Noelle rose and shone earlier than what she was comfortable with, but a sense of newness was brewing. She wanted to take Timmie a gift of white chocolate hot chocolate with a splash of cherry cream. A favorite. Though her family had always been supportive and its love filled her life, Noelle churned Timmie’s cheerleading into bravery and courage. When the words lacked for Noelle, Timmie’s actions compensated for the silence.

Noelle followed the pathway to the apartment and used the gifted door knocker to signal her arrival, hot cup in tow.

She waited.

And listened for footsteps.

And sneaked a sideways glance at the window.

The door knocker, shaped like a badger, had been made in Germany and was purchased by Noelle’s parents once upon a time. They gave Timmie the knocker the day she moved to the apartment.

Noelle grabbed the door knocker again, but banged a little harder this time. She didn’t want to seem pushy, but she had expected a quicker acknowledgement.

She turned to move toward the window, now unabashed to look inside. She paused when a noise was heard and the door opened.

“Noelle!” Timmie’s voice was all over its tone range. Was the greeting a question? “What are you doing here? I was going to pick you up.”

“Instead,” Noelle feigned ignorance to the weirdness. “I brought you a pick-me-up.” She handed over the cup-of-yum and continued to wait for the invitation to step inside.

Both Timmie and Noelle felt the hesitation, hoping the other didn’t. Nothing could be done. No going back in time. Timmie moved aside, swung the door open wide, and invited her best friend into the apartment.

Multiple sizes of cardboard boxes segmented the space. Some were taped shut; others looked to be in holding. The greige walls were clean, no lived-in marks, no art, no mirrors, no representation of who lived there. Familiar pieces of furniture were missing. Papers and keys were on the plant ledge where happy, welcoming plants once stood.

Timmie sipped on her gift.

“What’s going on?” Noelle’s sense-making data was jammed. She needed perspective and guidance.

Much time had been spent the past few days practicing, determining, rehearsing the next words Timmie would say. Though she had given great respect to language most of her life, its usefulness didn’t amount to much now. Here.

“I’m leaving.”

Two words full of explanation, yet Noelle wasn’t any closer to the truth. She felt vital blood moving from her head, sinking to her feet. “Leaving? Like, to care for your aunt, leaving? I’m going to sit down, please.”

Aunt Nessa surprised doctors. That’s what she did. She had moved to St. Louis 15 months ago, when it was declared she needed both a heart and kidney transplant. Doctors hadn’t expected her to survive the move, much less more than a year of living.

Her body began misbehaving after Timmie graduated from college. Expensive, talk-a-lot doctors used multi-syllable words and complex sentences to faux-explain what was happening inside Aunt Nessa, who was but 12 years older than her niece. No one could make complete sense of what was going on. She was a sort of test subject until Timmie convinced a research specialist to look into genetic mutations causing premature malfunctioning of organs. Timmie knew it was the Lord who convinced Dr. Salmonson she desperately needed cottage cheese as a side dish to grilled bratwursts for supper. The hankering had led Dr. Salmonson to the grocery store, where she received a must-answer phone call from a surgeon friend. While Timmie and her unsuspecting, soon-to-be, blessing-in-disguise waited for a third party to move away from the dairy products, Timmie stopped trying to close her ears to the conversation when she overheard the quietly spoken, muffled words “organ” and “shutting down.”

It was outside of Timmie’s usual reach, but when Dr. Salmonson hung up, Timmie pounced. She apologized for listening, refused to take a breath and told the doctor about her aunt in 23 seconds, not giving time for the listener to leave. Dr. Salmonson apologized herself, explaining she was only visiting friends and would leave for home, Minnesota, the next morning.

As grit would have it, Timmie, along with getaway driver Noelle, greeted Dr. Salmonson bright and early at the airport. Timmie held pictures of her aunt in her hands and fear in her eyes. The doctor decided against calling security and instead became an advocate and supporter for both Aunt Nessie and Timmie. Frequent trips to and from Minnesota and Missouri were made by all parties involved. The fear she saw in Timmie was a reminder to Dr. Salmonson as to why she researched medicine to begin with, why she was in the fight. Fear of losing her own sister was the fuel-to-the-fire she needed to become a life-giving force in more ways than one.

Dr. Salmonson was the one who called Timmie a few weeks before and told her outright Aunt Nessie’s body was struggling, and without the transplants, Timmie’s one piece of family didn’t have hope, outside of a miracle. “Meeting you at the grocery store was a miracle,” Timmie said on the other end of the phone. “Let’s pray for another.”

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