“I hear you aren’t too hungry today,” I say in a gentle tone to one of our newer residents, Mrs. Kennedy, as I enter her room. The woman is lovely, but she has dementia and can sometimes be a little difficult, like many of the residents in the aged-care facility where I’ve been working the last few years.
She shakes her head, her short blond-and-gray hair swishing against her round face. “I told them I don’t like potato. Yet what do I get? Motherfuckin’ potato.”
I’ve never met an elderly woman with such a potty mouth, but I find her vulgar language highly amusing. Mrs. Kennedy is a take-no-shit kind of woman, and I can respect that.
“Why didn’t you eat the rest of it?” I ask her, plumping her pillow behind her so she’s more comfortable. “What about the peas? And the chicken?”
“It’s practically all mashed potato,” she sneers, her blue eyes narrowing. “Do you think this place, this prison, will have the same menu every day? Because I’m pretty damn sure they will.”
I cover my mouth with my hand, unable to stop the giggle that escapes me. “I assure you, the food here is much healthier and accommodating for our residents than in some other places.”
“Maybe those without teeth,” she grumbles, huffing. “I still have mine. See?” She flashes her teeth at me, tilting her head from side to side so I can have a better view. “Men used to compliment me on how nice my teeth were. Those were the good old days. Now I just get compliments on my boobs or ass.”
I almost choke on the chewing gum in my mouth as she chuckles conspiratorially, clearly happy to get a reaction from me.
“You trying to kill me?” I joke, coughing a little.
“Better you than me,” she mutters, chuckling some more.
I smile and glance down at the food options, all sitting on trays on a wheeled rack. Making sure the residents in my section get fed and actually eat is only one of the many tasks I need to complete today. “How about soup and bread? Or shepherd’s pie.”
She chooses the pie, even though it’s made with mashed potato, and eats it without my help. She has her good days and her bad ones. It’s hard to watch any man or woman here struggle, but it’s even harder with Mrs. Kennedy. In the short time I’ve known her, I’ve learned that she’s a strong and stubborn woman, a proud one, and it kills her to need help
from others. On my first shift with her, she refused any help at all and I had to just stand there while she went about her day, basically pretending that I wasn’t even there.
“Thank you, Zoe,” she says as I’m about to exit her room. “You’re much nicer than some of the other assholes here.”
My lip twitches. “Thanks for the compliment, Mrs. K.”
She grins and turns the TV on to some long-running soap opera. “Today is the day Joe finds out the truth about his wife. You sure you don’t want to stay and watch it with me?”
“I would, but I have work to do,” I reply, sighing dramatically. “Rain check?”
“Deal,” she replies, turning to the TV, dismissing me.
I laugh under my breath as I walk to the next room.
I don’t know why, but every day at work I have my lunch in my car. It’s quiet and peaceful, and I can listen to music. It’s my little moment of solitude, and I look forward to it every day. Today, however, as I’m eating my chicken and salad wrap, all I can hear is the overbearing sound of an engine. I turn my head to the right and see a man on a motorcycle, parking next to me.
In the staff-only lot.
There is a separate lot on the other side for visitors, and although it can be hard to find parking, only staff are allowed to park here. There’s nothing worse than showing up to work and not being able to park because visitors have stolen our allocated spots. I know for a fact this man doesn’t work here. None of our employees ride a motorcycle, probably because we all value our lives. I wind my window down and call out,
“Dude, you can’t park here.”
Of course he doesn’t hear me.
His engine is still loud as hell, so I wait until he turns it off and removes his matte-black helmet before I call out to him a second time.
“You can’t park here,” I repeat, tone unimpressed. People have no regard for other people, and I’m sick of it. He can fit that monstrosity somewhere else. Unless he just happened to miss the three signs on his way into the lot, he probably doesn’t care that he’s breaking a rule or disturbing my thirty minutes of peace.
And then he looks in my direction, and I see his face.
No wonder he doesn’t seem to think that the rules apply to him. If I looked like that, I’d probably think I was God too.
“What did you say?” he asks, helmet in his hand.
I rest my arm out my window. “Never mind,” I mutter, and he flashes me a smile. I couldn’t look away from it even if I wanted to.
