Dorthea Sanborn stepped off the bus onto the sidewalk in front of a single-story brick building. Her body ached after spending the day loading parts of pressure cookers onto the never ending belt of an assembly line, a job she'd done for so many years that mindless didn't come close to describing her days. Having to suffer the crowded bus ride across town only added to her discomfort and she hated the thought of enduring another crowded ride back across town after she finished her business inside the building.
Once it had been a source of pride for the community of Rapid Falls; designed by a prominent architect and displaying the most modern of fixtures and furniture. The building's corners, as well as the door and windows, were framed by sandstone that had shimmered in the sunlight the day of its grand opening; the pale stone contrasting perfectly with the brick walls of a deep reddish shade. And every glass pane of every door and window had been polished until it sparkled.
But that was many years ago and the building, originally used for professional offices was now coming to the end of its days; as were its occupants. Yellow-green ivy, in various stages of life, clung to the structure's walls; its interlaced vines hiding the dilapidated condition of the bricks' crumbling mortar. Only a few of the windows had yet to be claimed by the ever creeping plant and those were dingy with years of undisturbed dirt and grime.
Dorthea sighed and shifted the heavy bag she held in her right hand to her left. With a groan, she started up the dozen broken concrete steps holding tight to the metal railing. At the top of the steps she paused to give her aching knees a moment to recover from the climb. Then she again shifted the heavy bag and walked toward the entrance of the nursing home.
“Afternoon, Miss Sanborn.”
Dorthea turned to see a man in his twenties awkwardly lugging an unwieldy ladder around the corner of the building. She smiled. “Good afternoon, Daniel. What are you battling today?” she asked the handyman who spent his days attempting to repair the building's endless problems.
Daniel waited to answer until after he managed to lean the ladder against the building beside the front door. Then he pointed over their heads where a wooden board hung precariously from two rusting chains, one side hanging lower than the other due to a screw being partially pulled out of the rotting wood. “That.”
Heavenly Nursing Home was painted in bold block letters across the top half of the board while The Path to the Golden Years was floating across the bottom half in a delicate script. When new, the sign with gold paint on a solid black background proudly decorated the entry. But now, with chipped and faded paint, it looked as weary as the rest of the building.
“Goodness, it's about time. I'm afraid to walk under it for fear it'll come crashing down on top of me.”
“You're not the only one. Mr. Galing has finally heard enough complaints. He wants me to paint the name on the brick. He said that can't fall on anyone.”
Dorthea studied the edifice above the doorway. “Unless one of those comes down.”
Daniel grinned. “Hush, those bricks are loose enough. Don't be giving any of them ideas.”
Dorthea laughed. “I'll leave you to your work.”
“Miss Faye is in a foul mood today,” Daniel warned as he pulled open the door to the lobby.
“When isn't she?” Dorthea said then nodded her thanks and walked inside.
“Good afternoon, Auntie.” Dorthea had pushed open the door to a small room. ‘ Daniel was right, she is in a foul mood today', she thought when her cheerful greeting was answered with a disdainful glare from the woman sitting in the room's single bed. “It's a nice day. Not that you could tell by what little light is coming through that window,” she commented as she walked further into the room. The bed took up a good portion of the floor leaving barely enough space for a straight-back chair next to the head of the bed, a chest of drawers pushed against the foot of the bed, and a dressing bureau under the window. She set her shopping bag down on the bureau. “I brought you some new slippers and a new nightgown and—”
“I told you not to be spending my money that way. And shut that door. You know I don't like them people staring at me.”
“No one is staring at you, Auntie.” ‘ I didn't spend any of your money, Auntie. Remember, you don't have any'. “And this room could use some fresh air.” She thought about trying to pry open the window but decided it would be a waste of effort just as all her previous attempts to free the window sealed shut by years of grime. Instead, she reached inside the shopping bag.
“What are you doing?”
“I'm going to hang your new gown in the closet,” Dorthea explained as she moved to the corner of the room where a small closet was located. She opened the closet door and pulled a misshapen wire hanger off the wooden rod inside. Slipping the nightgown onto the hanger, she did her best to smooth out the wrinkles before replacing the hanger back on the rod. Dorthea closed the door and turned to face the pair of suspicious eyes watching her. She moved to the side of the bed and leaned over to retrieve the pair of worn out slippers resting on the floor, tossing them into the waste basket beside the bureau. Then she dropped a new pair in their place. “I brought you some more magazines.”
