Chapter Two

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Early the next morning, I found myself standing in the entryway of the Winter Forest Retirement Home, trying to talk my way inside.

"Are you family?" the receptionist asked.

"No."

"Then why are you asking to see Mr. Sanderson?" She eyed me from head to toe. "You're not trying to sell anything, are you? Peddle religious magazines? Insurance?"

"No, not at all." I took the book out and held it up. "A friend of his, Mr. Donahue, thought Mr. Sanderson might know where this book came from. I only need about five minutes of his time. That's all."

"Well..." she scanned me again before handing me the pen for the sign-in sheet. "He so seldom has visitors, he might enjoy it. But he tires quickly, so fifteen minutes maximum or I will come down there and fetch you myself."

"Understood."

Once past the bland reception area, I was pleased to find this place to be nicer than the average 'old folks' home. I should know, because my parents dragged me on enough tours of such institutions once they wanted to put Grandfather into one, something I couldn't stand to see happen just because he needed a little looking after to stay in his own apartment.

That's how I ended up moving in with him, after having an argument with my parents that cut off all communications with them for more than a year.

Until last month. Until the funeral.

I was filled with dread again as I imagined going back to the apartment tonight and finding it empty. It didn't bother me so much that he'd died there; he went peacefully, in his favorite chair, just as he swore he would, listening to talk radio softly in the background. It was just so quiet now without him.

Don't, Keigan, I thought, walking on. I was in this place for a reason, and now more than ever I just wanted to get it all over with.

I found the properly-numbered door and knocked softly. It was partially open, and I didn't want to burst in and scare the poor man. Then I realized I may need to knock a little louder to be heard.

"Someone there?" A cracked, weathered voice finally asked from beyond.

"Yes, Mr. Sanderson? Hi. My name is Keigan Wainwright, and I work at the J. Howard Fox Community College library. If I could just have a moment of your time, I need to ask you about a book I was just given by James Donahue Junior."

I heard a rushed shuffle, clunk, shuffle sound. "From Fox College, you say? Come in, boy, come in!" He tried to make it to the door to meet me, but as old and hunched over as the poor man was, he barely made it past the foot of his bed.

His room was clean, if not tidy. I noticed one unusual thing about it right away: schematics of trains and of the workings of a roundhouse papered the walls next to a small desk in the corner. I recognized the roundhouse right away because of my Grandfather's love of all things related to trains. When I was small, he'd take me into his lap and show me pictures in books of anything related to railroads.

Mr. Sanderson's voice brought me back to the moment.

"Open the shades, let in a little light, will you please?" Mr. Sanderson asked, and I complied. "Turn the ghastly overhead thing off. I hate having lamps on during the day."

"Yes, sir. Me too."

I remembered exchanges I'd had with my Grandfather in his final days, watching this man struggle to greet me, and my stomach ached. How could such a force of nature, even one weakened and eroded by the passage of time, just cease to exist?

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