I hated Saturdays.
Most people tended to disagree, but I was the one who had to wake up at six and get ready for my volunteering shift. Now I know what you're thinking – but honestly, I had my reasons. Every Saturday I would slip on my khakis and white shirt, and drive to the hospital in my shabby car. I'd paste a smile on my face as I greeted the security guards, and sign my name in loopy handwriting. Then Elisa would come up to me and tell me to deliver trays, and I'd nod as if I cared, before rolling my eyes when she left. I know it wasn't such a big deal, serving the community and all, but I really hated it.
Two years ago, Elisa had sent me up to deliver my first tray. Now I was as nervous as ever, because I was probably one of the most anti-social girls in school. I awkwardly held the tray and tried to locate 359A without looking like a dweeb. I finally found it, and tried to smooth out the wrinkles in my shirt, while balancing the tray on one hand. When I entered, I hesitantly smiled at the old man who was lying down. Either he didn't see the smile, or he refused to respond.
"I have breakfast," I said stupidly, staring at him, his dark skin muddled with creases and bumps.
I set the tray down, trying to fix the table connected to his bed. Unfortunately, Elisa had never told me how to work the damn thing. So I stood there for about five minutes, trying to move the thing so this elderly man could eat his breakfast. He just sat there, his probing stare unnerving, and I felt so nervous that I stopped and shakily walked back. "Um… well have a nice day!" I tried to scamper out of there, but he stopped me.
"Now hold it!" he wailed. I don't even know if it was a wail, but he had a deep Southern accent and a glare plastered on his face. "You gon' leave me like that? Why's everybody leavin' me nowadays?" I stared at him in utter shock.
"Um… I…" I tried to respond, but I had no idea what to say.
"No, it's alright, jus' leave the old man," he said, shooing me away with his hands. "Jus' leave me." He started to groan as he pulled himself up and tried to fix the table himself.
I wanted to tell him that I was just a volunteer and I had no idea what I was doing, but I don't think he would have heard me. So I awkwardly walked back to him, heart racing, and tried to fix the table myself. He sat back immediately. I ended up not being able to do it, and trying to find a nurse instead. The second she walked into the room, I speed walked out of there, heading towards the elevator.
Now, I'm not saying that everyone in that hospital was bitter and rude, but I had many similar encounters. I just wasn't the person for this type of job.
Elisa gestured to the carts in the back, and I shot her a curt nod before grabbing one of the last trays before my shift ended. Break had been uneventful. The other volunteers had taken a good liking to each other, but I had not. I sat alone and watched the news, chomping on some potato chips and drowning out my loneliness with some Arizona iced tea. I left the cafeteria, not before catching eyes with the cute sous-chef, and ignoring the quick beating of my heart. Gimme a break—the guy was ten years my senior, and probably had a girlfriend back home.
When I arrived at 473A, I knocked quietly, chancing a look at the clock. Five minutes till twelve. When I heard no reply, I opened the door. "Hi, I have your…," my voice faded out when I saw the woman, "…lunch…"
She was sobbing quietly, a Bible opened up on her lap, and when she saw me, she immediately stopped. Her white hair was tangled and her rough cheeks were wet with tears. I awkwardly placed the tray on her table and fixed it easily. She watched me. I had no idea what to say, not sure if comforting her was appropriate. Not as if I would know what to say. So I just gave her a smile, and muttered, "Have a nice day."
It felt like déjà-vu when the elderly woman croaked, "Please wait." I turned to look at her, and she was staring at me with sad, colorless eyes. "I just…" A coughing fit commenced, and she could not speak for nearly a minute. "I just need someone to talk to."
I looked up at the clock. It was three minutes past twelve, and my shift was over. But for some reason, I nodded and sat in the seat by her bed. She was guilt tripping me, and as much as I hated to admit it, her tears made me feel like scum.
"It's very lonely here," she said, and she began to flip through her Bible. She looked at me, and smiled weakly. "I'm sorry if I'm bothering you."
"Not at all," I responded automatically, pulling my lips up in a smile to comfort her.
