LEISURE WORLD

I assume the message is about the dead rabbits when I see Leisure World's phone number on a pink While You Were Out slip propped up on my desk.  Leisure World is infested with rabbits since they drained the nearby lagoon to get rid of the gators.  Apparently the gators had kept the rabbit population under control.  Now they've reproduced like ...well, like rabbits.  Hordes of them run all over the place, hopping across paths and roadways, burrowing into the shrubs.  I tripped over one while visiting Grandpa at Leisure World last week.  It looked up at me like I was a dumb bunny in its way.

Grandpa runs down the rabbits with golf carts.  Intentionally. He cackles with pleasure as he plows into them at full throttle, smearing their guts on the sidewalk.  Then he drives the cart back to Unit 221, his own little utopia, where he keeps a tally that must be three digits long by now.  None of the groundskeepers are happy with him because of the bloody trail of terror he leaves behind.  They tried, once, to suggest that he clean up after himself.  "Cleaning is women's work," Gramps sneered.  I imagine him arching his bushy white eyebrows and staring down his royal aquiline nose at the male groundskeepers.

With trepidation I dial the number I know by heart.  I don't need the pink slip.  A cheery voice answers:  "This is Leisure World, a retirement community for older seniors.  Barbara Winchell, at your service."   She's my least favorite person of all the smiley-faced camp counselor types that run the establishment.

"Sue Anne Eckstein returning your call."  I sit at my desk and fiddle with my computer, calling up my email before she responds.

"Sue Anne, dear," she begins in this high-pitched artificial voice, drawling out the three words as if they are toxic, one long syllable at a time.  I hate it when people begin with words like dear or honey or sweetie or sugar pie.  It means they are pouring syrup over something nasty that will follow.  "It's your Grandfather..."

An inordinately long pause follows.  Most likely it is for dramatic effect.  Maybe she wants me to think the worst.  Probably.  I'm not sure what the worst would be.  Death is inevitable.  Our family knows that.  We've dwindled to three - Grandpa, me, and my brother Charlie (and his largish clan of bible thumping in-laws who pretend not to be related to me or to Grandpa).

I open an email and wait for her to go on.  I oversee a foundation that administers art grants.  Queries and sad stories roll across my desk daily, along with angry letters, usually following rejections. I have to deal with them all.  I am not paid to deal with Grandpa.  However, Barbara and the rah-rah crew at Leisure World are paid plenty for their ‘care'.

This email is from an artist who paints breasts, literally breasts. Only breasts. All shapes and sizes, in lurid neon colors.  He's attached some photos to convince me of his artistic merit or to excite me.  I can't tell which.  The breasts look like candy mountain blobs.

"It seems that your Grandfather has vanished," Barbara finally intones.

With one click I send the breast artist a form letter and my best discouraging vibes.  He will apply in spite of this, I can tell.  I recognize it.   If I could make him vanish instead of Grandpa, I would.   I sigh and Barbara hears me.

"Sue Anne, are you there?"  Her voice crescendos and I have to respond.

"Hmm - vanished how?  A puff of smoke?   A puddle of water, melted, perhaps?  Like in Wizard of Oz.  Or has he eloped with Natalie?  How does one vanish leisurely?"   I know what it sounds like to her.  I don't care.  For Christ's sake, it's a gated community, safe.  They say so in their brochure.  Peace of mind.  Security.  Paid for supervision.

"Young lady," she says from the playbook entitled Stern Authority Addressing a Child. The ridiculousness of it strikes me since she's no older than me.   She may not realize it though because she has one of those Florida tans that destroys skin and has left her looking like a prune.  I avoid the sun.  Especially since I've been into tattoos.  They need protection, particularly in their early stage.

"This is serious.  He's taken a golf cart and left our campus.  That's theft, you know.  Grand larceny in Florida."  Her voice is rising higher.  It's punching little holes in the ceiling.  I figure that's how the acoustic tiles get their holes - puncture marks, from shrill voices, from thousands of Barbaras and their ear-splitting high decibel pronouncements.

If they try to revoke his golf cart privileges, I don't know what I'll do.  He wants to believe that he resides at a hoity-toity resort, living a life of leisure.  That's the picture my brother and I have painted for him.  It's the carts, available on demand that allow him to fantasize about his life.  The golf carts and the women residents - his harem - and the ornate glass chandeliers in the dining room.  Evidence that he's living the good life.

