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I know I’m dreaming. Of course I’m dreaming, because in my real life Edward Cullen is only a book character. And since he’s only a book character, he can’t stand in front of me and ask me to spend the rest of my life with him. So the fact that he’s in the same room as I am, waiting for my answer, means this isn’t real. Darn.
I gaze wistfully at his sparkly skin and golden eyes, and just as I open my mouth to tell him that even though this is a dream, I’d love to stay with him forever—
—my alarm clock gleefully shrieks that it’s time to get up and face the world. Eyes still closed, I groan, then roll over and smack the snooze button, stealing a few more precious moments. Who invented alarm clocks, really? What sick freak decided to ruin the “oh, I guess I didn’t hear the rooster crowing” excuse for sleeping in? Maybe there’s a circle of hell for people like him. ‘Cause heaven knows he deserves to be there.
When my alarm clock goes off again, I throw off my covers and stumble out of bed, pausing only to pull my hair into a ponytail. I have to be somewhere on time, I know, or I wouldn’t have bothered setting my clock on a summer morning.
Where’s that? I think, trying to remember why I set my clock in the first place. Then, halfway to my bathroom, I remember. Shoot! I’m working today. And I’m going to be late.
Twenty minutes later, and I’ve pulled into the parking lot of Sunshine Nursing Home. Grabbing my keys, shoving my cell phone into the back pocket of my shorts, I sprint across the cracked blacktop, past the slightly weedy flowerbeds, towards the bright red door that will lead me to the lobby.
It’s interesting how after you’ve come to or seen a place long enough, you get accustomed to whatever quirks it has. Quirks like overgrown grass and plastic pink flamingos jammed into the ground. Oddities like a sidewalk covered in rainbow and flower motifs, a holdover from the old days when the building that’s now Sunshine Nursing Home was a hangout for hippies and war-hating pot heads.
And sure, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But to me, Sunshine is kind of idyllic looking, especially when you don’t look too hard at the house’s peeling white paint and slightly sagging roof. Sunshine might be an oddball of a place, but it’s mine.
Thankfully, the lobby’s empty when I burst inside. Taking a right, I peer down the hallway before hurrying along, keeping an eye out for all authority figures likely to reprimand me for being late. What they don’t know, wont hurt them, will it?
I’ve nearly tiptoed my way into a hallway that leads to the staff room when, from behind me, I hear my name. Actually, it’s more like a bark that sort of sounds like my name. Guess who’s just been busted?
Pasting a smile onto my face, I turn around to find Carla, our employee manager, glowering like she just caught me stomping on a hamster. Yikes. I can tell she’s agitated, because her pony tail is bouncing up-and-down, hard enough so that it looks like it’s in danger of being launched into orbit somewhere out in space.
Walking with her was a good looking guy my age who’s name I didn’t know. He’s smirking, like he’s anticipating something—like Carla chewing me out. Jerk. I sigh. Why is it that the cute ones are always such tools?
My attention snaps back to Carla when she starts talking again.
“Jane! Are you aware that work starts at 6:45 every morning?” That’s how Carla talks. Everything she says is stressed, really, really hard.
“Umm. . . yes?” There. That’s ambiguous.
“Then how do you account for the fact that you didn’t arrive until 7:30?” I wonder what kind of health benefits drill sergeants get. I should look into that for Carla.
Oh. She needs an answer, one that preferably doesn’t end with me being fired. What to do?
“Umm. . . well, you see. . . my dog died,” I blurt really fast and then look down. And then I cringe on the inside. What if I just cursed myself and my still-living dog? I’m a terrible person.
There’s silence, and then I hear a what sounds like a laugh/choking sound from the direction of the guy. I look up, first at Carla. Her eyes are bulging in her skull. She looks like she’s horrified, and ashamed. Did she buy my lie?
“I am so sorry! You have my very sincerest condolences!” she chokes out. "Don’t worry about being late. You poor thing!”
Wow. She really believed me. I try to feel guilty instead of pleased-at-not-getting-in-trouble plus guilty.
“Thank you very much,” I say sadly, sounding every inch the doleful mourner. “I’m sure my dog Rocky appreciates—or would have appreciated—your condolences, too.”
Eyes watering, she nods and then sniffs once before turning to leave. Then she turns around.
