There are a lot of people who say that time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. I don't think that it flies like an arrow. I think that it crawls like a snail against everything that has to be done. Then again, things seem to be going right. I'm second only to Deloris now and I'm being groomed to take over for her when she retires in a year. Ha. If she retires in a year. Now that would be a Christmas miracle. I need to think on what to get her for this year. It's been a lot of cat themed holidays but she loves them. The theme started when Murray died and I got her a pair of kittens for Christmas. They are the most spoiled things on the -
"Millie," Deloris says, breaking George out of her train of thought.
"Yes Deloris?" George asked with a smile. If there's one thing over time that's gotten easier, it's the smiling.
"I was wondering what the progress is on the Christmas piñata," Deloris said.
"Already ordered and I will be picking it up tomorrow morning before I come in," George replied. "Food is ordered and will be here tomorrow morning in time for the party. I hope that you don't mind we're trying out the new Greek place."
"No, no, I'm glad you suggested it in the first place," Deloris said. "Considering that Mexican means people leaving, so you were right. I know that I should listen to you more often and I am trying."
The one bad thing about the last few years was the economy. We were one of the few places that were allowed to keep everyone who wanted to stay. We were also one of the few places to get other people jobs. Deloris loved being the saint of jobs in a way and nobody was going to stop her. It was one of the reasons that the thought of her retiring was a bit of a joke. She was going to stay here until she was forced out. "I think that you're doing fine," George reassured her. "And I need to run off to my dentist appointment."
"I hope you get an excellent report," Deloris said. "I will see you tomorrow unless there's an emergency."
"Excellent. See you tomorrow!" George said happily as she got up. She made sure that she had her post-it before leaving and grabbing the elevator. She sighed as the doors closed.
That was another thing that hadn't changed. Rube did come back. He had a small vacation and he seemed less grumpy and a bit more towards happy. Sure, there were moments when he let his guard down and you could see the sadness there. We knew that the time away did better than the time with us. It's why, when I breezed into the Waffle House for dinner, I wasn't surprised for Rube not to already be there and Roxy sitting there alone. Roxy was the first one in and then the rest of us came with Rube arriving last. We didn't question the new routine. We just made it a part of our lives. "How's life, Roxy?" George asked as she sat down opposite of Roxy. She could tell that Roxy came straight from work because the uniform was still on.
"Good," Roxy said. "I've got something to invite everyone to if they all get here."
"What?" George asked as she raised an eyebrow. Roxy wasn't the one for parties unless there was a good reason to be throwing one. Even then, it had to be for Roxy not to be the center of attention. It probably isn't a party she thought to herself as she waited for the news.
Roxy gave an envelope to George and smiled. "Just a little something and do not make a big deal out of it. Even though I am."
"Alright..." George said and opened the envelope. "Roxy!" She said and then lowered her voice as she was glared at. "Sorry. But making detective is a big deal."
"What happened?" Mason asked as he slid into the booth next to George
"She's made detective and inviting us to the ceremony," George said before Roxy could.
"George!" Roxy said.
"Sorry," George said.
"Now what's up?" Daisy asked as she slid in next to Mason. She kissed his cheek and smiled as she took his hand.
One of the best thing ever about Daisy and Mason getting together is that I got my own place. Finally. Peace and quiet. "Better if she tells you," George said.
"Thank you," Roxy said and handed two envelopes to Mason and Daisy.
Daisy opened it and grinned. "Oh Roxanne! This is amazing. We should celebrate."
"No," Roxy said. "There will be no celebration. Just come to the ceremony and I'll be happy."
Daisy sighed. "Fine. Rube's going to be excited."
"I think that depends on the time of day," Rube said as he sat down next to Roxy.
"You will be happy about this," Daisy said with a grin.
"Let me be the one to tell him, jeez," Roxy said as she handed Rube an envelope.
Rube opened it and chuckled. "It's about time."
