NOTE: THIS IS THE CONCLUSION.
To begin at the beginning, CLICK HERE.
Grady stared, grinning, at the little flip-phone in his hand; a cheap, basic model that’s given to homeless people as a tool to assist them in building a better life.
He’d just gotten off of a long call with his daughter Karah and, during that call, he met his grandson, Ben Jr., who had been told several times during his nine years of life that grandpa had “probably gone to heaven, but we’re not really sure.”
Karah hadn’t told Ben Jr. of his grandfather’s drinking, and the constant fighting that ripped apart their little family so long ago. She was saving that conversation for another time, after Ben Jr. had grown up and would be in a better place to receive and understand it.
Her son had started to ask questions about Grady as early as six years of age, after Grandpa Will, Ben’s father, had gifted Ben Jr. with a medal Will earned while serving in Korea. The proud grandpa gave it to little Ben after telling him he’d been a soldier, and seeing his grandson’s eyes light up with respect and admiration.
He’d been planning to wait until the kid reached his 18th birthday, high school graduation, or perhaps he’d enlist in military service himself in which case it would have been an appropriate gift to hand over upon graduation from basic training, or – one could hope – officer candidate school.
But cancer changes life’s plans, and Will knew he’d be gone by the time his grandson reached an appropriate age. He’d just been diagnosed with lymphoma two months before he gave Ben Jr. the medal, so it was presented in a spur-of-the-moment decision, with the stipulation that the elder Ben would hold onto it until his son reached 18.
Only weeks after Ben Jr.’s 7th birthday, he cried more than he’d ever cried before, at his Grandpa Will’s memorial service, while clutching that medal in his hand. Fighting back tears while seated in the front row, twenty feet from the casket, he read the inscription again and again, while people droned on, telling of their experience with Grandpa Will and why they loved him so much.
Ben Jr. loved his grandpa as much if not more than any of them, but staring at the inscription gave him a warm feeling in turn, because it simply said:
The front of the medal said “KOREA DEFENSE SERVICE MEDAL” and on the back it had an insignia, two sheathed swords crossing each other, which left almost no room for an engraving. But Will had hired a skilled jeweler, who managed to get the two words on there despite the swords.
He had wanted to say, “Love, Grandpa Will,” but it wouldn’t fit, and little Ben was always going to remember who his grandpa was, so “Love, Will” was the only way to go and still be readable.
Gazing down at the medal and blinking back tears was a whole lot better than looking at that horrible casket, with the sight of his grandfather “resting comfortably;” an image that would stay with Ben Jr. forever.
Two years later, Ben Jr.’s other grandfather, Grady, slipped the flip-phone back into his pocket and pulled out the little gold cross that he’d bought many years earlier in San Antonio, as a gift to his wife, LaVonne.
He was young and near-broke when he bought it with almost a year’s savings from his delivery job, so engraving had to be limited to two words, “Love, Grady,” even though he’d wanted to put “Happy Birthday LaVonne!” there too, but there wasn’t a lot of room on that little thing either, and extra letters cost more.
Strange how two men who’d never met, but one day would be related by marriage, should have a very similar little problem, in the same town, not far from each other at all, but about thirty years apart. They were two problems that would eventually merge together as one tremendous blessing.
To Grady, this little gold cross was always a reminder of faith and love, but mixed with sin, because he’d stolen it from LaVonne the day of their final spat. He had angrily thrown some clothes into a bag and, seeing it lying on the dresser, he figured that their love was over, and she wouldn’t need it anymore, but he could pawn it and maybe get a drink or two.
He regretted his theft and the decision to pawn it about three days after stepping off a bus in San Francisco, deciding to keep it instead – no matter what. He even entertained the idea of getting it back to LaVonne, but she refused the offer a year or so later, after she’d hired a private investigator to track Grady down so she could serve him with divorce papers.
Once the investigator had given her the address and phone number of the residential hotel her husband was living in, she called to tell him not to come home.
“You are a no-good, dirty, low down rat, Mister Grady!” she said to him. “You ain’t never gonna amount to nuthin’! I’m keeping Karah right here with me, and you have no right to ever see her again, you got that?”
The only reason he could afford a sketchy hotel room was that he’d been sitting in a bar one day shortly after arriving, and had gotten to know the owner of the place, who’d taken a liking to him and offered him a job as a bartender.
He was at that job, behind the bar pouring drinks, when the process server walked in and served the papers about a week after his conversation with LaVonne, and it sent him into a tailspin.
Drinking while on duty is never a good idea, but tailspins usurp common sense, so he started helping himself to the liquor and lasted another three days until the boss found out and Grady was unemployed once again.
As he palmed that little gold cross and smiled, he felt absolved of the sin of stealing it, since LaVonne had expressed her desire to never see him again and said she didn’t want it back. It occurred to him that it would make a great gift for the grandson he never knew he had, whom he’d just met on the phone, and who he was going to meet in person in just a few days.
Ben Jr. had excitedly told his “new grandpa” about the school play he was in, which would be presented this coming Friday afternoon.
“We’re rehearsing for it now, grandpa, and I get to sing a part of a song in it, it’s what we call a ‘solo,’ and I really, really hope you are here in time for Friday so you can see my play, are you going to be here by then grandpa?”
Grady smiled loudly and told Ben Jr. he would certainly be there. He was leaving San Francisco Wednesday morning, and the bus would be due in San Antonio by Thursday afternoon. He assured Ben Jr. they’d have plenty of time to get to know each other – at least a whole day! – before it was time for the play.