She accepted my words and began to speak. She talked about everything. She had grown up in Tennessee with a bunch of other siblings, and finally found the love of her life at sixteen. She had four children in total, but her first child had died from premature birth. She then told me how she had not been the best mother, and how eventually all her children left her. She hadn't heard from them since. Her husband had died and that's when she found herself alone in a hospital room, choking up her guts every hour.
I looked back at her to see her smoothing the pages in her Bible. "I never used to believe in God," she murmured. "But right now, I believe in Him more than anything in this world."
I had said nothing in this entire spiel, and I knew giving her my apologies wouldn't change anything. "What's your name?" I asked, and her fingers stilled. I wondered if I had crossed some sort of boundary, but then internally rolled my eyes.
Her wrinkled mouth gave a half smile. "Constance Hartman."
"I'm Zoë Mercer. Nice to meet you."
We shook hands, and then she glanced at the clock. "My! It's already one. You better get home before your mother starts to worry." I knew by her voice that she really didn't want me to leave.
"I work here every Saturday," I told her and left before I could see the smile growing on her face. I didn't want to start getting sappy.
As hard as it was to admit, Constance became an important figure in my life. She was nicer than I ever expected, and I started to look forward to Saturdays. It was a big change. At the end of every shift, I would be in Ms. Hartman's room.
"So you punched this girl in the face," I clarified, and Constance laughed.
"It wasn't exactly a punch," she said. "It was more of a very, very hard slap. I ended up getting detention, but Donna never flirted with Joshua again." She sounded very proud, and I smirked.
"You know, the more I hang out with you, the more I realize you're a bad influence," I said, standing up. I grabbed the chocolate ice cream that I smuggled for her, and handed it to her.
She took it gratefully and laughed again. We sat in silence, before she murmured, "So I've told you all about my love life. Tell me about yours." Constance saw the hesitant look on my face, and pleaded like a little girl, "Oh please, Zoë! You don't have to tell me everything."
I sighed. "I wish. There's nothing really to say."
She raised an eyebrow, and I regretted ever delving onto this topic.
"I've never had a boyfriend," I admitted. Constance's curious look dropped, and her mouth twitched. In moments, she was laughing, and I was blushing furiously. I sat there, staring at the wall, feeling crummy and embarrassed, while she harshly choked out laughs. She was breathing hard when she finished, and I muttered a, "Jerk" before fumbling through my purse.
"I'm sorry," she said, sounding giddy. "That's the funniest thing I've heard all day. Just the way you look, oh my," she let out another laugh. Seeing my humiliation, she hurried to explain, "It's just, I didn't expect that at all. You're very pretty."
I rolled my eyes. "Flattery won't get you anywhere."
I remember that day clearly. I had been delivering a tray on the fourth floor, and decided to go peek in and say hello to Constance. Of course, instead of seeing her lying on the bed and reading her Bible, a nurse was putting in clean sheets.
"Did Ms. Hartman change rooms?" I asked. I was scared of her reply. My immediate thought was that she had passed away.
"No, she was discharged this morning," she said. "Who are you?"
I was dazed. My first thought was: Where would she go? She had told me she had no family, and I imagined her all alone, inside a messy apartment. My heart began to ache. I realized that I would never see her again. Goosebumps rose on my skin.
Suddenly the nurse was in my vision. Her tag read 'Molly.' "Who are you?" she repeated, and this time I was quick to answer.
"I'm a friend of hers," I said, clearing my throat. "Zoë Mercer. Do you know who picked her up?"
"Zoë…" she muttered, instead of answering. "Oh yes. Come with me." She walked out the door, and still feeling dread in the pit of my stomach, I followed her. She walked up to her desk, and opened the drawer. "I never thought I would actually find you, but Ms. Hartman asked me to give you this." It was a letter, and I felt my heart jump.
"Thank you," I said, grateful.
"And her son picked her up," Molly said, before turning and walking back to Constance's room.
