Anna Shipley had often been told she was an old soul in a young body. And upon being admitted to the Golden Years nursing home at age nineteen, her first thought was that fate had an unusually twisted sense of humor.
Following that initial observation came a host of others, mostly of a grim and hopeless nature. She soon found existence easier if she avoided thinking and instead focused on small diversions. This morning she took an inordinate amount of pride in confirming that three hundred and seventy-eight tiles covered her gray ceiling, which she would have reported had anyone asked her.
“Her” ceiling was a relative term, for she had been shuffled into an out-of-the-way spare room while the nurses were manically sanitizing everything after last month’s influenza outbreak. I’m no different than the furniture.
The thought caused her mood to further deteriorate. Great. It’s barely past ten and I’m already indulging in self-pity. Pull yourself together, Shipley.
Resolutely she cast her eyes around the room and analyzed how to spend the rest of the morning. Her options were limited. Her gaze flickered to an ancient television in the corner of the room, then to the radio leagues away on a shelf. Limited. More like non-existent.
Maybe at length a nurse would stop by and ask if she’d like to listen to some music. Right. And maybe St. Galgani will appear and bequeath a miraculous gift of healing.
Resigning herself to an uneventful day destined to fade into the gray oblivion of the present, Anna closed her eyes, the last part of her body entirely under her control, and mentally wandered into the more colorful past.
When a teenager with untidy hair swung the door open hours later, Anna jumped—or rather, her eyes flew open and her pulse spiked.
The boy stared at her for a few seconds while she looked back with wide eyes.
“Hi,” he finally said. Then he promptly turned on his heels and left.
The boy—Liam, of course it was Liam—returned dragging a chair that screeched unhappily against the floor. After pushing a trolley of medical equipment out of the way, he deposited it beside her.
“It’s dark in here,” he remarked as he crossed the room and pulled the half-shut blinds open, revealing drifts of snow sparkling in the sunlight. The sudden barrage of noise and light was disorienting.
Liam plunked down in the chair. “So, how are you doing?”
Anna blinked at him.
“Good,” he continued. “I’m doing okay. Bruised my shin yesterday at hockey practice, but I’ll live.”
Before an awkward silence could stretch between them, he started rifling through his bag. “What are you listening to these days? Please tell me you’re not still stuck on your classical composers.”
Anna glared at him.
“Whoa. Sorry,” he said, pulling out his phone. “Touchy subject; I should have remembered. But I seem to be fresh out of Beethoven. Hope you don’t mind some Owl City.”
Anna didn’t. She enjoyed the melody of cascading techno notes that ebbed and flowed, accompanied by lyrical nonsense. She also enjoyed the way Liam’s waves of brown hair fell over his eyes as he nodded to the beat. He appeared to be making a valiant but largely unsuccessful attempt to grow a beard, she noted with amusement.
“There, a forty-minute playlist should be enough to keep us going. Unless the lady at the admissions desk takes a second look at the ID I gave her and realizes I’m not actually your brother and kicks me out.” He leaned back in the chair and laced his fingers together behind his head.
“So, I suppose I’ll give you the news now. I was talking with Taryn last night and your old theatre group’s doing a production of The Phantom this year, which is a recipe for disaster but not as much of a disaster as my hockey tournament last month. I’ve barely been able to practice since then because the huge dumping of snow we got closed all the schools in the lower mainland for a week, and you’re not going to believe this, but—”
Anna soaked in every word and followed as well as she could without asking any questions. She knew Liam was doing his best, but it was still maddening when he skipped all of the important details, like how Madelyn felt after being cast as Meg Giry instead of Christine, and what he planned to do with himself when he graduated in a few months, and why he had been chatting with Taryn outside of school at all.
Oh. Perhaps she hadn’t been paying as close attention as she thought. She blinked in response.
“Has your mom talked to you lately about moving you out of this place? Maybe someplace where everyone’s not your senior by a good half-century?”
She blinked twice.
“No? Has she talked to you at all lately?” he asked.
Again she blinked a negative. Her mother hadn’t visited since fall.
Liam hissed through his teeth. “I’m sorry; I’ve been such a jerk. I should have been here to see you more.”
Anna’s mind swarmed with protests. What are you talking about? You’re the only one who’s bothered to see me. Why do you keep coming back here anyway? You’ve got a life; you don’t need me in it any longer.
She squeezed her eyes shut. Fierce hatred of the outside world replaced her earlier starvation for a diversion. She wished Liam would go away and leave her to her tile counting.
“Anna. Anna. Hey. Look at me.”
No. Leave me alone.
Warmth spread across her wrist, and with shock she realized that Liam had put his hand there. Far more unexpected than the action was the fact she could feel the sensation, if not the pressure.
“Listen to me,” he said, looking at her intently. “I don’t know where you’ve gone inside that head of yours, but you need to come back. I’m going to get you out of here, okay? You’re still my Anna.”
Anna ought to have bristled with indignation. She didn’t recall consenting to be his Anna, either today or at any point in the past.
But perhaps, just this once, I don’t mind.
Adam Young still hummed in the background—something about hearts and compass needles. Or maybe this was the song about Seattle and albatrosses.
Liam’s hand remained on hers, his thumb softly tracing a half circle, his brow furrowed in contemplation. No doubt he was pondering the implications of his rash promise. Just moving a paraplegic out of bed could be an ordeal, let alone to another facility. She forgave him in advance if it didn’t work out. He was troubled out of concern for her, and today it was enough to see a caring face against the backdrop of the ceiling tiles.