Grayson wouldn't get up. His eyes were open, but Jenna knew he wouldn't get up again. She kept saying it to herself quietly as if that would make it easier to accept.
"He's not going to get up."
There was a vacancy in his eyes. A hollowness that she couldn't quite describe. She knew that he was gone, but she didn't want to know that. She wanted to believe he was alive for just a little bit longer.
She leaned back, drawing in a sharp breath as she removed the gloves from her hands. It had already been a long day, with a new stack of paperwork showing up on her desk every ten minutes. This was becoming too much. Before the tear could roll off her face, she carefully wiped it from her cheek with a well-manicured finger. There was now a streak in her foundation.
It didn't matter. She had been preparing for this for months. They had known it was coming for so long, yet she didn't want to quite face the truth. But now the truth was here to face her. Staring at her with those blank, empty eyes. Something so wrong, so inhuman about the boy lying on the white sheets. Almost like it wasn't Grayson.
It isn't Grayson anymore, she had to tell herself. And she knows it hasn't been for a long time. Grayson has gone to a better place, she keeps reminding herself, although who knows where that could be. He had always loved dogs. Maybe he would pass on to a dog park or something. She didn't know, tried to stop herself from thinking about it too hard.
The hospital noises were beginning to feel invasive. The beeping down the corridor, the patients mumbling, their parents yelling at the doctors. She remembered what that felt like. The desperation, the disbelief, the denial. The eventual devastation and resignation. It wasn't that the parents didn't care that their child was dying, only that they had finally realized that there was nothing left to do except watch their child slowly waste away. It was the truth, and it was ugly and uncomfortable and sad. She had come to accept that holding his hand, even though she knew he was unaware of it, was the most she could do.
She felt useless. Staring at her son's corpse, his glassy eyes. They used to be such a lively, deep blue. Now they looked pale, gray almost. A side-effect of the drugs, surely.
She realized she hadn't even had the basic decency to shut his eyes for him.
Useless, she thought. Useless, useless, useless. After all those movies and television shows you've watched trying to distract yourself, you can't even remember the first thing every person does when they find a dead man lying?
She reached out her ungloved hand. Wrinkles have started to gather in these last few months, running up her fingers like mountain ridges, as if they were making a pilgrimage to her cracked fingernails. Nail polish couldn't cover everything.
As the pads of her fingers pulled down his lids, it became extremely apparent to her that this was a pointless ritual. That it brought no respect or peace or comfort to the boy other than denying others the sight of his gorgeous eyes. Eyes halfway closed, she stopped, hand still resting on his face as if checking his temperature in the morning before school, when he complained about feeling sick. After all, it was only for their comfort so that they wouldn't have to stare into the emptiness.
She lifted her hand away, ever so slowly, as if careful not to startle him.
There was a knock on the door behind her, and she couldn't help but imagine Death, clothed in a black robe and holding a scythe, taking slow, languid steps toward her precious Grayson. God, she couldn't even bring herself to turn around and take a peek to see who it was.
The nurse cleared her throat and walked in, a little confused by Ms. Cusack's tense shoulders and wringing hands. The nurse had known Ms. Cusack for a while now, and she had always seemed calm, collected, unaffected by anything. Even her son's imminent death. So the nurse had just figured that Ms. Cusack would take her son's actual death in the same manner. But now, seeing her there, hunched over, hand outstretched and lightly stroking Grayson's hair, it was obvious that it had been a façade.
Carefully, as if to avoid Jenna crumbling into the nurse's arms, the nurse took Jenna's shoulders and pulled her back from the bed.
"Oh, it's you, Nancy." Jenna blinked twice as if to clear her head.
"Yes, Ms. Cusack." Nancy didn't let go of Jenna's shoulders — didn't dare to. "Is there anything I can do for you? I understand this must be terribly hard for you."
"It's alright, Nancy. We all knew it was coming. Even Grayson. It's no shock to any of us." Jenna couldn't help lying. There was an infinite difference between standing on the precipice of the cliff, and tumbling off it into the darkness. The weight of gravity pulling on you in full force. The grief of it all. The sudden, devastating grief of it all. "It's alright." The wall had risen.
"If there's anything, Ms. Cusack. Anything at all. Remember, I'm here for you as much as I was here for Grayson."
"Thank you, Nancy." Another strand of graying hair slipped out of Jenna's bun as she turned her head back to Grayson. "I'm really fine."
The forced smile on her face pulled at the smile lines that had formed as Grayson grew. They contorted unnaturally, weak from being unused for months. It was hard to remember how her tongue was meant to sit in her mouth as her lips stretched.
"Alright then, Ms. Cusack. I'll be right outside if you need me."