Shock registered, and I ripped the envelope, reading it right there. Hello Zoë. By now, I have been discharged. I have to tell you… you were right. Talking to Cole did really make things easier. He's picking me up tomorrow morning and taking me to his house to live with him. I listed the address below. You could not imagine the happiness when I saw him, his wife, and children. I do not want to make this letter very long, but I want to tell you that you are a good girl. Thank you for making my days at Monroe Hospital much easier. Thank you for comforting me on the day of my husband's death. And most importantly, thank you for being my guardian angel when I asked God for one.
I will always remember you—Constance
"Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.Isaiah 41:10"
Her words hit me like a bullet. The first day I had seen Constance was the anniversary of her husband's death. I folded the letter up and put it in my front pocket.
The day I did visit Constance, it was a rainy one. I had skipped volunteering, and printed the directions to 328 Ashland Drive, before informing my mother that I was visiting a friend's house. I ignored her skeptical look because it was true. I knocked on the ivory door, appreciating the homey look.
A girl opened the door.
She was petite and blonde, and she seemed incredibly friendly, until she opened her mouth. "Who are you?" she shot.
I raised an eyebrow, before murmuring, "Does Constance live here?" I then reworded, "Ms. Hartman, I mean?"
"Yes…" she said hesitantly, before calming her angry tone. "I'm sorry, I just thought you were someone else –" She then shook her head and moved aside. "Come on in."
The girl informed me her name was Jamie, and she led me into the dining room, where everyone was eating breakfast. I immediately spotted Constance, and then I quickly scanned the room to see an older man, and a woman sitting next to him. A little boy gobbled down his eggs, and Jamie took a seat next to him.
"Grandma, you have a visitor."
Constance raised her head from the toast and eggs, to see me. Her eyes brightened. "Well, look who it is!" She stood up, and practically speed walked to me. I met her halfway, before hugging her. "Cole, this is the girl I was telling you about. This is my dear Zoë."
He stood up, swallowing, and shook my hand. "It's nice to meet you. I'm Cole Reed, and this is my wife, Jenna. I've heard so many things about you."
I smiled, but said nothing. Cole's wife then spoke, "Please. Do sit, have some breakfast."
"Actually," I said, "I was wondering if I could take Ms. Hartman for some breakfast?"
While Constance looked excited at the prospect, Mr. Reed looked unsure. So I decided to save that for another day, and seated myself next to Jamie. We chit-chatted, but eventually everyone gave me and Constance time to talk.
I grabbed some chocolate ice cream and placed it on her plate. "Here's something more appetizing," I said, and she laughed.
"I knew I liked you for a reason," she joked.
The door opened, and I heard a loud bark and pounding footsteps. Suddenly, the dog was licking me and wagging its tail feverishly. He looked up at me with a dopey smile, and I resisted the urge to 'Aw.' I rubbed his golden colored hair, and smiled at Constance. She looked bemused.
"His name's Harley," a voice explained, and turned to see a boy standing there. He looked almost flustered, his dark hair wet and his smile crooked. His clothes were drenched in water, and I tried to ignore the way his shirt stuck to his chest. I felt my own cheeks warm and hoped Constance wouldn't notice. I could handle a cute guy. I could do this.
Constance greeted him. "Hello Jeremy. How was your walk with Harley?"
"Pretty good, Gram." He looked at me. "And who's this?"
Suddenly, I saw a look on Constance's face that I never wanted her to repeat. She looked absolutely devious. Her smile was a smile no more; but alas, a smirk. And recognition lit her eyes, like a spark. "This is," she began, tapping my hand fondly, "my wonderful, Zoë."
"Oh right," Jeremy said, his smile pearly white. "She talks about you a lot."
I had no idea what to say. "Thanks," I muttered lamely, and berated myself in my head. Thanks? Thanks for what? I tried to hide my embarrassment. Harley sat by my feet, panting softly.
I swear I heard Constance snicker.
"Oh my poor bones. I think I need a nap. Why don't you take Zoë around town, Jeremy? Do something fun. I'm sure we can talk another time," she said, waving him off when he tried to help her up.
After Constance was gone, I tried to assure him, "You don't have to take me anywhere. I actually might go home."
