“The Runaway Senior”

a novel by Peggy Stinnett

522 Kenmore Avenue

Oakland, CA 94610-1618 

(510) 834-8676

Chapter One

So far as we knew, the 150 residents who lived in Sunny Glen Assisted Living on a pleasant tree-lined street in Hillmont, California, were all happy. But there was at least one exception—Celia McGwire who lived in Room 315.     


            Celia was snug in her bed, hanging onto her dream, as she began waking up.

            In her dream, she was out of Sunny Glen and in a hotel spa getting an aromatic massage. A satisfied smile moved slowly over her face and into the creases around her tightly shut eyes.

            “I’m getting out of here today,” she murmured into the covers, as if someone was there to hear. She uncurled and went into to a cat stretch.

            The dim light from her window nudged her to get up.

            She reached over to where Tom had slept. Just a year ago he was there beside her. That was before he died. She still had trouble saying the word: Died.

            Now there was the Goneness Place, something of her own invention.

            She slid her palm over where he had been, pressing her hand into the place and drawing an imaginary circle. Then she hugged her pillow close.    

            Goneness was not emptiness. Someone had been there, was gone now, but the spirit lived on. It helped her cope with his death to have this link to him. She believed Tom’s spirit was there. It comforted her to connect with him in the only way that was left.

            There was a soft knock at the door. That would be Helen who lived next door. It was her usual morning pajama call.

            “Coming, don’t go away,” Celia called out as she hurried to the door. Helen was the only real friend she had at Sunny Glen Assisted Living. The others were people she saw frequently but didn’t know well enough to call friends.

            Residents had their own friends, just as she did. No one here had close friends in the building. That’s just the way it was. No animosity, just busy with other things to do, that’s all.

            Celia opened the door, took Helen by the hand and pulled her into the room. “I’m breaking out of here tonight,” she said as if she was a kid sharing a secret. It was not like a woman of sixty-seven years.

            She still thought of herself as a baby boomer, recently retired at age sixty-five. That’s the way it was before boomers were term-limited by some social scientists. The gap occurred when statisticians determined that the generation of baby boomers ended when they became sixty. This meant they became seniors five years sooner.

            But all this didn’t apply to Sunny Glen anyway, because no matter what your age, you were old if you lived there.

            Celia knew Sunny Glen had no control over this determination, made by the people who set the rules for the boundaries of generations. But Sunny Glen had its own rules, and referred to residents as “the seniors,” or, “the senior citizens.” There were too many rules with wording like that.

            Helen asked Celia: “Are you escaping for a night or forever?” She was only half kidding. She knew, from many of their conversations, that Celia wanted more than anything to live independently.


            “I’ll be gone for one or maybe two nights; I desperately need to get out if here. I’m going to the Claridge Hotel, where I hear they have a great spa. Or at least that’s what they advertise. I have never been to one so why not? Want to come along?”

            “I’m too busy for spas this week, but sometime I might try it.” Helen had never been to a spa either.

            Helen had never even thought about spas. Actually, she had dismissed the possibility the first time she heard about them. She didn’t want some total stranger to rub her naked back and bottom. She thought it was asinine, but if Celia wanted a massage, okay. Let her enjoy.

            Helen was one of only four black residents at the assisted living facility. They were all former employees of wealthy families who rewarded their loyal, longtime help by providing them lifelong care in condos at Sunny Glen. Had they not done so, the employees most certainly would have spent their last years in misery, unable to afford good medical care or assisted living.

            To Celia, Helen was much more than one of Tom’s family employees. She was someone she had come to love dearly as a friend and confidante.

            Tom was the third generation of wealth and carried a typical attitude toward money held by many such scions. “What’s it for if not to enjoy, and do what you want to do?” he often said.

            Celia met him when she was a waitress in a fancy restaurant he frequented when she was working her way through college. After the first time she waited on him, one Saturday for lunch, he began to come in several times a week, then almost every night for dinner. He always sat at a table she served. He flirted, she flirted back.

