“Is there really nothing you can do?”
Gale placed a gentle hand on Lexi’s arm and gave a small squeeze. He was always so kind to her, even when giving the worst news. He was kind to her nan as well, and that was the most important thing.
“I’m so sorry. It pains me to have this conversation. But we are a private facility and government assistance simply will not cover our fees.”
A tear slipped from Lexi’s eye, but she couldn’t cry, not now. She had to stay strong, because if she didn’t fight for her nan, then who would? Clenching her fists briefly to drum up some courage, she looked up from her lap and met Gale’s gaze.
“I understand that, of course I do. But my nan has been here for four years and she’s settled. She has friends, both residents and staff, she’s happy here. I know I can’t afford the fees at the moment, but as soon as I am working properly again, I will be able to. If you could just give me a couple of extra months, I will sort everything out for you.”
She wished he wasn’t so kind, she wished she hadn’t got to know him, she wished they had never become friends over the last few years she had been visiting her nan in the care home. It had been fine while she had a good job and enough income to make sure her nan had the best care possible. She popped by his office most days that she visited and they chatted about everything from her nan’s condition to their dream holidays. It was a friendship she cherished, but one that might come crashing down around them thanks to Lexi being made redundant.
“Lex, we’ve given you extra time. We’ve given you more than we should have done. I appreciate you are paying everything you can, but I have staff to pay and residents to care for. I need money to do those things. Lexi, I hate to say this, but unless you can pay what you owe in full, along with the fees for next month, you are going to have to look at alternative accommodation for Grace come the end of the month.”
It was the third now, that gave her twenty-seven days to find somewhere that she could afford and was happy with. Plus, she would have to break the news to her nan.
The walk from Gale’s office to the day room seemed to go on forever. As she walked, several people smiled at her or said hello. She was here enough that they almost all knew her by name. Every member of staff knew and genuinely cared for both her nan and her. Would she find another facility that could offer those that?
It’s better not to dwell on it, she thought.
The day room at Vineyard Lodge was actually a conservatory. Sunlight streamed through the windows today and the residents had positioned themselves in the best chairs to enjoy it. Her nan was sitting in her usual squashy armchair, next to a large monstera plant. When she had first visited, the plant was little more than a foot tall, now it reached higher than the top of the armchair.
“Lexi,” Grace said. “I’m so glad you are here. Please come and sit down. I need your help.”
Lexi gave her nan a quick hug before taking the slightly less comfortable seat next to her. Grace held up her crossword book, and Lexi smiled for the first time since entering Gale’s office. This, at least, was how everything should be.
“Which one are you stuck on?”
“Eighteen down. I need you to use that phone of yours to check the answer and give me a hint.”
“I’m on it Nan.”
Lexi checked crossword answers whenever needed, but when she wasn’t doing that, she continued her search for job listings online. Her nan knew they had made her redundant, but not the extent to which her financial situation was now in trouble. Freelance work was mostly covering her mortgage and bills, but it wasn’t reliable enough for much more than that.
“Grace,” a voice called.
Lexi looked up, mimicking the direction her nan looked in, to see a man in a wheelchair waving a book in the air. The same book Grace had in her lap.
“Crossword number one-eighty-three complete.”
“Already? You must have been cheating. I know for a fact you get Mathew to look up the answers.”
The man sat next to Harold turned slightly pink at these words.
“Dad, did you really ask me to help you cheat at a crossword competition?”
“Well, if I don’t, she beats me every time.”
Lexi laughed as her nan tutted and returned to her own crossword.
“He gets him to look up the answers, you know, he gets his daughter to do it when she visits as well.”
“Isn’t that what I do for you?”
“No, not at all,” Grace said. “You just give me hints.”
Lexi laughed again and returned to her phone, scrolling through the job listings that were not suited for her qualifications.
“Are you still looking for a job?” Grace said.
Despite the health problems Grace had, her eyesight was yet to deteriorate to anything past needing reading glasses. She should have angled her phone away from her better.
“Yeah, I’ve applied for several, but nothing yet.”
“Any company would be lucky to get a clever girl like you on their staff. They should be asking you to come and work for them, not the other way around.”
“Fancy telling them all this?”
“Well, I would, but no one wants to listen to an old bat like me.”
“Nan, honestly, I can’t believe you say things like that.”
