The Crush: A Timely Change
Timber Grove: Story #25
crush, noun: a brief but intense infatuation for someone, especially someone unattainable or inappropriate.
Randall walked around the corner and saw the new resident sitting in a large comfy chair. He had been working at the Timber Grove Retirement Community for over three years, yet he had never been as nervous as he was now in meeting a new admittance.
"Mr. Trent?" Randall asked, his voice cracking a little.
The old man looked up from the chair and scowled, something Randall had not expected. He was wearing a pair of old denim slacks with a plain gray button up shirt. Liver spots dotted his exposed flesh, with long, gangly white hairs protruding in bunches. "What!? I'm tired and want to be left alone!"
Randall tried to gather himself, and that's when he saw it. Mr. Trent's eyes were glaring at him, yet Randall was able to see something behind them. The eyes betrayed the scowl, as there was a kindness and warmth that was impossible to cover up. "My name is Randall, and I'll be your Life Enrichment Specialist while you're staying here."
"What the hell is a Life Enrichment whatsit?"
Randall couldn't tell if that was anger or frustration lining his words, but he was more than capable of navigating such situations. "It's just a fancy name for an orderly. I'll help you acquire whatever you need to make your stay her as pleasant as possible, as well as assisting the RN with any medical help."
"Bah," Mr. Trent barked as he flung up his hands, "I fought in three wars and have lived to be ninety five years old! All of that was done without the assistance of some faggot who answers to a woman!"
Randall had been berated by some residents before, but this time he felt as if his very soul was crushed. "Well, I won't waste any more of your time," he said, happy that Mr. Trent had turned back to the window and wasn't able to see the tears in his eyes. He exited the room without saying a word and dashed for the Staff Room. It was the end of his shift, so he did his best to smile at the other workers and take care of what he needed, but as soon as he entered his car and closed the door he burst into tears.
This continued as Randall drove to his apartment, which was situated few blocks from the Pacific. The weather was typical for February in south west Washington, which meant that is was overcast with some drizzle falling. It mirrored Randall's current state perfectly, something that happened too often. After arriving at his apartment and slamming the door behind him, Randall threw himself on his bed. He allowed himself some time to cry before he reached into his back pocket and bulled out a tiny paper back book.
The book was worn, as if had been around for ages, and looked like it had been read a thousand times. Randall was responsible for a good chunk of those readings, but he had only found the book a year earlier in the Timber Grove thrift shop. The cover had a painting of a beautiful woman wearing a red dress, with the words "Changing Hearts" printed in big black letters above her. Randall sniffled a little as he looked at the bottom of the cover and saw the name that had meant so much to him over the last year: Julius Trent.
In a fit of rage, Randall threw the book as hard as he could at the wall. This morning he thought he would be speaking with a man who had helped him come to terms with something he had struggled with all of his life, but instead he was dismissed and humiliated by him.
The rage gave way to depression, and Randall found solace in a bottle of vodka that had been in his freezer for as long as he had lived there. The next day came, and he decided to call in sick, not wanting to face Mr. Trent again. This allowed him to wallow in his sadness for another day, which involved a trip to town to pick up another bottle of vodka.
It was only on the third day that Randall found the strength to put the bottle down, mostly due to calls and well wishes from his friends and co-workers. He had told them all that he was sick, and as always they had rallied around him. He wondered if they would rally around him if they really knew who he was, and this thought made him turn his attention to the book that was still lying on the floor in his room.
The afternoon was spent with Randall nursing a killer hangover while reading "Changing Hearts" again. It was only a hundred pages long, and soon he found that he had finished it again. As he sat on his couch popping a couple of aspirin, Randall tried to reconcile the words on the page with the words that had come out of Mr. Trent's mouth. How could someone who was now so hateful write words as beautiful and sensual as the ones he had just read?
The tears came back again.
Randall laughed at how silly he was being, crying over the words on the page as if they had been written by a long lost lover who had betrayed him. Why had Randall given such power to these words? Why did they repeatedly buoy him up when he was drowning in self doubt?
