3:00 a.m. – continued
“Thank you, Grant,” Olivia said in her husky voice. She’d been a lounge singer in her youth, and her voice still carried traces of it. “You’re a wonderful young man. I just wish there had been enough time for you to find someone special.”
Grant smiled at her and gently squeezed her hands. At twenty-seven, he was still single. Olivia had tried countless times over the past two years to match him up, but none of them had ever worked out. Besides, Grant was still holding out for the perfect woman. He was sure she was out there somewhere and he wanted to spend his last day of life to find her and hopefully be with her for the last hours they would have left.
“Don’t worry, Olivia,” he said reassuringly. “That’s my plan today. I’m hoping to find her and at least spend the last few hours of life with her.”
Olivia’s eyes filled with tears and she nodded. “Good luck, Grant. I’ll miss you.”
He managed a small, lopsided smile. “You’ll be too dead to miss me.”
“I’ll miss you today and I’ll miss you tonight. You’re a wonderful piano player. You would have made a wonderful concert pianist. If only there was more time…”
Grant squeezed her hands one last time before releasing them. “I’ll find someone, Olivia. Don’t worry. I don’t intend on spending the last hours of my life with just Rob. I want to spend the rest of my life as happy as you and Vince were.”
She gave a throaty laugh and waved him off. “Go enjoy yourself. I’m going to close up this place and do the same.” She paused. “Well, with Vince in spirit.” She gave him a soft, dreamy smile. “I know he’s still looking over me, over us.”
There were no more words left for them; Grant could only smile at her. What else could they say besides good bye? There was no joy in that, so they just smiled knowingly at each other and went their separate ways down the hallway.
Grant walked into the kitchen. The wait staff and cooks were wrapping up and needlessly wiping down the surfaces. There was no reason to clean up; it would just be destroyed at midnight anyways. But, habits were habits, weren’t they? And the kitchen staff had it drilled in their heads that everything must be immaculate before they could leave. At least, that had been Vince’s policy. The old timers were the only ones who were left now, the ones cleaning up. The younger workers had long gone home to bed and loved ones.
So, in the spirit of things, Grant picked up a stray washcloth and silently worked beside them, having worked under Vince for the last three years of the old man’s life. Some of the waiters gave him a grateful smile, but most of the staff had empty looks in their eyes. With their jobs over, the end seemed even closer than before. At least, by working, there was still something of life and something between living and dying.
“Thanks, man,” the head chef said, clapping a hand on Grant’s shoulder. “We really appreciate it. Now get your pastry and get on home.”
Grant gave the older man a weak smile. They shook hands, exchanged a few empty words, hoped to see each other at tonight’s party, and said good bye. Grant walked over to the little warm corner where his pastry was usually kept on a little white plate and picked it up. It was apple strudel tonight, his favorite. Before walking out the door, he raised the pastry in thanks to the kitchen and bid his co-workers and friends good night and good bye. He didn’t wait to hear the response; he didn’t think he could take it.
He hurried over to his car, glad the relatively warm late spring air didn’t have him huddling and hunching into himself. He didn’t have the nicest car, having gotten it used, but it did its job. He turned it on, taking a bite of his apple strudel as he did so, and pulled the car out of its space.
The streets were quiet as he drove home, the street lights casting faint golden glows over whatever it could reach: a leaf here and there, benches, the road, cars parked along the side of the streets, each other.
He couldn’t take the quiet. Usually, he enjoyed the peace and quiet, having gotten enough of the music and noise of the piano bar. But, tonight, he needed something, some kind of distraction. So, he turned on the radio and found a station playing the latest hits, the last hits the people of the world would ever know, the last hits those artists would ever create and record. The sadness of it all almost overcame him.
He switched the station. Classical music made him want to weep. So did the oldies. The news was depressing, and, really, there wasn’t much of it. For the past two days, most of it was just looping. He settled on a jazz station. It held no emotional value to him. Sure, he played plenty of the popular jazz pieces, but that was just it. He’d played so many of them that he had become desensitized to them. Jazz would do for this last drive home.