Brandt Colson silently watched his frenetic daughter as she flitted from room to room in her usual style, talking about ten different things at once and fussing over details and generally majoring in the minor. Brandt noticed the bored and frowning, mostly grown boy, his grandson, as he stood at the front door leaning against the wall. The boy took no pains to hide his sullen, brooding, teenage impatience.
She stopped flying around the room and paused in front of the chair. Brandt looked up. “Plenty to eat and all laid out. Your list is on the counter. Sure you feel up to it, Dad?”
“Feel fine.” He replied. The stroke was jumbled memory now.
She looked doubtful. “Don’t over-do.”
She was a worrier, this daughter, an impulsive, disorganized, frenzied worrier. All of the years of West Coast living, three husbands and many fiancés, had not changed that about her. Now she was back, living in his house, free of charge, with her son and a new husband. She was here to bring a whirlwind of fuss and worry over her sick old man.
Brandt was glad to have her back, even if it did mean another new husband and all of the drama that went with it. He didn’t care one thing about moving into the guest house out back and letting her have the main house. The big place was too much for him now.
“You have my numbers. Call if you need me. Jeff is asleep, wake him up if you have to, but he goes in to work tonight. So call me instead. Unless it’s an emergency. Then call Jeff, and 911, but me first.” She bent over and pecked him on the cheek.
“We’ll be fine.” Brandt said.
She stopped at her sullen child and patted him on the arm lightly. “Don’t over-do.” She admonished again and left. The boy looked away.
It was a ticking silence in the room as the grandson looked around and Brandt watched him. He did not know this boy, not well anyway, hadn’t seen him for years until the recent move back to Indiana. But the kid looked like his mother. Same big bones, same flat face, same chestnut hair, crinkle around the eyes, thin lips. He was a male version of her without the ninety mile an hour pace.
“We have our instructions.” Brandt said at last. The boy shrugged. “Grounded, huh? Almost eighteen is a little old for that, isn’t it?”
“Yeah well, she has to get it in while she still can.” The boy slumped against the wall.
“So, your punishment is to cart me around.”
“Huh.” The boy grunted, “It’s better than sitting in the house watching him sober up.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
“Well bud, might as well have a seat. There’s no hurry to get anywhere.” Brandt motioned to a chair opposite him.
In time the boy pushed himself from the wall, sat down, brushed his hair back from his forehead, then rested his forearms on his knees, leaned forward and brought his head up. He looked around the room and brought his eyes at last to meet with Brandt. “OK, get this… ” He paused a few seconds. “I don’t do bud, or buddy, or pal, or champ, or kid, or sport. I won’t call you Old Man and you won’t call me all the cutesy kid things.”
Brandt smiled. “Very impressive. Do you do ‘surly son of a bitch?'”
The kid smiled a little. “It’s better than champ.”
“How about Kevin, since it is your name.” Brandt offered.
“Not Kev. Never Kevvy. What about you? Brandt isn’t even your name.” Kevin asked.
“My middle name. But you can call me Grandfather, Grandpa or like that. Not Gramps or Pawpaw, or any cutesy names.” Brandt sat back in his chair and studied his grandson. He was a thoughtful, serious boy. Brandt liked that. “Or Brandt, if you prefer.”
“Surly son of a bitch?” Kevin let out another little smile.
“That would fit.”
“Why do you go by your middle name?” Kevin asked.
“Haven’t I been asked that?” Brandt responded. “When I started writing there was a writer of Western paperbacks named Rick Colson, I didn’t want readers thinking that Richard Colson was the same person.”
The boy nodded. “You haven’t written that many books. How long you been writing?”
“Long time. First published the year I got out of the Army.”
“That Patterson guy has written like a hundred books.”
“Different kind of writer. Different audience.” Brandt answered.
“Anyway, I’ve never read either one of you. Seen some of your movies.”
“That make you mad?” Kevin challenged.
“Millions of Americans have never read my books. If I got upset about it, I wouldn’t have time for anything else.” Brandt smiled.
The boy was silent a moment. “What’s a stroke like? Did it hurt?” He asked.
