She smoothed her daughter’s hair back from her forehead as Alice finished off a slice of chocolate cake, her favorite. Her normally vivacious little girl was solemn and sad now that she’d said her last good byes to her best friend and knew she would never see Iris again. Grace’s heart twisted at the thought of the two little girls dying at age nine. For her, that age had been a sweet, young age, an age full of happiness and youth and innocence. Instead, these two girls, and countless others, were going to die. It was a dark time for them and they would never again get another sunrise.
Normally, Alice was in bed by eight-thirty, but now all the rules had been thrown out the window. Grace and Adam had decided to let their little angel stay up for as long as she wanted and do as she pleased, especially now that Iris and her family had gone. They prayed Alice would feel sleepy before midnight so they could slip her a sedative. If not, they would just drop it in her juice in the next hour.
Grace kissed her daughter’s temple before rising from the kitchen table. “You can have more if you want, sweetie. I’ll be right back, okay?”
Alice nodded as she licked her fork clean. At least one thing about her daughter hadn’t changed. Alice loved food, but never seemed to put an ounce of fat on, never gaining much weight and looking as slim and tiny as a girl a couple of years younger than her.
Grace joined her husband at the wide doorway to the kitchen from the family room. He was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, his shaggy black hair falling into his sad, brown eyes. He was staring at his daughter as though he were trying to remember everything about her. Grace wrapped an arm around his waist and, after a moment, he moved an arm to wrap it around her shoulders and pull her close.
“I’m sorry I missed Iris and her parents,” Adam said quietly.
“That’s okay. You had to take care of your parents.”
Adam nodded grimly. His parents were quite elderly, having had him later in life. They hadn’t been doing well for the past year and hadn’t wanted to suffer through the explosions that would tear the world apart. They had requested that their only child be present as they went through medically assisted suicide. That had been around the time that Iris and her mother had stopped by.
“How is she?” Adam asked, nodding towards their daughter.
“A shadow of her former self,” Grace said tiredly as she smothered a wide yawn. “I had wanted so much for her to enjoy her last hours, but she misses Iris. I wish the girls could have been together, but Rose’s family is getting together tonight and they live four hours away.”
“You’d think they would have left yesterday for that.”
Grace shrugged. “They wanted some kind of normalcy for Iris, I guess.”
Adam was silent for a while before he spoke again. By that time, Alice had helped herself to a second slice of cake. Grace couldn’t see her husband’s face, but could hear his voice was choked up and knew he was trying to keep himself from breaking down.
“What should we do now?” Adam asked, his voice breaking as he spoke.
His voice made her eyes tear up. “I don’t know. She seems content for now.”
The couple watched their daughter for a little longer, watched her enjoy the cake. It pained Grace’s heart that the cake was the last thing her daughter would ever eat. Finally, the little girl turned and looked over her shoulder, her eyes piercing her parents’ hearts.
“I’m done,” Alice announced. She yawned and put her head down on the table. “I’m sleepy.”
Grace cleared her throat and forced a gentle smile onto her lips. “Do you want to go to bed, sweetie?”
Alice appeared to think about that for a moment, her eyes straying from her parents. She looked out the kitchen window at the dark sky, remembering that there had still been a glimmer of sunlight last night when she had gone to bed at eight-thirty. A look at the kitchen’s digital clock told her it was well past her usual bed time. No matter how much she would have preferred to stay awake, her body just wasn’t agreeing with her. She felt exhausted. Turning back to her parents, she nodded, her expression solemn.
Grace forced a smile and walked towards her daughter. She leaned down and wrapped her arms around Alice. “Okay, sweetie. We’ll put you to bed, then. Why don’t you get your teeth brushed and get changed into your nightgown? Then Daddy and I will be up with a bedtime story and something for you to drink. Okay?”
Alice nodded and pushed away from the table after Grace released her from her grip. The little girl looked around the kitchen one more time, then rushed past her parents and paused in the living room. She looked around, and then raced up the stairs. A few moments later, they heard the bathroom door close.
Grace went back over to her husband and he wrapped her into a tight hug. She let herself shed the tears she’d been holding in, feeling more distress for her daughter and husband than for herself.
“It’s time, Grace,” Adam said softly. “I’ll get the sedative ready for her.”
Grace nodded against his solid chest and pulled away, wiping at her eyes with the hem of her shirt. “Okay. I’ll go find her favorite book and get her tucked in.”
Adam forced a smile. “Don’t start without me.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” She headed for the stairs. Just as she stepped up onto the first step, she turned back to her husband and smiled. “Don’t take too long.”
He smiled back, easily slipping into their nightly routine when it came to tucking in their daughter. “Don’t worry. I won’t.”
The couple exchanged one last smile. Then Grace continued up the stairs and Adam disappeared into the kitchen, where the sedative was already waiting. He decided a glass of Alice’s favorite juice would be just fine. The little girl would gulp it all down and then fall asleep. She would never know she had died.
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