“Let me see them.”
Dorthea picked up the shopping bag then, tilting it over, she let the magazines slide out onto the bed beside her aunt.
“These are old.”
“I know. But I've told you, Kim has to wait until they're going to be thrown out before she can bring them home.” Her aunt grunted as she rifled through the stack of magazines, many of their pages torn or missing. “I can't afford to buy them new.” Another grunt.
“Is this all you brought?”
Dorthea carefully folded the shopping bag. She sighed. “Yes.”
“Then don't keep standing there.”
“I thought you might want to go sit in the garden for a bit? It really is a nice day.”
“You thought wrong. Go on. Last thing I need is you standing over me like I owe you something.”
‘Oh, no, Auntie, I would never think that.' “All right. I'll be back next Friday. If you need anything before then, ask the nurses to call me.” Realizing she was not going to receive a response, Dorthea tucked the bag under her arm then walked out of the room. She ignored her aunt's shouts to pull the door shut as she headed down the long hallway in the direction of the lobby. “This place really does need a good airing out,” she muttered.
After the bus dropped her off at her stop, Dorthea walked the remaining three blocks to her apartment. The three-story faux-marble building was shaped like a squared-off C with a portico at the center of the main section and two wings jutting out at its sides. Impressive one-story high arched gateways nestled against each wing and an equally impressive wall stretched from one gateway to the other creating a central courtyard for manicured lawns and tended flowerbeds. The stone wall stood only half as high as the gateways to allow an unobstructed street view of the six plaster columns rising two-stories high and supporting the curved balcony above the building's entry. She pulled open the ornate cast iron gate and stepped into the courtyard.
From the twin gateways, cobblestone paths weaved around the flowerbeds to the portico, the only access in or out of the apartment building and Dorthea was careful not to catch a heel on the uneven walkway. She climbed the steps to the landing and paused in front of the row of mailboxes. She had to bend slightly to glance through the slot on the front of her assigned box. Seeing it was empty, she straightened and walked across the wide landing to the glass door. Once inside, she turned left crossing the small lobby and heading directly for her apartment.
Dorthea entered the apartment with a sigh then closed the door behind her and moved directly to the couch where she dropped onto the worn but comfortable cushions. She leaned back, resting her head on the back of the couch and closing her eyes.
“Visit with the dragon lady that bad?”
“Yes.” Dorthea felt the cushions shift as her roommate, Kimberly Chadwick, joined her. Best friends since they met on their first day of high school, Kim could easily read her moods.
“Here, this should help.”
Dorthea cracked one eye open. Kim was sitting on the edge of the couch holding a glass half full with an amber colored liquid.
“Go on, it won't hurt you,” Kim prodded.
“You know I don't drink, Kim.”
Kim sighed then settled back on the couch before taking a sip from the glass. “You should after putting up with the dragon lady all these years.”
“She's not that bad.”
“No? Then why do you drag yourself home every Friday night with your tail between your legs?”
“I'm tired. I've been on my feet since six this morning.” Dorthea lifted her feet off the floor to stretch her legs out on the coffee table. “And the bus ride to the nursing home and back doesn't' help,” she said, kicking her shoes off. “Damn, I wish they'd let us wear more comfortable shoes at work.”
Kim scooted into a more comfortable position. “What was her complaint today?”
“Same as always… Why am I spending her money for things she doesn't need.”
“I thought she had them call and tell you she needed a new nightgown and slippers.”
“She did. Oh, and the magazines were old.”
“What does she care? She hasn't left that room in over three years. Besides, she's lucky she gets them at all. If Kelvin wasn't a friend of mine, I'd have to fight the other secretaries for those old things. If only she knew—”
“She knows.” Dorthea took the glass from Kim's hand. Lifting it to her nose, she took a cautious sniff. “And Kelvin is an ex-beau who still has a crush on you.”
Dorthea took another whiff of the liquor. “Does it taste as bad as it smells?”
“Only one way to find out.” Kim watched expectedly as Dorthea placed the glass against her lips and tilted it just enough for a drop of brandy to touch them.
“Yuck.” Dorthea quickly handed the glass back to Kim.
“Can't say I haven't tried to convert you,” Kim said after taking another sip. “Why don't you take a shower and change? We'll go out for dinner and there's a new movie opening at the Roxy… Willow , just the kind of movie you like.”