Karah had just gotten her two Bens out the door Thursday morning, the older one off to work and the junior one with him to be dropped off at school, when the phone rang. She quickly answered expecting to hear her dad on the other end, checking in with that mobile phone from somewhere on the road, but it was her mother instead.
LaVonne had told her that so much time had gone by, she’d be willing to see Grady and, since she was going to Ben Jr.’s school play, it would be unavoidable. Having long since been remarried, and living quite happily with Karah’s step-father, Thomas, LaVonne decided it was time to make peace.
Karah had gone to lunch with her mom on Monday, breaking the news that a social worker in San Francisco was helping Grady come home, and she and Ben were going to take him in. LaVonne had always been a strong, proud woman, so it was unusual for Karah to see her shed tears, but they only lasted a few fleeting moments.
The Thursday phone call was to work out details; were they going to have lunch before the play? That way LaVonne and Grady could get all of the certain awkwardness out of the way before going to see Ben Jr. perform. They wanted to show him that they were happy and even though they’d not been married for many years, they were still friends and had no animosity between them.
A knock on the door interrupted the phone call. Karah told her mother to hang on, she’d be right back, and she opened the door to find a well-groomed, neatly attired man and woman standing on the porch.
“I’m on the phone right now, if this isn’t important, okay? I’m sorry…”
The woman spoke up. “Ma’am, I’m Officer Hatch of the San Antonio Police Department, and this is my partner, Officer Gerald, would you be Karah Davis? This is important.”
They both had police shields and each a sidearm that Karah hadn’t noticed at first. IDs came out and were shown to Karah, who was feeling a tightness in her chest. Her breathing became labored. “Come in, please…” She stepped aside.
Officer Hatch looked kind, like she and Karah could be friends and would probably get along if they had met under different circumstances. The expression on her face told Karah what she needed to know, and Karah blinked back tears as she said, “It’s about my father, isn’t it.”
“I’m afraid so, ma’am.”
“Please, officers… please hold on for a second.” Shaking, she picked up her phone and said in a trembling voice, “Mom, you need to come over, right now. Don’t ask, just get in the car and get here. I need to see you.”
“What on Earth is going on, girl?” LaVonne couldn’t see that Karah was in the company of two city cops.
“Please mom, just come over. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
She tapped the phone to end the call and sank into the sofa. “Okay, what happened?”
“There was… an accident very early this morning.” Ofc Hatch had sat beside Karah, as her partner stood off to the side and tried not to show on his face that this was definitely his least favorite part of the job.
“Go on. I want to know. What kind of accident?”
“We were notified by the El Paso Police Department that your father was fatally injured after being struck by a car at around one in the morning. I’m so sorry.”
“Struck by a car, how? He was on a bus, coming here to live with us! I haven’t seen him since I was a little girl, how could this happen?”
“They sent us the report, Ms. Davis, and apparently the bus had pulled into the El Paso station and your father stepped off to smoke a cigarette. He went to cross the street and was fatally struck by a car that ran the red light. It was a hit and run, but the El Paso PD has arrested the suspect and now has him in custody.”
Karah was too stunned to break down and cry. She knew that would have to come later, but calls must be made and Ben Jr. would need to be picked up from school.
Ofc Gerald asked Karah if there was anyone else at the house and, if not, was there someone who could be with her, anyone they could call for her?
“No sir, thank you, as you heard, my mother is on her way and I’ll tell her when she arrives. I’ll call my husband and have him pick up our son from school.”
“Okay, Ms. Davis,” Ofc Hatch said as she rose to her feet and handed Karah her card. “Please give me a call in a day or so, there are details to be worked out over the next few days, of course, and the coroner will want to speak with you but, for now we will leave you to grieve with your family. Again, we’re so sorry for your loss.”
They offered to stay until LaVonne arrived, but Karah sent them away, insisting that any police business they had pending should be attended to, and that her mother would be there at any moment.
Karah told Ben on the phone what had happened, because he would have to present a good reason for pulling Ben Jr. out of school so suddenly, but they both agreed not to tell their son until he was home, in the presence of his parents and “Grandma Vonnie.”
When the car pulled into the driveway next to Lavonne’s car, the passenger door flew open and a very eager Ben Jr. came dashing through the front door of the house, saying, “Where’s grandpa? Tell him I’m home early, he said he’d be here when I got home from school, and I want him to see my fort in the back yard that me and daddy built!”
Karah threw her arms around little Ben and tousled his hair. “Honey, please sit down here next to me, we have something to tell you.”
As all three adults sat looking very sad, Ben Jr. puzzled over it for a few moments, and then started to cry as Karah told him that his grandfather wouldn’t be coming to live with them after all, that there’d been a terrible accident and grandpa Grady had gone to heaven.
“But, no, that’s not right…” Ben Jr. said. “He… he.. told me he was here now, and even though he wouldn’t be able to live with us after all, he was going to stay long enough to see my play tomorrow and hear me sing! “
Little Ben was gasping for air, choking on his words between sobs.
“HE TOLD ME THIS!”
Ben Jr. didn’t understand why the grown-ups were saying grandpa Grady wasn’t there. Karah exchanged glances with Ben, and then her mom. She had her arm around Ben Jr. and she squeezed his hand. “Honey, when did he tell you that? When you talked on the phone?” She had no idea Grady wasn’t intending to stay.
Ben Jr. calmed down a little and reached into his pocket.
“He woke me up last night to tell me that. He said he’d be here when I came home from school today and he’d be at the play tomorrow.”
“Oh honey, you just had a dream…”
“NO, MOM! It wasn’t, I swear! I knew it was him because of the pictures you have. I’ve seen those before, and… he gave me this.”
Ben Jr. handed his mother a little, solid gold cross. Inscribed on the back was…