"Oh, I've got it," said Beth, taking the dirty plates from Tilly. "You go sit down again."
"Why don't I start the coffee?" said Tilly.
"Didn't Owen tell you? We're going to have dessert with my parents."
"Ah." Tilly resumed her place at the dining room table, shooting Owen a quick smile, which he dodged with the same look down and away he had perfected by the time he was twelve.
"I don't like having dessert with Gran and Gramps," announced Mercedes. "They don't let us have any tea or coffee and the cookies taste weird."
"Caffeine isn't good for growing people," said Beth. "And the cookies are from the health food store. They're high in fibre and low in sugar."
"Mercedes," said Owen. He kept his voice soft and calm, but Mercedes understood she had to stop. She started tracing her finger along the border pattern of the tablecloth.
"I thought Gramps said he was playing golf today," said Emily.
"In the morning. He said he'd be back for lunch."
They left as soon as Beth had finished stacking the dishwasher, with Tilly sitting in the back between the two children. Tilly took turns chatting to Emily and Mercedes about school, music, clothes, books... anything they wanted to tell her about. A few times Emily started to tell her something, but altered her wording slightly when a glance in the rear-view mirror indicated that Beth was paying attention. Tilly sighed inwardly. She didn't like that Emily was becoming so adept at hiding things from her parents, but given her own dealings with them, she couldn't blame her either. She just hoped Emily would go to her or another trustworthy adult in case she needed advice about something important.
Beth's parents lived in a senior's residence somewhere on Brampton's west side. Tilly was never sure where; Owen would take a few major roads, but also shortcut through a few subdivisions, and by the end of it she wasn't completely disoriented, but she didn't have a good idea of the precise location either.
They signed in with the security guard at the gate, who as usual forgot to hide his surprise that Tilly wasn't a resident.
Beth had called her parents on the way over, and they were waiting on the front walk to their apartment building.
"So this is Judy, and this is my father, Ted," she said to Tilly. Her voice was so strained and bright it reminded Tilly of the hostiles in her garbage chute.
"Yes, I remember. The last time was Mercedes's fifth birthday party, wasn't it?"
Judy and Ted laughed the same way at the same time, then Judy invited them in for dessert.
"So, how are things?" said Owen, in a tone that made Tilly suspect he had been told ahead of time what to say and when to say it.
Judy and Ted took turns gushing about how much they loved living in the residence complex. Tilly watched Emily pick up a back issue of Chatelaine from a magazine rack and start flipping through it. Mercedes looked like she was thinking of something sulky to say. Emily handed her an old copy of Sports Illustrated with Venus Williams on it. Williams was one of Mercedes's heros. She perked up and started reading.
Tilly wondered if she could get Emily to give her a copy of Chatelaine or Canadian Living without anyone else noticing.
"Tilly, hon, how do you take your coffee?" Judy bawled from the kitchen.
"One spoon of sugar, one spoon of milk, please," said Tilly.
"Sugar and milk? Okay." Tilly saw Judy bustling at the counter. "Right, so sugar and... oh honey, I'm sorry, I made a double-double. Is that okay?"
"That's fine, thank you." Tilly accepted the mug of coffee as graciously as she could, wondering why Judy and Ted didn't have cups and saucers like normal people.
Ted sat a little too close to Tilly on the couch. Tilly inched over towards Owen, who had already noticed and squeezed over.
"Owen says you moved downtown," said Ted. Tilly caught Emily eyeing them over the top of the magazine.
"The Annex," said Tilly. "Marcus and I lived there when we first moved to Toronto."
"Rent must be high."
"It's lower than you might think."
"Word to the wise," said Ted, leaning into Tilly's space. Tilly put her hand over the top of her coffee mug and leaned against Owen's arm. "There's a one-bedroom opening up here in a couple of months. I bet it's the same as what you pay downtown, and they have on-site medical care."
"That's good to know, but I don't have any chronic medical issues right now."
"It's easy to get used to being unwell," said Ted. Judy gave him a cup of coffee and nodded and smiled in agreement on her way back to the kitchen. "High blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis...."
"I don't have any of those things."
"It's true," said Owen, who seemed to have decided to not go along with whatever had been pre-planned. "The doctor always says Ma's in better shape than most people young enough to be her kids."
"We'll get you the co-ordinator's contact info," called Judy from the kitchen. "So you can discuss it with them. You know, learn the pros and cons."
"Of course," said Tilly. "That would be lovely."
"Gran," said Mercedes, "do you have cookies?"
"Even better, pumpkin," said Judy. "The health food store had carob brownies on sale."
"Is that the stuff that everyone says tastes like chocolate but doesn't?"
"Look how nice they look," said Judy, setting a tray down on the coffee table.
"Yes," said Mercedes, "that's them. I like them. They're not real chocolate, but they're good."
Tilly frowned. "Aren't there any elevators in this building?"
Ted shook his head. "It's only two stories. Either you're spry enough to live on the second floor, or you get a ground floor unit. Or else you're in assisted living."
"But there must be a garbage compacter... the chute's at the end of the hall, I guess?"
"The facility sends someone around Saturday mornings. If we fill up before then I just take it out to the skip."
"Ah." Tilly sipped her coffee, and reached forward to take a carob brownie. She tucked the co-ordinator's business card under the brownie and dropped it into her lap when she straightened up.