“What the sweet merry dancing hell?” Louise said, realizing she was in a completely lucid dream. She was sitting on a stone parapet, awash in the warm, floral breeze. Her legs, crossed loosely before her, were round and smooth and bare. Cherry blossoms fluttered in a blizzard throughout the orchard that stretched away under her gaze, and several young women were cavorting there, running around on the green lawn and winding in between the trees, apparently playing tag.
She swung around on her stone seat and slid off onto the rooftop, her bare feet landing on the sun-warmed stone surface without a single stab of pain anywhere from toes to lower back. She was wearing denim cutoffs and a concert t-shirt, her favorite outfit from her college days. She ran her hands over her hair—it was the loose and bushy afro she’d worn in her college days, well before her buttoned-down professional days.
But she had never attended a college that looked like this, nor had she ever really been anywhere like this.
The roof sprawled in all directions, with various interruptions and intrusions into the roofscape, like the square hole with the ends of a ladder sticking up out of it where a very young Mick’s shaved head appeared a few moments into Louise’s contemplation.
“There you are!” Mick said, scrambling easily up onto the roof.
Mick was wearing a collared shirt with the sleeves torn off, collar popped up around her thin neck, front unbuttoned to the waist, revealing the inner curves of her small breasts and a smooth, kissable expanse of belly. She paused to study Louise, one hand tucked inside the waistband of her pale jeans in the way Louise had always loved, the other hooked into one of her pockets by the thumb. The ropy muscles of her forearms stood out under her dark brown skin. Louise wondered just how far they’d been rejuvenated — would Mick’s left knee have the caterpillar-line of the surgical incision where they put her leg back together after the motorcycle accident?
“What is going on?” Louise said after the moment’s distraction of looking Mick over.
Mick shrugged, bony shoulders moving more loose-jointedly than Louise had ever seen them move. “It’s an adventure, I guess. Our last adventure? Some weird sort of shared virtual reality.”
“So everyone I’m seeing,” Louise said, waving a hand toward the orchard, “is just like us?”
“Old, decrepit, and demented?” Mick said. “Hell yes.” She leaned against wall next to Louise and pointed into the orchard. “That there? Is Concepción. She’s 92 and in a home in Minnesota. See the little cutie hiding behind the tree? That’s Deniece, 85, and she’s in Florida.”
“All American?” Louise said, gazing over her compatriots in this bizarre world. “All women?”
“Dawa—she’s hanging out downstairs—told me that there’d been a couple men through, but they don’t stay long,” Mick said. “Maybe they’ve got their own place somewhere.”
Louise watched the youthful crones run, laughing, toward the castle until they were out of sight, and said, “How many?”
“Debbie Jo put up a signup board downstairs,” Mick said. “You should come sign in. We’ve got over three hundred names in all, though only sixty or so show up regularly.”
“And, I expect, some who never show up again,” Louise said. “We are old.”
Mick snorted, then said, “Is this really what you want to be talking about, Lou?”
Louise snorted in return, and reached out to take Mick’s hand. Her skin was smooth and warm and resilient, and the tendons and veins that stood out later in her life were still concealed under a thin layer of baby fat. “Of course not. Are there, you know, bedrooms in this joint?”
And the scar wasn’t there.