Nora spent the rest of the day with a fluttery feeling in her chest. Her hands and feet alternated between hot and cold each time she thought about talking to Cute Guy next. When would she even see him? If she sat outside her house after work waiting for him to go by, that would be totally stalkerish, but if she sat inside watching through the window for him to go in or out of his house and then popped out, that could also be kind of stalkerish. She suddenly realized that she should have asked for his Facebook or something. She didn’t know anyone from school who actually used Facebook, so if she had done that, it would have seemed totally lame, but she personally didn’t use Snapchat or Instagram or whatever the rest of the high-school sheep were currently using to show each other their coffees and comment on the Kardashian duck-face of the day, so there was really no way for her to exchange contact details with him.
It was really all she could think about as she went through her afternoon cleaning routine. The rule was that she had to help Lynette and Loretta clean up the kitchen immediately after lunch, but the rest of her afternoon routine was basically up to her, as long as she got everything cleaned. Loretta and Lynette generally left her alone with the dishes. Mrs. King was too cheap to buy a new industrial dishwasher and the old one had broken down so many times they’d eventually stopped bothering to repair it, so Nora had the unpleasant job of washing all the breakfast and lunch dishes by hand in the massively deep stainless steel sink using the long squirty shower head thingy, which was cool the first day and then became the bane of her existence as of the second day of her employ at Oleander Gardens. Unless someone was dead, cleaning the chapel and mortuary were her personal quiet times to reflect and think during the day, and to listen to music on her earphones. If she timed it just right, she could get to the games room and activity room just as the afternoon activities finished, and since there were never any visitors, the reception area was always quiet and deserted. So Nora was fortunate to be able to spend the entire afternoon going over and over these thoughts until she was completely overwhelmed and close to tears.
Her last chore of the day, before putting away her janitorial cart and going home, was sweeping up the back corridor. The two storage room doors and Mrs. King’s office door were always closed and locked and Nora had never seen inside the storage rooms. Occasionally, Mrs. King or one of her henchmen came in or out of her office, glared at Nora, and double checked that the door was locked. Ray and Ben each had large round keyrings on pull-out cables attached to their black leather security belts, and the many keys jingled like dog tags to warn when Ray, Ben, or both were approaching.
As she pushed the wide dust mop across the linoleum towards the wooden office door, Mrs. King suddenly emerged. She glared. “Hello, Nora.” Mrs. King pulled a key ring out of her purse. As she inserted a key into the deadbolt on the office door, Nora noticed that a car key and two other normal keys dangled from the ring along with a leather BMW key fob. Mrs. King turned the deadbolt until it chunked into place two times. She glared at Nora again as she dropped the keys into her purse and walked away down the carpeted hall towards Oleander Garden’s main door. “Are you just going to stand there watching, or are you going to finish the obviously strenuous job of pushing that mop up and down the hall?”
Nora felt her ears get hot as she did a 180-degree turn and continued back the way she’d come.
The cleaning cart, laundry cart, and other janitorial tools lived in the small laundry room at the kitchen end of the main corridor. As Nora emerged from replacing the mop, she had another fright. A small, hunched gnome wearing a floral dress and crocheted shawl had sneaked up and was peering at her through tiny eyes and big glasses.
“Hi, Mrs. Tillynaught,” Nora said as soon as she had recovered from the fright.
“How are you, dear? It looks like you’ve finished your chores.”
“Yep, all done for today.”
“So I take it you’ll be leaving now?”
“Yes, ma’am!” Nora tried not to sound too excited about leaving, since she knew Mrs. Tillynaught and the others were more or less prisoners at Oleander Gardens.
Mrs. Tillynaught glanced around and then whispered, “I wondered if I might have a moment of your time before you go?”
“S-s-sure, Mrs. Tillynaught.”
Mrs. Tillynaught turned on her pink-slippered feet. “Walk this way, please, dear.”
with a swish of her shawl, Mrs. Tillynaught turned and walked in a very adorable manner that Nora did not think she could duplicate down the main corridor to the games room.
Three other old people sat at a card table inside. They motioned to Mrs. Tillynaught and Nora as they entered. Mrs. Tillynaught closed the door behind herself and Mr. Greenfield stood up and pulled out a chair for Nora, and then went over to the wall and got another chair for Mrs. Tillynaught.
“Thank you,” said Mrs. Tillynaught, arranging herself in the white plastic seat.
All the old people looked at Nora in earnest.
Nora sat on the chair Mr. Greenfield offered her and looked around at each of them. At last, she was going to find out what the heck they wanted of her, and also postpone the problem of how to catch up with Cute Guy again without appearing like stalker.
“Thank you so much, Nora,” said Mrs. Balanafeel.
Mrs. Brackish took Nora’s hand in her two rough, knobby ones and said, “Yes, thank you, dear. You really have no idea how much this means to us.”
The other old people nodded.
Nora couldn’t stand it any longer. “Look, I think you’re all really nice people and I want to help you with… whatever, I really do. But I have no idea what’s going on. What do you actually want?”
The old people each looked at each other, and then they all turned to Mr. Greenfield.
Mrs. Brackish said, “Are you sure the coast is clear?”
Mr. Greenfield nodded. “I watched her pull out. And Tom is watching her parking spot, just in case.”
They were talking about Mrs. King. She was the only person who had not only a car, but a parking spot.
“And we’ve got this,” said Mr. Greenfield, indicating a Yahtzee pad and a handful of dice. “Just in case anyone wonders what we’re all doing in here.” He started ripping off Yahtzee score sheets and handing them out.
The old people had really thought this thing through.
Mrs. Brackish, still gripping Nora’s hand, leaned closer to Nora’s face and said, “Dear, we know you have the gift. And we have gathered here today to plead with you to please use your God-given gift to help us. You’re our only hope.” Mrs. Brackish’s little eyes, nearly hidden behind the droopy folds of eyelid surrounding them, searched pleadingly into Nora’s very soul.
“Yes,” added Mrs. Tillynaught. “We realize that you don’t like people to know about your special talent, and of course you don’t appreciate it being used in immoral or inappropriate ways, which is why you have not used it for personal gain yourself. But we are so hoping that in this case you’ll make an exception. We’ve all been suffering for so long here.”
Mr. Greenfield said, “It’s true, Nora. She has us under her thumb and we don’t trust anyone else.”
“We feel as though you’ve been sent to us for a reason,” said Mrs. Brackish.
Mrs. Balanafeel scooped up the dice and put them in the cup. She shook it and rolled them out. “I’ll go first.”
“I don’t know if I can help you, but I’ll try, I guess.” What else could she do?
“Ooh,” exclaimed Mrs. Balanafeel.
All the old people visibly relaxed, their shoulders slumping farther down than ever, except Mrs. Balanafeel, who had moved a pair of ones off to the side and was shaking the cup of dice again.