"I need your help" said the weak voice on the other end of the phone. It was Estella, calling me at four in the morning.
Forty minutes later, I arrived at her apartment halfway across town. The door was unlocked, and I let myself in. Estella was in bed, her face incredibly pale and covered with a thin sheen of sweat. I sat on the bed and put the bag from the convenience store down next to her. It contained the painkillers and tampons I had been directed to buy.
Estella instructed me to get into bed, and I did. She laid there for a few minutes without speaking, and I thought she had drifted off. As I got up to leave, she directed me to stay, and to lie down with my face on her belly.
"It helps the cramps" she said, petting my head idly like I was her pet cat.
Estella was an aspiring actress. We had met at a local theater production. She was playing Miss Hannigan in a production of "Annie," and one night after rehearsals she invited me over for the evening. The goal was for me to stay sober while she got roaring drunk, so I could observe and help her with her performance. This may not strike people as an ideal first date, but somehow it worked for both of us.
Exactly 28 days later, she called in the middle of the night again, and my late-night feminine hygiene run was repeated.
"Thanks," she said, again petting my head as I lay with my cheek on her belly. "One of these days I'll get my act together. I've been thinking about moving to New York."
Secretly, I didn't think she had the practical skills to pull it off... and I enjoyed the thought of her staying around.
"No worries. I have complete faith in your abilities," I said, staring up through the dim light at the underside of her nose.
Twenty-eight days after that, I was in her apartment again, applying my face to her cramps.
"You're so good to me," she said half asleep. "Let yourself out when I go to sleep."
Estella hated goodbyes. She wouldn't say it on the phone or in person, hating the sadness it always seemed to imply to her. She much preferred a cheerful "see ya later, Gator" or some variation on that theme. Her telling me to go when she fell asleep was as close to a proper good-bye as I ever heard from her. How could I hold a quirk like that against her? I adored her, and I think she adored me more for it.
"Truthfully... I'm a little glad you can't get your act together," I said, smiling.
She began to snore, and I laid there until I too fell asleep.
Twenty-eight days later, I woke up in the morning startled. Estella hadn't called the night before. I had somehow become accustomed to her calls on so deep a level that I instinctively knew when 28 days had passed. I called her. She assured me she wasn't pregnant -- she had simply remembered to go to the store the previous evening.
A week later she called me from the airport. She was waiting for her flight to New York, having landed a job there, and possibly a couple of auditions. I was stunned at how hard this had hit me: not just because of how suddenly it had come about, but because of how much she had come to mean, to me.
She confessed that she had been working on this for a while, but was hesitant to tell me, or anyone... what with her hatred of saying goodbye.
Estella was close to choking up on the phone, but held it together as best she could. Just like I was.
"I love --" I began.
"Goodbye," she said quickly, and hung up.
To this day, I sometimes wonder: if all the world really is a stage, can she still hear me cheering for her?