Since the day they met, they were never more than 12 hours apart. It wasn’t a lie, and it slowly became the unfortunately truth.
He didn’t even know he could feel something like that for somebody. Their bond was immensely strong right from the beginning. It was completely unexpected, but just what he needed at that moment.
His life had not been easy lately, and he was trying to forget about all the awful details that always seemed to enter his head.
Then she came along. It was unbelievable that this was happening to him. There he was, just trying to pull some strings together for himself, and in the same line behind him she was waiting for him
to hurry up. He was in no rush, but apparently she wanted to pay for her groceries as quickly as possible. While he was trying to smooth the cashier to give him some sort of discount, his mate
looked up and greeted this girl as if he knew her for ages.
“Hey Ben, can I introduce you to Lily?” James smiled up to him and the cashier.
“Hi.” She said in a hurry and looked too at the cashier, but she had a different look on her face. Her look showed she was annoyed by the fact it took so long, even though she knew James.
Ben wasn’t bothered. He needed to get all the products, even though he didn’t have enough money. Even if he was a penny short, it meant to give it all back. He was in fact three pounds short…
“Here is three pounds. You’re making people wait.” It was pushed in his hand as she was looking at James to get his bum in gear.
As James smiled politely and gave Ben a shove, waiting for him to say thank you. Ben wanted to, but it was like the world changed and out of nowhere he suddenly was short of breath. It felt
like he couldn’t breath and when he opening his mouth to speak, no air entered in as if he was about to choke.
“Oh my gosh are you alright?!” The look on her face turned sincerely concerned and when Ben met her eyes that were full of anxiety, a big gasp of air went straight to his lungs. He had to gasp
a few more time with his eyes wide but he slowly calmed down.
“Are you having an asthma attack?”
He shook his head, not ready to speak yet.
“James! What’s wrong with him?” She placed her hand on Ben’s arm to make sure he was alright and to give him some sort comfort too. “Do something.”
“Don’t go out blaming me for this! I don’t know what is happening! Ben, mate, you okay? Say something.”
“I-I…. fine!” He pushed James aside. “Get off me.” He took another breath. “I’m ok.” He paid the cashier the rest of the money and with all the groceries he walked off together with James.
But Lily wasn’t going to let them go like that. “James! Wait up for me, okay?”
2 years later
“I am not sure…”
“How could you say that? It’s a brilliant ending!”
“Benny… how can I put this right?” She giggled a bit. Ben could write amazing stories and also songs, but somehow there was always something missing in her eyes. “You sound like a girl with this
ending, it’s like the typical ‘and they lived happily ever after’, fairytale kind of story. It’s not you. You could do better.”
It was actually him. He always had soppy endings to his story, no matter how dramatic they were during the whole process. “What should I put then instead?” He had no clue. What he wrote was what
happened in his life. Even if it was a struggle, with Lily he had found a happy ending.
“Well… a not happy ending. Not every story turns out to have an happy ending.”
“Yeah but I can’t … since I met you there’s only happy in my life. I don’t know how to write any different way because I don’t feel that way, okay?” He tilted his head and pouted before he started
giggling at his own soppiness. “Well, you know what I mean…”
She did know, but she played it innocent. In these past two years she learned every little detail of his life. Ben was a born writer. It was the only way he could
describe how he felt. Ever since his Dad walked out on him and his mother, his life went downhill and he shut himself off from the world. He created his own on paper. But lately he started to write
about Earth and the truth. He wanted to improve his life now, and felt like there was no other way then to face all of his problems. He was looking for answers, knowing he would never get them. The
people that were supposed to love him abandoned him at birth, and ever since he thought he couldn’t be loved again. And there she was. So, he wouldn’t ever let go, unless he would leave the world,
the real one.
“Do I now?” She tilted her head aside just like he did before and made the same facial expression before giggling exaggerated, sort of in the way he had done. “Oh I love you . You always make me
“Don’t I love you too, sweetheart.” He smiled and hugged her in his arms, thinking of his life and reading back the last couple of pages. These last two years were incredible, apart from his
illness. They moved in together after five months, knowing they were meant to be. Sure, she’d pick the battles, but he wanted to look beyond them, seeing the bigger picture.
‘if I know how much she loves me, I’d die a happy man’. He read the last sentence of this latest book a couple of times. It wasn’t soppy; it was the truth. She
didn’t know what it meant to him.
