Nick Hepburn stood on the other side of the road to the main entrance of the INFA Tranquillity Care Centre. He was just looking at it. Being outside the Centre he was safe. His memores of his grandfather were safe. Mike didn’t want to see his Grandad in that Centre and risk having those memories overshadowed by how his grandfather had become.
He scanned the Centre, gazing at the window panels that stretched from the ground to the floor’s ceiling. They were tinted but he could see the medical staff rushing around inside. They looked so serious and important. But they were all dwarfed by these tall glass panels.
He shook his head and refocused on why he’d come to this Centre.
He took a deep breath before crossing the road and headed toward the Centre’s main entrance. Again, they were made from tinted glass edged in metal. As he came near them, they automatically opened. He paused and then walked in.
The woman behind the reception desk smiled at him. “Good afternoon Mr Hepburn. Your grandfather is in the main room upstairs.”
Nick nodded and walked to the elevator over towards his right. He pressed the lift button and waited, remembering some of the times with his Grandad. They were always special memories. He remembered his grandfather reading comic books with him when he was a little child. Nick smiled thinking about how his Grandad would entertain his little grandson making silly voices for the various characters in the stories they were reading about. He was better to be around than his own father, wherever he was.
The lift door opened, and Nick went in still thinking about his Grandad. His face became more solemn as he knew of the stories his Grandad might remember to tell him as he saw him in the Centre.
There was a serious side to his grandfather.
He’d been in the British army, fighting in Malaya during the 1950s. He’d seen far too many terrible things when he was an army medic there. But he’d seen unusual and fascinating things as well.
One incident his Grandad told Nick often stood out in his memory. He might tell his son about it again. He was clambering through the Malayan forest on a patrol with seven other soldiers. As a medic, he was always was at the end of the line of these soldiers. He’d learnt to dry mud over the medic symbol of the rucksack he wore. He knew the terrorists they were fighting would target the medic soldier first so none of other British soldiers could get medical attention.
They were edging their way through part of the forest until the soldiers sharply stopped. Nick’s Grandad heard the words, “Medic! Medic!”
He knew he was going to have to help one of his fellow soldiers who’d been injured somehow. Just as he came to the front of the line, he saw the forest had ended in a clearing. As the first solder had come out into this clearing, a terrorist on a hill in the distance had shot him. This soldier had fallen into a gully immediately in front of the forest. Nick’s Grandad had glanced at him and saw this soldier was still breathing. He leapt down into this gully as several terrorists were shooting at the other soldiers.
While the terrorists and the soldiers above were firing at each other, Nick’s Grandad began taking his Medic rucksack off his back.
The rucksack became visible, sticking out of the gully and a terrorist shot it.
His Grandad was propelled head over heels. He lay, gasping for a moment; thankful he hadn’t tumbled on the shot soldier. He then pulled off the remains of his backpack. He examined the injured soldier’s wounds and looked through the ruins of his rucksack. Fortunately, there were enough undamaged items to treat the shot soldier.
Nick’s Grandad never told him more about that incident. He might not remember or he might prefer not to remember if something bad happened after it. He often went talking about some other happening during the war.
Those situations always stayed in his Grandad’s mind. Nick guessed in a way they were a break from the less agreeable times his Grandad went through as he became older. The several heart attacks he’d had. The heart surgery he needed. The pacemaker he had to have fitted. After all of that, he developed prostate cancer, leading to treatment for that. Nick knew his Mum became less of a daughter and more of his carer, as he became less and less firm. Then, his Grandad’s mind gradually became confused as well. Nick took his Mum took him to various hospital appointments and caring places when he began losing understanding of where he was and who his daughter and Nick were.
Nick could recall when they settled on taking him to stay at the Tranquillity Care Centre. It was a place supporting elderly people with mental illnesses. Nick and his mother could see how patients in this Care Centre were enjoying themselves doing lots of different things. Some often went outside, walking with supportive nurses or being taken in wheelchairs around the grounds. Several were in a large central room, sitting at a long table, playing games like dominoes. They were sitting with several young people who, Nick learnt, were students from nearby colleges, wanting to help. A couple of the nurses also told them about singers, amongst other performers, frequently visiting the Care Centre to entertain the patients. It wasn’t cheap for Nick’s grandfather to live there but his mother expressed his family had enough finances to him to be there.
