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At The End

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A short story about the things people think about when they lose someone they love

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Chapter 1

The sky was painted a magnificent shade of orange with the setting sun. The last rays were shining a clear path across the graveyard as the lone figure of Drew Anderson strolled across the grass, weaving his way through the different headstones with a definite destination locked in his mind.

Drew’s pocket began to vibrate as a phone call was coming through. Taking his cell phone out, he sighed as the word ‘Work’ flashed across the screen. Running his fingers through his messy raven black hair, Drew sent the call straight to answer phone. Today was not the day for phone calls, even from work.

“Gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of our team,” Mr Harrison Rivera, the boss, spoke in his monotone voice. “This is Jenna McCarthy, and she’s starting with the firm this week.”

Drew had yet to turn round. It was his lunch hour, and for that hour, he wasn’t on the clock for any kind of work business. It wasn’t until he noticed his fellow lawyer, Luke Doyle, who had moments ago been sitting beside him looking bored, now suddenly perk up, that Drew finally turned to see what had caught his attention.

In the past, Drew had gone for a specific type of girl. Long blonde hair, blue eyes and a body that would rival any page three model. But this girl… her hair fell in raven waves, stopping at her shoulders, framing a porcelain face that held big, brown doe eyes and full, naturally stained red lips. She was Snow White brought to life, and far more beautiful than the fake, simpering blondes he had chosen in the past.

“Jenna, this is Luke Doyle and Drew Anderson,” Harrison continued. “They’re high flyers in this company. Stick with them and you won’t go wrong. I have work to get on with, so I’ll leave you in their capable hands. They can show you around and you can get better acquainted.”

Jenna smiled softly at Harrison as he left, then turned her attention back to Drew and Luke. The moment Harrison left, Luke jumped up to his feet, stepping towards Jenna. Luke was a ladies man… or at least, he thought he was, and it seemed Jenna was about to see for herself first hand.

“Jenna, was it?” Luke drawled with his typical smarminess that he mistook for charm.

“Yes, Jenna McCarthy, it’s nice to meet you both,” Jenna said.

“Well, a beautiful name for a truly beautiful woman.” Drew saw Jenna roll her eyes and sigh tiredly, actions Luke missed as he continued. “So, Harrison said he wants us to get better acquainted. I can think of some ways we could do that… outside of business hours, of course.”

Luke smiled widely at Jenna, clearly thinking he was winning her over. Drew saw otherwise.

“OK… Luke, was it?” Jenna asked, taking a step closer to Luke until she was directly in front of him.

“You already remember my name, such a good start,” Luke joked.

“Well, Luke, I’m gonna tell you how this is going to go, because I’ve met a lot of guys like you,” Jenna continued. “You’re gonna spend most of our time together trying out your little lines, trying to get me back to your place… that kind of thing. And every time, I’m gonna turn you down, because truthfully, you’re not my type. Somewhere down the line, you’re gonna get even more desperate, and I’m gonna be forced to file a sexual harassment claim… and we all know how well that will turn out for you. It’s your choice, either we skip all that right now, and you can just turn around and walk away.”

Both Drew and Luke stared at her, Luke dumbfound with his mouth open, Drew trying his hardest to hold back laughter. For a moment, Luke stammered, spluttering nothing but vowels. Jenna narrowed her eyes, watching as he took her advice and retreated to the safety of his office. Once he was out of hearing range, Drew let his burst of laughter escape, Jenna turning her eyes to him.

“So, it’s just you and me for this tour then,” Drew said, holding out his hand to her with a gentle smile.

Instead of getting the smile he had hoped for, Jenna just continued to stare at him, the half scowl she had given to Luke still present on her features. It looked like he had his work cut out for him if he wanted to impress this girl.

Drew couldn’t help but smile softly to himself at this memory. Getting round Jenna had been hard work, but she had been totally worth it. From the moment he met her, she had been such a huge character in his life, filled that part of him that had spent his weekends trolling bars for quick hook ups or one night stands.

