“Dr. Bradley.” Dr. Thade came up behind me in my daughter’s room and pulled another chair up beside me. “How’s she doing?”
“She’s asleep,” I answered, not breaking my gaze away from my child. “She lost consciousness in the ambulance and hasn’t woken up since.”
“Healing,” Dr. Thade said.
“She’s healing her mind. After a trauma, sometimes, that’s what happens. She’ll be fine. No lasting injuries, just some bruises.”
“I know. Believe me, I checked.”
Dr. Thade reached out and squeezed my hand. “Is Alex coming?”
“He was here for a while. Now he’s off throwing himself into helping stitch up other victims. I’d help, but…”
“You’d rather be here.”
“I’m needed here. She’s my daughter.” I took one of Lanie’s hands into my own and rubbed it gently as if trying to put the life back into it.
“I don’t expect you to be anywhere else right now.” She stood up, pushing the chair she had been sitting in back into the corner. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay, Michelle.”
“Thanks, Elise,” I whispered.
As she left the room, Alex came back in. “How is she?”
“Alive. Which is something to be grateful for. I just…” Shaking my head, I chewed on the corner of my lip and looked out the hospital room window into the darkness. “When she wakes up, I don’t know how to explain that the whole world is different.”
“More than you know,” Alex whispered, kneeling in front of me.
“Alex?” I asked, trying to get him to meet my eye.
Refusing to let me catch his gaze, Alex pulled away and crossed the room. “There’s…There’s a lot of people that we know…knew…and loved…that aren’t here anymore.”
“Who else, Alex?” I asked, getting up and following him to the corner of the room away from the bed. “I mean, I know that Doug is gone, but…”
“Seventeen kids are reported dead so far,” he whispered, turning his head to the shadows to hide his tears. “Seventeen. And several more in very serious condition.”
“Who, Alex? Tell me, please.”
He hung his head. “Cassie…Lanie’s best friend.”
“Oh no,” I said, leaning heavily against the wall. “No.”
“Jenna’s son, Rich…According to kids who got out of the cafeteria, he was the one who wrestled the rifle away from Doug when he had it pointed at Lanie’s back. Doug pulled a pistol out of his boot and shot Rich in the head.”
“Poor Jenna. Oh my…”
“And…The reason…The police think that the reason why…” Alex stumbled, at a loss for words.
“The reason why Doug attacked the school in the first place was that…He was looking for Gabriel.”
My vision swam in front of my eyes as I sank to the floor in the corner. “Oh no…”
“Gabriel died a hero,” Alex said, sitting down next to me. “My best friend died a hero. He helped almost his entire class to escape before Doug found him.”
He put an arm around me and drew me to his chest, embracing me in the dark.
“Have you seen Jenna?”
Shaking his head, Alex squeezed me tighter. “They are calling parents down to the…morgue. They are bringing them down there to identify the…”
The bodies. Oh…wow. I took a deep breath. “Alex,” I whispered, my eyes welling up with tears, “she’s all alone, I…” I looked between him and Lanie, and back again. “Could you…?”
He nodded. “Go,” he answered without my having to finish my sentence. “I’ll stay here until you come back.”
The elevator ride to the lower level was long and mind numbing for Jenna.
I am not doing this. she thought. I am not doing this. Not alone. I’m not. It’s not happening. And if I keep telling myself that, it will be real.
After hours of waiting and watching for her son, Jenna finally had an idea of where he was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the idea she had wanted it to be.
“Dr. Fischer, your son…He died a hero. He disarmed the gunman and helped a whole group of children to escape that cafeteria. He was a very brave boy; he saved a lot of lives.”
“That doesn’t make it any better that he’s gone,” Jenna whispered. Holding a tightly clenched fist to her mouth, she willed herself to hold in the tears until after she was done.
The elevator came to a stop at the lower level, and the door dinged opened.
“Dr. Fischer?” the woman by the doors asked.
“Yes,” she whispered, wishing with all of her heart that she was anybody else.
“Follow me, please.”
Putting one step in front of the other, Jenna willed herself to take long deep breaths, coming to a stop in front of the observation window.
This is nothing I haven’t done before…I’ve been in the morgue before, I’ve been here before, I…this is…This is my…As the curtain came open, Jenna realized that she’d stopped breathing.
This is my son…
The doors to the lower level came open, and I entered the hallway just in time to see the curtain of the observation room come open. I ran to my friend just as Jenna collapsed to the floor and totally came apart.
“Jenna, I’m here,” I whispered, drawing her into my arms.
Her fingers tightened on the fabric of my sweater as she struggled to breathe. I gestured up in the air over her shoulder for them to close the curtain.
Choking sobs escaped Jenna’s throat as she tried to suck in giant gasps of air. “Michelle…” she whispered between sobs. “He’s…gone…he…”
I folded her into my arms and rocked back and forth slowly. “Sshh, sweetie, it’s all right, it’s okay.”
“I can’t…breathe,” she gasped.
I got to my knees and rummaged around in the cart behind us, keeping one hand on Jenna’s back to keep her from falling to the floor. Pulling out a small paper sack, I put it in her hand and helped her hold it to her mouth. “Breathe into the bag,” I instructed. “Breathe into the bag, and try to make your breaths longer.”
Helping her lean back against the wall, I scooted up next to her. After several minutes of breathing into the bag, she pulled it away and let it fall into her lap. Her hair hung limply around her face as she stared at the floor, exhausted. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” she murmured, the emotion totally erased from her voice. “He’s really gone.”
I took her hands as she turned to face me, meeting her uncertain gaze as I tried to figure out what to say. “Jenna, I…I am so sorry.”
“They said that he was a hero…” she whispered absently, he eyes drifting back towards the floor.
It seems almost inappropriate to mention that he saved my daughter’s life. I thought. Maybe now’s not the best time for that.
“He saved Lanie’s life. He saved everybody’s lives in that cafeteria.”
Of course, if I sit here long enough…”He did,” I agreed.
“And as happy as I am that all of those kids are alive…” her voice trailed off and she shook her head. “As happy as I am for those parents…for you…It doesn’t bring my son back.”
“I’m so sorry, Jenna,” I whispered. “I’m just…so sorry.”
“I am too,” she whispered, gripping at the wall as she struggled to get to her feet.
“Let me help you,” I said quickly, offering her a hand.
As I pulled her up to her feet, a police officer exited the elevator with Becca close in tow. Her eyes were downcast, and as she came into the hall, I could think of absolutely nothing to say to her.
I know that I should feel for her like I do for Jenna. I thought. I know I should. But…I can’t right now. I just can’t.
Keeping a loose hand on Jenna’s arm, I tried to steer her towards the elevator and away from Becca. Slipping past me, she stepped directly into Becca’s path and forced her to look up. “How could you not know?” she asked. “How could you?”
Before I could stop her, her hand struck the side of Becca’s face and sent her spinning. Becca hardly reacted at all, coming back to her full height slowly. No signs of feeling flickered across her face.
“Miss, I need you to step back,” the police officer said, coming between us and Becca.
“It’s okay,” I answered, one hand on Jenna’s shaking shoulder. “We’re okay,” I insisted, steering Jenna into the elevator, and pressing the door close button.
As the doors slid closed, I just barely heard Becca whisper, “I just…didn’t. I didn’t know him at all.”