Gregg looked around the shop. His eyes were a little misty; after all, this had been his only comfort for the last twenty years, since he lost Jerry. I could almost feel his pain and sadness. But he smiled as he spoke to the boys. "Well, boys, as of noon today, this is no longer my shop. Beau and Becca have bought it, lock, stock and barrel."
Ben spoke up. "We have the time sheets, if you want to write the checks for the guys who worked here."
Gregg wrote out the checks and looked around again. "It's been good. It's been really good, but I think it's time for a change." He turned to Beau and Becca. "It won't make you a fortune, but if you get the pleasure I've gotten from seeing children smile, that's worth a lot! And sometimes, that's worth more than money." They nodded and smiled in agreement. Then Gregg turned to me. "We'd probably better get going. I've got a lot of sorting to do, deciding between sentiment and sediment!" He grinned.
We walked up the block to the bank, where his car was parked. He winced slightly, as he slid into the driver's seat. "I really don't think I'm going to be a lot of help with the driving on a cross-country trip."
"That's all right, Gregg. I can drive. I'll drive all the way, if it bothers you."
"No, I want to help with the driving as much as I can, but this foolish leg of mine keeps giving me fits at the wrong time! As if there is a right time!" He chuckled, but I could tell from his face that he was very uncomfortable.
We drove back to his house, and as we pulled into the driveway, he took the garage door opener from the dashboard. "I'd better get new batteries for this thing. I don't remember when I put these in, and I'd hate to have it fail for the next owner." He grinned. "Of course, the next owner may not have a car for a while, but he still might want to get in and out of the garage."
I was curious. "Did Beau say why they decided not to buy the house?"
"No more than they told us at breakfast. Beau doesn't need the money—or the house!—and I think they are hoping that Grant and Ben will decide to return to Fremont after college, if they don't find jobs somewhere else."
"But why did Beau buy Kate Dolan's house in Ithaca, if he's hoping the guys will come back to Fremont?"
"You'd have to know Beau to understand that. He was upset by the attitude of the University people about Ben and Grant having private rooms, so he just bought the house, so they could live off campus. I guess it's his way of thumbing his nose at the big shots. Remember what I told you, if you hurt one member of the family, you've got the whole family on your back!"
"Well, that's one lesson I won't forget!" I was thinking, yes, and you're a member of this family in Fremont. I hope I never do anything to hurt you. And it's not because of what the family might think or do; I think I'm falling for you, and I don't know what to do about it! C'mon, Harley, stop daydreaming! He's not interested, or at least he hasn't said anything that might indicate that he is. Get over it, boy!
We went into the house, and Gregg just wandered from room to room, looking around. He seemed a little distracted, almost confused. But I guess I can understand that. If you're leaving the place where you've lived for almost forty years, it's hard to know what to take with you and what you can leave behind. I've got fewer things, and not as many memories, but I'd hate to have to make the choices he has to make now.
He stopped and looked at me. "I guess I don't really need to worry about furniture and things like that. I can get what I need when the apartment is ready. But there's all the little stuff, all the knick-knacks and pictures, stuff like that. I hate to give some of them up, but I can't see why I would need them."
"They're part of your life, Gregg. They're tangible memories; you really do need them around you, and I think you should take them. If we don't have room in the car for everything, we can box them up and ship them by UPS or FEDEX. There's no reason for you to leave your memories behind. You'll want them, and need them, over the years."
He sighed. "I guess you're right. It's really hard to decide. But I've got to make some choices; I'll get on it—just as soon as we have a cup of coffee!" He grinned at me. "There, that was an easy decision!"
"I'm no psychologist, but I think someone might call that 'avoidance'!" I returned his grin, and we went out to the kitchen.
As we sat at the kitchen table with our coffee, Gregg was looking thoughtful. "I think I'll leave most of the stuff, pictures and things like that. Yes, they're memories, but a lot of them are rather painful memories. You can't bring back what's gone, so the best thing to do is let it go and leave it behind."
"Gregg, I don't want to butt in or try to tell you what to do, but I really think it would be a mistake to try to leave all the memories behind. I'm sure there are a lot of good memories, and those you want to keep. We can't change the past, but we have the right to sort out the good from the painful, and keep the good, don't you think?"