"Call the police.  Surely it can't be hard to find an elderly gentlemen on a golf cart."  I study the most recent tattoo on my arm.  It's a year old now, a willow tree bending over graciously.  It looks Japanese.  Its branches hang almost to the invisible water that I see below it in my mind.  I hear the willow leaves rustling.  I clench my fist and the branches move.  Sway.  More like hair than leaf.

"You can't be serious, honey," she snaps at me.  She's starting to sound rabid. "Florida is riddled with elderly gentlemen on golf carts.  Take away their car keys and bingo!  They get a golf cart.  There's a drive-in movie theater in Orange Grove that is expressly for golf carts.  Row after row of them line up with speakers hooked onto their armrests.  Every night. And they are all, all, driven by elderly gentlemen."  Her voice is crackling. "Asking the police to find an elderly man on a golf cart would take the entire force a week or a month or forever.  You must know where he's gone."  I imagine her tensed mouth foaming, red lipstick smudged outside of boundaries.   "Didn't he say anything to you?  I'll bet you have a clue."

She thinks I'm a fucking Nancy Drew.  I make the willow tree pulse some more, squeezing and releasing my fist several times.  The willow tree was added onto my arm last year, after Mom died.  She ran a restaurant, Willow-a-Way Diner.   Pie and coffee were her specialties.  And soups.  Homemade bread, baked to perfection.  A picture of a willow tree like this one, hung above the front door.  It was a late night place, a hangout for artists and musicians. I grew up waiting their tables.  That's how I got my start in the art world.

"Sue Anne, are you listening to me?"

"Sorry, Barbara, I'm at work.  Distractions abound."  Actually, there are only three of us that ever work in this office.  At the moment I'm here alone, but she needn't know that.   "What do you want me to do?"

I hit the delete button and the third letter in a month from one Mr. A. L. Johnson, artist extraordinaire, vanishes.

I agree to appear at LW the next morning, hoping he'll return by then and knowing that he won't without some corralling.  That old man has caused more trouble in my life than anyone of my bad boyfriends.  Barbara goes on and on about needing this signature and that.  Visits she thinks I should make to the morgue to view unidentified bodies.  Penalties.  Loss of privileges.  But it's obvious that she expects me to hit the road and find him on my own.   And bring back her precious golf cart.

Hopefully I'll be able to cajole them into making another exception for Grandpa.  The Leisure World management cuts a lot of slack for male residents.  Men are a rare commodity there, a handful at best.  The women flit about Grandpa, cooing like a flock of pigeons.  He loves it.  He puffs out his scrawny chest and shuffles partners daily.

"They love to dance with me," he says.  "Natalie tells me that I dance salsa like a Cubano.  She says only Cuban men move the way I move to music.  I'm especial."  He says this last bit with a flourish, kissing two fingers and flinging them into the air.

Natalie could be the oldest woman in the assisted/independent living complex (and it's a very complex complex).  She must be two hundred years old or pushing it.  I'm not sure how she dances with her walker.  Maybe she locks walkers with her partner while shuffling along the converted dining room dance floor. Sort of like teenagers locking braces while kissing.

Since Grandpa moved into Leisure World he dresses as nattily as he appeared in our old family photos.  He wears ironed shirts - from the cleaners in a box, no starch.  Starch gives him a rash, he says.  He douses himself with Canoe, his favorite god-awful cologne.  Shines his shoes daily.  On his head he sports a straw bowler to keep the sun off of his face.  "I've got skin like a baby's butt," he says patting a pock marked cheek, oblivious to the face in the mirror.  In the evenings he wears a jacket to dinner, with a silk handkerchief in the pocket, regardless of the sweltering weather.  He varies the handkerchief colors to match his shirts.

When I join him for dinner on Friday nights, he introduces me as his girlfriend. Suzy-Q, he calls me.  Some of the women titter. Others glare at me as if I am robbing the opposite of the cradle.  I pat his arm and give him a peck on his cheek, holding my breath so I don't suffocate from his perfume.  Whatever I do, I don't contradict him.  My mother used to do that, before she died - when he was living with us.  She was the only one I ever heard talk back to him, the only person he ever let speak to him that way.  With his huge white mane of hair, thick white eyebrows over icy blue eyes, and a cane that's more like a cudgel, no one messes with him.  He says whatever he damn well pleases and to hell with everyone else.

