“I don’t know what they told you about me, but none of it’s true.”
“Hello to you, too,” I smiled shyly, setting a cup of soup on the table in front of the old man. “Don’t worry, I know better than to listen to them.”
“Good,” he grunted, shaky hands taking the cup and bringing it to meet thin, pale lips. “Good soup.”
“Thank you. My mother made it.”
“She’s got a damn good recipe.”
I chuckled. “I’ll pass along the message.”
“Did they try to tell you that I’m sick?” he asked suddenly, cloudy blue eyes struggling to focus on my face.
“Nope,” I shook my head. “You aren’t, are you?”
“Hell no. Healthy as a horse,” he sputtered, soup droplets landing on the surface of the flimsy card table that separated us.
I slid a napkin to him without a word. We chatted mindlessly about the cool weather and changing leaves. He reminded me three separate times that his old war buddy was coming home soon. I listened quietly, responding mostly with encouraging nods and smiles. The soup was long gone by the time I stood to leave.
“Do you want me to walk you back upstairs?” I asked casually, a part of the routine.
“Okay. It was good to see you here again.”
“Ain’t exactly coincidence,” he scoffed.
I could only shrug. “I’ll tell my mom that you liked the soup.”
He nodded, a quiet smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.
“Goodbye, John. I’ll see you soon.”
As I stepped through and around the tables and wheelchairs on my way to the door, the old man turned in his seat to face the front window. He always watched me leave the parking lot. I began to scrawl my name on the clipboard where I’d signed in an hour earlier. That’s when the woman behind the desk leaned in closer to me.
“That’s the most any of us have ever seen him talk. What’d you say to him?”
I shrugged. “Nothing unusual. Maybe he’s just feeling good today.”
“Well, keep it up, darling. You’re doing a good job. Maybe he’ll come around after all.”