It was a Friday evening and Derek was getting prepared for work.
He was still stuck doing Q&A since the pay was very good and no matter how many times Carl said he wanted a small ceremony, Derek was sure that whatever sum his brother planned to spend, would at least double in the end.
It was a goddamn wedding. Things were supposed to be blown out of proportion, at some point. That's just how they work.
Derek was adjusting his shirt when his smartphone rang on the notes of "Night on Bald Mountain", the pre-set ringtone for unknown numbers.
"Derek McCoy, who is it?"
"Mister McCoy, this is the Saint Joseph hospital." The female voice sounded worried. That together with the word "hospital" sent a shiver down his spine.
"Is Carl McCoy your brother?" Derek could almost hear her biting her nails.
"Yes, what happened?"
"He was involved in a car accident and is in serious condition. You should come here as soon as possible. The doctors need you since you are his healthcare proxy and the patient is unconscious."
"A car accident?" Derek yelled while rushing out of the door and looking for a cab.
"We don't have any fuc**ng car! What the hell happened?"
"I'm sorry, I am not at liberty to say. The doctors will explain it…" Derek hung up on her. He had no time for useless babbling, only for a goddamn cab.
Every second in traffic was like torture and when he finally arrived, it was too late.
The surgeon and a police officer explained to him that Carl had been run over by a drunk driver. The culprit had run off and the police were still looking for him.
A bystander had immediately called 911, but because of a traffic jam caused by the accident, it took hours for the ambulance to arrive.
So when Carl reached the hospital, he was already in critical condition. He had multiple fractures, a ruptured spleen, and internal bleeding, requiring immediate surgery.
Derek had been called while Carl was just entering the OR.
They had done their best to save him, but Carl had lost too much blood, so there was nothing they could do. They offered Derek their condolences, but all he could hear was white noise.
"Let me see my brother." He begged.
The body was covered with a sheet and only the head was visible. Derek could still see traces of blood on the face of his little brother.
Derek gave his number to the police officer, so that he could be updated about the investigation and then returned home.
The culprit was quickly apprehended thanks to the traffic cameras. It turned out to be a kid, barely seventeen years old, who had stolen his old man's car. When the police arrested him, he was still drunk and high on drugs.
Derek lived the months before the trial in anguish. The damned DA had decided to prosecute the kid as a minor and the even more damned judge had granted him house arrest. All while Derek's little brother, his Carl, was dead because of him.
"How could they do such a thing?" Derek would yell and argue with anyone willing to listen to him.
"Why all this talking about the rights and the future of that little sh*t? What about my brother's rights? What about his future? Carl has none because of him! What kind of justice is that?"
Derek visited the DA office multiple times, expressing his outrage and demanding that they asked for the maximum sentence. They were always kind and accommodating. They promised him that they would give Carl the justice he deserved.
When the day of the trial finally came, Derek's world ended one more time.
The DA and the defence attorney had come to a settlement.
Since Chris Wainright, this was the name of the murderer, was still a minor and it was also his first offense, he had accepted to go to rehab and do six hundred hours of community service.
If Chris managed to complete his rehab program and did not commit crimes in the following three years, he would be a free citizen with no criminal record.
Derek was too dumbfounded to even be angry. When the session was over, he just walked to the DA, and asked a single question with a muffled voice.
Then, with their most kind and accommodating tone, the DA assistants explained to Derek that Chris was just a kid from a good family who had made a dumb mistake.
Chris had a brilliant future ahead. He had already been admitted at Cal Tech and this was his first offense. Also, his parents had hired a great lawyer and the judge would likely be unwilling to destroy Chris' life.
Despite their expectations, Derek did not make a scene. Derek's fire was extinguished, he had no more tears to shed.
In the following months, Derek lived by going through the motions. He kept following his routine like nothing had happened, his mind was still in denial. He just wanted to forget everything that had happened in the last half year.
The only thing that made him feel alive was the constant headache that had started shortly after Carl's death. According to his doctor, it was a stress related symptom. With all that had happened, Derek had just been swallowing aspirins and paracetamol like they were candies.
The pain never did go away, it was only getting worse. Derek finally found the strength to get a serious check-up and once again bad news was waiting for him.
According to the full body scan and the follow-up biopsy, he had stage two pulmonary cancer.
"But I've never smoked in my entire life!" Derek exclaimed, more amused than scared.
"Indeed, it's odd." Doctor Monroe, his oncologist, was quite puzzled.
She was a good-looking Hispanic woman, maybe five years older than Derek. In different circumstances, he would have probably asked her out.
"You told me you work for a chemical company, right?" Derek nodded.
"Such an aggressive cancer is too uncommon to be a coincidence. My personal opinion is that their ventilation system failed. You and God knows how many more people have been breathing in poison for quite some time."
"But we wear masks the whole time we work with the chemicals and, speaking for myself, I follow the safety protocols to the letter. My colleagues always mock me for it!" Derek was still in disbelief.
"Then maybe the masks are cheap pieces of junk. Or maybe the lab or the storage, if not both, have leaks. These corporate scumbags only seek profit.
"It would not surprise me in the least if they cut from the safety budget to put more dividends in their pockets."
Doctor Monroe was too outraged, even in his catatonic state Derek could tell there was more to it.
"Doctor, what are you hiding from me?" He asked, looking her straight in the eyes for the first time.
She nibbled on her lower lip for a while before answering.
"Between you and me, you are not the first case from your company. I have already reported it to the Department of Health and to federals. If I were in your shoes, I would get a good lawyer and sue the soul out of the company. You'll need a lot of money for the treatments."
"I agree on getting a lawyer, but I refuse any treatment. I'll just take palliative care."
Doctor Monroe jumped off her chair.
"Do you realize that without the proper treatments you have six months, a year at best to live? Also, as I have already said, your cancer is really aggressive. We need to start as soon as possible if we want to have a chance to beat it."
The situation was dramatic, but Derek found all those "we" words hilarious, so he could not refrain from chuckling.
"We barely know each other, doctor. So we have nothing to do other than go our separate ways." Derek said to her with an icy tone.
"What do I have to live for? I have no family and no loved ones. My little brother's ashes are all that is left to keep me company. I could die tomorrow and I would not give a s**t!"
They parted on bad terms, but she still gave him her number, in case he changed his mind or simply needed to talk. Derek called his old shark lawyer and explained everything to him.
Years had passed but they would still send each other Christmas cards.
Derek had kept tabs on him, just in case. His old lawyer had more grey hair than before, but was still a first-class shark.
Derek stopped working and started spending his money without much care. He would go to all the fancy restaurants he had always wanted to try, bought the suits he always dreamed about and only ate his favourite foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Derek would spend most of his days playing games on his brand-new gaming PC and revisiting all the spots that held significance for him and Carl.
Then, twenty-four days after the diagnosis, he had an epiphany.