The soft knock on the door startled him. Unsteady from the abrupt awakening, his hands fumbled around the bedside table searching for his glasses. Before he could even put them on his face, the door opened just a crack.
“Good morning, Mr. Henry,” Tiana said. “May I come in?”
Now that his glasses were on, he could clearly make out the time glaring from the alarm clock across then room. It was 5:30 am. His alarm was set for 7:00 am, just like it was yesterday and the day before. In fact, each day was exactly like the last for Michael Henry. He liked it that way. Michael was always ridged with routine, most likely from his time in the service, but he became even more scheduled since his wife passed away a few months ago. His daily routine was so consistent that everyone at the Manor Lakes Community knew about it. He even had it printed out and hung by the door of his room just in case anyone would need to find it.
“It’s really early,” he said as Tiana made her way to the bedside. He could see she was holding bath supplies in her arms. Her black curls sat just above her shoulders and her scrubs were neat and pressed as always.
“I know, Mr. Henry. I’m trying to get to everyone ready who is on the field trip list first this morning. I was surprised to see your name on the list, I know how much you enjoy your routine,” she said smiling and nodding towards the schedule that hung.
“I certainly did not sign up for a field trip,” he said with confusion in his voice.
Tiana shrugged. “That’s odd, Mr. Henry. Well how about we just get you ready since I’m already here and then when the recreational director comes in we will talk to her. Does that sound ok?,” she said holding up an outfit she pulled out from his closet for his approval. He nodded in agreeance with her choice and her statement then slowly made his way out of bed and into the bathroom.
Tiana already had the water running to ensure it was warm enough for him. She was his favorite aid. He hated needing assistance in things like showering but he’d gotten pretty unsteady on his feet. About a year ago he had a bad fall that took a very long time to recover from. Tiana always made sure the water was warm, not everyone took the time to care for details like that. Even if she was swamped with work, she never rushed Michael, allowing him to take care of what he could on his own and only help when needed. Dignity was so important to the 82 year old man and she helped him maintain it. The others would rush him so they could check him off their list and move onto the next resident.
She reminded him of Meriam, his wife. She was a nurse in the service, in fact that’s how they met. After she left the service, she continued to work part time as a nurse at Pennsylvania General, even after she gave birth to their two daughters. She loved her job and really took pride in her work.
He started to smile picturing the day he met Miriam. He helped carry a wounded soldier to the medic tent and she was there taking action. She was assertive and calm in a sea of chaos. Her brunette hair was pinned below the white cap that sat on the crown of her head. Her skin was flawless with youth. She caught him staring at her just a little too long and called him out.
“Officer are you going to just stand there and stare or are you going to help?” she asked with her hands on her tiny hips. He knew right then that he was going to marry that girl. And he did one year later.
“How’s the temperature, Mr. Henry?” Tiana asked bringing him back from his daydream.
“Perfect as always, Tiana. Thank you.”
Once he was dressed, Michael made his way to breakfast. As he walked along the outdated pink carpet that lined the long hallway that led to the dining hall, he glanced at his watch. It was 6:45 am, almost two hours earlier than usual for him. That means a whole new crowd to eat with. He grumbled to himself. He really enjoys his routine.
“Is that Mikey?” A hard voice called out as he walked towards the Buffett.
“It is! Mikey, did your clock break?” the voice said. Laughter erupted from the table.
“Good morning, Sam,” Michael said scooping some eggs onto his plate. He’s told Sam many times that his name is not Mikey but he stopped trying. Now he just avoids the miserable old man.
“Why don’t you sit with us?” Sam said.
Michael winced as he really enjoyed his routine. He sighed and made his way over to the table, eating quietly as the three men at the table complained about everything from the weather to the thin toilet paper the facility provided.
Just when he was about finished eating, he spotted Tiana out of the corner of his eye talking to Janet, the Recreation Director. He watched as she looked over in his direction with a smile and started to walk over to him. Her heels clicked across the tile floor and echoed through the quiet room. It reminded him of the sound the headmistress’s heels would make on the floor of the boarding school he attended. He was a bit of a trouble maker back then and when he heard those heels marching, it was almost always for him.
“Oooo your in trouble,” Sam teased.
“Good morning, Mr. Henry. It’s so nice to see you this morning,” Janet said. Her choice of bright red lipstick really shows the years of coffee drinking and smoking on her teeth.
“Good morning, Janet. There seems to be a mix-up. I didn’t sign up for the field trip.”
