I woke up later that evening with an ache in my chest. It wasn't quite so physical as it was emotional, but the pain was overwhelming.
I felt a hand brush my hair out of my face, and there was David, right by my side as always. My eyes fluttered, heavy. I felt like I was sinking. Something was weighing me down, crushing me.
But at least he was here with me. What would I do without him?
I wanted to breathe, but even that felt like a burden. "You're okay," David soothed, rubbing me gently against the chest as if he knew exactly what I was feeling. And, honestly, he did know. He'd been through this. He'd been through worse than this.
"Please," I begged, not knowing what I was begging for.
"I know, love. I know it hurts. What can I do?"
I sat up like it was the hardest thing to do. Every inch of me felt numb. "I-I need... I need to find his scarf. I put it in the closet, I think." I pulled myself up higher and swung my legs over the edge of the bed to stand up.
"Scarf?" David asked in confusion, rushing to my side and helping me to the closet. It was good thinking because I was probably on the verge of collapsing onto my face. "What scarf?"
"It's a- a reddish, maroon knitted scarf. I know I hung it up over a hanger, have you seen it?" I began to scour our wardrobe, sifting through clothes in a panicked desperation. It was purely irrational, to the point I freaked when I didn't see it. "No, no, no, no! It was right here, I swear! I couldn't have just lost it! It's the only thing I have of his. Where else could I have put it?" I whirled around to look at David, and there was concern all over his face. Then his eyes gazed past me and he pointed.
"Casper, it's right there."
I spun around, realizing it was in my face all along. "Oh, thank God." I sighed, grabbing it off the hanger and holding it close to my chest. "It was Avery's. Well, his mom's. After she passed, he kept it. Said it brought him comfort."
I looked up at him and was suddenly swarmed with guilt. "I'm sorry."
"You were led to believe I had an affair with him. And here I am holding his scarf like a lifeline." I shook my head, feeling my expression crack into deeper sadness. "I'm sorry..."
"Casper, that's not what I'm thinking at all."
"I don't know how you can stand to look at me let alone comfort me."
"You're hurting, that's how." He cupped my cheeks. "Do you really think your cries don't affect me?" I heard a playfulness in his voice, and I couldn't be more grateful for it. I sank into his warm embrace, finding a bit of peace there.
I walked out of the Chief of Surgery's office with a complete look of satisfaction on my face. I immediately dialed David's number, too excited to share the good news.
"Hello, my love," he greeted when he picked up. I grinned like an idiot, strolling down the hall slowly. "How did your meeting go?"
"Guess who gets to keep his license!"
"Seriously," I practically squealed, trying not to attract too much attention as I approached the elevator to go to the third floor. I thought I'd go to Avery and pray to the heavens he was still here. Truth be told, he was the reason for the storm in my mind. If I could just see him, maybe I'd feel calm. But for now, I was grateful to have my career.
"Aw, angel, I couldn't be happier for you. I wanna know every detail."
"Yeah, of course. I'll tell you at dinner. I'm um... I'm gonna pay Avery a visit and see how he's doing."
"Okay. I'll be here to pick you up."
"Alright. See you."
I stepped onto the empty elevator, and right before it closed, someone else slid through the door. I didn't even need to look at him to know who it was. The atmosphere tensed and in seconds, I was fuming.
"Sorry, I didn't realize you were here," Lorenzo mumbled, both of us refusing to make eye contact. I pressed the 3rd floor button then he pressed 2.
"Yes, well, I still have my license. No thanks to you."
He sighed, probably wanting to say something but not knowing what. It didn't matter; there was no repairing whatever kind of friendship we once had.
"So you'll be coming back to work..?"
"Nope. I quit."
From the corner of my eye, I saw him glance at me in total surprise, but I wasn't intent on explaining myself any further.
"I was pretty hard on you about your patient, no doubt. It's just that- what you did... I know exactly what that's like."
I scoffed in disbelief, watching the numbers as the elevator moved down.
"I'm serious," he continued. "I've been in your shoes, and it was the toughest thing I had to go through in my career. But I learned my lesson. I knew it was only a matter of time before something happened so I want you to understand why I couldn't just sugarcoat it like everyone else."
"'You want me to understand?' How dare you? Do you really think that's supposed to mean anything to me?"
"Casper, I just meant that I-I'm sorry for—"
"How about you understand something: it's one thing to be a supportive friend and call me out on my bullshit. But you, however, went as far as to insult my intelligence by blatantly stating that my husband's wealth put me in this position, completely negating all of my hard work and skill. You knew David was standing behind me when you called me a cheater in a failed, weak attempt to divide us, and now you have the audacity to 'want me to understand you?'" I stared him down as the elevator door opened on my floor. I scoffed and walked out, and I was about to leave things there, but I wasn't satisfied. So I turned back to him, holding the door open. "Your apology means nothing. You mean nothing. You are dead to me. And if I could trade your life for Avery's... hardly a choice." I let the door close after that, glaring at his regretful face until it was sealed shut.
