"Now what," I said more to myself than to Skye or Greta. All three of us had tears in our eyes while Helen stroked Kookie's crest. Even Libby was sniffling.
Helen pushed herself to a seated position. Kookie rubbed his beak against her face, cooing and talking a mile a minute.
"That's the most animated I've seen her since she moved in," Greta said. She covered her mouth with her hand and stared at the two reunited friends.
Skye nodded. "I don't think I can bear to separate them. Frankly, the vet told us that Kookie won't live much longer if this depression continues. So taking the bird back to the store..."
"Isn't a wise idea." Greta squared her shoulders and inhaled deeply. "Mr. Salazar isn't supposed to visit us again for another two weeks. Libby? What's your feeling about this?"
Libby's dark brown eyes were huge with wonder. "I never been around big birds, but I don't want Miss Helen to have to say goodbye to her pet. Lord above, I thought she was all but, well, she was really poorly. Now she's acting like she's got her will to live back again."
"That bird does make messes," Skye said. "To be fair, I had to tell you."
Greta smiled, a tiny rueful grin. "All our residents make messes. How about this? Leave Kookie here. We'll see how things go."
With that, we made arrangements for her to stop by the store to pick up the perch, the cage, and the bird seed.
One week later, Greta called to ask if Skye and I were free for lunch. A hitch in her voice suggested she was upset, so I asked, "Is Helen all right? And Kookie?"
"Both are fine, but we have a problem. I'd rather discuss it with you two in person. Is it at all possible that we meet today?"
Over three salads at Pumpernickel's, Greta reported an unexpected visit from her boss, Mr. Salazar. "To make a long story short, he gave me twenty-four hours to find Kookie a new home. According to him, we're breaking all sorts of health department regulations."
Setting down her fork, Greta sipped water. Her eyes had been downcast since we walked in the door. She's chosen a back booth, a place where we could talk in private. By unspoken agreement, we didn't tackled the main subject until the server, a friend of Skye's, set our bowls in front of us. Now, my appetite deserted me. I couldn't imagine separating Kookie and Helen, and I said as much.
"He's adamant. Even wrote me up and threatened to fire me on the spot." Greta's face was a mask of grief. "I need this job. Even if I didn't, my replacement would be in the same predicament."
Skye toyed with a piece of tomato. "We all knew it couldn't last. Not long. But is Helen better? I don't want to sound rude, but I had the idea she wasn't going to live much longer. I guess I figured she'd be gone by now, and you wouldn't have to cope with this."
"If I'd been a betting woman, I would have laid odds that she would have passed over by now. However, she and Kookie are happy as can be. Of course, there are all sorts of visitors who drop by daily now. Everyone loves the bird. I've promised I'll see about getting other animals, but Mr. Salazar suggested that he was not interested. First there are the health regulations. Then there's the mess. Finally, there are liability issues. I prepped all sorts of articles about the therapeutic value of pets in an assisted living care facility, but he wasn't impressed. I guess if we could find therapy animals with trainers to come and go, he'd be okay with that. But live-in animals? A non-starter."
"Any word on the financing issue?" I pushed my food away. "If that gets taken care of, maybe the landscaping would help. The residents could look out the windows and see something--anything!--that would cheer them up."
"Mr. Salazar told me that it's taking longer than Mr. Boehner had predicted." Greta folded her hands in her lap.
None of us spoke.
Finally, she burst out with, "Look, I like both of you a lot. Let me be really frank, but this has to stay in the room, Mr. Salazar does not like me. He thinks I'm unqualified for my job. He's not interested in keeping me in the loop. He's a numbers guy, and that's what moves the needle on his dial. He's one of those old-school admin people who thinks of residential care as warehousing. Since he couldn't be clearer about that, I have to rethink my future at Martin Gardens. This isn't what I signed up for. This isn't who I am!"
Then the tears started.
~ To Be Continued ~
Author's Note: I know you'll want to read this story in its entirety when I'm finished. (And I'm not done yet!) Just so you're aware, I'll bundle it with other Cara Mia short stories and make them available as e-publications.