Chapter Two

            Feeling her lungs fill up with fresh air energized Celia. For the first time in a week, she was in high spirits on her walk from Sunny Glen to the theater. It was only five blocks away, an easy  a slightly uphill walk. She knew the exact distance because she had walked that way many times.

            For the moment, it was misty, a familiar form of Bay Area air conditioning. She could see a few milky blue patches in the sky and some grimacing dark ones, too. Really beautiful. She  thought people should look at the sky more often.

            Celia was in good spirits, not because she was going to a movie. She didn’t have a clue about the titles now playing, which may seem odd. It was the anticipation of being with her friends Johnnie and Walt again.

            She wanted to meet inside because she wanted to pay for her own ticket and treat the guys to popcorn. Not to spare them the money, rather to show in a small way that she always wanted to pay her way.  In the old days, the guys always paid and it wasn’t fair.

            Money was not a problem for Johnnie. He was generous, as in to a fault. Celia had noticed this was often the way of children from well-off families. Coming from a middle class   family that was barely making ends meet, Celia was stingy by her own definition  always trying to find the best and cheapest.

            Johnnie loved business and law. He would have been a highly successful lawyer had he chosen that direction instead of investments. He went into the business because he didn’t have the patience to go to law school. It was the work he was born to do and he proved to be extremely successful at it. In all, he was a renaissance man with boundless talents.

            He quit his work almost completely to provide full-time care of Carole. His new job was watching after her, and he was equally competent as a caregiver and investment consultant.

          She never lost the elegant beauty that turned heads. It was the kind of good looks that all women and men admire.

            Celia was good looking, but in a different way. Nothing spectacular, just healthy looking, with regular features and smooth tanned skin. People called it olive skin, but that seemed to be another of those misapplied words, since olives were usually black or green,  not suntan.

            Johnnie adored Carole, and why not? She was not only beautiful on the outside, she was sweet and intelligent ‘without a mean bone in her body,’ Celia would say about Carole, who was her good friend. They often lunched together and went to matinee movies. That was another good part of the group friendship.  The women were friends on a girly basis and the men were doing the guy thing. The women often shared their frustrations ending with the comment, ‘That’s a man for you.’ While the men would say, ‘She’s just acting like a woman.’ But, when they all got together, they had great fun.

            After Carole got desperately ill and went into Sunny Glen, Johnnie worked just as hard as ever giving her care. No one except Johnnie would or could give her the meticulous care he did, and he knew it. He kept track of all her medicines and when they should be taken, as well as the schedule of what she should be doing at any given time of the day.

            He was a natural-born caregiver. He even knew how to shampoo and blow-dry her hair, something he had learned when she asked him if he would do it, instead of having a hairdresser come to the house every week. He accepted the task with good humor. “I never thought I’d be a hairdresser but I like it.” He loved anything he did for Carole.

            Johnnie hated putting Carole in a rest home, as he called all assisted living places. But she had to have around-the-clock care after her illness advanced. Her needs became more complex. Johnnie’s own health was beginning to show signs of stress.

            He almost lived at Sunny Glen spending most of the day there_ pestering the help on what they should do, how they should do it, and when they should do it.

            Although he knew she lived a fragile existence, Johnnie was shocked and angry when Carole died suddenly of a massive stroke. Mostly he was angry with himself, because there hadn’t been time to call him to her side and he wasn’t there for her last moments.

            Somehow it just could not be. He was tormented by the notion that if he had been there, it would not have happened.

            Why couldn’t they have stopped it? He blamed himself for going home early that evening because he was so exhausted. If only he had stayed_maybe  just maybe_ he might have saved her life. In his mind he knew that was a foolish thought but in his heart it made sense.

            He was virtually lost without her. There was nothing to fill his days. It was agonizing to think about her death. He either slept too much or too little, and often dreamed that she really was just asleep and would waken soon.

            The saving grace was his dear friend Walt. On the night Carole died, they sat together and cried together. It was an awful time.

            Marie died very soon after Carol’s death. It seemed almost impossible and tragically ironic that a vibrant woman, one who had spent her life volunteering for great causes, died of cancer. Without children, Marie and Walt were closer than many couples. The focus of their attention was on helping others. They loved spending time in Hawaii especially Kauai, where they had met, courted, and were married.

            It was bitter fruit, Marie dying of lung cancer, because she had been a volunteer for the Lung Association and had never smoked a cigarette, had not ever taken a puff.  Doctors who cared for her believed the increase in air pollution and second hand smoke was the cause.

