Chapter 27 - Changing the Menu

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“What’s the matter, Johnny?” Sabrina asked, greeting him as he sat alone at a table in the lunchroom.

“Nothing’s the matter,” Johnny lied.

“You didn’t come to my soccer games like you promised. And it seems like you don’t want to talk to me.”

It was true he’d been avoiding her, along with everyone else at school. “It’s just that I’m worried. My grandma’s trapped in this awful new place. And I feel trapped here at school. I need to do something about it.”

“What do you mean? Every kid has to go to school,” she said. “What are you going to do? This isn’t a comic book, Johnny. This is real life.” Sabrina glared at him and walked away.

When the school week was finished, on Saturday Johnny stayed in bed until his father went out to show houses. Then he rode his skateboard for two miles to reach Shady Palms.

It was a dangerous trip, across eight-lane roads and under freeways, but Johnny had no other choice. A month after she first entered the retirement home, Johnny started making a regular Saturday visit. In her room, Stella taught Johnny the rules for some new card games, such as pinochle and canasta. They watched a series of their favorite old Dirty Harry movies as part of a Clint Eastwood marathon on one of the cable channels.

The food in the cafeteria on the first floor was bland and rubbery. The same menu got recycled over and over. It seemed that every time Johnny visited, they were serving one of three entrees: macaroni and cheese, hamburger and potatoes, or chipped beef on biscuits. The meals resembled the overall quality of life at Shady Palms: it was dull and predictable, like a fast-food chain that always met your expectations as long as they were low. Johnny never heard his grandmother complain about the food, but he knew that she must hate it. The importance of tasty food with fresh ingredients was at the heart of her lifestyle. He did notice that when they were in the cafeteria together, she never ate more than half of what they put on her plate.

That Saturday afternoon, after their third Dirty Harry film, Stella dozed off. Johnny flipped through the channels until someone knocked at the door. It was Nina, the registered nurse on duty.

“You’re always here,” Nina said with visible surprise. “Most of the ladies here never get any visits from their family.” The nurse held Stella’s medication. “I have to give her the dosage.”

“You can’t do it now. She’s sleeping,” Johnny said, blocking the nurse from entering.

“But it’s time. Her son wants to make sure she gets the doses every six hours. That’s what it says on the prescription.”

“It’s important for her to get her sleep. She wasn’t feeling well. If you wake her up now, she might feel even worse. And then you’ll get in trouble,” Johnny said.

“I don’t want any trouble,” Nina said.

“I tell you what,” Johnny said. “Give the pills to me and I’ll let her have them as soon as she wakes up.”

“I can’t do that. I have to give them to her myself.”

“Come on,” Johnny said. “You can trust me. Just give me her daily dosage. I’ll keep track of the time so she gets them every six hours once she wakes up. It will be easier that way. It’s a win-win situation for you and my grandma. She gets her rest right now, and you don’t have to be bothered to come back and keep checking on her.”

“It’s not a problem for me to check up on her.”

“It’s not a problem for you, but it might be for her. She has quite a temper. If you come back knocking on the door and wake her up, she will start complaining to your boss and make a big fuss. I don’t want to see you get in any trouble, miss,” Johnny explained.

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