He sighed and looked at me. "I guess you're right. I'd hate to think that I might forget the good times. And we had some really good times!" He smiled, but it wasn't the smile that I had come to know and love. It was mixed with a lot of pain. Oh, God, if I could just take some of that pain away. He doesn't deserve to suffer this much and this long. He's a good man, a beautiful person. I just wish he'd think about me with even a little of the love he obviously still has for Jerry. Now I was getting depressed, too. Snap out of it, Harley. This guy needs someone to lean on right now. You can be there for him, even if he doesn't know that he needs you.
After we finished our coffee, we went upstairs, and Gregg began sorting through his closet and dresser, looking at his clothes. He stopped and turned around. "I just realized something; I don't have enough suitcases! The ones I brought back from Ithaca are still full of clothes, and there's all this to pack. What am I going to do now?"
"We've got time. You can pick up a couple more suitcases; I wouldn't get any really expensive luggage. You probably won't be doing a lot of traveling, once you get settled in Ithaca."
"That's true, I suppose. I think I'd better see what Grant needs, too. He doesn't have any luggage at all!"
We can ask him when the boys get home tonight. We're supposed to be at the club at 6:30, aren't we?"
"Yes, Beau's throwing a going-away party for the boys and for me, too, I guess."
"So, we'll wait and see what we need to do. In the meantime, I don't know about you, but that breakfast was great, but not enough to hold me to 6:30. Will you let me treat you to lunch?"
"Nope. We already settled that! I was your guest in Ithaca, so you're my guest in Fremont!"
"OK. Just thought I'd ask."
"But I'm sort of hungry, too. Why don't we go get a sandwich or something? There's a little diner just down the street. We probably don't want to eat too much; I know the kind of parties Beau plans!" He grinned. "And, while we're out, we can see about getting some boxes to pack things for shipping."
We walked to the diner, about two blocks away. It was one of those old '50's styles, the 'streetcar' diner. I've always loved this kind of diner. Their prices are reasonable, and they usually have about the best food in town. There were menus sitting in a rack on our table, so we grabbed them and looked at the specials for the day. Gregg was suddenly excited. "Oh, they've got hot meatloaf sandwiches today! They make the best meatloaf here!"
"That sounds good to me. A hot meatloaf sandwich and a cup of coffee should take me through the afternoon very nicely."
The waitress came over to our table with two glasses of water and her order pad. "Hi, guys. Decided what you want yet?"
Gregg looked up and smiled. "Yes, I think we're going to have the hot meatloaf special and coffee—black."
"Coming right up!" She jotted the order on her pad and went back to the counter. Gregg grinned. "They always put cream in your coffee, unless you tell them not to."
While we waited for our food, I was looking around. This was obviously a working man's diner. Most of the customers were in jeans or uniforms. It was the kind of diner I grew up with, and I felt right at home.
Our food was served promptly, and we ate in silence. It was "diner food," not fancy, but very tasty. When we finished, Gregg pulled out his wallet and left a five dollar bill on the table for the waitress. Then he went to the counter and paid for lunch.
We stepped out into the warm sunshine. I was comfortably full. "That was really good, Gregg. Thanks a lot!"
"Glad you enjoyed it. This is one of my favorite places in town to eat. It's close, it's reasonably priced, and the food is always good—home cooking away from home!" He looked thoughtful for a minute. "I'm trying to make up my mind whether to walk, or to go back and get the car. The UPS store is just a couple of blocks down, but we'd have to carry the boxes and stuff back to the house."
"Well, unless you're planning to get a lot of boxes, or big ones, I don't see why we can't manage them."
"OK, but remember that you said that. I don't want to hear any complaining on the way back!" He was grinning now, obviously feeling better than he had at the house.
"Yes, boss! I'll be good, no complaining." He chuckled, and we set off down the street to the UPS store. When we got there, he picked up three or four small boxes, and the same number of medium-sized boxes. He also got a roll of packing tape. We were almost to the counter when he stopped. "I'd better get some bubble wrap, too." He went back and picked up a roll of bubble wrap. "There, I think that's everything we need." He paid for his purchases, and we headed for his house. The boxes were folded flat, so I could carry them under my arm with no difficulty. He had the bag with the tape and bubble wrap. We were back at the house in a few minutes, and I didn't complain, even once!
