Prompt/Challenge from a dissatisfied (Guest) Reviewer: "Maybe you could try mixing things up and have a nice pretty girl (they do exist) and a non- Popular guy who is actually a jerk who gets what he deserves when he does something gross. (NOT the girl)."
The Nicest Woman He Never Knew
Pauline Munson walked into the Catholic Charities Hospice House, an old Victorian home on one of Greenville's side streets. It was an old building but it was well maintained with soft music playing in the background of the lobby and an antiseptic scent in the air.
"Jack Gage?" Pauline asked the older volunteer manning the front desk.
The woman smiled and passed a sign-in log in Pauline's direction. "He's in Room 108. Down the hall on the left."
"Thank you," Pauline said pleasantly before finding her way along the carpeted hallway, passing several open doors to various rooms, each with hospital beds in otherwise well decorated and furnished surroundings
Room 108 was the last door on the left and Pauline saw that the door was open. She knocked lightly on the door frame before sticking her head into the room. There was a hospital bed by the window and Pauline could see a shriveled, wrinkled, bloated, balding mass in the bed and at first she thought she had the wrong room but when the dying man glanced her way she saw the remnants of his dark blue eyes and she knew that she was indeed in the right room.
"Hello, Jack," she said as she stepped into the room.
He squinted at the unfamiliar intruder, at first thinking it was one of the social workers or death counselors but then he recognized her gait right as she approached. "Holy shit," he said with disbelief. "I really am dying, aren't I, if you're here."
She tried to hide the horrified reaction she was feeling. Jack Gage had been the best looking young man she had ever seen but that person was definitely long lost to age and disease.
"It's been a long time," Pauline said, forcing a smile as she stepped closer to the bed.
"Why are you here?" He asked, his voice gravely and weak.
"It's the Christian thing to do," she answered, trying not to show her nervousness.
"How'd you know I was here?"
"Prayers were petitioned for you at church last week," she said. "I asked around."
He laughed but then started coughing. Pauline waited patiently until he recovered from his spastic mannerisms. "I haven't seen you in thirty years."
"I'm pretty sure you never wanted to see me again."
"That's true," she admitted.
"But here you are."
"To say goodbye?"
"And to forgive you."
"I think it's a little late for that, Pauley."
"Is it okay if I sit down?"
She was wearing a light blue skirt that went to her knees and a simple white blouse with a locket around her neck and sandals on her feet. Her blonde hair was pulled up in bun on the top of her head, revealing the crow's feet around her eyes. She took a seat in a comfortable flower-printed arm chair at the side of the bed.
"You're my first visitor besides the Reverend," Jack informed her.
"Doesn't you family know you're here?"
"My family doesn't care that I'm here," he clarified. "I burned that bridge a long time ago."
"I'm sorry," Pauline said with true sadness.
"But here you are, St. Pauline, good until the end."
"Are you being good at the end?" She wanted to know.
"You're expecting a death bed conversion?" He asked, amused. "All I really want is a cigarette."
"They were right," Pauline remarked. "Cigarettes really do kill you."
"That and alcoholism and drug addiction and Stage IV cancer," Jack agreed. He peered at her as he lay flat on his back. "Does your old man know you're here?"
"My husband is a Christian man," She replied.
"How many kids did you end up popping out?"
"Four," she said proudly.
"At least I got you first," he sighed.
"Please don't talk like that," She requested uncomfortably.
"A Saint from the start," Jack noted.
"Satan to the end," Pauline countered.
"True enough," Jack admitted. "Jesus pulled my number."
"Are you afraid?"
"I'm tired, Pauley," he said. "Beaten. Defeated. Ready to go. Wherever I'm going can't be any worse than the hell I experienced here on Earth."
"I'll pray for you," she promised.
"You always did," he recalled. "You were always too good for the likes of me."
"You didn't have a very good life," Pauline stated.
"It was my own fault," he told her. "I made my choices. I walked my path. I did it my way and boy did I screw it up royally." He saw that her eyes had watered up. "You tried damn hard, Pauley. Don't beat yourself up. It's not your fault. You were the nicest woman I ever knew."
"Only you really never knew me," she said.
"True enough," he agreed. "My loss."
"Do you want me to stay for a while?"
"I'm not going anywhere," Jack replied. "At least not quite yet," he added with a smirk. He looked at her with appreciation. "God, you're still beautiful."
"That's all you ever saw of me," she sighed. "How I looked."
"I was always the chauvinistic, xenophobic, sexist asshole wasn't I?"
"Too bad you didn't figure that out a long time ago."
Jack considered her comment for a long moment. "Too bad," he agreed.