Brandt thought a few seconds. He liked this kid. “I don’t remember it hurting. Don’t remember much about actually having the stroke. I remember afterwards in bits and pieces until I started recovering. It was tiring and confusing. I remember feeling like I couldn’t move couldn’t do or say anything. Time moved back and forth and kind of …” He paused and looked down “…went away.”
“Yesterday was like it just happened and like it never happened all at the same time. Today was like yesterday and like… ” Brandt shrugged.
Kevin got up and sauntered to the packed bookshelf. “Mom says you won all kinds of awards I never heard of.” He brushed a forefinger over the book spines. “Which one is the best?”
Brandt didn’t hesitate. “The one that didn’t win anything.”
“I don’t know one from the other.” Kevin looked back at him.
“End, second shelf. The Last First Friday.”
The boy picked out the book and leafed through it. “What’s that mean? The Last First Friday?”
“Read it and find out.”
Kevin snorted a little. “I don’t read.”
“Can’t or don’t?” The old man asked.
“Don’t” Kevin replied with emphasis. He sauntered back around the chair and casually laid the book on the side table next to the door then sat down. “What’s so special about it?”
Brandt answered. “Sold the least. Ignored by the all-knowing critics. Publisher didn’t like it. Hollywood passed on it.”
Another ticking silence as they studied one another. “What about you?” Brandt asked at last.
Kevin shrugged. “She tell you why I’m grounded?”
“Want to know? I’m bad news, a real troubled kid.”
“No. That’s between you and her.”
They were silent again.
“Any friends yet?” Brandt asked.
“Sort of.” He shrugged. “It’s summer.”
“What if I don’t like girls?” Kevin looked blankly at him.
“I do.” He smiled.
“So do I.” Brandt smiled.
“Grandma’s been gone a long time. I don’t remember her.” Kevin looked at his Grandfather for a reaction and got none. “Girlfriend?”
Brandt smiled. “Nothing serious.”
Kevin looked out the window. They studied one another again.
“You ready?” Kevin asked at last and they stood.
In the car, Kevin asked directions to the Doctors office and they were silent. It would be a long drive.
“OK, did you always want to be a writer?” Kevin asked at last.
“Hmm” He thought a moment. “No. Not really. I never liked to read. Writing came later.”
“Went to college about your age… ” Brandt was abruptly cut off.
“Oh, here we go. I walked into that one.” Kevin shook his head.
“I don’t get it.” Brandt said.
“Mom’s been on me about college and now here you go. College made you realize you wanted to be a writer. Blah, blah. Forget I asked.”
Brandt sighed. “I was going to say I went to college and dropped out my first year. Joined the Army. Made my father furious, which is probably one reason I did it. The other is I couldn’t see that it was going to get me anywhere since I didn’t know what I wanted to begin with.”
Kevin looked at the road. “Oh.”
“After a while I moved up in rank and the Army decided I was a smart guy. They assigned me to a remote place in the foothills of South Dakota. One man building a few miles outside a little nowhere town. Had a one man office and living quarters. I couldn’t see or hear another person from there; the main road was some distance. I didn’t wear a uniform. They insisted on that.”
“Sounds strange. What did you do there?”
“Not a lot. At irregular intervals I would get a call saying a delivery was coming. Sooner or later a van would pull up and a couple of guys in regular clothes would get out, show me their credentials and unload some metal file crates which we would stack in the office. They would leave. In a day or so I would get another call about a pick up. I would write down some information onto a form and wait. Guys in regular clothes with credentials would show up and get the crates. Once a week I would go into town and mail my forms. Did that about two years.”
“Wow, no one else ever came around. Like an officer or something?” Kevin asked.
“No one. I never saw anyone in a uniform until I left there and went to a base for briefing.”
“Weird. What was in the boxes?” Kevin wondered.
“Don’t know.” Brandt replied “I was told not to open them and they would know if I did.”
Kevin risked taking his eyes off the road and looked at the old man. “You never found out what was in the crates?”
“Never. Watch the road, will you?”