            Walt felt he was needed to keep Johnnie in his right mind. And his own, too. With his quiet humor and wisdom, Walt had helped Johnnie through a lot of bad days. He was a person who accepted whatever came his way with grace. Johnnie thought this was probably because of Walt’s church-going ways.

      Although he was raised a Jewish kid, Johnnie didn’t belong to a Temple. He described himself as agnostic because he wasn’t sure one way or another about a higher being or a god.

            Walt was a Roman Catholic and went to church every Sunday at St. Paul’s Catholic church in Hillmont. He frequently shared Jesus stories from the New Testament with Johnnie, not in an attempt to proselytize him, rather as a way of pointing out a moral lesson.

            While Johnnie didn’t agree with the basic premise of Jesus speaking the only truth, he did admire Walt’s moral grounding, which seemed to come from his faith and belief that Jesus was a very good and kind person whose works should be emulated.

            Walt was not as well off financially as Johnnie. Still, he had enough income to suit him. He would say, “I have enough to get me into trouble but not enough to get me out of it.” This made him a more conservative spender than Johnnie. He only spent money on something he considered essential. And he had found there were very few essentials in life. Primarily he considered good food and martinis as essential. Everything else was superfluous. As a tenured professor of biology, he had a good university pension, but it wasn’t locked into inflation so he lived simply and enjoyed it.

            In recent years, Walt had serious problems with his eyes, probably from macular degeneration. He couldn’t drive at night and was iffy driving in the daytime. He got by, providing there wasn’t anyone else on the road.

           Since Walt and Marie lived in a remote hilly area of the city, after her death he became almost completely dependent on friends to drive him around. Walt hated asking people to do him favors so he usually stayed home.

            He had been grieving the loss of Marie when Johnnie asked him to move in. At first,

 Walt gave him a flat out no, he couldn’t move in. But Johnnie insisted.

            Walt decided to look into assisted living, as he realized driving was getting to be impossible and he needed to be nearer to places to eat and shop.

            He visited several places including Sunny Glen. Like most of the people there, he liked the neighborhood with all the restaurants and shops. He understood the meals at Sunny Glen had to be suitable for older folks, residents with few or no teeth and others who couldn’t digest complex foods.

            But he wasn’t one of them, not yet. And worst of all. No martinis! Not ever. And no wine,  not even in your own room.  Impossible, that was cruel and unusual punishment.

            He thought the restrictions were required because well-meaning religious organizations ran these places. Walt didn’t accept the explanation that alcohol had no place in a rest home.

            There were a couple of places that had cocktail hours before dinner, but it wasn’t the same as lifting one in your own living room or patio. He understood how the rest homes might have to monitor alcohol consumption of some folks for health reasons, but he wasn’t one of them—not yet.

            Besides, he wanted to live life fully, not rest as they do in rest homes.

            Walt wanted great food cooked for people who enjoy eating, not dieters. A tender juicy steak or chops were his favorites.

            Overall, he found nursing homes depressing, especially after looking at the meal menus. He decided he would do almost anything but live ‘assisted.’

            With his wry sense of humor, looking at rest homes on a spiritual level, he imagined they were a form of purgatory.

            That was when he gave into Walt’s persistent invitation. He came to believe the arrangement would benefit both of them, and he would pay his way.

            Celia was reviewing the lives of Walt and Johnnie as she walked in the drizzle on her way to the theater. The street was full of people scurrying along, hoping to get their shopping done before the heavy rain began to fall.

            Now there’s Johnnie, Walt, and me. We are still the same people, but without our loved ones, or children, who live miles away.

           So, we are different but the same. Friends are everything now. Having hundreds of people around doesn’t mean you’re among friends. You can feel even more lonely in a place with 150 people who don’t know each other living together.

            It’s time we lived our lives, whatever is left of them—Celia knew that was true.

            The light mist was quickly feeling more like rain on her face but she didn’t raise her umbrella. Her destination was in sight. She could now see the jazzy neon sign that announced the movie titles on the theater marquis just ahead.

            She pulled her jacket a little closer as the chill of the weather pushed her along the sidewalk. The street was nearly empty now, with only a few women holding their purses or coats over their hair. Celia didn’t worry about that, she hadn’t had a hairdo in years.

            There was a line of bald and gray-haired patrons waiting to buy tickets for the movies. Four in the afternoon was a popular time because senior tickets were discounted.

            Well, there had to be something good about being a senior. It was the upside of age discrimination.

            Three small bags of unsalted small popcorn (no butter, particularly since she suspected wasn’t butter anyway) were enough to require a balancing act until Johnnie and Walt arrived. “Hi guys!” She hailed them as they came through the entrance into the lobby.

            They took turns embracing each other, letting some popcorn spill on the floor. They had to hurry as the movie was beginning. It was a B movie that had a few laughs but was not a winner. During most of the movie Celia enjoyed watching Johnnie and Walt savoring their popcorn. Both were handsome.

            A couple of hours later, when they emerged, blinking gopher-like in the brightly lit lobby, they saw that it was raining rather hard and the sky had darkened. Most people seemed surprised to be caught in a heavy rainstorm and clutched their jackets over their heads as they left the theater.

            “I’ll go get the car,” said Johnnie. “You guys wait inside.”

            “No, I’ll go with you,” Walt insisted. They were parked about three blocks away in parking lot and they only had one umbrella. “We’ll pick you up right in front of the theater, okay? We’re in the Mercedes.”

            Celia waited for them to come back. She stood inside by the door looking out into the rain. Gradually the theater emptied and new patrons came in, heading for the popcorn stand.

            After several minutes, Celia saw the shiny wet black Mercedes pull up in front of the theater. It looked quite elegant. Walt got out, and opened an umbrella. Celia made a quick exit from the theater, and hurried to the curb. Holding his raincoat close to him, he opened the back seat door and Celia jumped inside.

            Once everyone had buckled up, Walt said, “We’re going to Bayplace. Is that okay with you?”

            “It’s my all-time favorite place,” said Celia and settled back into the plush seat. She was feeling almost like Cinderella on her way to the ball.

            A little damp after the short walk from the valet parking area, they greeted the Bayplace staff and settled in at their favorite table. The waiter was asked to bring a bottle of house Chardonnay and duck flan, a specialty of the house they relished.

            Celia sat opposite the two guys, looking at their faces. They were a sight for sore eyes, as her mother would say.

            Walt asked her, “How are things going with you?”

            “You shouldn’t have asked,” she said. “Do you want to know the truth?”

            “The truth and nothing but,” said Johnnie. He could tell this was going to be a serious conversation. “What is bothering you, Celia? You seem pretty upset.”

            That was all she needed to start spilling over with her troubled feelings about Sunny Glen and its stupid rules. She concluded with, “I’m out of there for a couple nights. I hope you won’t mind dropping me at the Claridge Hotel. I’m going to stay at least one night and maybe two. I need to escape Sunny Glen.”

            Walt and Johnnie exchanged glances. Then Johnnie said, “Wait just a minute. I have a better idea, I think. It just popped into my head while you were talking. ”

            Both Walt and Celia listened intently, leaning in toward Johnnie. He held up both hands as if to put a stop to something. Celia figured he was going to suggest a different hotel. She would listen to what he had to say.

            “Don’t shoot this down until you hear me out. I just came up with it, so let’s talk it over and see how it would work for all of us, or if it would at all. We would all have to agree,”

            Celia and Walt waited and waited for Johnnie to go on. Finally he said, “Well, this is what I’m thinking.” He laid his hands flat on the table as though he was laying the idea on the table to be examined.

            “You move in with us,” he said and paused. He waited for what seemed a long time to see the reaction, but hardly a moment had gone by.

            Walt looked surprised at what Johnnie was saying but smiled and nodded affirmatively as to show his approval. He had so much respect and love for Johnnie, he would go along with almost anything he said. And he was very fond of Celia.

            “Why not?” Walt’s words finally stumbled out.

            After a long pause, Johnnie laughed aloud. “Well, what do you think Celia? You’re the star in this show.”

            Celia was overcome. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The generosity of the idea was almost more than she could comprehend in one quick bite. Did she hear him right?

            “Are you asking me to move into your house? With you guys?” She asked.

“That’s right,” he answered.

            “Well, I don’t know. I have to think about it. Moving in with two guys? Well, it’s different, I’ll say that for the idea. But do you really want me there? Wouldn’t it get in the way of the great living ethos you guys have with just the two of you?”

            “Not a bit,” they both rejoined.

            “Can I think about it?”

            “Like for how long?”

