First Chapter – Stardust Dreams
My arrival at two in the afternoon at the Los Angeles International Airport was on time, and. after renting an SUV, I headed north on California’s 405 Freeway.
“Darn traffic,” I shouted out the window.
Although the traffic jams in Los Angeles were no surprise to me—having worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena—worry and frustration surged in me. Today it was imperative that I arrive at the Golden Age Care Center in West Hollywood during visiting hours. It was my mission to persuade Sage Saint Charles, a woman I hardly knew from my hometown seventy years earlier, to join me on a fanciful adventure into the magnificent galaxy.
More than an hour late, my nerves frazzled, I turned into the parking area of the nursing home on Sunset Boulevard and parked. After I let out a big sigh of relief, I pulled down the visor and looked into the mirror at my eighty-eight-year-old face, a face ravaged by cell decay and terminal cancer. A half century earlier, there had been a handsome man staring back at me with bright blue eyes, dirty blond hair, a square jaw, and a mischievous smile. He was sorely missed.
After combing the few remaining hairs on my head with my trembling fingers, I cautiously stepped out of my vehicle, holding onto the door for stability. Falling to the ground now and breaking my brittle hip would be a devastating catastrophe. Instead of meeting with Sage, I’d end up in a hospital, succumbing to my cancer, while back at the ranch Farley would be dismantling my spaceship into scrap.
The sky darkened with rain clouds. Hopefully, it wasn’t an omen prognosticating a failed mission. I grabbed the bouquet of flowers that I’d purchased at the airport and my leather shoulder bag and walked toward the front entrance of this uninspiring three-story building. Obviously, the owners of these types of businesses had no reason for attractive architecture. They knew family and friends would be too consumed with grief to care where their loved ones would be spending their final days of life.
The lobby was more repulsive than the building’s exterior. The dingy green walls had a few drab prints of nature scenes that the owner probably purchased at a flea market for a dollar or two. One breath, and my nostrils inhaled a noxious floral deodorizer that I believed was a pitiful attempt by the staff to cover up the mournful scent of death.
The facility elicited an ancient memory. Sometime in my late sixties, my best recollection, I had dated a social worker for a short period of time. During our discussions, she lectured me on my need of long-term-care insurance. After listening to her doomsday scenario of medical problems for us seniors, I told her with equal insistence that I’d never end up in one of these hellish places where well-meaning doctors and nurses tended to your incapacitated body, while your mind languished in the lifeless environment. Then I made an error in judgment. I told her about my plans of traveling into the galaxy with the hope of finding an advanced alien civilization that would extend my life. Instead of stimulating her imagination, she thought I had mocked her. That’s when her maternal condemnation left her know-it-all lips, and she scolded me—saying I was behaving like an immature adolescent who would end up becoming a burden to my children. We both happily disengaged from our brief and caustic relationship.
As I approached the receptionist behind a small window, my mounting worries were hidden behind a rigid smile. For this mission to be a success, Sage needed to be alive. I needed to see her, which would take some craftiness, as I wouldn’t be on her visitor’s list. She would have to be alone in her room—and she’d have to remember me, or at least be familiar with my astronaut career. Taking a bold approach, I said, “I’m here to see Sage Saint Charles. What room is she in?”
The receptionist stopped reading her celebrity magazine and searched the data bank on the computer.
“And you are?”
Good news! Sage was alive and capable of having visitors. Now for the difficult part of my mission. “Lance Forrester. An old friend. But you won’t find me on her visitor’s list.”
Hopefully, the receptionist had no knowledge that Sage had been a celebrity in her day and she wouldn’t be obsessed with policy.
“You’re right,” she agreed. “You can’t go up without her permission.”
“Aaah—that would be a problem,” I replied with a doleful expression. “You see, we haven’t seen each in ages and that’s why I’m not listed. But I assure you she’ll be very happy to see me.”
“You can’t go up without her permission,” she said with an icy forcefulness. “We can’t have strangers lurking about the premises.”
My big lie was prepared. “I know I’m asking a big favor, but to be honest, we were lovers in Hollywood in our youth. It was a storybook romance.” On cue, I donned my sorrowful puppy dog expression, hoping to gain sympathy. “She will be grateful.” I put my hand on my heart as if taking an oath. “I swear.”
To my misfortune, her inflexible decision wasn’t changing. She turned her attention back to her magazine, expecting I’d go away like an annoying bug.
Time for my contingency plan. I took hold of three hundred dollars from my jacket pocket to bribe her. But either luck or divine intervention was directing my future—her cell phone sang. Giving me no further thought, she turned away to take the call. Just at that moment, a young couple came up behind me, carrying a big bouquet of flowers. With opportunity at hand, I backed away, letting the flowers block the receptionist’s view of me. Behind me were the elevators. I stepped in and quickly pushed the button for the top floor. It was a guess Sage’s room would be in a far corner of the facility for privacy.