© Kelley Townley


First Day
I knew this was a bad idea. You’d have to be pretty dim to ever think it a good idea - yet my family does. They surround me now. Chattering and laughter as if this is some great family holiday. But there’s only one suitcase in the boot - mine. I sit on the back seat with my arms folded, gathering storm clouds, trying to make them feel guilty. Of course I don’t have to go. I could refuse. Scream and shout and stomp my feet. But that would be childish and apparently I’m old enough to know better. Too soon the car pulls up at my destination. I scowl out the window at the eccentric grey stone building. I’m not impressed, I’ve seen it before, but the younger ones are all wide-eyed. A rather tall, rather stern looking woman emerges from the grand entrance to welcome us. I should be more mature but instinctively hide behind my family. She seeks me out regardless. “You must be Olivia,” she says, voice like caster sugar, all floaty-light and sickening. She’s talking down to me, as if to a child. “Call me Libby,” I mumble. “Well, Libby. Welcome to St. Mary’s. I hope you’ll like it here.” I nod but don’t smile. Too early for smiles. She takes us upstairs to what is to be my new room. It’s pleasant enough. A little bare but nothing a few knick-knacks wouldn’t solve. I glance across the landing and into the room opposite. Unlike mine it looks well lived it. The rather tall, rather stern looking woman sees me looking and introduces me to Ann, its occupant, who smiles at me. A big smile. A smile filled with secrets and mischief. It’s a smile you can’t help but return. For the first time that day I feel a slight lift. My family don’t stay long. Whether they’re bored and just want to leave, or whether they truly believe it when they say, ‘We’d best leave you alone. Let you get settled in,’ I’m not sure. Either way they’ve gone and I’m alone. I sit on the edge of my new bed in my new room, with my hands in my lap, chewing my lower lip. What am I going to do here? There are classes of course, and activities. I’ve got a timetable right here. But I don’t want to look. Don't want to admit I’m here to stay.

“Hello,” says a voice. I turn to see Ann standing my new doorway. She’s dressed to the nines and wafts sweet perfume into my new room. “Oh, hello,” I reply. I try to think of something to say. Something clever so she’ll think I’m worth knowing. “Nice dress,” I manage. She dips her head impatiently. “You want a tour?” I nod eagerly. “Good. Grab your coat.” I wonder why I need my coat to wander around indoors but I’m eager to please and fling it on anyway. I have to rush to keep up with Ann’s confident strides and as we pass various doors and corridors she reels off names and places. “Mrs Merton’s Office. Nurse Hally’s room. Canteen. Laundry room. Ms Drake’s office - don’t ever go there.” I struggle to take it all in and then suddenly Ann is pushing through double doors marked ‘Emergency Exit Only’ and we’re outside. I gasp at her recklessness but she either doesn’t hear or ignores me. It’s late Autumn so everything is really pretty but it’s also getting cold. I’m glad I have my coat. “Where are we going now?” I ask. “The place to be,” she smiles mysteriously. We’re crossing grass, ignoring the footpaths, and heading towards what the signposts call ‘The Lake’. As we get closer I can see a grand white building, like a mausoleum, nestled at the edge of a vast expanse of water. And closer still I see people. Male and female. Nerves flutter. More new people to meet. “Hello everybody.” Ann announces our arrival. “This is Libby. She’s new.” I blush and people nod, raise a hand or smile. There must be around twenty of them, just sitting back and relaxing. There are benches and people sit and chat or drink or smoke. I shift nervously. This is not my usual scene. Ann takes me by the arm and pulls me over to a bench where two people are already sat. “This is Gregory,” she purrs, wrapping herself around a well-dressed chap. He slips an easy arm around her waist. “Oh,” I say, unsure how to react to such a public display of affection. She points across the bench. “And this is Rob. You can sit next to him.” I realise I’ve been keeping my head down and look up to see Rob for the first time.

I’m shocked at my reaction. My heart begins to flutter. He’s well tanned with laughter lines. Sparkling eyes and a strong jaw line. But if I think I’m smitten now, it’s nothing like how I feel when he smiles at me. Such as easy smile. He moves so I can sit. He’s smoking a long brown cigarette which I eye curiously. “Do you want one?” he asks. “Oh, no. No, thank you. I don’t smoke.” “Good for you,” smiles Ann, still locked in Gregory’s embrace. “I gave up last year.” “Oh, I’ve never smoked,” I smile shyly. Rob looks at me. A flash of disbelief. I feel stupid. I shouldn’t have said that. Now they all think I’m some goody-two-shoes. “I drink though,” I add and realise that makes me sound even stupider, desperate. I was not making a great first impression. “Good,” is all Gregory says before producing a hip flash and taking a healthy swig. Ann frowns then snatches the silver trinket out of his hand, only to take a swig herself. Gregory tries to take it back and they paw at each other. I turn away embarrassed and find myself staring at Rob. “So, where do you come from?” he asks. My instinct is to answer the question with a single word. The minimum requirement. But it’s not the answer he’s interested in. It’s just something to get the conversation going and I’m useless at small talk. Besides I really don’t want to end up talking about my family. “Lanmouth.” I answer then quickly add, “If you were a colour of the rainbow what color would you be?” He laughs. A good, deep down, hearty laugh. “Red.” “Why?” I smile. “It’s the colour of action, energy and passion.” He winks. I feel the said colour rising to my cheeks. “What about you?” he asks “Orange. Because it’s happy and vibrant but not too intense.” “And it’s also right next to red,” he smiles. “I’d be violet,” says Ann and I suddenly notice her and Gregory taking a very keen interest in our conversation. Ann has a devilish glint in her eye, like a small child who’s spotted some unsupervised chocolate. “I would be grey,” declares Gregory. “That’s not in the rainbow, you daft old...” Ann is stopped by Gregory tickling her and my sigh coincides with Rob’s.

“Are they always like this?” I ask. He nods wearily. “Normally they’re worse. They’re being reserved in new company.” “Let’s all go down to the lake,” Gregory says getting to his feet. Ann eagerly follows, giggling. “You want to see the lake?” Rob asks me. I smile naughtily and nod. It’s only a lake but somehow it feels exotic and exciting. He takes my hand and we hurry downhill. I even laugh out loud, and it’s a long time since that happened. When we reach the water’s edge we see Ann and Gregory in the distance. “Better leave the two love birds alone for a minute,” he suggests. “Beautiful,” I remark staring out at the pristine surface, only broken by the occasional swan. “I agree.” I turn and he’s looking straight at me. I don’t think anyone has ever made me feel quite the way he made me feel in that instant, a combination of hope and gratitude, tinged with immediacy. We look into each other’s eyes and it suddenly becomes too intense. I look away. “Do you believe in love at first sight?” he asks. I laugh. “We’re a little bit too old to believe in fairy tales, aren’t we?” He looks hurt. “Seriously. Even though we’ve just met I feel... something.” I look doubtful. “You’re just trying to be smooth and I’m not falling for it.” Suddenly he’s kissing me. His hands have slipped behind my back and brought me to him in a delicate embrace. My eyes widen in shock, then close as I wrap my arms around him, feeling it too. “Okay, break it up.” We turn to see Ann beam at us. “Christ, Rob. You are fast,” Gregory says taking another swig from his flask. In the distance a bell rings. “Dinner bell,” Ann explains as she links arms with me. “If you’re late they make you miss pudding.” I look up at the eccentric grey stone building that is St. Mary’s Nursing Home. Ann on one side, Rob and Gregory on the other, and sigh happily. “I think I’m going to like it here after all.” Ann nods. “It’s like a second childhood.”

~ End ~

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