There, Nick saw his Grandad, sitting on a comfy sofa next to a man of a similar age. But that was the only similarity. Nick’s Grandad was bald and tubby whereas the other man was thin with wild grey hair.
A young woman, about Nick’s age, was talking to this other man. She was sat on an armchair. His Grandad was listening to them talk. He had a mix of happiness in watching them but being troubled he felt couldn’t talk with them.
That changed when the other man looked at Nick’s Grandad who’d mentioned he’d also been in the armed forces during some of the chat with this young woman. The two men then realised they'd both been soldiers during the same armed conflict in Malaya (which is now Malaysia.) during the 1950s.
The young woman was now not talking but listened as the two older men chatted. Nick sat in another chair next to this woman. They began talking and very quickly, they realised their grandfathers were linked in several different ways. She expressed her name was Alice and gave him her mobile number. Nick’s Mum sussed Alice’s interest in her son. As they left his Grandad, she casually mentioned Nick should go to the Care Centre for the next few times on his own.
Nick and Alice realised both their grandfathers had served in the Malayan conflict. They noticed their grandfathers recognised their connection as well and so were able to chat to each other about their experiences.
Nick and Alice also found out their mothers were both separated from their husbands and both were fond of their own fathers because they were emotionally strong gentlemen. It wasn’t too long before Nick phoned Alice to ask her out. She didn’t hesitate at all. They both knew they were well matched.
(She didn’t tell Nick she had a violent ex-husband, Alex, who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. She hoped he wouldn’t be around now Nick was in her life.)
Nick arranged to meet her outside a Chinese restaurant he liked on a Friday evening. As he saw her climbing out of a taxi, he knew she was someone special. She had made a strong effort to look her best. He was magnetised by her appearance and as she neared him, he told her she looked like she’d just walked out of a beautiful fairy story. Alice smiled. “That’s why I’m called Alice. My grandfather said, when I was born, I looked like I’d come out of a fantastic make-believe book.” She hooked his arm as he led her in the restaurant. “You look dashing by the way.”
“Thank you. I hope you like this restaurant,” he replied.
She squeezed his arm. “I’m sure I will. I love this kind of food.”
Alice found he was both sensitive and funny in a surreal way. It was a ‘way’ appealing to her views. Very soon, they were both enjoying the food and laughing with each other. Nick was a man alluring to Alice. He was different from the men she’d dated in the past. Those men were often painful mistakes. Nick was someone who embraced her surreal views of seeing the world as a Wonderland.
She only had her grandfather to thank for his enthusiasm not only for that book but also for rejecting normality.
She was afraid of telling Nick of Alex who refused to be her ex-husband and wouldn’t accept any other world than his.
Alice wanted Nick to stay in her world.
She looked at him and he smiled at her. “Are you alright? You look a little unhappy,” he asked.
Alice grinned. “I'm afraid I can't explain myself.” She paused and reached over to his left hand, “Let me take your sinister hand.” As she squeezed his hand Alice added, “I’m quite mad you know. I’m running from the past.”
Nick sagely nodded. “‘Sinister’ - from the Latin meaning ‘left.’” He smiled. “I’d like to be with someone who’s running towards the future. It’s quite exciting.”
Alice happily tilted her head. “I’d love to come along with you but be warned - my shoes can be uneven.”
Still in his home’s workshop, Dr Stones paused and leant back in his chair. He stared the at the globe on his desktop. He’d soon be finished getting it ready. He looked up at the clock, fastened to the wall opposite him. Ten o’clock at night. He’d been so absorbed in his tasks he’d forgotten the time. He'd been so engrossed; the hours had disappeared so easily.
