Chapter 1 : To the Very End
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“You’ll kill us all,” she was yelling at the young aide behind the buffet table. “Putting out sour milk. That’s just what you’d like, isn’t it!”
A shuffling noise from behind alerted him that Lee was slowly approaching, slippered feet rubbing against the carpet, the metalic clinking of his walker another dead give away as he pushed it forward. Over the years, George’s one ear had become particularly sensitive.
“Watch this,” Jordan muttered quietly, pulling a wand out of his flannel pajama pocket and pointing it at the milk.
Ice slowly worked it’s way up the carton, a little steam fogging the air between Mrs. Rencraw and the poor girl in front of her.
As the cold reached her hands, Mrs. Rencraw let out an awful shriek and dropped the carton, frozen milk shattering and flying all over the floor. George didn’t feel too bad about it though. The girls would have it cleaned up before any of them could even think about breaking a hip.
George and Lee burst out laughing, wheezes and coughs spilling out into the early morning air. More than a few residents looked their direction. Some (the sour ones too old to remember what it was like to be young) shook their heads and pursed their lips, eventually going back to their newspapers or cross-stitching. The others however, grinned wide, toothy grins, always appreciative of a little mischief to brighten the day. After all, who knew how many they had left.
“Nice one, Lee.” George said, offering a hand to his friend. Lee let go of the walker, reaching forward to shake hands, though his wobbled back and forth on it’s own just fine these days. The sight made George a little sad.
Lee wasn’t keeping up like he normally did. The shuffling had gotten to the point where he relied on the walker more these days, and he avoided cereal and soup. The more he tried to still his hands, the worse they became, and while they were both masters of laughing, it was difficult to find humor in spilling food all over yourself like a toddler. Ok, maybe it wasn’t that hard.
“Mr. Jordan,” the Head Healer said sternly from behind the sliding glass window separating the residents from the staff offices, “did you just do that?”
Unabashedly, Lee smiled his widest, pushing his tongue between his gums and top denture so the teeth fell down comically as he smiled. The trick worked and the woman laughed, shaking her head. “Why do torture Mrs. Rencraw like that? It seems like every other morning you two are causing problems again.”
George butted in, making his way over to the open window. “Well, you know how it is with us old folks, young lady.” He waggled his crazy grey eyebrows at her. “She can only remember the lesson for one day! After that she goes back to being a b-”
“That’s enough!” the woman interrupted loudly, fully aware of George and Lee’s opinion of the cranky old woman. Truth be told, she agreed with them, but it was her job to keep order in the home. “I know she can be a bit... trying at times, but if you keep cursing her-”
Lee had finally shuffled his way over, “But I didn’t curse her ma’am,” he argued, “I only made the milk cold, which is what she was arguing about in the first place.”
Knowing a lost cause when she saw one, the Healer shook her head and gave one more warning before closing the sliding glass. “I love you two, you know I do, but if you keep causing problems I’ll have to take your atrium privelages away. You can eat breakfast alone, in your room, away from Mrs. Rencraw, or you can control yourselves. It’s all up to you.”
George and Lee sighed the same sigh and turned towards each other.
“I thought we were done with school,” Lee muttered as went back to the breakfast table. “I didn’t realize that once you hit your mid life crisis you started going backwards.”
George nodded, grabbing two plates and continuing down the line. The two best friends had a system. Lee’s walker was equipped with two cup holders (thanks to a little wand work by George), so he got the drinks and fixed them up while George (who had two steady, unoccupied hands) spooned out eggs, grabbed a few pieces of sausage, dished out two bowls of oatmeal, and grabbed the utensils.
Their table was outside, under a nice overhang facing the gardens. They ate breakfast there every morning, discussing quidditch, the deplorable fashions of the young, and occasionally reminiscing.
Once done eating, George picked up the plates, glasses, and utensils and hurried (as much as his old bones would let him) to throw them away.
On his return, Lee was looking up into the sky. A sinking feeling settled in the pit of George’s stomach. When left to his own devices, Lee’s mind tended to wander, and not necessarily in a good way.
“Darla will be happy,” he said, eyes glazed over as though not really seeing anything, “looks like we’re going to get a good rain. Her flowers will do well.”
George stopped short of the bench, eyeing the back of his friends gray, balding head with apprehension. Darla Jordan had passed away a few years ago. Her flowers, which used line the walkway before them to the gardens, had been replanted several times since her passing. George took a deep breath and placed a hand on Lee’s shoulder.
“Mate,” he said quietly, unable to look him in the eye, “when’s the last time you saw Darla?”
Lee looked up at him quickly, his dark brow knotted together. “What do you mean, George, I saw her just this morning.”
George took a deep breath, not looking forward to having this conversation again. “We pranked old Mrs. Rencraw this morning. I don’t remember Darla coming down with you. When is the last time you saw her?” he insisted.
Now Lee was really distressed. George watched him wring his hands, swollen knuckles pressing against each other as he searched for the answer. “Well, I saw her just... just...well...” confusion clouded his eyes as he tried to work out exactly when he saw his wife last. He looked past George through the large window behind them, searching, and he could almost see the pieces fitting themselves back together, one painful memory after the other.
George came around the bench and sat next to his friend as the first tear fell. He took one of Lee’s hands, prying it off of the other and patting it firmly.
“I miss Angela, too, mate,” he whispered as Lee rested his bobbing head on George’s shoulder. He couldn’t hear the sobs from that side, but he knew they were raw. He heard them every few weeks.
After several moments, Lee lifted his head, sniffed loudly, and leaned forward against his walker to stand. George smiled, if sadly, in awe of his friend’s strength. He only had to deal with the loss of Angela once, so far, and feared the day that he would wonder aloud about where she was, or what she was doing, though he had no doubt Lee would return the favor.
“Well George,” Lee said, managing to put some bravado behind the words, “what mischief are we managing to make today?”
He was glad to have his best friend with him to the very end.
“Oh, I don’t know,” George pondered on the question a moment, rubbing the stubble on the end of his chin again. “I hear that bloke Barringer got a new pair of shoes. Do you want to put a disillusionment charm on them so he thinks he’s lost them?”
Lee smiled, gripping his walker tightly as he turned towards the window. “Lead the way, my friend. Lead the way.”
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by Aiwe Saito