imagine--all she had known--was the life she’d had before: adrift, isolated, confused.
What will become of me? the old woman, Helen, had pleaded. Jolie understood her despair. There was something inherently selfish in grieving for a loved one.
“Should I take you home?” Iris asked, uncertainly. “Or do you want to stay awhile longer?” She glanced at the Thai food on the floor. “I should at least get you some dinner. You need to eat.”
“I’m not hungry,” Jolie muttered, vacantly.
“Me neither.” Iris stood in the middle of the floor as if she wasn’t sure which direction to go. “You don’t have to go home, you know, Jo. You don’t have to be alone. You could come back with me to my place. I’d be happy to have the company.”
Jolie felt like a stray puppy. Iris probably had a hundred things she needed to do right now, all of them more important than babysitting Jolie.
“Thanks, but I have school tomorrow. I’ll be fine.”
Iris’ perfectly lined eyes filled with tears. “I’m not sure I will. I don’t seem to know quite what to do.”
“Cry?” Jolie suggested.
“Crying has always seemed to me like such an indulgence. It doesn’t change things and it doesn’t help anyone. What’s it good for?” She wiped away the tears logic could not stop.
“You and Faith were friends a long time,” Jolie pointed out.
“Yes, we were,” Iris whispered as if closing a prayer.
They stood together breathing in the silence with their memories.
Outside, the afternoon had slipped away, leaving them to the growing uncertainty of a dark house. The small book light on the table beside Faith’s chaise clattered to the floor, blinking on when it hit the rag rug.
Iris picked it up and turned it off, returning them to darkness.
“I suppose someone should call Sean,” Jolie said. Iris turned the tiny book light back on, using it like a flashlight.
“Yeah. Just give me a minute.” She sniffled. “I just want to tidy things up in here a bit.” Iris was proud, Yankee stock. Not the kind of woman who was comfortable showing emotion in front of witnesses.
“You go ahead.” Iris turned on a side lamp, then went to the closet for a broom and dustpan. Jolie left her to her sorrow, going to the kitchen to find the notepad Faith had written all her important numbers on. Sean’s was three-quarters of the way down the page. Once he’d gotten his trust fund, he’d gone back up North and disappeared into his new life. Jolie wished he had been a better grandson. She wished that whatever cathartic change Faith had been waiting for, had happened while she was still alive. She punched in Sean’s number.
Voice mail picked up.
“Sean, it’s Jolie.” Her voice failed. Saying the words out loud was so final. “You need to come home,” Jolie stumbled around how to say it. There was no sense being subtle. Subtle would be lost on Sean. “She’s gone. Faith is gone.” Jolie broke down crying and hung up so Sean would not hear.