He pursed his lips and scanned around his room. He hadn’t eaten since lunchtime. He then had a flashback of Ann’s face. She would’ve reminded him to eat. She was a nurse he'd fancied for so long. But he wasn’t her type, so it seemed. She even invited him to her marriage. He was so insulted she’d done that. Dr Stones didn’t want to remember when that marriage was. He knew it was several years ago. She’d taken maternity leave twice to have two sons since then. Once she’d had her second son, he knew she’d never leave her husband. So, he focused more and more on his work. Another nurse, Louise, helped him instead of Ann. She was as good, if not better than Ann in some ways. Louise always rearranged her schedule to fit in with his needs for his experiments.
But that feeling of unrequited love for Ann never went away.
He welcomed his research taking him around the world to investigate unusual treatments for mental health issues. Eventually, he found out about Ichirō Takahashi and his team of researchers. He was so fascinated about their ideas leading to productions of experimental medication. The actions of this medication to challenge assumptions about mental and physical health.
He looked again at his nearly completed globe.
Coming back to Britain and the Colnedale Infirmary he’d worked at for so many years was a relief in some ways. Even seeing Ann again didn’t hurt like it used to. He saw both she and Louise, another nurse, had welcomed him being back again and were both intrigued by his experiments around mental issues. It didn’t matter if those experiments were unconventional.
As Nick and Alice walked out of the restaurant after their meal, he asked her how she was going home. Casually, she expressed she lived close by. She hoped he would then offer to walk with her to her home. When he did, she smiled and accepted his suggestion.
As they strolled, Alice warned Nick she worked in the nearby Colnedale Infirmary, and her hours at that hospital varied. Sometimes she was working during the day and sometimes throughout the night.
Nick shrugged. That situation didn’t disturb him. He told Alice he’d often had similar situations although now his work patterns were mostly regular going nine to five Monday to Friday. He worked for a furniture making company so was often involved in deliveries. Therefore, he may work during the weekends. “I’m sure we could workout convenient meeting times.” Mick looked at her and blushed. His smile became bashful.
Alice looked back and broadly smiled in return. “I agree.” She looked forward and frowned. “Now if we cross the road here, we can just walk further down a little bit. The entrance to the flats, where I live, is near there.”
Nick frowned. “You mean next to the hospital - I mean the Tranquillity Care Centre.”
Alice nodded. “I don’t actually work at the Tranquillity Care but I’m a medical nurse in the nearby hospital. Obviously, since my Grandad is in that Care Centre, it’s convenient for me to live near there.”
“Fair enough,” answered Nick.
As they crossed the road Nick subconsciously took Alice’s hand in his. When they reached the pavement on the other side neither of them wanted to let go of each other’s hand. They slowly and peacefully walked towards her block of flats.
When very reached the front door of her tower block Nick scanned around. “There’s no one around at this time.” He smiled at Alice. “It’s so quiet.”
She nodded and stroked the front of his jacket to remove a slight crease. “It’s been a lovely evening with you. We should do this again,” Alice added, “soon.”
Nick smiled. “I agree,” he half-whispered. As their eyes met, he leant forward. Alice tilted her head and lent forward as well.
They kissed for the first time.
As their lips parted, Nick asked, “What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?”
Alice looked disappointed. “Sadly, I’m going to be busy all day on Saturday and Sunday morning.” She paused. “Are you available Monday evening?”
Nick nodded. “I am.”
“I know a great eating bar not far from here. I’ve now got your number after you called me. I’ll send you a message where this place is,” Alice replied.
“Sounds good to me. Is 7.30 okay?”
Alice stroked his right cheek. “That would be great.”
Nick gave her a quick kiss on her lips again. “Sweet dreams. I look forward to seeing you on Monday.”
Alice half turned to open the tower block’s front door using her door fob hanging from her keys. “I look forward to seeing you too.” As she walked into the tower block and the door swung shut, Nick sighed before going to head back to where he parked his car on the street.
Neither of them noticed Alex, half-hidden behind a bus stand from across the road, who was watching them. He crossed over and tried the tower block’s front door. It had automatically locked behind Alice. He quietly mouthed the word, “Monday,” having overheard Nick and Alice. He then began jogging along the pavement to catch up with Nick.