             Then one night he asked if she would like to join him for an after dinner drink. She did. They fell deeply in love and were married a few months later.

            She worried about being accepted by his upper crust family and into the uppity Hillmont social scene because she came from a working class family. But she needn’t have been concerned. Celia had social graces and used them to her advantage, but she never forgot her upbringing. Despite being able to buy whatever she wanted, she was a tight wad, never spending more than absolutely necessary. In her moving-upward family, you never wasted anything.

            Residents like Celia McGwire lived in Sunny Glen because their spouses needed more assistance than could be given at home. Besides, Tom liked the idea of assisted living. So she went along, figuring some day she would get sick, be ready to die, and in need of assisted living.

            Tom’s grandfathers and great-grands had helped establish Sunny Glen when it opened years ago. It had become a popular place for people from all over the San Francisco Bay Area.

            You had to get in by age sixty-five, otherwise when you got sick and old, you wouldn’t qualify.

            This meant aspiring residents often moved in long before the cutoff  in order to make the cut. In a neighborhood replete with  fine restaurants, shops and a movie theater, the location was its biggest draw.  Since there was a waiting list to get in, Sunny Glen could make the rules.

            Still, Celia missed going to San Francisco to see the opera, plays, and art exhibits. She didn’t have a car and public transportation wasn’t available nearby.

            She also missed the reliable old car she had driven. Giving it away to charity was part of the decision to go into Sunny Glen after Tom had a stroke and was disabled.   There wasn’t any parking at Sunny Glen, another reason they wanted to live in a vital neighborhood.

           Celia hated the idea that if you lived there you were just waiting for the end to come. There was little incentive to think about a busy, creative future.

            Life was getting more and more like this. Celia had noticed even newborns were on waiting lists to get into pre-school.

            She knew this  because for most of her professional life she had been a fourth grade teacher in a public school. The best public schools were like private ones, heavily endowed by parents who raised extra money with high stake fundraising. Home prices in the city neighborhoods varied according to the degree of excellence the local public school offered.

            The altitude of their location was the customary way of evaluating them; in the hills, schools were good or even excellent while in the flatlands, they were mostly low achieving or failing. Of course there were a few rare exceptions to this rule of thumb.

            Celia’s teaching job was not in Hillmont, where schools were super-excellent and people paid a high price even for small older homes. She taught in the surrounding urban city of Oaktown where good schools were scarce and in high demand. There was much to be done to improve these schools because their students were in great need.

            It could have been fun to teach in Hillmont  where the students  were motivated to learn, with well-off parents who helped them, or even at a high-ranking school in Oaktown.   

            But Celia liked to teach the children others had given up on. It was immensely satisfying to help a young child discover his or her potential. She truly believed all children could learn, and you had to expect the best in all of them. This was hard work at times but the rewards were immeasurable. She loved it and would still be teaching  had Tom not needed her so completely.

            The requirement that you had to beat the cutoff to get into the best assisted living places meant quite a few people like Celia were living in these rest homes although they could have gotten along fine living independently. Some ‘freed souls’ in the area had ventured into alternative residential arrangements with modest success.

            These alternative arrangements offered better options than the control-obsessed Sunny Glen, but unless you knew the residents well, Celia didn’t think they would serve the need for companionship with people of  like interests.

             After Tom died, Celia had wanted to move out, but a large part of their investment portfolio was tied into the bargain they struck to get long-term care until both died. Helen’s apartment was part of the deal.

            Besides Celia never had found_ or looked for_  an independent living situation where she might be with friends. Most of her friends had moved to retirement communities or to places like Arizona, where they could get cheap housing.

            Celia didn’t want to move out of her community into a strange place where everyone was old. She would feel a great loss if she had to leave Hillmont and Oaktown where she knew every street and neighborhood. She liked the option that she could go back to her school to substitute teach occasionally. She had given that up when Tom got sick, but now she might want to teach or mentor a child again as a volunteer.

            As for Helen, she had been with the McGwire family for forty years. The size of their estate required a staff of six to eight. Helen was the General Manager who kept track of the staff, their work schedules, vacation time, salaries, hiring and firing, and their internal disputes.

            It was a responsible job that paid well and provided a lovely apartment for Helen in the McGwire home, which was sold after Tom and Celia moved into Sunny Glen. Helen’s apartment there was covered by the estate sale.

            Let it be said the McGwires took care of their own. It may sound reminiscent of   a  plantation, spoken that way. In fact, it was a generous retirement gift to employees who had given exceptional service to an employer. Similar to many corporate retirement packages that include lifetime health care and housing.

            Helen maintained that if she were white and male, no one would question the provision. The arrangement would be considered a generous retirement benefit.

            She was happy for Celia and her plan to go the spa. She knew how restless she had been for the past several months, and had encouraged her to get out more and have fun.

            Helen often made this observation about Sunny Glen: “This is a place that is hard to get into but almost impossible to get out of.” She wished that Celia would get into some compelling second career to keep her active mind busy. The genealogy business had done that for Helen.

            “Have a good one,” she told Celia as she closed the door behind her and went back to her next door room.

            Helen was busy working at her non-profit business of digging up the roots of descendants of slavery. It was an awesome job that turned up fascinating history. She only took on research for families who were either unable to do it themselves for financial reasons or didn’t know how to search for information.

            On a chilly day like this, Celia usually took her morning walk indoors through the long white hallways of Sunny Glen. The name was definitely a misnomer, she had decided long ago. There was almost nothing sunny about this place. And most certainly it wasn’t a glen.

            Without Tom around to keep her cheerful, she had become much more critical. When he was alive, she was busy keeping him company and tending to their shared activities.

            She had a developed a fondness for the tiny library in the building, a cubby hole, where there were a  few good newspapers.  Nothing edgy or solid but at least something interesting to read instead of watching television or going on the Internet. That’s where she was heading this morning.

            The hallways were not too busy this time of day, which somehow made them more blindingly antiseptic and boring. The floors were carpeted to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers and canes. Of course, the carpeting was beige, a suitable color for such a beige place, she thought. The walls were stark white.

            Celia didn’t use any walking aids, and was in good physical condition.

            “I’m in good shape for the shape I’m in,” she would say. People would always answer that she didn’t look sixty-seven because her hair had not turned all white yet. It was streaked, a mix of brown and white, and she was slender.

            But she wondered if this wasn’t just gush like, “You are sooo amazing.” There was also the frequent saccharin query, “Tell us your secret, my dear.” It left Celia wondering if this was a compliment or a snide remark.

            The comments also made her wonder again why she was still in Sunny Glen if she didn’t look old or feel old. Of course the ominous expectation lingered like a sword of Damocles over her head; in time she would look old, be old, and become infirm.  Then she would belong here.

            As she walked the hallways, she mused on what could be done to make them more attractive. The plain white walls could certainly use some art work. Maybe art by the seniors instead of these old photos of the founders of Sunny Glen who, in their time, had come up with the novel idea of assisted living instead of the dread term, nursing home. They were pioneers who launched an industry that spread nationwide. Along with that growth came positives and negatives.

            Celia conceded there had been progress in the art of caring since then. Most of these places were now much better able to meet the needs of people, and assisted living became the contrived label.  Well, it was an upgrade from “rest home.” And so was the care.

            Her basic complaint was that people who don’t belong in them, like herself, were stuck there because they had no place else to live while they waited to die. And when did waiting to die become a happy way to live?

            Sunny Glen’s financial arrangement made it possible to for the assisted living business to be profitable because there were several years during which the resident would not be expensive to maintain. That would allow the money they banked to be used when they got to the expensive part of their lives at the end.

            Basically it was like life insurance. They were betting you would die before you became an expensive invalid and you were betting you would last several years in a semi-coma or vegetative state. And what could you do about all this? Nothing. Go along or get along.

            Celia had come to these gloomy opinions over time but right now she was concentrating on the need in the hallways for some professional decorating. Celia loved interior decorating magazines and had always wanted to redo an old house, preferably a simple little bungalow with a flat backyard where she could garden.

            She was wondering why anyone would buy the ugly overstuffed chairs lined up along the walls. They looked right out of a dated hotel lobby and she decided that’s where they most likely had come from. They were souvenirs of another time serving no purpose, unless it was to break the monotony of the hallways and possibly be ready to catch someone about to collapse.

            She was occupied with these thoughts when along came Patsy in her wheelchair, cheery as could be. She was an antidote to all the negative thoughts Celia had about this place.

            Patsy was one of several residents who took breakfast in the building’s dining room that was supposed to open at seven o’clock.  Not a moment later.

            The early bird breakfasters were always prompt and watched the clock on the wall.

            Woe be to the steward who today had not unlocked the door at seven.

            She looked at the large clock on the wall inside which read 7:04 a.m.

            A group of outraged residents, about twelve to fifteen people, was pounding on the doors.

            “Open up! It’s five minutes after seven!” one shouted. The others joined her,

            “Oh-pen, oh-pen, oh-pen, oh-pen!” they chanted.

            Some were angry, others joined in for the hell of it. Some were laughing at the distressed steward who was fumbling around with the lock. They seemed to enjoy the demonstration of their power.

            At last the harassed figure unlocked the door. The residents almost knocked him down as they pushed in and headed for the food that was set out as a buffet. They soon settled down at two tables and began drinking their coffee and orange juice and eating various kinds of cold cereal that were available on the counter. They had loaded three toasters with slices of bread. Peace had returned.

            Celia was disturbed by this scene, which could easily be  have been avoided with just a little more consideration.

            Yes, the residents were unreasonable, but their behavior wasn’t unusual for people whose world had become small and confining. They were accustomed to living by rules.  The rule was that the dining room opens at seven. Promptly.

            Why couldn’t the dining room be open from six o’clock when the food workers went on duty? Let the people come in and sit at the tables with their coffee. They could help themselves to coffee while the breakfast was being prepared. Or eat cold cereal as they were this morning; or they could bring their own breakfast breads. It seemed a simple way to make people happy.

            Given what hd happened this morning, the residents would be grumpy all day and hold a grudge against the dining room staff. They were already thinking about what they might do tomorrow if the staff didn’t have it open at seven. It was like an incipient uprising.

            It was none of her business, Celia told herself,  but it was another reason to want out of this place. She ate meals in the dining room as infrequently as possible.

            Celia smiled when she saw Patsy enjoying herself with the early breakfasters. She imagined there was a Patsy in every nursing home, a completely lovable person who had either reached the zenith of 100 years or was approaching it. Patsy was ninety, about to hit a hundred. Everyone loved her. And she loved everyone.

            She was a joyful soul and never seemed to have any bad days, despite her inability to do most things for herself. Patsy told people she was “just worn out like an old classic car that could no longer be repaired.” She apparently thought that was good news. “I’ve got almost three hundred thousand miles on me.”

            Patsy always greeted Celia with a cheery, “Good morning, my dear. You look too young to be here.”  The same greeting every time.  Celia would pretend it was a new joke.

            She would hold Patsy’s pale blue-veined hand for a moment and move on.

            People who knew Patsy well said she had been in Sunny Glen since it opened twenty-five years ago.

            When she hits a hundred later this year, the newspapers will put her picture in the paper. It was scary to think about how she had become a fixture there. Celia wondered if Patsy had ever wanted out.

            Then  along came quaking Uncle Henry, who used a cane and shook a lot, apparently from Parkinson’s. Everyone called him Uncle Henry. Like Patsy, he was a friendly guy. When he saw Celia walking in the hall, he would stop, and bow slightly with his right arm across his waist like a Southern gentleman might when he met a lady.