I phone Charlie, across the border in Georgia.  He always makes a point about it being a border, what separates him from us.  I imagine it on some days as a barbed wire fence.  On other days I see it as a brick wall studded with broken glass to keep out intruders, aliens, outsiders.   I look for it whenever I drive north but it's been cloaked and made invisible.  Charlie and I know it is there and it keeps us from face-to-face confrontation.

"Gramps has gone AWOL," I inform him when I hear his voice.  I love his voice, low and soothing.  It must be what my father's voice sounded like.  I remember it only faintly.  At night.  Telling me bedtime stories and patting my back as I drifted off to sleep.  Charlie's voice makes me drowsy.  My eyelids grow heavy.  I lean back in my office chair and let my head fall to one side as I clutch the phone.

"Suzy, I can't help you with this one."  He sounds pained.  "Beavis and Butthead have soccer games tonight.  Marjorie has the Women's Group meeting at Church.  I can have her pray for his soul but otherwise you're on your own.   I ran out of ideas long ago on how to cope with that ornery old man.  He's a damn mule.  Mom was a saint, taking him in those last years.  Gramps puts up with you because you remind him of her.  Some days I think he doesn't even know who I am.  He thinks I'm Dad and wants to kill me - as if it was me that ran off and left Mom and.  He might do it too, if I don't watch my back."  He pauses, waiting for my reply.  It sounds like I'm on my own.  The Lone Ranger rides again.  Heigh ho!  Hit the road.

"What are you going to do?" he asks.

I glance down at my ankle.  A serpent in red and green twines around my lower leg.  In the right kind of light, its scales flash gold.  I touch it for a moment before I answer him.  I am powerful.  I feel it in my fingertips.  Poor Charlie, he has Neuticles for balls - nonfunctional implants.  "Don't worry, Charlie, I've got it under control.  I'm a one woman posse."


I leave the office and hit the road.  I drive slowly, in widening circles, looking for an abandoned golf cart, using Leisure World as ground zero.   The summer light bleaches the palmettos a pale green.  Their fronds shake like feathers in the hot breeze.   Heat refracts off the pavement in prismatic waves.  It's a fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk kind of day.  I hope the old man is inside somewhere cool, sipping on a lemonade and regaling an audience with tales of his youth.  He can remember exactly what he was doing on August 3, 1939 at 10:17 a.m.  Probably tarpon fishing, hauling in a sixty pounder after a lengthy battle.  Or so the story would go. Like he was Ernest Hemingway himself.

I clench my teeth in frustration as time passes.  I need something for direction.  As I circle the section of town called Alphabetville, because the streets have letters for names instead of numbers.  I pause in front of the Inkspot tattoo parlor.  They know me well.

There's a parking space right out front, as if it were waiting for me.  I get out of the car and peer into the front widow. Rosie is inside.  She's a wonderful artist.  I helped her with a grant to mount a show at Southernmost featuring tattoo artists of America.  The opening night was a live exhibit of fantastic human canvases striking poses.  The rest were photos.   Some were accompanied by flat screen videos of work in progress, others by traditional works of art.   She hung a photo of my willow tree tattoo next to a painting attributed to the Japanese painter, Hokusai.

I open the glass door and a chime sounds as I step onto the floor mat.  "I know what I want on my back now," I tell Rosie as I head into her workroom, thankful that it's empty of customers.  " A compass rose like that one, over your desk, between my shoulder blades."  The decision feels like a great relief.

Rosie snaps on her gloves and pulls up a mask.  I lay flat on her worktable with my back bare, my small breasts pressed against the white paper sheet.  She traces the pattern between my shoulders.  I leave my body as she works, pricking the skin quickly.   Three colors and the black outline.  Blue and green for sea and sky, and a red-petalled rose in the center.  The black is crucial.  It holds even if the colors fade over the decades.  The shape and form will prevail.

Heat spreads across my back instead of pain or maybe the heat is the pain or the pain is the heat and that's part of my life in Florida.  The two blur.  Each prick appears behind my closed eyes as a neon green, a virtual Milky Way.  I see Grandpa, his white hair glowing, driving his golf cart like a rocket ship through space.  His hair grows longer and longer and flows behind him, the white mane of a comet burning, growing larger and brighter.  Then he explodes.