"Thank you," Roxy said.
It was about that time that Kiffany came over to take our orders. It didn't matter that she was now the manager. We were her favorites and she liked to reward them. We ordered our usual orders before we fell into silence. "So...how was everyone's day?" George tried after a few minutes of silence.
"I got a beautiful new piano," Daisy said. "Just have to get the red stains out."
"Dear God Daisy, did you steal it?" Roxy asked.
"No!" Daisy said. "He said that he wanted someone to have it before I showed him his lights."
"Likely story," Roxy muttered and then looked to Mason.
"What? I got drunk with the person who died of alcohol poisoning today. Guy on campus," Mason said.
"Don't talk about campus," Rube muttered, under his breath.
All of us turned to Rube. He tried to hide it but we all clearly heard him. "What, you're mad that I got drunk again?" Mason asked.
"No," Rube said.
"Then what is it?" George asked.
"When people have done great work, you get rewarded from high up," Rube said, completely unrelated to what they were talking about. But tangents weren't all that strange when it came to Rube. "It's why I got to take my vacation and was allowed - well, I was allowed to see the last of my family go."
"...Did something happen to Grandma Phyl?" George asked worriedly. She didn't think that Roxy had anybody left. Mason never mentioned anybody and the only people Daisy talked about were in movies. No family from either of them. So it only made sense that it was me.
"No," Rube said. "She's fine."
"Good," George said. "Joy would have hated to move if she was just going to die before she lived down there a decade."
"How old would you say that Reggie is now?" Daisy asked. She ignored the glare that Rube gave her.
"She was...ten, eleven when I joined," George said. "So she would be nineteen or twenty now. No...she would be going on twenty-one about now. I wonder what she's like."
"Moving was the best thing for everyone," Rube said.
For you so that you wouldn't have to keep on yelling at me George thought and sighed. "No, it wasn't," George said as she put money down on the table. "Let me out," she said and Daisy and Mason did so.
Kiffany came over to George. "Do you want your food to go?"
"Yeah - thanks Kiffany," George said as she walked away from the table to get it. She glared as Rube came over to her. "What?" She snapped.
"At the end of things, you know I'm right," Rube said.
"No, you aren't," George said. "I would give my unlife to have seen Reggie grow up." She sighed. "You don't even know how she got that nickname."
"Why don't you share it with me?" Rube asked. "Considering that you and I do need to talk."
George looked up to see Kiffany coming over with two boxes of food. She then looked to Rube. "Fine," she said. "You're carrying the food."
"Deal," Rube said as he took the food from Kiffany and smiled. "Thanks again."
"You two have a good evening," Kiffany said. "Don't yell at each other too much."
That made George and Rube both laugh. The drive to George's new apartment was a short one. It was a good distance between Happy Time and the Waffle House. It was also the same apartment complex that Rube was living in. At first, she was annoyed with that, but she grew to like it. It was quiet and nobody asked about who was doing what. They went to Rube's apartment, which was nicer than George's but not as cozy. They got the food out of the boxes and onto plates and sat down without a word. The two of them ate in silence before George asked "Is it odd how you and I are a bit alike?"
"How so?" Rube asked.
"We're quiet, have a tight hold to our past life, and seem to want to kick Mason from time to time," George said.
Rube chuckled. "That we do," he said before the look on his face went serious. "My vacation was to deal with everything that happened with my daughter's death," he said quietly. "I was the one to reap her and I led her to her lights. They also let me decide if I wanted to go to my own lights or come back."
George looked at Rube for a long time. "I don't know if I could do that," she said quietly. "Remember the time that you were going to reap the milkman and I went nuclear on you?"
"Yes, I do," Rube said. "So - how did Reggie get her name?"
George chuckled. "It's a long story," she said before she settled in to telling her story.
"We've got the whole night, kiddo," Rube said. "So take your time telling."
"Thanks," George said and began to tell her tale.
