Jeff knew Mindy from the time they were in kindergarten. They dated on and off in junior high and high school. In the back of his mind he thought of popping the question after they graduated from high school.
Mind you, Mindy was a popular girl. So Jeff had competition–especially from Doug. Doug’s family moved into town during junior high. And he moved in in more ways than one. Moved in on Mindy, too.
That’s all before Mindy began missing school. At first there was the occasional absence. Then the sick days became more frequent.
The doctors couldn’t arrive at a proper diagnosis, but as time went on it became clear that Mindy was suffering from some terrible wasting disease.
She was still as sweet as ever, but she had no energy. And one could see the weight loss. Pretty soon she was bedridden.
Although she stopped attending school, Doug and Jeff would visit her at home. Sit by her bed. Bring cut flowers. Chinese take-out. Talk about sports. Or school. Who was doing what.
They’d take her for little walks around flower garden in the backyard. Propping her up under their shoulder. Or sit together in the double rocker on the back porch, and watch the fireflies come out.
Mindy tried to schedule their visits so that Doug and Jeff wouldn’t bump into each other. She didn’t want one to show up while the other was there, to avoid hurt feelings.
But one day Jeff came calling when Doug was there. Jeff put the carton of Sesame chicken on her night table, then excused himself–swallowing his rage.
At school next day, Doug took Jeff aside:
“I’m sorry about yesterday,” Doug said.
“Sorry I caught you seeing her behind my back?” Jeff said.
“It’s not like I’m trying to steal your girlfriend.” Doug said. “We both know she’s dying. It’s not as if I can have her. We both love her. Both want to be with her. Both want to have her. But that’s not going to happen. Not for you. Not for me.”
“I know.” Jeff said, grudgingly.
“I see in her what you see in her. We like her for all the same reasons. You can’t blame me for having the same taste in girls you have!” Doug said.
“Maybe not.” Jeff shrugged.
“Let’s try to make her happy for whatever time she’s got left. For her sake–and ours.” Doug said.
So Doug and Jeff continued to visit Mindy. Sometimes together. Sometimes apart. After school. Come the weekend. Mornings. Or afternoons. Or just before bedtime.
And they saw her every day after she was transferred to the hospice. More than ever.
That’s the first time in life either boy ever prayed. Mindy always had a Bible on her night table. Whenever they came to see her, she was buried in her Bible. Usually the Gospels. Or the Psalms.
Before she got sick, her faith was just something they went along with, because they loved her. They were young. They had time to burn. Or so it seemed. Until she got sick. And sicker and sicker.
Seeing her became a bittersweet experience. Watching her fade away. Grow thin and pale. See the pain. Like she was being eaten alive from the inside out. Like a punctured bicycle tire.
Her illness brought them closer together. Not only did they spend more time with her, but more time with each other. The jealousy, the rivalry, the acrimony, was gone. They’d talk about her with each other. The good times. And the bad times.
They began to pray with her whenever they were with her. And pray for her whenever they were away.
At the graveside service, Doug and Jeff both brought a cut flower from the garden, behind the house, and laid it on her casket.