I took a dollar out of my bag and dropped it into the pay phone that stood in the corner of the restaurant. As I dialed my family’s phone number, I said a silent prayer of hope. Hope that Gregory wasn’t in any pain. Hope that his cancer had miraculously disappeared while I was out.
“Hello?” It was Mrs. Saunders, our neighbor.
Why is she there? I wondered.
“Hi, Mrs. Saunders,” I said, my heart lurching. “It’s Madeline. I wanted to check in and see how my brother was doing.”
There was a pause. “Your parents took him to the hospital,” she said finally. ” I came over so that I could tell you when you got home.”
“Oh no,” I whispered. “Please, no.”
I didn’t hear the rest of what she said. I hung up the phone and sprinted out of the restaurant, tears streaming down my face. I didn’t stop to talk to any of my friends. There was no time for questions or hugs or sympathetic gestures.
“I need to go to Memorial Hospital right away,” I told the cab driver. “It’s an emergency.” I’m on my way, Gregory, I told him silently.
I stood by my parents as Dr. Ziegler came out to speak to us. We had been sitting in the small lounge at the end of the hall.
Dr. Ziegler shook her head. “I’m sorry, Gregory is very weak.”
“Is she going to be able to leave the hospital?” I asked. It was the question that would determine everything.
“No, I don’t think so, Madeline,” the doctor answered. “We’ve done everything we can, and Gregory has put up a brave fight. But sometimes these diseases are too powerful to overcome.”
Gregory was going to die. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon. And there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t even cry right now. I had to be strong for my mom and dad, and I knew Gregory wouldn’t want to spend his last days with us being complete basket cases. We had to make every minute count. I thought quietly, biting my lip to hold back the tears.
My world was splintering into a million tiny pieces. It was cracking apart, like a precious Ming vase smashing against a tiled floor. The doctor was telling us that it was time to give up the last vestige of hope. Gregory had taken that final turn for the worse. The one that meant the end of his life wasn’t only a certainty-it was imminent.
I looked away from the doctor and gazed at Gregory. He was asleep, but it was a fitful, agonized sleep. Even with all of the medication that he was receiving, he was moaning as if he was being tortured.
“You had better say your good-byes now,” Dr. Ziegler said softly, “There’s simply nothing more we can do.”
“Gregory?” I whispered. “Can you wake up now?”
He groaned, but his eyes fluttered open. Since he had been in the hospital, a lot of the time, even when he was awake, his eyes had been cloudy from either pain or pain medication.
“Hi,” he whispered. “Here are my three favorite people. Let’s party.”
“Oh, Gregory.” Mother’s voice was barely above a whisper, but she managed to smile as she leaned over to kiss him lightly on the cheek.
Gregory’s eyes were full of gravity as he gazed at them. “I know what’s happening,” he said. “I can feel it”
“We’re right here with you, Brother. We’re not going anywhere I whispered.
He nodded. ” I wanted you all to know how much I love you,” he whispered. “I’ve had the best parents and the best sister that ever were. It’s been a wonderful fulfilling life.”
“We love you, Gregory,” I told him. “You’ve been the best brother any girl could have. And you’ll always be my brother-forever.”
As we clung to him, Gregory closed his eyes. In a few seconds his breathing quieted…and then it stopped altogether. Beside them a monitor began to beep.