There was a knocking at the door, faint but rapid.
Pearl sighed wryly and remained in bed. She knew exactly who it was making that noise. She knew it was rude to not answer the door, especially for this visitor, but frankly she wasn't sure if she could handle it right now.
It had been a week of hell. Between the nonstop demands of her job, her coworkers insisting that they go out on the town for drinks to celebrate winning the big project not once but twice, and Pearl stupidly deciding to force herself to go on a tepid date - she was done. Completely done. She needed to pretend to not exist, if only for a little while.
Predictably enough, the knocking persisted.
The woman at the door was not the type to be easily dissuaded. Cora was 82 years old and still the woman was as stubborn as a mountain goat, though much more charming. Arthritis, a lame knee, a bent back - none of it could keep that woman down.
It was intimidating sometimes. Pearl, 50 years younger and in the ‘prime of her life’, simply could not keep up.
The bedroom was dark, the heavy curtains pulled together to keep the sun out. It was almost nine, and normally around this time she would be coming home from for her regular neighborhood walk with Cora.
Maybe she’ll assume you’re not home, a small voice spoke up from the back of her mind.
Pearl tried to stifle these thoughts with a pillow on her face. They felt too vindictive for someone as warm as Cora.
She’d known the older woman for over a year now, ever since Pearl moved to the neighborhood. Cora was a spitfire of a woman who had about nine lifetimes of experience under her belt. What started off as a simple mission to get to know her neighbors led to meeting with Cora for brandy every Monday evening. And eventually that led to them walking around the neighborhood every other morning. And now it was pretty safe to say that the old woman had become her best friend.
There were days when she wondered if maybe it wasn’t normal to have such a big age gap between two close friends. According to her mother, Pearl was supposed to be making more friends (specifically friends her age) and trying to find someone to settle down with. And as it stands her current social circle had... considerably shrunk within the past few years.
But at the end of the day, she enjoyed spending time with Cora more than anyone else.
If anything, Cora should be bored with her.
Pearl didn’t anticipate the real depth of the old woman’s life until that first time she came over for brandy. Cora’s house was pretty humble but her living room had very high ceilings - yet you’d never guess because the walls were covered from ceiling to floor with photos and memorabilia from Cora’s long and full life.
There were glamour shots of her from her singing days, photos of friends and lovers long past, images of parties for dancing and galas fit for royalty. Every now and then Cora would casually rock Pearl’s world by pulling out some reference from a long-dead icon, like that time she casually pulled from her bookshelf a signed copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s from ‘her dear friend Truman, poor thing’. Or the time she regaled a ‘date gone wrong and then oh-so right’ that ended up being with Frank Sinatra himself.
And unlike many people her age, Cora didn’t just sit around and regale the days of her youth. Pearl couldn’t help but theorize that Cora never realized that she was old. The woman still took her annual trips to Europe in the fall, met with the other biddies of the neighborhood for cards and drinks, and even went on dates with some of the more interesting senior citizens of the town. She had old and new stories alike, enough tales to fill a library of books.
Cora’s home was filled with artifacts and the inheritances of a full life, with a regular rotation of visitors from afar.
Pearl’s home was ... a little bare.
There was a desk for her laptop for work. And a nice kitchenette. There was no guest room and frankly no real need for one. On the carpeted floor, leaning against the wall, was her framed Bachelor's degree waiting to be hung up for over a year now. Soon she'll have a Master's degree to match, and then Pearl will have two things to hang up.
She sighed from under her duvet.
Cora had stopped knocking on her door a while ago and it was silent again. Pearl closed her eyes and felt herself fall back into a fitful sleep.
It was on the tail-end of a familiar stress dream that she felt herself wake up abruptly.
Her phone told her that it was 11:52 AM when she pushed away her duvet and forced herself out of bed. Her blackout curtains were doing such a good job of keeping the sun out that she almost couldn’t find her way to the door.
She opened the front door to the blinding light of the day. It was a little cool out, still too early in the year to be properly called Spring. Pearl blinked rapidly as her eyes adjusted and tugged her cardigan closer to herself, looked around her lonely porch and saw, to her great surprise, something propped up against the wall.
It was a bottle filled with amber liquid, with a dark label. Brandy, the good stuff from what she can gather. It was a little cold from the morning air but not so much. Cora must have gone home and come back to leave it.
Pearl smiled. She understood the invitation for what it was.
She took the brandy inside and shut the door. And the door remained shut for several hours. Pearl read a few chapters from the book she had bought the other day and caught up on studying. Later in the afternoon, she cleaned up the kitchen and checked her work emails even though it was the weekend and she promised herself that she wouldn’t.
It was when she was in the middle of deep conditioning her hair that she found herself looking at the bottle of brandy. It was exactly where she had left it on the kitchen counter, sparking warmly in the low light.
Around 6:30 pm, Pearl waited outside of Cora’s house. The bottle of brandy was tucked in her arm like a sleeping baby. She knew that it was around this time that Cora usually came back from playing cards.
Sure enough, she didn’t have to wait long. The older woman was making her way down the sidewalk, her long black coat tucked tightly against her slight frame, a magenta pillbox hat perched on her head.
Cora didn’t notice Pearl at first, but when she did a large grin spread across her face. Her large dark eyes were twinkling in the dying sunlight.
“Hey kiddo,” she said simply.
“Hey Cora.” Pearl answered before clearing her throat, realizing how hoarse she sounded. “I’m, uh, I’m really sorry I missed our walk this morning.”
Cora waved a hand dismissively, like it was an event of the distant past.
“I see you got my gift,” Cora said in a brighter voice, fumbling in her pocket for her keys.
“That I did,” Pearl replied as Cora unlocked the door, “But I don’t have any proper snifters, and I was hoping you could help me out with that.”
“Well, girly,” Cora proclaimed as she entered the house, “if you've come here for fine glassware and some companionship, you’re in luck!”
She turned on a small lamp and the warm glow illuminated the countless faces of photographs on her wall. One of the photos closest to the door, properly framed and matted, was a photo of Pearl smiling in the middle of Cora’s kitchen, looking up at the camera with an open grin.
As she followed the older woman inside, Pearl couldn’t help but agree that she was lucky indeed.