Everything was spinning. Cole had to keep focusing and refocusing on the lighted numbers above the elevator door. Three, then four, then five, then the doors opened and some of the strangers in the elevator stepped out. The doors slid shut and the elevator began moving again. Cole’s mouth was dry as a bone.
“I need water,” he whispered to Michael.
“Soon,” Michael answered.
The door slid open again. Michael and Cole pushed through from the back of the elevator and exited onto the seventh floor.
Cole felt drunk. He should have been drunk, from the tequila, but this was different. His blood felt like pure adrenaline coursing through his veins. He could have done 1,000 pushups, or run a marathon, or punched a hole in a brick wall, for all he knew. If Cole had done more drugs in his younger days, he might have described the sensation as something akin to speedballing – mixing cocaine with heroin. However, with his limited palette of altered states, he could only think of one way to describe what he was feeling.
“I’ve never felt more alive, man,” he told Michael as they walked down the hall toward the east wing.
“I know,” Michael replied.
Soon they would arrive at Annie’s room. Cole would go in, find his wife asleep, and he would fix her. Michael had made Cole just like him, and Cole would not hesitate to make his wife just like the both of them. He didn’t know exactly what was going on inside his body, but he knew there was no way any cancer could survive the onslaught of his new incredible blood cells. Annie would wake up then. Her beautiful blue eyes would light back up. Color would return to her face. Everything would be all right again. They would be together again.
As they turned the corner, Cole was immediately gripped by the feeling that something was not right. Down the hall, nurses milled outside his wife’s room.
“Cole?” Michael asked, the rest of his question hanging unasked as Cole sprinted down the hall.
Michael hung back, sensitive to the privacy of the situation and fearful of what information Cole would glean from speaking to the bustling nurses. When he saw Cole drop to his knees, he rushed forward. By the time he reached the door to Annie’s room, Cole was sobbing into his hands. Michael placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. Cole drew a deep, unsteady breath into his lungs and looked up at his old friend.
“I want to see her,” he said.
“Sir?” asked one of the nurses.
“I want to see my wife,” he said again, wiping his eyes and rising to his feet.
“Of course. You’re welcome to go into the room, sir. We haven’t moved her.”
“Cole,” Michael interrupted. “You can’t do anything for her now. She’s gone.”
Cole nodded. “I know.”
With that, he walked into his wife’s hospital room, and closed the door behind him.
She was just laying there, the same way she’d been when he had left her. From afar, you couldn’t tell she wasn’t still just sleeping. The only difference in the room was the lack of noise. There were no beeps, no drips, nothing to break the absolute silence accompanying his wife in death.
Cole sat down next to the bed. He gripped his wife’s hand. “Annie,” he said as tears slid down his cheek.
He was struck by how small she was, how frail, and how peaceful. His mind raced back through every memory, to the first time he ever saw her, sitting on Michael’s couch in the tiny living room of his dorm suite, ready to watch Sunday night cartoons, beaming that bright light of life that always shone out from her face. Michael found her in one of his general education classes. Michael had tried to date her first. It had been a point of contention early in their friendship when she chose Cole instead.
After college, at a football tailgate back on campus, Cole had walked her up the steps to that same dorm building. There, away from the commotion of the tailgating, before the game, Cole proposed. Annie had laughed at him then, and her whole body once again filled up with that incredible light, that luminous, infectious energy. Cole even began to laugh at himself, in his tattered replica jersey, on one knee before a football game.
Her radiance was never greater than on their wedding day. She was blindingly happy, a smile spread across her face like a sunrise. She was ablaze with life, and Cole had basked in her glory that day. No woman had ever been more beautiful.
Now here she lay in front of him, that light gone from her. Pale and sweaty, limp hand clasped in Cole’s grip. He couldn’t bear to let her go. The last time she had been awake, he had made him promise her something.
“Promise me, Cole. Promise me you’ll be okay,” she’d begged him. “I need you to be okay.”
He had promised then. He told her he would be fine, no matter what happened. He also assured her they’d get through this, that everything would be okay. On every count, he had been lying.
Cole Meadows rested his despairing head on his wife’s still warm chest. He closed his eyes. He had never felt more dead inside.