"'Do you need anything from us, Mr. Carmichael?' 'Yes, some quiet!'"
"I can resist everything except temptation."
"Do you need anything from us, Mr. Carmichael?"
"Yes, some quiet!" Andrew snapped, slamming the door in the face of the staff member at his door. For God's sake, he thought retirement was supposed to be peaceful. He hoped that this latest pest would pass on the word that Mr. Carmichael was a crusty old curmudgeon; perhaps then he could enjoy some of that serene solitude the brochure had boasted of.
Even as this pleasant fantasy flickered before his eyes, another knock sounded. Damnit!
"What is it-- er... now?" He coughed, choking back the rest of his snarl as he yanked open the door to find, not one of the facility lackeys, but a wizened little lady on his stoop. "Er..." He thought he had met all the other residents already at their forced communal time in the dining hall, but apparently not, as surely he would've remembered those enormous hoop earrings and halo of untamed white hair. A heavy wooden cane supported her weight, and the sun glaring off her brightly-colored calico dress made his eyes water.
She took no notice of his less-than-welcoming greeting and flashed him an impish grin. One gnarled old finger rose to point dramatically at his chest. "You have a car!" she informed him, in the triumphant tones of Columbus announcing his discovery of the Indies.
Ah. He recalled the snatches of conversation he had overheard from the other residents and staff over the past few days. This then must be Mrs. Matthews, his new neighbor. "I'm not helping you escape," he told her suspiciously.
To his surprise, she threw back her head and laughed. "You must've been talking to Felicia," she said between cackles. "Sweet girl, but she does get a bit worked up. Now don't be silly; why would I want to escape? I just need to go to the store and the scheduled trip isn’t until Friday."
She gave him a stern frown. "It's urgent."
Andrew opened his mouth tell her that "urgent" matters were the responsibility of the staff but hesitated. He was a little stir-crazy. After fighting so hard to retain the use of his vehicle over the objections of his son, maybe this was the perfect opportunity to assert a little independence, show the staff that Andrew Carmichael could damned well take care of himself, retirement community or not.
"Very well," he growled with poor grace. "Let me get my keys."
Andrew stared at the contents of the shopping cart in growing indignation.
"I didn't realize that urgent included ice cream and chocolate."
Vivianne -- she insisted he call her by her first name -- turned from her contemplation of the candy selection with a bag of Dove's in one hand and Hershey's in the other. “A woman's need for pampering doesn't cease with menopause, you know," she said with a disapproving cluck. A couple of college-aged kids nearby shot her startled looks and edged further down the aisle. "Now let's check out some pastries."
Two hours later, Andrew grunted as he set the last bag on her counter and accepted her invitation for refreshments. It was only right, after all, for her to repay him somehow for all the trouble. A moment after he settled on her couch, she came in bearing two large bowls of frozen concoction.
"Triple chocolate caramel fudge," she grinned, depositing one before him.
He eyed it as though expecting it to bite. "I don't eat ice cream."
She stared at him, her mouth already full. "Diabetic?"
"No, I just don’t... eat... ice cream..." he finished lamely, squirming under her incredulous look.
"Well you don't know what you've been missing!" She scooped up a large spoonful and eyed him with a determined air.
He had a fleeting image of her shoving it into his mouth if he continued to resist. "I... I have a heart condition!" he blurted, slightly panicked at the thought.
She thought this over, giving him a frown that made him sweat and wonder if she could read his mind, then lowered her spoon and gave a knowing nod. "Ah. You're lactose intolerant, aren't you?"
"What? No! I--"
"It's all right, Andrew," she said, all sympathy. "I understand. Getting old is just hard on some people, and when you throw in a bit of incontinence... well, I can see why you'd want to be careful."
He gaped at her, almost spluttering in rage. What...! How...! He grabbed the spoon and carved out a chunk of the frozen treat. He'll show her who was incontinent! He stuffed the bite into his mouth. How dare she! That was the last favor he'd ever... ever...
"Well?" she asked, grinning.
He swirled his tongue against the soft, rich, creamy sensation in his mouth. Swallowed. Licked his lips. "It's... tolerable," he grumbled, digging his spoon in again. "Triple chocolate caramel fudge, did you say?"
"Andrew! It's always a pleasure to see your grumpy face in the morning! Guess what!"
"That's right! It's Tuesday, which means it's movie night! Now, you've already wriggled out of two of them, so I expect to see you at my place at seven sharp."
"Don't you want to know what we're watching?"
She ignored his blustering -- as usual -- and leaned in close as though imparting a great secret. "My grandbaby just sent me the entire Humphrey Bogart and Bogie and Bacall Signature Collections."
Silence. He cursed himself for that moment of weakness when he had shared with her his love of movies that relied on characters and acting rather than sex, gore, and retina-searing special effects.