A long shower helped clear his mind, and he decided that he was ready to return to work and face the man who had unknowingly caused him so much pain. He looked at himself in the mirror, smirking at the contradiction before him. Long days at the gym had given him a barrelled chest with strong arms and defined abs. He was pushing thirty now, yet was still single and enjoying all that entailed.
Each fling he had was shallow and meaningless, but he was still a man with certain needs. This was, of course, also a way to disguise himself to the outside world. As he looked through his medicine cabinet, he saw the one thing he had allowed himself. It was a harmless little tube, no bigger than his pinky, yet it meant more to him than anything he owned... besides "Changing Hearts" of course.
During the short drive to work, Randall wondered what he would say to Mr. Trent when he saw him again. Thoughts of walking into the room and letting out a profanity laced mix of venom and pain sounded good, but he also thought that he could simply avoid him all together and try and move on with his life. "Shit!" He yelled as he hit the steering wheel after parking. He felt like he was back in grade school, crying at his desk because a girl he liked had thrown away his love letter. "Shit, Randall, lock it down," he said to himself, and he did after a few more bouts of shouting.
As he entered the Timber Grove Retirement Center, he saw that someone had hung up a bunch of hearts on the wall. Randall pulled out his phone and saw that is was February fourteenth... Valentines Day. This really didn't change anything, and as Randall walked in and greeted everyone they could tell that nothing was wrong. A lot of that was due to the mask Randall had repeatedly put on, something that "Changing Hearts" had helped him with.
The day began as it normally did, with Randall looking over some notes as he checked the roster. He tried to keep everything as normal as he could, so he checked on his regular residents, with many happy to see him back and in good health. Some had even prepared valentines for him, with one woman giving him an entire box full of cookies. It warmed his heart to receive such love from people he valued, but it was soon time to check in on Mr. Trent.
Room 245 was located at the northwest corner of the complex, and it had a majestic view of the ocean. It was the same ocean that Mr. Trent had been staring at while he had broken Randall a few days later, and now it would bare witness to Randall's attempt to hurt Mr. Trent in the very same way.
Only when Randall arrive in the room, he found it empty. The bed was made and the desk was clear of any papers. He checked the closet and found that it was empty.
He turned to see Susan Ward, the lead RN on the floor, standing in the doorway. "Where is Mr. Trent?"
Susan's eyes softened as she spoke, "He passed away last night. He was only here for a few days, but..." She began to get choked up, and Randall walked over to her and gave her a hug. Susan had been working there for over thirty years, and she never took departures well.
"I'm sorry Susan, I didn't know."
"Well," she said as she pulled out a tissue, "he went peacefully enough. No major cardiac event or stroke, just passed on..." She smiled at him and then looked over the room. It seemed to pain her to be there, so she nodded and walked away.
Randall watched as she left, and when she was far enough away he closed the door, leaving him alone in the room.
What was he to do now?
He wanted to scream loud enough that the walls of the building would shake. He wanted to curse God for taking away his chance for closure. Since either of these would most likely result with him getting written up, he resolved to kneel by the big comfy chair and began pounding it with his fists as hard as he could. When the pounding wasn't enough, he took to crying in big sobs.
This went on for a while, and Randall was glad that no one came by looking for him. It was so cathartic that when he glanced up at the windows he saw that it was already night time. He tried to make sense of what he was seeing, as he had arrived before noon, but he took it as a sign that it was time to move on and get to work. He would find a way to deal with what he was feeling right now, but that would take some time.
After straightening himself up and wiping away some tears, he got up and walked towards the door. The first thing that was odd to him was how warm the door knob was, and the second odd thing was the fact that the door opened up to a different room than it should have.
Randall was standing in a large ballroom with big red hearts all along the wall. The lights in the room were turned down low, and a mirrored ball hung high in the middle of the room. Old big band music played from some unseen place, while tables with glasses and napkins lined the walls. Stranger than the fact that he had stepped into a room that should not exist was the fact that even with all those tables set up, there was only one other person in the room.
A young man sat alone at a table in the corner, with his head down and a glass in his hand. He was wearing an Army dress uniform, but it was green with a tan shirt, not the blue and white. As Randall approached the man, he looked up and smiled at him with a pair of hauntingly blue eyes.
"How do you know my name?"
