Nova Caine looked at a picture of her newest assignment. The frown of pain marred the handsome face of Theo. First names only – anonymity was a priority number one.
“What’s the deal with this guy?” she asked her boss, A. Malgam. She could only guess what the ‘A’ stood for.
She’d been doing kiddy duty for eons and this was the chance to prove herself with capable of being part of the Adult Resolutions Department.
“Broken tooth. What else would it be?” her boss smirked.
Nova shrugged. “Inflamed gums?”
Her boss turned his eyes to the ceiling of his office and asked, “Why me? Why did Flossie have to go on her honeymoon this week?” Silence hung in the room, as if he expected a response. At last he looked back a Nova. “Just convince him to go to the dentist, will you?”
“Yes, Mr. Malgam.”
Nova patted her blue cotton candy hair to make sure it was still in place, and left the basement office and pointed her wand at the blinking florescent light overhead. A silver light shot out of the tip of her wand, shaking the fixture and setting the light to working properly.
“Best not be wasting time there, Ms. Nova.” That warning came from the oldest tooth fairy on the force. She was so well known in the department that she went by only one name – Cavity.
Cavity’s curly bubble gum pink halo around her heart shaped face. Her neon sugary smile hurt Nova’s eyes.
“I’m on it,” Nova said picking up her pace. She passed the elevators, knowing they hadn’t worked in decades. The stairs were the only way out of this place.
Outside in the fresh Midwest air, Nova set off for Theo’s last coordinates, somewhere near Lake Michigan
Theo rolled out of bed, knowing sleep would never come. Barefoot, he padded to the bathroom and pulled out the ibuprofen bottle. Four more should do the trick.
He had an important job starting in the next couple days and he needed to get this broken tooth fixed. Closing the medicine cabinet, he filled a glass of water and popped the tablets in his mouth.
Theo leaned forward to inspect the dark circles under his eyes, hoping to ignore the throbbing of his molar. It was like his whole left lower jaw was on fire. He would have to suck it up and find a dentist.
Didn’t a high school classmate become a dentist? Theo scratched his head and walked over to the only phone book in the apartment. It’s a good thing it was the yellow pages.
His eyes scanned the list of dentists in town, stopping at the one he was looking for – Paisley. Don Paisley rode the train with him to their private high school a couple towns over. Although they weren’t best buddies, they were friendly.
Theo glanced at the clock – only seven. He had to wait to make the call, so he heated up yesterday’s cold coffee in the microwave and took stock of his existence within these four walls. He was a divorced mechanic with child support and rent on his mind. Not exactly the dream he saw himself living at 45. He had five kids he only saw on weekends, and even then, a few of them had part time jobs that interfered with his plans to see them.
Scrubbing his face with his hands, he gave himself a silent motivational talk to get himself moving. He might as well go to work until the dental office was open.
Nova stood outside Theo’s apartment waiting for him to appear. She found the perfect dentist for him and smiled recalling that warm fuzzy feeling she always got when she did the right thing. Humans thought it was a cut and dry job – slip money under the pillow and take the old tooth.
There wasn’t some book of rules, some master plan. As a Tooth Fairy, one had to utilize their inner sense of purpose. What did each assignment need? For the children she administered to, wonderment and a reward for their bravery was what she usually doled out. In the end, the child, the parent and the dentist were all satisfied.
But here, in this case, Theo was a different matter. The tooth ache was only a part of his problems. She could discover what it was, but did Theo?
A moment later, Theo stepped out of his apartment building and walked briskly to his car. It was a good thing he was a mechanic, Nova thought. The model was a decade old, with a faint trace of rust on the chrome bumper.
Nova looked down at her watch. She had to get to Dr. Paisley’s office before it opened. There was a schedule she needed to fix.
Two hours later, Theo was escorted back to one of Dr. Paisley’s operatories. It’s clean smell and tidy space had him feeling a little nervous and relaxed at the same time. He was in the right place, but the uncertainty of what needed to be done and how painful would it be was fresh on his mind.
Lu, the dental assistant indicated the chair he should recline in. Smiling, she placed a paper bib around him, and chatted about something. Theo wasn’t sure because the minute she breezed into the room with her 100-watt smile, all he could hear was his blood rushing through his head.
Next Dr. Paisley stepped into the room and the childhood acquaintances shook hands. With his focus on the dentist and the telling of how he broke his tooth, the blood rushing subsided. It helped that now he was fully reclined, so his head was lower than his feet, and his mouth was opened so wide he couldn’t do more than shrug or go “Aaahhh” or “uh huh”.
Lu and Dr. Paisley chatted about events that were going on in the area. Lu mentioned she’d like to go to the town’s Pumpkin Fest, but her boys were with their father this coming weekend.
Hmm, Theo thought, so she was divorced as well. Having the dentist working in his mouth gave him the time to develop a plan. He would ask Lu out. That idea made his palms sweat, but in a good way.
His kids had activities planned with their mother, so he wasn’t obligated to stare at those four walls again. It gave him the time to evaluate his existence lately. He’d been imprisoning himself since the divorce thinking he wasn’t entitled to a life – a happy life anymore. He was already feeling lighter, better.
With his mouth numb, and tooth repaired, Theo once again found his feet on the ground. Lu leaned closer to remove the paper bib. He liked her perfume. It was light and floral. She was smiling again. Did she ever stop?
“If you’d like to go to the festival, I’d like to take you. My kids are with their mother this weekend.” God, he hoped he hadn’t sounded desperate. He rubbed his damp palms on his work pants.
He didn’t think Lu’s smile could get any brighter, but it did.
“I’d love to!” She turned and grabbed one of Dr. Paisley’s cards and wrote down her phone number. “Give me a call tonight.”
Theo never felt the floor beneath him as he left the office, his wallet lighter, of course, but now he had a woman’s phone number in his pocket and a date.
Forty years later…
Lu sat holding her husband’s cool, pale hand. Theo’s organs were failing. It was a relatively painless way to die. That was why she worried about the pained expression on face.
He hadn’t talked to her or any of the children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren in days. A hospice nurse was leaning over Theo, a slim penlight illuminating Theo’s eyes, then his nostrils and now his mouth.
“I see what it is,” declared the nurse. “He has a broken tooth. The nerve may be exposed.” Pocketing her penlight, she focused on Lu. “It’s time we keep him comfortable. A couple drops of the morphine will do the trick.”
“He’d rather have whiskey,” Lu said wistfully. They had shared so much during their time together. She wasn’t ready for that time to end.
The nurse handed the medicine bottle to Lu. “Didn’t you tell me you met when he had a toothache?”
Lu nodded and shared a sad smile with the nurse. It wasn’t like the one she had for Theo when they first met. These days her smile would spread so far – a weak beam of light at best. He always told her she had the brightest smile on Earth.
“I’ll check back with you tomorrow.”
The nurse left Theo and Lu’s home and sat in her car at the end of their driveway. After a while, the passenger door opened and in climbed her assignment.
“Why am I here? Who are you?”
The nurse started the car and backed out of the driveway. “I’m your Tooth Fairy, Nova.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a kid anymore.”
Nova glimpsed at Theo’s quiet house in the rearview mirror. “I know. But, Theo, that day forty years ago, you needed more than a dentist to fix your tooth. You needed Lu to fix your life.”
Theo settled back into passenger seat. “You won’t get an argument from me.”
Nova smiled as the car left the pavement and vanished into the clouds. Yes, she liked her adult cases. They were so rewarding.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels