Hidden Love – Chapter 5 and 6
“You may not know this,” her grandfather began in a quiet tone, “but I was quite the good-looking kid during the War. I met your grandmother after VE Day, when we were all finally sent home. Before that, though, I had a girl here in Richmond. Her name was Vivian, and her family owned a dry goods store over on Centreville Rd, near the library. We went steady through high school, so I guess you can say we were high school sweethearts.”
Christine was fascinated by the story, since it showed a whole different side to the grizzled man she had loved as far back as she could remember.
“After Pearl Harbor, the draft included men eighteen years and older, so almost as soon as I graduated, I knew I might get drafted into the Army. Instead, I applied and was accepted into the Seabees and sent over to the Pacific Theater. Vivian and I tried to keep up our letters, but as time dragged on, it got harder and harder to write.” He cleared his throat. “Finally, I told her it was better for her to find someone else rather than wait for me. When I was released in 1946, her family had moved east and I never heard from her again. Ultimately I met and married your grandmother, and had a good life here.” Crinkling his eyes at his favorite grandchild, he chuckled ruefully. “Bet you didn’t think your grandpa lead such an exciting social life.”
Christine reached out and hugged him. He returned it and then released her to wipe the moisture from his eyes.
“It’s been years since I thought about my younger self. If you don’t mind, I’m going to take these to my office.” Scooping up the brittle paper, he turned and walked from the office, stopping to give a word or two of encouragement to each employee as he left. Christine sighed as she watched him leave.
Wow, she mused. She thought her grandfather was always like he was now; dark, sun-roughened skin with laugh lines crinkling the edges of his eyes, thick white hair and ready smile. It was hard to picture him as a young man. On impulse, she left the shop and walked to the house. There, on the mantelpiece of the fireplace in the den, was a sepia-toned photo of her grandfather in his Seabees uniform.
She could see how he could have left broken hearts everywhere, although it was a bit disconcerting thinking of him with anyone but her late grandmother. She took a final look at her grandfather’s younger self before heading back to the shop.
~ ~ ~
Ned sat in the office, barely noticing the bright sunlight that streamed from the mullioned windows, as he thought back to his youthful self. He reached a trembling hand to the letters and gently smoothed them flat, then picked up the first one and began to read. The slant rays continued their relentless path across the heart of pine floors as he read each one in turn.
When he was finished, he sat back for a moment in thought, and then he straightened, reached into the slots on his desk, and pulled a manila folder out emblazoned with his old high school crest, the Fighting Patriots. Laying flat on the desk, he began to read through the compiled information.
Paul finished coiling the hoses that they used today. Some children playing with matches had set a dumpster on fire. Luckily, it only took a few minutes for the engine to arrive on the scene and put the fire out, so the flames didn’t spread to any other structures. The children had been handed off to the police before being remanded to their parent’s custody. He hoped they had learned their lesson.
By the time the scene was clear and the engine set to rights, it was the end of the shift and the sky slowly deepened to pink as the sun crept towards the horizon. He headed off to the locker room to shower off and change into his civilian clothes. He felt wide awake as he left the building and hopped into his Solstice, his one concession to excitement.
Paul’s modest house was a mid-century modern rambler in the Taylor Heights neighborhood of Parkville, a suburban city just outside Baltimore’s urban sprawl. A large live oak graced the front yard and provided cool shade; the rear of the brick ranch backed up against the only park in this small community.
He pulled into driveway and waited for the automatic garage door motor to grind to a stop before trundling the vehicle into the space.
The garage entry door opened into the den, where an entire wall of red brick housed a square fireplace with a recessed area for logs. A comfortable L-shaped sectional in beige leather faced the fireplace. Fire department collectibles and models were interspersed on the wide mantel along with framed pictures. He placed his car keys next to a silver-framed photograph from their wedding and stroked his thumb across it in greeting. It had become an unconscious ritual. Past the couch, a peninsular kitchen with sleek ash cabinets and brushed nickel handles shared the same beige floor tile.
Paul dropped his gearbag by the garage entry door and strode over to the stainless steel fridge, where he pulled a bottle of ice-cold beer. In the last few months, he had started remodeling the house to suit his taste, removing the fussier and more feminine décor for one more comfortable for him. The dining room was next; he planned to remove the heavy French Provincial set and find something more in keeping with the clean lines of the house.
He was about a third of the way through the beer when his stomach reminded him that it had been hours since he had eaten. He walked into the kitchen and prepared to make a simple meal.