“Oh, but I spoke to Mary and she said you would be looking forward to going. I do apologize, I should have talked directly about it with you. Well, if you decide not to go, that’s ok, but I hope you do come. Change of scenery is always nice.”
Mary. He should have known his daughter had something to do with this. She was just like her mother, always pushing him to be more sociable. When Miriam was alive, she would drag him on all of these field trips, but he didn’t mind so much then when he had her by his side. She was his best friend. They would find fun in everything they did together. He missed her so much.
“Dad, it will be good for you,” Mary said through the phone. “It’s just a few hours at the mall. Remember when we would all go together as a family?”
He smiled picturing his daughters as little girls climbing up onto the water fountain and begging for pennies to throw in to make wishes. He remembered his wife’s stern voice telling the girls to be careful but he could see the smile in her eyes. She would hand them each two pennies and her voice would soften as she said,
“Over your left shoulder
And it will come true
One wish for me and
One for you.”
Mary’s voice snapped him out of his blissful daydream.
“You always had to stop for those Auntie Anne’s pretzels, remember? Just go for a little while and treat yourself to one. For me, dad?”
He agreed, but only for today. He liked his routine.
“Fine I’ll go, but don’t ever sign me up for anything without asking me next time ok?” He said.
“Deal!” Mary said with the sound of victory in her voice.
She was just like her mother.
Michael grabbed his wallet and cane and walked towards the front exit. He sighed heavily as he glanced over at his schedule. He liked his routine.
It felt safe. Expected. Unlike the death of his wife. That was a shock to them all.
The bus arrived at 1030 am. Janet assigned a few college volunteers to accompany the attendees on the trip.
“Hey Mikey, decided to come join the fun?” Sam called from the back of the bus.
All of a sudden, Michael felt like he was a school kid again. Good thing for Sam he wasn’t or he would have decked him in the face by now. He sat down in the front of the bus and got lost in the memories of Miriam.
When the bus arrived at the front entrance of the mall, it was almost 11:00am. Prime time for the annoying elderly speed walkers and the mommy and me groups, Michael thought to himself. He’s not sure what it was about the mall walkers that bothered him so much. Maybe it was jealousy that his hip left him unable to be as active as he would like or maybe it was the way they look back at him almost mockingly when they passed by. It’s as if they are saying Ha ha age hasn’t caught up to me yet, sucker! He rolled his eyes as he carefully got off the bus.
“Mr. Henry?” one of the young chaperones said.
“I’m Tom, I’ll be hanging out with you today. I can help with whatever you need.”
Michael knew that they had to have someone walk with him because of his occasional unsteadiness but he was annoyed. He didn’t want to have to entertain this college kid.
“Well I have to go to the bathroom,” he said.
“Ok I can come with you, I’m supposed to.”
“Young man, I’m perfectly capable of doing my business on my own.” Michael said. Tom shifted uncomfortably. “Oh, ok. Well I’ll wait at the end of the hall. And will check to make sure you are ok. Sorry, sir.”
Michael made his way down the hall towards the restrooms when he heard loud voices coming from the utility closet. He stopped to get a better listen. He knew those thick accents from anywhere. They were speaking Russian and it just so happens he was fluent in the language from a time in his life he’d much rather forget.
He shuffled a little but closer, making sure to not make a sound. He glanced at Tom down the end of the hall to make sure he wasn’t watching. He was busy flirting with the smoothie girl.
His eyes widened. Did he really just hear that? A bomb? In the mall? Set to go off tonight during an event?
His heart began to quicken as he steadied himself. No one would believe this. He listened some more and fumbled to get a pen and paper from his pocket. He shut his eyes tightly as if that would help him hear better and he finally got what he needed…the location of the bomb.
It was in the storage room of Maxwell’s Candles.
This is crazy, he thought to himself. What in the world am I going to do with this information?
He knew the answer, though. He needed to take care of it. He made his way towards Tom who was still flirting with the smoothie queen. How was he going to ditch this kid so he can take care of business?
“Listen kid,” Michael said. “I’m an 82 year old man whose stuck in a nursing home all day long. I would love to just have a little freedom for the day.”
“I don’t know, I was told I had to stay with you,” Tom said. Michael could hear the unsureness in his voice and caught him glancing over at the blonde behind the counter.
“I tell you what,” Michael said. “Here’s 20 bucks. Go talk to your girlfriend while I take a walk and I’ll meet you back here in an hour?”
To his surprise, the kid obliged and took off with the 20 dollar bill and hope in his heart.
Kids these days, he thought to himself as he made his way towards the mall directory. He saw that the candle store was right in the center of the mall. He had to pick up the pace if he wanted to make it in time.
He passed Auntie Anne’s on the way to his destination. He could smell the buttery goodness immediately. His stomach grumbled. I’ll get one on the way back, he thought to himself with confidence.
He walked into Maxwell’s Candles and was immediately hit with 30 different scents at once. He always hated these stores, they gave him a headache. Miriam loved them. She could spend hours opening each one, closing her eyes as she took in their unique scents.
A tall woman with dark features approached him. “Can I help you find anything?” she said as she touched his shoulder. She has a thick Russian accent and ice blue eyes. She was beautiful that’s for sure, but he was weary of how much she knew of what he now knows.
“No thanks, just looking,” he said exaggerating his hobble hoping it will make him look less suspicious. Who is he kidding, he doesn’t look suspicious at all in his old feeble age. The phone rang and the woman went to answer it. Michael made sure she was distracted and slipped into the back storage room.
There were boxes stacked to the ceiling all with different labels. He was looking for the box marked Gardenia Musk.
“Lost, old man?” A deep voice with a thick accent startled him.
A large man appeared from the shadows. Luckily in his old age he was still quick on his feet. He began to speak to the man in Russian explaining that he was to pick up the box marked Gardenia Musk.
The man stared at him for a moment and began to roar with laughter. “You??? You are not at all what I expected. This is genius.” He walked away continuing to laugh.
Michael’s heart was beating out of his chest. He was so close. Soon this can be over and he can go back to his simple life and his routine.
The man reappeared with a duffel bag and eyeing Michael up one more time handed him the bag.
“Thank you.” Michael said as he walked towards the door that led to the store.
“Back door, please.” The man said nodding to the emergency exit that led to a hallway in the mall. Michael nodded and left.
He walked down the hall quickly. What in the world did you just do? He thought to himself. Up ahead he saw a janitors closet that was slightly ajar. He peeked in, it was empty. Quickly he unpacked the duffel bag and began to disarm the bomb. His hands weren’t as steady as they used to be and these bombs were a lot more advanced, but somethings never change. Sweat pouring down his face as he fumbled with the wires he heard footsteps coming closer. Just before the door swung open he was able to completely disarm the bomb and throw it back into the duffel bag.
“Sir??? You ok?” Said the young woman holding a mop and bucket. She was startled and confused.
“Yes I appear to have gotten lost. Where is the restroom?” Michael stammered.
She showed him the way, eyeing him suspiciously the entire time.
“Are you sure you are ok?” she asked. “Is there someone I can call?”
“I assure you I am ok, I have always gotten lost in malls. Used to drive my wife crazy,” he said laughing.
The young girl began to loosen up and she let out a chuckle while walking away.
He looked at his watch. He had five minutes to meet with Tom. It wasn’t enough time to get the Auntie Anne’s pretzel today since the line was now long. He shrugged. He just wanted to get home and take a nap. He really likes his routine. This was too much for him, he left this life behind him years ago.
He never thought he would be so happy to pull up to Manor Lakes Community but he could almost kiss the outdated pink rug when he walked in. Just as he was about to settle in for a nap there was a knock on the door. What now? He thought.
“Mr. Henry you have some visitors,” Tiana said. Behind her walked in two military officials. He closed his eyes and he sighed. He really likes his routine. Schedules are safe and predictable when you follow them. He always follows them, well almost always.
The alarm went off at 7 am. He woke up in a cold sweat and looked around. Had it been a dream this whole time? Of course it was! Boy that was the most vivid dream he has ever had. He glanced around the room for the duffel bag, it was nowhere to be found. It was a dream! Just then there was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” he said.
He expected to see Tiana but through the door walked a tall woman with dark hair and ice blue eyes.
“I’m here for your bath,” she said coldly with a thick accent. It was the woman from the candle store. Impossible he thought. It was a dream. “I think I’ll take my bath tonight,” he said wearily.
“Very well,” she said placing a bag of Auntie Anne’s pretzels on his bed and walking out the door. “I’ll check on you soon.”
Michael reached for his wallet and pulled out a card he had never seen before. It was an official military card with a phone number written on the back and a message that said: “Call when you are ready to come out of retirement.”