I blinked, letting out a breath to try to steady myself.
I didn't like confrontation, especially because I used to be awful at any sort of interaction. But I'd learned that to succeed in any field, you had to be tough. You had to stand up for yourself, and cut people off when necessary. And the more I did so, the better it felt.
I calmed myself down and made my way to room 307, though I was very reluctant to step inside.
I could hear someone talking, a voice I didn't recognize. Then there was a moment of laughter, though its tone was a bit sad.
When I finally found the courage, I stepped through the threshold and knocked gently.
I entered to find Avery tucked in the bed, and a man sitting at his side who resembled him. I quickly remembered all the times Avery mentioned he had a brother, and was relieved that he finally had someone to support him.
His chest was falling heavily, almost as if it hurt just to breathe. He wasn't going to last very long. Maybe not even past tonight. I knew the signs and I've seen the same thing happen for years and years. His organs would shut down, and he would fade into a slumber he'd never wake up from.
"Sorry to disturb," I apologized.
"Cas..." Avery acknowledged, immediately perking up despite his condition.
"Hey." I walked in further. "I'm Casper, his former doctor," I introduced myself to his brother.
"Dion." He reached out and shook my hand before looking at his younger brother. "Is he the one who..."
Avery sighed playfully. "Sure, expose me why don't you."
"Glad to see your humor is intact," I observed.
"He was telling me about you," Dion admitted. "I heard that you uh... got in trouble or something?"
"Oh, um..." I pulled up a chair and nodded. "I was suspended. I resuscitated him after he signed a DNR."
"It wasn't his fault," Avery said. "I vouched for you, did they tell you that? I hope it helped."
I smiled at him. "Yeah. You helped."
"In any case, I'm grateful," Dion appreciated. "You're the reason I get the chance to be here now. I don't think anyone else was willing to risk their job like that. Why don't I give you two a moment to talk. I think I need to... you know." He swallowed and stood up. "I'll be back, Ave. You hang in there."
We watched him leave, knowing he was definitely stepping out to cry. Then I turned my attention back to Avery. "I'm glad he showed up for you. You deserve that. I've been aching to visit you, you know."
"I know," he nodded weakly. "Why do you think I stuck around?"
It was a successful attempt at making me smile. My fingers curled around his. "Do you understand what's happening?" I asked. "Did they explain it to you?"
"Yeah... trying not to dwell... I won't make it to tomorrow, will I?"
I blinked back tears and shook my head, my voice coming out in a whisper. "Not likely."
"Okay. It's okay. I'm not that s-scared anymore. Kinda looking forward to it... not in a depressed way."
"No, of course. You'll finally be at peace; that's the positive side."
"Right. You have impeccable timing though."
"I wish I could've come much sooner. I'm so sorry."
"Don't. I just... I had to see you before I went. So I got my wish. I also realized something."
"You never showed me your kids."
I slowly smiled. "I didn't, huh?" I wiped my tears and pulled out my phone. I found a picture of me embracing Dawn and showed him the screen. His eyebrows rose.
"Oh wow... she's adorable." He chuckled.
"Her name is Dawn. She's a dancer."
"Beautiful and talented. She'll make it very far; I heard that's the recipe."
"Mhm. And... there's my son, Royce."
"Royce... he looks exactly like you. Down to the sky blue eyes."
"Yeah. He's my biological son. If... well, when my husband and I decide to have another, then that baby will be biologically his."
"I bet you guys are the sweetest family. That's incredible. You seem happy." We were quiet for a moment. "Oh, I almost forgot. You still have my knitted scarf?"
"The maroon one? Of course."
"Good. That's good. It was my mother's, as you know. It always made me feel like she was still around. M-maybe, after I pass, it'll remind you of me."
Tears blinded my eyes once again as I nodded. "Absolutely," I whispered. "I'll never forget you, Avery."
His brother returned soon enough, and the both of us sat and talked with him late into the evening.
I sighed into David's embrace, letting his comfort wash over me.
"I wish I could've saved him."
"I think you did in a sense," my husband reassured, cupping my cheeks as I pulled back just enough to gaze up at him. He elaborated upon seeing my confusion. "He signed that DNR because he thought he wouldn't be missed, but you're the reason he left this world knowing he'd never be forgotten."
I clutched the maroon scarf tighter in my hands and nodded. "Thank you."