“Well, it’s true. These companies are all run by young men and woman who have barely left home yet. Look at this place; Mr Shelton isn’t a lot older than you, and he is quite good looking.”
“Nan, give over. How many times do I have to tell you that there’s nothing going on between Gale and I.”
“Well, why ever not? I know for a fact you were in his office before you came in to see me, and don’t even try to deny it. Sophia let me know you were there after you signed in.”
At the mention of the meeting with Gale, the despair that had consumed Lexi from the office to the day room returned, along with the knot in her stomach.
“Nan, it was just a chat about, well, just sorting some things out for you staying here.”
“Staying here? Lexi, what aren’t you telling me?”
“I’m working on it. Please don’t worry about anything.”
Grace put down the crossword book, a sight that Lexi didn’t remember having seen before.
“Tell me what’s going on.”
It took less than five minutes to explain everything. This time, Lexi didn’t stop the tears from falling. She knew she needed to let them out. Grace’s expression didn’t change the whole time she was speaking. Her expression remained stern until Lexi was sure she was about to be told off for allowing this to happen.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me,” Grace said when Lexi finished speaking.
“I’m so sorry. I thought I could fix it. The last thing I want is for you to have to leave here.”
“Lexi, I’m not bothered about where I live. I am, however, horrified that you would risk your own financial situation just so I can stay here when there are plenty of perfectly nice care homes that the government will pay for.”
“But you’re happy here.”
“That is completely irrelevant. Now, how long do I have?”
“Until the end of the month. But I might be able to-“
“No. You will find somewhere else for me to go. I will not have you risk losing your house because of me, and that is final.”
Lexi nodded, the tears still streaming down her face.
“I know you only want what’s best for me,” Grace said. “And you have done so much for me over the last few years. But now I have to look after you. This place is wonderful and I am happy here, but I can be just as happy somewhere else knowing that you have enough money to live on.”
Lexi looked up and noticed Mathew glancing over at them, looking concerned. She realised with a jolt that they were not alone in the room and quickly excused herself to go to the bathroom and tidy herself up.
Over the next two weeks, Lexi continued to devote all of her time to job hunting, freelance work, and care home hunting. Her only other activity was visiting Grace. When she went, she took extra care to avoid Gale. She couldn’t bear anymore awkward conversations. It was just that not one of these things was panning out as she would have liked. The care homes within a decent driving distance for her were not anywhere near the standard she wanted. The job hunting was producing no results, and the freelance work was slowing down. If things continued like this, she would be lucky to afford any of her bills, let alone care home fees.
When she was with her nan, she didn’t mention how any of it was going. But she had noticed some of Grace’s personal effects disappearing from the dayroom. She was slowly packing everything up, ready for the move that Lexi could not plan. Grace never mentioned it to Lexi, instead she spent most of her time talking about her crossword competition with Harold. She had run into his son Mathew a few days after finding out about it, who had confided that since moving here his father had been happier than he had seen him in a long time. The knot in her stomach increased in intensity after she realised how much of an impact this move would have on everyone involved.
With a week left before the end of the month, Lexi started sending out CVs at random to any company who might employ her. She knew full well that even if she got a job, she would not get a paycheck before her nan had to leave. With five days left, she started calling round the care homes she had previously written off. It was too late. None of them could take her at such short notice. Her only option would be to bring Grace home and care for her herself, and then how would she be able to get a job to support them? With three days to go, she found herself back in Gale’s office.
“Lexi, what do you mean you haven’t found anywhere for her? Did you even try?”
“Of course I tried. I’m sorry, but they should shut some of these places down. One of them had a mould problem, another had next to no staff working for them to care for her. I can’t leave her somewhere like that.”
“If this is some plot to guilt trip me into letting her stay, then it won’t work.”
Lexi’s mouth fell open.
“I would never do that to you. Besides, she won’t be homeless. She will have to move in with me until I can find somewhere for her.”
Gale sighed and gazed out of the window, unable, or unwilling, to meet her eyes.
“I know you are in a tough situation right now, Lex. I’ve done everything I can to help you and I’m sorry I can’t do more. We will be sorry to lose Grace on Friday. I just hope you can work things out.”
Lexi left the office without another word. She had been meaning to head to the dayroom after their meeting, but right now she couldn’t face seeing anyone. Instead, she made her way to a staircase that was hardly ever used; it hid behind a door in an alcove. Gale had brought her here early in their friendship, telling her it was the best spot in the place to get some time alone. She sat on her usual step and cried.