We folded the boxes into shape, Gregg taped the bottoms securely, and we stacked them in the corner of the living room. He gave me a wry grin. "That was the easy part. Now comes the part I'm not looking forward to."
He opened the roll of bubble wrap. Then he went to the bookshelf in the corner. There were a number of pictures and some little trinkets of various sorts on the shelves. "Grams Tillison used to call these things 'break-a-brac.' She could never understand why people filled their houses with them."
I grinned. "Guess she wasn't into collecting memorabilia."
"No, she was a real down-to-earth person. She could be hard as nails, but she had the biggest heart in the world. She could scare you to death, but you knew that she loved you all the time. I've always wished I had had the chance to know her as well as Beau and Jeff did." He was picking up pieces and wrapping them in bubble wrap, as he talked, then placing them carefully in one of the little boxes. I noticed that he was carefully avoiding the pictures.
"You've mentioned Jeff a number of times. Who is he?"
"'Who was he?' is the question. He was Doctor Dad's son. Dr. Jack Wilson. You'll probably meet him tonight. Jeff was a lot like Beau, a force of nature. He was always telling people what they should be doing, but, since he was usually right, nobody resented it. He was one of Grams Tillison's favorite people, and I can understand that; they were so much alike. Our town lost a great citizen when he died. He was only forty-two." Gregg's eyes were full of tears, and he turned away to wipe them.
"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to bring up painful memories. But I've heard people talking about Jeff, and I was curious. He must have been really loved."
"Yes, he was, by everyone. I think Beau has tried hard to model his life after Jeff's. It was Jeff who got him out of the juvenile home, a scared and angry kid, and gave him a new life. I don't think Beau will ever forget him. And I know I won't." He was more under control now, and he went back to his packing. But the grin was gone, and he seemed subdued. I felt terrible that I had spoiled his good mood with thoughtless questions. I needed to do something.
"Is there anything I can do to help you pack?"
"Not really. But having you here is good for me. I'd be a total mess by now, if I had to do this all alone." He turned around and looked at me. "Thanks, Harley, for being here, for putting up with my moods. I don't think I could have done this, if you weren't here."
I couldn't believe my ears! Did he say, did he mean, does he really have any feelings for me, other than as a friend? I could feel my heart pounding. I took a couple of deep breaths. Now, settle down, Harley! Don't start imagining things!
I was looking at some of the pictures on the shelves. One, in particular, caught my eye. It was a photo of a much younger Gregg and a handsome young man. They were holding hands and smiling at the camera. Gregg noticed me studying the picture. "That's Jerry and me on vacation in Jamaica. I had always wanted to go to the islands, and Jerry took me there for our tenth anniversary. We had so much fun!" He was smiling now, looking back to a happy time.
We had just finished packing the pictures when the boys came storming into the house. Grant rushed over to his Dad and hugged him. "Dad, you've got to come with us!"
"Where? I 'm packing now, and I've got things to do before we go to the club. It's after five now, and we have to be there at 6:30."
"I know, Dad, but this is important! Please come, I really need you to come with us!"
Gregg looked at me and rolled his eyes up. "I don't know what's so important that we have to go right now!"
"Dad, please! This is really important!"
"OK, but it had better be!"
We went out to the car. Ben was driving, and Grant sat in the front seat with him. Gregg and I got into the back seat. We started out across town. It took Gregg a little while to figure out where we were headed. "Grant, what are you doing? What is this all about?" I had never heard him speak this sharply, and certainly not to Grant, who didn't seem at all fazed by his Dad's tone.
"You'll see, Dad. Turn right at the next light, Ben." Gregg was slumped in his seat, and his expression was not pleasant. We drove a few more blocks, and suddenly we were at the cemetery. Now I was curious. What did the boys have in mind, and why were they dragging Gregg back to a place of painful memories?
We turned in at the cemetery gates, and Grant directed Ben to a beautiful area in the back. It was very tastefully landscaped and had a most peaceful feeling.
"Park right over there, Ben." When the car stopped, Grant jumped out and went to the trunk. He opened it and took out four roses in vials. He came back to the back door on his Dad's side. "Dad, I think you need to say good-bye to Dad Jerry. You'll never be able to move on, and neither will he, until you let him go. Please take this red rose, a symbol of your love for him, and put it on his grave."