            Then Celia would bow and smile at Henry. It was all very sweet. She knew very little about Henry except that he was ninety-three.

            The principal definition of residents in Sunny Glen was by their age. Your age became an integral part of your name, like Mary Smith, 67. If you got to the higher numbers you were winning the game played against the mortality statistics.

            Celia cared about the residents but she couldn’t call them friends. They weren’t people she could confide in or talk with about serious problems. She thought some might be like her, conforming inmates.

            No doubt most people had to be here to get the nursing care they needed, and Sunny Glen was a relatively nice place, staffed mostly by decent people. Celia conceded that much. Still, there were quite a few residents healthy and well enough to live without help.

            Security tended to be obsessive. The management kept the windows locked tight. It was necessary, they said, so no one could get in. It went unsaid that no one could get out either.

            There were balconies on the upper floors that might tempt a depressed person to jump, but there had never been a suicide for good reason. There would be little opportunity to try it.

            Rain and stormy weather was something you saw through windows. To feel its freshness or fury, you had to go outdoors into the real world. To do so, you were supposed to sign out, give a destination, phone number where you could be reached, and names of your companions.

            This was one of the most annoying of the many rules of the house.

            Celia rarely signed out believing it was none of their business where she would be and who would be with her. She considered this requirement an invasion of her privacy.

            Her defiance of the rule was also a constant problem for the sign-out desk. She usually carried a cell phone. The desk had the number.

            But there was a catch. Celia rarely turned it on because she hated the cell phone. She felt this invention was an intrusion on the peace and quiet of her life, and a major reason people no longer socialized by getting together in person. It was something her daughter Margie had insisted she carry so she could reach her anytime, day or night.

            She had said, “Mom, you’ve got to have one so we can stay in touch with you, and so can Sunny Glen.”

            But Margie didn’t know about her mother’s total aversion to this instrument because she lived in Columbus, Ohio, way back in the Midwest, and only saw her on holidays. On those occasions Celia always carried her cell phone and usually answered the calls, if any.

            If Margie called her, there would be no answer so she would make a direct call to the land phone in her room and leave a message. Celia thought that system worked better anyway.

            Another Sunny Glen rule that Celia hated was the requirement that every resident visit the company doctor every three months. “Just to be sure everything is all right.” She had seen the Sunny Glen doctor yesterday. It was routine and totally useless.

            You got ten minutes or less with the doctor; in some ways, this  was the best part of the session. It was over quickly.

            You sat in a tiny space about the size of a phone booth for about a half hour before Doctor Sonny Glen (not his name but what Celia called him) poked his head into the cubicle.

            “And how is Catalina today?” he would say cheerily.

            Why remember his name if he couldn’t remember yours?  she figured. He would glance at a card in his back pocket that had her legal name on it. It was the same each time although she had told him each time that she wanted to be called Celia.

            If she didn’t really feel well, she would go to her own doctor at the nearby medical center. He didn’t limit patients to ten minute consultations.

            In any event, both doctors had always said her health was “amazing.” She deduced that meant she was old but healthy.

            These were minor complaints  but when you stacked them up in a pile, they made life in Sunny Glen a major annoyance.

            Celia felt she was being treated as someone not quite capable of taking care of herself, someone who needed a caretaker to monitor her every move; if she wasn’t in need of supervision now, she certainly would be very soon. It was as if you were forced to spend your days in a wheelchair when you were perfectly capable of walking by yourself without any help.  Or using a crutch when you didn’t need one.

            She ached to be set free from Sunny Glen and live independently by her own rules. 

            Surely there were others like herself. In fact, she knew plenty of people who lived independently as they grew older. Some lived alone, others with family and in homes designated as independent living facilities. The percentages showed there are more of them than people living in rest homes and assisted living places with Disney-like names like Sunny Glen.

