Sammie had made the calls and everything was set for Lisa, Terri, Troy, and Joel to stop by that evening to say their goodbyes to Steve.
Jeanette had confirmed what Sammie had feared - Steve wouldn't live much longer. She felt he only had a few days, a week at the most.
Sammie had taken a leave of absence from work and barely left Steve's bedside. He spent his nights on the sofa by Steve's bed and his days sitting beside him. Occasionally Troy or Tyler would drag him away long enough to eat or bathe, mostly they let him be, understanding his need to sit with Steve.
Jeanette had put in a request for another aide and so Omar began coming to care for Steve during the evenings and nights. He spoke broken English with a strong Spanish accent and had the kindest eyes Sammie had ever seen.
"Does he need another blanket? His hands are like ice," Sammie asked.
"You can put another blanket on if you like," Omar answered. "The circulation in his extremities is failing. Did he complain of being cold?"
"No, he hasn't said anything."
"When are his friends coming over?"
"I told them to be here around eight, but I explained that I couldn't promise he would be up to it."
"Jeanette turned down the morphine drip hours ago. He will wake up soon." Omar patted Sammie's shoulder. λλλλλλλλλλλλλ
As Omar had predicted Steve was awake and fairly alert by the time everyone arrived. They were all visiting with each other in the living room while Sammie and Omar were in Steve’s room
"You're leaving, aren't you?" Steve asked Sammie.
"How did you know?"
"You never were much for drama, unless you were the center of it."
Sammie rolled his eyes. "You don't need me weeping in the background. I won't be gone long, I’ll just let you have some time with our friends."
Steve nodded, "Have one for me."
"A drink. Knock one back for me."
Sammie gave Steve a small grin; it was hard to smile these days. "I'll be back soon."
"Okay, send in Joel first, will you?" λλλλλλλλλλλλλ
Sammie really hadn't planned on going to a bar, just didn't want to witness everyone's faces as they left Steve's bedroom, but Steve's suggestion sounded good. He would go have a drink for Steve, to remember their time together.
He pulled up in front of Steve's favorite club, not the dance club Sammie loved, but a trendy piano bar that Steve had thought was the place to be. Sammie had always grumbled when Steve wanted to come here. The drinks were over priced, the art on the wall was pretentious, and the music was not Sammie's cup of tea. A far cry from the thumpa thumpa they played down the street, but Steve had loved this place, so it was here that Sammie came. He walked up, took a seat at the bar and ordered a vodka martini, Steve's drink of choice. λλλλλλλλλλλλλ
He was nursing his third martini when his cell phone rang from its place in his pocket.
"Where are you?" Tyler asked.
"Um, at Tina's"
"Tina? Who's that?"
"Not who, what. It’s a bar."
"Lisa and Terri are getting ready to leave now, Joel and Troy have already gone. You sound like you need me to come get you."
"Ah, Tyler to the rescue," Sammie slurred out.
"Shut up, Sammie. How many have you had?"
"Just three, I'm fine."
"Just a minute," Tyler said.
Sammie could hear voices in the background but couldn't make out what they were saying.
"Stay where you are, Sammie. Lisa is going to drop me off there to drive you home."
"No, you stay there with Steve."
"Omar’s here, Steve’s fine. Just stay there," Tyler insisted.
"Yeah, okay." Sammie stabbed at the olive in his glass with the little toothpick and wondered how he could have possibly handled this without Tyler—and was glad he didn’t have to. λλλλλλλλλλλλλ
He smelled the familiar aroma of Tyler’s cologne as he felt the warm body press by him and slid onto the stool next to him at the bar.
“Hey,” Tyler said softly.
“So how did it go? Everyone in tears?”
“No, I think everyone held up fine.”
“Everyone but me. I’m the one who bolted,” Sammie said, looking into his drink.
“No one blames you for needing to take a break every now and then.”
They were silent as Sammie watched Tyler looking around at the other patrons and the art on the wall, taking it all in. “You’ve never brought me here,” Tyler finally said.
“I hate this place.”
“So, why are you here now?”
“It was Steve’s favorite place to come. I always thought it was a bit over the top, but then Steve could be a little pretentious when he chose to be.”
“God, listen to me. I’m talking about him like he’s already dead.”
Tyler frowned, but remained silent. Sammie watched him and thought that it took a smart man to know what to say, and when to keep your mouth shut. Tyler was a smart man.
“Come on, James. Drive me home.” λλλλλλλλλλλλλ
A couple of days later, Sammie was sitting at the dinning room table with Tyler. It was a Saturday afternoon. Kathy and Jeanette were in with Steve and had run Sammie out of the room. Tyler had seized the opportunity to try to get some nutrients into Sammie's system.
