Elaine Parry's son came to eat lunch with her every day, as regular as clockwork. June wasn't actually prone to thinking that way; her father the English teacher had always chided her about cliches and overusing them, even when he'd nearly drummed them out of her head, but it really was just that: like the ticking of a clock. At 12:15PM every day, there he was, no matter the weather, knocking on the front door and giving June a reserved, arm's-length sort of greeting and smile. In the winter he would be shaking rain out of his umbrella on the porch or (much more rarely) kicking the snow off his boots at the door. In the summer, he would often be bringing frappucinos or something else sweet and cold - and one for June, as well, usually.
If half the resident patients had family that attentive, June was wont to think, most of them would do much better. Elaine herself was happy enough, if always happiest between noon-fifteen and one-thirty, when Will Parry would stand up, lean over to kiss her on the cheek and then gather up whatever outerwear he'd come in, give June another reserved smile and a farewell, and stride back out the door to his car.
"He's a doctor," she would say. "He has to go see to his patients again."
On holidays he would either come in the evening to stay, or he would take her out for the evening. Even under the best treatment she could have, Elaine was terribly vague, and got confused and frightened easily. June thought she was one of the sweetest women June had ever met, but that paled in comparison to the pure heart-warmth that came from watching Elaine Parry's tall son carefully shepherd her out to the car if it was a good day, on Thanksgiving or Easter or Christmas; or watching him hover around her if it wasn't so good a day, and thus better for her to stay indoors and get her holiday meal or presents there.
June knew Will Parry was a doctor, and that he looked after his mother, and that he drove an old Toyota and lived in a very small condo. And that was all: otherwise, he was a mystery. There were no anecdotes about friends. Elaine's stories were all about her Will when he was young and (June had pieced in around the edges) doing his level best to look after her, poor thing. There seemed to be one other family friend, Mary, who came to visit as well, but no one else.
Will himself offered almost nothing but distant politeness to anyone but his mother, although on the few occasions one of the other residents had had a bit of trouble when he'd been around, he'd been nothing but gently polite and helpful.
Sometimes June wondered about him. No girlfriend, that she could see; no boyfriend, either. He was a very quiet, very intense sort of young man. It was sometimes a bit difficult to hold eye-contact with him, which made it a bit of relief that he never seemed to linger. He always put her in mind of a cat who didn't have enough room to pace.
But in four years, he had never brought anyone with him to see his mother, and he really didn't tend to break his routine. That was why, on December the 24th at ten in the morning, June found herself blinking at him in a sort of mute astonishment when he arrived with a blonde young woman, hand in hand, and asked tentatively if he might see his mother just now.
June couldn't remember Will Parry being tentative in any conversation she'd had with him before.
She said, "Of course, she's just sitting in the living-room with Alan," naturally, and pointed through the door: Will knew the way and after stopping briefly (at a firm tug of her fingers out of his hand) to let his companion undo her rather intricately laced ankle-boots (and wasn't that an interesting outfit she was wearing? rather unusual, but some lovely classic lines to it, even if she'd only put her hair in a very quick and messy knot that didn't do her blouse justice), he tugged her in the direction of the right hallway with, June swore to herself, the air of a small boy who desperately wants to show off, but isn't certain how it will be taken.
On the pretext of making sure Alan had something to do, now that his board-game partner was being taken away, June followed them at a polite distance into the living-room.
"Will, darling, you're early!" was what Elaine said as she got up to hug her son. Alan was, of course, beaming widely. June hadn't really thought she'd need to find him something - he liked just sitting and watching other people do things, even at the discreet distance that meant he couldn't hear.
The woman who had come in with Will was standing back out of the way. June tidied a few things, unnecessarily, to give herself time to surreptitiously examine the newcomer: her hands were folded behind her back, though occasionally her right one raised itself as if she were petting something at her shoulder, and then went back again. She was watching Will, herself, with an expression that was an odd mix of proprietary, tender, appraising and uncertain.
Then she seemed to feel June watching and glanced her way, and more than a hint of challenge got its way in, as if to say, this is all mine, and you can't stop me from having it.
What an interesting girl.
Will let his mother go and stepped back, and the boy was back in him again: he kept a hold on his mother's hand, but moved so he wasn't standing between her and the woman. And he said, in a quiet sort of voice, "Mum, this is Lyra. I told you about her before?"
June put the name to the young woman's face, while Elaine seemed to search for a moment to put it in her memory - and then, quite suddenly, her face lit up with a recognition June couldn't account for, and she exclaimed, "Oh, but you're Lyra," and then hurried forward to embrace the young woman like a lost daughter. "But Will told me everything - oh, where's your demon, dear?" she said, shuffling back a little while keeping her hold on the girl's arms, to look around as if something was missing.
June prepared to step in to help, but the young woman - Lyra - only smiled. "He's waiting in the car," she said, in an accent that nearly matched Will and Elaine's own; June thought, then, that she must be someone they knew from England. Lyra glanced at June, and said, "We didn't want to upset anything, and he has Kirjava to keep him company."
"Well if that's all right," Elaine said, glancing at her son as if for confirmation. Then she said, "Oh, but my dear, how are you here? Will said - and are you staying long? It's so good to meet you, I feel as if I know you already, although of course you're taller than I expected - " and then she hugged Lyra again, as if at a loss for anything else to do.
Will looked up at June. And it was still hard to keep eye-contact, but this time it was because, whatever this meeting really was, it was causing him so much joy he seemed likely to explode. "D'you think we could move into Mum's room?" he asked, more as a formality. "Just so we aren't taking up all the space - "
"Sorry, Alan," Elaine said to her forgotten companion, but the older man was waving his hand, a little broader than most people would have for the same purpose of dismissing all apologies.
"I see this is some kinda family reunion!" he said. "I can just watch TV, you go on and catch up."
The new woman, Lyra, had hooked Elaine's arm into her own and Will followed them both: the firm closing of Elaine's door told June on no uncertain terms that her curious watching was over.