“Oh. This is Anthony,” she mumbles, gesturing to the guy. His face is turning red, and his cheeks are twitching like he’s having trouble controlling his facial expression. She continues, “He’s a new employee. I want you to show him the ropes.”
I nod, and then she turns around and leaves for real. Anthony and I watch her as she rounds the corner. When she’s gone, he turns to look at me. And he’s grinning really hard.
“So your dog died?” he asks, sotto voice. “Please, accept my deepest apologies on the loss of your beloved Rocky.” And then he snickers. I feel myself blush. He knows.
“Shut up,” I mutter irritably. I shoot him a dark look. How dare he enter my territory and make fun of me?
Stupid boy, I think. And then, I don’t like him. Even if is hair is really shiny. And I walk off in the direction of the workroom, leaving him in my dust.
I heard his foot steps on the carpet as he hustles to catch up with me, slowed by the greetings of Sunshine residents who I’d already handled with a quick “Hello” and a smile. I’m walking quickly now, and with my stride, I doubt he’ll catch me.
For a moment, I’m smug. There are advantages to being tall, one of which is being able to outdistance people quickly. I sigh, happy at the thought.
But all too soon he catches up, forcing us to walk two abreast. Turns out, I have to lengthen my stride to keep up with him. I look over at him, and my worst suspicions are confirmed. He’s taller than me.
That pretty much scratches all future possibilities of leaving him in my dust. Great.
Joke: What’s worse than a jerk you can’t out run?
Punch line: Nothing.
Feeling my eyes on him, Anthony turns his head to look at me. “Where are we going?” he asks.
I couldn’t help myself. Really. I didn’t mean to be snotty (okay, so maybe I did). It just kind of came out.
“Don’t include me in your first person plural pronoun. There is no we. I’m going to the staff room, where I’m going to give you to someone else for training.”
He didn’t even have the grace not to laugh.
“Good luck with that,” he said. Muttering under my breath, I walked into the staff room.
Fifteen minutes later, I blew right back out, Anthony still shadowing me. Apparently, when the higher ups make a decision, it sticks.
“So what now?” he asked my back, pretty much taking the words right out of my mouth. I’d been thinking the same thing, though in truth, I already knew what I had to do. I rolled my eyes. I hate having to make mature decisions.
“Okay,” I said, turning to face him. Horror of horrors, I actually had to look up to see him, an entirely new sensation for little ol’ 5’’ 10’’ me. Ugh. I hate feeling short, I thought sullenly.
I continued, “I think you’re irritating, but it looks like we’re stuck together. So I’m just going to do what I normally do, and you can help or watch or something.” Yes, I’m quite the diplomat.
He smirked, his dark hair falling into his eyes.
“Fine. I just hope you teach better than you lie,” he quipped, looking very pleased with himself for thinking of such a clever little retort.
My eyes narrowed. I guess I looked pissed because he backpedaled.
“Alright, alright,” he said, putting up his arms in a show of surrender. “Lead on.”
So I did.
I greet the ladies ringed around Table 1 in the dining room.
“Hello ladies,” I chirp, “and how are we today?” I’m answered with melodic, frail-voiced choruses of “quite well, thank you” and “just marvelous, sugar,” but their attention isn’t on me. Instead, the women are nudging each other and pointing to Anthony. He gifts them with an obviously practiced-in-the-mirror lady killer grin.
Amid the giggling and eye batting that fills the next several moments, one voice calls out, “Jane-dear, tells us who your friend is. The girls and I are dying for an introduction!”
The speaker is Mrs. O’Brien, who once upon a time was reputed to be quite the diva. She’s holding court on the far end of the table, snazzily dressed in a pink silk pantsuit. Who says only the young can flirt?
I bite back a grin and lead Anthony over to where she’s sitting.
“Mrs. O’Brien, meet Anthony. Anthony, Mrs. O’Brien,” I say. Mrs. O’Brien, man-eater that she is, holds out her hand. “Charmed,” she drawls, looking expectantly at him. He doesn’t disappoint. With true Fred Astaire style, Anthony bows and accepts the proffered hand.
“No, ma’am. I’m charmed,” he replies. Mrs. O’Brien’s tinkling laugh can hardly be heard over the din that has just erupted from the female residents in the room.
“Jane-girl, you’ve got yourself a mighty fine boy here,” Mrs. O’Brien informs me. “You’d better treat him good, you hear?”
