Mr. Whitaker started his day with making Mrs. Whitaker’s favorite breakfast: pancakes. He had opened his pantry door that morning and found only a half-full bag of pancake mix on the shelf. He grinned, thinking of Mrs. Whitaker’s singing in the kitchen as she flipped pancakes in a well-worn frying pan.
He cooked up a dozen and split them up over two plates. Then he carried them to his neighbor’s door and knocked by kicking.”
“Mr. Whitaker!” said Mrs. Herman, smiling as she threw open the door. “What a surprise!”
He held out the pancakes, stacked haphazardly. “For Hallie and Henry.”
She blinked. “That’s so nice!”
He nodded in encouragement and she carefully took the plates. “These don’t, um, have anything weird in them, do they?”
Mr. Whitaker chuckled. “A little paranoid today, are we?”
She laughed. “You have no idea. The twins go all out for April Fool’s.”
“I figured. But don’t worry, no tricks in these. I just hope you have syrup. And keep the plates.”
“Thanks again, Mr. Whitaker. Seriously, you have no idea how much this helps.” She gave him another warm smile before heading inside, her hands full of pancakes.
Mr. Whitaker closed the door behind her, saving her the trouble, before heading back to his apartment.
There was Mrs. Whitaker’s writing desk in the corner, still covered in papers. Mr. Whitaker, whistling, picked up the papers and tossed them in the recycling bin. There was a knock at his door and he hurried over.
“Boys!” exclaimed Mr. Whitaker. “You came!”
Donny and Adam, who lived two doors down from Mr. Whitaker, gave him hugs.
“Of course, Mr. Whitaker,” said Donny, grasping the old man’s hand.
“I can’t thank you enough, son.”
“We’re the ones that need to thank you!” said Adam. “A free desk! And a nice one at that.”
“We thought it was an April Fool’s joke,” said Donny, raising his eyebrows at Mr. Whitaker.
The old man chuckled. “I don’t blame you. But I’m really not a fan of April Fool’s boys, I promise you.”
“Well, seriously, thank you, Mr. Whitaker,” said Adam.
“Yeah, you have no idea how much we needed this.”
“I’ve been doing homework on my bed. Now I fall asleep every time I read my chemistry textbook….”
“The only problem now is us fighting over it,” said Donny, shooting Adam a competitive look. Adam elbowed his roommate and Mr. Whitaker laughed at the boys.
“Well, come on in, take a good look at it. I’d help you lift but I don’t want you to see an old man’s back breaking.”
“We’ve got it, Mr. Whitaker, don’t worry.”
Adam stood at the far end of the desk while Donny stood at the front. The boys firmly grasped underneath the desk and grunted as they lifted.
“Heavier than it looks,” strained Donny.
Mr. Whitaker rushed in to take hold of the long side of the desk.
“No, Mr. Whitaker, don’t--”
“I’ll be alright,” wheezed Mr. Whitaker. “As long as you two do the heavy lifting, I’ll just lift what I can.” But he put his entire weight into his hands as together, the three of them shuffled to the apartment two doors down.
“Right in that back corner, there,” said Adam, panting.
Mr. Whitaker looked around the apartment after they set the desk down. The kitchen sink held a few dirty dishes, but other than that, it was cleaner than he had expected for two busy college kids. Mrs. Whitaker would be proud.
“You’re doing good here, boys,” he said, nodding his approval.
Adam smiled. “Thanks, Mr. Whitaker. That means a lot.”
“Yeah, we’ll miss you. Call us if you need anything, ok?” Donny scribbled his phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to Adam, who followed suit before passing it to Mr. Whitaker.
Mr. Whitaker looked at the note and felt pressure behind his eyes. He cleared his throat, swallowing the tears.
“Thank you. Study hard and take care of yourselves.” He gave them each a handshake and a smile before leaving the room. Back in his apartment, he tossed the piece of paper in the recycling bin on top of Mrs. Whitaker’s papers.
He stared around the apartment. Almost nothing in the living room now. The bedrooms were empty, as were the bathrooms. There was just the kitchen left.
Mr. Whitaker once again left his apartment and walked to the one at the end of the hall, near the elevators. The door opened before he knocked.
“Ready?” asked Mrs. Melling crisply.
Mr. Whitaker nodded and she took off down the hall, her high heels clacking against the ground. Mr. Whitaker pressed his lips together, hiding his smile.
“Why, this is wonderful!” remarked Mrs. Melling as she looked around his kitchen.
“Good,” said Mr. Whitaker, “because it’s all yours.”
Mrs. Melling owned a catering business, and had eight grandchildren that she loved to cook for as well.
“You don’t have to tell me twice. I’ll take it.”
Mr. Whitaker helped Mrs. Melling carry box after box to her apartment, slowly emptying his kitchen of the plates, mugs, pots and pans that he and Mrs. Whitaker had used every day. Cooking was one of their favorite pastimes; Mr. Whitaker lost himself in the smell of lemon salmon cooking in the oven while he and Mrs. Whitaker slow-danced to jazz music.
“This is the last of it,” said Mrs. Melling, snapping him out of his memories. She held a box with the dirty dishes from that morning.
“French toast?” she said, glancing down at the box's contents.
“Pancakes. For the Hermans.”
She smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Whitaker. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.”
He nodded. “Thank you for taking all this off my hands.”
She shuffled to the doorway, and turned around once more, a worried look on her face. “You’ll be alright?”
“I’ll be alright, Mrs. Melling. Enjoy your cooking.”
Mr. Whitaker felt an odd sensation as she left, as if a cool rain suddenly washed over him. He looked around the apartment, at the stark whiteness of the walls, no longer decorated with Mrs. Whitaker’s favorite photos of their adventures. He sided before taking the only left in the living room: the urn. It had rested on the mantel for exactly one year.
“Time to go, honey,” he murmured, pressing the urn close to his side.
He gave his apartment one last sweeping look before placing the key on the kitchen counter and closing the door behind him. He gently buckled the urn into the passenger seat of his car and settled in, turning on the radio.
“How about our favorite?”
He turned on the jazz station and drove out of the parking lot, giving the apartment building one last look in his rearview mirror.
He drove for two hours until he found a secluded beach. He drove as far as he could before the dirt turned to sand, and stared across the water at the setting sun. The ocean reflected the pink sky.
“Now that’s something,” he whispered.
He watched the sunset with Mrs. Whitaker by his side and tears running down his cheeks. He had never seen anything so beautiful.