He had found someone he felt challenged him, made him a better person, and he wouldn’t take back anything he had done to win her over, all the work he had gone through. It had all been worth it… even for those times he didn’t want to remember.

Drew felt a growl erupting from his throat as he stormed down the corridor. It had just been one of those days, the type that comes with the urge to grab a double barrelled shotgun and start firing. However, as a lawyer and as sweet as that might be, he knew what came after the stress releasing mayhem.

Heading past the bathrooms, through his rage and the blood pounding in his ears, he managed to hear sounds of distress coming from the ladies. There was a rattle of something dropping, followed by a female’s voice he thought he recognised muttering ‘oh shit’.

He stopped for a moment, contemplating what to do. It was, after all, the ladies bathroom… but what if whoever that was in there, and he thought he had a good idea who, was really in trouble. Mind made up, he cautiously stepped inside.

“Hello? Is everything OK, can I….” Drew began as he walked inside, trailing off as he witnessed the scene in front of him.

He was right. The voice had belonged to Jenna. She was leaning heavily against the counter, struggling for breath. She rummaged around the contents of her scattered purse. She looked up at him as he entered, her eyes wide in what he thought was fear. It was then that Drew realised her struggling for breath had nothing to do with a fall or her shock. This was something more serious. She was truly struggling for air.

“Jenna, what’s wrong?” Drew said, moving closer to her side. Jenna staggered to pull herself straight, her breathing still stuttered as she shook her head.

“No, I’m… I was just….” Jenna began, giving up as she let her body collapse against the sink. Drew was at her side in an instant, helping her to stand, but she didn’t want his help. She pushed him away instantly, instead taking help from the inanimate bathroom counter as she leant heavily against it.

“Seriously Jenna, what’s wrong with you? You look….” As he moved, Drew kicked some of the excess contents of Jenna’s purse. Bending to pick it up, he found himself holding a prescription pill bottle. “Vastec, enalapril? That’s… that’s an enzyme inhibitor.”

“Well… well ain’t you a… clever boy,” Jenna gasped out, scrambling to take the pills from his hands. She snapped the lid open and swallowed them dry. As the pills slid down her throat, she took a deep sigh of relief, still stuttering for breath.

“Jenna… what is? Why are you taking enzyme inhibitors?” Drew asked. Jenna looked at him as if contemplating whether she should really answer that question.

“In laymen’s terms… I have an enlarged heart,” Jenna finally told him. “A genetic defect, something I was born with. As long as I take these tablets… I’m fine.”

“Isn’t that the kind of thing you would usually get a transplant for?” Drew asked her after a moment of silence.

“I’m on the list… but I’m not exactly holding my breath,” Jenna told him, chuckling to herself. “My blood type is O negative, not exactly an easy match to find. Plus, as long as these tablets keep working… I’m not at a high enough risk to be anywhere other than… bottom of the list.”

Drew remained silent. What do you say when the woman you have developed complete and undeniable feelings for tells you that she has a terminal condition that could kill her.

“I don’t want people to know,” Jenna finally said into the silence. “I couldn’t stand the pitying looks. I’m not a condition, I’m a person. I can still do everything you can, I’m still living my life… and I plan to keep on doing so for quite a few years.”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Drew answered, smiling tenderly at her determination. Jenna smiled back at him, straightening up.

“Thank you, Drew. You’re so sweet.”

“Sweet,” Drew repeated, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice… because any guy knew that word was a killer. “Sure, because that’s what every guy wants a girl to say to him, of course.”

Jenna laughed slightly as she scooped the contents back in her bag. She stepped towards the door, stopping by Drew to place a tender kiss against his cheek.

“Some girls like sweet.”

Drew had gotten something most people only dream of. The person he loved had loved him back wholeheartedly. He had had one whole, blissful year with her. And even with ‘the expiration date on their relationship’ as she had once put it, their time together had actually been perfect in his eyes.

Drew carefully guided a blindfolded Jenna across the field, glancing down at their feet occasionally to avoid any obstacles.

“Come on Drew, I’ve been walking like this for ages now,” Jenna complained, but Drew could still hear the smile in her voice. “Aren’t we there yet?”

