As dreaded and anticipated, Nora had ended up accompanying Ryan home on the bus. As expected and dreaded, they had missed the 5:07 bus due to Ryan hanging around to chat with Randy and Jim outside the loading dock. Ryan seemed to think Jim’s motorcycle was the most amazing piece of machinery ever invented in the entire known universe, and Jim was delighted to go over every tiny sprocket and ball bearing with him until Ryan was fully versed in the bike’s anatomy. Randy got in on the excitement, too, inserting whatever little bits of knowledge he had previously gleaned from riding around with Jim all those times. It wasn’t until 5:27 that they were actually boarding the bus.
It turned out okay, actually, because with the sheer excitement of both his first hour with the old people of OG and the fascinating real-life tour of the many molecules making up Jim’s bike, Ryan had plenty to gush about all the way to their stop. Nora barely had to say anything. She told him the names of the old people as he described them, because for whatever reason he had trouble remembering their names even though they had undoubtedly introduced themselves to him; she didn’t know for certain because she was cleaning and dust mopping the staff bathroom and rear corridor respectively at the time. He also retold with amusement some of the stories Nora had gotten sick of in her first week.
“Can you believe that parrot?” For example. “That would be hilarious, don’t you think? ‘How’s the weather today?'”
“Fine weather we’re having,” Nora corrected him, and Ryan cracked up.
“And the Nesbit barn fire. Do you think it was actually a ghost and not a bat after all?”
“Could have been a ghost of one of the cats that died in the fire. I bet that old barn was filled with cats.”
By the time they finally got home, Nora was nearly tired of listening to Ryan gushing about how amusing and fascinating and wonderful all the old people were. But it was awfully cute seeing him so enthusiastic; she’d always assumed sk8r bois were always moody and filled with angst. That’s what you’d expect, anyway, from the way they dyed their hair moody colours and wore such angsty pre-faded and pre-ripped clothes. There were more layers to Ryan Calder, aka Cute Guy, than she had ever imagined.
When they reached the middle of the street between her house and his, Ryan turned to her.
Oh, God, he’s not going to try to kiss me, is he? Nora took a tiny step back.
Ryan grinned at her. “Thanks so much for getting me that job. I really did not want to do that whole volunteer thingy, but that’s actually fun, and it’s not like I actually have to do any work or anything!”
Nora nodded. She had to do work. Maybe that was why he was so enthused about the whole deal, while she still found it to be eight hours of irritating old people stories, five days a week. “No probs.”
“I totally thought I’d end up sorting bottles. You know who’s sorting bottles? You know Conner Blanketfield and James Sanders?”
“Oh my God, those two emo kids?”
“Yeah. They’re volunteering at the bottle sorting plant. It was the only thing left. Can you imagine, all those winos and house wives coming in with their shopping carts filled with stinky beer bottles? I went there with my mom like until I was twelve. I actually enjoyed it when I was, like, seven or something.”
“Gross,” said Nora.
“Yeah, so I can’t believe you saved my ass from sorting disgusting bottles for free for forty hours.” Ryan grinned.
“When’s your next, like, shift?”
“Thought I’d come check out gardening. And me and Randy were talking about maybe hosting a movie night in the TV lounge once a week. We could have popcorn…”
“Well, you have to be careful with snacks and stuff, because, dentures…”
“Yeah, but wouldn’t that be awesome? I could get half my hours just sitting around watching movies!”
Old people had such boring tastes in movies. Nora couldn’t imagine a worse way to spend an evening. “Yeah, like Casablanca,” she said.
Ryan’s eyes widened with excitement. “Yeah!”
Nora tried really hard to keep her eyeballs from rolling. Cute, but weird. “Okay, so, see you tomorrow?”
Great, so he was already starting to talk like Randy. She may have created a monster. Nora gave a quick smile and took off for her front door.
When she turned back and looked through the window, Ryan was still out there, joyfully riding his skateboard back and forth on their quiet suburban street. It occurred to Nora that the dark cloud that usually followed him around seemed to have dissipated. She smiled to herself and opened the cupboard to get out her daily dose of Ichiban noodles, but for some reason found her arm reaching for a tin of beans instead. What was she doing? Was Randy getting to her, too?
Nora changed her first set of sheets of the day in an envelope of depressed silence. Mr. Hoominz’s room was first, but he wasn’t his usual lively, storyful self. He just sat on his easy chair leaving through a crosswords puzzle book and sighing.
As Nora shoved the ‘dirty’ sheet into the hamper and flapped out the clean, lavender scented sheet, she said, “Everything okay, Mr. Hoominz?”
Mr. Hoominz’s head slowly swiveled towards her, and his eyes slowly focused on her face, as if he was just noticing for the first time that she was there, in his room, changing his sheets. He blinked slowly, then said, “Haven’t you heard?”
Nora shook her head. She had heard so much in the past month or so since starting work at Oleander Gardens. What was it this time? The gardening was being cancelled due to possible thundershowers? Mr. Greenfield had misplaced his blue reading glasses? The kitchen was out of Jell-o?
“Mrs. Reubens passed.”
Nora froze, in a hover over Mr. Hoominz’s bed, her arms spread across the sheet in either direction. “What?”
“In her sleep. Last night.” Heavy sigh.
“But…” This was actually really weird. Mrs. Reubens had been 100% healthy and cheerful since Nora had started at the home. The last couple of days she might have seemed a bit, a tiny bit, out of sorts. Possibly a bit slower paced and perhaps a bit of a lower voice. But not dying! “But, she seemed so healthy,” was all Nora could articulate.
Mr. Hoominz nodded drearily, still flipping through his crossword book.
It was a small place. There might have been twenty residents in total. And this was the third death in a month. Something actually wasn’t right, for real. And it didn’t take a psychic to see it.
Nora continued straightening and tucking in the sheet in silence. She wasn’t sure what to say. Before starting at Oleander Gardens, she had had zero experience with death. She’d never even had a pet die. She recalled a hospital scene in the last horror movie she’d watched. “I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Hoominz.”
The old man looked up at her and blinked tears away. He sniffled, nodded, and wiped his nose with the disgusting hankie from his inner jacket pocket.