“You should send it off, Ben. No kidding. You could make millions with the wonders you write down on paper. Honestly, you could be like J.K. Rowling and films would be made out of your
And at this point Ben always turned away. It was not what he wanted to hear. These stories were for him and his surroundings. It wasn’t supposed to come out and it wasn’t for the world to read. At
least, not just yet. “Stop it Lily. Stop saying such things. Why do you always have to ruin it for me? I love being with you and I love you for thinking my stories are great, but you know I don’t
want to send them off. They are personal.”
She deeply sighed. Lily had tried so many times just to get him over that edge that was stopping him, but it never seemed to work. “I’m sorry but I just think you should!”
“Stop it! I don’t want to!”
“You could be rich, Ben! Think about your family. Think about me! I can’t live in these circumstances. We barely have enough money feed ourselves, let alone to pay the bills. You could do so much
more than the work you do now!” The colour of her eyes changed into a dark colour as if dark, grey clouds were in the air and you saw the shadow in her eyes.
He looked at her, his eyes growing big and his mouthing hanging open, gasping for air. Immediately his hand reached for his throat. He always made that same move, not that it helped , but he did it
anyway. It was like he wanted to choke right there and then, to no longer feel the pain.
“Ben! My gosh, I’m sorry! Breathe, baby, breathe!” She moved his hand from his throat and pinned it down as she sat behind him to make sure he was sitting up so that all the air he needed would hit
him straight. Softly she started rubbing his back as he still tried to wriggle out of her tight grip around his right hand. Then he slowed down. He stopped pushing back and he let her take
“What happened?” He nearly panicked again as he tried to turn around to face her, but when he faced her he knew that she wasn’t going to answer. It was the same as always. All of a sudden he popped
back from that own created world he just had entered. He always came back.
He was calm now. She moved away from behind him and let him easily fall down on his bed. She went to the bathroom and got him a glass of water. He noticed when she came back her eyes were no longer
dark from colour, but they were narrow of concern. He blew the air out softly. “I didn’t… I didn’t mean for it to happen, Lily. I’m so sorry.”
She shook her head at him. “Forget about it Ben. I know, okay?” She dried her hand on the towel that was hanging over the chair. “I just have to go, okay? I’ll be ba-“
“No! Don’t go! Don’t leave me, please.” He couldn’t help but raise his voice, but he couldn’t be without her. He’d die.
“Ben… I’ll be back straight away. I’m just going to get us something to eat, okay?” She sat down on his bed next to him and placed a hand softly on his leg. “Your phone is by the bed if you
need me. You can always call James too, okay? Don’t worry… it’ll be fine.”
But it wasn’t going to be. This was his worst attack she had ever witnessed and he didn’t even remember. He just felt that the atmosphere was not right and it made him lose his breath almost again.
It was always like that, but now it seemed ten times worse. They weren’t supposed to fight because he would die from it one day, so the doctors said. Those stupid doctor couldn’t even understand
what was going on with him in the first place. It was an appearance of a disease that just came up and would never go away. That was something they did figure out. It was the harsh reality, but it
seemed to get even harsher. This was not supposed to happen.
She gave him another smile. “I mean it, okay? What would you like to eat?”
He shrugged. Like he was thinking about dinner now. “Do whatever, I’m not hungry anyway.”
Her skin curled and she wanted to shout at him, hit him and tell him he was being bastard, but he wouldn’t survive, accordingly. So, she let it be. “I’ll surprise you then, honey. Keep breathing
yeah? I love you.”
He didn’t see her put it in her purse, nor did he see the pity look that was on her face. Lily closed the door without making any noise and turned to walk down the stairs. She couldn’t be around
him right now. If she wished to follow her heart she would’ve gotten out right now, many months ago. But she couldn’t. She loved Ben from the moment they met, even though it was the most awkward
situation she had been in. What was she going to do?
She wouldn’t be long, she said. Except each time one of his episodes came knocking, she secretly wished she’d have the heart to get out. She was now sitting in
the park with his latest story on her lap. ‘He’d die a happy man’. She grimaced to herself. Would he really if he knew how many times she tried to pull away? She did love more than anything in the
world, but slowly and surely, it wasn’t going to be enough.
“Can I help you ma’am?” She felt a shove in the back and when she turned around she saw James’s laughing face. He however stopped when he saw hers. “Not again,
“I can’t take it, James. I really, really tried but it’s too hard! I can’t even breathe for myself anymore or he’s basically collapsing. Things need to change!”
She rambled on so fast that James didn’t know what she was saying but he could see she was panicking really bad. “Come here, love.” He opened his arms. “Don’t make it so hard on yourself. If you
stop breathing we are going to have a serious problem.” He sort of had to laugh about his own joke, but maybe it was going too far. “Come with me and we’ll grab a cuppa yeah?”
Lily merely nodded and let James lead her the way into the café. “Now love, what happened exactly?”
“He had another attack…” She shook her head dismissively. “Worse than else, James. I am not kidding. I can’t stand it that he’s just sitting on his ass and does nothing all day. And then I suggest
him to do something with his talents, he gets mad at me and I get mad at him and he has an attack. What am I supposed to do then? Just sit there and pretend everything is fine?”
“You have to stop making such a fuss over him, Lily.”
She couldn’t stand people giving her a lecture about how she was supposed to do it when they weren’t there. And even if James was Ben’s best friend, he still didn’t know what was going on. “I am
not. James, I mean it. He won’t leave me alone. I can’t be out of the room for more than two hours or he has problems. He keeps calling me until I answer the phone and when I finally do he can
barely breathe. It is sick that this happens. Things need to change.”
“He’s the one that can change it.”
“There’s also a thing called doctors. I don’t care even if they put an oxygen pack right near his bed and one that he can carry around. It needs to change, otherwise I’m out. I don’t want it
to be my business anymore. What happened to the fun in our relationship?”
“Did you ever have it?”
“Oh, okay.” James shrugged. “I was just wondering. Since the day you two met he’s having the problems with breathing. I never saw the fun.”
“Are you saying it’s my fault?”
“Of course not!” He actually was trying to say it, but she would hit him if he spelled that out. “It’s just a coincidence. I don’t think it’s you.”
She didn’t believe him. This was James trying to say that she certainly had to do something with it whether she did it on purpose or not. “Well I think it is me. You told me he didn’t have
this before he met me.”
“I never said that…”
“James, don’t play games with me. Tell me what I need to do. I am desperate. How can I live like this. More important, how can we live like this? He can’t even work. I am doing everything
here. Constantly he calls me, wanting to hear my voice and wanting me to come home so I can take care of him.
“You need to stay with him, Lily. You are meant for him, to be with him. Give it a shot.”
“I know, and I’ll try.” She nodded with a small smile on her face, changing her attitude, much to James’s appreciation, but her mind was close to explosion. She was sure as hell meant for him, but
was he meant for her?
She shot up from her thoughts as her phone went off. Ben. “I’ve got to go, James. I don’t want Ben to get worried and I have to run to the post office. I’m sorry love. Keep in touch, yeah? For
“I’ll come round soon.” He smiled as if he meant it. “I promise.”
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Bye James.” With her bag clinging under her arm, she tipped off, almost in a hurry. She needed to get rid of all the pages completed. It was in
his best interest. She didn’t even read it all, but she didn’t have the time. As she opened the door of the post office she smiled to herself though. Something so out of the ordinary had to be
published, no questions asked. He had to give it a shot, and she would do it for him , so then they would live in peace and quiet, just as she wished so hard for.
“Hello Ma’am, I’d like to post this first class urgent to this address.”
And so their days past. Lily went to work, got back early and risked getting fired, while Ben was waiting for her and trying to figure out his life situation and
how it gotten so bad. They both has nothing to look forward to and every time he realised this he choked up. He kept Lily with him while she deserved a life that was not his. But he couldn’t let
her go. He was too young to die. He couldn’t leave life at 22. He just couldn’t.
Yesterday Lily came home with a smile on her face and kissed him hello as if it was the first time. Ben wanted to be happy with her mood, but somehow he couldn’t.
He didn’t tell nor he tried to show, but something wasn’t right. She had no reason to be cheerful. Things weren’t going any better for him and there was no progress in her own life, not that he
knew of, and he was her life now.
He sighed and moved his body into a better position, inhaling slowly. So far he had only had two texts of her today, but he started to get worried. She could die any moment. He nearly started to
panic when he realised that he could too if he kept thinking that way. Then he heard footsteps on the stairs and instantly his breath slowed down. She was back again, still.
“Ben mate, you in?”
“Yeah! Open up mate.”
Ben had no idea why James was here, but it took immediately his mind of things. “It’s open dude.”
“I actually knew that.” James pushed the door open and his grinning face came to show. “Then again, it’s been a while since I’ve been around. You never know what changes.”
“Yeah, my fault dude. I’ve been occupied.” Ben lazily scratched the back of his head, feeling a little uncomfortable.
“Busy trying to breathe, eh?” James was feeling the exact opposite. Now that he had spoke to Lily, there needed to be some changes in their lives. “Where… what happened to your cat?”
“Lil’s allergic to Kitty. She’s now with our upstairs neighbour.”
“She had trouble breathing then?”
“James, please quit your stupid jokes. It’s not like I enjoy doing it. Or actually not doing it. Breathing, I mean. I know your perverted mind.”
“You know your own, you mean.” James laughed and Ben joined in. It was as if he forgot all the worries in his world.
“Gosh dude, we should go out. Lets go out, yeah?” He had only settled in on his friend’s couch, but James got up again read y to make something happening. “Ready for action?”
Ben knew he couldn’t stop James in the first places, and besides, James was right. He needed to get out of the house. “Alright then, let’s do this thing.”
“Hey Ben? Benny, you in?” Lily called out, something she hadn’t done in a little while. Normally he would be at the door waiting for her, but maybe he had fallen
asleep. That would be new.
“Ben?” Still nothing. This was unusual. The telly wasn’t even on, and that thing hadn’t been switched off in months. She dropped her bag on the floor together with her coat and put the kettle on,
wondering what was going on.
He couldn’t possible in bed? If he was, that was real bad. But she was too afraid to go in there, afraid of what she would see. “Ben!”
The kettle had boiled, ready for her to make that cup of tea for the both of them, but instead of poring it into the cups, she made her way to their bedroom, then slowly she opened the door finding
their room empty like they had left it this morning. Immediate panic run through her body, clueless of what to do next. If Ben wasn’t here, where the hell could he be?
She didn’t know if she should worry, or actually enjoy that for one time she was the only one in their apartment. There was no complaining, there were no sounds of deep breaths, no gasps for air as
if life depended on it.
As if she had no other choice, Lily took a deep breath and tried to think of what could have been going on. He did not have the energy to run off away from him.
James would… James! James probably would have picked him up.
She let her breath out and felt her heart slow down as she settled for that idea. She wasn’t going to be mad that he didn’t leave a note or didn’t sent her a text
to tell her he wasn’t going to be home. For the first time in many months she could feel the calm air around her. This was enjoyable.
Lily knew she wasn’t supposed to think this way, but now that Ben was out of the house, she finally had time to do her own things. Cleaning she didn’t have
to do or anything else like that inside the house, but some grocery shopping wouldn’t hurt. She wouldn’t have to rush home half way through. Grocery shopping it was, something she looked forward
But as she put on her coat to go back out a smile grew on her face. First, it was time to visit some relatives.
“You should let me know where you are!” It was the first thing she was being told, or more commanded, as soon as she walked in. “I’ve been worried sick!”
“Seriously! You want to go there?” With some force she smacked her bag onto the floor and marched towards where Ben was sitting, the couch. “I’m sick of you
telling me what to do! In fact,” She looked him in the eye. “I’m sick of you period.”
It was the meanest thing she could say to his face and she knew it as soon as she spoke the word she did wrong.
Ben just looked at her, first thinking to himself if he heard the words right, but he could feel through his whole body she was speaking nothing but the truth. He
opened his mouth, but all that came out were choking sounds. His eyes grew to a huge size that Lily had never witnessed before, but instead of rushing over and calming him down with all the
exercises she had learned over the past time, she just stood still, watching him gasping for air and wrapping his hand around his throat.
“Lily! Wake up!” She felt someone push her aside rudely and saw James rushing over to Ben, trying to calm him down , but he had no idea how to. “Do something!
Call an ambulance!”
Lily was stuck to the ground and had no idea how to move her limps, feeling as if she was about to choke herself. She looked at Ben, struggling to catch his
breath and kept on going as if his life depended on it when all of a sudden she realised and turned around to rush right out of the door.
“He’s being put onto a machine that will help him breathe, but we’re keeping a close eye on him. He can barely open his mouth.” The doctor was obviously concerned
even though he tried to shake it off with a nod.
James nodded back and looked back to his best friend. He still didn’t realise what just had happened. All this time, this was what he had been heading for. There
had never been a way out.
The worst part was yet to come. Lily wouldn’t answer her phone, even when he tried to call anonymous. What was he supposed to do?
So for the seventieth time he lifted his phone and dialled Lily’s number, waiting for her voicemail to pick up and leave his tenth message, surprised
her inbox wasn’t full. “Lily, can you hear this noise? Can you hear him breathing? I need you here, Lil. Ben needs you. He won’t survive! Listen damnit! You’re not going to get more chances, Lily.
I mean it. You’re driving us crazy. You RUIN- BEEEEEP”.
He was going to say that she had ruined Ben. Her inbox was full and Lily couldn’t empty it. It was the harsh truth. It was her who managed to bring this up in
Ben. He was never like this. How could she possibly go and look at him? Talk to him? Wanting him to come back to her?
James needed her.
Ben needed her.
She needed to be there. She couldn’t go there.
“Ma’am? Are you ok?”
The world was spinning around her. No longer was Lily able to control her thoughts and collapsed. This was no life. She needed to get out. Now.
“I need… need to go to the hospital…” By now a few people had gathered around her, wondering what was all the fuss about. “Benny!”
Nobody got it. Every one just stared at her when she got up and pushed everyone aside to start running. Right into the direction of Ben. She couldn’t stop running
as she panicked. How could she possibly leave him all on his own? He needed her care, not some doctor who thinks he knows what’s going on with Ben. She was the only one who knew how to care for him
so he was able to survive.
It seemed to take hours on her clock, but it was only a matter of minutes when she rushed through the hospital doors in a right panic.
“Slow down there!” Someone yelled at her and immediately she stopped running and was rooted to her spot, having several people bumping into her. She slowly
turned around, a full round, taking in all the busy halls full of people running in all kinds of directions, but no one was looking happy. Nobody cheered in a hospital. Only bad things could happen
to the people that ended up in here. And now, now she had entered through the doors, her fate was the same as everyone right walking in the same halls, in the same building. Nobody would come
She couldn’t stop going now, could she? Shaking her head as if she was waking herself up to come back to reality, she asked for directions where she could find
Ben. Fifth floor on the intensive care. Room five.
They had no hope for him.
Ben was awake, more awake than he kept praying to be, but he didn’t want to give up until he saw her face. He needed to know if she told him the truth, if she for
real could not live a life with him. Only then, he was willing to let go. Then it would be alright. He wouldn’t have to struggle or fight any longer.
She wasn’t there. He knew she wasn’t. James’ breath was under control still, but even Ben could feel the tension in the room. They were all thinking the same,
even the doctors and the nurse that was taking care of him. And for that reason, he refused to open his eyes. He couldn’t look into anyone eyes. They all felt sorry for him, as if they knew what he
was going through. Even James didn’t get close that. The only person that was involved in every single detail from his life was Lily. Only she was the one he could face up to.
“You know Ben… you’re my best friend, you know.” James was talking to him now, even though he had no clue what to say. “You’re my mate forever. It’s a shame we
never talk anymore. How’s that writing of yours going? I’ve always loved reading your nonsense. Something made it exciting, really. You ought to become a writer, professionally. For real, man.
You could totally do it. You’d make loads of money and all that. You could take me out on a treat then. Now that would be a first, but that’s alright. I’d still pay even if you had millions.
You’d be my buddy no matter what.”
Suddenly, Ben opened his eyes. As if he could feel her presence in the room, they shot open and looked Lily straight in her eyes, behind the glass door. Then, she
Within seconds it happened. Ben took one last glance at his friend, closed his eyes and ripped everything off that he was strapped to.
What was the point of living now? She told him in her eyes.
Immediately he opened his mouth, no air going in or out. He reached out to his throat with both hands, opening his eyes again. He was ready now. Slowly he let go.
He had run out of oxygen.
She ran and no longer stopped, hearing in the back of her mind the heart-ripping scream coming from James inside that room. She ran right through the doors of the
hospital, refusing to be doomed with all the other people. Running away from her feelings that she had left for him. Her love that would kill her own heart from time to time from that moment on
that she did not witness. The moment where he had left the world.
It felt like it took her hours, but she kept running to the other side of town, only stopping there having no choice but to catch her breath back. She almost felt
guilty for doing so, but it was just natural. For any human being.
The world still seemed to be spinning around. She could hear, far away from her, a tone that sounded like much like her mobile phone going off, but she couldn’t
concentrate. Then again, now closer to her ear the phone went off again and for some reasons she looked at the screen, not recognising the number but answering anyway.
“Miss Holland? This is Jane from Manuscript Specials. I am calling about the manuscript you send us… We’d love to have a chat with the author. What you have send
us ‘Always Breathe In’, is a special piece. This book, it’s written for success.”
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