When Rosie is done, she taps my shoulder, wakes me up, brings me back to the here and now and the mission at hand.  I'll be O.K.  With the new tattoo I'll be able to stay on track, locate Gramps and get back to my real/unreal life.  I sway between the two,  a woman in motion.  Poetry in motion - the song that I used to think the words were Oh, a tree in motion.   I imagined an oak tree doing the electric slide, a magnolia doing the bump and grind.


*          *          *          *          *


Hours earlier:     The white-haired gentleman spots a billboard alongside Hwy. 51.  It shows a woman in orange short shorts with a tight white t-shirt stretched across her ample bosom.  One hand poised on her hip.  Red painted pouting lips.   Hooters make you happy, the advertisement suggests.

A mile later another board proclaims Gentlemen, Truck-in here.  Totally naked ladies. Stylish.  The A-one All-Nite Truckers Club. Gentlemen - the word captures his attention.

The white haired gentleman pulls up in front of the club in a golf cart.  He parks it half on the grass, half on the broad expanse of the gravel lot then swings his legs sideways and looks around.  It's 10 a.m. and there are only two other cars in its emptiness - a rusted out pickup truck and a 1970s vintage Cadillac.

He pauses a moment to catch his breath before dismounting from the cart.  He totters towards the door assisted by a cane, the knob of which is a wild boar's head with its teeth bared.   He rubs the tarnished metal with his fingers as he approaches the entryway, a screened door surrounded by red Christmas lights that burn all year.

It's a long walk and he's panting when he reaches it.  His shirt is damp and wrinkled, much to his consternation.  "What will the ladies think," he says out loud.   "I'm a gentleman of leisure, a proper lady's man.  A gentlemen's club.  That's for me."  He wishes he had brought along his bottle of Canoe, in order to mask the smell of sweat and mesmerize the ladies.  He removes a pink silk handkerchief from the pocket of his shirt, dabs the perspiration from his brow. He stuffs it back into the pocket, his hands shaking all the while.

"C'mon on in, Pops," a burly man at the door holds it open for him.  The man is enormous and the white haired gentleman can barely squeeze in past him.  The place is dark and it takes a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light.  There's a stage in the center of the room with several poles on it.  Tables are set around its four sides, covered with extra long tablecloths.  Colored lights swirl and a silver disco ball rotates over the stage.   A tall lithe woman without any clothes on is winding her body around one of the poles.  Her oiled flesh shines, light bouncing off of it.  She throws back her head, her long hair touching her behind as she wiggles it seductively at two men who are seated at two separate tables.   Her eyes are focused on something far away.  She repeats her moves over and over, methodically. The men sit far apart from each other, one hand under the tablecloth, making barely audible grunting noises, eyes transfixed on the stage, a glass of beer warming in front of each of them.

A waitress sits slouched on a stool at the bar in a darkened corner.  She has on only a g-string.  Tasseled pasties hang from the nipples of her sagging breasts.  Pointy high-heeled shoes pinch her feet.  Her buttocks spread on the plastic of the padded barstool.  There's a barely visible scar running across her abdomen buried along the top of her pubic hair.  She's examining her fingernails, looking for chips in their neon pink paint.  She nibbles the corner of one with her teeth.  The day shift is the poorest of work.  Few patrons and fewer tips.  Salty dogs instead of sugar daddies.  Two more months of this and she'll go crazy, she thinks.

The white-haired gentleman stops and looks around, confused.  He's never been in such an establishment.  But he was invited to enter so he must belong here.  He expects there to be a folded card with his name on it sitting next to a rose in a vase on one of the tables.  He can barely see anything.  The silvery flashing lights look yellow and dim.

The bartender leans over the bar and flicks a damp towel at the waitress, catching her on her rump.  "Go on, seat the gentleman, Margie." She scowls over her shoulder at him, sighs, and returns to examining her nails.  He growls at her.  "Go on, get your lazy ass moving.  This could be your lucky day.  He looks like a hot one."

She slides off the stool, stretches a bit and shakes her breasts.  The tassels swing as she wobbles across the floor on her three-inch spikes.

"Good morning, Pops."  She put an arm through his.  "Let me find you a good seat.  We got a couple left, I think."  She leans against him and he can feel her flesh through the dampness of his shirt.  A young woman's breast.  Emotions he thought were gone surface.  He wants to touch her.  "Frances," he murmurs under his breath as she leads him to a table opposite where the other gentlemen are seated.

