Rest Easy *Valentine's Day Entry*

*I'm submitting the first part of a novel, as it is still underway, but almost complete! I began it in January and the majority of it was written after the opening of the competition, but I had to re-upload because of the original upload date*

*Based on Prompts #1 and #2*

In Arizona, two teenagers spend a summer attempting to decrypt the life of an elderly woman with dementia, who had gone missing over forty years ago and cannot recall to anyone where and how she lived. This ongoing mission keeps the teenagers occupied all summer, bringing them closer and helping them to avoid the rough times they have been going enduring in their lives, and the pasts they just want to forget. As the pair grow a bond, it eventually appears that the world around them wishes against it. The price of overcoming the obstacles that stand ahead of them is hefty, but only they can determine whether it is worth the risk.

For those on desktop - I've added thematic songs to some of the chapters :)

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7. CHAPTER FIVE | MARIE

 

 

Dudley parked his battered pick-up outside of Naya’s house at half one in the afternoon, on the induction day of the volunteer programme. School was over and summer had officially begun, and this was where he found himself on a blazing hot Arizona day. He sat and waited, checking himself out in the left rear view mirror. His hair was tied up into a loose low bun, and he picked out a new t-shirt to wear. It kind of felt like he was going on a date; a perpetual, two-and-a-half month date. He didn’t text Naya to let her know he was outside. Instead, he turned the music in his vehicle up to as loud as it could go before it rattled his brains. Twenty seconds later, she emerged from her front door. She had on the gold-rimmed glasses, and was wearing denim dungarees with an orange turtleneck sweater underneath. Her converses were also orange, and she had sunset-coloured earrings dangling above her shoulders. Everything she wore put Dudley’s plain white tee and black jeans to shame.

“You could have called, you know.”

“My phone was gonna die,” Dudley lied, pulling off of the pavement once Naya was seated. “Didn’t want to waste my battery.”

Naya was firstly taken aback by the tobacco-filled aroma in the car, along with the ageing smell of the leather seats. It was like it was passed along from his grandfather or something like that. She asked if it was a hand-me-down. He said no, that his brother stole his real car and totalled it, so now he was stuck with whatever hot mess this was. It was OK though, because he liked driving out to the desert sometimes and lying in the back of the pick-up, watching the sun rise or set. She laughed and said that was kind of corny, he said he didn’t care. She followed up with, “But also pretty cute, I guess.” He smirked and kept his eyes on the road.

 

“God, I wish this thing had an aux cord option.” Naya said, watching the houses grow more scarce as they left the town. The desert hills took their place, rolling out ahead in the vista. Arizona was all Dudley knew, but he loved it the way a traveller still yearned for home. There was something so sleepy and free about it, something so wild and tranquil. It was definitely home, and always would be.

“You don’t like my music taste?” Dudley huffed.

“I merely tolerate it.” Expectation by Tame Impala was filling up the air in the car, and though it wouldn’t be Naya’s first choice of song, she didn’t mind it all that much. She watched as Dudley bopped his head to the rhythm. This one’s a cool kid, she thought.

 

She had heard a quite a bit about him when she first arrived. After meeting Amber Williams and Tori Richards in Art class on her second day, she soon found out about Tomas ‘Totem’ Williams and his friends. One day, as she sat on the steps outside the library with her new comrades, Totem approached with his partner-in-crime, and Naya spent the rest of the day trying to figure him out. She got nowhere on the evening of the cinema excursion, either. Still, she had heard all the rumours about how he had cheated on the hottest girl in South Harlow with the third-hottest girl in North Harlow, and sometimes the Girls would throw in their two cents regarding Dudley Warrington, the evasive misguided kid. She wanted to find out everything, straight from the horse’s mouth. It meant a lot to her, trying to understand people to the fullest. One day, she would lose the one thing that people took for granted when it came to gauging out new people’s characteristics and body language, so she savoured the times that it was still that tiny bit easier to discover people in more than one way. She couldn’t just be satisfied with hearsay; she had to find things out for herself, and she told herself that she would find out about Dudley Warrington, one way or another.

