By Andreas Bohnenstengel CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
A woman I haven’t seen before walks up to me at the circulation desk of the public library where I work. I don’t recognize her, but she calls me by name.
My surprise must show on my face.
“I’m Delores, Charlie’s daughter.”
“Of course.” I smile. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you. It’s a blessing the tornado took only him—someone who’d had a chance to live.”
I can see through her brave façade but find it admirable. Her words ring true—the World War II veteran had lived a full life before being crushed by a pile of rubble.
“We found this at the house.” Delores hands me an envelope with my name scrawled across the front. “Dad talked about you incessantly. I wanted to deliver this in person.” She leaves. I stand, mouth gaping, and stare at the object in my hand.
“Boyfriend put you in his will?” My boss, Steve, has returned from lunch—an hour late—and is ribbing me about Charlie.
I give him a look and retrieve my purse from a cubby. “I’m going to catch a late lunch.” I raise my eyebrows for emphasis before escaping to the employee lounge. On the way, my mind wanders back to the previous fall.
Charlie had been a regular library patron since before I landed my job here. When his wife passed away, he started spending more time socializing at the checkout counter. He was old enough to be my grandfather, so it never dawned on me that he might be interested in romance when he asked if I’d like to have dinner. We scheduled two weeks later, and the ribbing from my boss started. I ignored it.
When Charlie showed up at the library in his dress blues from half a century ago, I realized Steve was right for once. Before we departed, he offered his commentary, “If Charlie tries any funny business, my money’s on you.”
Copyright Marie Gail Stratford, 2014
We had dinner at a local Chinese place popular with the geriatric crowd. Over moo goo gai pan, we exchanged pleasantries. Then Charlie began reminiscing. He told how he lied about his age to get into the navy during World War II. As he talked, it dawned on me that he must have fought in the same platoon as my grandfather. That became almost too much when he paused and said, “Golly, sweetheart, we better get going if we want to catch that movie tonight.”
Things became more awkward at the movies. Charlie tried to hold my hand as we approached the box office. He misunderstood what I wanted to see and bought tickets to a western that I couldn’t possibly have found less interesting. Fortunately, he bought me a Coke at the concession stand, so I had an excuse to keep the armrest between us throughout the show.
Like every western I’ve ever seen, the movie lasted an hour longer than necessary. Then Charlie returned me to the library where my car waited in the deserted lot. After I thanked him for the evening, a pair of wizened lips closed in on mine. At the last moment, I managed to turn my head so the kiss landed on my cheek. We were alone beneath a single street lamp. His frail body was too close for comfort. I backed away. He straightened himself in his now-rumpled uniform, politely opened my car door and closed it behind me.
For a few weeks, I avoided Charlie. I busied myself with returns when he came to checkout his books or excused myself to the restroom when I saw him entering the library. Eventually things returned to normal. I smiled at him occasionally, then ventured a conversation. He began to act less like a nervous adolescent when we spoke. Then the tornado came.
My mind snaps back to the present. I take a long draught of bottled water and dig into my salad before opening the envelope.
I draw out a piece of notebook paper and a type-written page of legal stationery. At a single glance, I note that the notebook paper contains a love letter and the stationery contains a copy of a final will and testament. Both bear my name. It dawns on me that Steve’s good-natured ribbing isn’t my biggest problem anymore.