Gregg got out of the car like a sleepwalker, took the rose and walked over to a nearby grave. He knelt down, and I could see his body shaking with his sobs. We stood there a few minutes, giving him time with his Jerry, until his sobbing subsided. Then Grant whispered to me, "Here, Dad Harley, take this white rose and put it on the grave with the red one." He handed Ben a yellow rose, and he carried a pink one, as we moved slowly and respectfully toward the grave. The boys knelt on either side of Gregg, holding their roses. Ben reached out and laid the yellow rose beside the red one on the grave. Then Grant placed the pink one beside it. I stepped forward to lay the white rose with the others, then stepped back. This was their moment.
What happened next was straight out of a sci-fi movie. If someone had told me about it, I would have laughed in his face. But I was there, I saw it.
From the center of the grave a wisp of steam or smoke, or something, rose out of the ground. It formed a little cloud and moved toward us. It stopped in front of Gregg. He seemed to be listening to something. Then he began crying again. The little cloud moved over in front of Grant and paused for a few seconds, then it moved to Ben. I could tell from the looks on their faces that something momentous was happening. But then the cloud passed over them and approached me. I was frozen; I wanted to run, I wanted to get out of there, but I couldn't move. As the cloud stopped in front of me, it was as if I heard a voice, half joking, half serious: "I'm going to come back and kick you where it will hurt the most, if you hurt him!" I was in shock, but my first thought was 'why would I ever want to hurt him? I think I'm already falling in love with him.' I could feel the warmth of a gentle smile, and the cloud moved back to the center of the grave. Somehow it gathered up the roses and began to rise. I heard a voice: "Please love one another unconditionally." The cloud continued to rise, and we watched it until it mingled with the passing clouds above and disappeared.
No one moved for a few minutes. Each of us was trying to understand what had just happened. Then Grant and Ben stood up and helped Gregg up. When they turned, all three were smiling. I realized that I was smiling, too, but I had no idea why.
Ben looked at his watch. "We'd better get going. It's quarter after six, and we need to get to the club." We got back into the car, and started toward the country club on the other side of town. Gregg seemed more relaxed and at peace than I had ever seen him. Grant turned around to face him. "What did Dad Jerry say to you, Dad?" Gregg smiled. "He said it was time for him to move on. He's happy and peaceful there, and he wants me to go on here." He looked at me and smiled. Oh, God, could that smile mean what I hope it means? Could he really have let go of Jerry? Could he really have some feelings for me?
Fortunately Grant interrupted my thoughts at this point. "What did he say to you, Dad Harley?" I was a little embarrassed. "He said he'd come back and kick me where it would hurt the most, if I hurt your Dad." That got a few chuckles from everyone. Somehow, I didn't feel much like laughing, just then. They continued talking about what had happened. Gregg didn't have much to say, but he listened to the boys, and he looked so contented that I just wanted to hug him.
When we got to the club, we parked and went inside. Beau had reserved a big room, but it was almost full. Ben and Gregg greeted people they knew; they seemed to know everyone! Grant and I held back at first, but Ben and Gregg pulled us forward and introduced us to everyone. I was particularly interested in meeting Dr. Jack Wilson, Jeff's father. He is a most charming person, and he is obviously respected and loved in the community; everyone there made it a point to come and speak to him.
We gradually got seated for the dinner, and what a dinner it was! Beau had gone all out for this party, and the country club staff had done their very best to make it a memorable occasion.
When people had about finished eating, Beau stood up. He welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming. Then he announced that he had bought the Toy Shoppe and that it was going to be run by Lash Lasher, the former assistant in Dr. Wilson's office and Paul Murphy, a former teacher at the high school. He didn't mention, but it seemed that most people knew, that Lash and Paul were partners.
He then introduced me as his business representative in Ithaca, New York. He told everyone who might not already know that Gregg was going to Ithaca to live and to be near his son, who would be attending Cornell with Ben. He mentioned that Gregg was leaving his house for Grant, so that he would have a home when (Beau didn't say 'if') he returned to Fremont.
Then he told everyone that they should say goodbye to Gregg, since he and I would be leaving for Ithaca on Saturday morning. He came over to us and shook hands. Then he hugged both of us. "I'll be seeing you guys soon, if I don't see you before you leave. Take care of yourselves." Becca came over and hugged us. Then it seemed that we had been attacked, as everyone there joined and greeted us with handshakes, hugs and kisses. Gregg was obviously a well loved member of the community, and they hated to say goodbye to him.