"Do you think it matters?" The young man said as he pulled out the chair next to him. Randall couldn't see how it did, so he walked over and sat next to him. "Drink?" Randall nodded and the man slid one over to him. "So, are you shipping out tomorrow?"
"Shipping out? To England?"
"Um, no," he replied, still not entirely sure of what the man was talking about.
"Well, I am. The boys have been over there for a little under a year, and it's about time we go and relieve them." The man took another drink and they sat in silence. Randall couldn't quite explain what was off about the entire situation, but he recognized that none of this should be real. It was like a dream where you realize that elephants don't fly, but you don't really fight against the absurdity of it all.
"Are you sure you don't want that drink? It looks like you could use one."
"No," Randall replied again, "I just found out that someone close to me passed away."
"I'm sorry to hear that," the man said as he raised his glass, "For those we've lost." Randall felt that he needed to respect the lost as well, so he picked up a glass, lifted it in respect, and drank it. "So who passed?"
"Oh, I actually didn't personally know him that well, but I was a big fan of his book."
"Not as far as I can tell. It looks like he just wrote the one book and moved on."
The man poured some whiskey into Randall's glass and smiled. "Must have been a hell of a book."
"God, yes. It was written in the 50's, but way before it's time."
The man laughed at this, and Randall couldn't see the joke. "The 50's? What, during the Civil War?"
"No, the 1950's."
"Oh, so it's one of those Science Fiction novels everyone's talking about."
That's when the strangeness of his surroundings hit Randall. The music, the suit and the faint smell of tobacco in the air... He was in a ball room that was prepared to send off soldiers heading over to Europe in 1945, which meant that he was definitely dreaming. He probably nodded off while crying over the chair, and this was just his mind toying with him.
A spotlight snapped on and was illuminating a stage that Randall had not noticed before. In the spotlight stood a woman he knew entirely too well. She was gorgeous in a classical kind of way, with brown hair done up in big curls and dark red lipstick on her plump lips. A red sequined dress hung off her ample curves, while sultry blue eyes seemed to have a glow all their own.
"Her name's Sandra, or at least that's what she told me." Randall looked over at the young man who was staring longingly at the woman right as she began to sing. It was a song that Randall had heard before, one about love and loss, and her soft alto made the words seem to mean even more than he thought. "She loved me something fierce, but I was never able to make her as happy as she wanted."
"Tell me about her," Randall asked, not caring anymore if this was real or a dream.
"She was braver than any woman I've ever known. She was kind, even to those who treated her like shit, and wished to see the best in everyone. She thought she saw the best in me, but I never could live up to it. She told me that it was love, but she was unwilling to embrace all that something like love had to offer."
"What happened to the two of you?"
"Us?" The man laughed as he took another drink, "In a time when the world wasn't ready for it, we certainly gave it a go. I was willing to do anything for Sandra, but she... There was never a time that she thought I saw her as anything other than what she looked like on the outside."
The spotlight flickered for a moment, and Sandra was suddenly different. Gone were the curves and the big locks of hair. The dress was replaced by a fine suit worn by a young man that was all skin and bones. The only other thing that carried over was the soft alto that haunted the ballroom.
"She was wrong, and I could never find a way to make her believe me. She would often paint, and when she did she would paint herself as the woman she longed to be. I would beg her to embrace who she was, but she only saw herself as something broken that could never be made whole."
"That's terrible," Randall said as tears welled up in his eyes.
"No. What's terrible is telling the person who could raise and love a child more than any other person alive that she is unfit to even adopt one... Let alone be blessed to carry one herself."
"You never talked about that in the book," Randall asked Julius Trent.
"I know, it was just too much truth for me. It was better to keep somethings to myself."
"So that's why..."
"She left me?" Julius said as the spotlight faded and the song came to a close. "Yeah, she couldn't live with what she was, not back then, and being with me was just a reminder of what she couldn't have."
Julius looked at Randall like he was looking at him for the first time and took another drink. "I'm sorry for what I said to you the other day. I truly am."
"How could you have known?"
"Doesn't matter. I let what she did burn inside me for so long, and I thought that writing about it would help."
"It did... It helped me." Randall said as he reached it over the table and placed his hand on Julius'.