"Mmm... imagine... dim lights, lots of popcorn and snacks, about a hundred hours of classic black-and-white, and none of the pyrotechnic hoopla that passes for movies with the younger generation. And I promise to have enough tissues on hand for both of us."
"I don't cry at movies."
"Of course not, dear. Remember, seven o'clock."
His jaw creaked with the force of his yawn as Andrew extracted himself from her armchair and the pile of empty popcorn bags and balled-up tissue paper that had seen him through the night. Oh, sweet Jesus. Never again, he vowed, would he underestimate either Vivianne's fortitude or the inexorable force of her "Just one more movie, Andrew."
Oh for a cup of thick black Columbian...
"Breakfast! And look, it's happy to see you!"
He winced at the sight of the smiling eggs-and-bacon face on his plate. Ignoring Vivianne's grin, Andrew grabbed a fork and began to methodically stab it in the eyes while she heaped butter on her toast.
Just then a knock sounded. The door opened to reveal two frantic-looking staffers who breathed simultaneous sighs of relief upon seeing him.
"Oh Mr. Carmichael! We weren't sure where you had gotten to and--" The girl -- Jane? Jill? -- stopped abruptly at the sight of his mutilated-but-still-recognizable breakfast and looked appalled.
Andrew carefully set his fork down. "Just spending a night with Mrs. Matthews. Nothing to get excited over..." he trailed off at the scandalized expressions on their faces. Surely they weren't thinking that... that...
"Oh, Andrew and I had the most wonderful time," Vivianne gushed, giving him a roguish wink. "It's been so long since I've... enjoyed myself like that!"
Andrew's chin hit his chest as he gaped at her. Had she meant it to sound like... He glanced at the sunset-colored faces of their two guests and the way they were avoiding looking directly at either of them. Yes, yes she most definitely had.
"You'll have to excuse him, ladies," Vivanne was saying. She dropped her voice to a "whisper" that he was sure could be heard in the dining hall. "You know how it is for old men," she confided. "Takes them a little bit to catch their breath afterwards, and what with his heart condition and all..."
"Oh, uh, of course," stammered Jane/Jill. "Quite... quite understandable after... I mean..."
Andrew's eyes narrowed. He could practically see the words "Eww... old people sex!" stamped across both staffers' foreheads. Vivianne caught his eye, her own dancing in merriment, daring him to join in the fun. Andrew drew in a deep breath. He was not going to participate in this... charade. He was an adult, damnit, and--
"Maybe Mr. Carmichael should go lie down for a while?" staff member number two ventured, looking like she had just swallowed a bug.
"No, thank you, ladies," he heard himself saying. "I'm fine. In fact, I feel good enough for a repeat performance." They had, after all, not finished the last set of her DVDs. "Same time tomorrow, Mrs. Matthews?"
He wondered afterwards whether there might be an award for sending staff members into apoplexy.
"A couples' tennis tournament? Are you mad? Absolutely not!"
"Oh c'mon, Andrew! It'll be fun!"
"You call strenuous exercise in ninety-degree heat fun?"
"Oh. I see. Well, you're right. Maybe it will be too much for you..."
"I know! I'll sign you up for Bingo night instead! Oh wait, the excitement and noise... and your poor heart... might not be such a good idea after all..."
"Now see here--"
"Oh! Mary is starting a quilting club next week! Perfect! Don't worry, I'll tell her to have plenty of warm milk for you--"
"You...! Gimme that!"
"The tennis tournament sign-up sheet? Oh, but think of the heat!"
"Quiet, you harpy! And stop grinning at me like that!"
"Leave me alone, will you! Can't a woman eat her food in peace around here?"
Andrew's head snapped up at the screeching from the other side of the dining hall. That must be their newest resident, Mrs. Yarborough. She was waving her fist in the direction of a retreating nurse. Across the table, Vivianne was eyeing her with an interest and speculation that made his stomach drop.
"Hmm..." she said, lowering her eyes to the How-to-Start-Your-Own-Rock-Band pamphlet on her lap. He opened his mouth to tell her again that he was most certainly not a "steel-guitar type," but she paid him no attention as she turned another page of the little book. "I think she looks like a percussion girl, don't you, Andrew? Or perhaps lead singer? She has such a beautiful voice, and it carries so well..."
Oh God. For a moment, he pitied poor Mrs. Yarborough for her ignorance of the whirlwind about to head her way. Then he saw that infectious grin spread across his friend's face -- and when had he begun to think of her as more than an over-enthusiastic nuisance? -- and found himself smiling back. It was hopeless, he knew, reaching for his napkin. She would have him on a stage "jamming" away before he even realized it. Whatever had happened to his thoughts of a quiet retirement? How did she wheedle and tempt him into such utter absurdities?
And why, he wondered, as she plotted to badger the resident committee into allowing her the use of the lake-side stage for their first concert, did he find himself grateful that where she was concerned, resistance really was futile?
Word count: 1849
Second place in April '09 "Quotation Inspiration: Official Contest" !