            “Your face is telling me yes, but your words are saying maybe,” said Walt. “So I choose the face answer.”

            Celia was thinking so hard you could hear the wheels turning, as Tom would have said.

            “What would Tom say?” she was thinking. The answer she was getting was encouraging. Tom would think it a great idea if she wanted to do it. She remembered how Tom often told her when she sought his advice, “Think for yourself, Sweetheart, I’ll support you in your decision.”

            Since it was Johnnie’s house they were talking about sharing, Walt deferred to him. But it seemed the right thing to do and it was his idea. Walt could see Celia was unhappy at Sunny Glen, and he knew she would fit right in at Johnnie’s place.

            Johnnie’s house was one of Celia’s favorite homes in Hillmont. It was a single-level, brown shingle house, situated on one of the few level lots in the hilly little community. It was craftsman style, with high ceilings, lovely beams, and wood paneling. There was a great fireplace, and  views of the city from almost every room.

            The furniture was also craftsman style, with soft low sofas and chairs that you could sink into. She had only seen the bedrooms once but remembered that each had a small patio where you could sit in the sun and see all the Bay Bridges.

            Compared to the mansions in Hillmont, the house wasn’t  big, jus roomy and  comfortable. It was on a large lot, however, with a tall hedge surrounding it.

            She was trying to imagine how she would fit into the picture.

            When Johnnie sensed there was general acceptance, or at least no resistance, so he launched the pitch that would, as he would say, close the deal.

            “You can have a suite all to yourself,” Johnnie began. “Your own bedroom, bathroom and patio. You’ll have lots of privacy and comfort and it’s a great neighborhood with two servants at your disposal. Isn’t that right, Walt?”

            Walt saluted. “Yes sir!”

            It was just what Celia wanted to hear.

            “Well, how would I contribute to the arrangement? How about I cook on the nights we don’t eat out like this?”

            She was beginning to warm to the idea of moving from Sunny Glen into a whole new world. It sounded wild and very different, but fun.

            “One more thing,” Celia added. “I must have a garden with sunflowers and heather and daises everywhere.”

            “She has to have a garden, Walt. That’s something we’ve never had, can we handle a garden?”

            “If you want a garden, we’ll help you. I can dig it, get it? It’s going to be your garden at our house. And I do mean our house. Walt, me, and you, Celia.”

            There would be all sorts of pesky details, Celia was thinking, but I want to do it more than anything in the world at this moment. Still she was cautious.

            “How about if we try it for a few nights instead of my going to the hotel tonight?” She hadn’t made a reservation at the Claridge. Now she was glad she hadn’t.

            “Absolutely.” Johnnie was elated.

            “It’s an offer I can’t refuse. Let’s drink to that.” And they raised their wine glasses and touched rims.

            Suddenly, she thought of one of those pesky details.

            “But Lordie,” she said, becoming serious. She put her glass down. “What about Sunny Glen? What can I do about my agreement there? And what about Margie? What will she think of me, her mother of a certain age, living with two guys? The three of us acting like old hippies?”

            The three of them were making so much noise, the whole restaurant of dinner guests turned their heads to see who was so being so loud. It was the most fun the threesome had had for a very long time even though it was a serious conversation.

            “Come on, this is about us and our lives, not about what other people think.” Walt said, as always, giving good advice. “You put up with the antics of your children then they were growing up. Now it’s their turn.”

            Johnnie also had  practical advice. “Don’t worry about the Sunny Glen arrangement. I’ll work that one through. As for Margie, this will be a test of her ability to deal with life as is.”

            Maybe it was the wine. But wine had never made Celia this happy.

            Celia’s mind was flashing visions of having her own bedroom, bathroom and patio. And real fresh air floating through an open window instead of air conditioning blasting through a vent.  She imagined how it would be living with Walt and Johnnie. In the morning she would have coffee, read the newspapers and dawdle at a kitchen table in an honest-to-goodness home.

            “You do get the New York Times, don’t you?” she asked. They nodded.

At that very moment, she came up with a temporary solution.

            “Okay. Would this work for you? I’ll stay tonight, and tomorrow we’ll talk about whether I should stay longer or go back to Sunny Glen. It will be kind of a trial run.”


            When they got to Johnnie’s house, he and Walt gave Celia a grand tour of the place. Although she had been a guest many times, she hadn’t seen all the rooms before.

            First there was the kitchen, a sleek, updated dream come true with a six burner professional gas stove, two ovens, and an assortment of kitchen appliances to make cooking interesting.