“Almost babe, I promise,” Drew answered, kissing her cheek from behind. “It’ll all be worth it.”

“It better be.”

Drew laughed as he finally reached their destination, giving his surprise one last look over before taking the blindfold from her eyes. He felt his smile widen at Jenna’s delighted gasp.

In front of them, Drew had set up a picnic. This wasn’t your typical family picnic though. This was a romantic picnic, an ice bucket chilling a bottle of champagne off to the side, a plate of chocolate covered strawberries, as well as some of Jenna’s favourite foods.

“Wow, this is….” Jenna breathed out.

“Well, I remembered how you told me you’d never gone on a picnic with your family when you were a kid,” Drew said. “It’s something I think everyone should do once in their life, so this is your very own Drew Anderson style picnic.”

“Oh Drew, you’re just so sweet,” Jenna gushed, turning to jump at her boyfriend, her arms going round his neck as she kissed him.

Drew had once thought that being called sweet by a woman was a death sentence. But it wasn’t so bad coming from his Jenna… especially when he got a kiss like hers to go with it.

Drew’s feet began to slow their pace as he walked deeper into the cemetery, closer to his final destination. All the times he had spent with Jenna flipped through his mind, each one snapping past like a flip book. This meeting was one he was not looking forward to… just as their last one had not been one of his favourite times he had spent with her.

Drew walked into the hospital room, trying not to notice how ill Jenna looked as she lay in the bed. She was ashen, her normally bright eyes dull and sunken into her face. Those eyes fluttered open and closed, showing how tired she clearly was, how much she was struggling to stay awake, stay breathing... stay alive.

“You kept me waiting out there for quite a while,” he said, trying his best not to make it sound too judging.

“That’s because you’re the hardest to have to say goodbye to,” she all but whispered, finally turning to face him. The tears she had so strongly kept at bay around her family were now building up behind her eyes.

Jenna held out her hand to him, Drew moving to her side to take her delicate hand in his larger one. Jenna pulled him even closer, forcing him to bend so his lips met hers. It was a kiss as passionate as any other they shared, both uncomfortably aware it could be one of their last.

Pulling back, their foreheads resting against each other, Jenna gently cupped Drew’s cheek in her hand, smiling as he subconsciously leaned into her touch.

“Do you have any idea just how much I love you?” Jenna told him.

“No where near close to how much I love you,” Drew replied, closing his eyes as he savoured her touch on his skin.

“You wanna bet,” Jenna laughed.

Jenna scooted over on the bed so Drew could sit beside her, resting against his chest. As he held the woman he loved in his arms, Drew knew that she was hanging on solely to say her goodbye to him, and he again had to blink back tears. He wanted to be strong for this woman who was being so brave.

“Why couldn’t I have met you sooner,” Jenna said once she was positioned comfortably across his chest. “Why couldn’t we have had longer together. I’ve been living with this for so long that I was prepared, ready to die. But then you come along, and now… now everything’s different.”

“I know the feeling, Jenna,” Drew said into her hair. “I can’t imagine living the rest of my life without you.”

“You’ll be alright, Drew,” she told him. “You’ll still have….”

“It doesn’t matter who I will have. I won’t have you,” Drew interrupted her. Hearing the pure emotion in his voice, Jenna’s barriers broke down, the tears she had hid flowing freely for Drew.

“Do you know the poem ‘Song’ by Christina Rossetti?” she asked him.

“Yes, I know it,” he replied.

“My mother used to quote it to me when she knew she was dying, now I’m asking you to remember the first few lines. ‘When I am dead, my dearest, sing no sad songs for me; plant thou no rose at my head, nor shady cypress tree’.”

“Jenna, I….” Drew began, his battle with his tears getting harder.

“Think of it as my dying wish,” she interrupted him, needing to get this out before she totally lost control over her emotions.