She only stopped crying when there was a knock at the door. She ignored it, even when the person knocked a second time. Apparently, they didn’t care that they hadn’t been invited in because a second later, the door opened and Mathew stood before her.
“Lexi? Oh Lexi, please don’t cry. Everything is going to be alright, I promise.”
He knelt down in front of her and hugged her. She clung to him, weeping for all she was worth.
“Your nan and my dad have been having some conversations, you know,” he said. “So I’ve got an idea of what has been going on.”
“I just want her to be happy. Happy and safe.”
“I know. That’s all I want for my dad, too.”
Mathew patted her back as she continued to cry.
“Look, I’ve been trying to catch you on your own for a few days now, since I found out about what’s going on. But you haven’t made that easy. And I’m sorry that this is how I am doing it, but I want to help.”
“What? But, how? Can you give me a job and pay me six months in advance?”
Mathew chuckled, and even Lexi managed a small smile.
“I can’t help with the job, I’m afraid. But I want to make sure Grace gets to stay right here.”
Why was she questioning this? Maybe because it couldn’t possibly be real. Guardian angels didn’t exist in real life. No one just appeared to do amazing good deeds for others, certainly not ones this big.
“My mum passed away six years ago, and my dad didn’t know how to cope without her. My sister and I cared for him as best we could, but we both have our own families and dad needs a lot of care now. Eventually, it became too much. When she died, it was like she took a part of him with her. We moved him in here a couple of months ago, and he met your nan. Something changed in him. This is the happiest I’ve seen him since mum got sick and I know for a fact that it’s down to your wonderful nan.”
He took a breath before continuing.
“Lexi, I see what you do for her and I see how happy she makes my dad. He has a friend who has brought him back to himself. They make each other happy with their crosswords and their banter.”
Mathew let her go and sat down on the stairs next to her. From his jacket pocket, he produced a chequebook. He opened it to a blank cheque and wrote Lexi’s name on it. On the next line, he wrote ‘one hundred thousand pounds.’
Lexi reached to snatch the pen from his hand, but he was too quick for her and deftly moved it out of her reach.
“Mathew, no, you can’t.”
“I can and I will. I’ve already given you my reasons.”
He finished writing the cheque, tore it from the book and pressed it into her hands.
“Now, you are going to take this straight to the bank and deposit it. Then you are going to come back here and tell Gale that Grace will not be going anywhere because you can afford to pay everything you owe. If he has any issues, I will speak to him and vouch that you are good for it.”
Lexi nodded. It was the only thing she could do.
“Once that is done, you are going to see your nan and tell her to unpack because she is not going anywhere. Is all of that understood?”
“How can I ever thank you?”
“You already have.”
He vanished, leaving Lexi sure that she must be dreaming.
Three months later
Lexi entered the dayroom and took her place in her usual chair. Grace was hard at work on a new crossword book, and she knew without looking that the same book would be in Harold’s lap across the room. She had passed Mathew on the way in; he had been leaving, and they had exchanged smiles. They had barely spoken since that day on the stairs other than polite conversation about Grace and Harold. Truth be told, she wasn’t entirely sure what to say to him. But everything he had said that day had been genuine. The cheque had cleared with no issues, and Gale had been both delighted and relieved to hear that Grace would stay with them. After a rocky couple of weeks, their friendship was back to normal.
“Lexi, how nice to see you. You just missed Mathew helping Harold to cheat at today’s crossword.”
“I saw him in the corridor when I arrived Nan. Are you hoping I’ve come to help you catch up?”
Grace tutted, but read out the clue she was stuck on, anyway.
“You’re going to have to get used to doing these on your own a bit more often, I’m afraid,” Lexi said as she searched for the answer on her phone.
“And why is that?”
“Because I start my new job on Monday, so I’m going to be restricted to evening and weekend visits only.”
Grace looked up from the book and beamed at Lexi. Her face was so full of pride she thought her nan might burst into song.
It had taken a while, but Lexi had persevered. Even with Mathew’s help, she had continued to take on freelance work, and it had been one of those jobs which had led to a permanent job paying even more than she had been on before her redundancy. It looked like Grace’s future was now completely assured.
“I’m so proud of you.”