We chatted with everyone in the room, I think. I have never felt so comfortable and welcome in a room full of total strangers. It was as if, by being there with Gregg and Beau, I had become a member of the community. I think I could really get to like living in this town!
Beau and Becca slipped out while we were talking to all the other guests. The party went on for about an hour more, and people started to leave. When we were finally able to get free, we started for home. Ben and Grant dropped us off at Gregg's house, and went on to Ben's house to get his things packed. They returned an hour or so later, so that Grant could pack. They went up to his room, but returned shortly to say that they were going shopping for luggage. Gregg asked them to pick up a couple of cheap suitcases for him while they were there. After they left, Gregg looked at me. "I'm just too tired to do any more. How about checking to see what's on TV?"
We settled down on the couch, not sitting too close to each other. I wanted so much to snuggle with him, but I didn't dare. We found a sitcom that we both liked and settled down to watch it.
The next thing I knew, Grant was shaking me gently. I sat up a little way, realizing as I did, that I had been sleeping with my head on Gregg's shoulder. He was still sleeping. Somehow his arm had slipped behind my back, and he was still holding me. I didn't want to get up, but I didn't want him to wake up and find me there in that position. Grant was grinning, but he didn't say anything. When he finally had Gregg awake, he suggested that we should go to bed, since tomorrow would be a busy day. Yawning and stretching, we got up from the couch and headed upstairs. Gregg mumbled good night; he was only half awake as he shuffled into his room, closing the door behind him. I went on down the hall to my room and undressed for bed. I was lying there in that state somewhere between being awake and asleep, when I heard the shower in the bathroom my room shared with Grant's. That woke me up, and I realized that I needed to talk to Grant before he went to bed. I wasn't sure if he would be there in the morning, and I didn't want to say what I had to say in front of Gregg.
I grabbed the robe from the back of the door and headed down the hall to Grant's room. His door was open, so I stepped inside to wait for him to come out of the bathroom. When he appeared, still drying his hair, I was in total shock. I had seen the bulge in his underwear, but I had no idea of what he actually looked like. He took the towel off his head and noticed that I was there. I expected him to say something, but he acted as if he was used to finding people in his room when he came out of the shower. I didn't want to make a big issue of it, but I couldn't resist a comment: "Grant, if Ben is built anywhere near like you, the two of you are going to have people following you down the street!" He just grinned, took a pair of briefs from his drawer and put them on. Then he sat down on the bed and motioned for me to join him.
"What can I do for you, Dad Harley?"
"Grant, I had a couple of things to say to you that I didn't want to say in front of your Dad. I want you to know that I think that was the nicest thing you could have done, taking us to the cemetery, so that your Dad could finally say goodbye to Jerry. I think he realizes that Jerry is moving on, and it's time for him to move on with his life, too.
"You know, don't you, that your Dad loves you a lot. It may seem strange to you, since a lot of what goes on around you must be brand new and mystifying. But he does. You are the son he has always wanted. He carved his longing into Pinochle, and now he has you to love. Don't ever forget that."
"I won't, Dad Harley. I love my Dad, and I love you, too."
"Thank you, Grant. You can't begin to know how much it means to me that you include me as part of your family. I'm like your Dad; I didn't have anyone for a lot of years. It feels really good to be part of a family, and I have you to thank for that."
He leaned over and hugged me. "Dad Harley, no matter what, you will always be a part of my family." I had to leave quickly, before I started to cry. I said goodnight and hurried back to my room. I hung the robe back on the door and got into bed. There was so much in my mind that I had to think about, but I drifted off into sleep before I had a chance to think about it.
I loved this chapter. I liked the scene with Harley and Grant, and the fact that Grant called Harley Dad Harley again, and told him he was part of his family. I wonder what is going to happen next. Gregg and Harley are going to be heading back to Ithaca, and it is going to be quite a long drive. It seems to me that this will be the first time that the two of them will be pretty certain to be alone together while they are awake for any length of time. Perhaps they will find the courage to open up a little bit to each other and move along in the process of becoming more than just friends. Obviously they both want to do that, and just as obviously they are both scared stiff that the other one will not want that. I wonder which one of them will take the first step and say or do something to let the other one know how he feels.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
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