"Nope.  I'm Margie.  Thoroughly Modern Margie. My Daddy used to call me that.  He don't call me much of anything now."  She pouts her lips, pulls out a chair and helps him lower himself into it.   "There you go, Pops.  I'll bring you whatever you desire.  We got some good specials."   She hands him a printed sheet, steps back and swings the tassels fastened to her breasts for effect, smiling with what she hopes is a seductive smile.

"Honey, I can't see much in this light.  Why don't you read them to me?"

She doesn't like to read the menu out loud, but some men require it.  It stimulates them and they tip better, so she starts.  "We got a Blow Job Gin Fizz, a 36-26-36 Tequila Temptation, a Black and Tan Two on One, a Scotch Foreplay, a Tongue Job with a Tall Shot, a Lap Dance Daiquiri and a Whatever your Heart Desires."

Margie leans forward suggestively, squeezing her breasts together. They rise a little bit. She licks her lips, which are red and glossy.  She smells musky and he wants her to stay just like that forever.  That's what his heart desires.  A suspended moment, time frozen.  He recalls a younger self before his wife, Frances, died.  She was so young when she was taken from him.  She never had to grow old.  Forever young, in his mind.  He wonders what she'll think of him when they're reunited in heaven.  Her being so young while he's become a cranky old man.  Maybe she's even met someone else up there.  A younger man.  Someone more suave, more debonair, more considerate. A deep breath slides out of his lips.

"That last one, the heart's desire, sounds right - whatever it is."


Two hours and several drinks later the lights swirl faster.  Margie serves him again.  She places another drink on the table and faces him, straddling his legs.  He can barely breathe.  She opens the top of her G-string and wants him to push the bills in there, against the damp curls of her dark brown pubic hair.  His heart is thwacking against his ribs as he slips a $50 bill between the skimpy material and her skin.  His fingers linger a moment. "Do you want more?" she asks.

He fumbles with his wallet and extracts another $50.  "More?" she asks pressing down on his fingers, touching her breasts to the starch of his shirt and rubbing.  This is better than she has done all week.  She starts to feel giddy.  She'll make her rent and then some today, she senses.    This guy is primed.


*          *          *          *


I head out on the road again.  The steering wheel sweats under my hands in spite of the A/C.   Unless Grandpa's driven right into a lagoon or had a horrific crash, I'll find him.  I'm certain.  The newly minted compass rose on my back aches a bit.  I sit forward so that the gauze protecting the tattoo doesn't press against the back of the seat.  I imagine an imprint of it on the cushion, with its sixteen sharp points, the North marker a bit larger than the rest, pointing towards heaven.

I turn north on Hwy. 51 and try not to slow traffic too dreadfully as I peer between each building and glance down the side streets.  The other drivers, swerving around me, probably think I'm another disoriented senior.  One man gives me the finger as he floors his sleek Caddy past my ancient Chevy Nova.  I pat my car's dashboard reassuringly while I scan both sides of the highway.  No offense taken.

Long shadows are crisscrossing the shoulder of the road when I finally spot what I'm looking for - an empty golf cart sitting haphazardly at the edge of a parking lot at a gentlemen's club.  I pull into the lot and kill the engine.  For a moment I sit with my head on the steering wheel.  I can barely stand to walk into this kind of place.  When grandpa lived with us, Mom used to send me into bars to make him come home.  I hated it, but I couldn't argue with Mom anymore than I can with Grandpa.  It was an errand that my mother used to do when she was a little girl.  She couldn't do it anymore.  I imagine a long line of little girls, stretching back to some pre-Dickensian era, sent into bars to retrieve stray men.

When I went into those dives, they smelled like urine and liquor, as if the men pissed into a trough underneath the bar so they could continue to drink without missing a beat, like they used to do a century earlier.  Grandpa would be seated at the bar, the center of attention, proclaiming this and that with authority, waving a gold-ringed hand in the air.  Never with his arm around a woman, although he'd have some held in rapt attention listening to his tales.  He wanted to be king, or emperor, the biggest man south of the Mason-Dixon line.  He was sure he had royal blood, hidden somewhere in some forgotten family archive.  We were actually plain as dirt.  Probably came over in steerage a couple of generations ago from one of those villages that are referred to variously as being in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland, the Russian Empire, or Slovakia - some little Podunk place in Eastern Europe.

