Living London - By Kristin Vayden

Chapter One

The tears started to fall even before I opened the stiff door to the nursing home. The only thing worse than saying goodbye was not saying goodbye. The wall's cream color blurred as I walked slowly down the hall toward Nanna's room. As I passed each wooden door, I glanced at the bronzed nameplate beside it. Each person within these walls had once been young like me, full of life, and now… now they waited.

Thankfully, Nanna wasn't fully aware of her surroundings; ignorance was bliss in her case. Usually the moment I opened the door to her room, a gentle smile would greet me. On a good day, she'd recognize me and try to fuss over my clothes or hair but today… today I knew that wasn't going to happen. The hospice nurse had called earlier urging me to come and say a final goodbye. My heart clenched.

As I drew closer to the door, I paused. I reached up to touch the nameplate, knowing someday soon it wouldn't be there anymore. Elinore Westin. With a heavy sigh, I turned the handle and entered, immediately assaulted by the sounds of an oxygen machine and the subtle scent of cleaning fumes. The bulky hospital bed made my grandmother's small frame appear even more delicate. She rested quietly beneath a pale pink quilt she and I had made years ago. Everything about her screamed fragile. I walked over to her bed and placed my hand on hers. The cool temperature of her skin gave me an involuntary shiver. There wasn’t much time left.

"Nanna? It's me, Jocelyn. I'm here to keep you company for a while. I know you missed me — I sure missed you since yesterday." There was no response, but I wasn't really expecting one. Nanna's hand began to warm as I held it gently. The soft white hair that was usually pulled into a knot at the base of her neck was carefully combed and draped over her shoulders. I brushed a few wisps away from her face and bent to kiss her wrinkled cheek. The familiar scent of her vanilla perfume comforted me. I leaned back so my tears wouldn't fall on her skin and wiped my face furiously. The nurse for hospice had said hearing was the last sense to go, so I knew she could hear my quiet sobs. In spite of my grief, I grinned. I could hear her voice in my mind berating me for shedding so many tears over her. She was ready to pass on. In truth, she had been ready for quite a while. She missed Grandpa Jakob. Even though she wasn't aware of reality all the time, she'd never forgotten him. Soon she'd see him again. The thought of their reunion comforted me.

"Nanna, when you see Grandpa, make sure you tell him I love him, okay? That's your job. If you have to leave me, you have to take my love with you, all right? I'll stay a little while longer, Nanna, but I know you need me to say goodbye, to let you know I'll be all right without you, and I will. I promise. I'll keep your aloe vera plant alive, and your Christmas cactus that Grandpa Jake bought you. Your quilts will be put on my bed and, most of all, I'll remember everything you taught me, and I'll keep our books safe and re-read them, always thinking of you."

In saying the last part, I glanced at the bookshelves around the room all filled with the Regency romances we had both read many times, cover to cover. Of all the things she had forgotten, she'd never lost her love of reading. Her borderline obsession with the Regency era was hilarious. When I'd been little, we would often pretend to be at an important ball. Nanna would wear an old ball gown, and I would put on my best Sunday dress. We'd twirl, dance, and pretend to drink watered-down lemonade at Almack's. During those times of make-believe she'd taught me the waltz, quadrille, and all the other popular dances till I could do them with my eyes closed. We'd had tea parties and scones, and she'd taught me to make clotted cream. My stomach rumbled as I thought of it, reminding me I had again forgotten to eat.

Nanna had grown up in England. Though most of her adult life was spent in the States, her crisp accent hadn't faded. My parents would often tease me that I sounded more