by Jerry Guarino
Jack and Alice were high school sweethearts. They continued their romance in college and then married soon after graduation. If any couple would be together forever, Jack and Alice were that couple. They raised two beautiful children who gave them wonderful grandchildren. It was a life well lived, until they reached their seventies. That’s when the problems started.
“Alice, where are my keys?”
“Where did you leave them Jack?”
“I don’t know sweetheart. That’s why I’m asking.”
Jack puttered around the house looking for his keys.
“Are you going out?”
“Yes dear. We’re going to church.”
“Jack, it’s Thursday.”
“The kids are coming over for dinner Jack. You need to go to the store and get burgers, hot dogs and ice cream. Here, you can use my car keys.”
Jack returned home an hour later with two grocery bags. Alice emptied them on the kitchen counter.
“Jack, what is this?”
There wasn’t a hot dog or hamburger to be found. The only food was for cats and dogs. There were cleaning supplies and storage bags, toiletries and even some clothing items.
“Jack, where is the food?”
Jack pointed to the pet food.
“Jack, we don’t have a dog or a cat. Where are the burgers, hot dogs and ice cream?”
“Why do we need that?”
“The kids and grandkids are coming, remember?”
“I think my show is on.” Jack walked into the living room. Alice took the groceries back to the store and got food for dinner. Jack had been getting forgetful lately, but nothing like this. It was almost as if his memory had been erased.
“Jack, I’m home.”
Alice rushed into the living room. Jack was asleep, she hoped, in his chair. She gently shook his shoulder.
“Oh, hello dear. Guess I drifted off. What time is dinner?”
“When the kids get here, around six.”
“Why are they coming?”
“Jack, we’re having a barbeque, to celebrate. It’s the fourth of July, remember?”
“Oh, all right. Do you want me to go shopping?”
“All taken care of dear.”
“Our children, Bob and Nancy and their children, your grandchildren.”
“Great, can’t wait to see them. What are their names?”
“Bob and his wife Jill, and their girls, Amanda and Heather. Nancy and her husband Joe, their son Charley and daughter Stacey.”
Jack’s confused expression worried Alice.
“That’s a big family.”
“Yes dear. We are blessed.”
“Maybe I should go get a cake. Kids love cake.”
“Well, if you like, but make sure you’re back by five.”
Jack went back to the store. He saw all sorts of holiday cakes on display. He found one just the right size. This time he didn’t buy any pet food or extraneous items.
“I’m back dear.”
Alice took the box from Jack and opened it. It was a dinosaur birthday cake. Alice looked at her husband, lovingly at first, then.
“Jack, this is a birthday cake.”
“Yes, I know. It’s America’s birthday.”
“Well, the kids like dinosaurs, don’t they?”
“Yes. Maybe we could put a couple sparklers in there and take the dinosaurs off.”
“Should I go buy some sparklers?”
Alice wasn’t going to let him buy fireworks. “No dear. I think we have some from last year.” She removed the plastic dinosaurs from the cake and washed them off. Little Stacey will probably play with them. Then she carefully lifted off the birthday lettering. If the cake wasn’t green, it wouldn’t have been so bad. Fortunately, she had some July 4th decorations: a red, white and blue plastic tablecloth, paper plates, napkins, and balloons. “Here dear. Why don’t you set the picnic table.” How much trouble could he have with that?
Soon, the doorbell rang and the family gathered around their papa. The grandchildren loved him. He always read them stories and gave them treats.
“Papa!” came a chorus from all four, as they grabbed his legs and hugged, almost knocking him over.
“Kids. How are you.”
“Read us a story.”
Little Charley handed him a book. They all sat around Jack on the couch, with Charley and Heather sitting on his lap. Bob and Nancy joined Alice in the kitchen.
“Hi mom. How is he doing?”
Alice showed them the cake.
“What is that?”
“It was supposed to be for today, but Jack bought a dinosaur birthday cake.”
“Better add more sparklers.”
“Dad set the picnic table. Can you go check.”
“Sure Mom.” Nancy came back.
“Mom. The table isn’t set. But the sprinklers were on and the table is soaked. I turned them off. Do you have some towels?”
“Oh my. Thanks Nancy. Here. Can you set the table.”
Fortunately, the dinner was uneventful. The kids even liked the cake. Bob and Nancy consoled Alice.
“Let us know if you need anything Mom.”
Jack and Alice sat on the front porch watching the fireworks.
“Alice, remember when we first met.”
“That was so long ago dear. What are you thinking about?”
“I remember the yellow summer dress with blue flowers you wore. Your hair smelled like strawberry. When we kissed, you would touch my neck. Your hand was so soft. There was that time when Nancy fell off her bike and we held her for an hour until she fell asleep. And the night Bob was born, no crying, just lay there sleeping in your arms.”
“Yes, we worried something might be wrong.”
“But he was fine. The doctor said sometimes babies just don’t cry at first. He never was a cry baby. Always content. So different from Nancy, our sentimental girl. Then there was the time they both had their first sleepovers at friends houses. We stayed up all night worrying that they would call us to come home; the next morning they found us on the couch exhausted.”
“I remember. They slept like babies and we worried for nothing.”
“Then, they began dating in high school. Bob met that red-haired girl, Samantha I think. She had freckles and long hair. He took her to a movie. When he got home, we asked him how it went. He said it was the best night of his life. We could see some lipstick on his neck, but didn’t mention it. He practically floated off to bed that night.”
“I liked Samantha too Jack. It crushed him when she had that car accident. It was the first time I ever saw him cry.”
“But thankfully, she recovered. Bob learned so much from her. She was so good for our boy, his first love.”
Alice squeezed Jack’s hand and rested her head on his shoulder.
“You were my first love Alice and always will be.” He turned and kissed her. Alice put her hand on Jack’s neck.
“Maybe we should make our own fireworks tonight.”
“All right dear. If you’re not too tired.”
They retired to the bedroom. By the time Alice finished brushing her teeth, Jack was asleep. She cuddled onto him and slept, not sure of what to expect tomorrow.
Jack woke up early, as usual. He turned to Alice and kissed her.
“Good morning beautiful. How were our fireworks last night?”
“Honey, it was great.”
About the author
Jerry Guarino’s short stories have been published by dozens of magazines in the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain. His latest book, "The Best of Café Stories", is available on Amazon.com and as a Kindle eBook. Please visit his website at http://cafestories.net
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