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Her socks didn't match. Well, technically speaking, they did. They were the same color, the same texture, and had the same pink flower on the side. Willa noted though, that the left sock seemed to have lost its elasticity so it now slouched lazily around her ankle. The right sock, however, remained proudly extended midway up her calf, laughing at the left. They didn't match. Willa sighed and tugged on the sock half-heartedly hoping it might stay up. She didn't do well with being patient. A dramatic sigh left her mouth again as she began swinging her little legs from the edge of the bench. The sock slid down to her ankle again. "Where is Graham?" Willa thought to herself. They met every Wednesday afternoon at Winn Dixie to pick out candy. Three-thirty. Every Wednesday. Willa sighed for the third time. It was three-forty-five. Graham must have lost track of time. Willa decided to head into the store to talk to the manager, Frank.
Frank was a great man. He was in his mid-thirties, and always wore gray Nikes with a white logo on the side. Willa wanted a pair of Nikes, then, maybe she could catch those seagulls she was always chasing after. Graham had a pair of Nikes too, she was extremely envious. Willa wandered up to the service counter behind which Frank stood.
"Frank, have you ever caught a seagull?" She asked him quite loudly.
"Well, hello Miss Willa. I can't say that I have. How are you today?" Frank answered.
Willa didn't appear to have heard the question. She was staring at her white shoes with the Velcro straps. She didn't understand why she had to wear these shoes. She could tie her shoes perfectly fine. Well, at least she could figure it out. Perhaps. Willa thought hard. She remembered something about bunny ears.
"Willa?" Frank leaned in and asked a little louder.
"Yes?" Willa responded. She realized Frank must have just asked her something. She hadn't heard what he said. It was a problem she knew she had, but she was constantly denying it. Instead she just ended up asking everyone to repeat themselves a lot.
"How are you today?"
"Oh, just fine. Graham's late though." She pointed out.
"Do you want to sit behind the counter with me and wait for Graham?" Frank offered.
"No, he's late. I'll just start without him," Willa declared.
Willa wandered over to the candy aisle and started admiring the countless choices of confections to choose from. She went through stages of favoring different candies. This week she was into fruity candies, especially Mike n' Ikes. She also couldn't deny the brilliance behind the simplicity of Skittles. What was that saying they had? Oh, yes. Taste the Rainbow.
She loved rainbows. So did Graham. This one time they had sat on the dock after one of those amazing summer rainstorms just to look for the perfect rainbow. Sure enough, it had shown up. It stretched across the horizon in a grand arch. A real rainbow – not one of those half rainbows that led to no where. She and Graham had toyed with the idea of stealing a rowboat and going after the pot of gold that was surely floating in a magical raft at the end.
Over the last two years or so, Willa and Graham had become, well, best friends you might say. Though she'd never admit it. She wasn't the sentimental type. A day rarely went by when they didn't see each other, though. It was Winn Dixie on Wednesday, Go Fish or Uno on Thursday, and the pool on Saturday – if it was warm, that is. The rest of their days were spent scavenging for shells on the beach. They also talked about important issues like the pros and cons of crunchy versus smooth peanut butter and whether Calvin and Hobbes or Zits was better. Graham like smooth, Willa liked crunchy, but they both agreed Calvin and Hobbes far surpassed Zits. They just didn't get Zits at all.
Willa looked up and saw some lady standing near her with a cart. She smiled to herself. Graham and Willa liked to play pranks. Sometimes, for example, they would go down the aisles and pretend to be deeply immersed in shopping for candy and inflatable pool toys. They would then sneak up on some unsuspecting person, commandeer their cart and begin quickly walking away. Then they would fill the cart with Depends and condoms. The owner of the cart, once they realized it was missing would come looking for it, or sometimes Frank caught them first. They would always act terribly embarrassed and apologize profusely, insisting they just gotten confused. At this point the people usually muttered something and walked away, eying them, not completely believing their story. When Frank caught them stealing carts or engaging in other mischievous conduct he would then return the cart to their owner and console the disgruntled patron. Then he would bring them up to the service counter to reprimand them. Frank's lip was always twitching when he was chastising them, which led Willa to suspect that he thought their shenanigans were much funnier than he let on. Willa also suspected his life would be much less exciting without them. Though, Willa liked to think that of most people. Frank had threatened to send them home on more than one occasion. Even with their Tom Foolery though, Frank still insisted that they were his favorite costumers. He really was one of a kind.
