In which only the weak get lonely.
Oso was in a deep, dreamless sleep when she woke him. She had done that one other time, when her pain was so intense she needed to be talked through it until her pain meds kicked in. He’d wrapped her up in a hug and fallen back to sleep while she talked; there was nothing sexually intimate in their relationship after all these years, but she was a human being, after all. And he had lost his wife. It felt nice to hold someone. He pushed back the blankets, inviting her in.
But this time, she appeared to be in another kind of panic altogether. Or what passed for panic in a woman like her. He glanced at his clock. It was almost dawn, and, therefore, nearly time for him to arise and perform the calisthenics that kept his old body moving.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “I was wandering around, and I heard your phone ringing.”
“What were you doing in my study?” It was the one room she wasn’t allowed to be in, unless it was to bring him a tray of coffee and food.
“You left it in the library.”
Most likely, she was lying, but he let it pass. He never left his phone in the library, as he never took it there in the first place. “Is that why you woke me? To tell me my phone was ringing?”
“I answered it.”
“My private phone? The one you’re not allowed to answer?”
“I figured it had to be an emergency at this hour. Especially since it was your granddaughter on the ID, and her face looked pale and awful.” She cast down her eyes, humbled. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.”
“Was it an emergency? I assume it was, or you wouldn’t be shaking me awake. I had a late night last night.”
“I know. I know. I’m sorry, Oso.”
She made him impatient. Of course, Bernadette had, too. “Just get to the point,” he snapped.
“She asked me who I was.”
He swung his feet over the side of the bed, and she handed him his cane. “That’s your emergency?”
“That wasn’t all she said. She was doing research for the biography, and she found a wedding picture of Gilly and me. She knows. If you don’t stop her, she’ll put it in the book.”
“I find myself not caring if she puts it in the book. But if it matters that much to you, I’ll make sure she doesn’t. Also, rest easy. She doesn’t know, or she wouldn’t be asking. This is how journalists trap you. They’re like cops. They make you think they already know the truth.”
“Your granddaughter would do that?”
Oso snorted. “She’s a journalist, isn’t she? Now leave me be while I exercise.”
“Isn’t it a little early for you to be up exercising?”
Her question didn’t deserve an answer, and so he gave her a long stare down until she retreated from the room. Once dressed in his sweat pants and jacket, he drank his usual energy beverage composed of raw eggs, mixed vegetable juices, and Tabasco. His morning exercise was done out of doors unless there was a crust of snow and ice on the ground, in which case, he used his sunroom. At his age, he had to worry a little about slipping and falling. Old people were always breaking their hips, and that was the end to their active lifestyles. Being spring, it was chilly, but not freezing, and he embraced the morning air with exuberance, his ear searching for the sound of cooing doves.
The sun was rising, the air was clean, and the world was not going to end today simply because his granddaughter had decided to conduct her own research. Of course she conducted her own research. What kind of journalist would she be if she relied solely on his and Gilly’s stories? He stretched upward and proceeded to move through a flowing series of Tai Chi poses.
No, he was not concerned in the least. After she discovered the truth, assuming she hadn’t already, he would command her to leave Cameron out of it. She could choose not to listen, but then he could choose not to put his stamp of approval of it as the official biography. Not that anyone would care.
It was the principal of the matter. It always was.
And at that thought, he lost his balance and landed on his ass. For a moment, he wasn’t sure he could get up. His heart pounded in his chest, his jaw ached, and his head hurt. He breathed in and out, meditating on nothing but the clear air of morning. Soon, the moment passed. He knew he could manage to push himself up, but at what cost?
He pressed the paging button on the fob in his pocket and waited for Cameron to rescue him. This was what life came to: needing an old woman to bring him his cane and a hand up.
“Oso! What happened? You have to stop this early morning exertion.”
“I have flat feet and bad balance. Just give me a hand up, will you?”
“And then walk with me to my study and leave me be. Make sure Devon doesn’t disturb me. I’m going to make a recording for Stephanie with the end of my story. Make sure she gets it if something happens to me.”
Her gray eyes stared coldly at his face. Did he detect a hint of desperation, or maybe even sadness? “What do you expect to happen?”
“I’m tired. My doctor’s been warning me about my blood pressure. I expect to have a heart attack, to be frank with you.”
“Thank you. I appreciate your frankness.”
She turned quickly away, but not quickly enough. Oso had a sixth sense for others’ primal emotions, and she was experiencing fear in its most basic form. The cloud of fear emanated from her body.
“I’ll make sure you’re cared for after I’m gone,” he reassured her.
“I have money, Oso,” she said. “I have savings and a retirement account. When I saw your advertisement in the paper for a personal assistant, I didn’t inquire about it because I needed the money. I was lonely and needed a friend.”
He almost laughed at the irony—but then reminded himself that life was too short for irony. Why give the woman more pain to endure? So she was her own self-fulfilling prophecy. Most people were.
Instead, he smiled and took her hand. “I’m not dead yet. And neither is Gillilander.”
“Gillilander.” She cocked her head, as if he was an idea to ruminate over. “I suppose he might accept me if I made his tea properly.”
She tugged her hand from his, and her demeanor settled back into its steady, unemotional frame. “I’ll let you get your work done.”
“Yes, bring me a pot of coffee and a pitcher of water. I’ll be dictating for a while.”
She nodded, dressed to the nines as always, her heels click-clacking down the hallway.