"Don't leave me." Her words were slurred with sleep and alcohol, and her eyes were overbright as she turned them on the man crouched at her bedside. Her gnarled fingers, twisted with arthritis, gripped his young hands with surprising strength.
"I won't leave you, Nana," the man said quietly. His voice was a light baritone, mature and steady despite the childish name that he had for his grandmother. When her grip on his hands loosened in sleep, he remained beside her. He lowered himself to his knees, still looking at her, sadness darkening his cobalt blue eyes. His grandmother had been his rock for most of his life. His parents had died when he was a mere baby, and his grandmother had raised him. On the heels of his parents' death, his grandfather had died of a heart attack while with his mistress. Despite the tragedies piled upon one another, his grandmother had persevered and taken care of a small child.
It was only after age and arthritis had begun to take her strength that their roles had become reversed. He was thirty now, happily married with a steady job. He had come home to visit her one day and found her in a chair, unable to move for the pain in her knees caused by the stiffening in aging joints. She had staunchly refused medication, no matter how he cajoled. She had become the one in need of care, and it scared him to death. He kissed the wrinkled hand very gently, feeling tears sting his eyes.
Behind him, the door creaked softly open, and his heard his wife come into the room. She laid her hand very gently on his shoulder. "Is she any better?" Her voice was a soft ripple of sound that loosened some of the knots in his stomach. He kept one of his hands linked with his grandmother's, and raised the other to lay on his wife's hand that had settled gently on his shoulder.
"If anything, she's worse," he said wearily. "I don't know what to do, honey. She won't go to a hospital, and the doctors say that it's only a matter of time."
Ivy Clark lowered herself to her knees beside her husband. Her long, silky red hair was bound into a long braid that hung down her back, and her face was devoid of makeup. There was grief in her moss-green eyes when she looked at the woman lying in the bed. She had known Kent's grandmother for years before Ivy had married Kent. Virginia Wolley had been gruff and stern with everyone except Kent. She doted on Kent, but was quick to use a wooden spoon to smack her grandson on the head if he misbehaved. Ivy could only hope that the old woman would pull through. She had been in tight spots before with her health, but through sheer will she had pulled through. But now Virginia's body just wasn't young anymore, and she had started to drink more. Once when she was alone with Ivy, she said said caustically that it didn't matter anymore what she died from--whether it was drinking, smoking or any other vice. She was going to die in any event, she might as well die the way that she wanted. Virginia and Ivy had both tried to shield Kent from realizing how serious his grandmother's deterioriating health was.
"I can't lose her, Ivy." Kent's voice was rough with fear and grief. "She's like my mother."
"Darling--" Ivy hesitated, then silenced. She didn't know the words to comfort him.Instead she laid her hand over his and curled her fingers around his hand, linking her with her husband and his grandmother. They stayed that way in silence until dawn began to creep insidiously through the windows and blinds.
Just as the first bird began to make the first notes of its song, Virginia opened her eyes with a sharp gasp. Immediately Kent jerked away from the doze that he had fallen into. His knees ached from kneeling on the floor all night, and his lower legs had long since fallen asleep. When he moved, needles pricked at his legs as feeling slowly started to return. Ivy's head had fallen on his shoulder sometime in the night, keeping him company in his bedside vigil. When he moved, her head slid off his shoulder, and she barely caught herself. She blinked sleepily, then came awake with a start when she saw Virginia's eyes flutter open.
Virginia looked at Kent, filling her sight with him. Her fingers tightened on his, and his heart trembled when he felt the absolute lack of strength in her once-strong grip. "You've been a good boy, Kent," she said, her voice scraping. "I've loved you very much." Tears sprang to Kent's eyes, and he manfully battled them back.
"I love you, Nana," he choked out. "Please don't leave me."
"Pshaw," she muttered, sounding so much like her old self that hope leaped within his breast. "Don't need this old woman, boy. Got yourself a woman." She turned her sharp gaze on Ivy. "You take care of my boy, you hear me?"
Ivy's tears spilled down her cheeks, and she nodded, blinking furiously. Virginia smiled slightly at both of them, then weakly linked Kent's hand with Ivy. "Life is for the living, little ones," she murmured, settling back against the pillows. She closed her eyes, her body seeming to slump. Kent was too busy for a long moment battling back his tears to realize the implication of her motionless body. Ivy swallowed back her sobs, one hand over her mouth.
Kent looked up, and his eyes widened. "Nana? Nana, wake up!" When she didn't respond, he looked at his wife in devastation.
While the buttery rays of the morning sun began to creep along the floor and drive the shadows from the darkened room, Kent turned into his wife's arms and wept out his grief. In the bed, Virginia's lips were curved in a small, knowing smile.