 

Salvation Hill was a gated nursing home, around a mile ahead of the gas station that hung on the edge of Harlow. It was not in the best shape, but it wasn’t in the worst either. Dudley pulled up to the intercom and waited for the gates to slide open like blinds.

“State your name, please.” The voice in the intercom rumbled.

“What?” Dudley furrowed his brows.

“Your name? We need to double-check that you’re on the visitors’ list.”

“Oh, we’re not visitors. We’re volunteers.”

“Oh, I see,” the voice murmured. “Our very first! Come on through.”

 

When Dudley and Naya reached the reception, they were greeted with hospitable welcomes from a middle-aged couple. They were Roy and Gita Crawford, the founders of Salvation Hill. As they exchanged handshakes, Dudley couldn’t help but notice the pastel yellow walls and the slight smell of something he couldn’t put his finger on. This must be what old people smell like, he thought. He had no reason to feel embarrassed, but he realised that he did. He hadn’t interacted with old people for as long as he could remember; his mother was estranged from her parents, and his father estranged from his own. He never really knew grandparents, like everyone else did. He didn’t know calloused hands and fat cigars and stories of another life, relived and retold by his elders. He realised he was about to be overwhelmed with a whole new type of person, one that he hadn’t had practise interacting with. The old and the fragile, the wise and experienced. He didn’t know much about them, from face value. It was all arms-length, and now he was being given the responsibility of taking care of them.

 

“We honestly weren’t sure if y’all’d make it.” Gita beamed, leading the pair down the hallway. “Most kids aren’t into this kinda stuff.”

“We don’t mind. We’ve got nothing better to do.” Naya said. Speak for yourself, Dudley told her in his head. I’ve got plenty to do, but I’m sacrificing my time just for you. Who Am I Kidding, I have nothing to do, you’re right. But you better be glad I joined you.

“This is a small care home; there aren’t that many residents. We’re currently housing around forty people, most of whom are in and out, and most who have regular visits from family members and friends. But not everyone here is that lucky.” At that time, most of the residents were either lounging outside or sitting in the common room. They seemed fairly normal, which was a relief for Dudley. He wasn’t sure whether he was expecting either people half-dead or in straightjackets.

They were shown around all the different rooms, including the small library and the dining area, as well as the kitchen and the bathrooms. They were only permitted to enter a resident’s room if they were assigned to care for them. Over the course of the summer, they would be given one particular resident to work with, but were still free to interact with the others.

Gita led them to the back yard outside. It was huge, stretching out quite far. There was a gazebo right at the end, and a small fountain in the middle. The green grass was cut so perfectly, it looked plastic. Dudley only had to look up and notice the gardener watering the ground to realise that he wouldn’t be doing it just for fun. There were a bunch of oldies sitting or standing around in the yard. Out on the grass sat an old woman in a chair, fanning herself in the heat with her legs crossed. She appeared to be deep in thought, or really fascinated by the view of the desert ahead.

That is Marie Von Delden,” Gita said, pointing out at the lady. “She hasn’t had one visitor since arriving here a couple of years ago.”

Shit. I’m sorry. I mean, heck.” Dudley needed to work on his language.

Naya held in a snicker, before asking Gita,“Why not?”

“She’s a bit of an enigma, this one. Hard to pinpoint. I mean, she does have dementia, but that’s not the whole reason why she’s such a mystery lady. There just isn’t much we know about her.”

“How did she end up here?”

Gita told them it was a bittersweet story. “She was found living alone in a run-down house outside Harlow. She hadn’t paid rent in months. It looked like she hadn’t done anything in months, really. She didn’t contest to moving into Salvation Hill, so we took all that we could of her belongings and gave the rest away. She’s been here ever since.”