What? I think. Yeah, not so much. Maybe when the Apocalypse arrives, I add in my head.
Of course, even as I’m thinking that, I’m also attempting to ignore the contrary little voice in my head. You know, the one that’s going “he is rather cute.”
It’s irritating to know just how shallow I really am.
In the meanwhile, Anthony has started laughing at my silence (or maybe my facial expression). The room joins in, too, because they think they have me figured.
Later, we play Scrabble in the game room. When the residents tire of that, I’m recruited as player number two for sports games on the Wii. FYI: there is no shame in losing a Wii boxing match to an 84-year-old with arthritis. It happens to the best of us. Besides, Mr. Johansson is vicious.
The last thing to happen before I go home comes, not really as a surprise, but unexpectedly.
Anthony and I are making the rounds late that evening, helping residents settle into their preferred spots for the daily after-dinner movie. Tonight they’re watching “Rush Hour” with Chris Tucker. Go figure.
Anyway, we’ve just negotiated a compromise between two Sunshine residents wanting to sit in the same chair, when we hear a blood-curdling shriek tear the air. I jump, and instinctively clench my fists into a ball. Everyone else jumps, too.
Next to me, Anthony looks freaked out.
“What the hell was that?” he hisses, already moving for the door that leads to the hallway. Anthony spies me, then takes off down the hall toward the sound. I follow. What else is there to do?
We slow when we see a gaggle of people clustered around the doorway of a resident’s room. I only catch snippets of the conversations, something about a woman with a knitting needle who thinks she’s some book character.
Whoever’s been screaming obviously has a pair of lungs on her, because it comes again, drowning the other voices in a lung tearing sound of female effort. I elbow my way through the congestion just in time to see the house nurse wrest the knitting needle away from a tiny woman who can’t be more than 85 pounds soaking wet. She’s clutching a scrap of knitting, waving it wildly. For such an itty-bitty thing, she seems to be giving the nurse an awfully good run for her money.
“—you stupid English woman, my name isn’t Southcott,” she spits out the name like it’s something disgusting, “it’s Defarge, Defarge I tell you! You’ll go to the guillotine for this, the guillotine—”
That’s the last thing any of us hear, because another nurse, Bonnie, arrives and quickly closes the door.
“Alright, move it along people. Nothing to see here, go do what you’re getting paid to do,” she says in her brisk, authoritarian nurse-voice.
Anthony looks at me as we straggle away from the room. I can still hear muffled bumps and thuds through the door. “Umm,” I say, smiling brightly, “Welcome to the Sunshine Nursing Home family.”
And he doesn’t make a single smart-alecky reply.
The next several days are busy. I show Anthony how to dispense vitamins, give him the 411 on each resident, and generally just help him learn his way around Sunshine. I could cheerfully strangle him at least twice every day, but life is what it is huh?
That Southcott woman ended up being okay, and the Sunshine administrators have banned knitting needles until further notice, because apparently “she could have really hurt someone.” Riiiiight.
It seems I didn’t curse myself and my dog, since he’s still alive and kicking. It’s funny, but I never knew how much relief a person could get from having their dog do regular dog-things, and not die. Let me tell you, it’s huge.
Carla’s planning on letting Anthony work by himself sometime soon. I guess I am a better teacher than I am liar, since he doesn’t need a guide anymore. But I can’t be that bad of a liar since Carla still doesn’t suspect a thing. So maybe I’m just really good at both.
Anthony’s grandfather came along with him to work one day for the express purpose of meeting Mrs. O’Brien. They’re dating now. And because of that, she has, and I quote, “turned over all rights to the darling boy” and put them into my hands for “safe keeping.” That’s what she said. I swear.
So. How am I? I don’t know. Work is good, and I still have a couple weeks of summer vacation left to enjoy until—. Ugh. School. Let’s not think about that right now. So what else is left?
Okay. No one has to tell me that it’d be ridiculously cliché if I ended up falling for Anthony. I already know, and I don’t have any intention of being one of those stupid kind of girls. So, fingers crossed that it doesn’t happen.
I have to say, though, if the fact that Edward Cullen has been replaced in my dreams is any indication of what’s to come, well things don’t look good.
But whatever. We’ll see. And whatever happens, I’ll always have Sunshine.