She had asked Frank once what he was going to do after working at Winn Dixie. Frank told her that he hadn't much thought about it. Apparently, Winn Dixie had great health benefits. Willa pictured Frank as an old man, cane in hand, still in his little red vest with the white check on the back. It just didn't seem right.
Frank was sitting up at the counter, dealing with some inventory issues when he got a call over his walkie talkie from Chuck who collected the shopping carts outside.
"Hey, Frank, I think you should call an ambulance."
Frank picked up his walkie talkie, "Why, what happened?"
"There's some old guy out here on the sidewalk. I think he's dead."
Frank lowered the walkie talkie.
"Frank? Did you hear me?"
"What type of shoes is he wearing?"
"Nikes. What does that have anything to do with?"
"How sure are you that he's dead?"
"Pretty positive, I mean, well, he looks dead."
Frank felt like there was lump in his throat.
"I'll make the call."
"Then can you come out here? I mean, I watch CSI and all, but this guys is creeping me out."
"I have to tell Willa first, she's in the candy aisle. She's been expecting him."
"What? Is his granddaughter in their waiting for him? That sucks, man."
"No, his friend Willa, she's eighty-one, they both live at the nursing home down the street. Well, I guess just she does now. I need to go find her."
Willa was still staring at the candy when he found her. She looked up at him as he approached.
"Something's wrong." It wasn't a question.
"Yes, Willa. Graham is out front. He's dead."
Willa's thoughts were racing as she walked though the automatic doors. Graham. Dead? It didn't seem possible. He was so young.
He was eighty-three?
But he seemed so young. Full of life. Always making her laugh. She missed him already. Willa was choking back the tears as she saw her friend sprawled out across the sidewalk. He was lying right next to one of those Dumbo rides, the one where you put a quarter in and then it rocks back and forth. Willa slowly walked over to him and bent down. Oh, Graham. She was all alone in the world now as far as she was concerned. She had family left of course. Her children came to see her, but their visits were less than stimulating. She just couldn't believe it. She starred down as his face. He looked so peaceful. His eyes were closed, he lips curved slightly into a smile, almost as if he had some private joke he wasn't sharing…
Wait. Did his lip just move? She looked a little closer. It moved again, ever so slightly.
"He moved." Willa said.
"I read about that," Chuck said proudly. "Apparently, dead people still have like, what'd you call them, reflex responses or something."
Willa wasn't buying it. She stood up and gave him a swift kick in the side with her white, Velcro-strapped orthopedic shoes.
"Stop faking, ya old fart," she said to everyone's surprise, "I've been waiting for half an hour. I've got to pee and you know how I hate using public bathrooms."
Graham suddenly opened his eyes.
"That's you're fault, you should have gone before you left."
Frank turned towards Chuck.
"You didn't even check his pulse?"He asked in disbelief.
"He looked dead enough. I – I told you, he gave me the willies laying there all still. I didn't want to touch him, it could have been one of those rare infectious diseases. Like the plague or something"
Graham got up to his feet and pulled himself together.
"I didn't believe it for a second," Willa announced.
"Liar," Graham responded. "I had you going, you nearly started crying. I knew you had a sentimental side. You should have known better though, I've got another twenty years left in me. You know my goal in life is to get on the Good Morning, America Smucker's birthday announcements. 'Graham Stevens turns a hundred and two today!'"
"I wasn't going to cry. I was in deep contemplation," Willa said. "I was mentally trying to work the phrase 'erectile dysfunction' into your eulogy."
"Right. Well, let's get you back to the home before your bladder explodes, you old softy. After that I'll challenge you to a game of Jenga."
Graham and Willa turned and began walking across the parking lot. Frank watched in disbelief as Willa put her arm around her old friend.
Then the ambulance showed up.
"How am I going to explain this to them?" he asked Chuck with amusement.