            Johnnie had remodeled the kitchen to include all the best. But he always joked that no one who lived here ever cooked in it. That’s why it was brand new.

            “You can spend as much time as you want in here. But don’t feel you have to, if you get tired of cooking. We do our own laundry, so you don’t have to get involved in any of that. Or any work for that matter. Someone comes in to clean the house once a week.”

            Celia opened the huge refrigerator and peered inside. It was empty except for cold cuts, milk, beer and two sad-looking pizza boxes.

            “Looks like we’ll be going shopping tomorrow,” was her first thought.

            Johnnie and Walt looked at each approvingly. They figured she would stay at least two nights and maybe more.

            When they showed Celia her bedroom, she remembered being in there right after Carole had decorated it as a guest room for their three sons and their wives. The room was so neat and perfect,  Celia suspected no one had been in it for a very long time. And that was exactly right.

            Since their sons attended college in Chicago, they got jobs there, married and put their roots down. Then there were job promotions, children and their school activities. After that, there were fewer trips to the Left Coast, as they called California. Most of the time they would ask Johnnie to visit them because it was less expensive for them. They liked having Walt live with their dad because they didn’t want him to be lonely.

            “It’s beautiful,” Celia said when she saw the pale buttery yellow walls and puffy bedding. The closet was empty, as were the dresser drawers. Johnnie showed her the walk-in closet and the bathroom as if he were a bell captain showing a hotel room.

            “Nothing but the best towels,” he said showing her a stack of thick white towels in the bathroom. “I know there’s a hair dryer in here someplace,” he said opening cupboard doors. “Make yourself to home, Celia, this is your home as long as you want it.”

            Celia walked over and gave Johnnie a hug, then turning to Walt she hugged him, too. They were pretty sure she liked the place and would stay a while.

            “How about a night cap? Some Port wine or brandy?” Walt liked an after dinner drink.

            “Chamomile tea sounds good to me,” said Celia. She was full of food and wine.

            “Is there really such a thing as Chamomile tea? Isn’t it just an imaginary brew Beatrix Potter made up for Peter Rabbit’s story?” asked Johnnie who remembered reading the story to his kids when they were little.

            “Not imaginary at all,” she said. “Lots of us drink chamomile tea all the time. We will buy some tomorrow. It really helps you get to sleep when you have a lot on your mind. On second thought, I could use something even more sleep-inducing, so maybe I’ll have a tiny bit of Port.”

            They settled into the soft and deep living room chairs  and looked out the view window at the dark sky dotted with stars. The rain had stopped.

            There was a complete silence as Celia snuggled into the sofa. She kicked off her shoes and put her feet up on a coffee table that was covered with news magazines and stacks of old newspapers.

            “I cannot believe we’re here ,and I’m going to stay. At least for tonight and maybe a few more days.   Tomorrow you may  decide you don’t want me at all. This will be a trial run, okay?”

               Walt was quick to answer, “Whatever you say, my friend. Think of this place as the home of the ‘Not Ready Yet’ group. It cuts across age. Here we are, three friends almost decades apart but all in the same frame of mind. You’re the youngster, Celia, at sixty -seven. Johnnie’s seventy-four, and I’m eighty-two.

            “We’re all in about the same physical shape, with me the worst off because of my eyes. But none of us is ready yet for assisted living. To me, it comes down to this: If you’re ready for it, go do it, but if you aren’t ready yet, call it alternative living, or Not Ready Yet.”

            They sat silently weighing what Walt had said, and soon Celia raised her glass. “Here’s to Not Ready Yet.” She felt tired, and saw that it was past 11 o’clock.

            “Good night you guys.” She got up from her chair, stretched and yawned. As she headed for her bedroom, she blew a kiss their way.

            “Do we have a short term guest or a co-resident?” Johnnie asked Walt when Celia was safely out of earshot.

            “It’s too early to say. Let’s take this one day at a time.”

            In her bedroom, Celia looked out the window into the patio. The rain was gone, and there was almost a full moon. She considered this a sign of good luck.

            After she undressed, she laid out her clothes on the chair,  slipped into her nightgown, then climbed into the luxurious bed with its puffy mattress, and down comforter.Celia reached over to see if there was a Goneness Place here for Tom. She pressed her palm and circled  thespot. Yes, he was there We’ll always be together wherever I go, she said to herself as sleep took over.