By Roger Wilbanks
After soiling himself for the third time in two hours, Kenneth buzzed once more to summon the nurse. Thomas and Carlos joked among themselves about the awkwardness of the situation but Kenneth was bedridden, thus limiting his opportunities for any kind of bathroom breaks. Thomas reminded all of the time Kenneth wet his pants during a hike at summer cap. Carlos reminded him that he was only 8 years old at the time and was thus offered amnesty on that particular incident.
The three of them were closer than brothers and shared a bond and love that you can not have with someone just because you are related to them. Theirs was brotherhood by choice rather than fate and now that one of them was in a hospital, more machine than man the bond was stronger than ever.
Carlos began the story about the night they all snuck out of the dorm their freshman year in college. Thomas choked down his reaction as the story began.
That was the night one of them almost died and it still held major significance, especially considering their circumstances. Granted it was a funny story...it was only funny to the three of them because they all made it out alive. Thomas was the one who almost drew the short straw that day and it was Kenneth’s quick thinking that avoided disaster. Thomas owed Kenneth his life that day but Kenneth never mentioned it again except for taking his part in its ritual retelling.
A few subdued yeahs and an occasional Ain’t that the truth were all he would utter. His love for his friend superceded any desire for personal glory as the hero he became that day. That was only one of the reasons Thomas was present in this dimly lit room watching his best friend slowly wither. His body was assaulted by disease on a constant basis. The humming of the machines was there as a permanent reminder of how fragile his current state was. It was this thought more than the retelling of the story that caught Thomas off-guard. He broke. As tears and denial raced out of him, Carlos comforted him. Kenneth, who was happy and smiling moments before grew angry at this. He reminded Thomas of the promise he made. That was enough to draw Thomas back and allow the gathering to continue on its path.
Carol’s absence was ignored. She and Kenneth had drifted too far apart for any rope to reclaim and this was accepted. After all, she hadn’t made the promise, the three of them had. They made it many years ago, huddled under a rickety carport, sheltered from the fierce rain on that cold night they all agree would have been better if they had just stayed in and watched tv. That was forty years, seven children and twelve grandchildren ago, but it was still help sacred this day as when it was made. None would leave the other alone, ever. Even as Kenneth closed his eyes for the final time ever, this bond remained unbroken.
“Thanks guys….” He said as he finally passed on.
The promise had been kept.
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