The next morning, Wendell Bennett shuffles down the north wing of Villa Velencia. Up ahead is a women’s silhouette. He shields his eyes for a better look and inches out of the shadow. She recognizes him and approaches with sure steps. Wendell, uncertain who she is, stops. She closes the gap and buries her face into his flannel shirt. Ruth’s perfume is intoxicating and he relishes her body close to his, but is unable to fathom why she’s embracing him.
“He’s gone,” she whimpers.
She releases him and pulls out a Kleenex to dot her eyes. “Ira. He passed in his sleep.”
“I came to you as soon as I heard. You were his only friend.”
She let the moment hang and notes the pain crossing his face like a dark cloud.
She touches his arm. “I know he was annoying, but you should have heard him talk about you.”
Wendell takes in her eyes that dazzle like sapphires.
“Oh, how he admired you,” she gushes. “Said he’d never met a smarter man. Couldn’t wait to get helped into his wheelchair every morning just so he could talk with you. You gave him such joy. Did you know that?”
Wendell stares at the floor, his mind a whirlwind of questions. In a flash, he remembers their bet.
“The miracles,” he mumbles.
“I need to see him.”
“You can’t; they’ve already taken him to the funeral home.”
Wendell raises his eyes. “I still need to see his room.”
Ruth leads him by the hand toward The Commons. They reach the south corridor, and Wendell pats her hand.
“I need to go alone.”
She considers arguing the point but lets him go.
He waddles away as “Little Drummer Boy” fades into “O Holy Night.”