            She and Tom had chosen Sunny Glen for its proximity to the things they loved to do. They thought of it as a hotel for assisted living. With this as a base camp, they could go to movies, eat in fine restaurants, visit art galleries, and browse in nice clothing stores. Also there were convenience services, like the shoe repair fellow, and the jeweler, who would cheerfully help with little things like replacing a battery in your wristwatch.

            The first year worked beautifully. She could wheel Tom at least twice a week to the avenue for dinner and a movie, and he was making progress toward better health.

            Often they would meet with Johnnie and Carol Hirsch, and Walt and Marie Lee, their close friends of many years.

            Sadly the group collapsed after the two wives died, just months apart. Then Tom died of another stroke that hit him out of the blue one morning. He was taken to a hospital, but never regained consciousness.

            Doctors told Celia had he survived, he would have been in a vegetative state. Tom and Celia had agreed they wouldn’t want to live under those conditions, and had living wills stating their wishes.

            Celia, Johnnie, and Walt were the only ones left of the group. Since then, the two guys were doing okay living in Johnnie’s house. Celia loved getting together with them. But it hardly made up for all the gripes she had about Sunny Glen.

            What was missing in her life were the activities she had looked forward to when she would eventually retire.

            Celia had always loved to cook and garden. Or thought she would if she ever had time. She had a dream plan that, when she retired, she would have friends over for gourmet dinners. She would cook all kinds of wonderful meals.

            In this dreamed-of -retirement, most of her time would be spent in the garden she would create. The house would be small, an old vine-covered bungalow with a white gazebo in the garden.

            That special garden would have a fountain, teak benches, and two or three white umbrella tables in the midst of a profusion of lavender and daises of all colors and varieties. Sometimes she might serve a fresh fruit salad out of Martha Stewart’s book of recipes to a group of friends under a white umbrella table.

            Celia was imagining these pleasant things as she walked down the hallway in Sunny Glen that morning.

            She was caught up short by the heavy footsteps of chunky Ms. Branster, who wore sensible shoes and a white doctor coat over her clothes.

            Celia didn’t think that was right since Ms. Branster was not a doctor, not by any stretch. She wore a badge that read Ms. Ethel Branster, Director.

            “Good morning, Catalina,” she said. There it was again. Catalina. Granted, it was her legal name. It was a pretty name, but not her own since she was raised as Celia, taken from her middle name Cecilia. She had asked Ms. Branster many times to call her Celia, but she never did.

            Catalina Cecilia McGwire was a mix of Hispanic and Irish. She remembered asking her mother why they called her Catalina, which to a twelve-year old was an island off Long Beach in southern California, not a name you would give a girl. Well, maybe some girl, the child thought, but not this girl.

            Her mother told her she had always wanted to visit the island but never did. She also told her something of the rich history of the island, but Celia was too young to appreciate its significance. Her father had wanted her to be named Catalina, and her mother favored Cecilia so they compromised, giving her the name of Celia but leaving her legal name Catalina.

            That decision made by her parents meant going through her entire life explaining her name.

            “Where are you off to this morning, Catalina?” Ms. Branster asked cheerily. It was patronizing, Celia decided, and snoopy, too.

            “I’m going for a walk, even if it is raining a little.” She tried to sound friendly.

            Celia was a cheerful person at heart, but considered Ms. Branster too bossy and nosy. She was a matronly woman with her face permanently fixed in a stern mode. She always carried her clip board filled with papers; which she constantly referred to it, checking off items on the pages with her special fountain pen.

            Celia tried to imagine her as a child or a teenager. She would be the kid in the class picture with a grumpy look, as if someone had told her she couldn’t be captain of the soccer team.

            Moving quickly past her, Ms. Branster walked faster as though she had something very important to do. Celia changed her direction, too, and headed for the elevator. She had decided to go out for coffee and needed a jacket and umbrella.

            Just as she got inside the door of her apartment, the phone rang. It was her friend Johnnie Hirsch. She knew his buddy Walt Lee would be hanging out nearby. These were true blue guys.