“I thought you were going out tonight?”
“I am. But I'll call and tell him something came up.”
“No, you won't. And you shouldn't be drinking if you're going out.”
Kim reached to the end of the couch and set the glass of brandy on the end table. “You are such a stick in the mud sometimes.”
Dorthea grinned as Kim pouted. “Who's the lucky boy this time?”
“The one with the pointy head?”
“He does not have a pointy head,” Kim protested.
Dorthea laughed. “When he wears a hat, it spins like a top if the wind is blowing.”
Kim chuckled. “You are so bad,” she said, playfully slapping Dorthea's arm. “He says he has something special to discuss.”
“Uh oh. You know what that means.” Kim frowned. “What are you going to say?”
“I'm not sure.”
Dorthea twisted to face her best friend. “Why? You've been dating him for almost three years. You've never dated anyone that long.”
Kim shrugged. “It just doesn't feel right with him.”
“It didn't feel right with Thomas… or Arthur… or, what was his name?”
“Peter Alexander Irving Noster von Rumpart, the third,” Kim said with the most haughty tone she could muster.
Giggling, Dorthea collapsed back onto the couch. “Oh, that's right. Good ol' P.A.I.N. in the Rump. I really wanted you to say yes to him.”
“He had more name than sense,” Kim said throwing a pillow at her chuckling friend. “And he was sooooooo boring.”
“But you could have been Mrs. P.A.I.N. in the Rump.”
Kim laughed. “Oh, that would have looked good on the society page. Come on, let's make it a double date tonight? I know a guy at work who would be perfect for you.”
“Come on. We'll have some fun. You could use some.”
“Well, for one thing, you will most likely be proposed to tonight. I really doubt Robert will want anyone else around for that. And, for another, all I want to do is soak in a hot bath for the next couple of hours then crawl into bed and curl up with a good book.”
“There are better things to curl up with.”
“I know but the landlord won't let us have a dog.”
“That wasn't what I meant.”
Dorthea grinned. “I know. But tonight, a good book is all I want. So go, finish getting ready for your date. What time is Robert going to pick you up?”
Kim glanced across the room to the wall clock then she jumped to her feet. “Ten minutes ago,” she exclaimed. “Oh, damn.” The ringing doorbell jolted her into motion. “Be a dear and entertain him. I'll be ready in a jif,” she said disappearing into her bedroom.
Dorthea laughed and stood up. She walked to the door. “Good evening, Thomas,” she greeted Kim's suitor when she pulled the door open.
“She's not ready,” Thomas said matter-of-factly.
“She's being fashionably late this evening. Come on in. She shouldn't be long.”
After Kim and Thomas left, Dorthea sat on the couch, her eyes wandering aimlessly around the room. The apartment was rectangular in shape with a sitting room at its center. The kitchen and bath were at one end and the opposite end was split into two bedrooms. Located at the front end of one of the building's wings, the apartment had large windows on three of its sides that provided views of both the courtyard and the streets bordering the corner of the building. She smiled remembering the day Kim had come to her with the idea of them sharing the apartment. They were about to graduate from high school…
“You can't be serious. We still have a month of school left.”
“I am serious,” Kim insisted. “Look, you want to get out from under Dragon Lady and I want to get away from my…”
“Your dad …”
“Is a drunk and he beats my mom.”
“But how can we afford it?”
“I've saved enough from my summer jobs to pay the rent for a couple of months. After that, we'll pay with the jobs we plan to get as soon as we graduate.”
“I don't know. There's other things to consider—”
“We can do this. You already have a part-time job at the factory. I'm sure they'll be more than happy to hire you full time. And I have an interview next week.” Kim placed her hands on Dorthea's shoulders and gently squeezed them to emphasize her point. “Please. I need this,” she pleaded.
“But aren't we too young… I mean will they rent to us?”
“I already talked to the landlord. I told him about my dad. He said he'd give us a chance. That's all we need, Dorthea. Just a chance. Please, I can't spend another day living in the same house with him.”
Dorthea didn't have to see the desperation in Kim's eyes to understand the pain she carried in her heart. Slowly, she nodded. “Okay.”
“Okay. Let's do it.”
Kim smiled broadly.
Dorthea stood and walked into the bathroom. She bent over the tub, turning on the faucet before she undressed while the tub filled with warm water.
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