"Yeah?" Julius asked with some disbelief in his voice.
"When I found that book, I was in an incredibly dark place. I know who I really am, but the world is just too hard for people like us... Or so I thought. When I read about Sandra and everything she went through, it made me glad to live in a time where I can be who I am without that kind of retaliation. You're words of encouragement spoke to me, led me to a safe place..."
"Yet here you are, all man as far as I can tell."
"I..." Randall said as he tried to put his deep emotions into words. "You helped me accept who I was, but I'm still weak. I," he laughed a little, "have a tube of lipstick in my medicine cabinet that I keep there because of you. It's a dark shade, by the way...."
"Of course," Julius replied.
"...and it reminds me of who I am, or really who I want to be. You have no idea how much your words mean to me."
Julius took Randall's hand in his own and held it. "And I betrayed that love of yours within a minute of meeting you."
Randall blushed in spite of himself. "I don't know if I'd call it love, but more of a little infatuation." He smiled and Julius laughed.
"A crush? What is this, Junior High?"
"I don't know. I was smitten with this idea of you. This history," Randall said as he pointed to everything around the room, "enticed me, and showed me that my heart wasn't as broken as I thought."
"Well, I'm glad I got through to someone," Julius said with a smirk as he took another drink.
They shared a laugh and then Randall cut to the point. "Can I ask you something? Is this a dream?"
"I don't know. Maybe this is a dream, and your mind is trying to come to grips with some heavy emotional trauma. Then again, maybe I'm some sort of angel sent to help you. Does it really matter."
Randall that about it for a moment, and then he spoke the words that he never thought he'd say. "I want to be with you... I don't care if this is a dream, I know what I want."
"I don't think I have that much time here," Julius said as he stood up, "but maybe you'd like to dance?" Randall looked him over, thinking about how strong and manly he looked in his dress uniform. Then he recoiled, because when he had dreamed about this moment, he was different.
And so it was this time.
Randall reached out his hand and took hers. She blushed as he led her to the dance floor, thinking this was too good to be true. She looked down and saw that she had the red dress Sandra had on earlier, along with curves to support it underneath. He put his arm around her waist, causing a shiver to run up her spine, and she took his other hand in her own.
"You look beautiful tonight," he whispered as they began to dance.
"Thank you," she said with a nervous smile.
"What's your name, sweetheart."
She didn't even have to think about it. "Sandy."
"What a lovely name," Julius pulled her in tighter as they moved as one to the music. She looked into his big blue eyes and saw every loving word she had read beaming back at her. His hands held her firm, and she leaned in and laid her head on his chest.
Song after song played as the two danced in each others arms. Sandy was awakened to every inch of her new body as they swayed in time with the beat. It was everything she had ever hoped it would be, and she didn't want to let it go.
"Please tell me this is real. Tell me that I can be with you... That I can be Sandy with you..."
Julius smiled and her heart melted. "I'd like to think that I have a chance to be with my Sandra soon enough, but I don't know what the future holds." He then slowly dipped her low, taking her feminine frame in his arms. "As for you? You've only known me for a few minutes, so I'm hoping that this little infatuation of yours will pass... Because I'd hate to think that someone else won't get the chance to see the beauty I see right now."
Sandra was hoping that he would kiss her deeply and passionately, only as she closed her eyes she felt a simple kiss on her cheek... and it felt right.
She popped her head up from the comfy chair and tried to gather her thoughts. "What? What's happening?"
"I think you fell asleep, sweetie," Susan said with a smile.
"I, um..." Sandy said as she took in her current situation. Although she was wearing orderly outfit that she had arrived to work in earlier, there was no question that her body was different. With a smile on her face she jumped up and dashed for the bathroom. When the light came on Sandy saw a face she had seen many time over the last year.
It was the face of the girl on "Changing Hearts".
It was Sandra.
Only now it was her face, with the big blue eyes, dark red lips and curly brown hair to go with it. Her body had also changed, and she soon found tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
"Oh my God..." She said in a soft alto.
"Is everything okay," Susan asked with some worry from behind her.
"Yeah," Sandy said as she looked out to comfy chair where she had last seen Mr. Trent, "I think everything is going to be just fine."
///// The End
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