            “We were thinking, weren’t we Walt? If you were up for it, we could all go to dinner and a movie later today.”

            It was mental telepathy. They had heard her cry for help. That’s exactly what she wanted to do, that and then go to the hotel and spa. She would have a great time sharing her escape plan with them.

            “Sounds wonderful to me,” she said. “Let’s go to the Hillmont Theater, it’s close by. I’ll meet you inside near the popcorn. The senior matinee usually starts at four o’clock. Okay?”

            “It’s a buy,” said Johnnie. “I’ll make a reservation at Bayplace.” That was Celia’s favorite restaurant; Johnnie and Walt knew that. They didn’t discuss the movie at all.

            In better times, the group of six would go to dinner together at least once a month, sometimes more often, if they all had tickets for an opera or some other event.

            They had met through the nearby university, where Walt was a biology professor. He was a thoughtful guy with his own philosophy of life. He was oldest of the group at eighty-two, a graying and handsome guy, with smooth light brown skin and dark brown eyes that were “failing” as he described them.

            Walt and Marie had no children of their own, but seemed to enjoy hearing other couples’ endlessly describe their children’s events. The couple even shared in the high and low points of raising kids, in their roles as Auntie Marie and Uncle Walt. Johnnie and Carole had three boys, grown and living in Chicago, and the McGwire’s had an only child, Margie, in Columbus.

            Johnnie was someone you could lean on when you had a business problem. His head worked that way. Always trying to solve a problem. He knew what would work and the right questions to ask. He wasn’t impetuous like Tom.  The two guys got along well.

            Tom liked to talk with Johnnie and hear his ideas. And vice-versa.

            Johnnie came from a well-off family, but could not be called wealthy. His family made their  “new money” by investing in good deals while Tom relied on his inheritance that paid off in monthly dividends. It was “old money.” At seventy-four, tall and lean with a balding head rimmed with gray and a perfect-teeth smile, Johnnie loved a good joke and liked to be with Walt, who had a cynical  sense of humor, and was a reliable source of sensible advice.

            The group’s get-togethers were a time to share jokes, stories, political opinions, hopes, and even fears.  As they had grown older, their friendships had become closer.

            Then there was Carole’s precipitate death from complications of myriad  health problems. Carole was a classic blonde beauty, who was stricken with early symptoms of Parkinson’s and other life threatening problems. She moved into Sunny Glen because Johnnie could no longer manage the complicated medical routine needed to care for her.

            He never moved into Sunny Glen because he wanted to be independent as long as he could manage. That left Johnnie alone in his house. But only for a while.

            Four months later came another heart-breaker.  It didn’t seem possible, but Marie died from lung cancer that was found to be inoperable. The fast-growing tumor was discovered during a routine examination.

            When Johnnie insisted on Walt moving in with him, it seemed  logical  for the two friends  to share Johnnie’s Hillmont home. Walt resisted at first but was persuaded that the two guys could help each other. He hated the thought of moving into assisted living, where you had to follow restrictive rules.

            Both men were in good health but struggling to manage their lingering grief. Since Johnnie’s home was big enough, with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, each with its own small patio, he welcomed Walt for the friendship he enjoyed   Sharing the house was practical for them. Of the two, Johnnie seemed to be coping best with being a widower.

            After Tom died six months later, the guys tried to include Celia in their plans as often as possible. Going to the movies and dinner was something they did frequently.

            Celia was elated with the invite from Johnnie and Walt. She went to her small closet to look at what to wear. It wasn’t really a problem since she had thinned out her wardrobe when she moved into this small space. She decided on her red sweater and black pantsuit.

            She held the suit up in front of her and stood looking into the full-length mirror on the back of the door. The confident woman in the mirror smiled back.

            Travel light, she thought, grabbing a filmy nightie and a toothbrush for her night at the Claridge hotel-spa. She rolled up the gown with the brush inside and stuck them into her large handbag. Celia had always said she could live out of that bag for three days.