"I called my mom this morning," Tyler announced.
Sammie looked up—this was news. "Wow, you did? How did it go?" Tyler had not said anymore about his parents since his foiled attempt with Steve's mom, but it had obviously been on his mind.
"Well, she didn't hang up on me, or cuss at me," Tyler grinned.
"That's great, Tyler. How long had it been since you last talked to her?"
"So what did she say?"
"Well, at first she thought I was calling to ask for money, so she was kinda leery, but then she warmed up to me a little and talked to me for awhile. She didn’t ask me very many questions, but she told me all about her and Dad. She said it would be okay for me to call her again."
Sammie nodded, “That’s great, Tyler.”
"It wasn't everything I was hoping for, but it's a start."
"I'm glad, Tyler. I really am." λλλλλλλλλλλλλ
That night Sammie awoke from the sofa to the sound of Steve gasping for air.
"Steve?" Sammie flipped on the light on the nightstand. Steve was still sleeping, his breathing shallow and raspy.
"Omar?" Sammie shouted, not sure where the nursing aide had gone.
"Steve, wake up," Sammie said as he tried to shake Steve awake.
Omar came into the room, "What's wrong?"
"He's not breathing right, I can't get him to wake up." Sammie stepped back so that Omar could approach Steve.
Omar took out this stethoscope and listened to Steve's chest. "He has fluid in his lungs." Omar pulled Steve forward and propped the pillows under him. "We need to bring in a hospital bed so that he can have his head raised. This is common, the fluid in his lungs," Omar explained in his broken English.
"Is that why he won't wake up?"
"No, the deep sleep, just another sign of his time coming soon."
Sammie frowned and slumped down on the sofa.
"Tomorrow we will bring in a hospital bed."
Sammie knew Steve would hate that, being in a hard cold bed, like that. On the other hand, he probably wouldn't even know. He was out of it most of the time now, only lucid occasionally, most of the time he was confused, if not outright delusional.
"Hey," Tyler said padding in, his hair sticking up as he wiped the sleep from his eyes. "What's going on?"
"Steve's lungs are filling with fluid," Sammie answered.
"It is common," Omar added. "He needs a different bed."
"Go on back to bed, Tyler. You look tired."
"Umm, no, I want to sit with you." Tyler sat down on the sofa next to Sammie.
Omar was still arranging the pillows to make Steve more comfortable.
Sammie placed his arm around Tyler, pulling him over to lie against his chest. He sat like that the rest of the night; watching Steve’s drugged sleep. Tyler slept on, his head cushioned on Sammie's chest. λλλλλλλλλλλλλ
In the end, Steve died quietly on the following Tuesday afternoon. Sammie was sitting by his bed, knowing the time was near. Steve was sleeping in a peaceful morphine haze.
Tyler was at work. He had offered to stay home with Sammie, knowing Steve’s time was near, but understood when Sammie turned him down.
Troy had left only a couple hours ago to go grab a shower and a nap.
Sammie was looking out the window, watching the puffy white clouds in the sunny sky, when he noticed Steve starting to wake. Steve opened his eyes looking around until he saw Sammie. Sammie got up and moved from the sofa to the bed, taking Steve's hand.
There were no dying proclamations, no hysterics, no scene. Steve stared into Sammie's eyes then drifted off, closing his eyes as his labored breathing stopped.
Sammie sat holding Steve's hand; tears running silently down his cheeks. Jeanette waited respectfully in the back of the room, giving Sammie time to say his goodbyes.
At last Sammie leaned over, kissing Steve's lips one last time, then rose and left the room. λλλλλλλλλλλλλ
He sat in the recliner in the living room with the phone in his hands, knowing he needed to make the call to Tyler. He wasn't sure he would be able to say the words. Finally he pushed the buttons.
"This is Tyler."
There was a pause on the other end. "I'm leaving now, is Jeanette still there?"
"Okay, I'm on my way." λλλλλλλλλλλλλ
Sammie was still sitting in the living room when Tyler walked in.
"Sammie?" Tyler asked standing in the doorway. Sammie's haunted eyes looked into Tyler's, but then he said nothing.
"Would you like some time with Steve before I call the mortuary?" Jeanette asked, appearing from inside Steve's room.
"Yeah," Tyler answered. "Have you called Troy yet?" he asked Sammie.
Sammie shook his head.
"Want me to do it?"
Sammie closed his eyes and nodded.
Tyler turned to Jeanette, "You'll stay here with him?"
"Of course," she said, sitting down in one of the chairs.
Tyler went to Steve to say good-bye, one last time.
© Melina Catts 2005