“Oh, wow.” Naya gasped. “That’s insane. Not one visitor?”

“Well, that’s sort of a lie. Around a year ago, the authorities came knocking on our door. They said they were looking for a lady who’d gone missing decades ago. We asked what they thought she’d be doing here, they said that her social security activity had tracked them there. They had a bunch of old photos of a Ma’am called Violet Marie Winslow, from back in the seventies. We showed them to Marie, and her face lit up like a campfire! She told everyone that those photos were of her.”

“Oh my God.” Was all Naya could say. Dudley wasn’t a thousand per cent sure, but felt like he had heard this story in the news, or overheard people mention it once. The three just stood quietly and stared at the old lady for a few seconds.

“Nothing is known of her life since she vanished. Not from our part, and not from those who were looking around for her. We couldn’t ask her if we tried; her memory is real unreliable. She only tells us what she’s thinking of in that current moment, and it might be gone forever within minutes.”

Gita continued, telling them how her daughter, Charlotte Winslow, visited shortly after the authorities found her. She was in her forties herself now, and she had never known her mother, as she’d vanished when she was a baby. She had children of her own, and her father had died almost twenty years ago from a heart attack, never getting to kick the bucket with the knowledge of his wife’s fate. Charlotte brought in three boxes of her mother’s belongings, which mainly consisted of books, photos and some old clothes. Marie of course didn’t recognise her daughter. Everything that she owned could fit into the back of Dudley’s pick-up truck. It was a pretty sad life, in a way; to have lived, breathed, rejoiced and cried, married and birthed, all for that to be erased and shrouded in a foggy mind that no longer fully served its purpose. He was afraid of what it felt like to not be in control of your own body, and he thought of how that was what his mother was like for a long time, once she left the hospital. He knew firsthand what it was like to lose autonomy, and he wasn’t sure if he was up for the challenge of keeping the mysterious Marie Von Delden company, watching her deteriorate in front of his eyes.

 

Later on, he sat on the front porch of the care home, lighting a cigarette. Naya could sense that his mood had shifted.

“You good?”

“Yeah. It’s not that bad here,” he lied. “I don’t mind it.”

“The Marie lady,” Naya said. “You’re not sure about her, are you?”

“There’s nothing for me to not be sure about.”

“I know. But I can tell it bothers you.”

“You don’t know me. You don’t know what bothers me.”

Naya kept silent for a while, staring at the ground as Dudley took a few impatient puffs of smoke. “I felt kinda weird there, too. I just figured you felt the same. There’s something different about her, I can tell. I know we haven’t even spoken to her yet, but I don’t know. There is, right?”

“I don’t know.” Dudley was shutting down, his responses becoming curt.

“There’s probably so much shit she’s seen in her life. Crazy, cool, mad shit. Something memoir-worthy.”

“Maybe.”

Naya paused again, thinking of something to say. “…We should do something cool, to pass our time here. If we’re going to be stuck with that old lady, we should make the most of it.” She looked up at him, as he stared out into the mountains.

“Something like what?”

“I don’t know. Try to figure out the most plausible explanation for her disappearance, and guess what she’s been up to all these years. I mean, this is pretty nuts. She has a completely different name, for crying out loud. There are dozens of possibilities as to how her life ended up.”

“That’s not gonna solve anything though, is it?”

“Well, it’s bothering me not knowing. And I know we’ll never find out the truth, but it will give me a peace of mind. I can rest easy knowing I tried to figure her out, even if she can’t do that  herself anymore. It’ll be a nice distraction.”

The pair stood quietly for a while. Naya’s icy blue eyes glimmered with the reflection of the sun, as she leaned over the railing of the porch.

“I suppose it isn’t the worst idea in the world.” Dudley shrugged.

“Yeah. We just have to crack the code. Play guessing games for a while. It’ll make time fly by, trust me.”

 

It may have seemed convenient at the time, but making time fly was something that Dudley and Naya would eventually try to fight against.

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