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47

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The End.

“And now we wait.”

Dr. Tobin quietly rested his stethoscope around his neck and met the gaze of everyone standing in attendance. Sentinels, somber and guarded within themselves, awaiting the finality of a moment they’d been steeling their nerves against for months.

It was sunny that day. Not just blue and cloudless, but the the bird songs were brighter, the leaves of the trees were a bit more conversational, and laughter seemed to travel just a bit further on the summer winds. It was as if nature came together in concerted defiance of the weight of one family’s collective emotions. Or in celebration.

“Mrs. Jeffries called him up to school once, 7th grade, to tell him that I’d been really disruptive in class. This was back when I was still pretty shy so his first question for her was ‘How, exactly?’ She went through this whole spiel about me not answering questions when she called on me, or not stopping the other kids from copying off my papers when we were testing, shit like that. And the big joker was this one time she corrected one of my papers, I corrected her correction, and then turned it back in.”

The room groaned in mock annoyance and comical embarrassment. They’d heard this story before, but this time, knowing it’d probably be the last, everyone sat listening intently, anticipating the end they knew was coming.

“He let Mrs. Jeffries get it all out before asking, ‘Well, were you wrong?’ I had to bite my cheek to keep from laughing, and all she could say was ‘That’s beside the point.’ She started to say something else, but he cut her off ‘That’s actually the entire point.’ You know that voice he does when he’s being serious. ‘It seems like you’re having trouble controlling your class and taking it out on Michael. He brings home straight A’s on report cards you grade, I could make a flag of all the ribbons and certificates he’s won in just one year of being at this school, and if you were wrong in something you corrected on his work and he caught it, you could be a hell of a lot more mature about how you handle it. My son is definitely a smart ass but he’s not a jackass.

They all laughed harder than expected, clenching their stomachs and wiping new, different tears from their eyes.

“That’s like the time he came to my Girl Scout’s meeting, still dressed like the night before, and one of the mom’s asked ‘What’s the special occasion Rick?’ and he goes, “My daughter. Did you have a rough morning, Cheryl?’”

“He was such a fucking cartoon. The kind that isn’t really funny as a kid, but you appreciate when you get older.”

“The night before he brought each of you home he’d come into my room and we’d have a dance party that always ended with us singing ‘We are family’ at the top of our lungs. It was like a celebration that I was getting a new adopted brother or sister, and also, to me, his way of helping me exorcise any insecurities or uncertainty I had about my place after each of you guys came. Kids need that. I needed that.”

“Kevin, you’re the most self-assured person, I know.”

“I can’t take any of the credit for that Tiffany. But, thank you.”

The heart monitor sounded, an unwelcome guest in their private moment, each beep seem further away than the last. Until a single note underlined the tone of the room.

Dr. Tobin moved deftly between them to cut the machine off. Tiffany fell into Kevin’s arms sobbing and Donny and Michael looked on solemnly, heads high with tears in their eyes.

The scene across the the observation deck was much the same, although their tears fell like weights being released from weary hands. Tiffany looked up to see the face of a woman, stern and hard, her eyes boring through 6 inches of reinforced glass on either side of the medical room in the execution chamber.

Somewhere far away a buzzer sounded, the mechanical blinds closed and the occupants of each room were led separately through two identical hallways to opposite ends of the building, never to cross paths again.

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