It’d been Wednesday.
Middle of the week. Nothing out of the ordinary. Another late evening surrounded by books and papers due the following day. Facts, quotations and paragraph structure were all that were passing through his mind.
The room was well lit.
Keys jingled in the lock.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
Cihn glanced up from his homework, an easy smile on his lips. He expected to see the same grin he always did, the one that was exhausted from manual labor but was always glad to be home.
ZJ hadn’t even looked at him when he walked in.
And to be honest… he didn’t seem like he was looking at anything at all.
Cihn’s smile fell. His pen dropped.
Something was wrong. “ZJ?”
He’d seen the awkward wobble in his knees before they’d caved but Cihn was neither that fast nor that strong to even dream about having caught him.
ZJ didn’t just hit the floor.
How could Cihn have known in that moment while he rushed to his side, all ZJ could still hear was the piercing scream of ambulance sirens?
It’d been Friday.
She’d passed in her sleep. Apparently, she’d died with a picture frame in hand. Cihn didn’t need to ask who the picture was of. ZJ didn’t need to tell him.
In fact, ZJ hadn’t told him anything at all. Every fact he’d learned through the line up of officials trying to work out the paperwork and fine details. The man hadn’t uttered so much as a sound to him. It was like he couldn’t hear anything. Or he couldn’t hear him. Maybe he didn’t want to hear him. So Cihn kept quiet, biting back every urge he had to beg him to say something. Anything. Show that there was still a piece of him left in there. But he didn’t. And ZJ kept on breathing.
He’d been there to listen to ZJ repeat his findings to the police. He was there when he’d had to sign her death certificate.
He’d been present through the phone calls to work, explaining why he couldn’t come in with promises to work double shifts to make up for it. Cihn had called them back while he was busy talking with a funeral director. He had never heard a more understanding boss. He’d told Cihn that ZJ needed rest, however long he needed. Not wanted, he’d clarified. He and Cihn both knew ZJ would be working right now if he’d have had any real choice.
His boss told Cihn it was the first time in his career he’d had to threaten somebody with getting fired if they came into work. At least a week off.
Glancing over at him and the steady way his shoulders still held… Cihn was scared he wouldn’t last that long.
He looked tired.
Cihn knew he hadn’t slept in two days. He knew because he hadn’t either. Every time ZJ got up in the middle of the night to go for a walk (something he did several times a night), Cihn couldn’t help the terrorifying thought that he wouldn’t come back. But no matter how long he stayed out, he would always wander back in.
Their apartment had never been so quiet.
There was no funeral. ZJ had told the director of her severe anthropophobia. Nobody would come to visit her. Anybody she still held dear to her was waiting on the other side. He just wanted to see her one last time, looking her finest before she was cremated. It didn’t need to be a ceremony.
He just wanted to see her.
So they’d visited the room; not in their Sunday best but in sweaters and jeans. She’d been rested peacefully in a display casket, dressed to be as pretty as if it were her wedding day. For once.. she looked peaceful. Cihn could almost swear there was a ghost of a smile on her blank expression.
ZJ’s fingers grazed the sides of the casket.
It had been here, in this moment, where Cihn was positive ZJ was going to crack. All that pent up depression he hadn’t been dealing with was going to be too much at the sight of her and his steady shoulders were going to curl and quiver.
Cihn expected to see a boy, clinging to the side of it, begging her to come back. Say something. Breath. Smile. Blink.
But instead Cihn saw nothing but a man, fingers rested, trying to show his mother just how much he’d grown.
He could do this. She’d prepared him enough.
Cihn watched his fingers flex slowly…
He could do this…
His shoulders slumped.
He chocked. His hand gripped the side.
Reaching up, he slid his hand comforting up his arm.
“Don’t die, okay?”
There was a silence after the shaken voice and after days of not hearing it, it took a moment to realize ZJ wasn’t talking to his mother. Cihn’s grip tightened as he looked up. He still wasn’t looking at him. He felt his support crumbling.
It’d been Saturday.