He’s maybe the most handsome man I’ve ever seen—classically so, with crystal-clear blue eyes, blond hair, and a cocky smile. There’s an air about him, though, that tells me that there’s much more to this man than meets the eye. He’s in all black leather that screams Fuck with me and die. I’m certainly not getting any wholesome-boy-next-door vibes.
“Pretty sure you were yelling at me about something,” he rumbles, sticking his handsome face next to my open window.
“Ummm, you’re kind of in my personal space,” I tell him, frowning. “And I was simply explaining that you can’t park here, but I don’t think you’re going to move your bike, so . . .”
“You’d be right about that,” he says cheerfully, glancing me over. He takes in my scrubs, my dark hair tied on top of my head, and my face, which probably has food on it or something. “You work here?”
I glance down at myself. “Nope. I just sit here in my car and yell at assholes who park where they’re not supposed to.” I smirk. I can be seriously witty sometimes.
“So you’re a meter maid?” he jokes.
Fine. Two can play at that game.
“Yes, except this is the outfit I prefer. I like to keep things interesting,” I fire back, dusting some crumbs off my pants and packing away my garbage, getting ready to return to my shift.
“So you’re into role play, then?” he replies, winking at me.
I blink slowly a few times. This is not how I thought the conversation was going to go. “Yeah, no,” is my reply.
I wind up both my windows and get out of my car, with him stepping back to give me space before the door hits him.
“I would have opened your door,” he says.
“Should have been quicker,” I reply, sliding the strap of my bag over my arm. “Not all of us sit around waiting for a man to assist us.”
“Some just sit alone in cars stuffing their faces? Who knew this was where I’d have to look to find a decent woman,” he murmurs, walking next to me to the entrance of the aged-care home.
“All the decent women are probably hiding from you,” I mutter under my breath.
“Highly likely. What’s your name?” he asks me, watching me from the corner of his eye.
“Because I’d like to know the name of the beautiful woman who was yelling at me out of her car window,” he says with a wolfish grin. “I’m Rogue.”
“Rogue?” I ask, brow arching.
“Oh,” I mutter. He’s serious. His name is Rogue. I’ve never heard of anyone with the name, but maybe it’s a nickname, I don’t know. I guess he’ll never be forgotten with a name like that.
“And you are?” he pushes.
“Late for work,” I reply, quickening my steps.
He blocks me with his large build, standing in front of the entrance, arms crossed over his chest. “How much trouble do you get in if you’re late?”
Not much, considering this would make it the only time this year that it’s happened.
“Are you always this nosy?” I fire back, moving to his right, and then left, trying to go around him but failing as he blocks off all my attempts.
“Yes. Now, what’s your name?” he continues, not letting up.
He’s clearly a stubborn man, and I hate that I give in to him, but I do need to get my ass clocked back in, and I don’t want my boss to see me standing out in front chatting with someone instead of working.
“Zoe,” I tell him. I sound a little unhappy about that fact. “My name is Zoe.”
“Nice to officially meet you, Zoe.”
“The pleasure is all yours,” I reply, grinning.
“There’s a thing as being too sassy, you know?” he says, but he can’t keep the amusement out of his voice.
“I’m not for everyone,” I reply, shrugging and smiling to myself. “You’re visiting someone here, then?” I ask as I walk inside with him next to me.
“Yeah,” he replies, all the humor gone from his face and his voice, as if he suddenly remembered why he was here, and it wasn’t to have silly banter with some stranger he met in the parking lot. I regret asking the question instantly; his mood has changed so dramatically.
“I’m here to see my mom,” he explains, hands sliding into his pockets, that blue gaze pinned to his black leather biker boots. “If she remembers me today, anyway.”
“Oh,” I whisper. His mom is a resident here. Of course, why else would he be here? “Do you want me to sign you in at the front desk?” I ask him gently, waiting for him to look at me. When he does, I’m hit with all of his emotions full force.
His raw pain.
I’ve seen all of this before in the eyes of friends, and of family members of the residents here, but for some reason seeing it in his makes my chest go tight.
“I’m sorry,” I say to him, my voice full of sincerity.
And after what I see here, day after day, I mean it.
I am sorry.
Because there are no happy endings here.