“Weren’t you curious?” Kevin looked back to the road.
“Of course. And I asked once and was told to keep my mind on my work.” Brandt answered.
“Anyhow, I got bored quick. Only so much television and radio you can stand. The town was small and didn’t offer much. But they did have a junk, antique flea market thing with second-hand books. I decided to try reading and picked up a book that was supposed to be some kind of prize winning thing, highly acclaimed, bestseller and all of that. I read it and said, ‘wow this stinks’. I bought another one, then another, etc. Finally I said, ‘I can do at least this bad and I started writing. I got up the nerve to send some short things off to magazines, a few got in. Wrote my first novel and got it published the year I left the service.”
“Highway 36, turn here?” Kevin asked.
“Then you came back to Indiana and met Grandma and she had a pile of money.” Kevin continued.
“Not exactly. She worked with her father and later took over the business. I kept writing and did pretty well. She gave the business to your mother and uncle.”
“And my father almost ruined the business, Mom ditched him and moved to California with me and got married and engaged a bunch of times, stayed there most of my life, and now we are back with my latest Daddy-man because he’s worthless and Uncle Dan had to find him a job. I’m supposed to be all screwed up over everything.” Kevin added.
“I’d like to think she came back for me.” Brandt said.
“Right. That too.” Kevin admitted.
“The ugly brown and glass office building on the left. 5480.” Brandt pointed.
Kevin pulled the car into a parking space. “We’re early.”
“You were hot to leave.” Brandt answered. He motioned to a nearby Starbucks. “Coffee?”
Kevin shrugged. “OK but I’m through with the talk.”
“Good. Me too.” Brand agreed.
Brandt wouldn’t admit it but he was tired when late afternoon came and they returned home.
“Another appointment tomorrow? Two days in a row?” Kevin asked as he set the car keys on the counter. “I’ll get your groceries out of the car.”
“Different Doctor.” Brandt shrugged.
“Do you need all that, the doctors?” Kevin asked.
“No, but it keeps my agent off my back. I’m under contract for another book maybe screenplay.” Brandt answered.
“Another book? What’s this one about?” Kevin asked.
Brandt considered this for a moment as he sat in his chair. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to tell you. A government employee stuck in a useless and non productive job that everyone has forgotten about.”
Kevin sauntered to the door. “Huh.”
Brandt settled back into his chair and closed his eyes. He suddenly felt as though he couldn’t stay awake long enough to get to the bed.
The boy came and went unloading the car and putting things away. He became concerned when the old man did not move from the chair. “You alright?” Kevin asked.
“Sure. Going to sit here a minute. Then see what your mother left me for dinner. Watch the Pacer game later.” Brandt answered.
“Want me to get it? Dinner?” Kevin asked.
“No. You’ve ran me around all day. I’m fine.” Brandt kept his eyes closed.
“Maybe tomorrow you can tell me what The Last First Friday means.” The boys said.
“Fat chance.” The old man mumbled with his eyes still closed.
“See you early.” Kevin added and left.
Brandt opened his eyes. His copy of The Last First Friday was gone from the side table. He closed his eyes again.
The boy had the book in hand when he returned early next morning. He could see the old man sitting in the same chair, his feet on the ottoman.
He entered talking. “I did it. I read it. Well most of it. Stayed up late.” His Grandfather looked at him and blinked.
Kevin shut the door behind him still talking. “Know what I found out? I’m a fast reader. I’m almost done.” He held the book out for the old man to see and Brandt blinked again. “You don’t look ready to go. Want something to eat or coffee?” The boy asked and placed the book on the side table. He sat on the ottoman and studied his Grandfather. “Hey, no.” Kevin said after a moment. “No, you can’t. See I know now.” He stared into his grandfather’s face. “Not now Grandpa, I know what it means.” Kevin pleaded. “I know what The Last First Friday means.”
Yesterday was like it just happened and like it never happened all at the same time. Today was like yesterday and time moved back and forth and slipped away and Brandt blinked his eyes.
Header photograph: By Th3ta01d (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons