Of all the things in their acquaintance that she did not expect, this was the worst.
She remembered clearly how unexpected their meeting was—she was a patient, he was a doctor, and she had been transferred to him.
He was also unexpectedly blunt, for someone so apparently refined and restrained.
"Is that…masculine or feminine?"
"Gender neutral. I have a prostate, if that's what you're asking."
Then something else unexpected; he thought they might be able to save her life. When he said that, she wanted to cry, because she didn't believe him. She thought, he really means it, but he's wrong.
Then, for three years, her health improved and declined, but, unexpectedly, she did feel better. As her Calphanika's slowly cleared up, other problems from too much time spent fighting the disease set in. Her liver stopped functioning, she lost weight, she developed immunity to treatments, but she felt better.
Just more than a year after that, she got a huge shock. He was in love with her. She wasn't sure how to feel about that, at first. Elves, falling in love with others…she'd first come across the concept when she met Bri, whose affection for Chi-Min couldn't be denied. The thought had been strange to her, after all elves never aged past pre-adolescence physically, so she hardly expected them to do so romantically. The discovery both made her happy, and made her worry. Chi-Min could love, but didn't? She began to fear, unexpectedly, that he might be lonely. She wanted to see him happy. They were friends, and she wanted to see her friend, a man to whom she owed her life, to be happy. After a failed attempt to have him go with Bri on a double date, and one very awkward letter, he told her.
"I am in love with someone. And that someone is in this room right now, sitting behind me."
She had fled. A time later, in her confusion at his stark revelation, she could barely count the hours, let alone the days, she went back. She avoided his gaze, and he spoke little, and there was pure awkwardness. He turned twenty-nine. She added another two medicines to her arsenal of daily pills. A few months later, she turned and met his eyes, and saw that his irises were almost pure black with tiny points of red.
She knew by now that she was dying. When she'd developed severe ascites, he had been very, very grave. Treatment with various diuretics and a barely successful liver transplant had done away with those symptoms, but not before he told her the truth, in an anguished fit. She had maybe a year left.
But this, this was the most unexpected. At age twenty-nine and seven months, Chi-Min Huang had died. No one had bothered to tell her. She went in for treatment one day and they told her that Doctor Huang had passed away. The truth hit her like a bullet, a punch in the gut.
Now she was seeing another doctor. Without Chi-Min's magical treatments, her prognosis didn't just become worse, it became nonexistent. No longer was she on seven different pills to make her better. These days she took diuretics to prevent the ascites, and painkillers for the rest. She could barely walk anymore. Her doctor had had her placed in a hospital, and soon after she lost the apartment, no longer able to pay rent.
About a month after Chi-Min had died, a man came to see her, already hospitalized. This man, she realized, was his father. The man had brought some things with him, and she could tell, through the haze of drugs, that he was speaking about a will. When the man left, she had a letter in her grasp, a letter that, she discovered, filled almost twelve sides of paper.
This letter started by telling her that he loved her. That she had made his life better just by being in it, that all his worries and every stress, had been eased by her presence. By the end of the first paragraph, she was crying.
Then it spoke of his life, explaining things to her. Telling her about his past, giving her all his secrets. Her hands shook, and she comprehended less and less as she read more and more. She caught something about her mother, his father, someone called Cygnet. At the end he apologized to her. He knew, it said, that if she was reading this letter, she was going to die. I've failed you, and nothing in my power will change that. Then again, will you ever read this? Either way, you'll outlive me and die because I couldn't be there to treat you, or you'll die and I and my treatments will have failed you.
She had read this with a sense of horror. He knew he was going to die…she remembered the black of his irises. That was one of the most telling symptoms of the magic overload that killed most elves. She had barely noticed, too wrapped up in avoiding the thought of his confession.
The letter ended with the words, "I am in love with you." The signature was the least formal she had ever seen from his hand, a simple "Chi-Min". She had begun to sob, then cough as her body, so weak already, buckled under the strain. How did she never realize? How unexpected should this be? Why had she made things so awkward? She had seen his love in his eyes, his personal resignation to her rejection. You gave me three years of solace…And now she truly realized that he was gone, dead. Chi-Min Huang would never again smile or sip coffee or treat another patient. The pain of this unexpected realization made her tears come all the harder, and she thought, that some part of her would never recover from losing the elf.
She was hacking up blood, with tears flowing down her cheeks, as a nurse came running in and yelled for a doctor.
An hour later, the ruined body of June Blue Delias was being wheeled to the morgue when her doctor removed the crumpled six-page letter from her grasp.
The top page held only a paragraph, the words "I am in love with you," and the signature of his recently deceased co-worker, Chi-Min Huang.
The letter fluttered sadly as it was thrown into the nearest trash can.