He rolled his eyes. "Don't play the good girl act, Zoë. My grandma talks way too much about you. We know your darkest secrets." At first I thought he was trying to be mean, but my shocked look finally disappeared and I laughed as I took in his joke.
"Alright then, where are we going?"
Jamie, Jeremy, and I ended up going to a bowling alley. While I sucked at it, Jamie and Jeremy reined champions. "I used to be on my bowling team," Jamie bragged. While she was only in tenth grade, she was quite an athlete. I had already heard her talking about soccer, basketball, and golf –now bowling. When it was Jeremy's turn to bowl, Jamie turned to me. "I'm sorry for being such a brat when I opened the door," she said. "I honestly thought you were Jeremy's ex-girlfriend. She kept calling and calling, moaning about their breakup. I saw you and just assumed."
I grinned. "It's fine." Shut up. I wasn't grinning because Jeremy was single. I wasn't.
Jeremy got another strike, but it was Jamie who ended up winning the game. "Losers buy the ice cream," she declared, and that's how our friendship began.
The Reeds had begun to grow on me, just like Constance had. Eventually, Jenna Reed trusted me enough to let me babysit little Mason while herself and Cole went out for dinner. Jamie was sleeping over a friend's house, and Jeremy was who-knows-where. Constance was sleeping in the guest room. Mason stared at the TV with absolute admiration, watching as Spiderman leaped from building to building and he turned to me. "That's gonna be me," he gushed.
"Yeah, I'm sure buddy," I said, ruffling his hair.
As soon as it reached his bedtime, he was already asleep on the couch. I picked him and tucked him into bed, daring to kiss his temple. Just as I turned off the lights, Mason murmured my name.
"Yeah?" I answered quietly.
"Grandma was right." I didn't say anything, because I wasn't sure what he was talking about, but eventually he expanded. "You are a guardian angel."
I felt my heart flutter. I closed his door, feeling a smile grow on my face. I decided to treat myself to a yogurt, and turned on the TV to see another romantic flick playing. It had been a romantic movie marathon all weekend, so I was beginning to feel sick of all these sappy lines and clichés.
I rolled my eyes when the guy pulled her in for a kiss, and shut off the TV. "Gimme a break," I said sarcastically.
I heard a key being placed into the keyhole, so I stood up, thinking it was Cole and Jenna. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Jeremy walk into the house, but my smile dropped when he stumbled slightly. "Whoa. Are you okay?" I asked, rushing to his side and helping him up.
He ignored my question and lifted his head to look straight at me. "Hey Zoë," he slurred, and I pulled away when I smelled the alcohol.
Jeremy was drunk.
Knowing that Constance was a devout Christian, I had assumed that Jeremy wouldn't be one to gulp down the Heinekens. Obviously I had thought wrong, and somehow my respect for him lessened. I set him down on the couch and rubbed my neck. "Do you want something to eat?"
He shook his head. "No Zoë, no, no, no."
Feeling sufficiently awkward, I thought maybe I should wake up Constance, but then that would be just another hassle for her. I went to the kitchen, grabbed some Tylenol and filled up a glass, before handing it to him. "Here," I said.
He swallowed the pills dry. "Zoë, you look so preeeeetty tonight!" He started choking on the last word, and that's when he took a sip of the water before collapsing on the couch.
"Thanks," I said, trying not to take the compliment to heart. He was drunk after all. I never thought Jeremy would be a flirty drunk.
"I mean it," he said, his eyes starting to close. "Zoë, Zoë, Zoë, so pretty."
I was blushing hard now, but thankfully he was dead asleep. I prayed he wouldn't remember this in the morning. I put some blankets over him, and moved to the very end of the couch, waiting for the Reeds to come back home.
I avoided going to the Reed home, which was rather easy because it was not a necessity of life. I gave excuses when Jamie called, and whenever Constance wanted to see me, I told her I would come soon. I was about to go to bed when Jamie called my phone, and I picked up on the third ring.
"Hello?" I asked.
"Oh God, Zoë!" she wept into the phone.
