Kenny and the dogs made their way down the hall to the elevator. Jazz and Rocky whined eagerly to get outside, pawing at their human as he pushed the call button.
Yeah yeah...I know, guys. Hold it in.
Kenny would use this time walking the dogs to collect his thoughts and hopefully be of some help to his guest. It all seemed so far away now, as if from another life. Then again, it technically was.
The elevator arrived and the shepherds scrambled in, Kenny bringing up the rear as he pushed the button to bring them to the ground floor. He glanced at his reflection in the mirrored wall, removing his cap and running a hand through his thinning brown hair. He had one hell of a widow's peak, owed largely to stress. His autumn beard was bushy and unkempt, and there were dark maroon circles under his eyes from lack of sleep.
Kenny would be lying if he said he was truly content with his life. Maybe it took Mara visiting for him to realize that. At least he had Jazz and Rocky.
Several stops down, the door slid open and one of Kenny's neighbours, Norma, shuffled into the elevator. She smiled warmly at him and the dogs, her eyes wrinkling shut behind her thick glasses. Hello Kenny! she said as the door slid shut behind her.
Hey Norma, how are you? Kenny replied with a halfhearted smile.
Norma shrugged, petting the dogs fondly as she said, Ive been better, dear. Lost my sister last week, unfortunately. Cancer got her.
The nonchalance in which she stated this caught Kenny off-guard, and he glanced down at the floor. Shit...I'm sorry, Norma.
It's alright, dear, she replied. When you get around my age people start dropping like flies. Hell, pretty much everyone I knew in highschool have been dead for years.
Kenny felt a lump in his throat. He coughed and managed to collect his voice enough to respond. Crazy.
Yep. Life is a fragile thing, my dear. You just gotta hang in there and hope everyone you love outlives you. She sighed and gave a pained laugh. I'll never forget her laugh, though. Ugliest thing I ever heard. Sounded like a goddamn jackal. Now that she's gone, I'd give anything to hear it again.
There was a moment of silence that Kenny had no idea how to break. Fortunately, Norma changed the subject. Anyway, how are things with you? Have you got a girlfriend yet?
Kenny chuckled and scratched at his beard. This was Norma's usual go-to for conversation. Nah, not yet, he said sheepishly.
Such a handsome fella, I bet they'd be lining up around the block if you cleaned up a little. Norma laughed and gave him a playful slap on the shoulder. I'm just kidding. Half-kidding.
The elevator reached the ground floor and the door slid open as they stepped into the lobby. Norma zipped up her coat and smiled, grabbing the door for Kenny and the dogs.
Thank you, Norma, said Kenny.
You're welcome. Have a good night, dear.
You too, take care.
The shepherds veered off to their favourite walking route as Norma climbed into the back of a waiting cab. Unless he missed his guess she was headed to the bar for more beers than any small elderly woman had any business drinking. Whatever. It was endearing. That old dame would outlive everyone.
Kenny walked Jazz and Rocky to the small forest trail where they always went for constitutionals. The moon hovered radiant over the silhouetted treetops, shedding dim light on the dirt trail. Kenny relished these walks nearly as much as the dogs did. It was dark and quiet in here. True, it had taken him years to stop searching the shadows for imaginary assailants, but he now did his best thinking in the woods.
Mara Montalvo...just another kid thrown through the ringer. What's it been now, hundreds? Christ, here I am off in my own little world while she's actually fucking doing something with her life. All I did was run away. What the hell good is survival if you don't know how to live?
Kenny's heart sank as he looked up at the moon, hot tears beginning to stream down his cheeks.
Fuck...I wish it had been me.