Unlike a lot of little girls when hearing they're going to be a big sister, I wanted a baby brother and not a baby sister. I wanted to be one of a kind and the only girl. Yes, I was a bit stuck up as a kid, but who wasn't? Especially when there was a new kid coming into the picture that could be good or bad, but you were being moved to the back. Sure, they said that would happen, but it did. Just in small ways, not in the big ways like being told to go to your room while they coo over the kid who can't talk back yet. So, when it came to picking out names, they involved me.
"This is hard," a young Georgia said as she looked through the books with her mom. Joy was too big to have Georgia sit in her lap, but curling next to mom was the next best thing.
"No, not really. We just need to think of the best name for the new one," Joy said. "And besides, thanks to you, I have the boy's name. I'm glad you thought of Michael."
That came from having a small...looking back, a crush, then it was a 'he's a nice kid who let me play with his stuff' relationship. But his name was Michael Simon and so it was the first name that came to mind. Luckily, Joy loved it.
"Mom, what's the story of my name?" Georgia asked.
"Well, like now, I didn't know if I was going to have you or a little boy," Joy said. "And your grandfather - Grandma Phyl's husband - had just died. I let Grandma Phyl talk me into naming after your grandfather. Instead of George, I just went with a female counterpart to the name. So that is how you got your name."
"I just thought it was because you liked the state," Georgia said.
Joy chuckled at that. "No, not really," she said and sighed as she closed the book they got to the end of. She picked up the next baby name book. "Pick a letter."
"R," Georgia said.
"R it is," Joy said and opened the book to the letter. The two of them looked over the names until she smiled. "Regina."
Georgia wrinkled her nose. She thought for a moment. "Can we call the baby Reggie if it's a boy?" She asked.
"Sure," Joy said with a smile. "You gave up the idea of Michael?"
"Well, it fits with me too," Georgia said.
"And here I thought you wanted to be unique," Joy said.
"Well, you're going to have a boy," Georgia said. She reached up, kissed her mom's cheek, and wandered off. She didn't realize that her mom was watching her with a happy smile on her face.
And that was the decision. Of course, I hated it when I heard that I had a little sister. I didn't want anything to do with the fact. Until my dad took me aside and gently explained that I was a big girl now and I had to be a big sister too. So I went and met Regina. It was her little hand that hit me and made me look. She was just a baby and a little thing at that, but after that hand touch, I felt the bond. It was a stronger bond that I had ever felt in my life. Stronger than the bond to imaginary friends and to my dolls and just - everything. I just had this smile on my face and then I said something.
"What did you say, honey?" Clancy asked.
"Reggie," Georgia said. "That's what we're going to call her, Reggie."
"But her - " Clancy started before Joy cut her off.
"We are," Joy said. "Her official name is Regina, but her family name is Reggie. How about that?"
Joy, of course, was a better mother when on drugs. "I like that," Georgia said with a smile. She touched her finger to Reggie's palm and felt it close tightly over it. "I'm your big sister. And I'm going to show you a lot of things. Like where mom hides the cookies." She ignored her parents laughing in the background. "But we're going to be best friends. Always." Reggie's response was to just look at Georgia in wonder.
We stayed like that until Clancy said that we had to go. But we were right there the next day and there are a lot of pictures of Reggie and I hanging out together in the hospital. When she came home, I was the first to hold her in the big rocking chair. There's a picture of it somewhere - I don't know where - and I hope that Reggie has the copy of it. But that was us at that perfect moment in time. We were sisters.
"My first words to my little sister and I meant them. I did think that we were going to have forever to be together. That we were going to grow old and maybe get a house full of cats. This big Victorian house and there would be one room that was just for books and big comfortable chairs with a fireplace. But there would just be enough rooms for us and no guests. We used to think about that when we would get really old - like crypt keeper old - and have a bunch of whatever pet we were fixated on at the moment. One week it was horses and then another week it was dogs. I think we stayed away from cats for some reason, but they were in the realm of possibility," George said and chuckled. "I probably bored you out of your mind."