I shake my head and steel myself, remembering that I am in the here and now, not the way back then.  I'm not a little girl, or even a girl, but a longtime grown up woman.  I imagine my mother in heaven looking down and I sigh. "Here it goes, Ma - rounding up the stray doggy."  I should have gotten my masters degree in Art History and Elder Care combined. Two creative fields.

I walk slowly towards the unopened door.  It's a private club.  They can refuse admission to whomsoever they chose.  A man, a large lumbering beefy sort of fellow, steps out and blocks my path.

"Gentlemen's club, ma'am.  Don't think you be wanting to go on in there.  I can redirect you up the road a piece, if you like, to a good place for ladies."  His huge form keeps me from seeing inside the establishment.  I calculate quickly.  Charm or authority -which one to use.  I decide to split the difference.

"Family emergency, sir.  My grandpa's needed back home.  Mom's in bad straits. Needs him to come quickly."  I'm sure my Mom would be in bad straits too, if she could see this scene.  I tilt my head and stifle a choking sob.

He frowns.  I know that his job description is to turn me away, empty handed.  But he's Southern.  Can't resist a lady in distress.  He thrusts his chin forward as he thinks.  Slowly.   I try to look teary-eyed and helpless.  Most of my tattoos aren't visible.  A good thing.  They wouldn't help with this charade.  The bruiser's face softens a degree or two.  I know I've won.

"Suppose I could deliver some such message, if you be looking for this la-de-da white haired gentleman, dressed up pretty fine.  Been here some time now, most of the day. Rode in on that there cart sitting crooked, parked over that-a-way."

I fumble in my purse for a pen and write a quick cryptic note on a crumpled scrap of paper, signing it Suzy-Q.  I tell the bouncer that I'll wait in my car if he'd be kind enough to escort Grandpa out.

The temperature is cooling as twilight sets in and from miles and miles away a salty breeze blows, suggesting the promise of water.  When I smell that ocean air, I feel the motion of its waves and the tide.  Something alive that never sleeps.  A constant.  It's what keeps me here, in Florida, floating in amniotic fluids.

A few minutes later, the door opens.  A woman walks out tugging at a trench coat that she wraps around herself.  She yanks at the belt, cinching it, and frowning.  Her plucked eyebrows form pleats above her nose as she squints and looks about the parking lot.   She spots me, clenches her fists, and heads across the gravel toward my car teetering on her high-heeled shoes.  Her ankle turns.  She stumbles, dropping to the ground, howling.

I jump out of the car to help her.  The ankle is already swelling when I reach her.  The cheap plastic heel has snapped off of one shoe.  "Damn, damn, damn," she curses rocking back and forth, sobbing.  Mascara cascades down her cheek.

The woman's coat is gaping opened and I realize that she is close to naked underneath it.  Just then the bouncer arrives with Grandpa in tow.

Grandpa startles when he sees me.  "Frances," he says.  "What are you doing here?"   He takes a step backwards.  I try not to look confused and touch my face to assure myself of my identity.

"My wife," he explains to the bouncer.

"Whore!" the trench coat woman hisses at me.  Her teeth are lipstick stained.  Her eyes are red from crying.  The whole scene comes into focus.  There's only one graceful way out of this one.

"Harold," I cry and fling myself at Gramps.  I've never called him by his first name before now.  "Harold, I've been waiting all day for you, darling.  Come home now."  I turn to the bouncer who is staring at me.  He's spotted the tattoo winding up my exposed leg.  Let him stare. "I'm so sorry to have bothered you.  You've been a peach, my husband and I are ever so grateful.  We'll get the cart later."  I hand him a folded twenty.  He shoves it into his pocket without looking at the denomination.

He jerks the injured woman to her feet and herds her back, towards the club.  She limps along still sniffling.

I take Gramps by the arm and lead him to my car.  I open the door, bow slightly, and gesture for him to enter.  He kisses my cheek with boozy breath, slides into the car and shuts his eyes.  Already lost in a dream.  I leave my hand a moment on his shoulder.

A young man is sitting there with a broken heart.  A young man with thick brown wavy hair, bowing his head.  His chest aches and he is clenching it to hide the wound, to close up the spot where people can see in.  My own chest flutters and aches.

"I love you, Harold," I tell him, meaning every word.

"I love you too, Frances," he says softly, opening his eyes for one moment.