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in a city sorrow built

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Meldrick lets his hand fall after a second. He's not looking at her. Megan is too far away to do anything like pat his shoulder; she's not sure any comforting gesture would go over well. Maybe it would be different if they were partners, but Meldrick doesn't seem like someone who'd be overly comfortable here with physical contact. She glances back out the window: nothing.

"Meldrick," she says, and pauses, waits for him to look up. She makes eye contact. It's not an interrogation, but Megan wouldn't be sure who's in the hot seat, anyway.

"When my husband was dying, in the hospital—well, after a certain point he was intubated, and he couldn't talk. Obviously." She laughs a little at herself, a reflexive huff of air. "He could still move his hands and hold a pen, but it got very difficult for him to form letters, because the drugs were affecting his ability to think clearly or his hand-eye coordination. Or both. So... one night when I gave him the pen and the pad of paper, he wrote two letters: CA. He looked at me, and of course I thought, Caroline. But it was so late at night, and I had already sent her home. So I waited. But he didn't write any more than that, and eventually he fell asleep. And he hung on for weeks, but he never woke up again. I haven't told Caroline about what happened that night, because—it was my fault."

Meldrick makes a sound at that and moves his head, not so much a shake as an involuntary jerk. Megan looks out the window again. "I don't mean that I think his death was my fault. Or, I don't know; maybe I do. Because maybe he wanted to see Caroline again before he died, or he wanted me to promise—to be sure to take care of her when he was gone, or maybe it was something completely unrelated, but whatever it was, I didn't figure it out in time. Maybe he would have stayed awake for longer, maybe Caroline would have gotten a real goodbye, if I'd had her woken up and brought back to see him that night. But I didn't do that. And now I can't know."

Megan turns slightly, sees Meldrick looking back at her. His gaze flickers, his eyes going to the window even though there's no way he can see much outside from where he's sitting. She checks the view again herself, then glances at Meldrick again. He's looking at his hands now, head down, palms up as if he's waiting to catch something. Megan counts out a breath, then says, "Meldrick, what I'm trying to say is... I know it's not the same. But sometimes we don't get enough time to know what the people we love really want from us, until it's too late."

She focuses on the dim line of the sidewalk, the lawn, the dark windows across the street, the sound of the wind blowing in darkness. Meldrick is silent on the other side of the room. Megan rubs a finger under her right eye; her face aches like it's been filled with lead. That's what loss is like, she thinks. In exchange for what you've lost, you get something else: invisible, intangible, and much, much heavier.

Footfalls sound across the floor; she looks up. Meldrick is standing at her shoulder. "I'll take watch," he says. Megan gets up. It's only after she's on the sofa, shuffling her feet a bit—heels together, then toes, like Dorothy thinking about home—that Meldrick says, never looking away from the window, "So how do you do it?"

Megan automatically replies, "Do what?" even though she already knows. Meldrick clears his throat and says, "You know. Get up. Get out of bed. All of it." He coughs again, chuckles self-consciously, but he's sitting perfectly still in the chair. Megan laughs.

"Alarm clock," she says. Meldrick's startled laugh is as much as to say, I can't believe you just said that. "No, really. Mike got an alarm clock for Christmas from one of his cousins, and he always said the sound of the alarm was annoying enough to wake him up and keep him awake. Of course, if I was around it woke me up too, so I'd complain. One morning I knocked it off the nightstand—and it was mostly by accident?" She smiles. Meldrick smiles, too; he keeps his eyes on the window. "Then the front half came off. But Mike put a rubber band around the whole thing and kept using it. And after he died... I had leave, but it was harder to get up than it used to be." Meldrick nods, just a dip of his chin. "So now I set it for half an hour earlier than I would, than I used to. You know."

"Yeah," Meldrick says, low and quiet. One swipe of his thumb across his nose, the corner of his mouth twisting up for a moment, then level again. "I know." Megan wants to ask him, So how do you do it? but she doesn't. They sit, mostly in silence, swapping positions another time before Megan spots Mike Kellerman approaching the front door.