"No," Rube said quietly as he moved from where he was just listening to her story. He went over to his desk and picked up an envelope. "I wanted to know."
She looked at the envelope. "I'm not going to like this, am I? Which of my family is going?"
"The one you love the most," he said quietly and handed her the envelope. "I'm allowed to give out as much information as I want to. The reason for the post-its is so that nobody gets too attached. It is rare when our past lives cross our new ones. For you, this is one of those rare times."
She opened the envelope and smiled at the new picture of Reggie. "She's beautiful," she said quietly and sighed. "And at University of Seattle. Joy's going to think the place is cursed, unless she already does."
"Probably already does," he said. "You don't have to do this. I could and you could lead her to her lights. Say one last goodbye."
"I know," she said as she looked more at what was in the envelope. "There's a lot of information here. You usually get all of this and we only get a post-it?"
"No," he said. "I get a big ledger and give you what I know. All of that is my own search."
"Computer?" She asked with a smile.
He raised an eyebrow at her. "It's in two days," he said.
"No other details but in two days?" George asked.
"You'll see when you get there," he said. "How are you going to spin this to Deloris?"
"It's been a while since I had to use a big lie," she said. "I'll explain to her in the morning that the brother in Millie's life has died. I'll only need a couple of days - say that he was a professor or a student on the campus, and there's my cover."
"You're getting better at this," he said. "I remember when you didn't want to lie. Or reap."
"I grew up," she said quietly as she continued to eat her food. The two of them ate in silence until she got up and took the envelope with her back to her apartment. After she made herself a cup of hot chocolate, she pulled everything out of the envelope and smiled at the pictures. It was nice to see Reggie happy and the fact that she now had someone special in her life. She would try to remember to ask about the boyfriend or whatever he was when she saw Reggie. She wondered if she would have to keep up as Millie or if Reggie would see through. Probably see through. Smart kid. She sighed as she looked over the date again. Two days - what is the date anyways? She walked into the kitchen to get her mug and look at the calendar. The mug dropped from her hands and shattered all over the floor. She quickly left her apartment and went up to Rube's, banging on the door. "You didn't tell me it was going to be on her birthday!"
He sighed and motioned for her to get inside. He closed the door after her and looked at her. "You said you were fine with this."
"Yes, but not on her twenty first birthday!" She exclaimed. "She's going to have - what - how many hours to enjoy it? If that? How can you do this?!"
"Georgia, you should understand this by now," he said, a bit of sharpness in his voice. "You're a reaper. You have been for a long time now. Yes, you're the youngest, but you're supposed to understand that we cut life short. It is not our fault. It is not the - well, yes it is the gravelings fault - but it is not ours. We only follow the orders that we are given. And you need to understand that."
"Why?" She asked. "What is the goddamned point?! I've asked that before and you never answer me."
"Because we are the gatekeepers to the afterlife," he said. "We are the ones who keep an eye on the clock and make sure that, when that clock stops, they go to where they need to next. That's going to include anyone we ever cared about and anybody who has a life we've touched. Just be grateful that you get to do this."
She nodded, blinking away the tears. "Doesn't make it hurt less," she whispered.
"I know," he said quietly. "I know, kiddo," he said as he gently pulled her into a hug.
It was strange getting a hug from Rube. I know that I needed it, because I was a mess. Somehow, it made it easier to think that I needed to reap my sister on her twenty first birthday. Well, four hours after she officially turned twenty one, but it was still her birthday. I knew what I was going to do next, even if it broke reaper rules. They'd probably forcefully send me to my lights after that, but I had this feeling that I would be with Reggie if that happened. So my mind was made up. I would make Reggie see it was me instead of Millie. It was the last thing I could do for my sister who never believed I left. I could confirm what she believed her entire life.