He slowed to stop, watching Nick climbing into his car in the distance. He just watched the lights of the car coming on as it was driven away. Now he knew Nick’s car and its registration number.
It had taken Alex so long to find where Alice had moved to this time. He found it even more offensive she’d been flirting with another man.
Nick found himself replaying his time with Alice on Saturday afternoon, overshadowing his responsibilities of driving a van for a delivery. He thought he’d put the correct address in the van’s ‘sat nav’ system to guide him and his colleague, Steve. Instead, they ended up going along a narrow lane to the wrong address.
Steve was the first one to speak. “I don’t think any one of the houses on either side of this tiny lane is the right one for our delivery.”
“I've obviously made a mistake,” Nick replied. He looked at another small lane to their left. “If I drive past that road over there, I can reverse into it then turn right to drive out of this road we’re on.”
“I’ll get out and guide you,” Steve responded.
Nick slowly reversed the van, guided by Steve. Nick paused to examine the ‘satnav’ first. He had made a mistake. He corrected it before driving forward. He then shouted through the open window to Steve for him to get back in. “So, you'd put in the wrong address or something on the ‘satnav’?” Nick just nodded as he drove the van back onto the main road. “Your mind was in other places. I take it that date you had last night went well.”
Nick nodded. “Yes, it did.” He was too embarrassed to look at Steve.
His friend grinned. “I take it you'll be seeing her again?”
Nick sighed. “Yes, on Monday.”
“So, things went very well.” Steve looked at the road ahead. “I take it we’re now in the right direction.”
Nick just nodded again.
The ‘satnav’ took them to a mansion, and they stopped by the front door. Steve got out and rang the doorbell by the main entrance. The door opened with a middle-aged woman standing at the entrance. Nick could tell she used to be stunning when she was younger. She was still absorbing. “I take it you're bring over the suite?”
Steve nodded. He opened his mouth to introduce Nick, but he spoke before Steve could say anything, “It’s a pleasure to be here, ma’am. Steve’s partner was taken ill-” his friend quietly snorted. “So, I’m here as his replacement.”
She glanced at Steve. “It seems you're cynical about your partner actually being ill. I’m Mel, by the way.” Nick looked at Steve who shrugged his shoulders. Mel tilted her head and turned to Nick. “Have you recently started seeing someone?” Nick looked at her, his eyes widened, and he blushed. Mel continued, “Ah, it’s someone you been seeing somehow and maybe you've had your first kiss.”
Nick looked away, astonished at her deductions. “We only saw each other last night.”
Steve glanced at Nick. “Oh, she’s read you all right.”
Mel looked at Steve. “Don’t get too cocky. I can tell you’ve often been frustrated in your love life.” She paused before adding, “Come on, let’s get that suite into the room through that door in the far corner over there.” She pointed to her right.
Nick nodded and he with Steve began carefully taking out a two-seater sofa out of the van, followed by a three-seater one. They were glad for the distraction of taking in these settees into Mel’s house and then to position them in her designated room.
“I’m sorry if I embarrassed you,” she expressed to Nick while Steve presented her the delivery paperwork.
“How did you know about me seeing a woman last night?” Nick asked.
Mel smiled and chuckled. “I just read your body language. You were happy about something major. It’s recently happened plus you’re worried for the future about it. That’s usually about the beginning of a relationship.”
“I hope it is the beginning of one,” replied Nick who then looked at Steve.
Steve formally nodded to Mel. “Goodbye and thank you very much,” he expressed. He turned and walked out of the house towards their van.
Nick smiled at Mel. “Yes, and thank you for,” he paused, “your observations.”
“I hope your new relationship’s a good one. But be careful of your dreams. He’ll trap you two,” she warned.
Nick frowned at her words. Nonetheless, he smiled again at her before turning and leaving the house. As he closed the front door, he frowned while walking to the van. “Well, that was a delivery and a half,” Steve spoke when he got inside. “She must have been stunning when she was younger.”
Nick nodded. “I agree but it’s obvious she’s very bright as well.”
“Yeah.” He looked at Nick. “You know, there are people who think she’s got some sort of magic powers.”
Nick smiled but kept thinking of her last words to him.