“Drew, I….” Jenna began again, glancing out to where she knew her family were. “I couldn’t say this in front of them, had to be brave, but… I’m scared. I’m so scared of dying. I never thought I would be, never have been before, but now it’s here….” As Jenna’s voice broke completely, as the tears turned to sobs, Drew held her tighter in his arms, placing a kiss against her head.

“You will be OK, Jenna,” Drew said kindly. “You’ll be as brave as you always are.”

“I’m glad you think that, because I don’t.”

“You are so much braver than you give yourself credit for. And you need to remember, you are far from alone in all this. I’m sat right here.” With a soft smile on her now paler lips, Jenna looked up at him.

“In all my life, I have never been as happy as I have been this past year, and I know that’s because of you. I’m so glad I could say I spent what was the last of my life truly living. Thank you so much for that, Drew.”

Smiling down at her, he placed another tender kiss on her lips. Jenna let her head rest against Drew’s chest, relaxing as her eyelids grew heavier by the moment. And for the rest of the time they had together, they just talked. About nothing, about everything, and all those little things in between. They were just together.

As the end grew closer, Drew, with tears flowing from his eyes that Jenna could now not see, took her hand in his, feeling her fingers grip weakly round his as she lay with her eyes closed and her breathing extremely laboured. She was so close to slipping away from him, he knew that, but right now, the one thing he wanted was for this to be the last thing she heard out of his lips.

“I didn’t know what love was until I met you. And I will always love you, Jenna, for as long as I live.”

As her grip loosened further, her hand nearly slipping from his, Drew looked down to see a truly peaceful look on her face, the corner of her lips curling up into the smallest of a smile. He took the hand he was holding, kissing it tenderly… and then all Hell broke loose.

Suddenly, the machines that had moments ago barely been background noise in Drew’s mind sprung dramatically into action, the sound of the flat-line, accompanied with the alerts for the doctors, causing Drew to stand from the bed. As his mind registered just what was happening, he looked down at Jenna’s body lay across the bed, eyes closed, in the same position.

Drew made to move back to the bed, back to Jenna, but he was no longer alone in the room. A number of doctors and nurses had begun to stream in, one holding him back while the others rushed to Jenna’s side. And Drew, in his stunned daze, let himself be pushed from the room. Because he didn’t need the doctors, with their sorrowful looks and fake sympathy, to tell him what he already knew.

Jenna was dead.

Drew’s feet came to a stop in front of a certain headstones, his eyes tracing the words carved into the marble:

Here Lies

Jenna Anne McCarthy


Loved By Many

Friend To All

Brave To The Very End

Twenty-six. She had only been twenty-six when she had died. Much too young for such an amazing woman like Jenna to be taken from this world.

“Jenna….” Drew said quietly, dropping to his knees.

But after that, he didn’t know what else there was to say. He hadn’t been to visit her grave since the day she had died, and in all honesty, had only done so now because his sister had told him to, said it would help. Yet he didn’t see how it would. He missed her more than he ever thought he could.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say, I’m just….” Drew began again, stuttering over his words. “I’m sorry I haven’t been here sooner, I guess. But I… well…. The truth is, I still felt guilty. I mean, if I had been with you that night, maybe you would still be here. I love you enough that no matter what anyone says, I’m always gonna feel like that. Because I miss you more than I can say.” Drew bowed his head slightly as tears fought to escape.

“But I do want you to know just how proud of you I am,” he continued. “You were so brave, right to the bitter end. I know how scared you were, how much you didn’t want to die, but you were still the wonderful, amazing, fabulously brave woman I first met. You still kept that incredible love of life you always had, which was the first thing I loved about you. And I am so very, very proud of you for that. I wish so much that you were here for me to tell you so to your face.” With a deep, rolling sigh, Drew got to his feet, almost nervously fingering the item he held delicately in his hand.

“I do remember what you told me, Jenna,” he said. “The poem you quoted, the promise. But I-I just couldn’t help myself.”

And then he placed a single red rose across the top of the headstone, stroking his hand across the cold marble.

“Good night, my love. Sleep well,” Drew said, wiping away the single tear that had fallen down his cheek as he turned to leave… just for the night.

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