“You’re not going to die on my watch, Dominion,” Charisse whispered to herself as she paced the halls of the nursing home, checking on each of her patients briefly before returning to Dominion Connan’s side.  She was only a volunteer, not a real nurse or even a CNA, but she’d quickly fallen in love with the quirky group of elderly residents and spent most of her free time here, using her special gift of kindness to bring a touch of happiness to the often sad and lonely people who spent most of their days trapped in their beds.

Risse wiped a cool wash cloth across the Dominion’s forehead and adjusted his blankets before collecting his empty water pitcher.

“Fill that thing with Mountain Dew, whydoncha?  I could use the energy boost.”  Dominion’s voice was a hoarse crackle.

Charisse’s lips curved in a smile she couldn’t quite hide.  Unlike her brother, Zeph, who was close friends with him, she’d never spent much time with the Dominion before; she only knew him as the leader of the Celestia Divisa — a wise, dignified, and highly-respected authority who performed all the important Celestia ceremonies.  She’d only learned of his impish side since he’d entered the nursing facility a week ago.

“I’m surprised you didn’t ask for something stronger!”

“Hmm, that might be even better…”

Charisse chuckled and carried his pitcher down the hall towards the kitchen where her nose told her Chef Maggie was preparing a meal that was low sodium, low cholesterol, high fiber, and completely unappetizing.  Charisse felt so sorry for the residents, she had taken to sneaking them mini candy bars.  Today she’d brought a bag of fun-size Snickers.

The voice of Nancy Hariden, director of Sunnybrook Retirement Community, echoed from the kitchen.  “You’ll be responsible for delivering meal trays to and from the residents’ rooms and cleaning up afterwards.  Oh, and filling the water pitchers,” Nancy added, spotting Risse coming into the kitchen.

The guy beside Nancy glanced appreciatively at Risse and nodded.  Risse quirked an eyebrow, taking in the designer jeans and cocky attitude.  She tipped her chin in greeting and offered a small smile.

“Risse, this is Jake Henley.  He’s going to be helping us out for a while.  Risse is one of our newest volunteers, and one of the residents’ favorites.”  Nancy gave an approving smile.

Risse held out a hand, and Jake glanced lazily at it before sliding his own hand from his back pocket. “Sup?” he said, his gaze drifting down her body.

“Nice to meet you.”  Risse smiled, fighting her desire to sneer instead.  Didn’t this guy have any manners?

“Reese like Reese Witherspoon?”

It was a common mistake, so why was it so irritating when he made it?  “No, like Cyd Charisse.”

Jake wrinkled his nose and raised an eyebrow.  “Who’s that?”

“The actress and dancer — Singin’ in the Rain, Brigadoon…”

“Sorry, I don’t do chick flicks.”  Jake smirked and curled his lip.

Risse resisted the urge to roll her eyes and waved her water pitcher instead, pushing her way past him.  “I need to get back to Domin… I mean, Mr. Uriel.  He’s thirsty.”

Jake nodded, watching her backside as she walked away.  “See you around, Shuh-reeessse.”  He drew out the last syllable like a hissing snake.

Charisse shuddered and wondered if she could change her schedule to avoid working the same shift as him.

“If you have any questions, just ask Charisse.  She knows everything there is to know about Sunnybrook.  In fact, how about giving him a tour for me, Risse?  I have a new resident checking in shortly that I need to attend to.  I’m sure you can show Jake everything he needs to know.”

Risse cringed but swallowed her dismay before turning back with an almost-genuine smile.  Her special gift was kindness, wasn’t it?  Surely she could spare some for this ill-mannered, sleaze bag, low life… She interrupted herself as soon as she realized she was definitely not thinking kind thoughts.

“Sure.  I’d be happy to.  Just let me fill this pitcher and we’ll be on our way.”

“I’ll leave you here then.  Come to my office before you check out, Jake.”  Nancy nodded at them and walked away, her low heels clicking rapidly down the hallway.

“Thanks for rescuing me from the boss lady, babe.  You’re a lot nicer to look at anyway.”

Risse ignored his comment and resumed filling her water pitcher.  When the water started spilling over the top she knew she couldn’t stall any longer.  Sighing, she turned and marched out of the kitchen, tossing the words “follow me” over her shoulder.

“Sunnybrook has two wings,” she explained, heading back down the hall toward Dominion Connan.  “The West wing is for the residents who need the most care — the invalids, the Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, and the end-stagers.  The residents in the East wing can still do a lot of their own care.”

“So you’re taking me to see the crazies first, eh?”

Risse stopped in her tracks and turned to face him.  “This isn’t a mental institution; they’re not crazy.  They’re just old, or sick, or they’ve lost their memory.  They just need a little more care, a little more kindness.”  She spat the words at him.

Jake held up his hands in defense.  “No offense, babe.  I didn’t mean anything.”

Risse narrowed her eyes and glared.  “And please don’t call me babe.”

“Sorry!  Chillax already.”  Jake smirked, and Risse flipped her long, blonde ponytail over her shoulder and huffed away.  Jake rushed to catch up to her.

“I take it you’re really attached to these old fogies since you’re so sensitive about ‘em.”

Risse closed her eyes and forced herself to speak politely.  “Yes, I care a lot about them.  They’re good people who just need extra patience and kindness.  Attributes I’m not sure you have to offer.  So why exactly are you here, anyway?”

Jake shrugged.  “Community service requirement.”

“Maybe you should find something that involves a little less community.”

“No can do, darlin’; it’s this or the big house, and I’m far too pretty for that,” he said with a wink.

Risse raised an eyebrow in a silent question.

“I’m not, like, a criminal or anything.  I just got in trouble for a prank.  It was nothing really.  Totally harmless, or, it was supposed to be, anyway.”  Jake flashed a killer smile, and Risse could see why this guy thought he was invincible.  His clothes and shoes were expensive, so Risse guessed he was wealthy, and with his devilishly handsome face he’d probably been favored all his life.

They had reached Dominion Connan’s room, but Risse wanted to hear the rest of the story so she lingered in the hallway.

“What kind of prank?”

Jake threw his head back in a throaty laugh.  “Aw man, it was so funny!  You’ve seen that movie Carrie, right?  Where they dump pig’s blood on the girl at prom?”  Risse shook her head.

“No?  Well, anyway, for the Halloween dance, my buddies and I rigged up a bucket full of half-melted red Jello, and when they crowned the prom queen we dumped it on her!  It was awesome!  Well, at least until she slipped off the stage and broke her ankle.”  Jake’s shrug made it obvious to Risse that he wasn’t sorry.

“That is the most terrible thing I’ve ever heard!  I can’t believe you did that to somebody!  Stay away from me, Jake, and stay away from these patients.”  With that, Risse stormed off and disappeared into Dominion Connan’s room, slamming the door behind her so Jake wouldn’t follow.​