By Marcia Kiser

"So. You're out in your roses again. And in this heat. If you could just see your face. You're redder than a hothouse tomato. Sit down and cool off a spell."

Theodore Grayson straightened and ran a gnarled hand through his luxurious silver hair. "Missy. Is it 3:00 already? What a disagreeable occurrence to have happen every day. Did you bring lots of needles today?" Theodore's gray eyes turned icy as he stared at lumpy, dumpy Missy and her nurse's bag.

"Mr. Grayson, we've been through all this. I don't know why you dislike me so much. After three months, I'd think you could tell what kind of person I am. If you want me to stop coming, fine, but Dr. Williams will insist on a companion for you."

Theodore ground his teeth and rolled up his sleeve. "I know what kind of person you are. You seem to enjoy inflicting pain on others." He sat at the patio table and watched Missy assembled her paraphernalia.

"That's a wicked thought, Mr. Grayson. I became a nurse so I could ease the sufferings of others."

"Oh, I'm sure you ease the suffering all right. Tell me, lost any more of patients lately?"

"Well, if you haven't heard, old Mrs. Fowler past away last night, bless her heart." Missy sniffed. "Her arthritis had gotten so bad she couldn't get a drink of water by herself." She jabbed the needle in Theodore's arm. His hand clenched into a fist. "Mr. Grayson, if you would relax, it wouldn't hurt. Really, it's your own fault, you always tense when I start the injection."

Theodore tightened his jaw and forced his hand to relax. "Poor Betsy. She was a beauty in her day. You couldn't see it now, but she was."

Theodore swallowed hard. Betsy Fowler had been his first sweetheart. And the seventh friend that had died in the last three months. It was so hard.

"There. All done," Missy announced as she withdrew the needle and rubbed the spot harder than Theodore thought was necessary.

"Did Betsy give you anything? Like the others you've lost?" Theodore asked, his teeth clenched.

Missy frowned at Theodore. "There have been more deaths lately than I like, but these poor ladies are in so much pain, sometimes they just give up. And, since you asked, almost nicely, yes, as a matter of fact, just last week, Mrs. Fowler gave me this ring. It's nice, isn't it?" Missy flashed an emerald and diamond ring in the sunlight. "Nurses don't normally wear jewelry, except maybe a watch. And a plain gold band, if they're married. I'm wearing it as a remembrance of her. She was such a sweet lady, you know, but so old and in such pain." Missy's eyes glittered as she stared at the ring. "Such pain," she whispered.

"What'd you do, Missy? Withhold her pain medication until she gave you the ring?"

"Mr. Grayson, that's enough. You'll be accusing me of killing my patients if you keep on. Maybe I should talk to Dr. Williams." She folded her arms over her chest and stared at Theodore, her eyes almost hidden behind rolls of fat and the thick lenses of her glasses.

Theodore rolled his sleeve down while he stared back. As he buttoned the cuff, he ducked his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Missy's victorious smile.

"I almost forgot," Missy said, her way of showing her forgiveness for Theodore's rudeness as she started packing her bag. "I have a new patient. Mrs. Sheila Hamilton. You know her, don't you? Such a nice lady. She has such lovely skin for someone her age."

Theodore gripped the arms of his chair so his trembling wouldn't show as Missy babbled on about Sheila, who happened to be his best friend.

"You're acquiring quite a jewelry collection, aren't you, Missy? Have you seen Mrs. Hamilton's black pearl bracelet? It's stunning."

"She did show it to me. And you're right. It's beautiful. It's such a shame she doesn't have a daughter to pass it on to. That bracelet should be a family heirloom." Missy snapped her bag shut. "You know, it's funny. She said it was a gift, but she wouldn't say from whom. She was all giggly and blushing when she told me." Missy lowered her voice, "I don't think she got it from her husband."

"I wouldn't know." Theodore's voice shook from his effort to control his anger.

He knew before long Sheila would call and tell him that she'd given her bracelet -- the bracelet they had picked out to commemorate their affair -- to Missy, the loyal, loving nurse.

At least, Betsy had called and invited him over to tell him about the emerald ring -- the custom-made ring with nine diamonds surrounding the emerald. One diamond for each year they'd been together. Betsy had been so apologetic, but she hadn't wanted to pass the ring to either of her daughters. She'd kept it a secret, out of shame, he'd sensed. The same shame he'd sensed from Elizabeth, and Lenora, and Charlotte, and Constance, and Abigail, and Francesca when they'd each told him they'd given away their special piece of jewelry to fat, dowdy Missy. They'd all told him the same day they gave the piece to Missy, so, they said, he wouldn't hear about it from Missy, who was, after all, a virtual stranger.

None of them understood that by giving away those pieces, they were rejecting him; that in their old age, they were ashamed of what they'd shared.

They'd each been grateful he was so understanding. And after they'd talked, he could see that each was grateful for his help.

Missy left as he mentally prepared for the inevitable call and visualized how Sheila would look after he smothered her. She'd be grateful, too -- just like the others.