Johnny Faa – Epilogue in Nampa

She wore a dress to do gardening. She always seemed to wear a dress, though, it always made her feel like she was… ready. She kneeled her aged self down into the soft dirt and began tending to a few marigolds. You always had to plant marigolds, her mother had told her, it kept the bugs away. Of course, that was nearly eighty years ago, and there were all sorts of powders and sprays to keep bugs away… but she couldn’t keep herself from always planting a few marigolds. She readied herself to stand up, moving slowly and deliberately with years of practice, feeling joints creak and muscles pop as she returned upright, brushing a forearm across a sweating brow to avoid the dirty gloved hand and the trowel it grasped lightly. As she looked up at the hot Idaho sun she heard the sound of a car approaching and turned to wave. She always waved, because she knew almost everyone in the neighborhood. She was just old fashioned that way,
However, this was certainly not what Dottie Olsen expected to see on a hot and dusty Idaho afternoon. A large, white van pulled up outside their little bungalow unannounced, and four very peculiar people piled out.
“Herm,” she called in a quiet, gentle voice, “Herm… could you come out here, please?”
Herm emerged, ducking under the front door. Now in his eighties, he was still an enormous man, with years of physical labor building a thick foundation that easily sustained the classic architecture. He wore overalls and a white t shirt, and his hair probably hadn’t been cut differently since he was seven years old, a flat top military style cut that sat above a pair of thick horn rim glasses and an impeccably clean shaven face. Years of simple living and hard work in the Big Country had preserved both of them well in body, mind and soul… but they still weren’t ready for the van-full of people who stepped onto their tiny, parched lawn.
First, there was a man. He wasn’t in particularly good shape, and everything he wore seemed to be wrinkled, but he did have the look of someone who at least washed regularly. There were large bags under his eyes, but his face glowed with a joy and thankfulness that seemed to say that he had recently come out of something bad. After him came a very awkward woman, all put together wrong, with narrow shoulders, wide hips and knock-knees. Her pale skin was heavily sunburned from driving in the western summer. Her clothes hung oddly on her, with a tanktop almost falling off and a pair of jeans stretched near its limits. A massive pair of glasses she wore gleamed in the sun, along with a gleaming smile as she helped the first man with the side door of the van. They pulled out and unfolded a wheelchair, allowing a black man to shuffle his way out of the seat and onto one leg before finally settling into the wheelchair, one leg sticking out unbent. The man wheeled the other man around to the other side of the van, where the driver’s side door opened. From where they stood, Herm and Dottie couldn’t see the driver until he rounded the front of the car, but when he did, they swore his face looked somehow… familiar. All four of them stood in front of the van, smiling and waving awkwardly.
“Uh… hi.” The driver said with a nervous smile.
“What can we do for you gentlemen?” Herm asked, raising himself up to a still impressive height.
“And lady,” Dottie added, to be polite.
“We’re, uh…” the first man murmured, running a hand through shaggy hair, “We’re here to see Dottie and Herm Olsen.”
“You got ’em,” Herm fired back, unimpressed.
“Good, good…” the first man said again, coughing in the dry summer air. Below him, the man in the wheelchair rolled his eyes and took over.
“Sir, Ma’am, I’m General Tate of the United States Army. We have in our custody an individual that says he owes a great deal of gratitude to you.”
“Oh, my…” Dottie skirted a little closer to her husband, “I don’t think we know anyone who would be involved with things like that.”
“The last army man I knew died a couple years back,” Herm’s expression hardened, “So unless you got some proof of who you are and what you came to do, I suggest you all–”
“What if I said you always had trouble balancing the cash register at night?”
The man who had driven the face spoke up finally, and Herm turned to him.
“Son, I ain’t balanced a cash register in fifty years.”
“Heh,” Johnny chuckled a bit to himself, “You called me ‘son,’ now that’s funny.”
“What do you mean?” Dottie asked from behind Herm.
“I know you always had trouble closing out the till, Herm,” Johnny put his hands in his pockets and adopted a cocky smile, “Especially that one day, when I caught you nicking a can of corned beef hash off the counter for the stray cat that used to stop by the back. You rang it up, you were afraid not to, because you’re a good man, Herm… but you didn’t have the cash for it, so I helped you out. Remember that, Herm? Musta been, oh… April of ’53?”
There was a long silence there as the wind swirled around them, kicking up gravel dust. Those near the van seemed generally to be smiling, and Dottie looked thoroughly confused, but Herm… his face was the picture of confusion.
“Why would anyone remember that?”
“Because I was there, Herm,” Johnny took a step forward, “I stocked those shelves with you and Dottie, Herm. Don’t you remember me? Look hard, it’s been a while.”
Dottie stepped out from behind her husband, peering with aged eyes at his face. His hair had been buzzed short, and he wore a short beard, but some things about him had not changed through countless epochs.
“…Jack?” She said, finally. She whispered it, almost reverently, as if she was experiencing something beyond.
“But how?”
“There’s no real better way to say this,” Johnny said casually with a shrug, “no easier way, either. I’m the Time Travelling Gypsy King who has lived more than 2 million years. I was made immortal hundreds of years to preserve the legacy of my people, and last year I traveled back to the Triassic era, living forward through time again since before the very birth of humanity. Also, this is my girlfriend, Carmen.”
He brought the awkward young woman forward, and they all shook hands.
“This is my pal, David Berg. He got me through a lot. And I believe you already met General Tate.”
“Yes,” Dottie said, still a little confused, “General, is your leg all right?”
“It will be,” he replied with a grimace, “In a couple of months I get a cane, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
“Are both of you all right?” David asked, the words tumbling out of him, “I mean, that’s a lot to hear, and I’m sure this is surprising, and–”
Dottie held up a hand, stopping him, and smiled.
“Son, you need to understand. When you get as old as we are… or as Jack is, I suppose… you stop getting really surprised at things.”
“Just ain’t worth it,” Herm added with a nod.
“Besides,” Dottie took a step forward, again peering into Johnny’s eyes, “It’s nice to see an old friend after all this time. You look a little rough though.”
“Whereas you, good God, you’re still beautiful,” Johnny said with a smile, holding her aged face in his ageless hands.
“Hey now,” Herm grumbled through a grin of his own, “That’s my wife you’re talkin’ about.”
“Eh, I’d still steal her.”
“You’d get about five minutes ‘fore I tracked you down,” Herm said confidently, cracking his gnarled knuckles.
“I don’t doubt it,” Johnny held up both palms in supplication, “You always scared the piss out of me with those big ol’ hands, Herm.”
“Language!” Dottie chided the Gypsy King with a wry smile, “And don’t you worry about Herm, he’s a great big teddy bear.”
“Bears can still claw you up pretty good,” General Tate added, wheeling up to the little group as David and Carmen stayed in the back, “Mrs. Olsen, would it be possible for all of us to step inside your lovely home? I don’t mean to complain, but it is very warm out here with all this stuff I’ve got on my leg. Some of us aren’t immortal, after all.”
Everyone turned to look at Johnny, who simply shrugged. They all shared a small laugh and, with some help from Johnny and Herm, General Tate managed to hop up the stairs into the house… but not after Dottie rushed in first, complaining that the house was a mess and she hadn’t a thing inside to cook for them. David and Carmen were left outside the house for a moment, standing in the sun.
“So,” David finally asked, “Are you worried about being with him? His temper, the whole immortality thing…”
“Not really,” Carmen replied with a grin, “And it’s weird, because I should be. Right now, I guess I’m just taking things as they come, one day at a time. Johnny doesn’t really get that idea, so I’m trying to see if I can teach him a little of what it’s like to be one of us.”
“Good luck,” David smiled, “Lord knows I tried.”
“I know you did,” she said, giving him a little hug. He felt the warmth of her body and the smell of peppermint in her hair, and it stirred up feelings that made him more confused than ever, “And if it wasn’t for you, I don’t think he’d ever have come back to us.”
“Humanity, David.”
She went inside the house, too, and David stood for just a moment, thinking. Had he managed to give humanity back to the immortal King of the Gypsies? Only time would tell, he supposed… and maybe, for the first time in a while, Johnny had someone to tell time for him, one day at a time, and that was enough. He took a deep breath and climbed up the stairs into the little house, where rice krispie bars and lemonade waited for him around an old¬†Formica¬†table. If he was going to start taking one day at a time, David thought, this was a good one to start on.

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