My heart stopped. "Jamie? Are you okay? What's wrong?"
"Zoë! You need to come over right now. Grandma fell, and my parents are an hour away. Please, she's not breathing!" She was full out crying over the phone, and I jumped out of bed, grabbing my car keys. I scribbled a note and left it on my door. I was on the road, in my pajamas, with Jamie still on the phone.
"You checked her pulse, yeah?" I said, trying to keep control.
"I did," she said, hysterical. "At least I think I did! I'm not sure exactly how to do this!"
"It's fine, okay Jamie, everything will be fine. I need you to call 911 from your house phone, but don't hang up."
"I can't," she said, calming down slightly, but not completely. "The power is out because of the thunderstorm. I can't make any calls."
I finally drove up onto their driveway, repeatedly telling Jamie to "not hang up" and "try to do CPR" but Jamie was too frazzled to do anything but listen to me. The front door was unlocked, and the entire house was dark.
"Jamie?" I called, and felt increasingly frightened when I heard no reply. "Jamie?! Constance?" I was on the verge of tears.
I saw one of the lights from upstairs go on. Then, Jeremy was descending the staircase. I rushed to him. "Is Jamie okay? Where's Constance?" I said, feeling incredibly vulnerable.
He looked at me strangely. "Last time I checked they both went out for ice cream. What are you doing here?" His gaze dropped downwards. "In your pajamas?"
"No, Jeremy, no, Jamie called and she said Constance had fallen, and she said the lights had gone out! Where are they?" I felt so confused that I just wanted to drop to the ground and cry.
"Look, let me call her," he said, grabbing the phone from the kitchen. "Hey. Yeah." He smiled. "Okay. Thanks."
We stood there—me waiting for him to say something, and him staring at me. "Well?" I asked, unnerved by how the shadows cast on his face made him more attractive.
"They were playing a prank," he said with a grin. "They wanted you to come over."
My eyebrows furrowed, and I felt angry. "That's a terrible prank! That's not funny at all." He began to laugh, and I glared at him, but it eventually melted away. Trust me, if you heard his laugh, you would understand. "Well maybe a little."
"God," he said, laughing. Suddenly his laughs grew faint, and he looked at me again. "Hey Zoë?"
"Yeah?" I said, disgusted by how breathy voice had become.
"I meant what I said before," he said. I could only stare into his gray eyes. His wonderfully gray eyes. He clarified quickly, "The part about you being pretty. I meant it."
"Oh, o-okay," I said hesitantly, giving a little laugh. "Well thanks Jeremy."
He nodded, but he looked unsatisfied. "I guess I should go back home," I said reluctantly. "I mean, it's pretty late, and I'm guessing Constance is fine."
Jeremy smiled, "I'll walk you to your car."
As we walked side by side, I realized I should have seen through Jamie's plan. It wasn't even raining that hard, and my power hadn't gone out. We lived pretty close to each other. Just as I opened my car door, Jeremy grabbed my hand. "Zoë, I really like you. I mean it. I'm going to listen to my grandma's advice, and just tell you. I've liked you since the moment my grandma told me about you, and I'm going to stop being a coward. I like you."
I was paralyzed. "I, I'm not good with boys," I blurted.
"You don't have to be," he said with a shrug. "I'm going to be the only boy from now on."
"Stop with the corny lines," I said, giving a short laugh, before standing on my toes and pecking his cheek.
"Are you sure?" he said, one hand on his cheek. "I've got a lot in store for you. Oh Zoë, you had me at the first hello!"
I rolled my eyes, but I felt excited at the vision of me and Jeremy together. "I better get home," I said, smiling up at him.
"And I better go inside and call you," he said smartly.
I was about to reply, when I saw a shadow from the edge of the house. Jeremy followed my train of vision, and we both grinned. I slammed my car door shut, and we crept towards the shadows. When I saw Constance and Jamie both pushed up against the tree, muttering to each other, I snorted.
Their heads snapped towards us, and Jamie was smart. She began to sprint.
I started to run after her, and Jeremy followed after me, Jamie's screams piercing the night.