Cerise leaned back into Kady's spoon-hug, reveling in the press of him against her backside. Resting her hand on his arm, she gave a contented sound, and craned her head around for a kiss.
"Do we have a wait? The first batch is nearly done, but I can start another, if it looks like we need more than 30 bowls? Speaking of which, let's get them set up for serving. I made it reasonably mild, since I'm not sure everyone could take the amount of cayenne pepper a real batch would contain."
On the tables, before they opened, Cerise had put out hot sauce and powdered cayenne on every table. Now, she dished out a side of rice with each bowl, garnished with sliced lemon and fresh parsley. Simple, she thought, but pretty. Two bowls for the first two people who had ordered. She got through setting up about ten bowls, when her phone rang, interrupting the music.
"Where are the boys? These need to go out. Before they get cold." Cerise picked up the phone.
The woman stilled, completely, hand tightening on the mobile phone until her knuckles and face were as white as the apron she wore.
"I'll be right there." Turning the heat down on the pot, Cerise disappeared out the backdoor without a word to Kady. She probably should have been more thoughtful, but she wasn't. She didn't have time.
Jamba noticed first. He just stood in the doorway of the kitchen, staring in, motionless for a moment, before turning toward Kady. Jumba had been moving around the bar, cleaning up dirtied dishes. He, too, paused. Both of the water golems looked toward the witch and waited.
Cerise stayed frozen as she drove to the hospital, hands clenched on the steering wheel, barely seeing the road and the cars. She made it on autopilot, having made the trip so many times, though at one point she had to go around a large black limo suv that blocked the street in front of the courthouse. A woman, red-haired, was arguing with a brown-haired man; not that Cerise gave them a passing glance. She was driving like a crazy woman, zipping in and out of lanes probably quicker than her old car could handle. Nothing like dropping a gear to get a little power, right? The clutch groaned and made a grinding sound as she jumped a curb turning into the hospital parking lot.
Her parking wasn't exactly great, either. If the car was still there when she returned, it would only be because the thing was a rusting, piece of crap. She had left the keys in the ignition and the door was half open, rebounding when she had shoved it shut.
When she burst into the room, the nurse looked up at her. Cerise wore an expression of fear and loss. Was she too late?
On the bed, Joe heaved a thready breath.
"Oh, my baby. I'm here. Mommy's here..." She wasn't afforded any privacy at this moment, but she didn't care. All that mattered was the small, skinny frame on the bed. His skin was so pale, it was like lace and she could see the shape of his skull under his skin, in his wrists. He weight next to nothing, just the sum of his bones and organs and skin. How was that possible?
"Oh baby...I love you so much. So so much."
Cerise crawled into the bed and gently lifted Joaquin until she cradled him in her arms, rocking him and pressing kisses on his head. She heard the rattle of his last breath, but didn't stop. Not until someone put a hand on her shoulder.
They had given her more time than they probably should have, but it wasn't like he was going anywhere. Cerise thought she had prepared herself over the last two years for this moment, but she had been wrong. When they went to move Joe, Cerise's arms tightened. She had meant to let him go, let them do the things she'd arranged.
"Ms. Boucher, please..." The prompt made her release him,afraid she'd break him somehow, foolish as that feeling was. But if she had, it would have been worse in some way. Without the weight of him in her arms, little though it was, Cerise felt more empty.
Looking around the room, she didn't really see it, though she would remember every detail later. There were recognizable things. The kitchenette with its tiny table. The couch with its hide-away bed. The tile flooring. the sliding glass door. The sun was still out, shining brightly on the grass and the interesting piece of art that moved in the breeze. A bird hopped in the grass, accompanied by another, searching for things to eat.
Cerise slipped from the bed and her knees buckled for a moment. She had to force herself upright, force herself to take the steps to the couch and sink down on it. Resting her elbows on her knees, she clasped her hands, waiting for whatever came next.
NOTES: I’ll be your ingenue